Fighting for Faith: “Standing on the Promises” Genesis 29-31

In the sixty-seventh year of his life, Russell Herman left this earth. That was back in 1994. In the “last will and testament,” this Illinois man claimed to bequeath the following:

• More than two billion dollars to the town of Cave-In-Rock
• More than two billion dollars to the city of East St. Louis
• About one and one half billion dollars for projects in Illinois

In a final act of what seemed like unprecedented generosity, he claimed he wished to leave six trillion dollars to the Federal Reserve to pay off the national debt (as it was at that time). His was a generous will. There was, however, a very significant problem. At the time of his death, Mr. Herman possessed only one actual piece of property: a “1983 Oldsmobile Toronado” automobile. He had no other assets to cover his bequests. He left this earth leaving us with a clear reminder: None of us can give away what we don’t possess.

His promises fell short because his resources couldn’t back up his desires. Does that sound familiar?

Today, Jesus followers will gather in churches around the world. Some will pass on platitudes like: “God is as good as His promises – and they can be counted on.” Yet, if you ask different believers, you will get a very different list of what God actually promised to do for us. Truthfully, in the years I have ministered to people, I have met a number who became deeply embittered in their lives because promises they heard from believers in the name of God didn’t come through for them. Some of these walked away from the faith for a time, believing that God was either unable (insufficient) or unwilling (cruel) to do what they were told He promised. The real problem was: Someone misrepresented (either intentionally or through error) what God actually said. That is a key reason why knowing the Word well is so tremendously important. The role of an ambassador is to represent the words of the leader properly – and, I suspect, the church has paid too little attention to our role as ambassadors.

Let’s make sure we understand the definitions of the problem. God’s promises are the assured assertions from His Word that He will act in a certain way. God’s commands are demands that press us to do what we should. While His promises are to be believed and trusted, they share with us something He will do. At the same time, His commands must be followed because they demand something from us. Some promises are conditional, but when understood carefully, God never over-promises or under-delivers. Sadly though, His promises can be misrepresented by His followers. That is to say, it is possible to falsely or mistakenly exclaim a “promise” in the name of God.

In fact, we can misrepresent the Word so badly that people will scorn God because He will appear to “let them down” – when someone offered promises in His name He never agreed to make.

Fortunately, we have God’s Word to clear up what He did and didn’t actually promise. In particular, we have in this lesson a good model we can trace inside the Biblical story of Jacob. Here is the truth that will become clear as you read the account in Genesis 29-31.

Key Principle: While God’s presence and promises won’t exempt believers from troubles, they will offer both a constant companion in troubled times and an ultimate understanding of the place of troubles.

Six things God didn’t promise:

In this lesson, we want to trace what happened after Jake began a walk with God. He met God on a journey, and God’s promised presence with Jake didn’t do six things that some people confuse as promises in God’s name:

First, the promises and presence didn’t remove all uncertainty about how to move forward; yet they did allow him to see God at work in his daily circumstances (29:1-14).

Take a look at Genesis 29 for a moment. It reads:

Genesis 29:1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east. 2 He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. 3 When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. 4 Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” 5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” … 9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. 13 So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. 14 Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him a month.

It happened that as Jacob followed the trail with the directions he was given, he ended up at the right well, at a perfect time to ask about his family. He came to the place just before the beautiful daughter of Laban (who would captivate his eyes for the rest of his days) happened to be walking up. For the one who doesn’t know God, such moments seem like a coincidence. For the one who does know God, there is providence.

Even a young believer like Jake couldn’t miss God’s hand in his life. He asked questions and watched the scene unfold. At the same time, you don’t get the sense that he knew where things were heading that day. The questions reveal there was uncertainty. He knew what he was supposed to be doing there, but he wasn’t sure this was the place, and these were the people.

From time to time I hear people say things like: “I knew it was the Lord, because everything dropped into place.” I know what they mean. When the Lord is working on something, often I find a “flow” that just overtakes the situation. As fast as a problem arises, a solution appears. I have seen it many times.

At the same time, that isn’t a promise of God.

While providence of God is a promise, a smooth ride is not. We must not infer that God has eliminated from a believer the sheer uncertainty of earthly life. The Bible doesn’t include absolute certainty about our next move, even in the pursuit of following Him.

You and I don’t know the next problem we will face, or obstacle that will challenge us, and we are misrepresenting God if we act as though He has promised to make our paths ever-clear. He has not. In fact, if you look carefully in the Word and consider the second mission journey of the Apostle Paul, you will note that before the Macedonian man vision, he didn’t know what direction he was going next in a mission journey! Even a mission trip isn’t promised to always go smoothly.

The promise God made us is that he would “never leave us nor forsake us.” The prize of His presence doesn’t accompany unending bliss and certain turns of the road in this life. God didn’t promise to remove my troubles, He promised to insert His presence into my life through all my troubles. The abundant life we have is wrapped in the delight of facing daily life with the powerful and loving Companion. We aren’t exempted from pain; He joins Himself to us and bears it with us. Our rest is in His goodness, not in life’s fairness.

Second, the promises and presence didn’t remove all the drudgery from life; they did provide a sense that God was working things out as Jake worked hard (29:15-20).

Providence isn’t an excuse for lying in a hammock and blaming God for your unemployment. Providence assures a companion while you labor, sometimes pushing twenty pounds of paper reports off your desk, or lifting heavy boulders and clearing them from your field. Look at what Jake did:

Genesis 29:15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. 18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

While we may all tempted to say: “Awwww” over the last sentence as we contemplate Jake’s infatuation with Rachel, that isn’t the whole point being made in the passage. Jake worked for seven years. He got up early, took care of the flocks and herds, and dropped on his mat at the end of a long, hot, day. Just because we read it in a simple sentence, didn’t mean it wasn’t arduous, sweaty work.

Was God with him? Yes! Did that mean he could sleep in and coast in life and still get ahead? No! The promise of God’s presence and even the promises of God’s specific blessing were not to be construed with some “get out of work free” card that Jake could play. Your promises aren’t either. From the moment God began speaking to Adam, the instructions sounded like a job – because we were created to find resolution and completion in work. It doesn’t matter whether it is manual labor or computer programming – the work may be long and tedious – but it is accompanied by God’s presence and His stamp of blessing deep within.

Third, the promises and presence didn’t exempt Jake from being cheated by those around him; yet God stayed beside him and worked in spite of it all (29:21-30).

It would be great if I could promise you that lightning wouldn’t strike your transformer and your back wouldn’t go out because you love and follow Jesus – but teaching that would also be a misrepresentation of God’s real promises. Add to that, you might work hard and be honest, and a lie by a jealous and conniving co-worker could still put you in the unemployment line. How do I know? Look back at our story…

Genesis 29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.” 22 Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. … 25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.” … 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.

This famous tale in the Bible offers us an easily overlooked point: Jake got played even though he did what was right and was following God’s plan. Let that sink in for a moment.

God never promised believers they would get full and complete justice here on Earth. He does claim that He keeps perfect score. He does promise to heal our wounds and to punish evil men and women. What He DOES NOT PROMISE is short-term satisfaction and a certainty of outcome before eternal judgment after this life. He promises ultimate justice, but not immediate justice.

God never promised believers a life of comfort provided by the conditions here on Earth. Though some believers may experience material prosperity and success, it is a terrible assumption that God will apply that to all and give us an easy life. We don’t all have the same call, even though we all have the same God. We differ in gifts and we differ in what God intends to do in and through us.

I think often about the words of Jesus in relation to my personal expectations – and I have to admit that I have a privileged life!

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The peace I have is IN CHRIST, not in comforts of this world. If I get material prosperity, that is in addition to His presence! Our life was not offered a guarantee of temporal comfort, but it was promised a fulfilment based on our conscious walk with the Savior. Why doesn’t God deal with wrong right now? There are many reasons. One important reason is this: God is not only patient with us; He is equally patient toward those who may choose to oppress us.

Jake got played in spite of his walk with God. Paul got stoned by evil men. Most of the disciples were executed as Apostles. If we think we are promised material prosperity, we aren’t following the bread crumb trail of the first three hundred years of Christian history.

Fourth, the promises and presence didn’t insulate him from repeating mistakes learned in his family life; but even those mistakes became a platform for God’s blessings (29:31-35).

Most of the rest of Genesis 29 tells of the earliest children born to Jake by his “runner up” wife Leah. The story unfolds as Leah tries to win his love and attention by offering her body and producing a child. It is a sad story in many respects, but one thought jumps off the page reading verse thirty-one:

Genesis 29:31 Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Jake, who should have understood the pain involved in favoritism, played the same game in his own tent camp (among his wives) that his parents played in his upbringing. He was only ON this journey away from home because of the dysfunction that came from “ranking” relationships and picking favorites in the home. Did God’s new relationship with him insulate him from falling back into old habits? It surely did not.

Believers get a new connection to God, but have to work deliberately to distance themselves from their old thinking and habits. It isn’t a passive process. It takes WORK. It requires growing in discipline. It isn’t JUST self-effort (it requires God’s Spirit) but it INCLUDES deliberate effort.

That is the work involved in sanctification – where the Spirit of God works in you to change you to become more like Jesus – and you actively listen and respond to make course corrections in life.

Jake reminds us of one of the biggest problems we face in our Christian life – our default settings from an earlier life were not set to “holy.” We came to our relationship with God with some of the settings requiring deliberate re-set to change from the default. Liars must learn to speak the truth. Gossips must learn to curb their impulses. It takes time, and it isn’t guaranteed to fall off of us because we now know God any more than our extra weight put on in living an excessive life before we knew Him.

Fifth, the promises and presence of God didn’t guarantee peace and quiet in Jake’s home life; but it did provide him a way to cope with people disappointments (30:1-43).

For time sake, let me simply mention that chapter thirty has two stories to illustrate this truth:

With his barren wife Rachel, Jake shared his newfound perspective that things on earth are initiated in Heaven (30:1-24). When Rachel complained to Jacob, he immediately made clear that he wasn’t the responsible party – God made babies. (Obviously, there is collaboration!) You cannot help but notice, particularly in Genesis 30:14ff, how his wives thought mechanistically about pregnancy, but Jacob knew the matter was ultimately in the hands of God. Jake’s answer wasn’t a “cop out;” it was the truth. He could participate in the process, but God had to make it chemically work.

In the case of Laban’s trickery later in the chapter, Jake clearly didn’t have an exemption from undergoing real tests by a man who was dishonest (see Genesis 30:25-43); yet the vices of his boss didn’t thwart God’s ability to advance Jake. Jake saw God bless him even when his boss was trying to stiff him from a prosperous future. Note the summary verse:

Genesis 30:43 So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.

It is true that Jake furthered in material prosperity, but the point I want us to see is that problems kept rolling in, despite his walk with God. There is one more…

Sixth, the promises and presence of God didn’t keep Jacob from facing jealousy about his life; but it did offer him God’s direction from His Word (Genesis 31:16).

Chapter 31 opened with:

Genesis 31:1 Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.” 2 Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. … 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength. 7 Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times…

I count three things that were mentioned: lies, unfair attitude and wage cheating. Does that sound like Jake was sailing through life unscathed by the pain of others? No, it does not. Yet, let’s end with the positive. Let’s listen to how Jake framed his life after he got a walk with God. He said:

Genesis 31:7b …however, God did not allow him to hurt me. 8 If he spoke thus, ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth striped.

First, Jake knew Laban didn’t set fair contests, but didn’t control the outcome alone.

The table may have been rigged, but God still controls the laws of the physical world. Remember this: no matter where you are, no matter who thinks they are in charge, no matter how unfair the plot… God is still there. He hasn’t left you. He will do what He promised when it tells His story in the most complete way possible. That won’t guarantee you will always feel good about circumstances, but it will quench the burning within that injustice will prevail. It won’t.

Listen as he finished his words:

Genesis 31:11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, “‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’

Second, God didn’t offer promises and walk off the set of the drama.

He stayed in Jake’s life, interacting with him and speaking into the dark moments. God’s providence is about His continual presence with us, not about a peaceful and idyllic journey through fields of bliss. You don’t always find God by peaceful streams. Sometimes He meets you in the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. The point is: If YOU are there, HE is there. He hasn’t lost track of you.

God’s hand wasn’t only obvious to Jake, but also to those around him. If Jake groused, complained, barked and fussed – they wouldn’t see that blessing. God let Jake know He was there, and Jake reflected that to those closest to him. Listen to what one of his wives said to him:

Genesis 31:16 Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.

Let me ask you if you reflect God’s goodness to you so that those around you can see it. I don’t always do it – but we need to work at it! We tell people we have a walk with God and then complain about the government and our boss and our conditions in life like God isn’t still there.

Let’s be clear about God’s promises and His presence. Let’s say it the way the Word does:

God’s presence and promises don’t exempt believers from troubles; they offer His constant companionship and an ultimate understanding of trouble.

There is a word quiz where someone created a rather clever puzzle. Let me share it with you:

• What is it that is greater than God?
• More evil than Satan?
• Rich people DON’T have it?
• Poor people DO have it?
• And if you eat it… you will die?


• Nothing is greater than God.
• Nothing is more evil than Satan.
• Rich people don’t have nothing; they have much.
• Poor people have nothing.
• And if you eat nothing… you’ll eventually die – skinny and sad.

The puzzle makes sense once you know the answer, but until you hear the answer, it is very confusing. That’s the case with our lesson this morning. Without the answer, the problems will confound you.

Let me offer you the answer: His name is Jesus, and He offers you His constant presence and some incredible promises.

Beloved, believers don’t keep one eye focused on Heaven out of the need for sheer escapism. We dream about our future, because it is where our Savior will be clearly seen. It is where God’s true reign will be unmasked and God deep love will be thoroughly revealed.

We will not find consolation in the justice system of a fallen world filled with liars and broken people.

We will not find peace in families that are being whipped by false views of sexuality, submission and servant-hood.

We will not find sinlessness in the gates of the church of sinners, where secrets continue and sins are carefully covered.

We will not find ultimate truth on the internet of those disconnected from their Creator.

Justice, peace, sinless splendor and truth – these are Heaven things. These are our future in Jesus. That is where we will see Him face to face.


Fighting For Faith: “Stairway to Heaven” -Genesis 28

The Television Network CBS ran a report recently about a new show they are running on the air called God Friended Me. They wrote:

[The show] is a humorous, uplifting drama about an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a friend request on social media from God and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Miles Finer is intelligent, hopeful and optimistic, but he doesn’t believe in God. This puts him at odds with his father, Reverend Arthur Finer, a beloved preacher at Harlem’s Trinity Church for 25 years who is stung by his son’s strong rejection of his faith. Miles feels he’s found his purpose in life hosting a podcast where he’s free to speak his mind, but that changes when he receives the ultimate friend request. After repeated pokes by God, Miles’ curiosity takes over, and he accepts the request and follows the signs to Cara Bloom, an online journalist suffering from writer’s block. Brought together by the “God Account,” the two find themselves investigating God’s friend suggestions and inadvertently helping others in need. … Miles is set on getting to the bottom of what he believes is an elaborate hoax, but in the meantime he’ll play along and, in the process, change his life forever.

I don’t believe that description has enticed me to watch the show, but it is nice to see God on CBS Prime time, at least in some vague form. It is even nicer to be reminded that those who have tried to follow God have left a trail of good deeds behind them – like the founding of our nation’s greatest schools, hospitals, orphanages and many benevolent works. It is a nice break from the growing sense of national hostility concerning the notion of a Creator.

Today we encounter a story that CBS won’t run, but it has the extra virtue of being a true story about a man who heard from God and walked away changed. Prior to that meeting with God, he was for all practical purposes an atheist, but grew up in the home of a God follower. Like many who grow up that way, he knew all the right words, but, when alone, made very different choices than God would have wanted, or his parents would have appreciated. The text of Genesis made clear Jacob, the subject of our study, didn’t meet God as a reward for being good. Rather, his story up to this point was filled with lies and deception. He cheated his les clever brother, and deceived his nearly blind dad on his death bed. Yet, God met him as he attempted to flee the scene after he got caught in his lies and faced paying the penalty. Here is the truth our story will make very clear…

Key Principle: A real meeting with God changes us.

When Isaiah saw God, high and lifted up (cp. Isa. 6), it changed his life. When God set afire a bush in Midian, the encounter wasn’t just a curiosity; it was a life change moment for Moses…You see, God doesn’t desire to slowly nudge us; He desires to profoundly change our life direction by a meeting with us – a divine interruption in our path. It won’t be a “poke” or “text message;” it will be something we know was Him when it happens.

The opening word of the story

To see this truth at work, let’s pick up our account with the simple, but powerful first word of Genesis 28:1 So

What a loaded word! The “so” suggests the story we are about to engage was based on a timeline of events that preceded it – for good reason. The “so” reminds us that by this point in the story, it became perfectly clear to both Isaac (Jacob’s dad) and Esau (Jacob’s older brother) that Jacob and Rebekah (Jake’s mom) conspired and tricked the nearly blind and elderly Isaac to get a financial windfall in his will. Jacob took by clever deception what was originally intended for Esau, the double–portion of inheritance and the charge over the camp that came with his “firstborn” status. Now Jake had the legal writ, but his trick wasn’t accepted by everyone as a completed deal.

In fact, (if you check Genesis 27:41) it is clear that Esau intended to kill Jacob as soon as he possibly could, in retribution for what he had taken. Isaac was still alive, but wouldn’t be for long. One of the last scenes times in which he played a role in the Word was when he brought Jacob in to tell him to flee the scene and preserve his life. Ironically, Isaac the passive probably only did this to appease his wife, because she heard people around the tent camp claiming Esau was seething and plotting Jake’s death (according to Genesis 27:42).

Time for an exit

In any case, Jake knew it was time to hit the trail and get out of there. Momma Rebekah’s words to Jake were these:

Genesis 27:43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

Can you hear it? Rebekah felt she could manage the situation. May I make an observation for a moment? So far, about everything she did led Jake into deeper trouble.

