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A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 137: Mary

Read Luke 1:26-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said…Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them.”  (Mark 3:21, 31 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 like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

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Part 137: Mary.

Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum. Benedícta tū in muliéribus, et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus. Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus, nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae. Ámen.

You may be scratching your head and saying, “Well, that’s Greek to me.” Actually, it’s not Greek, but it is LATIN. It is the traditional Ave Maria prayer that has been set to some of the most beautiful music. My favorite rendition is Gounod’s setting of the prayer to his own arrangement of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846.

The prayer reads in English as follows. “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. It is a prayer to the Jesus Mother Mary, who is seen by Roman Catholics as set apart from other women because she is the Mother of God Incarnate. Some protestants like to state that this is idolatry; however, it really is NOT idolatry but rather an expression of reverence to Mary who did, Biblically speaking, who was set apart and chosen by God to bear God’s incarnation into the world. As a Protestant, I do not believe praying to Mary herself is necessary, or even effectual, but I do understand what is at the heart of it even if I believe it to be unnecessary and misguided.

The issue I have with this prayer, and our general image of Mary, is that it paints her as someone who is too holy to be human. We imagine her as a reverent, quiet, compassionate, loving woman. We think of her as having a halo over her head and as having guided Jesus from childhood to adulthood and preparing him for his ministry.

Roman Catholics, in fact, have the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which lies the belief that God removed Mary’s sin at the moment she was born. In other words, she was born untainted by sin due to God’s divine will. This doctrine officially came about under Pius IX during the 12th century in order to explain how Jesus was born without sin. If his mother was without sin due to divine intervention, then that makes the explanation easy.

Sadly, it also takes away the divine mystery of the Incarnation. What’s more, the Gospels do not all agree on how much on board Mary was with Jesus or his ministry. The power of the song, “Mary, did you Know?” (one of my all-time favorites), lies in the Biblical possibility that Mary did NOT know. For instance, while in Luke Mary clearly knew what was going on, in Matthew it is less clear how much she knew. In Mark, she seems to not only be ignorant to Jesus’ teachings and methodology, but to also be disapproving of him doing ministry in the first place. Don’t know what I am talking about, read the today’s suggested Scripture.

The challenge for us is to recognize that each of us is human. We must not put anyone on a pedestal as if they are holier than the rest. Whether it be Mary, the apostles, our pastors/priests, etc., each human being is just that: a human being prone to wander and sin. The only one who was and is sinless is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Let us put our trust in Jesus and show the kind of humble faith that Christ is calling for.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ in John 14:1.

PRAYER
Lord, I place my trust in you. Have mercy on me when I don’t and guide me toward trusting you again. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 141: Baby John

Read Luke 1:57-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”  (Luke 9:23, 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 like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JohnTheBaptistPart 141: Baby John. One may be scratching their heads and asking why on earth would someone be writing about baby John? After all, there really isn’t anything in the Bible about baby John, is there? John isn’t really talked about until he’s a full grown, hairy, sweaty, locust-eating adult, right?

Well, that is mostly correct. John isn’t directly spoken about in the Nativity story with brief reference to him leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. In fact, it is only in Luke where we hear anything at all about the John’s family or his birth. In Mark, the Gospel starts with John baptizing folks and in Matthew, we first hear of John when Jesus shows up at the river’s edge. In the Gospel of John, we again first see John at the Jordan river baptizing people.

It is only in Luke, where there is any back story on John’s birth, on his family, and on his connections to Jesus. In fact, we find out in Luke that John is the cousin of Jesus, as both of their mothers are cousins. This fact is never even hinted at, let alone mentioned in the other three Gospels. Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, John is not just the forerunner crying out for people to repent and heralding the coming Messiah and his Kingdom, rather, he is also a blood-relative of Jesus’ and is a part of the extended Holy Family.

What’s also important to note is that, because of the miraculous nature of his conception and birth, John is seemingly dedicated by his mother to be a Nazarite. While the word Nazarite is not to be found in any of the accounts on John the Baptist, there is evidence in the Scriptures to back this up.

