How to Get a Fresh Start?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

 

How do you get a fresh start? Anybody need a fresh start today? Maybe you have been having trouble at work, at school or at home? Maybe people out in the community have been giving you all sorts of grief? Maybe you don’t need to look out the window at the troublemakers but in the mirror? I am always my biggest problem!

Raymond Lull also recognized his need for a fresh start. “He grew up self-indulged on the island of Majorca off the Spanish coast in the Mediterranean. His father was wealthy and powerful, a friend of the king. Lull, sexually indulgent, slept with many women, even following his marriage and the birth of two children. But one day at age 32, while writing some erotic poetry, he was stricken with guilt. He envisioned Christ suffering on the cross. He was converted.”[1] He received a fresh start. “Majorca was controlled by Muslims and gradually the young man felt a desire to reach the Islamic world. After providing for his wife and children, Lull gave away the rest of his possessions. He studied extensively for several years, learning the Arabic language and all he could about both Christianity and Islam. With the king’s help, he established a school on Majorca for the training of missionaries. He met repeatedly with popes and cardinals, trying to persuade them to establish similar schools across Europe for missionary training and language study. He lectured, wrote and preached extensively. Then he began his actual missionary work at age 55, targeting North Africa.”[2] I thought that is a good reminder for Christina Mayer who we are sending to the Czech Republic today as our missionary. Christina, I know you have wanted to be sent out earlier, but it is never too late for a fresh start. Tell others that you meet that God wants them to have a fresh start in life.

Let me finish the story of Raymond Lull. “His work began unsteadily. Having announced his departure for Tunis, Lull was joined by well-wishers at the port at Genoa. But he was suddenly overwhelmed by the terror of possible martyrdom. His belongings were unloaded and the ship sailed without him. He quickly recovered and caught the next ship for Tunis. His fears were valid. He found himself in constant danger, living a fugitive’s life. He was eventually arrested, deported, and stoned. But he couldn’t stay away, and he made repeated forays into North Africa, always at risk of life and limb. Throughout his 70s and into his 80s, Lull was preaching to Muslims. Finally, Lull was seized, dragged out of town, and stoned again. He died shortly afterward. But he advanced Christian missions like no one else in his age and paved the way for everyone since with a burden for the Muslims.”[3] Can you see the impact for God’s kingdom when God gave an adulterer and porn addict a fresh start?

Another person who recognized his need for a fresh start was Jacob in Genesis 35. Jacob at the time was well into his later years. To use a golf analogy, maybe you find yourself on the back nine of life and knee deep in a water hazard? Today, God wants to give you a fresh start. Jacob found out that it wasn’t too late to experience a fresh start. He needed one. He was estranged from his in-laws. His father-in-law was after his money. Jacob had reconciled with his brother, which was a miracle after how Jacob had lied and cheated his brother Esau. Jacob’s two wives were constantly at each other in a game of who could be the top sister. Jacob’s daughter had been sexually assaulted and her brothers took justice into their own hands killing the whole hometown of the perpetrator. And what does Jacob do? He is only concerned about his reputation as Genesis 34:30 records, “Then Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.”

Selfish Jacob needed a fresh start. Genesis 35 records that fresh start with steps in a new direction. Those steps became spiritual and physical markers. Picture them like a stairway that has landings. You usually take a few steps and then you get to a landing before taking the next set of steps. Let’s read Genesis 35 to find out how Jacob, the deceiver, received a fresh start. We’ll discover the steps God took Jacob on and will take us on if we want a fresh start in life with Him! Read Genesis 35!

