Monday, August 30, 2010


My husband and I are perfect for each other. He's a slow starter but a diligent finisher, while I start quick but struggle to finish. You can guess the positives and negatives of such a marriage. I think he over-thinks a project before he starts, and he thinks I put the cart before the horse – starting before I know how I'll finish. One of the best examples of my cart-horse problem is our dog history. Our first dog's name was "Hondo" – a puppy we picked up at a "Free Puppies" sign when Trina was just a toddler. It was at best a whim, at worst a disaster. We really had no idea how to care for a dog, nor did we have a particularly good plan for where we would house it in our backyard. Let me just say, it didn't end well. Fast forward five years. We're older and more responsible, and I think Trina needs a puppy for her birthday. This time, we decide it should be a house-dog. No outdoor provisions necessary, right? We bopped over to the Humane Society and got a puppy. Did we consider that Roy's job was unsettled? Or the fact that puppies are expensive, and we could barely feed ourselves? Two months later we moved to Ohio for seminary and couldn't find housing that allowed pets. Ugh. Again – cart before the horse. Fast forward five more years. Our girls begged for a dog, but I stood firm in my miserable memories. No way. No more gut-wrenching, heart-rending dog deals. This time my diligent, contemplative husband overruled my party-pooper attitude and started aligning the cart BEHIND the horse. Our family spent a month researching the best breeds for house-dogs. For another month we prayed about it. Soon after, we received a phone call from a friend, saying she knew of a dog (the exact breed we wanted) who needed a good home. We spent another month adding a dog run with a doggy door to our home. It was excruciating to wait for that stinking cart to line-up behind the proverbial horse! But when we finally picked up our sheltie, Princess, she was the greatest dog we could have imagined. Sometimes the order of events makes all the difference between success and failure – and in Shechem's case – the difference between life and death.

Gen. 34:1-4 – "Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, 'Get me this girl as my wife.'"
  • Shechem PUT HIS DESIRE BEFORE HONOR. Few people think of Shechem's love or tenderness toward Dinah. They think only of his violation of her. Since Shechem asked his father to get Dinah as his wife after he'd already taken her, the request lost some of its fervor. A desire fulfilled has no right to plead. Part of maintaining honor is maintaining desire.
Gen. 34:5-7 – ―When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he kept quiet about it until they came home. Then Shechem's father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Now Jacob's sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter—a thing that should not be done." (emphasis added)
  • These men PUT GOSSIP BEFORE THE HARD TRUTH. Poor Jacob heard about his daughter's defilement before Shechem or his father had the decency to tell him face-to-face. However, instead of sending someone to the fields to inform Dinah's brothers – to spare them from hearing tongues wag the same way he had – Jacob waited. Did he suspect they'd hear the shepherd's gossip? When a hard circumstance presents itself, it's far better to confront the matter than to allow gossip and assumption to sprout half-truths and rampant anger.
Gen. 34:8-10 – ―But Hamor said to them, "My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.'"
  • Hamor PUT HIS PROMISE BEFORE OTHERS' PERMISSION. Granted, he was king, but later we see he had to get approval from the elders at the gate for circumcision. Did he really have the authority to promise marriage, trade and property to Jacob and his family without the Shechemites' consent? How many times have I volunteered my husband or kids for a task or duty without clearing it with them first. Once is too many times in their opinions!
Gen. 34:11-12 – "Then Shechem said to Dinah's father and brothers, 'Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I'll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife.'"
  • Shechem TOOK POSSESSION BEFORE HE ASKED FOR OWNERSHIP. Asking for what he'd already taken was an insult to Jacob – especially when the stolen treasure was now defiled, as Jacob felt Dinah was. Shechem placed Jacob (and Dinah) in a no win situation – because no price can pay the debt of humiliation. It can be as simple as borrowing a shirt or cup of sugar without asking. The point is – respect dictates permission before we take.
Lord, I think in each of these "cart before the horse" cases, respect would have saved the day. Hamor's respect for Dinah, various individuals' respect after a grievous act, a king's respect for his subjects, an interloper's respect for a father's heart. Too often I get caught up in ME and MY MOMENT, and it blinds me to the responsibility I have to put someone else's horse before my cart. Teach me not only to do right things but also to do them in the right way and right order – in ways that bring You glory and represent You well on this earth.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I used to be pretty hard on those old fogeys that hated change. Now that I'm one of them, I think us old fogeys are brilliant, and change is over-rated. Perhaps I don't quite qualify for old fogey status yet, but I have noticed that change is becoming more difficult. I like what I like. Why? Because I like it. It's taken me over four decades to arrive at the me I am, so don't mess with the masterpiece! Well, the masterpiece of 'me' is more like a finger-painting on a paper plate, so I suppose a little change wouldn't be a bad idea. And let's face it. We all MUST change – whether we like it or not. Check out a picture of yourself ten years ago. 'Nuf said.

