Monday, February 22, 2010

SLIP-SLIDING AWAY

video
The funniest thing about this video is that someone is sitting in a cozy house watching the whole thing, and the poor schmuck in the minivan has no idea their traumatic event is being captured on youtube for eternity!

Have you ever been the poor schmuck in the minivan and felt the world shift into a sort of instantaneous slow-motion? At the first sign of a skid, your mind has time to think, I’m losing control. Can I steer out of the slide? Right or left? Should I apply the brakes? No way! I wonder if I’m going to roll my car, hit another vehicle, walk away unharmed? Maybe I’m going to die today. Shucks, I was looking forward to lunch. Now, in my experience, at this point, your car has inevitably stopped its erratic journey into whatever ditch or immovable object awaited. And then – silence. Squealing tires cease. Screaming (probably your own) stops.

I know this process well because I've done it twice as a driver and once as a passenger. To be honest, the passenger experience was a much calmer ride. It was midnight on Christmas Eve, and Roy was driving. We were traveling from our home in northern Indiana to his folks' house in Indianapolis (3 hours away) in a blinding snowstorm. There we were, the only minivan on a deserted state road at midnight – without any tracks to show us where the road curved. When the slide started, our van went sideways down a slight embankment. Hmmm, probably going into a cornfield, I thought. Snow was flying. Around we go. I wonder if the snow will cover up the van completely. Sure am glad we have blankets. Still sliding. I’ll bet we’ll have to go to the bathroom out here in this stupid field. Finally, we stopped. Roy and I looked back at our two daughters, their eyes as big as saucer sleds. “Are we going to starve to death before someone finds us out here?” one of the girls asked. Guess we know what she was thinking. What do you think when your life begins to take a slide? Do you think Isaac might have felt like this when his life was beginning to slide out of control...

Gen. 25:1-6 – “Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah. Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.”
  • God told Abraham that Isaac was to be his son of Promise. So why did Abraham take another wife and have other children? Scripture never records WHEN Abraham made this fateful decision or WHY. Nor does it record Isaac's reaction to his father's marriage or the “gifts” Abraham gave to Keturah's sons. How would you feel knowing you were God's first choice, but not your father's? Did Isaac feel his life was beginning to slide out of control?
Gen. 25:7-11 – “Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. After Abraham's death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.” (emphasis added)
  • During this time in history, people were buried the same day they died. That means Ishmael and Isaac must have already been with Abraham or at least have been within a day's camel-ride of Machpelah. Remember, no quick flights on El-Al or Lufthansa! And, by the way, when did Ishmael ride back into the picture? Imagine what Isaac felt when his long-lost older brother arrived at Father Abraham's death-bed. Did he play out every awful scenario during “the slide” or did he wait faithfully for God's blessing to emerge after his father's death?
Gen. 25:12-18 – “This is the account of Abraham's son Ishmael, whom Sarah's maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. Altogether, Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.”
  • The fact that we have a complete record of Ishmael's sons tells us that Isaac was well aware of not only their names but also the locations of their settlements and camps. Notice Ishmael has twelve sons that grow to twelve tribes marked by a penchant toward violence. Imagine Isaac (age 75), standing with his two sons (approx. 15 years-old) and Rebekah at Abraham's grave. Beside them – behind them – all around them...the twelve hostile Ishmaelite tribes. Would you fear for your children's inheritance? Their lives? Are you feeling Isaac's slide turn into a spin?
Gen. 25:19-23 – “This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, 'Why is this happening to me?' So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.'” (emphasis added)
  • Wife barren! Sliding, spinning out of control! What does Isaac do? He prays...on behalf of his barren wife. YOU GO, MAN! And what does Rebekah do when pregnancy turns out to be not as fun as she anticipated? She prays. YOU GO, WOMAN! Slide stops. All is silent. And then what does God do, when a hormonal, hurting, woman prays? He answers HER, speaks to HER. YOU GO, GOD!
Lord, in the midst of a slide, my focus is too often on the whirling earthly things around me. The betrayals, disappointments and fears are exhausting; and quite frankly, terrifying. Help me to close my eyes and focus on You instead of my circumstances.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