How do you get a fresh start? 1) Go to God! 2) Get rid of distractions! 3) Trust God when the hard times come! The first step is always to go to God! You will not be able to get rid of distraction without God. You won’t survive the hard without God. Go to God now! In our story, God invites Jacob to come to Him. God wanted Jacob away from the town of Shechem, which was so full of sin and disgrace. Verse 1 records, “Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” Notice what God says! He is asking Jacob to do three things. These are often the smaller steps that take us to that next landing as we go to God! The first smaller step is that we need to go to the house of God, for that is literally what Bethel means. Bethel was the place where Jacob first met God in Genesis 28. Jacob had a dream where he saw angels ascending and descending to earth. Now, God calls Jacob back up to Bethel – God’s house! And Jacob literally went up to God’s house. “Bethel is 1000 feet above Shechem and this means that Jacob is ascending to God. Bethel was the place where Jacob should have been all along.”[4] Maybe you find yourself in a state of shame? You have your own personal Shechem – the low places of life! Go up to the house of God!

And what are you to do in the house of God? The second smaller step is to worship God! Jacob did this by making an altar to God! He sacrificed to God. What do you need to offer up as a living sacrifice to God? I’ll let you think about that, but let me first of all answer some of you who are resistant to making that sacrifice. You might wonder why you should sacrifice to God? The motivation for sacrifice is grace! This is evident in that third smaller step that God says to Jacob. It was just a reminder. Did you catch the last phrase of verse 1? “God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” God wasn’t just trying to put Jacob’s past sins back in his face when God recalls how Jacob cheated and then fled from his brother Esau. No, He is reminding Jacob who took care of him when Jacob was at his worst. He rescued Jacob when he was on the run with nothing! The really cool part is not that Jacob comes back with wealth, two wives and two girls on the side along with 12 sons and a daughter. The cool part is that Jacob recognized God had answered him “in the day of his distress and had been with him wherever he went.” Gordon Wenham calls this day of his distress as “my time of crisis.”[5] God is with you in your time of crisis! He will carry you through. This is why Jacob recognizes that God had been with him his whole life. He uses the term “El-Bethel.” El-Bethel is significant. That almost seems redundant because it literally means “God – House of God”, but this is radically different. You see, it is more about God than the place for Jacob now! Bruce Waltke explains, “Jacob names the site for God who appeared to Him rather than the place where God appeared to Him.”[6] And this is why the “who” is always more important than the “where” in worship. Our church building is just a centre of worship, but you can worship God wherever and whenever.

So let me summarize the first steps in getting a fresh start. You might be in a big mess and far from God. It isn’t too late! Go to God in His house worshipping Him for His grace.

The next set of steps in getting a fresh start is that we need to get rid of distractions. After going to God, Jacob says in verse 2 to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you and purify yourself and change your garments.” It was time to get purified and get rid of all distractions. Jacob did this without God even telling Him to! That is one of the key indicators that you have a genuine encounter with God! You feel conviction. You want to stop lying! You stop sleeping with people who are not your spouse! You want to stop looking at porn, cheating on your taxes, and overeating. You even slow down and start obeying the speed limits. Last week, I climbed Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State. The last two miles of the hike were brutal for me. I was struggling all alone and I just prayed for God to help me simply put one foot in front of the other. God got me through and impressed upon me that I needed to get in shape and to stop eating like I did when I was young person. I also realized that its not fun being left behind by those who move faster than you! I thought about my family, who I tend to drive to match my own pace. I need to slow down and not rush ahead of my family. That is not good shepherding at home because if you drive sheep too fast, you can kill them. So what distractions do you need to get rid of?

You need to do something similar to what Jacob’s family did. In verse 4 we learn, “So Jacob’s family gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears and Jacob hid them under the oak, which was near Shechem.” We need to get rid of the distractions like Jacob did, but we need to go further. Jacob’s family buried their gods. I say we need to destroy them so they don’t cause others to stumble or leave us a temptation to return to. So this second set of steps could be summarized as getting rid of distractions by burying past pursuits. They need to be out of sight and out of mind. And as we know the only way to overcome a stubborn bad habit is by replacing it with a good habit. It means not getting entangled with people and things that have caused you pain and strife in the past.

We see the benefit of going to God and getting rid of distractions in what happens next with Jacob and his family. Verse 5 records, “As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.” Recall Genesis 34:30 where Jacob’s greatest fear was his reputation rather than whether his children followed God or not. Bruce Waltke explains, “Jacob’s family had been known as peaceful shepherds, but now they are known for violent acts.”[7] And yet, literally the terror of God fell upon their enemies. When you go to God and get rid of distractions, it will terrify your Enemy, the kingdom of darkness. Let’s get Satan quaking in his boots by going to God!