We recently enjoyed a visit with a high school friend and her husband. This friend was very quiet when we were in school, while Roy and I were quite out-going. Della was a timid girl but very cute. She was a part of the dance team in high school; however, she seldom interacted much in social circles. Roy was the typical star athlete – football quarterback, basketball scoring guard and ornery to the core. I was active in lots of clubs and activities and joined the dance team my senior year. Della and I grew to be good friends our freshman year of college, when we were roommates at the University of Dayton, but we lost touch after she was a bridesmaid in our wedding.

After twenty years, Della found me on the internet in 2005, and we've kept in touch since. During our recent visit, we talked about how each of us has changed. She's now the effervescent, bubbly, life of the party; while Roy and I would rather sit in a corner at a party. Life changes us. Age changes us. God changes us…

Gen. 33:1-3 – "Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother." (emphasis added)
  • The number seven is oftentimes used as a symbol of completeness in Scripture. Jacob bows seven times to signify his complete submission to Esau after all these years. Parading his wives showed his complete vulnerability, and the extravagant offerings of gifts displayed his complete commitment to repentance. Humble, vulnerable, repentant – this seemed to be a different Jacob than the man who stole Esau's blessing from their blind father twenty years ago. But would time prove the changes that fear began?
Gen. 33:4-7 – "But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. 'Who are these with you?' he asked. Jacob answered, 'They are the children God has graciously given your servant.' Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down." (emphasis added)
  • Not only did we see big changes in Jacob, but now Esau shows some MAJOR softening during the past twenty years. He ran to Jacob, welcoming him with hugs, kisses and tears – a far cry from threatening to kill Jacob, which was the reason Jacob fled to Uncle Laban in Haran. Can people really change so drastically in twenty years? Did Jacob gauge Esau's honesty according to his own? We must walk a fine line between shrewdness and cynicism as we are exposed to more disappointment in our lives.
Gen. 33:8-11 - "Esau asked, 'What do you mean by all these droves I met?'
'To find favor in your eyes, my lord,' he said.
But Esau said, 'I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.'
'No, please!' said Jacob. 'If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.'
And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it." (emphasis added)
  • Jacob says seeing Esau's face is like Peniel – the face of God. He's remembering his wrestling match as he stands in the safety of his brother's presence and God's shadow. This, too, is a change in Jacob – to praise God's presence and power in the midst of the circumstance – not taking credit himself or ascribing success to an old wives' tale (as he did with the striped wood shavings in the water troughs).
Gen. 33:12-17 – "Then Esau said, 'Let us be on our way; I'll accompany you.'
But Jacob said to him, 'My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.'
Esau said, 'Then let me leave some of my men with you.'
'But why do that?' Jacob asked. 'Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.'
So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth." (emphasis added)
  • Jacob said he planned to go to Seir, but the excuses he offered Esau and the shelters he built in Succoth testify against his empty promises. If Jacob intended to follow God's command, he had to go to Canaan, not Seir; but how could he tell his brother Esau (and the army of 400 men) that he wasn't going to Seir? Well, it's called trusting God to work out the plan He has ordained for your life… But Jacob, the deceiver, had evidently NOT changed as much as his groveling, gifts and gushing might have suggested.
Gen. 33:18-20 – "After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel."
  • Though Jacob lied to his brother, he has obeyed God and arrived in the land of Canaan, purchasing the first of his inheritance. Displaying some positive change, Jacob builds yet another altar and reveals a little of his heart in its name – El Elohe Israel – "Mighty is the God of Israel" or "Mighty is the God of he who struggles with God." I love the name of this altar because it depicts so well Jacob's inner battle.
Lord, I, too, struggle with You – but I'm so thankful You're MIGHTIER than my struggles! No matter how many times I stumble back into old habits or sins, Your mighty arms lift me up and drag me back to repentance. I praise You, Mighty God, for the struggles of life because they're forming me into Your image. Life is change, and You are the only thing in my life that will never change.