When you have a friend that keeps suggesting things that land you in a hospital bed or jail cell, you may want to expand your horizons and find some new (and dare I say, safer) friends. If you got banged up in the last few exchanges, don’t fall for the “I know a guy who has this really cool, inexpensive “bungee jumping” place you will just love…

What is really interesting is that while Rebekah was pulling aside Jake to prepare him to go, she was also bending Isaac’s ear about “what to instruct Jake to do” in finding a wife. She didn’t seem “short on advice” but perhaps thought some things would come better from even a passive dad. Genesis 27:46 tells the story this way:

Genesis 27:46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

Let’s acknowledge that parents with adult children who have walked out in defiance of the family’s long stated values understand Rebekah’s comment: “I am sooo tired of this!” It IS exhausting to watch a grown child depart from right thinking and right living. Esau’s choices left momma tired of her life!

Well, the time came and Jake entered again into his dad’s tent – this time to hear his dad’s words about heading north. It couldn’t have been easy, since it was clear that he wasn’t honest with his dad a short time before. I am guessing this was rather awkward.

Not only that, but you shouldn’t miss the irony in the fact that Jacob was now on his way out of the Promised Land which was a key to the blessing God promised Abraham. The whole story is about a land and children being blessed to live in it. By cleverness, Jake got what amounted to a worthless blessing because he couldn’t peaceably inhabit the land simply because he couldn’t outrun his brother’s arrows. How could this be in the life of the “promised child” of Abraham’s seed?

Consider this: Jacob focused on getting material blessing in this life, not a walk with God for eternity. You never find the right things looking in the wrong direction.

He wanted to control his life now, he couldn’t waste time worrying about his life for the ions to follow this life. By his choices we can surmise he wasn’t really sure if there was a God, and perhaps he didn’t give it much thought. Jake’s thinking was more: “A man will get whatever his clever mind can grab from dullards around him.” When clever is a high value, integrity is a low one. When winning is all that matters, how you play the game just isn’t your focus.

Often God appears absent to one who is about to meet Him. Go back to Genesis 28:1 and pick up the story:

Genesis 28:1b …Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.”

Isaac tossed out a blessing that sounded like he may have been shaking his head and hoping for the best. This was the distance throw at the buzzer – there was no more time to put points on the board. Isaac used up his dad instruction time, and Jake was heading off to face the world. What he didn’t know was what Isaac knew – he was heading into the family of his wife’s relatives – and that was going to be an eye-opening experience for the young man. I cannot help but feel the possibility of sarcasm when Isaac offered: “I trust you get back… and “be blessed” dealing with your momma’s family.” 

Jake, confident in his clever mind, thought he knew where he was headed and who he would meet – but God interrupted his plan. Keep reading:

Genesis 28:5 Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.

That was the summary of the journey. Now follow for a moment the detail of the journey that changed the young man – because in these verses the “big idea” becomes clear…

God Interrupted the journey

Skip down a few verses…

Genesis 28:10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said…

When God touches your life, you see (perhaps for the first time) the reality of life. Things are much more than they appear to be on the surface. The text detailed:

• He went to sleep and had a dream (28:12a).
• He saw the connection between the two worlds (28:12b).
• He saw the Lord above those who operated in both worlds (28:13).

Jake knew cunning and cleverness. He knew how to plot. What he never really stopped to consider was the fact that there isn’t just a physical world; there is a spiritual world behind what we see at home, at work and in our community.

The Bible is full of stories of people who set the limits of their understanding of life on this world and neglect to consider the power of the spiritual world operating behind it.

• Job’s friends tried to make sense of life without taking into account there may be a spiritual reason beyond the “cause and effect” world of the physical.
• Moses heard God’s voice from the bush and realized it wasn’t just a bush on fire – it was a holy place to meet God.
• Joshua, the High Priest and friend to Zechariah (cp. Zech. 3) wasn’t just discouraged about the temple; he was under attack by Satan’s minions.

I am not trying to sound spooky, but it is clear that you are more than you appear. You are both physical and spiritual. If you have not really spent much time thinking about your life as part of two worlds, you are like many of those who entered the Biblical account trying to make sense of life solely on the basis of the five human senses. The problem is, if you are perceptive about life, your senses will lead you to see the broken world and its inequity. That happened to Solomon, the author-king who left us his diary in Ecclesiastes. He rightly concluded that life here doesn’t make sense – because the One Who holds the story together isn’t under the sun, but in the heavens.

The Bible opens with a simple idea it presents as fact: all things here were caused by One in a dimension different than ours. There is a spiritual world. The things we see here don’t, won’t, and can’t make ultimate sense without the rest of the picture.

The “rest of the story”

Some of us recall the name Paul Harvey. Beginning as a newscaster during the Second World War, Paul offered his own brand of story-telling which consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. Each broadcast concluded with some variation on his tag line “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Think of your life this way: It cannot make complete sense until you set the physical world into “the rest of the story.”

Listen to what God told Jake when He appeared in the dream:

Genesis 28:13b “…I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

Perhaps it is already clear enough, but we should point out that knowing there is a spiritual world isn’t enough to cause you to change course in your life – and it wasn’t enough for Jake long ago. God spoke. He explained what He intended. He clarified where Jake fit in His plan.

For some who are encountering this story (maybe for the first time) with an open heart, this is the piece you have been waiting for. Perhaps you have already been open to the understanding there is a spiritual world. Maybe you have long believed (though it didn’t set the boundaries of your behaviors) that God exists. That’s great, but that isn’t enough.

Consider the six things God said to Jake:

• I am the Lord.
• I met your fathers before you.
• I made promises and you heard about them.
• I have things planned for you and your children.
• I am with you all the time.
• You aren’t finished here; I will be drawing you back here later.

These six revealed truths changed Jake. Think of how knowing each would change you:

• If the One you are meeting truly is Master of all things, it is time to consider the fact that you are not some anonymous being hidden in the cluster of creation; God knows you. He sees you. He is aware of where you are, who you are and what you have done with the life He has provided for you.

• If this God has been working with those before you, you have received the benefit of a life that should have taught you to consider how what you are doing looks to God. We can’t sing “God bless America” and then make law after law that ignores Him, marginalizes His Word and makes right something judgy and negative. Our fathers carefully structured our society because they held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created and endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights…”

• The recorded promises of God have been dropped into our life through countless translations and illustrated Bible books. God hasn’t been silent or somehow elusive. In modern circles, there has been a deliberate attempt to marginalize His Word from our society (something that is causing us to shudder from our foundational documents) and to introduce any number of “counter-claims” of other gods and religious texts. The outcome has been confusion and distancing our modern behavior from the legal foundation of our fathers. We are building to a national moral disaster, but God isn’t done with His grace!

Get personal with the last part of what God told Jacob. God claimed that He was with Jake all through his life. The journey wasn’t happening alone. God was there, God was watching and God wanted Jake to know it.

Is that where you are? Are you living your life with the full awareness that you are never alone? Let me offer this simple truth: If you truly believe God is watching, it will change how you respond to the issues of your life from this point forward. If Heaven is a reality, and not just a distant story – knowledge of it will change how you judge things. If God is really engaged in your life, it will force you to consider how much of your life is intentional about following Him.

C. S. Lewis said it this way: “You don’t have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.”

That is the observation of one who has encountered God. Now keep reading, for the last part of the story shows clearly that “a real meeting with God changes us.” Look at how Jacob responded to God revealing Himself to him.

Genesis 28:16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Jake got up and admitted that God slammed into his life without warning and that he was utterly unaware of God’s activities in that place before the dream – but he acknowledged that what he saw was real.

The beginning place for us is to hear the revealed truth of God and then respond as though it is true – because it is.

The two profound reactions in Genesis 28:17 were fear and awe. He recognized the Creator of all things took the time to encounter him, a fleeing trickster on the run from his own selfish pursuits. Is that you? Are you living for yourself? Is God using His Word to pierce into you self-managed life?

When Jake recognized God was truly speaking, in Genesis 28:18-19, he marked the place with signs of worship and surrender. He didn’t want to get back to his regularly scheduled life – this changed his perception. It gave him the “why” of his life. He couldn’t just pass it by. He stopped, set up a memorial stone and poured out oil, a sign of a place of comfort, of healing and of worship.

Pastor Wesley Bishop offered this is a sermon some time ago:

We didn’t think up the need for worship. Someone wasn’t sitting around one day and said, “Hey, I think we should worship God.” Worship is not a human innovation. Some of what we do in worship is born of human creativity. Humans, using their God-given creativity, wrote the songs we sing… Even though the MEANS may include human effort, the ACT of worship was a God made thing.

Jake made a vow that promised God something. He told God that if His Word is true, he would vow to follow God’s leading. He would listen to God’s further directions as life progressed. He would give back a portion of his income to God to thank Him for His protection and oversight. In effect, he would begin living daily with a knowledge that God is watching, God has a plan, and God has deliberate expectations He is making known.

Jacob’s surrender to God included the same elements we all must have in such a Divine encounter:

• Trust that God is able to keep His Word concerning our destiny. (28:20).
• Recognition of subjection to God as Master (28:21).
• Surrender of things I “own” to His use (28:22).

Sam Wrisley shared this touching example a few years ago:

Currently Rudy is locked up and locked up is what he deserves. I met Rudy 4 years ago. He was drunk at a bus station. He wanted a bus ticket and I bought it for him. It would not be the last ticket I’d buy for Rudy. Rudy was arrested for robbery when he was 17. The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison. One can imagine what hard time does to a teenager…

He has spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law… in fact on the wrong side of society. I didn’t know why but God wanted me to continue to invest into [what at the time seemed like] this worthless person. It’s taken four years but I now see why. It’s because no one is worthless to God. He has a plan for his children. I received a letter from jail just this week from Rudy and I want to share his words.

“Sam, you can tell the church that I pray for them as much as they do me. I’m learning that I should pray for others. God will take care of me. He knows my needs. Also tell them to bring it, don’t sing it! Like you said what are you doing Monday through Saturday? Being a Christian to me is 24/7 365. And as the word says, Love, Love, Love. In here I am tested daily. different ways. One word comes to mind. LOVE! That’s how I’m doing my time. I refuse to give Satan any power over me. (i love this part) I’m locked up and happy 🙂 You tell everybody that once you FINALLY surrender they will enjoy peace and happiness that I’m experiencing and sharing with others. Well I miss everybody… Take care. God Bless. RUDY” “worthy is the Lamb:)”

Spiritually, freedom comes through surrender. God set an incarcerated man free like Rudy because he recognized the implications of life being greater than the world of his cell… Praise God for true freedom!

Remember: A real meeting with God changes us.

Are you ready to be changed?

Fighting For Faith: “Grabbing the Wrong Hand” – Genesis 25 to 27

This is a lesson that begins a short series on a fight. The whole story is a tale of working through the pain of struggles.

I want to focus on one man for a few lessons and look at his family, and his life story as God related it in His Word. To do that, today we plan to move around the area of Genesis 24-26 and then at the end, drop into Genesis 27 and hopefully “catch” something we can all digest. Our focus is on the story of Jacob.

To prepare us, I want to begin with a set of questions that require you to be brutally honest with me. Are you ready?

First, let me ask: “How many of you are parents? One of my friends would say it, “How many of you own another human?”

With that number in mind, “How many of you honestly recall and are willing to publicly admit, that you lost one of your children for a time during their time under your supervision?”

To let you relax and make you breathe a little easier, let me tell you a story out of the “Smith Log” from a few years back, when my third child was still a tiny toddler.

Dottie and I were packing for a camping trip when we lived in Jerusalem. At that time, also living in our home was a young lady from South Africa who helped in our office and sometimes took care of our children. We were three adults watching over a busy travel office, a growing ministry and three little children. On that morning, Dottie and I were packing the van to go on a trip with all of our family, and we both thought Karen (the South African girl) knew where the kids were (I thought they were playing in their rooms). My little red-head, Sara Joy, took that opportunity (a breach in parental security) to make a break for it and wander down the street and cross the road to the local mall across the way. When mom and I realized that she was gone, and we had no clue where she was – we both moved swiftly down our street hollering for her and scanning yard by yard. After what seemed like a decade or two in lost child time, we discovered that Sara was sitting happily enjoying treats with the security guard at “Kanion HarE” in Gilo, our Jerusalem suburb’s local mall. The security guard spotted her wandering in the parking lot and took her in until parents came calling for her. He was kind and, to be honest, Sara didn’t feel lost. She knew where she was. She knew what she was eating. She was perfectly happy. We were panicked and, truth be told, near nervous breakdowns, both of us! Though Sara found safety, for a time, in the hand of a security guard at the local mall, she had two issues. First, the security guard wasn’t the right place to find true parental security; and second – she didn’t realize she wasn’t really safe. That guard wasn’t her real daddy, and he didn’t have her true long term interest at heart. He did his job, but it wasn’t the safety she would find in her family, holding mom or dad’s hand.

There is a point to the story of this unsettling memory. As we look at the introduction to Jacob’s life as God dropped him into the arms of his parents, we will see that Jacob started life believing real security came from grabbing a familiar pattern his parents lived out in front of him – instead of grasping God’s hand and following Him. His early life illustrated a truth that is so important for us to consider, God told it in His Word. Here is the big idea of his story I would like you to consider…

Key Principle: Real safety comes from grabbing the right hand and letting your true Father guide you.

Learning to hold my Father’s hand is a necessary skill every believer must develop.

We must cling – not to the pattern of life we learned growing up – but to the Savior of it!

If you study it carefully, you will notice that Jacob’s life was a struggle to learn how to hold his true Daddy’s hand – and not the other many hands he could easily have clasped to feel secure. Look even closer, but that is your story and my story as well!

Let’s take a moment and “set up” the story beginning in Genesis 24.

First, a quick overview of the text is probably justified. It is significant that the author of Genesis spent ten whole chapters on Jacob.

• He only spent 11 chapters describing the long period of time from creation, the flood and on to the tower of Babel.

• He included 14 or 15 chapters on Abraham (12-25) from which God established His covenant people.

It seems like ten chapters is a rather large stage for teaching God’s lessons. His story must be important – and we will find it truly IS.

Second, I am also forced to at least suggest that if modern “reality TV” is any indication of what Americans think is interesting, this short series on Jacob should be riveting. More than most stories of the Bible, his tale graphically displays the unusual interrelations of an entirely dysfunctional family, and cautiously highlights the influence bad parents can have on their children. This story is almost a “made for TV” series.

Let’s start the story with Isaac: Jacob’s dad.

Genesis has already been chronicling the life of Isaac, his dad. What is shared wasn’t particularly flattering, but does help us understand the family from which Jacob emerged. Genesis 24:1-9 opens with a scene late in the life of Abraham, when he had a servant set out to look for a wife for his son, Isaac. We begin here in our look at Jacob, because knowing his dad will help you understand the setting of his life. The servant of Abraham (we suspect it is Eliezar) is in the scene…

Genesis 24:10 recorded: Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.

It isn’t a stretch to admit that living in the shadow of the towering figure of Abraham; the Bible offered few details on Isaac, as though he really didn’t do much that was significant. That’s probably an unfair assessment (since I am not even mentioned in the Bible at all), but I think you understand why I said it. Isaac’s little story feels like, when you read it, a journal of “going along” with God’s work in his family. One writer called his story one of “passive acceptance” because he seemed to do the right things, but he was not presented as a very passionate player in the drama of his own life!

Consider the example of the scene we were just looking at and the fact that Isaac didn’t find his own wife – his dad sent a servant to do it. If I understand Genesis 25:20 properly, I can’t help but notice he appears to have been forty years old at the time. (Talk about a late launch!) …At least the servant knew where to look.

Oddly, if you look back into Genesis, it seems the place to meet a potential wife was at a watering hole, a well or a spring.

• Moses met his wife at a well in Midianite territory and chased away harassing bandits.

• Jacob scoped out the coming of Rachel by asking at the local well and then gallantly helped remove the stone over that well with the others who were gathered there.

Here’s the thing… in Genesis 24, Isaac didn’t even go to the well to find a wife. His father’s servant traveled a distance, found the right well, and got him a wife. It feels like we are being set up to see Isaac as a rather passive guy, and if you read the story – you will see that feeling fits the later narrative.

Isaac wasn’t a bad guy. I don’t want to only include his weakness. When he hit a wall, he was as likely to seek God as NOT, but that isn’t the most rousing endorsement. He had God’s blessing, but that wasn’t a guarantee he could be a good dad, just a rich one. Drop into Genesis 25 and take a quick look for a moment.

Genesis 25:11 It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi….21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.

It seems Isaac learned some level of trust in God. Consider that:

• God’s blessing became personal after Abraham, not just from Abraham (25:11).

• When trouble came; he prayed – so he had some kind of walk with God. Isaac knew that God could deliver in the need for a baby – because God did it for HIS DAD years before. At the same time, he knew it took a relationship with God to steady him through the days of disappointment and keep him from undue impatience with God’s timing!

• God seemed to step in when asked and answer the prayer in accord with the promises given to Isaac’s dad. It seems like God wanted to keep the story going in Isaac, even if he was weak and passive.

I guess if I could communicate anything, it would be that Isaac just wasn’t a great leader or deep man of passion as he is shared with us in the text…

As we close in on the story of Isaac – observe the story that introduced Rebekah: Jacob’s Mom.

Go back again to the story of the servant that discovered Rebekah as a wife for Isaac, who became Jacob’s mom. The servant came to the well, and Rebekah offered to water his ten camels, while the man prayed she would make the offer as a sign to him:

Genesis 24: 19 Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. 21 Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not.

It is clear in the text that God’s choice was Rebekah. To really grasp what we learn about her from this little snapshot, there are a few things you should probably know about camels that make this story shine with vivid detail.

• First, they can drink 21-22 gallons in a single standing. Since a gallon is 8.3 pounds, a thirsty camel could add more than 200 pounds from one long drink. As a former helper in the camel drive, I can tell you that you NEVER let them drink that much in a single standing, or they will get drunk. It happens because of their blood vessels and the way the blood passes through their brain area.

• Since there were ten camels and Rebekah watered all of them, and since they had just come “hot off the desert sands” – I think it is obvious that Rebekah possessed incredible biceps and back muscles, and was not built like a “fashion week” model on a red carpet. She was one formidable woman you wouldn’t want to arm wrestle! (She was, no doubt, listed on “Farmer’s Only” dating sites).

