God’s People, part 9: Isaac

Read Genesis 21:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I am the God of your father, Abraham,” he said. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant.” (Genesis‬ ‭26:24b‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 9: Isaac. We all know about Isaac’s childhood. We know that he was raised in an unhealthy household, with the bitter division between Sarah and Hagar growing more and more heated following Isaac’s birth. We know that his father and mother both, though they were people of profound faith, were flawed individuals all the same. What’s more, they were also a flawed couple.

As it turns out, the apple didn’t fall too far from the proverbial tree and this makes a lot of sense. For one, Isaac had to have been scarred from his childhood. Despite the family dynamics that were in place within his family, there is something else we’d be amiss not to mention. Isaac was approximately 2-6 years old, even older in some traditions, when his father Abraham took him up on Mount Moriah to sacrifice him to God.

The whole way there, Isaac questions his dad, “When will we find a lamb for the slaughter, daddy?” He didn’t have a clue that his father was bringing him up the mountain with the intention of using him AS THE LAMB. His father’s response to him was, “No worries, Isaac, God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.” Now, for this to truly be “faith”, Abraham had to believe that he WOULD BE sacrificing his son to God. Why you ask? Because if he knew that God would spare Isaac, that would NOT have taken faith; rather, he DID NOT KNOW, but fully anticipated the complete opposite of that. His faith was placed in the fact that God would keep the promise made to him that he would become the father of many nations despite the fact that Isaac was no longer going to be alive.

But back to Isaac. He had to have been scarred from the whole ordeal. There is no way that he came back down from that mountain ever fully trusting his dad again. There is no way he could ever feel safe in his home. There is no way he wasn’t plagued by memories and nightmares, replaying the horrific scene over and over again in his mind.

So, Isaac was bound to be just as flawed as his father and mother, if not more so. What we do know from the Scriptures is that he at least follows in the footsteps of his father and the sin of Abraham certainly passes down to his son. This can be clearly seen in the story of Isaac deceiving King Abimelech. Just like his father, Isaac was a coward who thought of his own safety over and above anyone elses. As he traveled through the land of the Philistines, he made his wife Rebekah act as his sister so that the king wouldn’t kill him in sexual conquest. So, like Sarah before her, Rebekah was going to be forced to be a sexual consort of the king, that is until God intervened and brought a curse upon Abimelech and the Philistines.

We also see that Isaac gets into dispute over well water with Abimelech. This is not necessarily his fault, per se, but it shows the net result of sin: rather than being loving neighbors, people were becoming more and more tribal and territorial. Sin had taken brotherly love and replaced it with a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Humanity had fallen far from the paradise it was created to be.

What we do see, despite Isaac’s failure to be fully faithful to his end of the covenant with God, is that God still remains faithful to Isaac and his family. The same is true for us. We are called into covenant with God through Jesus Christ, yet we are not always faithful to that covenant. We may be going on to “perfection” through the Holy Spirit, but we are FAR from perfect and our sin has real consequences; yet, God, who is faithful, will not abandon us to our sin, but is ever leading us to rise up out of the ashes of our sin and into the promise of eternal, abundant life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Left on our own, there is no escape from our propensity to sin.

PRAYER

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Cleanse me from my sins and perfect me in your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 8: Ishmael

Read Genesis 21:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness.” (Genesis‬ ‭21:20a‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 8, Ishamel. There is nothing worse than seeing a child needlessly suffer. At the time of this writing, news is breaking about a terrorist suicide bombing following an Ariana Grande concert outside of the arena in Manchester, UK. At this point, at least 22 people are dead and dozens maimed and I just find myself heartbroken for those people. Ariana Grande, of course, is a pop star who is very popular with tweens and teens. Many of those children were at the concert alone, with their parents coming back to pick them up, which is a common practice in today’s time.

What kind of monster would do that to a child? Why would someone attack those who have barely even begun to live their lives? Why would one want to charm innocent children? These questions and more run through desparate minds as they try to make sense of what is ultimately senseless evil running amok in our world.

Yet, when we read the story of Ishmael, we barely even bat an eye. After all, he survived, right? Sure, he had his birthright stripped from him and he got thrown out to the wilderness by his father, but no harm no fould, right? It is amazing to me how we can glaze over and ignore the horrors in the Bible simply because it was done in the name of God and the presumption of God’s will.