First, a Nazarite was someone who was dedicated to the service of God. They were not to cut their hair, or drink intoxicating liquors of any sort. Nor were they to handle or consume anything made from grapes. They were also to avoid becoming ritually impure. The Nazarite was someone who was considered holy unto God, and thus filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 1:13-15, Gabriel announces to Zechariah: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”

Thus, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is to raise his son as a Nazarite from birth. At the end of chapter one, the author confirms that John’s family raised him according to God’s wishes as expressed through Gabriel: “John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel” (vs. 80, NLT).

What if  Zechariah and Elizabeth decided not to follow through on that? What if they thought it unfair and even wrong of God to demand that their child be forced to follow the strict Nazarite code? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you have listened to Gabriel and forced the Nazarite vow upon your child?

Would you never give him grapes, never let him attend funerals of family members, never let from getting married (sex ritually defiles a person due to the contact with bodily fluids), etc.? Would you send him off to the wilderness to live so that he has no temptations to live like the other kids in his neighborhood?

The challenge for us is to recognize the kind of commitment God is looking for from each of us. That’s not to say God is calling all of us to be Nazarites, but that God is calling all of us to be committed to Christ. Are you willing to forego all things for the sake of the Gospel? Are you willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow the Lord of all Creation, even if it costs you your very life? Reflect on these questions honestly, and draw yourself closer to the Christ, who denied himself, picked up his cross and died so that we might have abundant life in service to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How willing are we to follow Jesus Christ and how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom?

PRAYER
Lord, I am far from being as committed as I should be. Work within me so that those parts of my heart that are hardened to you and your call, may be softened bent toward your will for me. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 138: Joseph

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”  (Luke 2:4-5 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 like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JosephFatherofJesus

Part 138: Joseph. One of my favorite Christmas films, a must watch annually on Christmas Eve, is The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, the story chronicle Mary’s betrothal (aka engagement) to Joseph, her becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph’s initial reaction and final acceptance of her. It follows them as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and concludes with what everyone is there to watch: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

This is my favorite portrayal of the Nativity because the actors really pull off their roles convincingly. The vulnerability that both of the actors bring out of their characters helps the audience to connect with them on a most personal level. This is especially true for Joseph. Oscar Isaac takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he falls in love with Mary, is broken by her seeming betrayal when she comes home pregnant, to accepting her story as truth, to supportive husband caring for Mary on the journey to Bethlehem (even to the point of short changing himself.”

Of course, Joseph was a flawed individual, just as we all are. It would be easy for us see the final result of Jospeh, rendering him to a two-dimensional character. It would be easy for us rush to the Joseph who was by Mary’s side in the manger. Yet, the reality is that Joseph almost broke off his engagement to Mary because he could not believe that she had conceived of a child through the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, which one of us would actually believe that if someone came to us and said that they got pregnant by God without having sex with anyone. Most of us would have a hard time believing that. So, we cannot judge Joseph for his disbelief; however, he did struggle to believe Mary.

That left him with two options, to keep Mary as his wife and take her shame upon himself. If he stayed with Mary, people would think the two were sexually active, which would put both of them in a bad light socially speaking. The other option would be to break off the engagement and distance himself from Mary. That would keep the shame from falling on him; however, it would put Mary in a dangerous situation. If that became public she could have been stoned to death for adultery. This was serious business.

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a just (aka righteous) man and did not wish to disgrace her publicly. So he was going to quietly break the engagement off. How he would have pulled that off without others knowing, only one can guess; however, he came very close to ending the relationship with Mary for fear that her “shame” would fall upon him and his “good name”. In other words, he was putting his own “name” and reputation in society before the woman, the human being, he was engaged to.

It took an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that he need not fear taking Mary as his wife, for all that Mary had told him was true. Thankfully, Joseph listened to the voice in that dream. The question for us is this, how do we let fear take control of our lives? Do we allow fear to dictate our actions and do we allow fear to make our decisions for us? The challenge for us is to listen to God’s voice over the many voices of fear. Let us seek God’s voice out in all things and allow God, not fear, guide us in our lives and in our decisions.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from allowing fear to take control. I put my trust in you. Guide me in your love. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Two Probing Questions

Read Mark 8:27-30; Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 9:18-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

who_am_iAnyone who has ever had me as their teacher in confirmation class can attest to the fact that I take confirmation very seriously. I have developed a curriculum that goes beyond teaching the meaning of membership to a curriculum that instructs the students to engage in Christian History from Jesus to our current day and age. The curriculum has the students actively engage theology and doctrine (and the history behind the formation of the doctrines) as well as learn about the meaning of membership in the church.