The last set of steps in getting a fresh start is to trust God when the hard times come. Notice I used the word “when” not “if.” Hard times are guaranteed to come. Jesus even promised this in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” So in a sense, every trial and difficulty is a series of opportunities for fresh starts and encounters with God. In Jacob’s case, the difficulties are all laced with death. First, the death of Rebekah’s nurse Deborah, as mentioned in verse 8. This nurse probably took care of Jacob. We should remember that “Jacob not only did not get to see his mother, but he is forced to become undertaker for his late mother’s nurse. Thus, one of Jacob’s first experiences after coming back home is confronting death.”[8] Maybe you have come home only to face death? Deborah’s impact in Jacob’s life was significant. We know she made an impact because the family created a ceremony of her death by making another marker under the oak and called it in Hebrew Allon-bacuth, which means the “oak of weeping.”

Nevertheless, God can turn our weeping into dancing. After this time of mourning, God shows up in verse 9. He gives Jacob a new name. He was no longer to be called deceiver, but one who struggles with God. And then God reinforces the great creation mandate of being fruitful and multiplying in verse 10, promising that nations and kings would be his descendants and the land of Canaan would belong to those descendants. Jacob repeats the first step of his fresh start with God by going to God in His house and worshipping Him for His grace. Verse 14 records the drink offering Jacob gives to God with another spiritual marker by setting up a stone. In verse 15, Jacob calls the place Bethel.

And then something surprising happens. Jacob in his old age, obeys God, is fruitful and multiplies by having a twelfth son. But tragedy strikes! Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife, dies in childbirth. Huge questions arise! What if after going to God in His house and worshipping Him for His grace, God takes away the one whom you love? Is God still loving? It feels like He is bringing you to a dead stop rather than a fresh start! What if after receiving God’s blessing your family falls apart? For we will see after this in verse 22, Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s quasi-wife Bilhah. Then there is great jealousy in the family over Rachel’s other son Joseph. And to top it off, Jacob has to join his brother Esau in burying their father Isaac as verse 29 records.

It is all tragic! Some of you might be saying, why would I even begin a fresh start with God when in the end I might lose all that is dear to me? And yet, that is not how Jacob responded. When his last son was born, Rachel lay dying and wanting to call him “son of my sorrow,”[9] Jacob instead says that he is “the son of my right hand.” The son of my strength!

Does this not remind us of another son? Some called him “the man of sorrows” but in that sorrow, God showed Himself to be strong. You see, this points us to Jesus! On the backside of losing everything is gaining everything. Fresh starts are no guarantees of easy times. Fresh starts can be the starter’s gun for more suffering, but at the end of the gruelling marathon one gains a new insight into our God and Saviour. We must trust God when the hard times come and we lose what has been most important to us! God Himself experienced this when He gave us the ultimate fresh start of sending His Son Jesus and losing Him to death. But there is resurrection. The ultimate proof of how He loves us! And oh, how He loves us! God wants to give you a fresh start today!

[1] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day, “June 30 – Eroticism to Evangelism” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 471-472.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 324.

[6] Waltke, 470.

[7] Waltke, 472.

[8] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 378.

[9] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 167.


How Do You Leave Your Family Well?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

How do you leave your family well? When I was a youth pastor, I recall not a few parents coming to me when it was about time to send their kid off to college or university and telling me how they were having a lot of trouble with their teenager. They seemed to be extra-mean and difficult to live with – the teens that is. I told them that I didn’t think it was just their child fighting for independence, but the fact that fighting with your parents makes the parting a little less difficult. You business people might experience this also just before a trip. You have a few fights with your spouse and or kids. There’s usually some sort of tension before we part from those we live and work with. Teachers know this as kids get often dust-ups with each other and misbehave the last week of school. It happens at home too. We often don’t leave our family well whether we’re going off to work or school or for a longer time. I believe this message should help you parents as you send your kids off to school soon. It might also help you students heading off to school to recognize how you are feeling and to talk about it. More importantly, all of you should ask the Holy Spirit to fill you so you don’t burn any bridges before leaving your family for a day or a decade.

