April 16th, 2019

Stunted Experience

Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

Observation: The Lord in v. 1 had come to Abram to assure him that “I…am your very great reward.” Abram’s response was to ask how that was possible since Abram had no heir. When God had first called Abram to migrate to Canaan, God had promised that a great nation would come from Abram, and that “all peoples on the earth would be blessed by (Abram).” (V. 12:3) Since that original promise, life had moved on; Abram and Sarai had relocated to Egypt where he had become wealthy during Sarai’s season in Pharaoh’s harem. Then Abram and Lot had separated. Yet through all these lengthy days, Abram remained childless. Abram fought a war to rescue Lot and declined significant payment of worldly goods from the king of Sodom.

Application: To now hear God renew His promise to be Abram’s “very great reward” caused legitimate questions to arise for Abram. How could he be confident when he again heard God say that Abram’s offspring would be as numerous as the stars? What the story next says is key: “Abram believed God.”

Abram’s faith was not shaken by what he had not yet experienced. Apparently he was satisfied to know God’s character and to have experienced His faithfulness in the past. Because of that, Abram’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness.”

Jesus would later affirm a similar principle to Thomas, when He said that those who could believe without seeing are blessed.

This strikes to the heart of human disappointment in God. I may begin strong, full of confidence in God’s abilities and His unchanging character. But gradually, if a wise guard has not been set over my heart, I can begin to assess God not by who He is, but by my stunted experience of His performance in my behalf. God, whose character is healing (Jehovah Raphe) none-the-less did not perform according to my expectations for my wife. God, also known as provider (Jehovah-Jireah), seems to abandon in the midst of a well-conceived business plan. God, who has promised that He would bless righteousness to a rich panoply of future generations, can appear to have left bereft much-loved offspring in their darkest season. In all of this, I must remember: my experience does not have the authority to diminish God. When I evaluate Him based upon my experience rather than His immutable character, I will always be in error.

Prayer: Father, there are many things in my journey with You that I do not understand. Cause me, like Abram, to focus on what You have done and on what You are doing, that my own response to You may be credited to me as righteousness.

April 15th, 2019

Tears In The Driveway

Genesis 12:1 “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’”

Observation: The family into which Abram was born had already done one leaving. Gen. 11:31 says that Abram’s father Terah had originally left Ur with part of his family, intending to migrate to Canaan. But they only got as far as an area called Haran, where Terah decided to put down roots. Later, the Lord called Abram to complete the relocation to Canaan.

Application: Joshua 24:2 clarifies why this migration was a two-generation process by telling us that Terah “worshipped other gods”, which is why he was comfortable remaining in Haran; both Ur and Haran were places where the moon-god was worshipped, so he likely felt at home in either place.

Through Abram, though, God intended to do something new. Terah and all the rest of Noah’s lineage were part of the post-flood, post-Babel rebellion. But in Abram and through his offspring, God had a plan to introduce a redemptive work for all mankind.

Terah settled in Haran and was no doubt satisfied, spending the rest of his life and dying there.

We are not told the sequence of Terah’s death and Abram’s leaving, but Gen. 12:1 suggests that Abram had received his call to leave while his father was still alive. I wonder what the day of Abram’s departure was like. Any of us who have stood with tear-filled eyes in the driveway as our eldest child drove happily away to a remote college has experienced the cleaved heart Terah must have felt. “Call me when you get there”, we urged. “Drive safely. See you at Christmas.” What were Terah’s thoughts? There would be no phone calls, no text messages, no holiday reunions. Likely this father and son would never again embrace.

Yet Abram left, something he could surely have only done in the certainty of having heard God’s voice. There is such a profound difference in being called “to” something as opposed to escaping from something. How easy it is to rebelliously abandon a tough situation: difficult family relationship or an unreasonable employer. But it is something else entirely to be called by God’s vision to the new and unknown. Paul said it well: “putting away what lies in the past, I press on.”

Prayer: Lord, You do have a call, a destiny, for my life. Cause me to listen well and to put my complete trust in Your promise to never leave or forsake me as I follow You.

