Sunday, June 30, 2013

Last--Gen. 38

"And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? This breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez" (Gen. 38:29).

Tamar, a first-supposed cursed wife of two of Judah's sons, and now the carrier of Judah's children, is in labor. The scene of labor is never pretty. It's full of searing pain and seething fire--but also, shouting joy.

A child is being born.

The midwife has discerned that Tamar has two children in her womb. Twins! And to be sure that all posterity will know for certain which the "firstborn" really is, when a tiny hand is seen, the midwife ties a cord around it quickly.

But after the mark is left, the hand withdraws, and a baby without a cord is delivered.

The midwife stares at the little boy in shock. "How hast thou broken forth?" she asks (vs. 29).

"And afterward came out his brother, who had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah" (vs. 30).

Two boys.

The one who everyone thought would be first...was last.

And the one that no one had seen yet...was first.

"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first" (Matt. 19:30).

Human nature tries so hard to be first. It's natural. We do it without thinking. "Survival of the fittest" is engrained into our nature with the sin that produced it.

It takes someone special--and full of the Spirit of the Lord--to surrender their place as first...or even their right to be first… in order to be last.

And yet, our Example did just that.

He became last. Not only just last, but the last of the last. Lowest of the low. Smallest of the small.

His reason? "And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:22).

First. To last.

That the last. Might be first.

That is love. In all truth and fullness.

Lord God, give me this same Spirit… May I be willing to be last that someone else might be first...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Too Late--Gen. 37

"And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again….And Reuben returned unto the pit; and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?" (Gen. 37:22, 29-30)

A certain man had twelve sons…

And he loved the youngest the best.

True, the older ones had given Israel reason to doubt their fidelity to God and love to their father. Reuben committed a disgusting sin which showed the entire camp just how much he disrespected his father; Levi and Simeon had betrayed and murdered an entire city of people; and many of the other sons had been unfaithful in tallying flocks and herds and doing whatever they would.

None of that would inspire confidence or trust.

And so, Jacob loved Joseph, because he was the "son of his old age" (vs. 3).

The dreams came, first one, then another. Joseph related the dreams to his brothers and father. Dreams in those days always had a meaning, and it was a duty to the family to tell of such a matter. Joseph did his duty.

His brothers? "They hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words" (vs. 8).

His father? "His father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?...but his father observed the saying" (vs.10, 11).

The coat of many colors had already caused a passionate dislike for this favored younger brother. Now, the dreams added hate upon hate, and none of the elder brothers could claim any sort of brotherly love for Joseph.

The fated day came when Jacob sent Joseph to see how the brothers and flocks were doing in Shechem. At the first beck of duty, Joseph's response was, "Here am I" (vs. 13). Would his answer have been so quick if he had known what lay ahead of him?

In Shechem, the brothers could not be found. And a stranger pointed Joseph not to the field in which he wandered, but into the land of Dothan. He knew of a certainty that they were there.

"And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him" (vs. 18).

Hatred had reached its limit. Something had to be done.

But Reuben stepped in. He put up his hands, maybe forcefully and physically restraining his brothers. "Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit in the wilderness" (vs. 22).

It doesn't say that Reuben loved Joseph. But its obvious that Reuben knew better than to kill. He had a sense of family duty. In fact, he planned to "deliver him to his father again" (vs. 22).

Contented with Reuben's answer, the rest of the brothers attacked an unsuspecting Joseph as soon as he came near. The coat of many colors fell to the ground, and Joseph was thrown headlong into an old well shaft.

Congratulating one another, the brothers "sat down to eat bread" (vs. 24). No concern, no care. Just a sadistic feeling of pleasure at long-withheld revenge.

Reuben? Apparently he left. Perhaps the actions of his brothers sickened him, and not wanting to be apart of it, and yet unable to stop it, he decided to wait somewhere else until he could pull him out and take Joseph back to their father.

Whatever the case may be, he wasn't there when the caravan passed the brothers camp. And he didn't hear Judah say, "Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites" (vs. 27).

The last the brothers would see of each other for years was Joseph tied to the back of a camel, headed for Egypt, and the brothers dancing around their bag of 20 silver coins in fiendish exultancy.

But then, here comes Reuben. And he found no boy. And oh! the horror, the regret and remorse!

