Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stamped with Senses

As Christians, we are told to pray in Jesus’ name.  We teach our children (at least I know I have) to say their prayers and then finish up with “In Jesus’ name, Amen,” but a few years ago, I began to wonder what it really means to pray – to come to God – in Jesus’ name.  What did Jesus intend when He told His disciples to “ask in [His] name” (John 14:14 and others).  What does that really look like?  Is it enough to say a prayer and simply tack on Jesus’ name at the end like a postage stamp needed for mail delivery?  I hadn’t planned to, but let’s use the idea of a postage stamp for a minute … if anyone still relates to a postal service analogy.

For everyday use, people don’t typically care what picture is on a stamp, but if it’s a birth announcement, wedding invitation, Christmas card, etc., senders often request special stamps in order to compliment the contents of the package.  For those of you who cringed a little at my suggestion that we sometimes tack on Jesus’ name as casually as a postage stamp, don’t be too mad; my own toes hurt the first time God called me out on this.  Actually this analogy can be ice for our aching toes (yours and mine) by helping our prayers become more authentic if we intentionally reverse the order of the comparison.  Instead of choosing a stamp to compliment our package, we need to examine our petitions to see if they compliment our Forever stamp Jesus Christ the Lord!

So how do we examine our prayers?  We’re going to look at that next.  Feel free to take a break if you need to, but don’t forget to come back.  Today’s post is just a little longer than usual.  This reminds me of when David and I went to see Gods & Generals.  The screen went black, and we thought, “It’s over?!”  Nope … “Intermission.”  Think of it as a 2-for-1.  On we go …

We’ve been exploring the Jacob and Esau saga.  Jacob came to Isaac using the “stamp” of Esau.  Jacob and Rebekah were very intentional in ensuring the contents of Jacob’s petition complimented the Esau stamp.  They accomplished this by considering all of Isaac’s senses.  In the last few weeks of our class meetings, we have looked at how to use the idea of intentionally appealing to God’s senses in reflecting on our prayers and petitions to Him.

Isaac was blind, so Jacob did not have to appeal to Isaac‘s sense of sight.  God is NOT blind, and yet we do not have to appeal to God’s sight either.  Why not?  God sees us (believers, that is) as Christ’s own body (Eph 1:22-23).  When He looks at us, He sees the body of His dearly loved Son!  When was the last time you looked in the mirror and saw yourself as an actual part of Christ’s body?  If you’re a believer, that is exactly what you are.

Isaac felt Jacob’s hands and neck to see if His skin felt like Esau’s.  Again I remind you that, as believers, we are Christ’s body, so yes, we feel like Him to God!  One interesting thing to note is that when Isaac felt Jacob, he felt the hair of a goat, which Jacob had put on so that he felt hairy to the touch.  As believers we are covered by – and so we feel like – the Lamb (1 Pet 1:19).

Of the five senses, sound was Isaac’s one sense that Jacob could not fool.  His voice may not have sounded like Esau’s, but his requests were ones that Esau would have made.  As for us, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:19 to “…Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,” (NIV, emphasis mine).  Reading into verse 20, our main idea pops up again:  “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine).  The substance of our individual prayers are to be unified in the name of Christ – meaning that we ask for things Christ would ask for, but we are to sing our own songs.  Think about music, the instruments of an orchestra have different parts and sounds, but when playing under the direction of the conductor, all harmonize beautifully creating music that is pleasing to the ear.

Taste was connected with the meal that Jacob brought to Isaac.  It had to be prepared according to Isaac’s preferences (repeated in Gen 27:4, 9, and 14).  Scripture tells us that God appreciates saltiness.  Leviticus 2:13 says that cereal offerings were always to be given with salt.  In the New Testament, Jesus says that we are to be salty; Paul says that our speech is to be seasoned with salt (Mk 9:50, Col 4:6).  The distinctive, enhancing flavor of salt is to permeate our beings, so that as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom 12:1) – in thought, word, and deed – the flavor of our sacrifice will be pleasing to Him.