Now, some of you might be thinking that you don’t want to leave your family. That’s probably good! In fact, maybe you won’t even have to leave them geographically, but there will be a day when you are parted by death and what you do now will avoid regret when you are separated from your loved ones. Or maybe God will call you to an assignment that requires you moving away. So my question is, how do you leave your family well?

But there’s another side to this, maybe your home is so oppressive. Maybe you have been abused or at least taken advantage of? Now if you are being physically abused, you need to tell the authorities and get away from the situation. But if you have been hurt by your family members, I encourage you to forgive them and love them when they are unlovable. We see this is what Jacob did with his father-in-law Laban. Jacob stayed with Laban until God told Jacob to go home. Let’s read the whole story in Genesis 31! Read Genesis 31!

Tonight we are going to learn how we can leave our family well! I want to start by identifying the three obstacles that usually block us from leaving our family and then talk about how to overcome these obstacles. In fact, these obstacles can become stumbling blocks to us. The first obstacle to leaving your family is their provisions. Think about their home and the nice bed and good food that is yours for the taking. That is hard to leave! The first obstacle that many have a hard time leaving is their family’s provisions. In fact, some after leaving home are like the younger son in Luke 15:17 who after realizing how hard it was to make a go of it on his own said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger.” Many twenty-somethings have come to their senses and said that living at home with mom and dad sure was good and their Boomer parents have gladly welcomed their now bearded babies home.

In a sense, what we do when we have children live at home well into their adult years is that we impoverish them. We make them dependent upon us! I believe this is what Laban did to his daughters Leah and Rachel and their husband Jacob. And it caused resentment on all parties, which it normally does. Genesis 31:2 summarizes, “Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly.” Laban’s sons, Jacob’s brother-in-laws, felt like Jacob was succeeding at their expense and this threatened their present and future financial well-being. Notice that Laban’s sons were jealous of Jacob, when they should have aimed their complaint at their father Laban. Laban wouldn’t let Jacob go! He was benefiting too much from Jacob staying. Yet, “Laban treated Jacob more like a slave than a nephew or son-in-law or even a valued employee.”[1] We call that co-dependency! Co-dependency is a psychological term. It is seen often today when a parent continues to treat their grown-up child like a child in order to exhibit control and the child assumes that role to get the benefits of living under their parents’ roof. This is opposed to the child chasing after what their Heavenly Father wants them to do, rather than what their earthly parents want them to do. Such pursuits create a prolonged and unnecessary poverty in the next generation. Yes, you heard me right – it creates poverty! This is a new thought to me as well that I learned recently from Bryant Myers in his book Walking with the Poor. He reminds us that there is rich and poor even in our immediate families, “In the household unit, there is usually a dominant man who is not poor in comparison to the rest of the household.”[2]

My family is poor compared to me. If you were to look at my children’s bank accounts or piggy banks, they wouldn’t last long out on their own. Sometimes in my proud moments I remind them of what I own. For example, at Dairy Queen this past Tuesday, I just scooped up a spoonful of marshmallow sundae from my son Josiah without asking. He said, “That’s mine!” I responded, “Who paid for it?” which silenced him immediately. I used my possession and power to dominate my son. Now, stealing a bite (and stealing is what I did because after I had given him the sundae it was no longer mine) might not be a big deal, but if I were to do that frequently and on a larger scale I would have abused my position as his father. You see, a father is given the strength and ability by God to provide for his family. He is to be generous and give good gifts to his children, not hoard them or make his children beholden to him. If you think about it, families are an amazing design of our Creator God! The nurture and provision they afford us is amazing.