THE BOSS OF THAT DECISION

Our children learned at an early age that they were free to choose in some situations, but in other circumstances, Roy and I made the final decision. Trina, our strong-willed firstborn, tested this theory before she could speak. Through grunts and stomps and red-faced tantrums, we discovered our precious cherub didn‟t necessarily appreciate our attempts to guide her hands away from poisonous plants and grandma's fine china. And after I was christened repeatedly with strained spinach, I learned children choose when they swallow and when they don‟t. Then came the curly, blonde-haired second daughter, Emily – or “The Little General” as she became known. Her demands were soothed by fluttering blue eyes and rosy-red cheeks that even her big sister couldn't resist. But the line had to be drawn, so when the girls were five and three, Daddy sat them down for a serious talk. “You two get to make some decisions – like how to dress your dolls and what toys to play with. But Mommy and I get to make other decisions – like what you eat and when you go to bed.” Well, this news wasn‟t at all popular. “I want to decide what I eat!” The girls‟ shrill whines created a stereo effect that could almost split a crystal goblet. And my husband – the great orator – uttered some of his most famous words. “Well, you're not the boss of that decision.” Wow. I can't recount the number of times our daughters have heard that phrase during their lives. In fact, they're twenty-four and twenty-two now, living on their own, and we still say it when they come home for Christmas. It's just a one-size-fits-all phrase that, quite frankly, they hate as much now as they did when they were five and three. I know I hate that phrase, when my Heavenly Father says it to me…

Gen. 24:28-33 – “The girl [Rebekah] ran and told her mother's household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister's arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. 'Come, you who are blessed by the LORD,' he said. 'Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.' So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. Then food was set before him, but he said, 'I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.' 'Then tell us,' Laban said.”

  • Most of those reading this devotional are above the age of “obeying your parents,” and we don't live in a culture of submission like Rebekah's. Still, we are all under the authority of someone or something that usurps our control at some level. A boss, a spouse, a government, a circumstance – and if nothing else, the simple aging of our bodies goes on without our consent or approval. We, like Rebekah, must wait and watch as a metaphorical brother, father or mother listen to another decide our fate. The question becomes, how does Rebekah react when she's not the boss of that decision? More importantly – how do you and I react, when we have no control?
Gen. 24:34-41 – “So he said, 'I am Abraham's servant. The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys. My master's wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. And my master made me swear an oath, and said, “You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father's family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.” Then I asked my master, “What if the woman will not come back with me?” He replied, “The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father's family. Then, when you go to my clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you--you will be released from my oath.”'”
  • If Rebekah had hoped to stay in Aram with her family – she heard with her own ears – her family could have refused the servant's proposal and kept her. If her family wanted her more than the gold, grain and gifts dripping off the camels. Or...she could consider the honor and prestige such a marriage would bring to her family's household. Rebekah could read many things into her family's decision – good or bad. She couldn't choose her fate, but she could choose to dwell on the positive or negative aspects of it.
Gen. 24:42-51 – “'When I came to the spring today, I said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, 'Please let me drink a little water from your jar,' and if she says to me, 'Drink, and I'll draw water for your camels too,' let her be the one the LORD has chosen for my master's son.” 'Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 'She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, “Drink, and I'll water your camels too.” So I drank, and she watered the camels also. 'I asked her, “Whose daughter are you?” 'She said, “The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.” 'Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the LORD. I praised the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master's brother for his son. Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn." Laban and Bethuel answered, 'This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has directed.'” (emphasis added)
  • Rebekah's father has been absent throughout. He finally shows up, proclaims God made the decision, so he has no responsibility for the outcome...authority without blow-back if something goes wrong. "God told me to do it, so blame Him!" This is a tough one to guard against bitterness. Still, we must. Because…we're simply not the boss of that decision. Leave it to God and others to mete out justice.
Gen. 24:52-54 – “When Abraham's servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the LORD. Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, 'Send me on my way to my master.'” (emphasis added)
  • Notice that Abraham's servant did not give gifts to Rebekah's father. A seemingly unusual “oversight” for the culture, I would think…
Gen. 24:55-58 – “But her brother and her mother replied, 'Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.' But he said to them, 'Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.' Then they said, 'Let's call the girl and ask her about it.' So they called Rebekah and asked her, 'Will you go with this man?' 'I will go,' she said.”
  • Finally! Something Rebekah gets to decide! She had waited patiently, silently, submissively; and when her time came, she was ready to move in God's direction.
Lord, may it be so with me. Give me the grace to wait for Your justice and show humility in the presence of those in authority over me.