Isaac’s sense of smell was satisfied by Esau’s clothes.  As for our clothing, Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12 that we are to clothe ourselves with specific attitudes and behaviors that are pleasing to God:  “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience.”  Verses 13 and 14 add forgiveness and love to that list.  Thinking about Isaac, I can picture God closing His eyes as we draw near to Him, and breathing deeply the aroma of our clothing.

I referenced John 14:14 at the beginning of the post.  The Amplified Bible provides the following expansion of the verse:  “[Yes] I will grant [I Myself will do for you] whatever you shall ask in My Name [as presenting all that I AM].” (emphasis mine).  When we begin to examine our prayer lives through the idea of a postage stamp … or our senses … or another illustration God has shown us and when we desire to pray in a way that presents “all that [He is],” we will begin to see our prayers answered affirmatively and in abundance. 

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Identity Theft

We’ve been talking about the story of Jacob and Esau for about a month now.  When God said to stop, I had no idea how long this red light would be.  I think there’s a reason He doesn’t tell me these things….
This Sunday (6/24/12) and last (6/17/12), we’ve focused specifically on the way Jacob approached Isaac.  Not just using Esau’s name, but for all intents and purposes, becoming Esau as he requested and received Isaac’s blessing.  As I read the story from Genesis 27, a theme started popping out.  Now 130 years old, Isaac was blind, which opened the door (in Rebekah’s mind) for Jacob to slip in and receive the blessing instead.  Without his sense of sight, Isaac relied on his other senses to discern the identity of the one who approached him.  Rebekah and Jacob seemed to know that Isaac would do this and had prepared to convince him, using three of his remaining four senses:  touch, taste, and smell. 
[Aside:  The sense of hearing was the one difference between Jacob and Esau that couldn’t be changed, but Scripture devotes only verse specifically to Isaac’s sense of hearing (vs. 22).  Instead of dwelling on what they couldn’t change, Rebekah and Jacob focused on what they could.   I am so tempted to branch off onto this topic, but I’m going to save it for another time.  You’re welcome.]
While Isaac depended on his senses to clarify identity, Jacob and Rebekah used them to confuse his judgment.  Jacob did receive the blessing that Isaac had intended for Esau, but everyone – Jacob, Isaac, Esau, Rebekah, … – knew that it was not because of who Jacob was or what he deserved; rather, it was because of the worthiness of the name Jacob assumed as he approached Isaac.
I’m quite sure that, when Jacob came into Isaac’s presence, his knees were shaking and his voice was quivering (probably making him sound even less like Esau … stopping myself again from this tangent. Lol.)  As Christians we are called to “fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16a, AMP).  No costume of any kind could trick God into blessing us…  Just ask the Pharisees.  Instead Jesus Himself stands with the Father, and calls us to come in His name – the only One worthy of blessing.

To be continued …
I’ll be posting a follow-up early in the week, so check back Tuesday-ish.  I’ll be discussing the five senses and how they can help us understand what it means to approach God in Jesus’ name.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Claim your prize!

I’ve sat down to write every day this week, but the words just haven’t come together.  This morning I tried again to write a summary of Sunday’s lesson.  Though I was able to put together more than two sentences, it wasn’t a lesson summary as I had intended.  Instead you'll find, as I did, a disclaimer … a caution … a plea for anyone who has come across this blog but has never claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord.  If I’m talking to you, please do not close this page!!

When a person wins the lottery, the prize is not awarded until s/he comes forward to claim it.  You wouldn’t carry around a winning ticket, waiting to cash it in when you're ready to retire!  You would have missed so much along the way.  God’s grace is similar.  Blessings have been planned specifically for you.  Don’t carry grace in your back pocket until the last possible moment, “enjoying” life as you see fit and yet trying to ensure your own comfort later on.  With every day you wait, opportunities are missed.  Eternal life – abundant life – starts the moment you confess your faith in Jesus Christ, claiming Him as your prize. 