If you took the time to research the whole account of her early days in Genesis, you would discover Rebekah was from nothing short of treacherous family of “used camel salesman” types like her brother Laban – who became a legendary manipulative negotiator, as we will see later in the series. Funny enough, her dad was also quite passive based on the text.

Put Isaac and Rebekah together and I think it is safe to conclude from reading the Word that the natural passivity and weakness in Isaac opened the door to allowing Rebekah, Jacob’s mom, to take over their home. Add to that the fact that she had experience engaging dishonesty and manipulation growing up with a passive dad and her brother Laban back in Mesopotamia. In the end, baby Jake was no match for what his parents patterned in their home.

Pattern One: Favoritism

In Genesis 25:26-34, the Bible records that Jacob capitalized on his twin brother Esau’s impulsiveness and cleverly manipulated his brother to promise away his “special legal standing” (called his “birthright”) in exchange for some stew. Dropped into the text of that story, one verse announced a glaring problem of the pattern in the home that we need to spot in verse 28:

Genesis 25:28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Do you see it? It looks like Jacob had a passive dad who focused on “what he liked” in meat, and was hard to get attention from if you weren’t a skilled hunter like Jake’s brother. Isaac had a favorite and Jake wasn’t it.

Don’t overlook the fact that the Bible made clear Isaac loved Esau for “what his child did for him.”

Now consider that Jake had a brother that was impulsive, driven by his immediate desires (something that seems to have been learned from his dad). Now add the third ingredient: Jake was raised by a manipulative mom who had a special love for him. She knew he was the promised future leader and she knew her husband didn’t have the same warmth for him that she felt.

Everyone wants to believe their momma loves them, but this picture is one of favoritism by both parents… Let’s assume that Rebekah told Jake what God told her about the younger son (him) ending up over the older son (Esau). In an environment where manipulation is rampant, can’t you see how easy it would be to convince yourself that working to bring about what God promised was no vice?

Now skip a stone across Genesis 26 for a moment.

The two big stories of chapter 26 show examples of God’s inordinate blessing on Isaac. A famine came, but God took care of him because of His previous promises to Abraham. Isaac lied to Abimelech (a local ruler) but God looked out for him (26:10) and multiplied his crops one hundredfold (25:12) – not because of his wrong behavior; but in spite of it.

Pattern Two: Inordinate Prosperity in Spite of Actions

Genesis 26 showed that Isaac’s wealth was significant, God-given and undeserved. Jake’s manipulation tendencies, as well as those of his mom, would only get stronger in the face of a huge windfall of cash. Ask any lottery winner or inheritance recipient who ever had manipulative relatives how they “upped their game” after the cash showed up.

Jake and Esau’s inheritance left them with a huge pile of cash and prizes. That brings us to the moment in the series where Jake’s mask fell completely off and his manipulations became crystal clear in Genesis 27.

Perpetrating Fraud by a the bedside of an elderly father (Genesis 27)

As we get to the center of this lesson, let’s remember that you and I got more from our parents and our home than the size of our nose and color of our hair. We got character stamps on our heart and ways of dealing with relationships. For many of us, our core values were established in our lives by our family before we were ever conscious of what was happening. These core values, character stamps and relationship coping mechanisms create the “default setting” in our lives – and take the place of grabbing God’s hand…

It is easy for any of us to fall back on “learned patterns” over the
“pulling” of our Heavenly Father.

Manipulators like Jake learned early not to trust God and grab His hand. They learned to get what they wanted through clever trickery. Life was a peach, to be plucked by one who was clever enough to see it.

Genesis 27 opened with Isaac, now old, stuck on a bed in the tent where the pattern he modeled in his home now reigned supreme.

Isaac was on his cot – now old and unable to see. Like many a dad, he taught at least one of his boys the value of work and productivity. He called to Esau. The text recorded:

Genesis 27:1 Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 2 Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. 3 “Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; 4 and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Had the birthright not been traded, it wouldn’t have been wrong for Isaac to make a request of his first born, Esau. Yet, it seems he was ignoring the fact that Jacob now held the birthright, because Isaac had a favorite. Don’t forget the verse:

Genesis 25:28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Mom and dad each had their FAVORITE – setting up a struggle in their home for the future. Dad chose his favorite based on PRODUCTIVITY (stuff that Esau could do) and mom based her favoritism on RELATIONSHIP and COMMUNICATION at home. These are age old patterns.

• Dads, we cannot measure our sons by their pitching ability or their accomplishments on the shop floor. They are our sons when they are lazy and discouraged and equally our sons when they are productive. I cannot say it strongly enough: Sons are desperate to hear dad say he loves them.

• Moms, even the boy that barely speaks coherently is still your son. They need the tenderness and care in more subtle ways perhaps, but they still need it. Don’t overestimate the ability to “schmooze” – it may not be authentic expression.

Based on the few pieces of information we have, the passage seems to indicate that either Rebekah and Jacob knew that Isaac didn’t agree with Esau’s word to trade away his birthright, or they all kept him in the dark regarding the whole affair. Either would have been completely wrong. Keep reading:

Genesis 27:5 Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.’

Rather than dealing directly with her husband, Rebekah learned to eavesdrop and plot. Don’t miss that none of that lesson was lost on Jake, either. He observed that in order to get ahead, one must cheat, lie and use deception.

If you are familiar with the story, you know that Rebekah sets up the plot to trick her aged husband in Genesis 27:8-10. She cooks the meal that would satisfy him and even provides a costume for Jake to feel like Esau in Genesis 27:11-15. Genesis reminds us this way:

Genesis 27:16 And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

Consider mom’s cunning nature – she watched for opportunities to get what she truly wanted.

Think about her demanding nature – she didn’t act as though she truly cared if her son shared her hunger for control or her value system. She was going to force him to do what was best for him even if her husband couldn’t see it, and even if HE couldn’t see it! The words echo from Genesis 27:8:

Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you,” and later… 27:13 But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.

Both statements reveal a woman that had her mind made up. A demanding nature is tied to EGO – the idea that only I know what is best.

Consider her manipulative nature – she blatantly used her husband’s obvious weaknesses. Instead of guarding him in love, she was looking PAST his life and getting her son set up. She was using a WRONG MEAT (Genesis 27:9) and working on the trick with the skins and hair.

I can’t help but note that Rebekah didn’t seem to recognize that dragging a curse upon herself was no light matter. She wanted what she wanted so much that she didn’t believe the plan could go wrong.

Jails are filled with criminals that have the same idea!

She completely lacked boundaries – she raided Esau’s clothing at will – simply to have her plan work. Did she not believe that he would hear how the plan came together?

I suspect that there was much more to her helpin her son. She may have been unaware of it, but her zeal was likely FED BY HURT. Genesis 26 includes a mere sentence that tips off the whole problem:

Genesis 26:34 When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

Do you see it? It looks like MOM was not happy with the daughters-in-law. She wasn’t unfounded in her complaints that Esau married local girls and that was NOT in accord with God’s stated words. Often trouble starts when a child disobeys God’s Word and marries one outside the limits of God’s Word.

We (parents) can see it, and they (children) don’t want to. We have tears and disappointment, but we don’t know what to do about it – they married them! We STEW (Esau pun intended) and when it comes out – how RASH we can be!

Let’s dive to the big truth here. The default setting in your relationship pattern may be to hide the truth, to fail to communicate, or to out and out lie to get your own way. You must face the wrong patterns you were brought up with. They aren’t the true hand of your real dad.

Early learned behavioral patterns picked up in a fallen world often don’t reveal our Heavenly Father’s ways. – That is important to remember.

You and I must STOP COPING with poor relationships and start SURRENDERING paths to the Lord for a complete overhaul.

Jacob believed that trickery in the service of self was no vice. If he was more clever than his dumb and dirty brother, that was Esau’s problem. Then it progressed as he grew older….If he was slicker than his sick dad could catch – no matter.

Jacob learned to fake WHO he was, and even what RELATIONSHIP HE HAD WITH GOD in order to get what he wanted. It was Jacob who openly used “God words:”

Genesis 27:20 Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the LORD your God caused it to happen to me.”

Jacob lacked the normal bond to his father, because he had an inordinate one with his mother. His mom felt no need to protect her ailing husband, and Jacob had no repulsion at tricking his father.

Jacob had no reflex reaction to breaking God’s Word. He was not going to honor BOTH his father and mother. The ship had long ago sailed on coveting. Now he could LIE and STEAL his brother’s blessing – justifying it against his brother’s stupidity.

This wasn’t simply “finder’s keepers” – this was IDENTITY THEFT. Yet, Jacob had been building what police call a “rap sheet” (list of crimes) for a long time!

Make no mistake about it; all of us must learn to carefully examine the “default pattern settings” in our life – many of which were adopted from our family behaviors and relationships. We have to look at our attitudes, our attachments, our way of behaving in relationships, our authenticity – and move from DEFAULT setting to RESET BY FACTORY.

We must not grab the pattern instead of our Father.

Real safety comes from grabbing the right hand and letting your true Father guide you.

The story is told that in 2007, a small ship left the harbor in Nova Scotia with two adults and two children. A series of failures on board the vessel, as well as horrid storms that crashed into the eastern US and Canada effectively made their return to land impossible. Blown about in the night, the small vessel had lost lights, sails, engines and its guidance radar. She was being hurled about by waves, with little hope to protect the small family that huddled below deck as the waves crashed around them. Mom and dad were clutching tightly to both of their young children. There was little else they could do. The series of terrible events that led them to this point was now irrelevant. All that was left to do was hold each other, pray, sing and hope that God would deliver them. It would take a miracle. Thankfully, they served One Who traffics regularly in miracles. With no idea where they were for several hours, they were startled when they heard a pounding on the hull of the small ship. Dad went topside and was shocked at what he saw. Nothing could have prepared him for this! Apparently, the waves had pushed them through the storm right back into the inlet, and now that tiny vessel was knocking against the dock from which they had departed the day before. How can this be? They had no steering. They had no way of knowing which way to go even if they had. What they had, was a complete dependence on their Father in Heaven. They held tightly to Him, because He was all they had left. When things seemed most out of their control, they remembered to intentionally put them all in His control. The truth is, that is where they always were. Pulling the rope onto a pole on the dock, they plucked the children from the deck and came into the boathouse feeling as though God just set them down gently after a horrible fright. They were safe because they were where He wanted them to be.

Are you? Onto what are YOU grasping tightly?

Boot Camp: “Tragic Short Cuts” – Genesis 16

Did you ever take a short cut that ended in a mess? We all love shortcuts, because they make us feel like we are clever. The problem is the fastest way to do something isn’t always the best way to do it. Ask anyone who works at a barbecue stand and they will tell you that grilling hamburgers on the hottest setting won’t get burgers on the table more quickly; the practice will simply burn the meat into inedible hockey pucks. And while taking the shortcut under the rail overpass might work in your car, you shouldn’t try it with your tractor trailer (show picture of trailer stuck under bridge overpass).

Abraham lacked information about something going wrong in his life. We know he was anxious about it, because the record we read in the last lesson reminds us:

Genesis 15:3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

He believed God’s promise, but didn’t see God’s results. What to do? He decided to take the PART of the promise he understood and fill in the other part. What should he have done?

Key Principle: To avoid painful results, seek more information from God about your problem.

The apparent problem: God hadn’t delivered…yet.

Genesis 16:1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no [children]…

The apparent problem was a lack of child – the real problem was a lack of patience with God. Be aware that many of our problems are actually nothing more than masked impatience. We want comfort, peace and security NOW. If we don’t get it now, we assume God isn’t on duty doing what He has promised.

The truth is God didn’t promise comfort and He didn’t offer a time table for many things in our life. He offered Himself – and no one in the story seems to be seeking Him!

The apparent solution: Use the law.

Genesis 16:1b …and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.

The apparent solution is to enact the legal mechanism of allowing conception through one in the household under the wife’s command – the real solution was to seek the Lord about the barrenness of the womb.

In the absence of seeking the Lord, there is always looking to other people. That is why prayer meetings often devolve into discussion groups with a few minutes of complimentary prayer. It is hard to seek the Lord, but easy to seek the counsel of others. Learning to seek Him is a necessary part of the maturing process for any believer.

The apparent understanding: God left the plan to us.

Genesis 16:2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing [children]. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived

The apparent understanding of God’s delay was that He wanted them to figure out another way to get His promise fulfilled – the real understanding should have been as simple as God sending an invitation to ask Him.

Look at the steps:

First, Sarai concluded (without asking God) their lack of conception was an intentional work of God designed to force them to step in to fix the situation.

God’s delay may have had many purposes, but she projected an understanding of God’s plan she didn’t have. Without any idea as to what God was doing, she figured out something that WOULD WORK that didn’t really require God to do anything extraordinary. In her practicality, she delayed the miracle she would experience. Often, when we get really good at finding answers, we get really bad at seeking God.

What Sarah proposed was the custom of the day even if it seems strange to us now. Remember, they had short life-spans (comparatively) and high infant mortality and natal mortality rates. Many women died giving birth just as many infants died. Customs were created to compensate. God didn’t cancel them until much later, in 1 Corinthians 7, where polygamy and multiple sexual partners were all forbidden.

Some of you may object to me sounding hard on Sarai. After all, perhaps she thought she was just being practical. A long time passed with no child and neither she nor her husband was getting younger. Why was the short cut a bad idea? Maybe it wasn’t. Without asking God why He was delaying the baby, they would never know.

Second, Abraham decided Sarai’s idea made sense, so he also sought nothing from the Lord.

God engaged Abe with promises. He wasn’t silent. Abe knew how to talk to God, but he leaned on the words of Sarai for the method of fulfillment of the words of his God. That is unwise. Sometimes it seems the more we learn to depend on people, the less we really seem to need God. Your pursuit of God needs to be personal. It doesn’t mean you cannot learn from others, it means you cannot substitute what others say for seeking God Himself.

As much as we desire to teach you to use the Scriptures well, it will take practice.

Did any of you ever have a coach show you how to throw a basketball into the hoop? The positioning of the elbow, the flexing of the wrist, and the gentle release off the finger tips are all part of the proper form. Yet, all the form instruction in the world cannot make up for practicing techniques that will show when the game gets tough.

To be clear, when we speak of “allowing God to work through us” we do not speak of something passive. It is a practiced proficiency. It is a communication skill initiated intentionally and developed over time and with careful repetition. It is the work of one who would spend much time asking God to direct steps and less time figuring out a way to make broken people behave and broken situations find immediate resolution.

One of the greatest lies Christians believe is that prayer is what you do when you can’t figure out what else to do.

That isn’t true at all. Prayer is what you do to allow God to put answers in place when you need them!

If we retreat to a counselor when we really need to pray, we get the best wisdom of a man or woman – but not necessarily the counsel of the All Knowing One. It doesn’t mean the counselor was deficient. It means God placed the problem in front of us in order that we would seek Him, and we are running from His desire. We have nothing to give God but ourselves – but that is what He seeks. Sometimes intractable problems are nothing less than an invitation of the Almighty to sit and chat for a while.

If you are honestly encountering this truth and you know that you really want God to just leave you alone and let you do what you want to do – at least be honest with yourself. There is nothing wrong with the teaching – the issues are within you. No amount of Bible reading, Bible instruction or preaching will change that reality. You are wasting your time if you won’t bring your heart to God. You can learn volumes from the Bible and perform a moral service with your daily behavior, but Jesus will still say of you: “This people honors me with their lips, but there heart is far from Me.” Worship beckons us to bow, but only we can choose to hear the call and do it.

The apparent result: God’s blessed Abraham!?!

It seemed obvious that God offered a wonderful blessing to Abraham, and certainly any of us would consider a baby a blessing of the Lord no matter HOW it was conceived.

Genesis 16:4b …and when she saw that she had conceived,

Every child is God’s blessing, not only the ones a settled, stable, married couple conceives. Every child opens a new world of possibilities. Every great invention of mankind began with a baby’s birth. Some of those inventions came from children born into nearly impossible situations.

At the same time, we need to recognize that God put up fences for a reason. He delayed the baby, not because He forgot about His promise, nor because He lost the formula to create them in the womb – He did it for His own purpose. When we crash through the fences of God, we encounter unintended beasts that live behind those fences.

Abe welcomed Hagar into his bed and some of the results were predictable. The baby was the blessing part of that. At the same time, when Hagar realized she was pregnant, more than just her belly puffed up, so did her head. What Sarai tried to accomplish for a long time took her a mere evening. It may seem funny, but to Hagar, even fertility was a contest. The text went on:

Genesis 16:4b …her mistress was despised in her sight. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me.

Try as I may, I cannot understand how Sarai turned this into an argument with Abraham! At the risk of sounding obvious, though, I must confess to having a critical flaw – that of being a man.

Instead of pure blessing, what Abe got was a migraine. One gal was pregnant and the other was mad at him. This wasn’t going well at all! Keep reading the story, because it only gets worse.

Genesis 16:6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.

Can you believe what Abraham did? To make his wife happy, Abe became passive rather than seeking a solution that honored the promised offspring. Don’t forget that! God promised him a child from his loins, and now he had one. If this was the long awaited child that God promised, he had no business treating a gift of God as something less than sacred.

That is part of the problem with fixing things ourselves.

When we don’t seek God about a problem, but rather ingeniously fix it ourselves, we aren’t as certain the “answer” isn’t just something we concocted.

We can end up missing the greatest part of God’s work because we think we “goofed” and went the wrong way. We won’t be sure. How can we?

The text followed Hagar into the desert:

Genesis 16:7 Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. 8 He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” 9 Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” 10 Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” 11 The angel of the LORD said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand [will be] against everyone, and everyone’s hand [will be] against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

God interrupted the regularly scheduled program to bring an emergency message to Hagar in order that she treat the baby with special care, and keep the baby with Abraham for his infancy and young life. Without taking every aspect of these verses into consideration, think about the promises.

First, she was commanded to return home, no matter the condition of her treatment. She was also told to respect the authority of Sarai in the home. God didn’t just send her back; He commanded change in her.

Second, she was encouraged with the message that she would bear a son, and from that boy would come a great company of people. She was told to name him “God has heard” to remind the family that God knew what happened in the whole story.