But it was too late. Joseph was gone.

A thick blanket of lies was pulled over the wicked deed, and presented to an aged father in the guise of a torn and bloodied, many-colored coat. And Jacob believed them...and wept.

We all know that Joseph was headed to something great. But the pain of the present remains nonetheless.

And what about Reuben, who had every intention of saving his brother, but came back too late?

...what about us, who often have every intention of saving someone else, but come to reach out to them too late?

Can it be possible that sometimes, we are like Reuben, leaving a soul to weep and wail in a pit of loneliness, sin and despair, while we wait for "just the right time" to reach in and lend them a hand out of their misery, only to find that when we do come back, we are too late?


Though sadly.

Suppose Reuben had come back beforehand. Suppose he had rescued Joseph.

But then, the story doesn't go that way.

He was too late.

Oh, God in Heaven, have mercy.

May we never again be too late.

Father in Heaven, help me to act when You bid me to… and may I never again be too late to save a soul for Your Kingdom...

Friday, April 26, 2013

No Baggage Claim--Gen. 36

"For their riches were more than they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle" (Gen. 36:7).

For a time after meeting again, the twin sons of Isaac dwelt within reasonable distance of one another. Perhaps the cord that bound them now was a father's death, perhaps not.

But then, something happened. While Esau had been busy making wives of the Canaanite women, his flocks had been growing...and so had Jacob's. Now the grass hid itself from the face of the earth, because so many sheep and goats had picked it bare.

And in response, Esau picks up his things, packs up his house, and leaves for another place; somewhere far away.

No, he didn't get angry. It wasn't the response of, "Well, fine! I'll show you!"

It was, "I'm sorry. But there simply isn't room for both of us, with how much stuff we have."

Might history be recorded differently if Esau and his children had had the opportunity of being in close proximity of Jacob and his? Or would Jacob's holy camp have been soiled beyond salvage?

Some things are not for us to know.

The point, however, remains.

Sometimes, our stuff gets in the way of what we need to do...what we want to do...what we're called to do.

No man in Heaven will look across the road at his neighbor's mansion and call, "Sorry, sir, but there isn't room for the two of us here. We have too much stuff."

We won't be taking our stuff to Heaven.

Why carry it 'round here on Earth?

Stuff could be anything, from a baseball bat to a welcoming mat… a little tiny thing way down inside your heart that's commonly known as baggage.

No wonder people are sinking in the Slough of Despond these days.

I would too if I tried to carry a new car, the keys for a new house, my iPhone 5, and a laptop computer across.

Add to that the weight of what's inside, that has the capacity to sink you even lower than the stuff you're carrying on your back.

No, it doesn't mean a new car...or house...or iPhone...or computer… is evil.

It's how they're used...and how MUCH they're used, in some cases...that can be the clincher.

God sometimes blesses us with things like that. But He expects us to use them for His honor and glory. And regardless, there will come a time when all of your material things will have to be left behind.

Imagine you're going on a trip. You're taking a jet liner to Heaven, and you are so excited. You get to check-in, and answer the angel's questions, and hand over your character, your identification.

"Now sir," he says, "if you'll just put your baggage right here, we'll take care of it for you."

You have two bags, one in each hand. And they're very, VERY big. And heavy. They're weighing you down at the moment, and a little bit ago you were wishing you hadn't tried to bring everything with you.

But now that you're being asked to surrender it, you clutch them tighter. Moments of agonized indecision pass. You can't bear to part with your luggage...can you? But, oh! How sweet to be rid of it! But...but...

A line-up forms behind you, and the angel waits patiently, looking sympathetic, but insisting.

Just then, an official walks by and notices your dilemma. He smiles as if He's seen this a thousand times before, and walks up behind you. You feel a gentle hand on your shoulder and a sweet Voice at your ear: "If you'll let me, I'll help you put your baggage on the belt."

You swallow hard, and after thinking a moment, nod. "Yes, Sir, please. I'd much rather not have to lug this on the plane with me."

Strong hangs clasp right over yours on the handles of your luggage, and in a firm, but gentle, motion, the bags are placed on the belt. You smile, relieved--the angel smiles, relieved--and then you notice that the Gentleman that helped you is gone.

"Who was that? Where did He go?" you ask as the angel stamps your card with red ink: "SAVED."

