Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Remember when you were a kid, and you had to sit at the “kids' table” during holiday and family dinners? The grown-ups gathered around a beautifully decorated, long and elaborate feast, while the kids sat on benches and cushions at a wobbly card table. I remember trying to conjure a reason to interrupt my mom's dinner, just so I could visit the big-people table for a moment. Perhaps I could hear a snippet of their conversation, get some adult “dirt” on family news. I complained of tummy aches, cold mashed potatoes, and a kick in the shin from Cousin Mark. All were equally ineffective excuses, winning only chastising frowns and quick directives back to the kids' table.

It was Christmas at the Andrews' house last night. We were celebrating with both daughters, our son-in-law to-be and my father-in-law. But guess what? No children's table. Nope. No ankle-biters in the family at this point. Perhaps in a few years we'll have a couple knee-nibblers or curtain-climbers to join the Andrews' tribe, but until that happy day we'll just have to settle for boring adult conversation.

In today's Scripture, I felt a little like we were listening in on the adult conversation between God and Abraham. Poor Isaac is sitting at the kid's table – or more accurately, lying on top of it, about to be sacrificed – while God speaks only to Abraham. Or is there more to this story?

Gen. 22:9-10 – “When [Abraham and Isaac] reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”
  • Isaac could have run (surely, no matter what his age, this boy was faster than his 100+ year-old father). He could have fought or screamed; but we don't get that impression, do we? For whatever reason, this boy (or young man), who understands sacrifice (Gen. 22:7), chose to suffer silently while his father was tested by El Shaddai. Sometimes those who watch their loved ones being tested, suffer just as painfully alongside them.
Gen. 22:11-12 – “But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. 'Do not lay a hand on the boy,' he said. 'Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.'” (emphasis added)
  • I thought God was testing Abraham's FAITH, but the angel says this sacrifice proves his FEAR of God. Now, let's think about this. Whose FEAR of God was REALLY heightened in this process – the one with the knife or the one on the altar? (Yes, the Hebrew word here is literally “fear” or “reverence.”)
Gen. 22:13-14 – “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'”
  • Abraham wasn't the only one that saw the ram – Isaac saw that it was the LORD who provided the sacrifice for the burnt offering…just as his father had promised (Gen. 22:8). Abraham definitely proved his faith, but Isaac's faith was just as certainly being built.
Gen. 22:15-19 – “The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, 'I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.' Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.”
  • God had already promised all this to Abraham and his descendants without any action on Abraham’s part (Gen. 15). So why did God say THIS act of obedience would bring to pass the Covenant Promise? Hmmmm, perhaps because God knew the kids' table was listening? Isaac was hearing the Promise resound from heaven for the first time, and it was essential that Isaac and HIS descendants understand that obedience was necessary to remain in the Promised Land (Deut. 30).
Lord, I sometimes think lessons are just for me; but I, too, am changed while watching those I love learn hard lessons. Teach me to be attentive to the lessons You have for me as You're teaching those around me. And help me respond graciously, when the lessons You teach others cause me pain – to know the right moments for words and for silence.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I think I was about ten years-old when I heard a preacher quote Jesus' words in John 16:23, “…my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…” I remember it clearly because I had a toothache on this particular Sunday morning, and to my third-grade ears, it sounded as if the pastor was saying if I believed hard enough, God would heal me. This was good news. I hated the dentist, and the thought of my first cavity terrified me. All the more reason to drum-up a little extra faith! That night, I prayed extra hard at bedtime and fully expected to wake up the next morning with a brand new mouth. No-go. After a fitful night of sleep, my tooth ached worse the next morning, but I wouldn't let my mom call the dentist. With tear-filled eyes, I said, “I'm believing as hard as I can that God will heal my tooth!” Ugh. As a mom, thirty-plus years later, I feel sorry for my mother in that situation. How do you look into pain-filled, faith-filled baby-blue eyes and explain the deep theological issues of faith and healing and God's sovereignty? She did what any responsible parent would do…she let me stay home from school with a toothache and come to my senses! By the end of that painful day, I didn't care if the dentist stuck a syringe or a drill or a jack-hammer in my mouth. I just wanted my tooth fixed! But I remembered the preacher's other advice, “Maintain your positive confession of faith.” Hoping this was the magic ingredient I'd been missing, I proclaimed loudly all the way to the dentist, “I don't have a cavity! I don't have a cavity!” In fact, as the dentist approached with the drill in his hand, I screamed, “I don't have a cavity!” Guess what? I had a cavity the size of Texas (Okay, I didn't look quite as bad as the guy in the picture)! Faith is NOT denial. But sometimes they look the same.