Third, she was promised the boy would be like the desert onacker, a wild donkey of great worth, but difficult to domesticate. Despite the translation of verse twelve, the Hebrew made clear, “His hand would be in everyone’s hand, and everyone’s hand would be in his.” This appears to have been a promise the boy would be deeply tied to the economy of all the other people in the region.

Finally, the end of the story offered the ONLY PERSON in the account who took what God promised back to the feet of the Lord Himself. Hagar was the one person in the story who did the right thing! The text reads:

Genesis 16:13 Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. 15 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.

What a scene! Hagar dropped in worship and did what God instructed. What a difference in how the story unfolded if Abraham and Sarah had done so back in verse 2!!! The whole situation came about because of impatience with God’s time table and the feeling that someone needed to “right the wrong” they felt.

Hagar knew life would be bearable with the knowledge the Angel of the Lord was watching over her. She called God El Roi, which means: “the God who sees me.” Even a sassy servant who ran away was in His grasp learned God didn’t miss things or mess up things.

When we turn to Him and trust Him, the outcome is left in His hands – where it belongs.

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt God may have taken a vacation? Have you wondered why things happened that pummeled your life when (remarkably) it wasn’t your fault? May I remind you that God sees you too! He sees how overwhelmed you are caring for loved ones. He recognizes the challenges you have on your job. He understands how you feel when people treat you badly at school. He feels your pain when loneliness eats away at you. He sees, and He cares. He doesn’t want you to fix the world – He wants you to find Him in the situation.

James has a reminder for us when we are in this situation:

James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have [its] perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 [being] a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Did you notice what James revealed?

He told us that we WOULD encounter various trials – it wasn’t an IF, but a WHEN. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that God hasn’t exempted His children from the pains of a fallen world.

He cautioned us to consider or reckon such times with JOY – the resolute assurance that God has neither lost interest, nor the power to deal with my problems. He doesn’t call you to feign “happiness” but rather to exude JOY. The latter is a confidence in God and His abilities.

He made clear that trials can “dot the landscape” of our lives. The term “polka dot” comes from the word used of the number of trials. Life can and will occasionally get “bombed” by trials.

He explained that trials have a purpose – the tempering of the metal of our faith. They are necessary to complete our maturity and readiness of God’s use. To push against the trials is to push against His shaping work.

What can we do when we are in the midst of a spattering of troubles?

We can trust God’s generosity is answering our painful cries. We can call on Him. We can, with confidence in His engagement and His goodness, reach out to Him for clarity in the storm. If we doubt His goodness, we will not recognize His voice. If we disbelieve His power, we won’t grab His hand for rescue.

In short, to avoid painful results, seek more information from God about your problem.

Look at the situation as an invitation to sit with God. When you do, may I offer three little insights you may want to consider:

First, don’t try to figure out God – work at following Him. Your problem isn’t as big as your God. The real issue is you don’t know why He has you where He does. As long as you resist God’s direction, you may get deeper into the problem because you won’t go where He commands. Instead of conditionally following (i.e. “I will do this if you show me what it all means and where it all goes”) – decide that it is HIS WORK to get you safely into His arms. Concentrate on knowing His character as it is revealed in His Word, and work at your attitude of willingness to respond to His command.

Second, don’t try to work for God – learn to let Him work through you. Again, this isn’t passive. Look closely at the models both in Scripture and in life of people who have learned how to let God work without giving Him advice and trying to push Him around.

Third, don’t try to find the solution to your problem – try to discern His leading in the problem. In the end, since the problem is smaller than God, the real issue isn’t how to solve the situation, it is to understand what God wants you to do or be in that place. Many believers don’t learn what God wanted them to do in troubles, because they are focused on the troubles and not on God’s lesson.

Boot Camp: “Master Craftsman” – Genesis 15

We live in a great time, we really do. I can walk into a store and purchase a tool to help me complete almost any task. That was true a generation ago. What wasn’t true was the fact that I can now order something I cannot get access to locally and it will be shipped to my door in a few days – in some places it will be flown out on a little drone.

Though we live in a small town, we can have Chinese, Thai, Mexican or Italian food any day of the week. Our supermarkets contain items grown and shipped from around the world, sent fresh to our supermarket chain. We can go a little over an hour away and get on an airplane that is made of four million distinct parts derived from shops in 13 nations and use that assembled aircraft to travel to another continent within the same day. We can get in our car and drive over to the east coast of Florida and watch a satellite get launched into space. Our lives are remarkable!

One of the things travel can do is allow you to compare how different cultures accomplish tasks and build great edifices. Traveling to Europe, I find the buildings inspiring, but I have to admit that on occasion they have left me feeling a little empty when I compare the works I have seen to the “quick and easy” lifestyle we have developed here. I admit it; the old buildings (like the great cathedrals) make me yearn sometimes for a bit more craftsmanship here at home. All our “instantly ready” microwaved meals and instant fixes to our building project needs leaves me recognizing there really is little emphasis on skilled craftsman and the quality products they crafted for longevity. Our way has advantages, but it also has some real limitations…

I guess as long as I can visit those carefully hand crafted master works it really isn’t that big a deal, but the sense of the instant does take its toll on us. One of the ways is in our theology. In our day, I don’t believe we are set up to understand how God does things – because our lives are focused far more on immediate satisfaction than long term craftsmanship.

If we want to understand how things are put together, we need to recognize something: God is a Master Craftsman. He operates on a different schedule than we do. His level of exacting detail may appear to be a slow way to respond to things, but He works for eternity and does it “over the long haul.” God, like any skilled craftsman that takes after Him, simply refuses to RUSH. At the same time, what He builds lasts for as many generations as He chooses. In our lesson today from Genesis 15, we will clearly see an encouraging truth…

Key Principle: God may take His time keeping His promises, but we should have confidence in the fact that He always keeps them in every detail.

If you have been following our lessons through the life of Abraham, you know that chapter 15 unfolded after what happened when he got back from the fight to rescue his nephew Lot. He led a victory charge and brought the people and spoils of war back to Canaan from the raiders that had taken them away to Syria. A victory parade ensued, as did some conversations that seemed as much like high level negotiations as they did a celebration of victory. If you read chapter 14 carefully, there appeared to be some undercurrent tensions with the King of Sodom named Bera but there was welcome praise and encouragement from a priestly leader named Melchizedek. Abraham returned to his tent, cleaned the dust of travel and the blood of the fight from his sandals and got some rest.

After some time God showed up again to the Patriarch…

Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.”

Perhaps he was still pondering in his heart the words of King Bera and King Melchizedek from the celebration part of his recent victory, where each spoke to Abraham of reward. Maybe those words got him thinking about God’s blessings and promises. Neither king knew Abe was struggling in his heart with the very issue of reward, because God made a promise, but was slow on delivery.

Over the years, God had appeared to him a number of times. You can trace them in Genesis. I label each of them in my own study to remind me of their major features. Beginning in Genesis 12, trace them with me for a moment. God gave Abraham…

• An “Emptying” Promise: The first meeting was in Genesis 12:1-3, when God told Abram to move out to a country God would show him, and that God would make Abram a blessing to all nations. This set up Abraham’s great “trust exchange” where he was to give up what he knew for what God promised based solely on the Word of God. It was an “emptying promise” because he had to empty his life of his own stuff in order to gain what God wanted him to have.

Later, God appeared again. The next time it was:

• A “Defined” Promise: The second meeting (recorded in 12:7) revealed to Abram that he would receive all the land he could see for his descendants. He wasn’t only going to have a city; he would have a nation. It wouldn’t only be a piece of land for him; it was an inheritance for his many children yet to be born.

God appeared yet again. This time in another meeting recorded in 13:14, he received…

• An “Extended” Promise: After Abraham separated from Lot and showed incredible generosity, God promised Abraham the land allotment would be forever his for his family. That promise implied that his family would never be wiped out in war, and made plain the perpetual land ownership of that specific inheritance on the ground as God revealed to him earlier.

Afterward, God appeared again for a fourth meeting. In it, He offered Abraham what I call…

• A “Specified” Promise: God offered an additional promise to Abe: Your household will have great reward. Abram asked “How?” God replied, “Your seed will be many, and come from YOU!”

Go back to Genesis 15:2. Listen to Abe’s heart, as he pleads a case before a “Master Craftsman God.” Nothing appears to be happening in the baby department. Time is passing and he isn’t getting any younger, and neither is his wife. The fact remained that he had a promise of God, but no delivery on that promise yet. The “Master Craftsman of Heaven” was at work, meticulously designing the fulfillment to His promise. Abraham had to learn that God is an artist that doesn’t over promise. In His time, what He delivers is beyond anything we could imagine.

I suspect after the rush of the victory and the thrill of the homecoming parade were over, Abe found himself wondering about God’s earlier promises. The public affirmation brought to the surface a deep gnawing inside: He wanted God to make good on His powerful promises.

In many ways, his feeling matched the record of Zacharias in Luke 1, who had a similar and familiar story. Decades passed and Zach and Liz didn’t have the baby they longed for, just like Abe and Sarah many generations before.

The factor that was most bothersome to both of those Biblical families is this: God took His time delivering the answer to their deepest longings. Let that sink in… God isn’t in a hurry in your circumstance, but He will keep every promise He has made.

Look at Genesis 15 again as Abe openly revealed his angst:

Genesis 15:2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”

There it is! Abe placed the pain of his impatience out in the open before God. He believed that God would keep His Word, but Abe wasn’t sure he understood how. Even more, I think there is reason to believe Abe wasn’t certain God understood how he felt about the slowly fulfilled promise. Remember, Abe didn’t have the benefit of a complete Bible to really understand God as He later revealed Himself.

The Patriarch’s words were few. He made clear that God had given him a great household, but no offspring from his loins. He made clear that he was preparing a servant to be his heir. God patiently listened and replied. “Nice plan, Abe. Wrong answer, but nice plan…”

The conversation is one of the most intimate displays of a caring God in the whole Bible. God reached deeply into Abe’s heart and gave him the promises he needed to pick up the shield of God and walk through life with it.

Genesis recorded:

Genesis 15:4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

• God told him Eliezer of Damascus would not and should not be his heir, but he would rather come from his own loins (Genesis 15:4). It is worth mentioning this wasn’t the only time Abe would take the promises of God, see a gap in them, and make his own plan to fill in the blank spaces. It was a reasonable thing to do, but it wasn’t the way the Master Craftsman wanted the thing built. Craftsmen often don’t work for efficiency as much as eloquence in the build. Long after the “need” was met, we see that God’s way of meeting it took care of issues we never anticipated at the time. We are anxious, but God is incredibly thorough!

• God offered an object lesson in the stars and told him clearly his house would be great in number (Genesis 15:5). The stars weren’t only many in numbers, but diverse in appearance and beautiful to behold. Abe didn’t miss the lesson.

Presented with the knowledge that God had a plan to build a huge household for and from Abe, the Patriarch bowed before God in recognition that he truly believed what he heard.

The text revealed:

Genesis 15:6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

The term “believed” (awman) was a form of the word that came from the building trade. It appears to have originally meant “to build upon” or “to set to give stability.” It is a foundational term sometimes used of doorposts. Abraham’s belief in what God said showed when he built his life upon it. That single act was counted as righteousness, and the record of it echoes throughout Scripture…

As we have studied together, it is clear God had his hand on Abraham’s life for a long time before this event, but something dramatic happened at this point in the narrative. This wasn’t the first encounter with God, but something was different this time. God saw something in Abraham’s heart, and Abraham saw something in God’s heart. Hebrew writers of old recalled Abraham’s choice in places like Nehemiah 9:8 and Psalm 106:31.

In the New Testament, the event was seen as pivotal and gained much attention. We can see this in Romans 4, where Paul built his argument on that act. Paul’s argument with those in Rome was essentially this:

The temple authorities are claiming you need to enlist in the Atonement Law of Sacrifice even if you have a walk with Jesus. They claim the actions of the Law are what make God satisfied concerning your sin. Yet, Abraham’s story runs contrary to their assertion:

• He is our fleshly father; we are his heirs (4:1).
• He wasn’t made complete in his walk with God by things he did, but by his personal belief in what God said (4:2-5).

Paul remarked:

Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

Paul pressed the idea that circumcision (as entry eligibility for participation in the atonement sacrificial system) wasn’t a part of the satisfaction of God in Abraham – only his belief was required.

He asked:

Romans 4:9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

We see another version of that argument again in Galatians 3:6, where Paul again pressed the importance of Abraham’s belief as the point God accepted him.

Galatians 3:6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, [saying], “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

Be careful not to misread that. Paul wasn’t saying that people who believe replace Israel as the sons of Abraham. In chapter 10 and 11 he will make the point there is a future for the physical children of Abraham. Here he adds people who have faith in Jesus to the blessed children of Abraham, in the sense that we have one heritage found in God. What is crystal clear is the notion that a man or woman can be made right with God by faith alone. The atonement once required has been fully replaced in Messiah by justification.

The key point from Paul’s teaching of the Gospel concerning Abraham was this: Though the atonement system (the offering of sacrifices in the tabernacle and later the temple made accessible to the circumcised) was necessary for a time, it wasn’t the ONLY way God ever worked. In fact, it wasn’t the basis of God’s acceptance. It was built UPON something more basic: belief. Lots of good animals died in the temple without effect if the person offering them didn’t believe.

The eternal formula for acquiring a right standing with God is and always was this: Lost men and women are saved by grace through faith. The grace is unmerited favor – every person given access to an intimate and eternal walk with God is given it without deserving it. The Fall in the Garden of Eden was a total mutiny. All salvation is by grace.

At the same time, God’s unmerited favor is accessed only by faith. The term means, “seeing it the way God says it is and not as my eye would see it without His revealed truth.”

For Abraham, belief that God would do exactly what He promised was the signal fire of belief in him. For people after the Atonement Law was in place, belief that God would abate His wrath and turn back toward them because they offered their heart to Him and an offering on the altar as a symbol of that brought intimacy with God. It was temporary, but effective.

In Jesus, belief that God sent His sinless and eternal Son to die in our place in payment for our mutiny is required to bring us into a forever relationship with God. Jesus’ death paid for my sin. Jesus’ resurrection proved the payment was accepted. My belief activates the transaction in my life. If I accept God’s testimony that what Jesus did is all that is required, I will be justified – not by my works, but by belief alone. Abraham proved that was possible without any work of any kind. Salvation happens in the heart and is based on belief in God’s truths as they are presented.

From another direction, the Apostle James made another truth clear from the record of that act in James 2:23. The problem was that first century preaching of salvation apart from atonement law gave people excuses to simply SAY they believed in Jesus, but live as they chose.

James responded:

James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for [their] body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, [being] by itself.

Referring to Abraham taking Isaac to the altar to be slain at the word of God he wrote:

James 2:22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The argument isn’t contradictory, but complementary.

James didn’t argue that belief wasn’t the underlying factor (which was Paul’s point) but rather that it was clearly evidenced in behavior. Belief without heart response is dead theory. The appearance of works in response to God without belief is dead work.

To end the passage, God told Abraham to bring sacrificial animals, kill them and lay them out (Genesis 15:9-10). In order to keep the place suitable for God to work, Abraham drove away any vultures that were attracted to the carcasses. Working until nightfall, Abraham became tired and fell asleep. God added a depth to that rest and spoke to Abraham (Genesis 15:11-12). When God spoke, He explained that He would keep His promises.

Don’t skip the detail before God spoke. Abraham spent the afternoon waiting for God’s answer, and it didn’t come. He wanted to hear from God, but ended up chasing nasty birds. Why is that detail there? Because it is part of the POINT of the whole lesson. God wasn’t in a hurry. He was working behind the scenes. He already had selected the time and place He would reveal the fulfillment of His plan to Abe. Remember the truth we are studying?

God may take His time keeping His promises, but we should have confidence in the fact that He always keeps them in every detail.

While God was holding off on giving Abraham a son, He was preparing to give him whole nations. He was building the history book of mankind in advance. The story of Abraham isn’t yesterday’s news – it is the story of the Middle East TODAY. It will continue to dominate the news until the last moment of human history when time surrenders to eternity.

In other words, Abe saw his immediate inner desires while God saw the whole human program. Abe’s needs were much more modest than God’s answers! God’s view was bigger. It always is.

She loved God and she loved her husband. Though there was once passion in their marriage, she couldn’t honestly say that her husband loved her anymore. She couldn’t say he had any love for God. She saw his heart move away from her and she sobbed before God. He left. Her life collapsed. She sorted through the wreckage of past joys and even the pictures of old happiness served only to break her heart, again and again. She couldn’t go on. Quietly, she laid out her case to God. She was a good wife. She sought Jesus daily. Why wouldn’t He help her? She pleaded, but the words seemed to sink into the ceiling and go no further. She honestly felt abandoned by God… but she was wrong.

He left her and committed awful deeds. Swallowed in selfishness and greed, he broke the law and was caught. Now he sat in jail. Each letter he received from her convinced him that no one else in the world cared what happened to him. As he read the words of her tear-stained letters, he saw, for the very first time, who he really was – and what he gave up when he walked out on her. God used her brokenness to touch something inside him. God used his defeat to break his pride. The combination was powerful. Her testimony reached him, and her Jesus changed him.

It wasn’t instant. It wasn’t painless. It wasn’t fast. It DID produce a believing home that is now filled with joy. It produced two children that have godly parents. They don’t yet know the story of how their parents were constructed by a Master Craftsman to be a beautiful cathedral to Jesus. Someday they will hear the whole story!

Boot Camp: “Gearing Up for a Crisis” – Genesis 14 (Part Two)

One of the most frustrating parts of life is that we encounter people who seem somewhat clueless as to taking responsibility for their own choices, and facing the risks of their own behavior. In our day, we can easily be surrounded by people who want adult choices, but don’t feel responsible to make adult decisions. Let me offer some examples that may hit close to people you know or perhaps work with in our community…

Joe lives life fast and loose. He doesn’t have insurance on his property, because he thinks it is a “colossal waste of money.” He eats what he wants when he wants it. He buys what he likes and thinks a savings account is only for rich people. He isn’t interested in a retirement account because he would rather spend his money as he earns it. After all, how does he know he’ll be around long enough to spend what he puts aside? If he isn’t, the whole idea of saving it was just a waste. Joe fell one day from a little ladder outside his house. It wasn’t a big fall, but it was enough for Joe to have to get a bone set, and a surgery on some ligament damage. Out of work for a short time, Joe was incensed with his mortgage company for insisting he pay the bill. His electric got shut off. He steamed over the fact these “greedy companies don’t have any conscience about his pain.” He doesn’t connect the life he has lived for decades with his recent encounter of pain and loss. He thinks companies are the problem – not his choices.