"Oh, that was our Manager. He's the one who keeps this place running. He's also our Pilot, and He'll be the One to greet you at your destination. People don't often see Him on this end of the trip: He slips away unnoticed."

With nothing but your card in hand, you march toward security, glancing at another check-in stand in time to see someone turn from the counter, bags in hand, and walk away. Apparently, they could not bear to let someone else handle their luggage. Sad, you think, that he just walked away. I wonder that he didn't just go ahead and get on the plane.

At security you meet more angels, all smiling. They ask if you have any luggage with you, and you reply you checked it in at the front. Now they really smile. They sign your card in red ink: "REDEEMED," and on you go.

Now you make it to the gate. The plane is boarding, and you hand your card to the official.

"No luggage?" he asks.

"Nope. Checked it in up front," you reply.

He smiles, stamps your card, and waves you through.

The flight is long. 7 days, to be exact. But it's in no way unpleasant, for all the time, you can hear the voice of the Pilot through the loud-speaker system. Sometimes the airplane rocks and bounces with tremendous turbulence, but the Pilot's voice is ever speaking, reassuring that it's only for a time and to please remain seated. No one saw Him at all in the airport, although you eagerly tell your seat-mates that He helped you check your luggage.

"Funny," one of them says. "He did that for me, too."

"And me!" another adds.

A little investigation reveals that everyone on the plane was helped by the Pilot to surrender their baggage at the check-in stand. I wonder why that is, you muse.

When you pull into Heaven's airport and land, everyone is excited and happy. You get off the plane, and as you do you are changed in an instant. You give your card to the man at the door, who's collecting them and filing them with a big smile. You've been given new clothes, white and shining, and you walk along with a spring in your step.

And that's when you look for the sign that says, "Baggage claim." There must be one. After all, it's an airport.

As you're paused, looking around for the sign, a Man walks up to you and puts a hand on your shoulder. That hand feels familiar, and you look up into the face of Someone so gentle and kind you feel drawn to Him.

"What are you looking for?" He asks.

"Excuse me, Sir, but I'm looking for the baggage claim," you reply. "The Manager helped me check it in on Earth, but shouldn't I have to claim it here?"

A smile passes over the Man's face. "No, you won't. You see, we have no baggage claim here."

You look surprised. "No baggage claim? Why, then where did my baggage go?"

"Where it belongs," is the simple reply. "No one ever brings baggage to Heaven. They simply cannot come with it."

Now the man who turned away from the check-in counter comes to mind. As you're walking along with the Man, you ask, "So, are some left on Earth because they could not check their luggage?"

Sadness crosses your Companion's face. "Yes, more than I would like to say. I offer to help every one of them, but few make the choice."

Now you are really surprised. "You? Are you the Manager?"

He smiles. "Yes, and the Pilot. And the King of this country."

"Well, I'm certainly glad I don't have my baggage now," you say. "It made my trip so much more enjoyable and pleasant. And it was easier to listen to what You were saying over the loud-speaker when I didn't have to worry about my things."

"That's why we ask people to leave their baggage at the counter."

You've reached the doors now, huge, pearl-like doors that your Friend swings back on its hinges, revealing a vast landscape of unimaginable beauty. "Imagine this," He says, "without the freedom to explore and discover. For you would have none of that freedom with a bag in each hand."

You try. It's rather hard; because, see, your luggage has been gone from you for so long, you can hardly even imagine it back with you.

"I don't want to," you say, taking one joyful step towards it all.

Then you look back at the Man in the door, who's smiling at you. "Thank you," you say. "Thank you for helping me to give it up."

He nods. "You're welcome, My Child."

In Heaven's airport, there is no baggage claim.

You leave your baggage at the counter.

With Jesus.

Where it belongs.

No matter what kind of baggage it may be.

You'll hear the Pilot's voice better...especially when your airplane runs into turbulence.
You'll be able to concentrate on serving the other people in your cabin, helping and making things pleasant.
You'll be able to be free...more free than you ever were before.

But the key is this: the luggage must stay at the counter.

No one is ever allowed to bring luggage into Heaven. They simply wouldn't be happy if they had it with them.

It must be surrendered now.

No, there is no baggage claim in Heaven's airport.

Praise God.