Regardless of whether or not you ever accept Him as your own, Jesus died and was raised so that you could receive the grace of God His unearned, undeserved favor upon your life.  Let that sink in.  Regardless of whether or not you ever accept Him … Jesus chose to die for you!  Don’t just carry Jesus in your back pocket until you’re “ready.”  Claim Him today by praying this prayer for yourself.  You may read it silently for now, but sometime today read it aloud.  Read it like you mean it.  Remember this prize is greater than any Power Ball jackpot!  

Dear God,
I come to You in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord!  That’s right, I have come forward to claim the prize that You have held for me.  I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me and that You raised Him from the dead so that I could be saved from my sins … saved from myself.  Teach me the value of this prize and how to use it for Your glory.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Congratulations!  So now, what to do with it?!  Lottery winners have said that they wished they would have sought out dependable guidance as to how to use their prize.  (1) For you and me, guidance comes from God’s Word.  You need to get your hands on a Bible.  Don’t feel overwhelmed!  Start with one of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, or Luke if you’re more literal.  You may enjoy the Gospel of John if you think more abstractly.  (2) You have and will continue to have questions.  Whether or not you feel it yet, God’s Holy Spirit has moved into your heart.  One of His functions is to teach you; be willing to learn.  (3) Ask God to bring you to a flesh-and-blood community of Christians who can help you learn and grow in your new-found faith. 

… For those believers who have stuck around to witness others coming to Christ today, my prayer is that you will pray for believers everywhere (old and new) – that we will have a hunger for God’s Word and understanding with which to wash it down.  Remind yourself of the prize that you claimed however long ago that may have been.  Celebrate it today, and recommit yourself to taking full advantage of it – all for the glory of God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fixtures - They go with the house!

I have been thinking about Monday’s post – about what has already been written concerning the fairness of the Jacob and Esau saga … and what we still have to learn.  Before moving head-on into what's next, I thought of an illustration that might help us understand that the selling of the birthright and the stealing of the blessing were not two separate incidents; rather the latter (blessing) was a consequence of the former (birthright).

When I was in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I was majoring in math, with an interest in business and architecture (at the time), so I started thinking about real estate.  Being the student that I am, I decided to get my realtor’s license one summer.  One evening, our teacher told us a story about her daughter buying a house.  When her daughter went to move in, the previous owners had taken something considered a fixture (i.e. it went with the house) a light fixture or all of the light bulbs, maybe the curtains, or a built-in cabinet … I can’t remember exactly, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.  The point is that in selling their house, they didn’t realize that some things “go with the house.”  In their ignorance, they took what they wanted when they left, but ignorance was no excuse.  They had to bring it back when the new owner noticed and called them out on it.

Like the previous owners of the house, apparently neither Esau nor Isaac realized that in selling the family birthright to Jacob, the blessing went with it.  The blessing was a fixture of the birthright, in a manner of speaking.  I doubt that light bulbs or curtains would have kept the previous owners from selling the home I mentioned above, but if Esau had considered all that his birthright encompassed, he may have changed his mind as to its worth.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8).  That verse has been on my mind all week.  This past Sunday we talked about how Jacob deserved nothing from Isaac if he came in his own name.  It was only by coming – not just in the name of Esau, but – as Esau that Jacob was blessed.  This Sunday (instead of moving forward as I had originally planned), we’ll spend our time discussing specific parallels between Jacob approaching Isaac in Esau’s name and us approaching God in Jesus’ name.  Inspired by Psalm 34:8, we’ll be using our five senses (smell, sight, taste, touch, sound) as a backdrop for our lesson.

At the end of Sunday's class, I mentioned reading Colossians 3:6-17.  I'm actually going to recommend reading the Colossians passage alongside the account of Isaac giving the blessing (Genesis 27:1-29).  In each passage, watch for ways the 5 senses are involved.