Charlotte grew up in a Christian home, but some of her choices show she didn’t really follow what she was taught. She made critical compromises in moral areas that ended up costing her a great deal. On the street for a time, her family came to “bail her out” multiple times – but those stories didn’t end in change of her behavior. She kept expressing that she “needed help” because she wouldn’t take the steps necessary to solve her issues. She kept concluding that she was a victim, rather than recognizing her choices were pushing her in the opposite direction that she wanted to go.

Irresponsible people like these aren’t new to society. In our last lesson, we slowed down our march through Genesis and took a little time to contemplate the CAUSE of the battle of Lot and Abraham, and observe how wrong choices led to real problems. In this lesson, I want to look more closely at the people who are highlighted in the story of the “Battle of the Jordan River plain” and its aftermath in Genesis 14. As we do, note the people and their various attitudes. You will find Joe and Charlotte tucked into the story. You will also find a wonderful new friend for Abraham named Melchizedek. You will also learn an enduring truth:

Key Principle: Maturity is about recognizing stewardship and taking responsibility.

In fact, Abraham had three kinds of people in his life that are carefully highlighted in the story. Bear in mind he wasn’t always reflected as a good guy without flaws in this mini-series, but in this episode of his life he shined in a tale of faithfulness surrounded by three different kinds of people. Let me introduce the players in the story:

• First, there was a man we will refer to as the “Godless Entitled Chief.” Bera, the king of Sodom, who knew his choices led his life to failure, still felt he should get “his piece of the pie” from the hard-fought victory of Abraham. He even attempted to make himself look somewhat generous when he requested what was earned by someone else’s labors.

• Second, there was the believer who made bad choices, only to become a “Clueless Taker.” Lot was raised as a God-follower, but repeatedly refused a circumspect life and dwelt among the world’s worst characters. That brought him a solid stream of troubles. As a result, he became the “Bail-out Believer” who sapped time, resources, and energy from Abraham. That would have been fine, but he never seemed to stand on his own in maturity. You may know believing friends who thinks the Christians around them should take care of the bill created by their choices.

• Thankfully, there is a third man in the story. He is a God-follower, and he is a mature believer. We will call him our “Godly Encourager,” Melchizedek, a God-follower and encourager of Abraham.

Let’s get into the text and look carefully at the story.

The Crisis

First, let’s read about the crisis that introduced the men into the narrative. Drop your eyes into the story of a war…

Genesis 14:5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim and the Zuzim in Ham and the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in their Mount Seir, as far as El-paran, which is by the wilderness. 7 Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and conquered all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, who lived in Hazazon-tamar.

The text drew the lines around the adversaries. Chedorlaomer raided the deserts of wilderness tribes in what is today Israel, Jordan and eastern Egypt (the Sinai). Because the areas may be unfamiliar to you, let me share that he subdued the “tribes of Rephaim” in what will later be the “hill country of Judah” west of Jerusalem, along with the “Zuzim,” the “Ham,” the “Emim,” the “Horites,” and the “Amalekite tribes” in several different deserts, or what the Bible calls “the wilderness” areas. These tribes were used to a nomadic life, and even their “cities” were often massive tent encampments.

That background was supplied so that Moses could record the staging of the “Battle of the Jordan Plain” in Genesis 14:8-9.

Genesis 14:8 And the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah and the king of Admah and the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) came out; and they arrayed for battle against them in the valley of Siddim, 9 against Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim and Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five.

Essentially, five tribal chieftains including Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela (or Zoar) joined forces against the raiders from the Mesopotamian plains far east of them. The four raiding tribes were clear invaders: Chedarlaomer of Elam, Tidal of Goiim, Amraphel of Shinar and Arioch of Ellasar. They were muscling in on an expanded set of trade routes and gaining the allegiance of many tribesmen to build a desert network of caravan routes. Cities in league near the Dead Sea were a problem for the Mesopotamians. Some of the cities of that region were among the oldest in the world, like Jericho. Sodom and Gomorrah appear to be the largest of those cities.

From an archaeological standpoint, there is a debate about where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were (since they were destroyed). Some archaeologists look for remains of a city – but that presupposes the ruins survived after the destruction of the places.

East of the Dead Sea is a site from the “Early Bronze Age” (Patriarchal Period) called Bab edh-Dhra. There was a small city of about 1,000 individuals that lived in an area that has been partially excavated. The remarkable feature of Bab edh-Dhra is the number of graves found near the site. While the city was apparently small, an estimated 20,000 tombs are located beside the site. These family tombs would have held approximately half a million people and over 3 million pottery vessels. Some of us think that represented cities that were eliminated in Genesis.

What Went Wrong in the Fight?

Genesis takes us back to the scene and describes what the home team army failed to do.

Genesis 14:10 Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell into them. But those who survived fled to the hill country.

Though the defenders of the plain were on “home turf,” it seems that Chedarlaomer and his allies routed the local tribal warriors of the plain, because they seemed unable to maneuver well in the sinkholes and tar pits of the Jordan Valley near their own cities. I suspect they got trapped in pockets and split up by the superior force.

It is a bit ironic that the men of Sodom ended up trapped in a slime pit on home turf.

The plains tribes were demoralized and shaken, so they broke off their defense and fled into what would later be known as the “wilderness of Judah” leaving their home encampments, wives and children undefended. The battle won, Chedarlaomer and his raiders snatched all that they could and started to journey north toward Galilee, Golan, Syria, and eventually home. Genesis told the story this way:

Genesis 14:11 Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. 12 They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. 13 Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram.

Sodom and Gomorrah were abandoned, their people captured by Chedarlaomer and their army probably returning slowly in shambles as people trickled back to the region. Among the captive from the cities of the plain being carted north was Lot, nephew of Abram. Uncle Abe got word at his plight when a man who evaded capture visited the encampment of Abe, near Hebron.

The Counterattack

Moses continued the record of the story:

Genesis 14:14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. 16 He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.

There are a number of insightful comments offered in these verses.

First, we can clearly see that Abe grew considerably after his encounter in Egypt years before. In chapter 12, Abram acted like a coward when he came into Egypt and didn’t protect his wife. He thought of himself in earlier times. In this account, it appears things had changed. Abe grew. He stood up because he possessed something the world around him did not have: He grasped the promises of God and walked in God’s plan for his life.

Second, it is important to note that Abraham used the prosperity God gave him to grow his sense of responsibility. Things seemed progressively less important with each story after Egypt, and people seemed more important.

At the same time, I think it is the END of the text of Genesis 14 that reveals its true importance. As Genesis 14 closed, contrasting world views are highlighted in the people Abraham met.

The Homecoming

In verses 17 through 24, we see a record of two different leaders talking to Abram. First, Melchizedek, the king of Salem (likely Jerusalem) came out to meet Abram. Next, Bera, the king of Sodom made a request of Abe. All the while, quietly standing by was Abe’s nephew Lot.

Listen to their contrasting voices. For reasons that will become obvious, I want to take them out of order…

First, look at the meeting with the King of Sodom:

Genesis 14:21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” 22 Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”

Sodom’s king commanded a wicked people in the wake of a failed war. The city would be a mere memory had it not been for Abraham. Clearly the king’s strategies hadn’t been working, and this was a time when he should have shown humility. I ask you honestly, “Do his words sound humble?” He said two things:

First, he said: “Give the people to me.”

Second, he said: “Take the goods for yourself.”

Sodom’s failed chief, in essence, offered to “share” the spoils from the battle with Abraham, but offered no praise or blessing to Abram. It is clear by Abe’s response that on the scene and in the time, Abe thought anything he “shared” would significantly compromise the way the story was recalled later. Lest we come to believe Bera somehow was humbled, remember by Genesis 19 God will completely destroy his city. John Calvin perceptively remarked that Abram knew others would falsely accuse him of using the “rescue of Lot” as a pretense to get personal gain. Abe understood that is what Bera would have done if the situation were reversed.

Next, listen to the record of his meeting with Melchizedek, king of Salem:

Genesis 14:17 Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all.

What a different tone to this king over Bera of Sodom! As he brought out bread and wine of celebration, he acted the part of a priest. It was clear that he responded to the situation of Abraham’s victory with praise to God. Melchizedek’s words of praise were directed at God for Abraham. He was the kind of encourager every believer needs in life – the kind that points us back to God while celebrating our progress with us!

The king of Salem pressed Abe to see that God was at work on his behalf. He didn’t try to rob him of the victory, but rather pointed out the source of his blessing. In the parade, it is good to get the gentle reminder that we accomplish by the Lord’s hand.

While the response to the king of Sodom would have felt like paying a tax, the response to the king of Salem felt like celebrating God’s goodness.

Don’t forget that Lot was also there.

His poor choices led him to be a part of the problem. Abe could have been hurt or killed because of the life choices of Lot. At the very least, he was diverted from his life tasks because of them.

Do you see the three people Abraham encountered?

• One was a believer who made choices that were irresponsible and ungodly – and needed Abe and his men to come to the rescue and use God’s resources to bail them out.

• One was a non-believer who projected his value system on Abe, and acted entitled to share in the good result when his life strategies caused the problems to begin with.

• One was a fellow worshiper who led Abe to conclude that victory came because God was active at work on his behalf.

Let’s say it another way:

In his life, he had an immature “taker,” who sapped his energy without any sense that is what he was doing. He made choices and didn’t pay the end by himself. He didn’t seem to connect the dots between his choices and the number of people he drew into harm’s way.

In his life, he had an entitled voice from the fallen world around him. This man didn’t connect his failed strategies and terrible life choices to his losses, but rather expected Abe to include him in the victory celebration and charged a tax to absorb some of the victory. There was no praise in his voice. There was no real desire to bless Abe. There was a demand for part of the pie and a concession that Abe could keep the secured possessions. Ironically, Bera didn’t give Abe anything Abe didn’t already have – he was artfully acting as those he should get benefit from Abe’s victory.

Finally, there was an encouraging voice of a fellow follower of God. He didn’t direct his thinking to Abe, but to the God over all of them. He drew Abe into a celebration of praise. From that, Abe gave a tithe. It wasn’t forced upon him, and no “deals” were made with Melchizedek. It was a response to being led into praise.

The point is simple: Mature believers aren’t trying to find ways in relationships to get things. They aren’t “clueless” about grabbing the fruit of another’s labor, and they don’t walk around entitled. In fact, their focus isn’t primarily on the events – but on the God Who is in control.

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself – it is thinking of yourself LESS. Mature believers DO praise progress, but they understand it is in the context of God’s goodness and God’s provision. We win when He opens that door. We gain because He allows it to be so. They do not sing the song of pride, but of gratitude.

Here is my simple question: Who are you most like in the story?

Are you trying to follow the Lord, but you keep finding yourself unable to make it without the constant bail out of others? Let me challenge you: Your life choices must change for you to change your outcomes. If you don’t like what you’re reaping, you have to change what you are sowing. Open your heart and your ears to those who are helping you. What can you change about your life to remove the constant sense of drain you put on others?

Are you living life without recognizing how God provides all you possess? Do you feel entitled to a good life, even when your choices are largely self-serving? Have you considered how good God has been to you in providing by the work of others what you have? Do you think of yourself and how you deserve what you have or do you focus more on how God provides undeserved blessing to you? Let me challenge you: If you don’t see God at work, it may be because you don’t truly know Him at all.

Are you the encouraging voice of a friend that helps focus others on God at work in their lives? Does your counsel lift? Does your countenance show one who lives in praise of a good God? Let me challenge you: If God has been good, shouldn’t you declare Him so?

Did you ever hook a trailer to the back of your automobile and then need to back up? As you are trying to decide which way the trailer will go when you turn in a certain direction, you move slowly and keep doubling back on yourself. You pull forward again and turn the opposite way. Eventually, you see the trailer begin to go as you need it to go. What if you decided that no matter what you did, the trailer was being feisty and causing your trouble? What if you thought, “This is a bad trailer. I am stuck with a trailer that has no sense. What can I do?” If you kept pressing the gas while it was turned in the wrong direction, it would go to the wrong place, and likely harm other people or property.

Some people live that way. They feel the trailer is defective – it isn’t about their turns. They don’t re-work their method, because it is the “situation” that dominates their life and they are a victim of it. They don’t get better because they don’t own the problem. They aren’t the driver of the life God entrusted to them.

If you don’t become a steward, you will frame life as a victim of circumstance – but that isn’t what God told us to do. We are told to drive our own life toward Him. Drive! Make the turns and change what you are doing based on where the trailer goes.

You can be a help or a hindrance to others. You can bring praise or problem to them. In most situations, it comes down to taking responsibility for our life choices and where they lead. Maturity is about recognizing stewardship and taking responsibility.

Boot Camp: “Gearing Up for a Crisis”- Genesis 14 (Part One)

Whether you are ready or not, at some point, a crisis will lunge its way into your life like an undetected snake hiding in your boot. It will hit you in a way you could never imagine beforehand and either hurt you deeply, or (at the very least) it will rock your stability. It can be a health crisis, a financial crisis, an emotional crisis, or even a spiritual crisis. If I have learned anything in life it is this: crises will come.

Another thing I have learned is that it is never possible to be fully ready for a crisis. You can prepare yourself (and you should), but when you are stricken, it will invariably be in an area you didn’t foresee with a strength you couldn’t imagine. I am not trying to scare you, but anyone who has lived a little will tell you what I am saying is true.

In recent months, my family has been reeling from changes that can best be explained as aging issues with my dear mom and dad. It isn’t that we didn’t know they were getting older; it is that we didn’t know what that would look like, and how it would affect both them and us. I admit to being taken entirely by surprise at the range of feeling in the sweeping changes… and my situation is by no means as bad as it could be.

On the other hand, one of our students was sitting in church last Sunday, not knowing that by this week he would have left school and be back in Ohio with his family. This week his mom was diagnosed with a brain cancer that is aggressive, and given a number of months to live. Kevin walked blindly into a crisis. His family is in a crisis. There is simply no way at his age he could have fully prepared for this. There was no way for him to see it coming. Yet, our lesson today suggests there are things he and his family can do that will make the crisis bearable – but don’t take it that following God would have insulated him from the experience. Job, Moses, Paul – any of them would tell you that following God is no guarantee for crisis free living.

Our passage for this lesson unfolds an unexpected crisis. There are two players who directly faced it: Abraham and Lot. I want to break the lesson in two, and talk today about Lot’s experience MORE than about Abraham’s, following up in the next lesson with Abe’s perspective. The basic storyline of Genesis 14 is a simple one. If I were writing about this episode in the mini-series that is the life of Abraham for an ancient version of TV GUIDE, I might say it this way:

Lot’s choice for a place to live dropped him into the heart of a long-standing conflict that erupted into war. Caught and led captive by an enemy of his region, he is rescued by Abraham and Abe’s tribal warriors. As Lot is repatriated back to Canaan, Abraham meets face to face with two Canaan chieftains – the King of Salem and the King of Sodom.”

In essence, the story demonstrated how a bad choice led to a bad situation that required a rescue. In the wake of the rescue, there are two short, but “telling” engagements, that highlight two ways of thinking – one from a believing prince, another from a lost and wicked one.

Step back for a moment and consider the old saying: “The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battlefield.” If that is true, we should expect a level of crisis. War is about surprising the opposition. To be clear, then, the believer isn’t supposed to fit comfortably into this life without any struggle if we were born again into a war. Neither are we supposed to capitulate to those driven by fallen values. In the end, we can’t fully be ready, but the Lord has offered us a model of how to navigate the troubles in the stories of those long ago. In this story there is a secret Abraham modeled and Lot missed:

Key Principle: The secrets to effectively confronting evil are circumspect living and a carefully maintained walk with God.

The secret is NOT perfection, because that is unattainable. The secrets modeled by Abraham were un-extraordinary and un-profound preparation. Abraham placed himself in a position where evil was not saturating his life, but conversely he learned to seek, hear, and learn from God. When the struggle came, he was ready to face it on the terms of his daily walk. He didn’t seek crisis, but he was ready to answer the needs. That is our next lesson. For this one, I want to look at Lot who modeled NEITHER secret. He jumped into the soup of evil, and found himself in captivity.

Let me offer a snapshot that explains his mistake, because it is an easy one to make. In Genesis 14:1-4 the text unfolds a league of cities that rebelled against a stronger chieftain that was not on the scene in verse four. The cities paid a tribute to the chief, and after many years decided to rebel. The chief came to prove to the cities that was a mistake in Genesis 14:5-13. Chedorlaomer cleaned up the rebel cities and took people hostage. In the wake of the rebellion, there was carnage, burned camps and an escaping army. The last part of that section made clear the crisis that dropped into Lot and Abraham’s life:

Genesis 14:12 They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. 13 Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram.

It is worth noting that this is the Bible’s earliest record of a specific regional war. Abraham went to save his nephew in response, but don’t neglect that he had a treaty with the defeated tribes to defend them. How did he get that? I suspect there is MORE to Lot’s involvement than is written at the end of 14:13, where it simply explains that Abram was an “ally.” I have no doubt there were many other wars in that time, but this is the first mention in the text of Genesis of such an event.

In the text, both Lot and Abraham faced trouble – but Lot’s troubles clearly came because of earlier choices. Isn’t that true of many of our problems?

People come in for financial assistance and tell us how they got hurt on the job, and they are now financially unable to care for their mortgage. What they don’t say (because they don’t see it) is they made MANY choices before the situation they feel victimized by now. They were overspending while they were working and have no savings. They didn’t take the optional insurances that would help in this situation. They simply didn’t look around and spot where trouble COULD come from. They lived life without a prepared circumspect view. This is not unusual.