Yet, if we pay close attention to the details of the story, Ishmael was not yet weaned from breastfeeding when he and his mother were banished from his home due to Sarah’s jealousy which was ultimately due to Abraham’s infdelity. This means that Ishmael was a mere 2-3 years old at best when he and his mother were sent out into the scorching, arid wilderness to fend for themselves. 2-3 years old! This was nothing short of a death sentence. This was nothing short of EVIL!

Yet, despite the way the author wrote it in the Bible, the reality is that God would not let that evil win. Despite the cold, heartless, cruel actions of Abraham and Sarah, God was with Ishmael and his mother. God would not let the injustice of his people go unanswered and uncountered. Instead, God provided for them. God gave them a well to drink from and, eventually, delivered them to safety. The Scriptures state that “God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer and settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from Egypt” (Genesis 21:20-21).

The first thing that needs to be stressed is this: God’s people don’t always get it right. In fact, God’s people sometimes get it very wrong! What’s more, even God’s people are not immune from committing attrocious acts of evil. Just because we think we are a part of the “in crowd” deos not mean that we are truly “in line” with God. God’s people often make the mistake of believing that God belongs to us. My friends, the TRUTH is that we belong to God, not the other way around; however, we only belong to God when we are aligned with God’s will, not just because we presume to know God’s will.

Secondly, it is important to make note of consistent pattern. God blesses people. People become complacent in their blessedness. Complacency leads to the belief that God belongs to us, and that belief leads people to do unjust things because they have effectively replaced God with themselves. These unjust, and often evil, things lead people to suffer in oppression. God hears the cries of the injust and aligns with them, and begins to counter the evil through prophets and others who work voice God’s outrage and judgment upon the oppressors, as well as work to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. God blesses the oppressed and liberates them, showing the world that THEY ARE GOD’s PEOPLE.

This pattern hopefully leads to shame and repentance among God’s wayward people, but sadly that is not always the case. Ishmael’s tale is the tale of the oppressed, and it is a cautionary tale for all of us. We’ve all played the part of the oppressed, and we’ve all played the part of the oppressor. We’ve all been given God’s blessing, and we’ve all turned God’s blessing into a curse for others. God is calling all of us to recognize this fact, to break the chains of this pattern, and return to being God’s righteous people once again.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We should aspire to God’s righteousness not self-righteousness.

PRAYER

Lord, love me, bless me, correct me, forgive me, and use me as a blessing for others.

God’s People, part 7: Hagar

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 7, Hagar. What can be said about poor Hagar, a woman who most people haven’t really heard of or, if they have, they don’t know much more about her than the fact that she was Ishmael’s mom. All of the attention in the Abrahamic narrative is spent on Sarah, Isaac and, of course, Abraham. Yet, aside from all of the blessings we see bestowed upon Abraham and his family, there is a dark and tragic drama that exists in Hagar’s story.

The story of Hagar, at least where we come to know her, starts out with no drama whatsoever; rather, it is one that is filled with heartache and burden. She was a slave girl who was charged with serving Sarah. According to the Jewish midrash Genesis Rabbah, it was when Sarah was in Pharoah’s harem (thanks to her cowardly husband), that the Pharaoh gave her his daughter as a slave, saying, “It is better for my a slave in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house.” The Pharoah probably did this after falling under God’s wrath made him realize that Sarah was not single, but married to the guy who claimed to be her brother (aka Abraham).

So, Hagar might have started off with a life of leizure, but her fate was to become the slave girl of a woman who would, eventually, use her and abuse her. How you ask? Sarah had been promised a child by God, but she was barren and she was old. How could she possibly have a child at her age, and especially since she was barren? So she “convinced” her husband (I put convinced in quotation marks because, though I am staying true to the narrative, who knows how this really went down), to have sex with Hagar in order to have her child through the slave girl as the surrogate mother. So, that is what Abraham did.

Hagar, at this moment, felt blessed, because she had gone from slave girl to mother of the heir of her wealthy owner’s husband. The only problem, though she was biologically the mother, that child belonged to Sarah as Hagar was technically only the surrogate mother (meaning she agreed to give up her rights over the child). What’s more, God did finally fulfill the promise made to Abraham and Sarah by making Sarah pregnant with Isaac.