Gen. 22:1-2 – “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. Then God said, 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.'” (emphasis added)
  • Isaac was not Abraham's only son. Ishmael was Abraham's firstborn son through Sarah's maidservant, Hagar. Was God in denial? Nooooo. But remember how much Abraham cared for Ishmael, asking that his firstborn be the Covenant recipient even after God promised a son to Sarah in her old age (Gen. 17:18)? Remember that Abraham was forced to reject Ishmael because of Isaac. In essence, God asks Abraham – by faith – to deny his first son exists and love his “only” son, Isaac. I believe Mt. Moriah was indeed the pinnacle of Abraham's sacrifice, but his sacrifice started with Ishmael and continued as he grew to love Isaac, the son God chose for him.
Gen. 22:3-5 – “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.'” (emphasis added)
  • Notice Abraham didn't call a camp meeting to announce his decision, nor did he ask the boy's mother for her opinion or blessing. He was quietly obedient to his conviction. And when they arrived at the foot of the mountain, he gave little explanation to his servants. He declared that BOTH he and the boy would return from their worship on the mountain, which tells us that Abraham had full confidence that somehow God would restore the boy's life before he had to answer to Sarah!
Gen. 22:6-7 – “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, 'Father?' 'Yes, my son?' Abraham replied. 'The fire and wood are here,' Isaac said, 'but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'”
  • First, I think it's hilarious that Abraham made Isaac carry the wood, while he carried the fire. Did he hope God would spontaneously combust the boy, so he wouldn't have parent guilt? Don't we all hope God will let us take the easy way out of our spiritual lessons? But Abraham had obviously taught Isaac a deep understanding of the materials and meanings of God's system of sacrifice. Bravo, Father Abraham!
Gen. 22:8 – “Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' And the two of them went on together.”
  • Was Abraham's answer to Isaac faith or denial? To a believer, his words are faith. To an unbeliever, they're denial…until they become reality (Gen. 22:13). With his son's wide, questioning eyes turned upon him, Abraham pulled off the miraculous…HE MADE A STATEMENT OF FAITH THAT ALLOWED ROOM FOR GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY. No matter what little lamb God provided, Isaac would know his father didn't lie to him, God didn't fail, and faith would sustain them both.
Lord, teach me the art of faith statements – answers to questions that give You honor without tying Your hands to my design. Teach me the art of faith living – making daily choices, attitudes, conversations that open opportunities for You to work in faith; not living in denial of reality.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I have this incredible knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person in the wrong way. In my younger years, I was REALLY clueless. When Roy started seminary, we'd lived in our new campus apartment less than a week, when I managed to offend both the seminary president and academic dean. During our initial interview with the president, I looked around his office, spied his bookshelves and made the off-handed remark that I'd had a dream that my husband would one day work in an office having those exact bookshelves. After both the president and my husband looked at me like I was the Ghost Whisperer, we were quickly ushered out.

I wanted to be a supportive wife, so I began checking the academic catalog for a course I might take alongside my hubby. Confounded at the absence of a course on prayer, I hurried off a letter to the academic dean. “I'm certain this is simply an oversight,” I wrote. “Since a seminary's purpose is to train pastors, counselors and teachers, I would think the most basic form of communion with God would be a priority in the course offerings.” Okay, so tact and diplomacy wasn't my strong-suit. I hadn't yet realized the intricate inter-weavings of my remarks with my husband's reputation. In a small pond, every splash causes many ripples, and those ripples flow through a myriad of relationships. Seminary became not only a wonderful training ground for my husband's pastoral vocation, but also an obstacle course for my unruly tongue. It started my advanced training on tricky relationships. I'm happy to report that today, the seminary president and academic dean are dear friends, which proves we serve a truly mighty God! When Abraham found himself in the presence of the Philistine's head-honcho, he was much more adept than me at tricky relationships…

Gen. 21:22-23 – “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, 'God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you.'” (emphasis added)
  • Do you think Abimelech and Phicol schlepped across the Negev by themselves? Probably not. It's a tricky relationship when a king shows up with his commander (and probably a sizable military escort), “asking” you to take an oath. Notice that Abimelech acknowledged God's blessing on Abraham before he asked two things of him: 1) vow not to deal falsely with him or descendants, and 2) show the SAME kindness that he'd shown Abraham. Did Abe stop listening at the compliment, or did he measure each word of the king? It's easy to analyze each word of Abimelech's proposal 4,000 years later, but when the pressure is on, how well do we listen to the details in an intimidating situation?
Gen. 21:24-26 – “Abraham said, 'I swear it.' Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized. But Abimelech said, 'I don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.'”
  • Perhaps Abraham took the oath so readily because it's easy to swear the SAME kindness to one who hasn't been kind! Is it just me, or does Abimelech's reply sound like a load of hooey? At this point, Abraham had the choice to accuse the king or move forward in resolving the problem. Which would you choose? Are you an accuser or a resolver?
Gen. 21:27-31 – “So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelech asked Abraham, 'What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?' He replied, 'Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.' So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.” (emphasis added)
  • Abraham humbly offers his sheep and cattle in a treaty agreement. Seems unfair, huh? Is he a doormat, bowing to the powerful King of the Philistines? No. His offering has purpose – and a sting. Abraham's treaty offering is three things: 1) meaningful, 2) memorable, and 3) uncomfortable. It's meaningful because it makes Abimelech ask the question. It's memorable because those silly sheep and cattle will have to be herded on the return trip. And it's uncomfortable because Abraham gets the final word, "I dug this well." Abraham left the king's dignity intact, while at the same time making his point.
Gen. 21:32-34 – “After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.”
  • Abraham had just sworn an oath binding himself and his descendants to a powerful king, and he‟d won water rights in an arid land in the process. Planting a tree that grows into much-needed shade is a good way to celebrate the successful navigation of a tricky relationship. Calling on the LORD – the God beyond time and space – is an even better idea.
Lord, remind me to celebrate the victories and to establish reminders of Your faithfulness. I want to call on You – my Eternal God – on the best of days as well as the worst of days. Your provision, Your wisdom, Your presence gives me reason to shout for joy everyday! Let it be so!