Lord, help me to 'check my baggage' now. Give me Your power to surrender it all to You...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fear--Gen. 35

"Arise, go to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God" (Gen. 35:1).

Desolated Shechem echoed with the sound of emptiness. Two brothers in a camp below retained the stains of innocent blood upon their hands. And an aged father bowed his face to the ground in unimaginable sorrow and remorse.

What to do? Where to go? Jacob was certain that when the surrounding cities and peoples heard of the massacre at Shechem, a thousand armies would rise against him and his camp and he would be wiped out for the sins of his sons.

And in his distress, a loving voice called, filling the void of silence with a breath of Heaven's air.

"Arise, go to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God" (vs. 1).

To Bethel? Leave? Oh, the fears that must have oppressed Jacob's soul. How vulnerable his little band would be, traveling through wastelands to Bethel!

God had given three things for him to do: go to Bethel, live there, and make an altar.

And he obeyed. Even in the face of his fear. They packed up immediately and left for Bethel.

And arrived there without being attacked by anyone, save the spectre of death, which first claimed Rebekah's old nurse, Deborah, and then Rachel herself.

Jacob had presented his case before the Lord, filled with grief and fear like none others he had known.

And he had received counsel. Divine counsel. Good counsel.

"Those who decide to do nothing in any line that will displease God, will know, after presenting their case before Him, just what course to pursue. And they will receive not only wisdom, but strength" (DA, p. 668).

Fears arise in hearts on this old planet of ours. Fears that seem to choke the very spark of life and laughter out of us.

And there are times when we fall with our faces to the ground, crying out, "Lord, what are You doing? Why? When? What is going on? HELP!"

He has promised over and over that when we call, He will answer.

And if we have decided beforehand that we want to do nothing that will displease the Lord or depart from His will, after bringing out case to Him, we are promised that we will know just what course to pursue.

We need never be in doubt as to where to step next.

After all…

"How can I fear? Jesus is near. He ever watches over me. Worries all cease, He gives me peace: how can I fear with Jesus?"

How indeed?

Lord, take these fears in my heart. Take my life and let it be…. Show me my next step, and may I rejoice at Your leading….

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Only You--Gen. 34

"And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had delight in Jacob's daughter; and he was more honourable than all the house of his father" (Gen. 34:19).

Parting ways from Esau, Jacob and his entourage find themselves in the land of the Shechemites.

We all know what happens here.

Dinah, the only daughter in the entire of Jacob's store of children, goes out to find friends among the heathen girls of the land and is seen by the prince of Shechem, consequently named Shechem.

What followed was a load of betrayal, sorrow, shame, misery, bloodshed, deceit and lawlessness.

The end of the story isn't pretty.

All the men of Shechem paid dearly for their prince's rash act. They paid with their lives.

And yet, verse 19 says that this young man was "more honourable than all the house of his father."

It's true that after the sin was committed that Shechem did love Dinah. He did. And he had every intention of marrying her.

But his rash, impulsive act caused not only his death, but that of all the other men in the city.

Your acts of rash impetuosity never affect only you.

You may be more honorable than all the house of your father: you may be upright, upstanding, a good example, a good Christian…

...and in a moment of thoughtlessness, impetuous decisions can bring that to ruin.

It doesn't matter what kind of decision it is.

It will never affect only you.

I want my heart to be upright and true. "More honourable than all the house of (my) father," as it were. I want to be seen as a true Christian, and to BE a true Christian.

But I pray, with all of this erring, weak, sin-sick heart, that my choices will be such that a good effect will ripple out to those it touches.

It will never affect only me.

And it will never affect only you.

Lord, help me to make choices that will honor You, and will elevate my character...not degrade it… Forgive me for the times in my life when my choices have been less than honorable. Save this weak child, I pray...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Enough--Gen. 33

"And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast to thyself" (Gen. 33:9).

Esau arrives. Falls on Jacob's neck and weeps aloud. Brother is reunited with brother, no blood is shed, and forgiveness washes away anger.

But then Esau asks questions. "Who are those with thee?...What meanest thou by the drove which I met?" (vs. 5, 8).

And Jacob answers both: "The children which God hath graciously given thy servant….These are to find grace in the sight of my lord" (vs. 5, 8).

And then Esau must've put his hand up, though smiling, as he uttered the next verse: "I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast to thyself" (vs. 9).

