Why Celebrate Jacob?

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Genesis 27:30 After Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and just as Jacob left his father Isaac, his brother Esau came back from his hunt. 31 He too made some delicious food, brought it to his father, and said, “Let my father sit up and eat from his son’s game so that you may bless me.”

32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?”

And he said, “I’m your son, your oldest son, Esau.”

33 Isaac was so shocked that he trembled violently. He said, “Who was the hunter just here with game? He brought me food, and I ate all of it before you came. I blessed him, and he will stay blessed!”

34 When Esau heard what his father said, he let out a loud agonizing cry and wept bitterly. He said to his father, “Bless me! Me too, my father!”

35 Isaac said, “Your brother has already come deceitfully and has taken your blessing.”

O (Observation): The story of Jacob and Esau – and how Jacob steals Esau’s blessing and birthright – is quite mind-blowing.

Esau is born just seconds before Jacob. And so, Esau is due the birthright and the bulk of his father’s inheritance (their father is Abraham).

But instead, through a bit of intentional trickery, Jacob pretends to be Esau and successfully pulls it off. Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing.

This enrages Esau. Of course it would.

We know – in the end – that indeed Jacob is a part of the lineage of God’s people…all the way down to Jesus himself. When we refer to God, we say: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” not “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.”

Why?

Well, as the story goes, Jacob and Esau meet up years later, and reconcile their differences.

Perhaps the giving of the blessing (being irreversible) is the key. As if God did the blessing. An irrevocable blessing.

Perhaps God can make God’s mission no matter what…even through thievery…and maybe that is the point.

A (Application): So, this is a troubling dilemma. Steal and be rewarded? Well, the cynic can look at this story in a cynical light and reach that conclusion. This is why the cross is foolishness.

The blessing that Jacob receives is a valid blessing from Isaac…not because he stole it, but because God takes our faults and our lack and redeems us!

Jacob is not without fault. Eventually, God confronts Jacob at the Jabbok River, just before Jacob meets up with Esau later on. They literally wrestle with one another.

In the struggle, Jacob is renamed: “Israel”!!!

What is God redeeming in your life now? How is God redeeming it? Is there pain? Is there a new vision being reveled to you? Is there a letting go of something you are too stubborn to release?

God works in mysterious ways. We are all capable of being redeemed. In fact, the price of our redemption is free. We simply come to God with a broken heart and God will redeem.

P (Prayer): Lord, our hearts break. You heal. Help us to see that being a follower of Jesus comes with suffering and yet, redemption. Amen.

Blessing Amidst Challenge

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Habakkuk 3

17 

Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,

            and there’s no produce on the vine;

        though the olive crop withers,

            and the fields don’t provide food;

        though the sheep are cut off from the pen,

            and there are no cattle in the stalls;

18 

I will rejoice in the Lord.

        I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.

19 

The Lord God is my strength.

        He will set my feet like the deer.

        He will let me walk upon the heights.

O (Observation): Empty-handed (no figs, no olives, no sheep, no cattle). Without these things, one has no fresh food, no oil, no clothing or milk, no meat to eat. Perhaps these things could also be sacrifices.

Even though the material goods are not present, and food seems scarce…the prophet praised the Lord. I will rejoice, says the prophet Habakkuk.

Trust that God will guide him…that God will steady his feet, like that of a deer (sure-footed and steady). God will watch out for this faithful one, and set them on high ground, a position of surety and comfort.

A (Application): Our natural inclination is to praise God when things work out and say, “Yay, God! You’re awesome!” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what happens in the reverse?

If life is going terribly wrong, do we blame God?

Is God the cause of all the good and the bad we experience?

God does promise blessing, but not in a “you’ve been good all year, so here’s a nice gift” kind of way. The blessing comes when we return God’s gift of love back into the world. When we give, when we seek justice, when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…then blessing comes. The blessing is not always status updates or financial or material gifts. The blessing is a life oriented towards God and neighbor.