One of the exercises I have the students do as a requirement for the class is to write a 3 page paper, or longer if they desire, answering two very simple, and very Biblical questions. In Mark 8:27-30, in Matthew 16:13-20, and in Luke 9:18-21, Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is and, following their various answers, he asks them who they say that he is. So, likewise, I have the students answer those two questions.

It is amazing how challenging such an exercise is. Most of us can easily and quickly come up with a long list of the things that people say Jesus is; however, when it comes to who we say Jesus is, if we are going to take the exercise seriously, it becomes much more difficult to articulate. But each of my students have been through the exercise and each have come away saying that the experience of it was rewarding, leaving them with a richer sense of who Jesus is to them.

When God created humanity, God did not create robots. It was not God’s intention to have an android creation that just mindlessly, and robotically, did whatever God wanted them to do. Rather, God created a free-willed, free-spirited, and free-thinking people who had the ability to not only choose to be in a relationship with God and, in that relationship, seek to come to an understanding of God and of self in the context of that relationship. As human beings, we do not only define ourselves by our own thoughts of who we are, but rather we define ourselves by the relationships we have with ourselves and with others. Who am I without my mom, my sister, my friends, my wife, my children, and myself?

Thus, if we are Christians who claim to be in a relationship with God and with Jesus the Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that we would seek out who Jesus is? Doesn’t it make sense that we would not just settle for who people say Jesus is, but that we would find out who Christ is to us? Doesn’t it makes sense that we would want to get to “know” the person we claim to love and to follow?

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for you to write down Jesus’ two probing questions: “Who do people say that I am?” Who do you say that I am?” God is calling you to probe deep into your faith. It is never okay to just accept things at face value. God is calling you to move beyond what you’ve been taught into the realm of personal, experiential knowledge. Who is Christ for you? How have you experienced the power and the love of Christ in your life? How has Christ healed you, been present with you, changed you, and/or challenged you? Where does your story and the Gospel story intersect? God is calling you to truly discover who Jesus is and to deepen your faith in him. Such an invitation leads to transformation and conviction. Get to know your Lord and be convicted to bear his hope, healing and wholeness to world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in [people] becoming like Him.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick

PRAYER

Lord, take me deeper in my faith that I may more intimately know you and grow more and more like you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Trust Game

Read Genesis 16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalms 37:5)

Picture_12_xxxlargeWhen I was in High School, I remember that we used to have to do all sorts of different “team building” activities in gym. The idea was to teach the students how to work as a team, how to rely on each other as teammates and, most importantly, to learn to trust one another. If a team does not act as a single unit, it will fall apart into a fragmented mess.

One of the activities that our gym teachers would have us do involved a great deal of trust. They would blindfold some of the students and have them stand with their backs facing other students. In turn, the students were told to lean back and let themselves fall back into the arms of the people standing behind them.

I remember when it was my turn to be blindfolded. I remember how paralyzed I was for fear that the other person wouldn’t catch me. The last thing I wanted to do was to fall flat down on the ground, making a fool of myself in front of all my peers. It was hard, extremely hard, letting myself go in order to fall back into the arms of the person behind me. Eventually, I did let go, was caught in mid-air, and was relieved when my turn was over. With that said, I cannot say that I felt any more trust, nor was I looking forward to do that again.

We, as human beings, have a particularly hard time putting our trust in other people. And this is never any more evident than it is in the church. Too many times we find infighting, bickering, dissention, and all sorts of conflict rise over the issue of trust. But the trust issue doesn’t stop there. Though we attend church, we sing hymns, we praise God, and we pray to God, we ultimately find ourselves lacking in trust when it comes to God.

Though we say that we put our faith and trust in God, we often find ourselves acting in a way that would state otherwise. Though we say that we trust God to guide us through our situations, we find ourselves trying to do things our way, just like when Abraham figured he would have to sleep with his servant in order for God’s promise to come true. Instead of fully placing our trust in God, we pull back our trust in order to “take control” of things.

It is in those moments that we find ourselves in situations we could have otherwise avoided had we only placed our trust in God to guide us through. As the church, as Christians, we are called to be a people of faith and of trust. We are called to trust in God and we are called to trust in each other. If we do not stand together, and place our trust in one another, then what good news are we really displaying to the rest of the community? If we are lost in our own brokenness how can we ever witness to the hope, healing and wholeness that Christ has to offer?