And this is what makes Laban’s actions so appalling. His daughters lost all respect for him! Check out Genesis 31:14-16, “Rachel and Leah said to Jacob, ‘Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? Are we now reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then do whatever God has said to you.” Rachel and Leah, sisters who treated each other more like enemies, found a common enemy in their father! Laban made his daughters hate him! That is hard to do! I know my daughter Jessie loves me despite me making the most mistakes with her as our firstborn child. Laban started off by giving both of his daughters to Jacob through deception and deception became the family’s moniker. This initial deception caused Leah never to be loved by Jacob and Rachel to be jealous of the children that Jacob and Leah had together. And Laban continued this deception by taking the bride’s price, which by custom was to be held in trust for his daughters in case of widowhood or abandonment. In our story, all the money that Jacob was making working for his father-in-law to pay off the bride’s price should not have gone into Laban’s coffers but essentially a savings account. Laban exploited his daughters.

Sadly there are many daughters around the world impoverished by their parents. I still have a hard time grasping what I saw when I visited Kolkata, India! How men would pimp their wives and daughters as prostitutes – some 12 years old for 50 cents an act. The exploitation of women is a huge problem in the world. “Women perform two-thirds of the world’s work though make up nearly two-thirds of those in poverty. Women earn one-tenth of the world’s income, are two-thirds of the world’s illiterate and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property.”[3] It is not the feminist who will save these women. Feminism is Satan taking the church’s effort to elevate women and cutting Christ out of the equation. For it was in Christ that this revolutionary statement was made in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Notice that people’s station in life, their ethnicity and their gender do not change, but their status and identity in Christ do – they are equal in Christ! Do not believe the lie that the church suppresses women. The leaders of the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote were mostly Christians. It has been the church that has helped and empowered women more than any other group in the history of the world. And properly taught from the Bible that empowerment allows a woman to use her unique gifts without undermining the leadership and gifts of men!

This may seem like a tangent but the dependency upon your family’s provisions is often holding us back from doing what God wants! So how do you overcome the obstacle of your family’s provisions and leave well? You take only what belongs to you! Even though Laban had changed Jacob’s wages 10 times, which shows a lot of patience on Jacob’s part (with no Labour Board to come to his rescue), Jacob takes only what belongs to him. Genesis 31:17-18 records, “Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; and he drove away all his livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac.” Jacob took only what belonged to him. Often it is better to leave money that is owed you by your family and just consider it a gift. Children, when you go off on your own, especially when you get married, cut the financial strings. Parents you cut them off as well and do not co-sign loans as Proverbs 17:18 warns, “A man lacking in sense pledges and becomes guarantor in the presence of his neighbor.”

Sadly, though Jacob overcomes the obstacle of being dependent upon his family’s provisions, his wife Rachel does not. She takes what doesn’t belong to her – her fathers’ household idols as we read in verse 19. This is the second obstacle that we must overcome to leave our family well. We must leave our family’s idols. Those idols take various forms. They could be literal idols if our family is from another religion or they could be an idol of money, leisure, sports, pleasure or entertainment. Remember, an idol is anything we try to use to replace God’s comfort, security and satisfaction. Rachel might have clinged to her father’s gods for various reasons. One scholar remarks, “Rachel is probably not yet completely free of her polytheistic background and beliefs.”[4] However, I tend to think Rachel used the gods as economic leverage against her father. Possession of the family idols meant either a right to the inheritance or possibly a ransom or even vindication. We don’t know for sure, but we can join with the ancient Israelite readers in answering this question, “Can one steal gods? The ancient reader would not miss the sarcasm in this story of ‘godnapping.’[5] Any god that you can steal isn’t worth following or chasing after! Obviously, Rachel didn’t think much of them as when her father questioned her later on, she uses “the gods as the equivalent to a sanitary napkin.”[6]