Monday, February 08, 2010

GPS OR GOD‟S DIRECTION

I was enthralled the first time I heard a GPS device offer directional advice from the dashboard of a car. We were in Vancouver, Washington, touring seventy-five homes with our saintly real estate agent (bless her patient soul). Since she was a little directionally challenged (and was driving compulsive house-shopping clients all over Creation), her hubby encouraged her to purchase a Garmin GPS. Notice, directionally challenged, and remember a GPS can only do so much. Thus we learned the term “recalculating.” Each time we made the slightest deviation from the GPS route, we heard a disgusted rendition of the device's audio say, “Recalculating.” Some route changes were planned – as simple as a bathroom break at a road-side convenience store. “Recalculating.” Other turns were a misinterpretation of the instructions. “Recalculating.” Sometimes our real estate agent simply knew a better route to our destination – in which case we would listen to repeated, “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating…” Until finally, we turned off the all-knowing voice. Since that first encounter with a GPS, I've often wished I had a spiritual GPS – a device that would give undeniably clear directions from God for my life. Or do I want that? Would I think I knew a better route and turn off the All-Knowing Voice? As Abraham enters the twilight of his life, he seems to have discovered his spiritual GPS…and passed it onto his servant.

Gen. 24:1-4 – “Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, 'Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.'”
  • Abraham realized the importance of filling the Promised Land with HIS SEED – which meant keeping that seed pure, not mixing it with the Canaanite people whose land God was giving him. He realized Isaac needed a wife, but he couldn't be the one to make the trip – either because of his aging physical limitations or other responsibilities that kept him in Canaan. Most likely, Sarah's death had an impact on this decision as well. For Abe and for us, when God's nudge of discomfort meets God's time to move, it's as if a veil lifts from our eyes, and we see a path ahead. Perhaps a rocky path, but a path nonetheless.
Gen. 24:5-9 – “The servant asked him, 'What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?' 'Make sure that you do not take my son back there,' Abraham said. 'The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”--He will send His angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.' So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.”
  • The servant's concern was valid. Neither he nor Abraham knew HOW God would accomplish this task! Abraham set God-prompted parameters, not self-motivated preferences on his servant's mission. Abe knew Isaac was to dwell in Canaan and would not let the yearning for his son's marriage cloud the bigger issue of God's promise. Similarly, if we establish early boundaries based on the certainty of God's Word, rather than our own selfish desires, we can avoid hard choices down the road.
Gen. 24:10-11 – “Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and left, taking with him all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.”
  • Seems simple, right? Set the camel GPS for “Abraham's relatives” and let it go? Nope. No electronic gadgets, just supernatural navigation. The servant prepared for God to move (took ten camels packed with “good things”) and then placed himself in the logical path of God's plan (in a town named after Abraham's brother, by the well where women came every evening). The Lord provided wealth and wisdom, and then He expected Abraham and his servant to use it.
Gen. 24:12-14 – “Then he prayed, 'O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, “Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,” and she says, “Drink, and I'll water your camels too”--let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.'”
  • The servant prayed WITH heavenly guidance FOR heavenly guidance. He could pray specifically, because he had seen Abraham's God answer specifically. When the other “steps” in our process have been guided by the Spirit's prompts, this prayer for specific guidance flows naturally.
Gen. 24:15-25 – “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again. The servant hurried to meet her and said, 'Please give me a little water from your jar.' 'Drink, my lord,' she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. After she had given him a drink, she said, 'I'll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking.' So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, 'Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father‟s house for us to spend the night?' She answered him, 'I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.' And she added, 'We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.'”
  • Even though we experience a rush of excitement at God's supernatural direction, we must still patiently watch and wait for God to fulfill His plan. Rebecca needed to water ALL the camels. Then, there were the proper cultural channels to be honored. Moving in God's direction is exciting! Confirmation of God's direction is exhilarating! But waiting patiently for more of God's direction is never-ending.
Gen. 24:26-27 – “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, saying, 'Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master's relatives.'” (emphasis added)
  • Abraham's determination that the Lord would find a wife for his son was a testimony to his servant, but the greatest testimony was God's personal faithfulness to the servant's own prayers. Hearing other people's stories of victory and answered prayer is a wonderful motivator for your faith, but nothing compares to the personal experience of God's hand reaching into your own life – when you know He's calling you personally to take that step in faith and then He lifts the path to meet your feet.
Lord, I want to KNOW when it's time for that step. Show me what parameters to place on my journey and the specific requests to make. I will wait patiently Jehovah-Jireh, my Provider, to hear, to pray, to react and then to worship.

