Déjà vu…

As a member of the human race, I can relate to mankind’s habit of returning to sin with regularity.  I’m far from perfect.  I fight daily with struggles that have waged war with my heart’s desire to do what is right for years.  I could be a poster child for Christ’s incredible and undeserved grace.

But I just read Genesis 20, and I have a sneaking suspicion we’ve been here before.

In a previous blog post, I pondered Abraham’s decision to not trust his God and Friend to protect him and Sarai when they moved to Egypt (Genesis 13).  Now, just seven chapters later, Abraham makes the same mistake again, this time to King Abimelech of Gerar (located in what is now south-central Israel).  As if once wasn’t enough!  As a foreigner to the lands surrounding Gerar, Abraham once again tells Sarai (now called Sarah) to tell the people wherever they went that they’re siblings instead of a married couple.  Abimelech sees Sarah’s beauty and sends for her to be brought to him at his palace… I think you can surmise why.  (Sarai must have been one “hottie” of a Hebrew woman, especially at her age.)  God comes to Abimelech in a dream that night and tells him he’s going to die for taking another man’s wife.  Abimelech cries foul and claims his innocence as he was deceived by both Abraham and Sarah, but God still threatens him with death if he does not return Sarah to Abraham.

Abimelech confronts Abraham, and Abraham claims they really are siblings as they have the same father but different mothers.  Was he really telling the truth here, or was he claiming God as his father which, while true, seems to be the route Abe took to weasel his way out of trouble again for a very significant mistake he’d made once before with another king?  Sounds to me like he was passing the buck again.  Abimelech then gives Abraham a slew of gifts!  Servants, cattle, sheep, goats, a thousand pieces of silver, and whatever spot of land in Gerar they choose to live.

??!!?!?!!!?!!!

Do what now?!  Abraham brazenly commits a very specific sin of deception, one he’d already been disciplined for years ago, and he gets rewarded?!  Abraham, being a prophet, then prays to God, and God heals Abimelech and his family of the condition that fell upon them for Abimelech’s sin of taking Abraham’s wife?

There must be some kind of subtext in this passage, because it seems to me the one at fault really was Abraham.  Perhaps the lesson is grace.  Abraham sinned against God by not trusting Him and for deceiving another, so God pardons him.  But it doesn’t seem right.  Heck, even the heading for this passage is “Abraham Deceives Abimelech,” for goodness’ sake!  Abraham intentionally disobeyed God.

But how often do I do the same?  And how often do I pray for God’s mercy instead of His correcting hand?  Quite frequently.  My takeaway from this scripture is this: while God’s forgiveness and grace are always offered through Jesus, I can’t always expect to be spared the consequences for what I do.  Sometimes it’ll happen, sometimes I’ll be spared the hurt, the rebuke, the shame.  But I should always expect the consequences.  And to avoid the consequences, I should stay away from sin.  Simple enough…

Good thing there’s still grace.

Sulfur rain and pillars of salt…

I’ve heard it said the Bible is too goody-goody, too sunshine and rainbows to be real.  Only someone who’s never read it could say that.  Right from the get-go, there’s murder, debauchery, arrogance, selfishness… the list goes on and on.  Billions of people throughout history who thought they’re too good for this world and therefore can do whatever they want.  Not so.

Abraham had a nephew named Lot with whom he was very close.  However, Lot seemed to end up in situations where sin crept in all around him, trying to destroy him.  He lived with his family in the city of Sodom, a city of extreme wickedness and debauchery whose neighbor Gomorrah was more of the same.  Through Abraham’s pleading to the Lord to keep Lot and his family safe, two angels are sent to Lot to get him the heck out of Dodge, as it were, as God was planning to essentially nuke the two cities and wipe them and their sin-crazed inhabitants from the face of the earth.  At the last minute, the angels grab the hands of Lot and his family and virtually have to drag them out of the city to spare their lives.  For whatever reason, Lot’s wife looks back at the city longingly (what was she longing for?) and turns into a pillar of salt.  Personally, I don’t quite know if I believe she turned into a literal pillar of sodium chloride.  I think she was more likely consumed so quickly by the raining flames of fire and burning sulfur that she turned to ash almost instantaneously, hinting at the appearance of being turned into salt.  An entry I found on Wikipedia offers a different explanation, but I think the two could easily intertwine.  (However, explaining it requires knowledge of how high heat would affect a human body, and I’m not Temperance Brennan.)

I’m both fascinated and disheartened by our history.  The years gone by are filled with all kinds of adventure, mystery, heart-stopping drama and divine miracles, the stuff of legend and stories.  But there is often more heartbreak and hurt than good, and pretty much always as the result of someone’s choice.  A single small decision can tremendously change the course of our lives both for good and for worse.  Like a tiny rudder steering a ship, even the most seemingly insignificant choice can set incredible events into motion.

What kind of choices am I making?

Surely He wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat and Groucho Marx glasses…

Genesis 18.  Very interesting.  Starts out with Abraham seeing three men standing nearby.  He immediately runs out to them and greets them.  Something tells me he knew who these men were, even though it doesn’t really specify.  From what I’m reading I’m making the guess that it was the Lord and two of His angels, or perhaps God in the form of three separate individuals.  The scriptures don’t explicitly indicate who they were until verse 13 where it describes how the Lord called Sarah out for laughing to herself in doubt of her ability to have children at nearly ninety years old.