April 14th, 2019

To Bed Without Supper

Genesis 11:2 “they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”

Observation: Thus is introduced the story of the tower of Babel. The previous verse reveals that the whole world had one language and a common speech. This is reasonable, given that the story is set a mere two generations after the flood. Genesis 10 details the progeny of Noah’s son Ham: Ham fathered Cush, who in turn fathered Nimrod. Nimrod was a mighty warrior-hunter whose kingdom encompassed several cities “in Shinar”. (v. 10:10)

Application: In Shinar. This suggests that Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, was the visionary who sponsored Babel’s construction project. Ham, who was cursed for exposing his father’s drunken nakedness, would father offspring so prideful as to think they could “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:4)

Yet God’s instruction as Noah and his sons disembarked the ark had been the exact opposite: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) It seems tragically predictable given human nature after the fall, that Nimrod would have done the reverse. In fact, as God faced Noah after the flood in Genesis 8:21, His promise was to never again “curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”

What, then, has been the purpose of the flood’s destruction? Because I have known of the flood story from childhood, I realize that I have remained captured by childish understanding. God was not so naïve as to believe He could wash sin out of man with a worldwide flood; even in those righteous enough to be saved, sin abounded. In the immediate aftermath of the flood we find drunkenness, gossip and prideful disobedience, none of which caught God by surprise.

“Change your attitude young man or you’ll go to bed without supper,” we might say. While hunger pangs may bring quick enough compliance to fill the belly, improvement, sadly, is never lasting. What’s required is heart surgery, recognition that without sharing in Christ’s death it is impossible to please God. The flood was meant to be a picture—a mirror—of man’s core sinful condition. Oceans of water could never adequately cleanse, but blood could. Blood from God’s own body would prove the only effective agent of change. Noah must have reflected on the irony of his incredible deliverance only to be followed so quickly by fresh failure. My own experience has too often reflected his, yet I have a hope Noah never knew.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that through the flood story You have handed me a mirror and said, “every inclination of my heart has been evil since childhood.” Only Your blood has kept me from well-earned death. Fill me today with constant remembrance of Your fully effective sacrifice.

April 13th, 2019

A Prospering Portfolio

Genesis 12:16 “Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.”

Observation: God had supernaturally led Abram to migrate to Canaan with his entire household. As famine there became severe, Abram decided on his own to move once more, this time into Egypt where food was plentiful. The problem was, Abram anticipated his wife Sarai’s beauty would capture Pharaoh’s eye. To save his own skin, Abram and Sarai agreed to the lie that they were siblings, thus enabling her to be taken into Pharaoh’s harem legally, without necessity of first making her a widow, as David later did to Bathsheba.

Application: We are not told how Pharaoh discovered the ruse, merely that illness in the house somehow led to the lie’s exposure. But what we do know is that when Pharaoh learned the truth, he acted far more honorably than had Abram. Pharaoh’s response was first to give Abram a good tongue-lashing, then he returned Sarai to Abram and unceremoniously gave them both the boot from Egypt, along with “everything he had”. (v. 20)

We are not told how quickly this whole episode played itself out, but I have delicately presumed that Sarai’s expulsion from Pharaoh’s harem was quick enough that the two had no time for dallying between the sheets. Even so, her time in the harem could have been months, given how long a beauty was prepped for her first conjugal visit. However much time elapsed, Abram had opportunity to grow wealthy, acquiring sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and servants aplenty to manage his expanding fortunes.

Abram is here exposed as having accommodated himself quite nicely to his wife’s horrible predicament, growing prosperous while she no doubt shriveled in fear. The man who should have been her knight in shining armor plotting to rescue his beloved, was apparently content to remain in the marketplace bettering the family’s portfolio. “But honey”, he may have written her, “I’m doing this for us. I want our children to have a better life, to not have to work as hard as we have.” All the while, Sarai died little by little as the months ground slowly by.

Abram was thriving in a place God had not called him to. Rather than remaining in Canaan dependent upon God’s provision he acted on his own, apparently trading Sarai for worldly success. I must ask myself: what have I pursued that God never called me to? What price have I paid for such pursuits? What price has been extracted from my loved ones?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as You unfolded this application to my heart I am undone. I reflect with shame upon my own heart’s connivance with the world’s systems. Forgive me, Lord, and restore me and my loved ones to ever-deepening intimacy with one another and with You.