With that in mind, we see no ending in the blessings to come. With all of this in mind, we can start to see God and the world the way in which Habakkuk sees it: Though challenges exist, we praise God, who will deliver us.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, we thank you for your love come down to us in Jesus. We thank you for our hope and faith in You, Almighty One. Help us, despite our high or low circumstances, to see you as our reason for hope this Advent and Christmas season. Amen.

A Time of Hope

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Joel 2:26 

You will eat abundantly and be satisfied,

        and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,

    who has done wonders for you;

        and my people will never again be put to shame.

27 

You will know that I am in the midst of Israel,

        and that I am the Lord your God—no other exists;

        never again will my people be put to shame.

28 

After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;

        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,

        your old men will dream dreams,

        and your young men will see visions.

29 

In those days, I will also pour out my

    spirit on the male and female slaves.

30 I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 32 But everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be security, as the Lord has promised; and in Jerusalem, the Lord will summon those who survive.

O (Observation): Very weighty words from God through there prophet Joel. Indeed, these words bring great promise and awe. God’s people have suffered for a time. And yet, in their repentance and humility, God’s people seek God once again. God’s response? Not judgment. But grace!!! GRACE!!!

A (Application): Beginning with grace allows us to be able to return to God in the first place. When we don’t start with grace, to whom will we return? Over and over again, God brings grace…so that we might return to God and to one another…even as we sin against God and one another.

In this season of Advent, we anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus. We are vigilant as God comes to us – Emmanuel.

May the prophecies and visions of God’s Kingdom surround us and hold us as we approach the celebration of God Incarnate – Jesus the Christ.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see this as a time of hopefulness and watchfulness. Amen.

God is ALIVE and ON THE MOVE

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 115

1

Not to us, Lord, not to us—

    no, but to your own name give glory

        because of your loyal love and faithfulness!

Why do the nations say,

    “Where’s their God now?”

Our God is in heaven—

    he can do whatever he wants!

Their idols are just silver and gold—

    things made by human hands.

    They have mouths, but they can’t speak.

    They have eyes, but they can’t see.

    They have ears, but they can’t hear.

    They have noses, but they can’t smell.

    They have hands, but they can’t feel.

    They have feet, but they can’t walk.

    They can’t even make a noise in their throats!

Let the people who made these idols

    and all who trust in them

    become just like them!

O (Observation): God’s people do something seemingly irresponsible. They believe in what they cannot see. They believe God lives and moves freely. No hand-made likeness is necessary. (Remember the first commandment’s qualifier – no graven image is to be made.)

The non-God-fearers just don’t get it. Oh well.

A (Application): How many of our people in our churches speak the language of faith? For so long, we have been concerned with measurements of “butts and bucks” (or attendance and offering) that we quite often fail to see how God is a part of any of that.

We fail to see and hear and tell the stories of what God is doing in our ministries.

Yesterday, I spoke with a pastor friend who gets it, who wants to help her churchgoers to see what the Spirit is up to.

And so, that changes now.

Answer theses questions:

  • Where have I seen God today?
  • How has God used someone else to bless me today?
  • How has God used me to bless someone else?
  • I didn’t come up with these questions, but they have been foundational to my ministries.
  • May you discover how God is with you and is alive and well.

    P (Prayer): Lord, show us your presence. Amen.

    I’ve Got Everything I Need, Right?

    Photo credit here

    S (Scripture): 2 Kings 17:4b Hoshea (king of Israel) stopped paying tribute to the Assyrian king as he had in previous years, so the Assyrian king arrested him and put him in prison. 5 Then the Assyrian king invaded the whole country. He marched against Samaria and attacked it for three years. 6 In Hoshea’s ninth year, the Assyrian king captured Samaria. He sent Israel into exile to Assyria, resettling them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River, and in the cities of the Medes.

    O (Observation): At this point in the history of the Hebrew people, we see a divided people of God: The northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah). Each kingdom had its own king.

    Politics became the god of the people. They made decisions not based on what God spoke through the prophets, but rather what they felt was the best way to secure their own wants and needs. Sometimes, the needs were about protection from enemies (like Israel’s king paying the Assyrian king for protection). When this favor ends, so does the friendship. And Assyria conquered Israel, exiling (most of) the people of Israel through Assyria. (No better way of getting rid of a people than by making them become your people.)