Then there’s the fact that this man who called Sarah out most likely was God.  God decided to come down and hang out with His devoted servant Abraham and pass along His message to him about the first of his many descendants in the flesh.  What form did God take?  Could it have been Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?  And what about Him gave Him away that Abraham immediately recognized Him?  It’s not described.  The only clue is how Abraham immediately stood up from where he was sitting to meet them, no questions, no hesitation.  Something about them was unique, and it was seemingly uniquely God.

I wonder how often God has placed something or someone in my midst that represents Him directly.  How many times have I missed those moments, brushed them off as nothing important?  My wife has had a couple distinct experiences where she believes she was visited by a messenger from God.  Brings me hope that I can experience something like that.  But how brave am I to ask for that kind of experience, to be in the presence of someone that close to the Holiest of holies?

Will I be able to pick God out of the crowd and immediately know that it’s Him come to greet me?

Holy contradictions…

I’ve been writing a song over the course of the past year and a half that reflects on Jesus’s fascinatingly contradictory nature, the way He lived and demonstrated life by doing the exact opposite of society’s norms and expectations.  Touching the untouchable in the leper, loving the adulterous prostitute, breaking bread with crooked tax collectors.  His bold actions went against not only cultural taboos, but against many of the laws of the day.  After He ascended, His disciples, who became the first leaders of the “modern” church, discovered the reasoning behind and hope within why Christ lived like that while here on earth.

I’m reading through James again at the suggestion of a colleague and friend, and I just started writing what came to mind as I read.  Enjoy…

  • When faith is tested, endurance will grow.  When endurance grows, it will make me stronger.  Not on my own, but by His strength.
  • Is my loyalty divided between God and the things in this world?  Am I truly putting my faith in Him alone?  Where am I falling short when it comes to seeking and asking Him for wisdom?  How do I tell the difference between what I’m coming up with on my own and what He is inspiring?
  • The rich should show humility for their blessings, and the poor should boast of how God is honoring them.  They have all they need in Him, as long as they are making Him all they need.
  • God never tempts us, He never puts things in front of us to test our faith in such ways.  But He allows it so we may be blessed by enduring it!
  • In spite of how mankind has continued to abandon Him, His heart still beats for us.
  • There is a distinct difference between my anger and God’s righteous anger.  I need to defer to His anger when I’m angry or frustrated, and I need to be open to letting Him in to dispel it, including when it’s offered by a friend.
  • I need to not just read & listen to the Word, I need to live it.  I need to practice it!  Daily!  I need to have it on my mind so I truly know it.
  • James 2 is hitting home.  I find myself judgmental of people purely by their appearance, and I remember a time when I didn’t.  That’s the world’s influence on me.  I think this is one of the really tough areas for me to grasp.
  • The law that sets me free will also judge me, so I should live according to that law of freedom and enjoy the freedom I have in it!
  • James 3.  As a leader in the church, I will be judged more strictly.  I’ve already felt the sting of poor decisions, and it is the least important reason I need to guard my heart and mind.  The most important is the tremendous freedom in Him, as mentioned before.  Why do I need anything else?
  • Humility humility humility.  Draw close to God, He draws close back.
  • James 5… Prayer is powerful.  Prayer is conversation.  Prayer with others is uplifting and revealing.

Location: Here…

I sit in this booth at Bonefish Grill with my wife, and as she journals in her leather-bound notebook, I take a few moments to reflect on the events from the weekend. We had incredibly moving services all weekend, each one receiving a true spirit of quiet reflection and celebration of our God and King. Hearts moved, refreshing encounters with Jesus, and all our efforts directed to this one purpose.

Yet I’m somewhat unsettled. I have a lot going through my mind right now, thoughts of the upcoming week and of the years beyond that, mixed with fear of and for that future, our future, my future.  I hear echoes of the many compliments, reassurances and thanks that I am serving God right where I’m supposed to be right now.  While I’m honored to receive those words of encouragement, they are also waged in battle against the deeply set desires in my heart to pursue other dreams I have yet to reach, other goals that have yet to be fulfilled.  But plans don’t always go the way you think, and I admonish myself to remember that I’m still living the dream job many people would give everything up for.

Before we fled our house in favor of catching dinner rather than cabin fever, my wife and I were watching The Sound Of Music.  Yes, while it’s not entirely accurate as far as what the actual Von Trapp family experienced, it’s still a timeless classic.  It’s not just music and happy colors and needles pulling thread, it’s a very sobering look at the lengths a man is willing to go to save his family and his own life.  In the face of an impossible future, Georg Von Trapp led his family over the mountains, fleeing an enemy that sought to force him to serve an evil purpose or face death. Some would call it cowardly; I call it courageous, an effort to continue living lives of peace and choosing not to serve under the oppressive thumb of a murderous Reich.

I’ve always been fascinated by the events of World War II.  Life for millions of people became anything but business as usual when the Reich began its expansion.  And yet, there’s been an invasion on the hearts of mankind since the beginning.  Perhaps this is my fear, that I won’t live in the fullness of what I’ve been called to, what I have passion for.  All the more reason to surrender everything to God, and that makes me pretty fearful at times as well.

So while I’m here, I’m going to try to surrender things one by one.