In fact, the problem is that some believers live as if they shouldn’t prepare for anything. They believe that way of living somehow lacks faith. They maintain the view that it is possible to live successfully in the world system without the need to stick out or get ready – and I think neither will work. I honestly encounter people who believe that at their heart, most people will be reasonable when it comes to moral choices. They believe the world has few snares and many pleasures that are simply free benefits. They live life with no sense that danger may be ahead. They honestly seem unaware of the power of the enemy until they are caught.

That is the story of Lot.

To understand the setting of Genesis 14, you have to recall his blind but incredibly optimistic choice that set up his eventual captivity. Remember the story? In a time when the shepherds of Lot’s flocks were in conflict with the shepherds of Abraham’s flock (ostensibly because of limited turf) Abraham let Lot choose where he wanted to live and agreed to subdivide the land God had promised him. Lot’s choice was recorded in Genesis 13:10:

“Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.”

The choice of a place to live was a big one. As for all of us, such a choice isn’t only about the landscape, but about the moral and political environment.

The travel channel doesn’t seem to capture that idea. The other day I saw in a hotel room a show that was all about the virtues of a family from the US getting an unbelievable deal on a home in Libya. The next show followed some British ex-pats who lived in Marrakesh, Morocco. Both shows touted what a great place these families had chosen to “beat the rat race” of western society and live more simply. Both celebrated the beauty of a home that could be purchased at a fraction of the price. Both made the point that “family” was so important to them, so they made the bold move to leave their home and build a new life in a new place. Neither of them addressed how it would affect their children to be raised in an environment like the one they were promoting. Neither show referenced how living in a Muslim village would affect their daughters. Neither show seemed to acknowledge that such a “bold move” would inevitably cause them to confront other issues about their lives.

Because I raised my children in a different culture and lived long enough to see the results of that, perhaps I was more sensitive to that danger. In the end, Lot made his choice apparently without connecting any future dots.

Look at the phrase in the beginning of Genesis 13:10 and it becomes clear that Lot chose his future based on what looked like it would fulfill his desires and meet his needs – like many of us did. The problem is, as a believer, the choice wasn’t to be made that way at all. He never sought the Lord in the text, but apparently thought the Lord would just endorse his plans for the future. Have you ever done that? Have you ever asked God for His direction only after the contract was signed?

The short back story here is that poor choices by Lot led his family into a dangerous conflict he didn’t recognize. His choice set the stage about him that was physically perilous, morally hazardous and unhealthy in the extreme.

Let me lay something out in front of you for a moment. Would you drop your eyes to the middle of the text of Genesis 14? Listen as I read verse twelve:

Genesis 14:12 They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.

I couldn’t help but notice at the end of the verse how there was a slight difference between where Lot ended up and where he first located. It caught my eye. I had to flip back and look, and there it was in the middle of Genesis 13:

Genesis 13:12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.

Did you see those words? The EDGE of Lot’s initial choice was the city of Sodom. In time, his home was parked right in the middle of town. What began as bordering Sodom ended up as living in Sodom. Can you sympathize with Lot? If you have any experience with Sodom, you know how that happened…

Have you or someone you know well ever been “sucked into Sodom?”

Maybe we should ask, “What is the problem with living in SODOM? Perhaps it doesn’t sound so bad. In the Bible, Sodom is a shorthand script for a morally degenerate environment.

• Sodom presents the values of WORLDLINESS.
• Sodom offers the enticement of a fallen world.
• Sodom is the best men can do when they apply WORLDLY wisdom.
• Sodom was touted as a HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT of freedom from rules that dragged men down.
• Sodom was SELF-WILL on open display.

Today, it looks like a parade in Key West, or a walk on the Vegas strip. The colors and energy of enticement distract you from thinking about where choices lead. Sodom is about NOW, not later. Sodom is about FEELING A RUSH, not paying the freight.

It has been centuries, and still we must ask the question to the long gone nephew Lot… “What are you doing living in Sodom?”

Perhaps you think me too harsh. Maybe you have found the enlightened ability to rationalize Sodom. Spend time counseling people paying for their past Sodom and I suspect you would change your tune.

But rationalizing Sodom doesn’t let us really think about the bill we will owe.

It is caught by a vision of the lights and the sounds of freedom. Let me see if any of these arguments hit close to where you are thinking, or have thought.

Most people didn’t get kidnapped into Sodom (Lot included), they walk in. As a warning to you, here is a thought we should consider when we see the “Welcome to the Good Life of Sodom” sign:

You and I are not as strong as we think we are. Many a “Lot” or “Lottess” have made the intentional decision to encounter Sodom thinking: “I know better. I was raised better! I will not be sucked into the temptations that Sodom offers. May I say aloud? “This was (and is) a foolish mistake!” Perhaps the simple application of 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 is in order:

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Listen to the words Paul wrote carefully. He doesn’t say that you can BEAR the temptation. He makes the point that God provides an escape before you hit the breaking point. If you don’t use the door to exit, you will be defeated. Hear me: hang in there in your strength and you will be sucked downward! In the Word, the constant call to the believer amid temptation is the same – FLEE. Get out of there.

For some, it isn’t that they believe they will be strong. It is the simple matter that they haven’t concluded that Sodom was really “all that bad” after all. I mean, “Every place has an issue!”

The problem is that Sodom is MORE CORRUPT than you may have ever imagined! Its costs are “all in” and it leaves nothing in its wake.

Unless he was comatose shortly after his move, Lot had to know of the openly recognized dangers in Sodom, but he seemed blind to how pervasive the evil had become and how powerful its attraction would be in his life and that of his family members. Remember, as you keep reading Genesis, God’s vote was that Sodom was suited to destruction. This takeover in war was likely the “last call” for the city to repent. Not long after, God said their “turnaround time” was over. Sodom was so immersed in a fallen world view the inhabitants erased all memory of true morality. They “made up their own rules” and then taxed away to pay for the social programs that tried unsuccessfully to address the unintentional consequences of their policies. Imagine a place like that! (I know you can’t!).

Paul described in Romans 1 what God called a “reprobate” mind. The willful divorce from God in the thinking of man, the pulling down of the very Creator from His rightful place of worship, marks the senseless descent from truth into the abyss of immoral ungodliness. In the end, they defiled their bedrooms in the celebration of the god of boundary-less pleasures.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Lot didn’t think he was strong enough to resist. Maybe Lot believed the old adage: “I know how far I can go.” I am convinced that many a believer has no clue of the true object of temptation. You aren’t tempted as a way for the enemy to find a way to ultimately PLEASE YOU. You are tempted, both in your flesh, and by the dangling of the world’s fallen thinking backed by the enemy’s encouragement, for the singular purpose to TRAP you.

Temptation CAPTURES the tempted. It SNARES. It ENTICES. That is its nature.

A few months ago I had a cat coming by to eat the food in my chicken pen. She didn’t harm the chickens and I didn’t like the idea of harming the cat, so I let it go on and tossed balls at her to scare her if I thought she took too much. A few weeks later, word got out. I believe her kittens came out of the bushes and they joined in. On any given morning I had more cats I was feeding than chickens. I got a “safe trap” from the animal control. I put an open can of cat food in the trap. In an hour, the trap had its first kitten. I took the trap to let the kitten go into the wilderness away from houses. I came back. In another hour, I had kitten two to relocate. In another hour, kitten three was in the trap. The remarkable thing is that each of the kittens saw the other taken away. Entering the trap was never a successful way to be fulfilled because it was designed to be a TRAP.

Think of what the Bible warned about sinful enticement:

Proverbs 1:10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. 11 If they say, “Come with us …13 We will find all kinds of precious wealth, we will fill our houses with spoil; 14 throw in your lot with us, we shall all have one purse…” 15 My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path.

Did not James 1:14-15 warn us:

James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

When will we stop the rationalizing that ensnares us? When will we stop saying, “I’ll just be there a short time, I won’t stay long!” Does anyone ever thoughtfully plan to shipwreck their life and testimony? Isn’t it always because we chose to “nibble” before we got trapped? Still another rationalizer from the School of Lot will cry, “I’ll never know if I’m a strong enough unless I try.” What a dumb strategy. That’s like trying to decide how far you can fall by jumping from a variety of cliff heights!

Here is the truth: If you come to believe there is a better alternative to facing temptation than the one instructed by God, your arrogance is showing.

Fleeing, as God clearly instructs, is HIS way to win. If you have another plan, your knowledge (which you must believe is greater than God’s knowledge) will fail you. It just will. How about the great rationalization from the Lot school of outreach: “Wait! I’m going to be a missionary!” Some think: “I will place myself in that situation to reach people.” The “courses” at the “Lot School of Outreach” include such classes as:

Missionary dating: I will date them and show them what a Christian really is…
Clubbing for outreach: My testimony will shine louder than the lights and they will all notice Jesus in me as they down their drinks and look for a hookup.
• Or perhaps the ever-popular course: “Entangling your business with unbelievers as an effective evangelism strategy.”

Then there is my personal favorite: The course called “Missionary Marriage” where you marry a mate so you can reach them for Jesus!

Let’s be absolutely clear: When you assemble life apart from the Creator’s instructions, you will have two results. You will have leftover parts and things won’t work as you plan them.

When your motive is really to find fulfillment in a plan that God doesn’t endorse, you will find that you never influence Sodom as much as Sodom influences you!

That is why God instructed:

2 Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

That is why God commanded:

2 Timothy 2:22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

That is why God warned:

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

Did you notice that Peter couldn’t have been more clear. Don’t buy the bullets for the weapons the enemy uses to shoot at you. Making decisions to find fulfillment in this life apart from God’s path is a surefire way to pummel the part of you that truly desires to walk in obedience to God into silence and captivity. The two sides of you, the old man and the spiritually alive are tangled in a vicious war.

Quickly go back to Genesis 14:4. Consider the background to the story as a simple cautionary tale:

Genesis 14:4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but the thirteenth year they rebelled.

Consider this: Lot moved into the place when a war was slowly coming to a boil. Should we not see there are dangers in Sodom that we may not perceive when we decide to become comfortable living there? It appears that Lot was unaware of the coming conflict. That is why circumspect living is commanded by God – it helps you assess danger before you wake up in a battle you cannot win.

It is probably worth remembering here that reality will NEVER match Satan’s advertising about your compromised choices!

I have to believe from later stories that Lot wasn’t completely oblivious to the dangers of Sodom. To live there, it seems to me he had to suppress his conscience.

When rationalization takes hold, the conscience is pushed to the back of your heart.

The most remarkable part of the story to me was that AFTER Abraham rescued his family, Lot RETURNED to Sodom! After Abraham exposed the evil of the thinking of the ruler of Sodom, Lot STILL took his family and went back to settle in for a stay.

In the next lesson, I want to look more closely at the battle and its aftermath. For now, it is enough to contemplate the CAUSE of the battle, and observe which man was ready when it came.

The secrets to effectively confronting evil are circumspect living and a carefully maintained walk with God.

Dave Jackson in Leadership Magazine:

Our train rolled into Kansas City at 1 a.m. Dim lights came on to help the new passengers find seats. Many of us who had been riding home through the night had spread out to occupy two seats apiece. An attractive woman made her way down the aisle with her bags. She was looking from side to side, hoping for someone to move. I turned toward the window and watched her in the reflection. “May I sit here?” she asked. “Sure.” I looked up and smiled as I moved over. She threw her things into the rack above and sat down. Near the back of the car, only one of my colleagues had managed to keep his extra space. Lucky guy. “My name’s Kathy. What’s yours?” I told her, and we talked quietly for a while. She was on her way to visit her mother after some rough spats with her husband. I was eager to get home and see my wife and family after an exhausting church leadership conference. Soon we had both slipped off to sleep. At some later stop, I awoke to find Kathy cuddled next to me. “You don’t mind if I lean my head on your shoulder, do you?” she said sleepily. “Uh, no. I guess not.” She was just tired … wasn’t she? And besides, I had a wonderful wife and a great marriage and would be home before noon. I looked around to see if anyone was noticing. She cuddled closer. I wondered what she really wanted–or would allow. At first I couldn’t believe what I was thinking. But then it was her fault. She knew exactly what she was doing. I might as well enjoy it. After all, what could happen on a train full of people? Nothing, nothing really … except what Jesus warned about happening in the heart. Finally, I excused myself so I could go back and talk with my friend–the “lucky” one with the empty seat beside him. Or maybe I was the lucky one since that extra space was still available. I only knew I didn’t need to stay where I had been. Perhaps it wasn’t luck at all.

Maybe that was the “way of escape” that 1 Corinthians 10:13 talks about, which God had provided from the beginning.

One of the great secrets to effectively confronting evil are circumspect living and a carefully maintained walk with God.

Boot Camp: “Abraham’s Coin” – Genesis 12

Every coin has two sides: the obverse (we call it “heads”) and the reverse (we call it “tails”). In a football game, just after everyone is scandalized by the positions of players on the sidelines while the National Anthem is played, a “coin toss” is sometimes made to determine the favored position for one team over another. Because of its method, it is generally considered a fair and random selection. One team will get to choose to “kick off” and the other “receives” the ball in the opening drive, determined by the toss. In all the coin tosses I have ever seen, the coin lands on either the obverse of the reverse, and never on the wafer thin side. As fans, we want to believe the ball has not been deflated and the coin toss was completed in a fair way. Perhaps it is.

Yet, life is not a coin toss of random events. Most of what we face is the inevitable, even if unintended, consequences of earlier choices. That isn’t always true, but if you take your day apart, you will find it is MOSTLY true. If there is a true “coin toss” we face, it isn’t a random selection, but the choice of one of two directions when faced with uncertainty.

Let’s say it this way: you can respond to the unknown in faith, or in fear – it is like tossing up the coin (in that it is a choice and brings specific results). Whichever side of the coin you choose, the other side is still present, but has been hidden by your favored choice. In the opening story of the Patriarch Abraham in Genesis 12, we see this simple principle at work in two successive moments in Abe’s life, each moment defined by which side of the coin he followed. The key truth becomes obvious when you really take the time to look through the chapter…

Key Principle: When I trust God, I walk in faith. When I am driven by the fear of circumstances, I walk in failure.

This is one of the simplest “basic truths” of our faith, and we mention it as part of our “boot camp” series.

To set the stage, let’s think through three ideas we have been following in our walk through Genesis.

• We know the opening chapters of the first book of our modern Bible collection offers some basic “story lines” for the whole collection.

• We know some basic ideas of how the book came together and is blended from story to story.

• We know what we have learned from the major figures we have encountered.

Look at these three ideas for a moment:

First, there are five major “story lines” of the Bible. (This is a paraphrase of something I was introduced to by Doug Greenwold at Preserving Bible Times years ago).

• Genesis opened with the Creator. His existence and His character is referenced in tandem with His work. Genesis offers some basics on Who He is, and what He cares about can be seen in Genesis 1.

• The story continues with the introduction of the Adversary of God. His character can also be seen woven into the details of the story. Who he is and how he works can be seen in Genesis 2 and 3.

• The Mutiny of man is made clear in the story of the “Fall of Man” as mankind sides with the enemy against the Creator God.

• The Human Condition is highlighted in the stories after the “Fall of Man” in Genesis. These stories explain why things are broken, why relationships fall apart, why children are born with maladies, etc. This is even used as a primer on why men killed each other.

• The final storyline is made plain in Genesis 12, where the Plan of Redemption is highlighted. God shows a way out of the mess that He alone can provide.

Second, in our short study of each major character of Genesis, we find out something important that can advance our walk with God. For instance:

• In Adam and Eve we saw God’s prime ethic was love, and with that came the essential inclusion of choice. That explained for us the way a perfect man and woman in a perfect garden could be pulled from following a Perfect God.

• In Cain and Abel we saw the infection of jealousy, the pain of betrayal, and how those led men further from God.

• In Noah we saw that even one who followed God could get ‘burned out” and end up building things that (though they offered lasting results) were not in keeping with the height of his great call.

Third, we understand the Book of Genesis was originally divided into ten sections plus a prologue.

Each section began with the words “These are the generations of…” It is essentially a series of dramas. The sections that lead us to our story are as follows:

Gen. 1:1-2:3 Prologue: “Seven Days of Creation”

Gen. 2:4-4:26 Generations of Heaven and Earth: What went wrong.

Gen 5:1-6:8 Generations of Adam (or man): The hidden prophecy of God’s coming judgment.

Gen 6:9-9:29 Generations of Noah: The story of a man who followed God, but suffered the pain of his world falling apart.

Gen 10:1-11:9 Generations of Noah’s sons: The powerful story of how some of the generations Shem, Ham, and Japheth simply let the message of God go and framed lives in paganism and humanism.

Now our story moves into the:

Gen 11:10-26 Generations of Shem – Ten selected generations to establish the line of blessing to Terah

Gen 11:27-25:11 The Generations of Terah – Life and Times of Abraham

The backdrop of the family is further given in Genesis 11:27. Scripture establishes four details concerning Abraham’s background that we must understand to understand the story about him:

1) The players of the story (11:27-29).

Genesis 11: 27 Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah.

2) Sarah’s barrenness (11:30)

Genesis 11:30 Sarai was barren; she had no child.

3) Abraham’s family loyalty and obedience (11:31-32)

Genesis 11:31 Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

4) Abraham received a call and the move of his father helped move him to obedience (Acts 7:2). Acts 7 tells the story with additional details:

Acts 7:2 And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in [a]Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5 But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession and to his descendants after him.

There it is: We have the storyline of redemption introduced powerfully to a loyal family man with a barren wife. We have a God Who makes promises, but expects something in exchange – our trust.

Let’s see if we can pick out the idea from Genesis 12:1-8 that helps us understand the “Beginning the Faith Walk.”

Look at the simplicity of trusting God and walking in His promises. Don’t lose track in the detail of the simple truth: When I trust God, I walk in faith. When I am driven by the fear of circumstances, I walk in failure.

The beginning of chapter 12 offers five steps toward a “faith walk” with God:

Step One: “Get forth from your country.” Recognize the “trust exchange.” God’s promises always come at the same price – Trade what you see for what you cannot, based solely on His Word! (12:1).

Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;

Step Two: “I will.” Understand clearly the source of the blessing. All God’s promises are rooted in His Word to us – it is what we have to follow Him by! (12:2). It is not because of some intrinsic goodness in you that blessing comes. It comes by choosing to believe Him.

Genesis 12:2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing…

Step Three: “I will bless those who bless you.” Acknowledge the nature of His plan. God isn’t just trying to “get” you – He has a plan to use the life He lent you to reach into the lives of others. Both our following and our failure to follow have broader consequences than the immediate! (12:3).

Genesis 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Step Four: “As the Lord had spoken to him” – Wear the mark of obedience. It is not mental ascent nor theological acuity that becomes key marks of a faith walk – it is obedience! (12:4-5).

Genesis 12:4 So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

Step Five: “There he built an altar.” Respond to the call in gratitude. Note that God was blessed when Abraham gave Him worship in the form of giving back to God his own things! Worship includes offering God a visual sign of your trust for the future, and a desire to follow His call.

Genesis 12:6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. 8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.

While the first half of chapter 12 makes clear the trust exchange and the walk of faith, there is another story that is hooked to that record in the last part of the chapter. It offers the other side of the coin…

The Beginning of the Failure Walk
(Genesis 12:9-13:4)

God gave land to a landless man. He offered a future. Yet, something stirred in Abe to keep walking and look for something more familiar. The hill country of Judah and Benjamin didn’t look like the flat expanse of Haran and Mesopotamia. The rocks, the soil, the landscape – it didn’t look like what Abe dreamed. That wrestling of heart led him to failure – the other side of the coin. This time, he chose to exchange what God promised for what he thought he needed… This is an exercise of “sliding downward into failure” in five easy steps!

Step One: Make moves based on inner feelings. The story begins with discontent. The discontentment with the “place” God put Abram in sent him packing to a “better” place. It also led him into the heart of a series of perils (12:9-10).

Genesis 12:9 Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. 10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

We must understand that where God places us is the best place for us to be. When we kick against His revealed will, we may feel we are getting more of our own way, but we are heading for long-term disaster.

Step Two: Create unintended consequences of walking apart from our call. In Abraham’s case, the move he chose to make put him in a sense of peril, and his reaction was fear. The problems brought on by Abram’s choice to walk away from God’s revealed place led him into new problems.

Genesis 12:11 It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.”

In the midst of the peril, fear set in. He found himself frustrated and vulnerable (12:11-12). The problem is that without the assurance that we are in the center of God’s place for us, we are vulnerable to sweeping fear and frustration!

Step Three: Create the need for solutions to problems we weren’t meant to face. In Abe’s case, he found deception might save him. The fear and vulnerability led to Abram trying his best to “cover himself.” He did not turn to God for aid; he solved the problems in the realm of the flesh. After all, he created the issues in his own choice, didn’t he?

Genesis 12:13 “Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”

Abe found it easier to lie, and let the poison of deception thwart his testimony to both his wife and his world. His misplaced trust is a notable tip-off to the problem (i.e. “that it may go well with me” in 12:13). The “father of lies” will do his work in us when we have left our “place” and offers the enticing apparent protection of deception. We will be deceived into believing WE can solve our problems, and then DECEIVE others as the lies spread. We cannot be an uncompromising testimony to truths we don’t believe enough to consistently live!

Step Four: Face the world faking a daily faith walk. The encounter Abram had with the world was met amid deception and a total departure from his walk with God. He killed his testimony by reaching out in deception rather than in a genuine walk of integrity (12:14-16).

Genesis 12:14 It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.

The simple fact is that we cannot effectively “give out” what we don’t truly possess. We cannot urge others to trust a God we do not!

Step Five: Live with unmasked hypocrisy and embarrassment. The encounter with Abram left Pharaoh in worse shape than he was before this “man of God” came to him! In the end, instead of bringing the blessing that should come when a believer enters the scene, Abram brought pain! Pharaoh loathed the God of Abraham!

Genesis 12:17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” 20 Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.

It is a truth worth recalling: A believer walking in defiance will bring pain and heartache to the people he should bring blessing to!

What could Abraham do when he destroyed his testimony?

Abraham left the scene (13:1-4) and returned back to the place God put Him. When he came back to his “place” he turned his heart back to God and bowed before Him!

Genesis 13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. 2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. 3 He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

When I trust God, I walk in faith. When I am driven by the fear of circumstances, I walk in failure.

When that happens, come back. Go back to the altar and make clear to God you know you were wrong. Leave holding His hand.

“His Eye is on the Sparrow” was written by Civilla Martin, the wife of a Baptist pastor. She described in her own words how she came to write the song. “In the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship with a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for over twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them the secret of their joy in the midst of pain. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘If His eye is on the sparrow, then I know He watches me.’ The beauty of this expression of simple faith gripped my heart and that same evening I wrote the words for the song.”

The rest, as they say, is history. If you’re discouraged, afraid of the future, or struggling with the problems of today, listen again to the words of this beautiful song: “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart feel lonely, and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches over me. His eye is on the sparrow; and I know He watches me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free! His eye is on the sparrow; and I know He watches me. His eye is on the sparrow; and I know He watches me.” I’M NOT AFRAID, BECAUSE THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN IN THIS LIFE IS THE DEATH OF MY BODY— AND I AM AN ETERNAL SOUL!

We don’t have to fear death because the worst thing that can ever happen in this life is the death of our body, and we are more than just a body: We are a soul. C.S. Lewis wrote: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our soul lives inside our body. It’s who we really are, our personality. And physical death cannot destroy our soul, because our soul will live on long after the stars have burned out and the universe has faded away.


I read recently that most humans can only see a maximum of seven items without counting. In other words, if I’m taking care of three children, I can look at the group and know there are three without counting. I can look at six or seven and know they are there without counting. But if I have 12 or 20 children to watch over I have to stop and count, or put them in four groups of five in order to keep up with them.

If you are blonde (a real blonde) you have around 145,000 hairs; if you have black or brown hair you have about 120,000 hairs and if you’re a redhead you only have 90,000.


Sparrows are some of the most plentiful, common birds in the world. Where you find people, you’ll find sparrows. They only live in populated areas because they are scavengers of leftovers. Sparrows hop up to you at the outdoor restaurant and wait for crumbs. They aren’t known for their beautiful colors or for their sweet songs. They were cheap and common. Naturalists tell us that there are approximately 35,000 bald eagles in the U.S. and Canada. But who cares enough to count the sparrows? Only God.

I once read a story about a tribe of Native Americans with a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Before that night, he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. One particular young man was blindfolded and led many miles into the wilderness. He was instructed not to remove the blindfold for an hour. On this particular night, dark clouds obscured the moon and stars, and when he removed the blindfold all he could see was utter darkness. Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. He spent a terrifying night on the edge of panic, but he didn’t leave. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight began to lighten the eastern sky. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a longbow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.

Boot Camp: “Building Futility” – Genesis 10-11

When I was in High School I developed an interest in photography. I set up a dark room, shot and developed my pictures for a number of years. I carried that hobby to Israel when I went, and shot some 16,000 slides, only to later give them away to Friends of Israel in New Jersey. What can you do with thousands of slides of Israel?

I found particular enjoyment in shooting “black and white” pictures, because they could more easily lend themselves to a dramatic look. One of the best places to pull off drama with black and white film is, believe it or not, an old graveyard. Have you ever wandered in a grave yard and looked at the stones? Some of them are funny.

Gloria Russell’s gravestone said: “Don’t worry, I am just resting my eyes!”
• Robert Clay Allison’s said: “Never killed a man who didn’t need killing!”
• Computer geek Peter Andersen had on his: “Final log out.”
• One business man had on his stone: “I made some good deals and I made some bad ones, but I really went in the hole with this one.”
• One old curmudgeon had, “You’ve seen it, now go home!” on his stone.
• B.P. Roberts famously had: “I told you I was sick!”
• Merv Griffin had: “I will NOT be right back after this message!”
• The man famous for the voices in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, Mel Blanc, had “That’s all folks!” on his.

Have you ever wandered through a cemetery and wondered about the people who had their names etched on the stones. What were their lives like? Who loved them? I have.

At some funerals I read the words of the “Dash between the dates.” The reading reminds me that our lives are more than names and dates. Let me remind you of that writing by Lucille Britt:

Memorial Day was over now,
All had left and I was alone.
I began to read the names and dates
Chiseled there on every stone.
The dates which showed whether it
was Mom or Dad or daughter or baby son.
The dates were different but the amount the same,
There were two on every one.
It was then I noticed something,
It was but a simple line;
It was the dash between the dates
Placed there it stood for time.
All at once it dawned on me
How important that little line.
The dates placed there belonged to God
But that line is yours and mine.
It’s God who gives this precious life
And God who takes away;
But that line He gives to us
To do with what we may.
We know God’s written the first date down
Of each and every one,
And we know those hands will write again,
For the last date has to come.
We know He’ll write the last date down,
And soon, we know, for some,
But upon the line between my dates
I hope He’ll write “Well done!”.

The truth the writer wanted us to recall is this: All of us are building something with our lives. Some are accumulating debts. Some are adding love and joy to others.

Today’s lesson is about what happened to people when they decided to build something as a memorial to themselves as they ignored the God that made them. God crushed their project and scattered the people.

It wasn’t so much WHAT they built that God was concerned with, but WHY. The truth is, the same thing can be said of your life. You can build good things, but not GOD THINGS. You can build for your glory and not for the glory of your Creator. Every such work will be destroyed. A self-purpose nullifies the work. The accomplishment will perish in this life. It will end with this world. Only that which is done for His glory will be remembered long after.

Let’s think of it this way: We have a choice what we build. We are not victims of life, we are participants…Here is the critical truth from the Tower of Babel story we want to explore…

Key Principle: Our lives were given to us so that we can build a monument of what we hold most dear.

As a believer, I want that monument to be about the Savior, not self.

Go back in your mind’s eye to the time after the Flood. This was a time when every man and woman who left the Ark did so with a keen knowledge of God. The only living people on the earth stood at a worship service and honored God for all that happened. Collectively, the family of Noah offered a sacrifice. We can read about it in Genesis 8:

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

God responded to their worship with a pleased sense of satisfaction (meaning their hearts were tuned to what they did) and He offered a grand promise:

Genesis 8:21 The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

The Bible is clear; there was NO OTHER GROUP of people on the Earth from which the populace of the nations was drawn:

Genesis 9:18 Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

Think of it! That was the only day in the historical record after the Fall of man where everyone pleased God, believed God, knew God and surrendered to His purposes. The sad truth, though, is that it simply didn’t last. The sin nature within us is too strong to remain trapped within. Evil overcame men and popped out yet again.

In short order, the whole tribe of the Earth fell from a worshipful place to a selfish and pagan one. It only took a few generations to lose that sense of God’s presence. How did that happen?

It began, as in most every time since, with followers of God who focused life on themselves (their comforts and desires) and not on the glory of the God they worshipped.

I suspect a cooling of heart, and starving of fervency preceded an open rejection of God’s standards. I suspect when people like Noah didn’t take the pain of his life to God, he tried to “cope” with it by other means. That led to real problems. Look in Genesis 9 at what followed:

Genesis 9:20 Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.

Here in a world that knew God, a follower focused on building for SELF. That pattern appears in Scripture as the beginning of a group that FALLS AWAY from following. It isn’t unique to Noah…

Consider the pilgrim and Puritan heritage of our own nation. About one hundred people who were seeking religious freedom in the New World, left England on the Mayflower in September of the year 1620. In the cold of November, the ship reached land by the shore of Cape Cod, in present-day Massachusetts. By December, the group began to form the first permanent settlement of Europeans in New England. The settlers of Plymouth Colony are known as the Pilgrims.

That journey and safe arrival to the “New World” gave them a place to live out their faith free of persecution. In all of recorded human history, nobody offers such a story of the freedom to form a society directly from the Bible in a wilderness without a king pressing them. They came, in part, to the New World to implement religious freedom and to walk with Him according to the dictates of one’s own personal conscience. William Bradford and others kept record of why they did what they did.

Turning from the idea of the “Divine right of Kings” they turned to the Bible to set the structure of their society and governing principles. They studied scripture for what God’s opinion was on governmental structure, both in the state and the church and they found that God didn’t always confer power to just one individual but, at times, gave it to representatives who were elected. They enshrined that in the “Mayflower Compact,” and began to form a free society also built around free markets and rugged individualism. They expected their leaders not to be lords over the people, but to be their servants.

Go to that area of Massachusetts today. See if you can find more than a handful of people who have such a heart for God!

My point is that when people who know God refuse to live for God, the next generations openly live for self. Reverence fades and eventually shame of selfishness does as well.

In Noah’s day it took some time, but the story that followed in the successive generations made clear how the operation of paganization took solid hold in mankind. The story that followed Genesis 6-9 (Noah’s story) is NOT in Genesis 10, but rather in Genesis 11. God offered the table of the Nations in Genesis 10 to set up the story of how the nations came to be scattered and divided by Him in Genesis 11. The order of the events is actually reversed. We would probably tell the story with the cause (found in Genesis 11) followed by the effect (found in Genesis 10). A more typical Hebrew way of telling the story is in a “flashback mode” offering the EFFECT before the CAUSE. Jump to Genesis 11…

The Setting (Genesis 11:1-4)

After the profound move of God in the flood, the actions of the men of a few generations removed from the event devastated the world in a NEW WAY. They left the world cut off from truth. Every time you read of the Tower of Babel story, don’t rush through and dump the details. This story is the answer to every missionaries heart cry when they have entered a land where the God of the Bible IS NOT KNOWN.

How often have they faced the pain of knowing that literally millions are lost and hell-bound because of what happened in the generations after the Flood! The simple truth is that at one time everyone came off the Ark following God, and someone didn’t pass truth to their children.

Babel was about a people dedicating a monument to themselves, without any regard for God.

In the wake of that decision, the scattering of the people by God without the truth left them to devise their own cultures, their own religions, their own ways of understanding the origin of man, his purpose and his destiny. The hunger of man to elevate himself ended with man in confusion. They attempted to fulfill their needs in collective dedication to SELF, not in SERVICE to the Lord Who made them. The Bible is clear: We were made to know, love and serve our Creator. Look at how the account unfolded:

The story started with common communication.

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

LANGUAGE and COMMUNICATION was at the heart of what built the unity of the early society. The settling of lands and building of civil society worked far more easily than we have ever known it, simply because they could effectively communicate with one another. There is power in shared communication. Without the barriers of language and culture, shared beliefs and core values can be universally communicated. The singular language and homogenous culture was the beginning point of unity. It wasn’t the color of their skin; it was the ability to share common values and common experiences. Common values drive a unified society.

Contrary to what you have been told by many in our time, diversity of views is not always a strength. I am not speaking of race, I am speaking of core values. When a society can no longer share a common “right” or “wrong” it imperils the whole society from growing together. It becomes a litany of causes and a scary collection of special interests. What pulls it together? A society thrives on an agreed standard of right and wrong! For our founding fathers it was Biblical truth, assumed to be both TRUE and GOOD.

Let’s be absolutely clear here: If half of the University is teaching that absolutes exist – as in math and some science departments – and the other half of the university is teaching that “there are no absolutes” and “all truth is relative” – the house of education will not hold together. The truth is that I don’t want to live in a home built by an architect’s plan that did not believe in absolute and consistent physical principles. I don’t even want to sit in a chair made by someone who doesn’t believe in consistent physical principles. Weight loads of physics need to be absolute, unbending and consistent. How the architect feels about the physical laws isn’t relevant to me. Let’s move on…

The story grew around common technology.

Genesis 11:3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.

The story centered on a common goal: a celebration of man.

Genesis 11:4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name

It was expressed in terms of UNITY.

Genesis 11:4b “…otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.

The people saw the need to produce something. That wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Community projects are good. The advance of technology to the benefit of the community is valuable. It sounds wonderful to read that communication led to community, and community led to advancement.

We must understand that for a society to move forward, there must be implanted a constant desire to accomplish something that presses others to get ahead. This is the tragedy of a type of compassion that hands out reward without work. I am not against the growing welfare society because they take money from ME – I am against it because it demeans THE PEOPLE IT WAS MEANT TO HELP.

I believe in productivity. God started man off in the garden with duties. We need to DO something – not just get benefits from those who have done something. People of every race, color and creed need to accomplish something – it is inherent in our human nature. Too much given too easily produces unhappy, yes, ANGRY children. Work is GOOD. Work is GODLY. 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 reminds us that three things characterize a godly man or woman – sexual purity, a real work ethic, and a distinct view of life and death that shows the time outside of this body as the more “real” experience.

The verse says not only that they wanted to accomplish something, but that they wanted to benefit each other. Companies in our modern society must see more than profits. They have to be able to see that there is a benefit to giving help back to the society upon whom their profits were built. Employees need to be thankful to have jobs, and companies need to be deliberate in helping their workers have good lives – not just using them as machines for the profits of the investors. We have to SEE each other, and be deliberate about a society. When we cheat to “get over on the man,” we take from our brothers, our sisters, our communities, our nation. We are America, and we cannot afford to cheat our neighbor without cheating our own children.

The primary issue of the passage was that men wanted to elevate themselves. There was no thought to reverence. There was no wisdom, because the fear of the Lord was not present. It was because of that God interrupted their vision and work.

The Interruption: At the point where the goal was clear, God stepped in (11:5-9).

Genesis 11 offers a rare look at how God felt about what they were doing. The record offers:

Genesis 11:5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6 The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

In order to understand how God dealt with the people of the plain and their tower, it is necessary to ask some questions that set the story in context.

First, where did the Babel project have its origins?

The Bible says the community was started by a powerful central leader.

Genesis 10:8 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth.

The community became attractive because of its reputation for security.

Genesis 10:9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.”10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Beyond its origins, what does the Bible say was the OUTCOME of a world built to celebrate men without reverence of the Creator?

Genesis 11 reminded us:

Genesis 11:8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

• The project was STOPPED. God knew that men who had no barrier to communication were effectively erasing reverence from man’s collective record. This isn’t the only time such a thing has been tried, but it was easily spread in a homogenous culture.

• The people were SCATTERED. When communication was disrupted, people couldn’t stay together.