So how do you overcome your family’s gods? Believe in something better! Trust in God’s promises! This is what Jacob did! Genesis 31:3 records God’s promises, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives and I will be with you.’” Did you catch that last part? “I WILL BE WITH YOU!” SAYS THE LORD! The Lord will be with you. When I left my family at age 19 to live in the big and dark city of Chicago, I took this promise seriously and God has always come through. He has been with me! Jacob believed this promise too! He tells his wives in verse 5, “the God of my father has been with me” and then in verse 7, “God did not allow him (Laban) to hurt me,” as well as in verse 9, “God has taken away your father’s livestock.” Jacob has gained perspective. He discovers as David Nicolas says, “God’s promises are like the stars; the darker the night, the brighter they shine.” Jacob sees the deception of his uncle and realizes it won’t ultimately hurt him because God has had a purpose in it. He reminds his wives in verse 13 that God appeared to him at Bethel and has been taking care of Jacob ever since. Incidentally, God reminds Jacob of the vow Jacob made to Him. God remembers our promises even when we don’t remember His! And it seems that Rachel and Leah have now adopted Jacob’s God as their own as verse 16 reveals. There is a tremendous ripple effect when we overcome our family’s idols and trust in God’s promises. You can start a whole new family history by trusting in God’s promises today.

So how do we leave our family well? We overcome the obstacle of their possessions by taking only what belongs to us. And we overcome the obstacle of their idols by trusting in God’s promises. And there is a third obstacle to leaving our family well – their blessing. This might be the toughest obstacle. We desperately want to hear our parent’s approval and vision of a great future. Some of us have never overcome this obstacle. You may have moved out of the house, but you are still wanting your parents to put their arms around you, tell you how proud they are of you and that they believe you will continue to bless this world with your gifts and efforts. Jacob and his wives overcame that obstacle by leaving in peace. We leave our family well and overcome the obstacle of a withheld blessing by leaving in peace. Jacob had learned that hard way after stealing his older brother’s blessing and not leaving in peace.

Now many years later, we see Jacob leaving his father-in-law in peace. Nevertheless, the “150 year old Laban”[7] wanted more. He caught up with Jacob’s family caravan and couldn’t find his idols, so he continues to try to hold onto his daughters and grandchildren. He doesn’t release them or give his blessing. Check out verse 43, “Then Laban replied to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?” Notice that Laban still considers them his! He ironically warns Jacob later on to not mistreat his daughters when Laban has been mistreating them for years! And yet, it is Jacob that makes the first move as verse 44 describes, “So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.” Verses 51-52 go on to explain that this was an armistice treaty. There would no harm or war between them! Jacob pursued peace!

And here is the really cool part. It is Laban, not Jacob, who invokes God’s name. Verse 53 records Laban’s words, “’The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac.” Essentially, “Laban invokes God’s name and calls Him to be a sentry and watchman of this covenant.”[8] Now I am not saying that Laban was ready to be a deacon in First Baptist Church of Paddan-aram, but God was changing his heart. In fact, it started before that. “Even Laban’s change of attitude toward Jacob and the jealousy of his sons are seen as part of the plan of God.”[9] And so an encouragement to some of you might be that even the dust-ups with your family when you leave them to follow God can be used by God to bring your family to God.

Leaving your family may be the push for them to become part of God’s forever family! We Christians are different than other religions. We stick with our family when we come to Christ. 1 Corinthians 7:24 makes that especially clear when it comes to marriage, “Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” Other religions reject people when they turn to Christ. However, there may come a time when you have to leave your family geographically to obey God. Please continue to keep those bridges open to them emotionally and relationally. Love them with the peace of Christ and watch and pray when they find the peace of Christ for themselves!         Q & A

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 283.

[2] Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015), 112.

[3] Source: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/commission-on-the-status-of-women-2012/facts-and-figures. Accessed August 2, 2016.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 427.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 292.

[6] Waltke, 430.

[7] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 591.

[8] Hamilton, 315.

[9] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 196.