The challenge today is for us, as Christians, to begin to reestablish our trust in God. It is time to let go and fall back into God’s arms. We need to trust that God will not let us fall and, so long as we love God and are called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8:28), God will do mighty things in us, through us and even in spite of us. But how can we place our trust in God if we cannot even put our trust in those who are trying to serve God alongside of us? God desires all of us to be a people of trust. Place your trust in God and let God lead you from where you are to where God is calling you to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Let the love of God lighten your life, let his kindness mold you into his presence, let him be your guide as you travel the road of life.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, today I place my trust in you. Lead me in a way that deepens my trust in you and in your people. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: No One Can Judge

Read Romans 7:14-25

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NLT)

Annex - Lugosi, Bela (Dracula)_05

Every year, around this time, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is a tradition I have carried on since I was in high school. I absolutely love that tale, which is ultimately a tale about HOPE in the midst of darkness. There is one scene in the book that is absolutely striking to me. Mina Harker had recently been bitten by Count Dracula and, to make matters worse, had drank some of his blood. As we find out, this fuses Mina to him and begins to make her one of his. At one point, upon finding out that she drank Dracula’s blood (as she was in a trance when she did it), she cried out, “Unclean, unclean, God help me, I’m unclean!”

One can only imagine the absolute horror that Mina was going through. She had lived her life in a manner that was pure, always priding herself in her manners and behavior. She was a loyal person and loved her husband dearly, yet now she was tainted by this monster’s blood. She is absolutely revolted by the Count and horrified by what he as done to her; however, because she is spiritually bound to him, and as she begins to watch her humanity slowly fade away, she comes to a realization.

Looking up at her husband Jonathan, she asks that if she becomes like the count that he will put an end to her and put her soul at peace so that she may be with God. But her plea doesn’t end there. She also begs that he find the count and put an end to the monster so that the man trapped inside may find peace as well. Whoa! It is almost unfathomable for her husband Jonathan, but she makes him agree. He cannot understand how she could have even the remotest bit of sympathy for this savage beast, this wretched demon, this accursed vampire.

In Romans, Paul spent a good amount of time writing about the self-perpetuating cycle of sin. We know that certain things are good and often gravitate away from them. Conversely, we know that certain things are not good or healthy and yet we find ourselves doing those things anyway. No matter how hard we try, we often find ourselves stuck in the mire of our sins.

Paul knew, just as Mina came to realize, that there is a bit of monster in us all. We all let certain things get the better of us. We all are, to one extent or another, controlled by the negative things we allow into our lives. Perhaps some do more than others, but we all get caught up in things that God would otherwise wish to set us free from. Yet, we also tend to look at others as if they are worse than we are and, like Jonathan, we often get too caught up in our own self-righteousness to see that we are really in the same boat as the ones we judge.

Rather than being in the prison of our own judgements, we are called by God to be humble and to see the humanity in others, including ourselves. Even though we may not agree with the actions that people take, and even though we might even be forced to act against the evils that people perpetrate, we are still called to see the child of God beneath the sins that entrap them. We are all children of God, loved by God, and God wishes to free us all from our sins…in particular, the sin of judgment. All we have to do is be humble and let God guide us from the darkness of our judgments to the light of God’s unconditional love and grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The least amount of judging we can do the better off we are.” – Michael J. Fox


PRAYER
Lord, humble me so that I might not judge others. Open my eyes and my heart to your mercy, your love, and your grace. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Masks We Wear

Read Psalm 139

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

The Masks We WearAh, I can smell Halloween in the air! I love this time of year, the leaves are falling like heavy feathers from the trees. The crisp cool breeze rustling the leaves on the streets; the hollow rattling sound the trees make as they brace themselves for another wintry slumber. The smell of burning wood beginning to emanate from rooftops wafts to the noses of little ghouls and goblins as they dress up in their costumes and masks, getting ready for a night of being on the prowl for the world’s cheapest, and yet greatest, sugary delights. Yes, I love Halloween.

One of the things I always loved about Halloween was dressing up! I have been many things for the holiday over the years. I have been a hobo, Cousin It, Moses, Dracula, the wolf-man, Jack Skellington, a zombie and many, many other things. I always looked forward to being able to dress up and be whoever it was I had decided to be. Halloween was the one night, all year-long, where I didn’t have to be me…it was the one night, all year-long, that I could be whatever I wanted to be and not worry what others thought about it.