April 12th, 2019

Magazine Aisle

Genesis 14:13 “…he was living in Sodom.”

Observation: Abram and his nephew Lot had come to an amicable parting once it was apparent that their holdings were too vast for them to live near one another. Large herds needed expansive lands, so Lot had chosen to occupy the fertile, well-watered Jordan plain. Thus he “pitched his tent near Sodom”. (v. 13:12) Later, when the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and three other local kings lost a battle, they and their armies fled to the hills, leaving their cities to be looted of “all their goods” and “all their food”. (v. 11) The victors “also carried off Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.”

Application: See what has been Lot’s progression? He was carried off as a spoil of war because he was living in Sodom, while just a few verses earlier he had pitched his tents “near” Sodom.

When Abram had generously allowed Lot to have the pick of choice spots in which to settle, Lot saw that the Jordan plain was “like the garden of the Lord.” (v. 13:10), and like the land of Egypt. Wow…imagery evocative of both the garden of Eden and the fertile Nile river valley. Can Lot be blamed for choosing flesh’s best? “Aha”, he may have thought, “this is my chance to become as prosperous as Uncle Abram”! So he pitched his tents near Sodom.

The next verse makes clear that Sodom’s spiritual condition was already infamous: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.”

What passed through Lot’s mind as he camped tantalizingly close to such debauchery? He has already shown himself greedy by not yielding dibs to Abram, his elder. I wonder if he fooled himself into actually believing he had the moral strength to resist Sodom’s siren song. Perhaps. But it is more likely he purposely put himself in harm’s way. Like the food addict who saunters near the bakery, or the pornographer who chooses the magazine aisle as a shortcut to the milk cooler, Lot’s flesh was likely in the driver’s seat. Seeking neither God’s counsel nor Abram’s, he purposely settled in a high-risk neighborhood. I should not be surprised that soon he had made one more move, this time to dwell inside Sodom’s walls. I wonder: how have I acted similarly?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it seems that You constantly drill deeper into my heart to reveal what is there. I tend so often to yield to worldly tugs rather than to Your best. Forgive me, Lord, for my embrace of Lot’s decision paradigm.

April 11th, 2019

Short Accounts

Genesis 9:22 “Ham…saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.”

Observation: Genesis 9:19 states that from Noah’s three sons “came the people who were scattered across the earth.” Along with their wives, each had experienced God’s deliverance through the flood. Now, in establishing a new life in the postdiluvian world, Noah planted a vineyard, became drunk, and apparently passed out naked inside his tent. At some point Ham saw his father’s nakedness and went out to tell his brothers.

Application: Scripture is silent as to why Ham found himself inside his sleeping father’s tent. No doubt his original motive was benign. Perhaps he sought to quiet his father’s loud snoring, or maybe he sought clippers with which to prune the vineyard for next year’s crop. But whatever the reason, Ham got quite an eyeful, enough to cause him to step outside and gossip.

“Shem, Japheth,” he may have said, “you’ll never guess what the old man has done now.” Or maybe his approach was more compassionate, as in “Hey guys, dad is in a really embarrassing situation in there; what can we do to help him out?”

No matter Ham’s approach or his heart in the matter, Noah was furious when he awakened and realized Ham had talked about what he had seen in the confines of Noah’s tent. As a result, Noah cursed Ham and his descendants, condemning them to live as slaves to the offspring of Shem and Japheth. Indeed, Israel would struggle for centuries with the consequences of Noah’s curse, from constantly encroaching Canaanite sin to strife with such cousins as Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians and others. (see Gen. 10:6-20)

What is it that motivates the human heart to gossip? Because we who know Christ know it is wrong, we find ourselves dressing it up in more acceptable garments. We use the language of “concern”, of wanting to marshal help for one who seems deficient in one thing or another. But such disclosure of another’s shortcomings contains a more sinister purpose than mere compassion. My hidden motive, once honestly exposed, is to somehow elevate me above the one I am supposedly concerned for. Thus my real motive stands exposed, every bit as naked as Noah on his bed. I must learn the lesson of Ham if I am to live under God’s blessings rather than merit His curses. This old, old story has an uncomfortable currency about it, one I am called to bury along with all those other traits I must put to death.