This seemed great to Hagar, because now Ishmael was no longer the attention of Sarah’s eye, as Sarah had her very own child. On top of that, Ishmael was the first born and, according to patriarchal society, the oldest was entitled to the birthright and was heir to the father. Hagar grew a bit too confident in Ishmael’s place in Abraham’s family and, as a result, drew the bitter and heated jealousy of Sarah. From that moment on Sarah treated Hagar harshly, which we can only imagine means that she insulted her, threatened her and probably beat her as well. Sarah also successfully convinced her husband to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. He agreed and kicked the two of them out of his camp, sending them out to the wildnerness to fend for themselves.

Yet, despite the multiple sins of Abraham and Sarah that were acted out against Hagar and her son, God did not leave them abandoned to the fate their owners consigned them to. Instead, God protected them and gave them food and shelter from the scorching sun. What’s more, God blessed Ishmael and, though he would not become the heir to Abraham’s camp, he did become the father of many nations. In fact, Muslims traces their roots back to Abraham via Ishmael.

Here’s what we can pull from this tragic story. No matter the tragedies in our lives. No matter what sins we commit and no matter what sins are committed against us, God never abandons God’s people. We are God’s people and God will always lead us from where we are to where God is calling us to be. There are no human designs that can overwrite God’s design for us. Have faith and trust that, no matter the circumstances, God’s grace abounds.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we look at Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, we see that God’s grace can survive our three-ring-circuses of compromise, rationalization and weak faith.” – Carl Prude, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, no matter my circumstance, my sins, or my struggles, your grace abounds. Amen.

God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.

God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaacPart 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.

God’s People, part 4: Noah

Read Genesis 6-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

noaarkPart 4: Noah. The story of Noah is exciting, devastating, tedious, complex and even horrific. It is all of those things wrapped up in a four chapters. When the name Noah is heard, most people think of him as the guy who built the really large boat, boarded animals on it two-by-two, and went on a 40 day cruise to Mount Ararat. During the cruise he and his family sat around a lantern lit room, with the smells and sounds of animals joining in their family Christian camp song sing-a-long. Then add in the images of ravens, doves, an olive branch and, finally, dry ground.

Upon land, we remember that Noah was so stoked to be on ground again that he built an awesome altar, upon which he celebrated with his animal and fowl friends from the boat by slitting their throats, draining their blood down the altar and burning their flesh. This scent of burnt flesh and blood, of course, was to God what Calvin Klein’s Eternity for Men is to me: intoxicating. God loved it so much, that from that time forward God realized he had made an “oopsy”, and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never, ever flood the earth again.

Okay, so that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it does pretty accurately sum up the story of Noah as most people recall hearing it in Sunday School. Granted, the Sunday School version is missing all of the blood and sarcasm; however, that is the gist of the story as it is commonly remembered.  Yet, if you took the time to read Genesis 6-9, I am sure you came across elements you didn’t even know existed in there.

Focusing on Noah as a character, the Bible says that Noah found favor with God. God was so upset with how corrupt humanity had become that God was desiring to destroy all of Creation. The flood, in essence, are the tears of God pouring down over a people who are so wicked they could care less. What were the people’s sin? The only thing that is mentioned is their violence.

We can only guess why Noah was so favored by God as the Bible does not give us any clue. One thing is for sure, Noah was not favored by God for being perfect. In one of the more obscure passages in the Bible, we find out that Noah had a bit of a drinking problem and, when he passed out in a drunken stupor, one of his sons saw Noah’s nakedness.

There has been much scholarly debate as to what was meant by Ham “seeing his father’s nakedness.” The story is written in a way that leads one to take it literally, that Ham literally saw his father naked. But without getting into narrative, theological, or cultural debates, we can focus on Noah’s reaction to that instead.

When Noah finds out that Ham has seen him naked, he curses Ham’s son, Canaan. What an odd thing to do. Why would Noah curse his grandson over the fact that the boy’s father saw him naked? What’s more, whose fault is that anyway? Was it Ham who got his father drunk? Was it Ham who unclothed him and laid him spralled out naked on the ground? Not according to the story! Yet, Noah forces Ham to bear the guilt of his own shame!

Despite all of this, Noah is still remembered as being favored by God. No doubt, Noah was favored by God, even if he didn’t always live up to God’s standard. Then again, which one of us live up to God’s standard?  Which one of us always gets things right? If we are honest, we know that none of us do; yet, God favors us.