Monday, February 01, 2010

FAITHFUL PAIN

Okay, I know this may be a little unsettling for some, but my husband and I accompanied our daughters when they got matching tattoos. Now, before you roll your eyes or snarl your lip at our lackadaisical parenting, let me say that our girls are young women, ages twenty-four and twenty-two. They were determined to get the tattoos whether we attended the event or not. Truth be told, I was a little more enthusiastic about it than my hubby, but we both realized the importance of our presence at the monumental occasion. Why monumental, you ask? Because these tattoos weren't just a whim or sudden burst of childish rebellion. They were a deeply contemplated decision of life-long sisterly commitment. Trina and Emily chose to have a phrase from an E.E. Cummings poem, “I Carry Your Heart,” tattooed on the left ribcage, just below their hearts. If you've ever had a tattoo, you know that choosing a body placement where bone is close to the skin – and little “meat” between them – is the most painful. They, too, knew this, but they also felt compelled by the sentiment and their dedication to each other as sisters. Sometimes FAITHFULNESS simply outweighs the immediate pain. And as Roy and I held our daughters' hands through the process, we watched them live out the truth that faithful pain creates lovely memories…and the tattoos turned out kind of cool, too.

Gen. 23:1-4 – “Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, 'I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.'” (emphasis added)
  • Scripture doesn't say why Sarah was in Hebron and Abraham had to GO THERE to mourn for her. Was she on a journey and died on the way? Or did they live separately – Sarah in Hebron, Abraham in Beersheba (Gen. 22:19)? If they lived separately, why? And how long had it been since Abraham had seen her? Many questions remain unanswered in Scripture, but we do know this. Abraham was FAITHFUL – even in his pain – to pursue ownership of God's promised land. He searched for that glimmer of hope in his darkness. Perhaps it was even the shove of grief that moved him to ask for the first possession of God's promise.
Gen. 23:5-9 – “The Hittites replied to Abraham, 'Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.' Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, 'If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.'”
  • The Hittites first answer seemed generous but was in fact a honeyed refusal of Abraham's appeal to purchase land in Canaan. Abraham could have acquiesced and – in his pain – submitted to the seemingly kind offer and remained a squatter in Canaan, not an owner of God's promises. Instead, he pressed for more – did the uncomfortable business now – though it took more emotional energy. In doing so, he no doubt avoided future squabbles for his family burials, and he secured God's ultimate blessing and best.
Gen. 23:10-16 – “Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 'No, my lord,' he said. 'Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.' Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, 'Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.' Ephron answered Abraham, 'Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead.' Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.”
  • Look at the progression. Abraham asked Hittite elders for “some” land to bury Sarah. When he asked to buy a specific cave on a man's property, that man “happened” to be in the crowd, and Abraham suddenly found himself purchasing the entire field. It was a struggle, yes. At a time of mourning, when he should have been able to simply concentrate on grieving. But life seldom allows us to compartmentalize, and we're often required to be faithful even in our pain…like Abraham.
Gen. 23:17-20 – “So Ephron's field in Machpelah near Mamre--both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field--was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.”
  • God promised that Abraham and his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. The fulfillment of that promise began with Sarah's burial site – and Abraham's grief. Sometimes the initiation of God's greatest blessings begins with our deepest pain. Remaining faithful through the pain reaps not only the fulfillment of God's promise, but also His pleasure in the process.
Lord, I can't live in a sin-sick world without being stung by pain. I'm so grateful that I can turn to You for comfort and guidance in the midst of it. However, at the end of the day, I must make the choice to remain faithful. Faithful to ask for Your help, when I have no strength left. Faithful to ask for Your wisdom, when I have no answers. Faithful to be silent in Your arms, when I can only weep. I adore You, my Beloved, my Yahweh, my God.