So excited for Sunday!!  Can't wait to see you there.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Ps 34:8)

I am trying to acclimate myself (and my family) to our summer schedule.  While I am thankful for a slower pace, being at home during the day leaves my mind with more opportunities to wander toward food … especially after lunch.  My weakest time of the day is the post-lunch let-down (as I’m calling it).  At school … at home … really wherever I am, I always find myself craving something sweet after lunch.  At school, I can control it pretty well (by controlling my environment), but at home, it’s a lot harder.  Today as I finished eating my lunch and gathering my thoughts to write, the post-lunch let-down kicked in.  What would satisfy my craving?!  Then – remembering my afternoon plans to write – I felt God answering my question, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8).  I had a choice:  spend my kids’ naptime feasting on God’s Word or binging on momentary satisfaction.

Well, well, well … and here I thought that I was just writing something silly to break the ice for yesterday’s lesson summary.  All along God was leading us you and me both into today’s post.  I love it when He does that!!  In case you’re confused, remember last week we discussed Esau selling Jacob the family birthright (the Lord’s goodness) for a bowl of stew (momentary satisfaction).

Thousands of years after the aroma of red lentil stew had faded away, the question of the fairness in the story of Jacob and Esau still hangs in the air.  So I bring it up again, Was it fair that Jacob got Esau’s blessing?  I thought about this all last week.  My mind kept shouting back, “No, it wasn‘t fair!  And Jacob should have been cursed instead of blessed!”  Thankfully, God interceded with some thoughts of His own.  First, He said (in my spirit), Do you have any idea what fair really is?  I thought of Isaiah 55:8, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord.”  I found myself in the book of Job another case study of questionable fairness.  Job understandably asked why this was happening to him (in chapter 3).  Later (after Job’s well-meaning, albeit ignorant, friends finished giving their opinions of his suffering), God addressed Job directly:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, Who is this
that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?    Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Declare to Me, if you have and know understanding.”  (Job 38:1-2, 4)
God continued His “answer” (mostly in the form of rhetorical questions) through the rest of chapter 38 … and 39 … and 40 … and 41.  As if we didn’t feel sorry enough for Job before, we certainly do now!

Something else God pointed out to me was that I wasn’t just questioning the fairness of an isolated circumstance.  I was questioning His fairness whether or not He was and is just.  I went back to Deuteronomy 32:4 where Moses said, “He [God] is the Rock.  His work is perfect, for all His ways are law and justice.  A God of faithfulness without breach or deviation, just and right is He.”  For the most part what you and I know about fairness and justice has come from the world, but the true standard of fairness isn’t what the world suggests.  It’s what the Word teaches.  Go back and re-read Deut 32:4 again.  Moses used the descriptions “perfect … without breach or deviation.”  Those things certainly do not describe the world, so when our thoughts don’t align with His (Isa 55:8-9), we have a deliberate choice to make.  Are we going to put our trust in the Word or in the world?

… I’m going to stop today’s post here.  Believe it or not, we covered more than this yesterday; I can hardly believe it myself!  I’ll get back to you later in the week.  As for my post-lunch let down … “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).

Father God,
I ask today, in the name of Jesus, that you will give Your people a hunger for your Word like nothing we have ever known.  Don’t let us settle for temporary substitutes.  Instead let us “taste and see that [You] are good!”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Obadiah: What's in a name?