Monday, August 16, 2010


What do you do when you can't sleep? Count sheep? Drink warm milk or a glass of wine? I take an Ambien, and I'm out in thirty minutes. But my husband lays awake and thinks – and he's had some of his greatest revelations during those long nights. When we were looking for a house in Washington, we'd decided to offer on a certain place because we thought its driveway was large enough to park my father-in-law's RV. The night before submitting our offer, Roy couldn't sleep. He rehearsed the fifty houses we had visited during the week, and something about this house didn't feel right. He got up while it was still dark, took his tape-measurer, drove to the location and re-measured the driveway. Sure enough, we'd forgotten to include a crucial part of the measurement. We offered on our current home instead and have been thrilled with the decision. It would require more than my fingers and toes to count the times my husband has wrestled with a difficult issue during the night and arrived at a brilliant solution! Perhaps it's his competitive nature that compels him to fight through the exhaustion and find resolution. I simply get frustrated and reach for the sleeping aid! Not so with the determined man in my life. Not so with Jacob…

Gen. 32:22-24 – “That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” (emphasis added)
  • “…Jacob got up…” would seem to imply that Jacob rousted his family out of bed to send them across the river. Why? Knowing his brother Esau was already on his way to meet him with 400 men, Jacob placed his wife, kids and possessions as a buffer between them. I think there is a line between fear and cowardice…and Jacob crossed it. Fear often reveals the deeper character, hidden by a master of deception.
Gen. 32:25-26 – “When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.‟ But he said, „I will not let you go unless you bless me.'”
  • Many of us are quite capable of making good decisions and conceiving viable life plans. We are strong mentally, physically and/or emotionally and feel as though we handle life extremely well without a Savior. God must occasionally cripple our strong area in order to reveal His power in our weakness. Because our Heavenly Father knows each one of His children intimately well, He knows where, when and to what degree to “touch” each one in order to test and refine us. Our job is to keep wrestling until the blessing comes - not begrudging God the methods of blessing.
Gen. 32:27-29 – “The man asked him, 'What is your name?'
'Jacob,' he answered.
Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.'
Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.'
But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there.” (emphasis added)
  • I love God's questions in Scripture! He never asks because He needs information. He asks because He wants the person being questioned to THINK! In the ancient Middle East, a person's name embodied that individual's character. So, when God asked Jacob his name and Jacob said – “Yaakov” (deceiver, one who “grasps the heel”) – Jacob confessed a lifetime of deception. But here's the precious part. God renamed him “struggles with God” – not just because Jacob and his descendants would forever struggle with Him – but because Jacob had struggled and OVERCOME God. One commentator observed, “When you battle with God, you only win by losing and by not giving up until you know you have lost. This is how Jacob prevailed.”
Gen. 32:30-32 – “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.' The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon.” (emphasis added)
  • We can learn two very important lessons from Jacob's wrestling match.
  1. Wrestling with God can be a very LONG process – they began wrestling at night, but “the sun rose above him” by the time the match was over.
  2. Both God's “touch” and His blessings can cause permanent change – Jewish tradition tells us that Jacob limped for the rest of his life.
Lord, fear drove Jacob to this wrestling match, but I wrestle with You for infinite reasons. Fear, control, doubt – or simply, ugly rebellion. Perhaps the secret to less wrestling and enduring blessing is to prevail over You by submitting to You sooner! Let it be so, Lord. Let it be so.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Celebrating Christmas is always more fun when a family gets to watch little kids open gifts. Part of the fun is the unpredictability of their reactions to the gift! When Aunt Lulu giftwraps a hand-knitted purple sweater for little Johnny, his instinctive response is, “Eewww!” Every parent cowers, cringes, cries at the humiliation of a child's transparency. When little Johnny gets a little older, his manners improve; and this time he greets Aunt Lulu's 6-pack of tighty whitey underwear with a droning, “Thank you, Aunt Lulu,” before tossing the package aside and ravenously opening the next gift. Soon, little Johnny has created two piles on Christmas morning: the “Ho-hum, sit in my drawer untouched” pile and the “Woohoo, this is great stuff” pile. I tend to be like little Johnny with God's gifts. Unfortunately, when God piles on the gifts and blessings so regularly, my “Woohoo” factor goes down. It takes bigger and better things to warrant my “Woohoo” pile, and soon my “Ho-hum” pile is mounded with even His most gracious provisions. Jacob had a little “Woohoo” problem when he faced a potential problem…