Let us learn from Noah. Let us learn what it means to be faithful, even when God seems to be asking for the outrageous and/or the impossible. Let us learn to be obedient and to do as God has asked us to do. Let us learn to take responsibility for our own sins and repent of them. Let us learn to hold ourselves accountable, rather than scapegoating others in order to sheepishly hide ourselves away from the blame. Let us, indeed, learn from Noah, who is but one person among God’s people.

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
“Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.” – Unknown J
“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark” – Howard Ruff

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only read the Bible, but see myself in it. Help me to follow the examples of faith and learn from the examples of weakness and sin. Amen.

God’s People, part 3: Cain & Abel

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed His approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” (Hebrews 11:4 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

cain-and-abelPart 3: Cain & Abel. I could not devote two devotions to Eve and Adam and not follow up with one on Cain and Able. In fact, a lot could be written about these two brothers, for there is more here than meets the eye. It would be easy for me to focus on how Abel was rigtheous and Cain was a murderer; however, I do not think the story is quite that simple. In fact, in Hebrew, there is definitely some nuance going on here.

Let us start with Abel. The English word, “Abel”, is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, הֶבֶל, which is pronounced heh’-bel ( I bet you didn’t see that one coming). It is the same word as the Hebrew word, הֲבֵל, which means emptiness or vanity; something transistory or unsatisfactory, which is often used as an adverb. I am not entirely sure why Abel is given that name, in light of his character of faithfulness in the Bible; however, the ancients did nothing accidentally.

What I love about Abel is that there is room to speculate on him. Perhaps he was given that name because of his unsatisfactorily short life due to being murdered. Perhaps he was given that name because the author wants us to recognize a character flaw in him, which all the more heightens the mysterious grace of God who favors Abel for an act of faithfulness despite his flaws. Those are two possibilities, though I think there is one that is much more likely than those.

I believe it is the author’s way of showing how sin has crept in, even into the family structure. Cain was the first born and, thus, would have all the rights and inheritance afforded to him when his parents died. Abel would only get what was left over. The human system of Patriarchy had begun to take root, and the effects of that would ultimately kill Abel and harm many others like him, as well as women who were not considered to be equal to men.

That, then , leads us to Cain, who was the first born and oldest brother. Because of his privileged position as the eldest brother, Cain expected to be favored over Abel. He felt entitled to that. Cain quickly learned that God doesn’t play favorites off of human-made systems of  oppression. God favored the younger of the two brothers and, in essence, gave the blessing to Abel and not to Cain.

This, of course, enfuriated Cain and, as we all know very well, he plotted to murder Abel and carried it out in a field when no one was looking. Cain’s entitlement left him bitter toward Abel. What’s more, he was jealous of the fact that God favored Abel over him. That jealousy led to the murder of his own brother. Yet, God proved Cain’s jealousy to be unfounded, for God never rejected Cain at all. Even after Cain murdered Abel, God still chose to show mercy and grace. The story doesn’t exactly word it that way, but the grace is certainly there. Cain got to live a full life out, and was ultimately protected by God against anyone seeking vengeance over the death of Abel.

This story is very much relevant to us today. Most of us may not murder our siblings, but we do support and uphold oppressive human systems that bring harm to others. We often do so without even realzing it and, even if we did realize it, we feel justified because our social standards favor us instead of those who are being oppressed. Think of immigration laws, or welfare, or anything that most of us don’t have to deal with, all the while being very judgmental toward those who do. The story of Cain and Abel, should teach us that we are no more worthy of favor than anyone else. God created and loves us all. If we choose to be proud and entitled, we only do so to our own detriment. For God will show favor to the meek.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Those who stand tall have the furthest to fall.

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and teach me to be meek. Amen.

God’s People, part 2: Adam

Read Genesis 2:4-25; 3:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second Man, came from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

AdamAndEve01Part 2: Adam. As I think is evident from the last devotion, Adam tends to be more favorably viewed than Eve. The text is often read very sympathetically toward him; however, I do not believe that we are reading the text the way it was intended to be read. In fact, I believe we are reading more into it than is really there. Before I move forward, I want to make this point very clearly: Neither Adam nor Eve were greater or worse than the other. They both were the first humans, they both chose the way they did, and they both have something valuable to reveal in each of us regardless of what sex we were born.