Jacob insisted, however, and Esau accepted. The brother's parted ways then, and who knows whether they ever saw one another again. Their children and descendants warred with one another foreverafter, but the brothers had reconciled nonetheless.

It isn't the fact that they reconciled that brings home conviction. It's Esau's unpretentious statement: "I have enough."

In life, we are never satisfied. We never have enough. The old iPhone isn't good enough--surely the one with a different name and bigger case and fancier features will work better. The love of a friend isn't enough--surely a different kind would be more satisfying… The car isn't good enough...the camera isn't good enough...the house, the job, the income…

Nothing is ever enough.

And yet, we find one of the most selfish creatures in the Old Testament, headstrong, impulsive, for the most part, Godless, saying in all sincerity, "I have enough."

Shame on us.

When will we learn to say, "I have enough?"

The old phone, the old car, the old camera… the simple joys of friendship… the income, the house, the job…

We ought to learn to say, "I have enough."

And if God blesses with more, then praise the Lord.

For while Esau stated he had enough, he did receive the gift from Jacob's hand. He did accept it.

So may we accept extra blessings when the Lord sees fit to send them our way.

But til the blessing arrives, may each of us be found with Esau.

I have enough.

Lord, teach me to "be content with such things as I have"...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Clinging Faith--Gen. 32

"And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26).

Jacob continues on his journey toward home. He begins to see the mountains of his land rising up before him...and as the mountains rise, so does fear. Fear of what he's left...and fear of what awaits him.


A slighted, deceived and usurped brother has been treating an aging father's wealth as his own for years. Now, the one to whom they were given is returning.

Jacob has reason to fear.

He sends servants ahead to bring tidings of his arrival to Esau. He calls Esau "my lord Esau" and himself, "your servant Jacob." He comes in complete contrition and humbleness of heart.

The servants return, bringing the news that Esau advances to meet him--with a company of 400 armed men.

Bad news. Things do not look good.

We all know the story. Jacob sends his family across the river Jabbok and while he pleads with the Lord has an encounter with Christ. Nay, more than encounter: he wrestles physically with him all night long.

"And when he (Christ) saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him" (vs. 25).

"The struggle continued until near the break of day, when the stranger placed his finger upon Jacob's thigh, and he was crippled instantly. The patriarch now discerned the character of his antagonist. He knew that he had been in conflict with a heavenly messenger, and this was why his almost superhuman effort had not gained the victory. It was Christ, "the Angel of the covenant," who had revealed Himself to Jacob" (PP 196).

The knowledge that it was Christ, his only hope and salvation, made Jacob desperate.

"The patriarch was now disabled and suffering the keenest pain, but he would not loosen his hold. All penitent and broken, he clung to the Angel; "he wept, and made supplication" (Hosea 12:4), pleading for a blessing.

"He must have the assurance that his sin was pardoned. Physical pain was not sufficient to divert his mind from this object. His determination grew stronger, his faith more earnest and persevering, until the very last" (PP 196).

Christ urged Jacob to release him. But Jacob clung tighter. "I will not let thee go except thou bless me," he stated with tears.

How many souls would dare to utter such a condition to the Creator of the Universe? It seems audacious, yet...

"Had this been a boastful, presumptuous confidence, Jacob would have been instantly destroyed; but his was the assurance of one who confesses his own unworthiness, yet trusts the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God"  (PP 196).

It was assurance. Trust. Humbleness of heart.

This was faith. Clinging faith.

Faith that would not be deterred from its purpose--that of being granted pardon and having peace in the heart in the light of God's love.

"Jacob "had power over the Angel, and prevailed." Hosea 12:4. Through humiliation, repentance, and self-surrender, this sinful, erring mortal prevailed with the Majesty of heaven. He had fastened his trembling grasp upon the promises of God, and the heart of Infinite Love could not turn away the sinner's plea" (PP 197).

The heart of Christ could not turn away. Would not turn away.

His love compelled him to remain and Jacob did indeed prevail. He gained the assurance of love and pardon from heaven's throne: exactly what he had pled for.

Christ never will turn away from one who, in faith and trust, clings to Him and pleads.

He didn't turn away from Jacob.

And He won't turn away from you.

Teach me, Father, how to have clinging faith...