Gen. 32:1-3 – [After God protected Jacob from Laban's wrath] “Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, 'This is the camp of God!' So he named that place Mahanaim. Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.”
  • Jacob had just experienced God's miraculous rescue from his ticked-off father-in-law, and now he sees the supernatural manifestation of God's angels right before his eyes! Woohoo! So what does he do? He names a patch of ground, and then – ho-hum – proceeded with his own plan as though he'd never seen God's power available to him. In which of your piles rests the Cross of Christ and the Holy Spirit?
Gen. 32:4-5 – “[Jacob] instructed them: 'This is what you are to say to my master Esau: “Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.”'”
  • Jacob tried to TALK his way out of trouble. Many of us believe if we can just TALK to or reason with someone, we can work things out. I've heard it said that if I spent as much time talking to God about a certain individual as I spent talking to that individual about God…we'd all be better off. Unfortunately, I seem to think my words are more effective in swaying a heart than my prayers…hmmm.
Gen. 32:6-8 – “When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, 'We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.' In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups,(two camps) and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, 'If Esau comes and attacks one group,(two camps) the group that is left may escape.'”
  • Jacob tried to THINK-STRATEGIZE-WORRY his way out of trouble. He used the same word, Mahanaim, to describe the camps he was dividing but didn't include God in either group! How many times do we think, plan and worry – without once including God in the strategy session?
Gen. 32:9-12 – “Then Jacob prayed, 'O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD , who said to me, “Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,” I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.”'”
  • Jacob tried to PRAY his way out of trouble. So what's wrong with that? He even prays God's Words back to Him. That sounds like a great idea! Absolutely! But here's the problem. What happens AFTER the prayer? Did Jacob receive peace after the prayer that was accompanied by faith? Were Jacob's next words/actions those of a man trusting God with his future? Was Jacob's prayer a panicked plea from a desperate man or an urgent request from a confident covenant bearer? There is a difference.
Gen. 32:13-20 – “He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, 'Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.' He instructed the one in the lead: 'When my brother Esau meets you and asks, “To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?” then you are to say, “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.”' He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: 'You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, “Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.”' For he thought, 'I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.'”
  • Jacob tried to BUY his way out of trouble. The last-ditch effort. If the talking, planing and praying didn't work, maybe bribery would speak his brother's language. Call it insurance…or call it doubt.
Gen. 32:21 – “So Jacob's gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.”
  • Jacob was divided. He was in one camp, his peace offerings in another…Mahanaim…but no angels of God in either.
Lord, I want You in my undivided camp – You as my power Source. I don't want to spin and toil on my own, after giving You a simple nod and ceremonial thank-You. Let Your presence guide, conquer and bring peace to every circumstance I face. Amen.