Prayer: Father, I see clearly the awful consequences of Ham’s sin, even as the story causes me to reflect with honesty on similar sins of my own. Forgive me, Lord. Thank You for keeping short accounts with me.

April 10th, 2019

The Cyclone

Genesis 8:1(a) “But God remembered Noah…“

Observation: Preceding verses have described the effects of the flood: every living thing on the earth perished, along with all mankind. “Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died (v. 7:22) Then comes the simple phrase, “But God remembered Noah.”

Application: What am I to make of this phrase? Does it suggest that ‘til God had finished with the flood’s devastating work He had been too occupied with death and destruction to give Noah a thought? Not likely. From God’s perspective, His thoughts must have continually been toward Noah. After all, hadn’t God commanded the ark’s construction as a vehicle for salvation? Didn’t the ark carry the precious remnant of all God held dear?

No, the statement of God’s remembrance of Noah must surely have been written from Noah’s perspective, not God’s. In the telling and retelling of the story to succeeding generations, surely this simple phrase was fraught with emotion and relief. Until Noah recorded that God remembered him, the previous time we’re sure Noah had heard from God had been months earlier when God had closed the ark’s door. Save the natural cacophony of the animals, the ark might have been possessed of a tomb-like quiet. Then, after a week, the flood began. Not as a gentle rain that went unendingly on, but as vengeful torrents of raging waves body-slamming the ark and its precious cargo. All the while, Noah had not heard from God.

But suddenly, destruction ceased. Waters began receding, and the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Surely it was with a sense of relieved celebration that Noah realized they had made it through the storm. They were alive; all was going to be well once again.

I am often like Noah. In the midst of life’s most violent storms I can easily forget that God remembers me moment-by-moment. It is easy to exult on the other side of a difficult season, but I should learn the more important reality: that God had never left me, He never forsook me. As I climb gratefully down from Six Flags’ most terrifying ride and breathe relief at the certainty of solid ground, I should remember that He was with me through every violent twist and turn of the entire ride.

Prayer: Father, thank You for this reminder that You are always with me; Your thoughts toward me are more than I could count. You have a strategy for safe deliverance through life’s worst trials, and I am grateful.

April 9th, 2019

Cutting Corners

Genesis 14:23 “I will accept nothing belonging to you.”

Observation: Abram had just returned from defeating a group of allied kings who had earlier routed the king of Sodom. In the original battle, the allied kings had taken captive Abram’s nephew Lot along with his entire household. In gratitude for Abram’s victory, Sodom’s king greeted Abram upon his return and offered to give to Abram all the property he had recaptured. Abram responded by relating an oath he had already made to God regarding the king of Sodom: “I have taken an oath to the Lord, God most high, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”

Application: The king of Sodom is merely a bit player in this story. Abram had not gone to war on Sodom’s behalf; without Lot’s capture, Abram would surely not have given Sodom’s captivity a second thought. Indeed, to have taken booty from the king would have made Abram little more than a hireling, a mercenary in the service of the vilest of kingdoms.

Abram chose to look only to God for his provision. Shortly after Abram had left the king, the Lord spoke approvingly in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (v. 15:1)

Could any sweeter word than this have come to Abram? He had declined to cut corners to great wealth by rejecting Sodom’s temptations. He would not owe any man for his prosperity, but would look to God alone.

I wonder: in what illegitimate ways have I tried to gain advantage? How many corners have I cut to save a few dollars here, or to gain some advantage there, all the while professing my undying love for Him? Many are the ways it’s done…questionable tax deductions, or fulfillment of a contract with less than my best effort…use of cheaper materials than the job requires, or repeated slothfulness in giving a full day’s work for wages paid. There must be a hundred ways…no, a thousand ways in which flesh gathers earthly rewards, all the while stifling a still, small voice persistently saying, “I will show you a more excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31 )

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how Your heart is saddened when I fail Abram’s test of rejecting Sodom’s proffered payment. Forgive me, Lord. I choose this day a renewed course of utter dependence upon You. You alone are the Lord, God most high, Creator of heaven and earth.