As a pastor, and previously a youth pastor, who has served in ministry over the past several years, I have come to recognize that the ritual of mask wearing extends far beyond the annual holiday of fun and goodies. Most people, if not all of them, put on masks every morning and don’t take them off until late at night as they are slumped over from another day in a year full of not being themselves. The kind of mask I am talking about is not one made of latex, or face paint, or any other kind of removable synthetic substance; rather, this mask is a metaphor that represents the reality that most hide who they really are and only display what they believe people want to see.

Perhaps you are wearing a mask. Perhaps every day you wake up and paint a smile on your face. Perhaps you dress your best and head off to work like you are at the top of the world, when deep in side you feel like a child who’s been lost in the darkness of the forest for hours. Perhaps you find yourself constantly seeking to please others, constantly trying to live up to the expectations that bosses, colleagues, friends and family members are placing on you. Perhaps, you are trying live up to the image that you think others have of you, and each day you wake up and put that mask on you feel further and further from who you really are.

If this is you, if you are a bearer of masks, if you wear a thousand fake faces in order to hide the real you, know that there is hope. There is a God who knows you. There is a God who loves you. There is a God who sees through your mask and accepts you for who you are regardless of what you have or have not done. There is a God who is calling you to remove your mask and enjoy the beauty of God’s handiwork. There is a God who has forgiven whatever it is you feel you might have done. There is a God who LOVES you unconditionally. There is a God who continues to give up everything just to be with you. And there is a community of God’s people that God is calling you to be a part of, a community of people that God is calling to be a part of you. Regardless of where you find yourself, know that God is calling you to be nothing more than who you are, and that you are already loved and accepted!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“It’s just better to be yourself than to try to be some version of what you think the other person wants.” – Matt Damon

PRAYER

Lord help me to see myself as you seem me. Remove my mask and help me to shine in the ways you created me to. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 12: Jacob

Read Genesis 27-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn.” (Romans 11:29 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 12, Jacob. As was discussed in the last installment of this series, Esau was supposed to be the heir to his father, Isaac’s fortune. It was through Esau that Isaac’s geneology would continue and it was Esau who was to be given the authority of his father as the head of the family. We also discussed how proud and arrogant Esau was. That was certainly his character flaw, and it was a flaw that brought his chance of claiming his birthright right down to a 0% chance.

Esau had mistreated his brother and already thought of Jacob as his servant, because he was the oldest (by mere minutes). He did not regard his birthright as something to be cherished and appreciated; rather, he saw it as something that he was entitled to and did not even consider for a moment that he would ACTUALLY LOSE it to his puny brother Jacob.

Yet, that is exactly what happened. Jacob bid his time and remained humble, despite his brother’s bossiness and boarish behavior. Being a sibling myself, I can only imagine the anger that raged through Jacob everytime his brother ordered him around, but he was humble and listened to his mother’s advice to wait for the right moment. That patience certainly paid off in the end.

Yet, it would be a mistake to think that Jacob was wholly innocent in this situation. He absolutely was not. There is a difference between being humble for humility’s sake, because one knows their place and appreciates all that has been done for them. It is entirely different to assume humility in order to lay claim of something that one is scoping out all along. Jacob definitely falls into the latter category.

Make no mistake, Jacob did not have altruistic reasons for being humble; rather, he was born into a status of humility and used that to his advantage in winning out over his brother. He played well the part of the meek and humble servant, so well that not even his own father thought that Jacob would do what he was about to do. He was a thief lying in the dark waiting for the right moment to take his own brother and father by surprise.

When it became abundantly clear that Jacob would not receive the coveted birthright by his father choosing him over Esau, he followed his mother’s lead in disguising himself as Esau in order to trick his blind and ailing father. Covering his arms with animal hair, he went to his father as Esau and asked his father to give him his blessing now. Even though his voice was different than his brother’s, his father fell for the trick because his arms felt like Esau’s. Thus, unwittingly, Isaac gave Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau, and Jacob became heir to his father’s fortune, and the head of his father’s family.