Last week (5/28 to 6/2) I was ready to plan a lesson on Isaiah 5:4-7.  We discussed vs. 1-4 (of Isaiah 5) the week before, so the next verses would logically come next.  Right?  We were going to talk about wild grapes, winepresses, hedges, etc.  I sat down for my study time ready and waiting for God to give me this lesson.   Instead He gave me a Scripture; Numbers 9:23, “at the command of the Lord they remained encamped…”  Well, that has absolutely nothing to do with grapes!  Reading the surrounding verses, I was made painfully aware of the Israelites’ dependence upon God’s Spirit to guide them over their 40-year journey from Egypt to Canaan.  In reading these verses, I sensed God saying, “Lori, what is your rush?!”  His Spirit was still encamped on the tower (from Isaiah 5:2), but I was packing up, ready to rush off to the next campsite.  So we stay put for now, looking to the Old Testament towers - specifically the prophets - to see what they have to say to us in 2012.  But even so, where do we start?  I was definitely asking that question.  The answer came quickly - Obadiah.  You know what my next question was ... Who is Obadiah?!

In Sunday's lesson we learned that Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament (only 21 verses).  He was also one of the earliest prophets in the time of the divided kingdom (Israel’s 10 tribes to the North and Judah’s 2 tribes to the South), which is why I think God directed us to look here first.  When you read Obadiah … Oh and you’ll definitely want to use your friend and mine - the Table of Contents - to find it; otherwise, you’ll probably skip right by it, swearing Obadiah was left out of your Bible.  Lol....  When you read Obadiah, you’ll notice that Edom is in the crosshairs of God’s judgment (no pun intended … crosshairs ... I've been feeling punny this week) because of what had been done to Jacob and Edom’s complicity in allowing/agreeing with those things.

God’s judgment on Edom (foretold in the book of Obadiah) is actually the climax of a conflict that had its roots centuries earlier with twin brothers Jacob and Esau - sons of Isaac, grandsons of Abraham.  Like Israel (and the land belonging to it’s tribes - Ephraim, Simeon, Gad, Benjamin, Judah, etc.), Edom represented a land whose name was derived from the people living there.  The Israelites got their name from their common forefather Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel).  The forefather of the people of Edom was Esau.

In the time of the Old Testament, names were not given on the basis of what sounded good, but because of events surrounding the birth of a child.  Esau was given his name because he was hairy, even from birth.  What a way to get a name?!  Jacob’s name, supplanter, came from his holding Esau’s heel as they were born.  Both men later received new names; both the giving and changing of their names were due to significant events in their lives.  Esau's new name was Edom (red), not because of his reddish complexion (mentioned in the account of his birth), but because ... (insert your best movie revelation voice) duh, duh, duh ... of the color of the stew for which he traded his birthright.

Esau’s anger over the “stolen” birthright and blessing eventually faded, but centuries later you have these two peoples living next to each other.  Nations with common ancestors.  Both knowing the “Jacob and Esau” story as well as the “rightful“ heir to the family blessing.  Edom’s national identity would have been tied, every bit as much, to Esau’s trading of his birthright as it was to Esau himself.  Their own name - the Edomites - must have haunted them with the nagging suggestion of “what might have been …”  Making things worse, generation after generation of Edomites faced the supplanter himself - the tribe of Israel.

God makes it clear through Obadiah that Edom acted as a bystander in the oppresssion of / attacks on Israel and Judah (again, a tribe of Israel).  That being said, the Edomites were anything but innocent.  I can’t help but think the people of Edom must have thought that the descendants of Jacob were getting exactly what they deserved.  God disagreed!

One last thing before I overstay my welcome on today's post…  Sunday some of us admitted to feeling sorry for Esau.  Was it really fair that his birthright and blessing were taken away?  When I find myself asking questions like this of Scripture, I try to dig into the question-behind-the-question.  With this one, I think it's Satan's age-old suggestion, "Is God really just?"

As humans living in a fallen world, we can relate to Esau - maybe a little too well.  We identify with the tendency to exaggerate a present need (hunger in Esau’s case) in order to justify immediate gratification.  Don’t forget that in God’s all-seeing eyes, Esau did much more than buy a bowl of stew; he proved that he despised his blessing (Gen 25:34).  Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Why did God take Esau’s blessing away?”, but “Why does God still choose to bless me?”  Because let’s face it, if put in the right situation at the right time … for the right bowl of stew, any one of us would trade in our blessing for it.