    A (Application): So, the more we rely on ourselves, the worse our predicament becomes. Yet, this is the battle we face. This is the temptation we succumb to time and time again.

    To whom do we turn in difficult times? Ourselves? Our money to buy things to make us happy? Our work to help us feel like we are accomplishing something? Our chore list to make sure we get that done?

    What makes us feel whole? None of the things I listed. We might get temporary satisfaction…but they don’t last.

    Relying on God has been an “On again / off again” thing, if I’m honest. I do things from time to time just to show I can do them, like I’m proving my worth to God and others.

    Yet, this is not what God requires of me. God simply calls on me to believe that Jesus came to show us that we have everything we need: gifting from the Spirit, a relationship with God, and disciples to journey alongside.

    May you see your blessings this day.

    P (Prayer): Lord, guide us this day, as always. Amen.

    You Can Do It!

    Photo credit here

    S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 30:6 Then the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants so that you love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your being in order that you may live… 11 This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. 12 It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 13 Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 14 Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.

    O (Observation): Moses speaks to the crowd. They wonder at the command God gives: Love God! Yet they and their ancestors have not obeyed God for quite some time (hence, the 40 years of wandering).

    Now, though, God’s mercy comes back into view. The physical circumcision that was required is now a circumcision of the heart. (A helpful move, so that both male and female would now both fully enter the covenant.)

    Loving God with heart and mind and being is a commandment that is not too far off. God will take the step to make this faith possible with the cardiac circumcision.

    A (Application): My faith originates in what God has done and still does. After wandering for forty years in the wilderness, I would have a tough time thinking that God wanted to reach out to me. And yet that is exactly what is promised and still promises. The Hebrew people have had lives filled with devastation and disaster. I want to how this promise works for them.

    I’ve had a pretty easy life. No discrimination. No catastrophes. My faith is what it is because somehow the Spirit moved (and still moves) me.

    And the challenge of faith is very simple: loving God is as near to you as your heart and your mouth. Living out the commandment to love God starts and ends with God coming close to us. Regardless of our past or current status. All are welcome to receive God’s grace.

    P (Prayer): God, you are amazingly full of grace. For that, we thank you! Amen.

    P.s. Any fans of the Christian band, “Lost and Found”? They wrote a song called “Cardiac Circumcision.” I remember singing this song in my living room on a cassette tape after a camp called AFFIRM. I had no idea what it meant technically…but I had an idea that it meant something about changing my heart : )

    Guessing these verses inspired their song.

    Blessings and Curses

    Photo credit here (I don’t always find a piece of art related directly to the text for the day, but today, we have found one! Read Deut 27:11-28:68)

    S (Scripture): Deuteronomy 28:1 Now if you really obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, then the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice…15 But if you don’t obey the Lord your God’s voice by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations that I am commanding you right now, all these curses will come upon you and find you…

    O (Observation): God’s people are established after having been slaves for so long…for generations! They have no understanding of healthy boundaries for a person or for property. So, God sets forth the boundaries and declares what types of things should be done and what types of things should be avoided.

    They assume all good blessings and all bad curses come from God, so this only makes sense to God’s people. They need strong direction in their time of uncertainty. They got it!

    A (Application): I think about my own children. When young, we set strict boundaries for them. “Eat all your food! No playing in the street! Follow directions and get a treat!”

    In this way of looking at blessings and curses, God’s people needed what they got: treats and warnings. Yet, as God’s people became more and more established, the idea of blessings and curses became less and less about a strict way to live, and more a guide to healthy community.

    In Jesus, we start to see the true intention behind blessings and curses: healthy community. And in Jesus, start to see that one’s blessings doesn’t necessarily coordinate with how “good” one has been and one’s curses don’t necessarily coordinate with how “bad” one has been.

    Instead, filled with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus as our Guide, we simply look to God to provide and we seek to serve others, first. May we all be strong in faith and humble in spirit.

    P (Prayer): Lord, we look to you for guidance and love and mercy, whether we do good or bad – well…we do both…so…uh…have mercy on us, Lord. Amen.