• The very “ground zero” of the place to build a UNITED HUMANITY without God because the very place of the CENTRAL CONFUSION, and the beginning of diversity. Unity at the expense of truth isn’t healthy, it is tragic.

Let’s say it clearly: In all the efforts of humanity to use UNITY to EXALT HUMANITY, God will stand opposed. He will thwart man’s torquing of truth. The “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge. You can’t get to truth without the God Who established the truth.

Unity at the expense of truth isn’t healthy, it is tragic.

Our lives were given to us so that we can build a monument of what we hold most dear. For the believer, that sobering truth helps us make daily choices.

After the profound move of God in the flood, the actions of these men left the world cut off from truth. The scattering without the truth left them to devise their own culture, their own religion, their own way of understanding origins, purpose and destiny. The hunger of man left man with confusion, because they attempted to fulfill the need in SELF, not in SERVICE to the Lord Who made them.

For most of us, we know what it means to work hard to build something. Much of what we build helps us feel significant, and that is one of the dangers in our building projects. In this story, the people all wanted to accomplish something that would show how significant they were. They wanted to mark their time on this earth with a symbol of power. They wanted THEIR STORY to be the story of history.

Herein is the problem: People who are desperate for SIGNIFICANCE become obsessed with it.

Joe Stowell said it right: “We were built for significance. Our problem is not that we search for it, but that we search for it in all the wrong places. We think it is what WE DO. What we LEAVE BEHIND. It isn’t… it is in what we allow God to do IN and THROUGH us. It is in how we walk with Him in the quiet places, after the lights are off… after no one is watching and the accolades are all given out.

God wasn’t going to be second in the story of history at the plain of Shinar, and He won’t be second in YOUR STORY EITHER.

He is the highest and He is always truthful. Any other god is a false hope. Any other pursuit is a DEAD END.

So He confounded them, broke up their union and sent them packing… It was the best thing He could do to stop them from all perishing together on the FOOL’S ERRAND OF BUILDING A MONUMENT TO THEMSELVES WITHOUT HIM.

Many people are afraid of death, but far fewer appear to be afraid of wasting life. They build nothing for others. They serve God only when it fits into a convenient place and time.

We must remember we never “find time” for things; we “make time” by allocating it. If we delay using time well, we show we don’t understand its true value. If we fail to serve Christ well, we show we don’t understand HIS true value.

Boot Camp: “Legacy of A Builder” – Genesis 6-9

The other day my wife and I became the proud owners of a new shed. That allowed me to move her house implements and décor items from the tool shed area, and get them into a little home of their own. I am proud to say that our garage is now free of Christmas décor items, fall flags and Easter flower arrangements. They are neatly tucked away in marked plastic totes, set on shelves in an organized shed of their very own. I am certain they are happy, and I know I am!

There is a special satisfaction in organizing chaos. There is a wonderful gratification in building something that is both functional for your life and well outfitted to help you accomplish important tasks in the future. A well-placed outlet pleases me. A hose bib that is located right where the water needs to be controlled brings contentment. Whether you are a contractor or just working a small home improvement project, when you take the time to plan and build something, there is a special kind of fulfillment in taming your landscape and bringing organization to what appears to be nature’s chaos.

In this lesson, we want to consider how the items we build reflect the state of our heart. We want to follow a very famous builder of antiquity, who is best known for things he constructed, and observe how his projects reflected the state of his heart. As we drop our eyes back into Genesis, we will be observing the long life of a world-saving contracting company known as “Noah and Sons.” As we search the pages of the Scripture for keys to understanding the lessons provided by his example, I believe you will come to see his life as a crafted example of a Biblical truth…

Key Principle: Our heart is exposed by where we expend our greatest efforts.

That’s right! This is a plagiarized restatement of Jesus’ own words from the end of Matthew 6:20: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Background (5:32-6:8)

Think about the life of Noah for a moment. To really grasp what this monumental builder and his sons left behind, we must look through the background statements for our story in Genesis 5. We find, with some careful inspection, the following facts about Noah:

He got a late start building a family. The text recorded he was five hundred years old when he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth (5:32). Apparently, Noah was not swift when it came to family ambitions and planning.

He was raising a family at a dark time. Genesis 6 opened with a reminder that evil was spreading at a fantastic rate, and that it was a deliberate attack by God’s enemy to ruin mankind both genetically and morally (Genesis 6:1-2). The attack included polluting the gene pool of man by impregnating women of varied lines within the race to counter God’s promise that a woman would bear the redeemer of man (back in Genesis 3:15). Note the special conditions of that time:

Genesis 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. 5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

He received a promise from God. The Lord’s counter-attack against the demonic overthrow in the realm of men was revealed. God would unleash judgment in a period of one hundred and twenty years from the time it was revealed (Genesis 6:3). His reasons cannot be fully understood by men, but the text offered a sense that God was deeply grieved by what happened on earth, and made clear His divine plan was to eliminate the demonic incursion from the planet. Included in the counter-attack, God would eliminate animals that could become the resting place of the demonic hordes. Genesis reminds:

Genesis 6:7 The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the [f]sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Even with that impending peril, Noah found God’s blessing. God took note of Noah and marked him for grace. Genesis 6:8 noted: But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. A bit later, the text also noted:

Genesis 6:9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.

The words of the text are not merely repetition of the same idea, they reveal different aspects of Noah.

• The term righteous or “tsaddik” is the term used of a godly elder, or one known in the community as a man of honor and integrity.
• The term blameless is “tawmim” and is used for something that is “sound, purely as advertised, or of clean blood (when used of a sacrifice).

Noah was a GOOD GUY in a BAD COMMUNITY, but the text tips us off that he may have been something more – a man with a clean bloodline and pedigree in the middle of a genetic war. That is worth noting. Now, take a look at what he DID that reflected what he FELT.

Reading a man’s heart through his building projects

The building of the ark is not an unfamiliar story. The most secular person among us knows at least the general frame of the story. It may seem like Noah’s story is about saving the earth from total annihilation, and clearly part of his story IS that – but that isn’t the whole idea. In fact, the ark is only ONE of the items built by Noah and Sons construction company. If you read his whole story, Noah’s life was marked by three objects he built with his hands. The first he was called by God to build, and it led to his family’s physical salvation. The second he built because of overwhelming thanksgiving and it led to God’s renewed blessing and promise. The third he built out of boredom and pain, and it led to shame. Consider his three building projects:

• Noah built an Ark – This was built out of obedience. The mammoth effort appears to be constructed alongside preaching of repentance, for Noah’s greatest efforts were expended in compassion and hope for his neighbors, sharing salvation with people. This ark was the building by which God would save the race, but one must choose to enter believing in the coming doom.
• Noah built an Altar – This was built to facilitate worship. Noah’s greatest efforts were driven by his sense of thankfulness for what God did for him and his family – and for the world.
• Noah built an Arbor – This appears to be built out of pain. Noah’s greatest efforts reflected self-pain, where he mused over losses and a life that no longer existed. It became about his compassion twisted into rage. He would fit into the skin of many who live today.

Each construction project reflected Noah’s heart. They offered a glimpse into where he was placing his HOPE, and what he was living for. The ark was a reflection of a long period of pleading with men about the state of their heart and hoping they would come to a place of repentance and salvation – but it was largely unheeded beyond his family. The altar came amidst the delivery of more promises of God to Noah (and by that to mankind). The small pile of rocks was heaped in gratitude, in thanksgiving, and in relief that time on the boat was over! Noah’s final building project included a vineyard, and I am using the term “an arbor” to keep the pattern of the words as a device to make it easier to recall the details of his life. Clearly, toward the end of his life, something changed that demands we look more closely at the text.

Before we do, let me ask you something pointed this story begs to challenge in each of us: “What do you really LIVE for?” Looking at the productivity of your life right now, where is your treasure? What are you building, right now in your life, that reflects where your heart it?

Clearly, Noah’s life reflected different values at different stages in his life. Maybe you can see the same thing in what you have built.

The First Construction Project: An Ark (6:11-8:12)

Let’s take a few minutes and lay out the record of the story of his building work of the ark, breaking it into three logical parts:

• The Construction of the Ark
• The Cataclysm of the Flood
• The Continuation of Life

The Construction: Building the Ark (Genesis 6:11-7:5)

Essentially, the account of the ark’s construction is revealed in four stages:

Stage One: First, in the opening of the construction narrative there is a note about the cause of “the Flood.” There is a clear reminder that evil, violence and corruption became the norm in Genesis 6:11, but there is also an indicator the story had a specific corruption of the flesh, or the genetic material itself in 6:12:

Genesis 6:12 God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

In light of the attack and its devastating results, God made clear to Noah the end of the world was coming in Genesis 6:13.

Stage Two: A second part of the construction narrative is dedicated to the construction plan given by God to Noah. You can check Genesis 6:14-16 to see the specifics:

• It was to be made of “gopher” wood – a term we cannot actually determine, though some suggest a type of cypress.
• It would be subdivided into rooms.
• It would have tar pitch lining the bulkhead to make it watertight.
• It was to measure about four hundred fifty feet long, be forty-five feet wide and thirty-five feet high. It was a long, sleek and low profile vessel.
• It would house three decks, each more than a dozen feet high. The giraffe section was likely a high spot in the design.
• Near the top, a window shutter was designed. (Putting one at the bottom would have been a disaster.
• What the ark did NOT have was any steering mechanism. There was no rudder. This wasn’t the “love boat” cruising off to the islands – it was a vessel without a port of call to reach. It would only make one voyage, and her captain was in the heavens! Noah didn’t put a rudder on, because Noah didn’t know where he was going!

Stage Three: A third part of the construction record is dedicated to notes about an invitation to populating the cabins (Genesis 6:17-21). If you look carefully, the instructions included:

• The plan to bring the flood (6:17)
• The promise to keep Noah’s family alive (6:18)
• The proposal to fill the ark with at least one pair of each of three kinds of living creatures: bird, animals, creeping things Each was to remain distinct from one another 6:19-20).
• The parceling of food for both people and each animal on board (6:21)

Stage Four: The final section in the account about the construction of the ark recalls entering the ark at the end of the building project (Genesis 6:22-7:5). The beginning and the end of this narrative emphasized Noah’s obedience:

Genesis 6:22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did. Genesis 7:5 Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.

Between these endorsements, God told Noah to get inside with his family and to bring along the zoo. God added to the original number of “two by two” some other animals for the purpose of sacrifice at the end of the journey.

Genesis 7:2 You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female…

The Cataclysm of the Flood (7:6-8:1)

Construction complete and all hands aboard as planned, the flood commenced. A six hundred year old Noah and his one hundred year old children entered the ark with the animals (Genesis 7:6-9).

Two events are recorded that caused the great worldwide flood. First, the crust of the earth was opened and water beneath the surface poured over the landscape. Very likely, subduction of the crust caused huge tsunami waves to cover large portions of the landscape in Genesis 7:11. The rains followed, but weren’t the main reason for the huge flood (7:12).

In Genesis 7:16 there are some very sad words found – words that would haunt Noah later in his life:

Genesis 7:16 Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him.

That day people may have sneered at him, but the shaking of the earth’s crust wasn’t far off. Destruction began with a vengeance and the earth rocked with a surge of water. The sad summary of Genesis 7:23 reminds:

Genesis 7:23 Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land…24 The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.

If Noah was a good man, this wasn’t a moment of victory – but one of a sobering and painful reality. All of life as he knew it was swallowed up in judgment. Few are the hearts so hard that could find satisfaction in such a time. At least he had his family, and he had a lot of work to do with the animals on board. The lifting of the ark brought an uncertainty into his footing, but the meaning of the ark certainly also put some shakiness into his heart.

Don’t make him a “Teflon” character where nothing stuck to his heart. By every appearance, Noah was a man who cared about people – not only animals. There is nothing noble about someone who clings to justice so much they feel no pain or compassion for the one who is judged.

The Continuation of Life (8:1-9:29)

Eventually, the Flood receded about a half year later (8:1-5). Hearing nothing from God for a time, Noah ran a few tests to let him know when life would continue outside the floating zoo. About forty days after the receding of the water, Noah launched a raven drone to little success. Next he tried a dove drone, but it didn’t work out well either. A week later, he re-tested with a dove and that one brought back a sprig of olive, suggesting plants were beginning to be renewed. A week after that he sent a third dove text, but that one didn’t return. It was time to get off the boat! That set up the second building project of Noah.

Cut everything away from the story of the flood and you will see a man building a boat out of obedience. His heart must have been wrenched with the thought of the loss of his world, but he did what God told him to do, at the time God told him to do it, according to the method God told him to accomplish it. If I had a wish in my heart it would be this: that I would grow in my walk to the place where God would look at my life someday and see such an obedient heart. Noah’s ark was a physical manifestation of Noah’s obedience, his trust in God’s will for his life, and his focus to do what he was told in service to God. His hands built what his heart valued.

The Second Building Project: An Altar (Genesis 8:13-9:17)

Much shorter than the story of the Ark, there is a short passage about Noah stepping off the ark into a new world, and building an altar.

Genesis 8:13 reminds us that it had been a LONG time since Noah walked on the earth. The surface showed and God spoke again to the great captain of the floating zoo. God said:

Genesis 8:16 Go out of the ark.

He, his family and the whole zoo left the ship. Then Noah stopped to build something else.

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man…”

Anyone with a brain can figure out that Noah recognized he had just lived the top line of his biography. What would he ever do to “top” the ark experience? His obedience offered him his greatest victory. What now?

Noah stood on new ground, surrounded by his closest loved ones. He stared at a new landscape and stood in a strange place. He understood how he got there – God took him there. He wasn’t claiming his ability as a cruise ship captain as he exited a rudderless vessel! He knew all that he had had come from the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He had no other response than to build an altar and worship. It was made of stones that were all provided by the maker of all. He offered animals the Lord preserved for the year long ordeal. He bowed because it was the right thing – the ONLY THING – that he could do.

Every believer gets to that place. In the beginning, salvation is all about us. We enter the Kingdom thinking about OUR sin and OUR eternal life. As we grow up, we increasingly realize that our life and our salvation is really about HIM. It is about HIS WORK, HIS HONOR, HIS WORTH. We bow in wonder. We bow in awe. We bow because it is all we can think to do to one who loves us enough to give what He gave.

In the shadow of the altar, God gave new rules and new promises. The first half of chapter nine recorded God’s words. They included:

A blessing:

Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”

A change in relationship to the animals:

Genesis 9:2 The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.

An expanded diet into meat:

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.

A careful restriction about eating blood:

Genesis 9:4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

After an important “drop in” about what constitutes life and the sacredness of it before God, the Lord offered a “covenant” in Genesis 9:

Genesis 9:9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; … 11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant … 13 I set My bow in the cloud…”

Seven times God used the word COVENANT in the passage. In response to the assembling of simple stones on a flat piece of ground, God pressed light through the refraction of water in the air and built a rainbow. Noah’s construction was a simple brown pile of rocks. God constructed something colorful and beautiful.

Don’t miss the fact that the second building project of Noah held a symbol of thankfulness and was built to facilitate worship because he recognize God was worthy of praise for all that He did. The evil of the world was washed away – at least the part that came from the attack of demonic forces. Noah still had sin to contend with, and we will see that in his last building project…

The Third Building Project: An Arbor (Genesis 9:18-29)

Before we finish with Noah’s story, note yet a third building project. Genesis recorded:

Genesis 9:20 Then Noah began [farming and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.

Truly this story was designed to help us understand the character instilled in his sons Shem and Japheth, while highlighting the lack of character in Canaan, the father of Ham. There can be no doubt that was the great lesson of the verses. At the same time, don’t gloss to quickly over what Noah built and WHY.

Noah and his family had been through a time of trust, reverence and obedience that marked his heart within. At the same time, he MUST have had some tender bruises within when he looked around at the wilderness and remembered the camps and cities of his youth. Life was different now. The deaths around him changed everything. They changed him. Those who have been through war know what I mean. The images of those now gone could easily haunt him, even if they were evil. They were still people, and he was still an ordinary human being.

Noah’s last building project may have been about his own pleasure – I cannot tell – but I don’t think it was. The vineyard and its arbor seem more likely to have been built to quell the disturbance of his own heart tossed about by the memories of a world destroyed. No matter whether you think this was the case or not, you can’t argue that his last building project wasn’t a total failure and embarrassment. It clearly was. Too often I think we read of Noah and celebrate the salvation of his family (and by it our human family) without understanding the exacting toll on him emotionally. We simply tend to forget about the intensity of his pain.

• Noah lost everyone he went to school with in his youth.
• He lost all of the people in his neighborhood that didn’t live under his roof.
• He lost the fight to be heard by them in presenting his testimony and warnings.
• He lost his society… and it may have just crept up and gotten to his soul.

He planted the vineyard, not because he liked grapes with his morning yogurt, but because he wanted to drink and forget. His best days were past now. His today didn’t feel bright. It felt dismal. He started digging and planting vines. Where his earlier buildings overflowed with obedience to God and delight in God – this little farm adventure doesn’t have the same feel in the text at all. The arbor seems more like a symbol of some self-focus.

Let’s be honest: As we age, it becomes less and less about big plans for the future and we can easily slip into a nonstop conversation about our doctor appointments, our medications and our aches and pains. We can look back and feel like things were better before. We can look around and feel like people all around us are rushing by and life isn’t exciting; it is painful and often painfully boring.

People face pain a number of ways. In our day, they may not plant a vineyard, but there are dozens of very legal and respectable pills that will do the trick. For others, they use social media as a way to vent their lack of real connection, and their honest loneliness. For still others, they appear to live to fight a never-finished cause for justice, even when they don’t know the people for whom they have become so enraged. They may not know their neighbor next door, but they know what liberals are doing to destroy the American dream. Ultimately, our lives will not be about what social justice we rage for, but what loving Savior we promote.

I guess I have to honestly ask this: What is someone who is raging actually building? Then I have to get really personal and ask myself: “What are YOU building?”

Isn’t it true? Our heart is exposed by where we expend our greatest efforts. I ask you, Father, to help me grow in my desire to help, not critique. I ask you to help me build in the end things worthy of your great name. I want to leave behind an ark and an altar, but not an arbor.