April 8th, 2019

Chasing Vultures

Genesis 15:12 “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness fell over him.”

Observation: Earlier in the day the Lord had told Abram in a vision that He would be Abram’s “shield and very great reward.” (v. 1) Then God assured Abram that his descendents would be as numerous as the countable stars, and that this rich heritage would come from an heir produced personally by Abram. To prepare for memorializing the covenant, Abram was to bring before the Lord several large animals, each of which he cut in two and laid out to make a sort of aisle between the carcass halves. Then came Abram’s “deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness”.

Application: Why was the deep sleep important? What was it that made a thick and dreadful darkness helpful? And why is it reported as coming while Abram was in a deep sleep?

No answers to these questions are readily apparent from the words of Scripture. But consider this: the God of all creation was about to enter into profound, permanent covenant with a created man. Abram’s full attention was demanded in order for faithfulness to arise. Perhaps God understood that He could be best heard by speaking while Abram slept. After all, the previous verse tells us that as the carcass halves lay waiting for the ceremony to begin, Abram drove away birds of prey that came to feed on warm flesh.

What a silly sight that must have been. Like Abram, I too often try to “fix things” for God . . . to help Him out. He maintains a storehouse of revelation for my benefit, yet I tend to busy myself with vultures and dead things. God had commanded the sacrifice; the covenant ceremony was at His initiative; surely He could have kept these particular carcasses free of vultures if He considered it important. Apparently God desired to bypass Abram’s consciousness.

So a deep sleep overcame Abram, strengthened by a thick and dreadful darkness. Into this place of utter silence God spoke, giving to Abram and his Hebrew descendants “this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.” (v. 18) Forever. Irrevocably. Initiated and completed by God, the covenant was spoken into Abram with such singularity as to echo yet today.

Prayer: Lord, there are times when I pray on the fly, while driving or while tending to daily chores. But I need more times of absolute quiet in my life, times when all possible interruptions have been eliminated. What have You wanted me to hear, what promises have You spoken, that my busyness has drowned out? Cause me to be quiet in Your presence. Let others chase vultures.

April 7th, 2019

Weather Report

Genesis 7:11(b), 12 “…all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.”

Observation: Noah and his sons had worked faithfully on the ark for decades, doing “all that the Lord commanded him.” (v. 5) Once finished, he and his wife, their sons and daughters-in-law entered the ark followed by a docile procession of every living thing God had drawn to the unfamiliar vessel. Seven days later, all heaven, literally, broke loose.

Application: Think for a moment of the image portrayed next: springs of the great deep burst forth, suggesting nothing less than unimaginable violence beneath men’s feet, a roiling, churning explosion of water coming from deep earth fissures in all directions. The great deep held an immeasurable reservoir of water hitherto unknown, released in an instant in worldwide cataclysmic explosion spewing forth as pressurized steam might burst from pipes.

At the same time, heaven’s floodgates above were opened. No normal rain, this…falling without end ‘til docile rivers became mighty torrents. No, this deluge from above must have been at least initially akin to standing under Niagara’s falls.

Overwhelmed, knocked down and swept along, this event surely had the feel of a tsunami. No one had time to cobble together materials into a raft and grab fishing lures. In the midst of such horrific panic, do I suppose anyone peered from ‘neath his umbrella at the bus stop to muse, “I wonder how long this’ll last?” Then, after these initial catastrophes, it rained still more, for forty days and forty nights.

What is it about my heart that makes me think I could float calmly through God’s disciplines without devastating consequences? My tendency, like Noah’s neighbors’, is to ignore warning signs. So I squirrel away a secret supply of this or that, not realizing that all of it will be swept from reach when life’s storms overtake. Roiling financial markets, devastating plumes of medical crises, the overpowering flood of fear in the face of an abandoning spouse…these things suddenly cast asunder my most careful plans. My prideful heart pursues bigger and better, while His still, small voice within simply whispers, “Come unto Me.” “Rest in Me.” “Cease striving.”

Prayer: Father, my heart all these years after the flood is still filled with springs of the great deep able to burst forth without warning. These still hold the potential to terrify and overwhelm. Only You can preserve me through the ravages of such storms. I gladly choose to hide in You.