We often to think of the first male human being’s name as, “Adam.” What many do not realize is that Adam is the English transliterated word for the Hebrew word, אָדָם, which is pronounced aw-dawm’. This Hebrew word literally means, humankind or human being. In this context, this human being happened to be a male; however, the meaning of the word adam is actually broader than that. So, when the Scripture says that “the LORD God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed life into his nostrils”, the text is actually saying that the LORD God formed the human being out of the dust in the ground, and breathed life into his nostrils.”

It is important to note that the man is not named throughout all of the second creation story found Genesis 2:4-25. This person is simply referred to as “the man”, or the human being. Thi human being clearly male in anatomy and in gender; however, he remains unnamed. This is truly ironic, being that this nameless man is the one who takes it upon himself to give everything else names. This man, as he was created, thought of other beings as precious enough to name. Naming something also denotes being in relationship with it. Here we have the first human being, seeking to be in relationship and putting the other (in this case God’s creation) first. Indeed, and it was good.

Again, it is far easier to look at the wrongdoings and shortcomings of Adam. It is easier for us to focus on the fact that he ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that he sheepishly blamed Eve when God was holding him accountable, and that his sin ultimately led to the first animal sacrifice, the switch from being one with Creation to dominating and destroying it, the switch from vegan to omnivore (where we kill and eat animals for food…compare Genesis 1:29-31; 2:16-17  to Genesis 9:1-4) and, of course, the first sibling rivalry, which in turn led to the first account of murder in human history.

Whether you are one who takes these accounts as literal, historical fact or not is beside the point, because either way, these stories are meant to convey a truth to the reader. Adam was created to be creative, to be loving, to be a partner, to be in relationship, and ot be the caretaker of all God’s creation. Adam was created to put others first, and to also take care of himself. It isn’t until Genesis 3, where the tragic sin occurs, that the man is given the name, “Adam” by the narrator.

What I think is important for us to realize, is that we, too, are adam. We are human beings and we were created to be exactly what Adam was created to be. We were created to create, to love, to partner and form commmunity, and to be the caretakers of each other as well as God’s creation. Yet, just like Adam, our sin gets in our way and, as a result, we fall from the ideal of what we were created to be.  Yet, God did not give up on human beings, and become one. God took on the very flesh given to adam and became adam. We of course, know the second adam to be Jesus the Christ, who showed us the way to be truly human according to God’s great redemptive plan! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are all Adam’s children – it’s just the skin that makes all the difference.” – Navjot Singh Sidhu

PRAYER
Lord, help me beyond my human sin and lead me from the state of the first Adam, to the redemption and glory of the second. Amen.

God’s People, part 1: Eve

Read Genesis 2:4-25; 3:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.” (Genesis 3:20 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

AdamAndEve01Part 1: Eve. When we think of Eve, we tend to think in negative and sexual terms. That last one may make you uncomfortable to read, but it is true. Eve is commonly known as the mother of us all, but only because she chose to disobey God and lured Adam to do the same. Her sin, as it is commonly understood, led women into having labor pains and to the establishment of patriarchy (aka women being under the dominion of men). Sadly, our common way of understanding things does an injustice to Eve herself, and it has been damning for women throughout the millennia.

I also think that our tradition, in this regard, does an injustice to the Scriptures themselv es, as I think we tend to lay more blame on Eve than we do on Adam. My reading and interpretation of Scriptures leads me to a different place. By focusing on the sin of Eve, we also miss the beauty of her inherent goodness that is a reflection of the divine image of God. While the story has Eve coming from man, it is only because God realized that man was incomplete without woman. The story is kind of comical in how it is structred because God sets out to create a partner for Adam and has to give it a couple of attempts before getting it right.

The first time round God gave Adam animals, but ended up finding out that humans and animals don’t make a good match. Then God tries again and this time puts Adam asleep and forms woman from Adam’s rib. In other words, Eve was not a sheep or a donkey or a horse or any other animal. Eve was another human being like Adam, made from the same flesh and blood. The important thing to note is that Eve completed Adam.

Yes, Eve did sin, but it is important to realize that it was Adam who God told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was a direct command from God to Adam before Eve was even created. Presumably, as the story never specifies, Adam told Eve; however, it’s no wonder that Eve was the vulnerable target for the shrewd and crafty serpent. She had less of an understanding  as to why they could not eat from that tree, and so the serpent lured her in. Despite that, Adam is still culpable because he was the one who truly knew better.