This act of betrayal led to much dismay in the family, so much so that Jacob ended up fleeing the camp for his life. Esau was so enraged to hear that his brother had stolen away his birthright that he sought to kill Jacob. Because of his sinful deception, Jacob did not receive his inheritance for at least 14, but probably closer to 20, years later; rather, he spent those years in hiding in a foreign land in the househould of Laban.

Again, the Bible does state that God gave Rebeka a revelation that her youngest son would inherit Isaac’s household and fortune; however, it is hard to imagine that God wanted Jacob to pull that off in the way he did, taking matters into his own hands. Because he did things his own very dishonest way, he paid a bitter and long price. It was a good thing that Jacob was blessed with having the virtue of patience, because was really going to need it right down to getting a wife.

Have you ever been dishonest because you felt that it was the only way to make things go good for you? Have you ever cheated or cut corners to bring about what you felt God wanted you to do? Have you ever had to wait even longer for what was reward was coming to you as a result of your actions? As can be seen in the story of Jacob, it is always better to trust God and allow God to work, than taking matters into one’s own hands to force what God is ultimately doing anyway.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There are no shortcuts in life – only those we imagine.” – Frank Leahy

PRAYER

Lord, keep me honest, even when my anxieties and anticipations dictate dishonesty. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 11: Esau

Read Genesis 25:19-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My brother, I have plenty,” Esau answered. “Keep what you have for yourself.” (Genesis‬ ‭33:9‬ ‭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 11, Esau. Every generation has its rite of passage into manhood. In the modern age, we are far more egalitarian about it and typically call it a rite of passage into adulthood, as women are considered equal and autonomous members of society. There are still rites of passage for both sexes, especially for women who traditionally have a “sweet sixteen” party; however, these are mostly for celebration only and mean very little in terms of function in society.

In the ancient world, rites of passage were very, very important. In particular, the rite of passage for a man was of utmost importance, especially for the man who held the birthright to be the heir of his father and family possessions. This rite of passage was a blessing that was given from the father to the son, almost always the first born son, in which the father blessed his son and gave his authority to him, to carry on as the head of the family and the carrier of the father’s lineage. There was no greater honor in the life of the ancient patriarchal family.

Esau was the first born of two twins, born minutes (if not seconds) before his younger brother Jacob. That means that Esau was, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the one who held the birthright to be the heir of his father, Isaac. Jacob, on the other hand, was born slightly after Esau and did not hold that birthright at all. Jacob would be, at best, second in command, and would ultimately be subservient to his brother Esau. He would be expected to do what his brother Esau commanded and would only inherit a fraction of what would be given to Esau, if anything at all.

Yet, the story reports that God had a different plan in mind. God revealed to Rebekah, Esau and Jacob’s mother, that the oldest brother would become the servant of the younger brother. That means that, according to the Biblical narrative, Esau would be second in command and Jacob would inherit Isaac’s authority and fortune. Esau would be subservient to Jacob and not the other way around.

Of course, a measure of healthy skepticism is warranted here because, as we all know, history is written by the winner. Who really knows if Rebekah truly received a divine revelation from God that Jacob was to be the leader of the family or it came to be written that way because that is how Jacob and those who descended from him chose to see it. Who knows if God truly planned for Jacob to steal his brother’s birthright or if, following successfully doing so, Jacob and family saw the successful theft as being “God’s will”. The fact remains, regardless of how it actually went down, that Esau ended up losing his birthright.

Even if God did intend for Jacob to receive the birthright, it is hard to imagine that God wished for Jacob to steal it from his brother. Esau was a flawed individual who very well may have ended up disgracing his father, or not proving himself well enough to his father, to inherit Isaac’s blessing. Esau was brash and demanding. He was arrogant and thoughtless. His brother outwitted him very easily over some red stew. Esau was claiming his birthright before he even had it, and was demanding that his brother go get him the stew he was hungry for. He lacked in humility and mistreated his younger brother because, well, he could.

Jacob, on the other hand, was humble and smart. He was quiet and was willing to bide his time. No doubt, his mother Rebekah taught him to be that way with the hope that he would one day come on top. Whether that was God’s will or not, Rebekah understood that God favored the meek and the humble over and above the proud and the arrogant. She hedged her bets and, as it turns out, cashed in big league.