Yet, that still misses the ultimate point being made here. Eve did not let her sin weigh her down. She became the mother of all despite many painful and tragic circumstances. Also, while sin may have entered the world through the first people, so did true LOVE. Why, you might ask? Because, through Adam and Eve’s choice came God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate embodiment of God’s faithful, unconditional love. Christ is the clear choice God has given us in regard to away out of our sin and back into a relationship with our Creator.

We all make choices and those choices all bear consequences. But that does not make us any less God’s people. The story of Eve drives that point home. Eve did not let sin have the final word and, as such, she became a part of God’s redemption plan as God would choose to become one of her descendents and redeem the world. God does not want you mired by your choices or their consequences, but wants you to move forward from them, like Eve did, and allow God to guide you toward being who you were created to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Grace is a much more accurate word to use when dealing with the state of human existence. God gives us unmerited favor through Jesus Christ, and since Adam and Eve, our lives have depended on it.” – Monica Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Still, despite my sin, give me the perseverance of Eve who moved beyond her sin, was fruitful and multiplied. Because of Eve’s faithful perseverance, your Son Jesus Christ came into the world and conquered sin and death. Amen.

Better Than Eden

Read Genesis 2:4-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE 
“And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.” (Genesis 1:30 NLT)

  Most people, by now, know that I am vegan. I am not shy about that fact, as it is a lifestyle change that not only transformed me into who I am today, but one that saved my very life. The first year of my being vegan was the roughest time for me, mostly because I had so much to come to terms with. I had to come to terms that I was no longer “fat”, not only in my own perception, but in other people’s pereception as well. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was disease free, that I no longer ate what anyone else in my circle of family, friends, and colleagues ate.

I had to come to terms with the fact that every meal would become a discussion about my lifestyle and that such discussions would cause others around the table to be angry at me, even if I wasn’t the one initiating the conversation, because they were “sick of hearing about it”. I also had to come to terms with the fact that some people would view my lifestyle as a threat to their own and attack me over it, especially on social media as I shared about my lifestyle, or shared recipes and/or things I learned on my Facebook wall.

Halfway through my first year, I had an idea about “Returning to Eden”. I thought it would make for a great book title, and I thought that I would be able to write about about my own journey of returning to eden. I got the idea of the name from a conversation I was having with a long-time friend about how the only life that existed in Eden as the vegan life. Adam, Eve, the animals, birds, bugs, lizards, and creepy crawlers were all created to eat and be sustained on vegetables (Genesis 1:29-31). God saw that as the ideal way of living, and so did the ancients evidentally.

The conversation was centered on how far humanity has fallen from that ideal, and how we could once again return to Eden. After all, I was on the way, wasn’t I? I had reversed my type-2 diabetes, lost over 75 lbs (at the time), eliminated my high blood pressure, and lowered my cholesterol to normal levels. Things were great and I was well on the returning to Eden.

Well, over time, reality hit. What has been lost can never be returned to. There was no going back to Eden. I believe that is why it says in Genesis, “After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And He placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24) It’s not that I take the account literally as if there were some Garden of Eden out there to be found, and if we found it we would see those Cherubim guarding it; rather, I believe the point of it is that Eden/Paradise/Creation as God intended it had been lost.

There was nothing that could be done to reclaim it. Certainly, eating from the Tree of Life would not have brought Eden back, or us back to Eden. Instead, it would have forever divided us from God in our sins. Eden could not be reclaimed, but God had something better than Eden planned. While sin and death were not God’s doing, God would conquer sin and death on the cross through Jesus the Christ. The empty tomb would be a sign forever opening up to the reality that human beings were God’s children, not by virtue of being Created by God, but by virtue of choosing to be in a loving relationship with God our Creator.

True LOVE is mutual LOVE. Love is not love by force nor can love exist without choice. LOVE is better than Eden and it is the Kingdom on Earth God has been building ever since humanity first chose their own independence over and above a mutual, loving, dependent relationship with our Creator. The days of Eden are over and the days of our bondage to sin are numbered. Behold, in Christ God has done something completely new and you are being invited to join in on that. God is inviting you to not only receive this true LOVE, but to extend it to the world and be a part of leading to a place far better than Eden.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We can never head back to what has been lost, but we can change direction and head toward something far better if we so choose.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you and praise you for your great intervention in my sinfulness. Lead me to lead others to a place far greater than Eden, to that heavenly Kingdom you have created for us all. Amen.