Have you ever been so sure of something that you’ve been arrogant in your assurance? Have you ever saw yourself better than what you actually were? Have you ever found the assurance you had to be false assurance. Have you ever been humbled from your false assurance and found yourself in a place of embarrassment and humiliation? This is the place of Esau, a place that is painful for sure; however, God did not curse Esau, nor did his brother Jacob, even when Esau wanted to kill him for the covert theft of his birthright. Esau was still in God’s plan and did eventually reconcile with his brother. If you find yourself in such a humbling place, know that you, too, can be reconciled to God and to people if you allow yourself to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.” (Psalms‬ ‭138:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

PRAYER

Lord, keep me ever humble and far away from being haughty or proud. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 10: Rebekah

Read Genesis 24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis‬ ‭25:28‬ ‭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 10, Rebekah. Being a woman in the ancient world was certainly not easy, and Rebekah found no exception in her life. Unlike a man, she didn’t have claim to anything that was her father’s. She was not an heir to her family’s fortune. In fact, once she was married, lived her life, and died, people wouldn’t much remember anything about her aside from whose children she bore.

Speaking of marriage, she didn’t even have a choice as to whom she would be married to. That was prearranged with the father of Isaac, Abraham. The bride was not the center of the marriage ceremony, like she is today; rather, it was the groom who was. The woman was his means of carrying on his geneology through the patriarchal system. What’s more, the bride’s family had to pay a dowry, which usually included the giving of money or sale of property, to the groom’s family in order for the marriage to be acceptable.

Basically, the bride’s family had to sell the bride off, like a burden, to the groom’s family. That’s what women were considered in the ancient world. Their sole purpose was to bear children, preferrably male, for the groom and to keep the house. To fail to do so could not only result in divorce, but would be a disgrace to the entire family. This is the reality that Rebekah was born, raised, and married into. And as seems to be the pattern in these stories, she gets blamed for being barren; however, God intervenes.

Beyond that basic reality she lived in, she also was married to a man who was very much a scarred, broken, and imperfect man. The apple did not fall far from the tree when it come to Isaac. He was very much his father’s son, and so it is no wonder that he follows in his father’s footsteps and even makes many of his father’s mistakes. It is no wonder at all.

For instance, when traveling to foreign kingdoms, Isaac is just as cowardly as his father was. Fearing that he will be killed by a covetous king lusting after Isaac’s “beautfiul wife” (quite the man’s fantasy, right?), Isaac convinces Rebekah to say that she is his sister so that he can appease the king by giving her to him to have her as his sexual play-thing. Nice, right? That is exactly what Abraham did twice (at least) to his wife Sarah. Like father, like son.

So, it is no wonder that Rebekah shows a certain amount of contempt toward her husband. She, after all, bore him two twin boys. Esau was the oldest and Jacob was the youngest, by seconds. Still, in that world, the oldest (no matter how much older they were) was the heir to the father’s tribe and wealth. Esau, NOT JACOB, was the one with such a birthright.

Let’s not forget that both Esau and Jacob were Rebekah’s children; however, it should be no surprise that Rebekah’s favorite was her younger son, the one whom everything had NOT been handed. Jacob, in many ways, was like her. He had no right over his father’s things. He was left to get the scraps. He was stuck with the leftovers. He was to be his brother’s servant, not the other way around. Well, Rachel would see to it that the other way around became the ultimate reality. According to the story, she received divine confirmation from God that “the oldest of her children would serve the youngest.” Rebekah saw to it that the divine revelation became a reality.

She encouraged her son to put animal hair on his arms, and to disguise himself so that his ailing father (who could not see) would think that he was his hairy, burly brother Esau. In doing so, Jacob was able to get his father’s blessing and steal Esau’s birthright away from him. It may have been spiteful on Rebekah’s part, but she seemed perfectly fine with the result.

Have you ever acted in spite as a result of your circumstances? I know that I have. There are times that I know I shouldn’t do something, that what I am doing is wrong and sinful, but I still do it in spite of that knowledge because I am upset at the way things have played out. Of course, that is sinful behavior; however, God forgives us when we seek such forgiveness and God blesses us despite our sins when we seek to change and do what is right. God’s people are certainly not perfect, but they are being perfected in God’s love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Even in the midst of our sin, God’s ultimate plan prevails.

PRAYER

Lord, I acknowledge that in my hurt and suffering, I have sinned. Please forgive me and work your plan in and through me. Amen.