 


How Do You Reconcile with Others?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

Butch Slaughter in his arresting book Dear Daddy, I hate you: letters to my mother’s killer writes, “My mother, Clarice, was shot in the head and killed more than three decades ago. On June 25, 2011 – the 33rd anniversary of her death – I traveled from my home in Aston, Illinois back to Chicago to visit her gravesite. The visit to her final resting place is one I make every time I visit my hometown. The most recent visit, however, was unlike any visit prior. On this last occasion, I stood for the very first time side-by-side with the man who shot my mother: my father. The experience is one that is still difficult to put into coherent and complete words. More than three decades ago, I listened as a twelve-year-old boy as my father threatened to pull a trigger and did so with fatal results. And in the years preceding the shooting, I watched in helpless disbelief and on countless occasions as my father beat, punched and even stabbed my mother in front of her three children. I swore as a child, one day I would kill my father. I contemplated as a man, that one day I would find him and exact revenge for which God was clearly reluctant. I felt I needed to strike back at my father to balance a human idea – my idea – of justice. One day, back in December 2010, I actually and suddenly decided I could strike him down. I went to his home. I had someone knock on his door and I waited outside for him to emerge. It had been 20 years since I last laid eyes on my father. Back then he was 54, still muscular, still mentally agile and still my mother’s killer. I had allowed him to go on living for 20 years, but that was about to come to an end. Soon a shadow emerged from my father’s apartment. The shadow moved gradually toward me – not out of apprehension, but out of physical limitation, framed by facial wrinkles and gray hairs, the shadow showed my father’s eyes and forced my father’s smile. The shadow even projected my father’s voice. “You’re my son,” the shadow said. Immediately I could feel my internal fortress of hatred under attack from unknown and foreign agents. I was familiar with some of these agents in other areas of my life, but never in relations with my father. One agent was compassion. Another agent was mercy. A third agent was sympathy. And I think another agent called itself forgiveness. These agents attacked me with unrestrained power. I could not deal with them and stand before my father all at once. So I got in my car and quickly drove away from the sight of my father. But I knew I wasn’t done with him. I knew we weren’t done with one another. And I have to admit: I was happy. There is no value in labeling my father a villain or labeling my mother as a victim. The last six months have taught me in practice what I have always believed in theory: we have the power to turn our tragedy into triumph and change the world where we stand. We can take the worst life has tried to force on us and return the favor with unimaginable love and compassion. It is not easy, but I know it’s worth it. Evil, pain, and bad – none of it has to have the final say. For my part, I have challenged my father to conduct domestic violence workshops with me. He has accepted. Like joining me on the Dr. Phil Show in January 2011, it will be tough. But we can do it. Together my father and I can encourage others to forgive and attempt reconciliation. My mother, Clarice, would want it this way. As a result of my journey toward reconciliation with my father, a wonderful opportunity has presented itself. I would like to share it with you (Slaughters writes). Is there a rift in your life that has never been healed? Are you estranged from your family, friends, or loved ones? Have deep emotional wounds, personal conflicts, or unforgivable actions fueled division in your life, causing you pain? Are you ready and willing to find forgiveness and start the healing process?”[1]

If Butch Slaughter can reconcile with his father for killing his mother, what could possibly hold us up from reconciling with others, especially as Christians? The Bible speaks a lot about reconciliation. It commands it in 2 Corinthians 5:20 where we are commanded to reconcile to God and others. The Bible also tells stories of reconciliation. In fact, one of those stories is ancient and is found early in the Bible in Genesis 32-33! It is the story of two brothers. The younger brother named Jacob stole the older brother Esau’s birthright and blessing. Jacob flees and goes to live with his uncle Laban for 20 years.[2] Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 32-33 remembering, “The last time Jacob was in the presence of Esau, Esau wanted to kill him.”[3] (Dunt! Dunt! Duh!) Read Genesis 32-33!

I am going to attempt to answer the question today: How do you reconcile with others? I am particularly trying to help those with long standing issues. The daily fights in your family can be resolved without delay if we will quickly ask for forgiveness with the specific words, “Please forgive me for hurting you by ______________________. I’m sure it made you feel underappreciated, rejected, etc.” (I find the offended usually can help you with how it made them feel.) The point is that you are trying to empathize with their pain that you caused. This principle is also true for the long-standing issues that seem to make reconciliation impossible. Maybe you have already started to put up a wall and are thinking, “Jon, there is no way after all these years that the situation can be reconciled.” I don’t believe that because the Cross of Jesus Christ is so massive that it can span any chasm that has divided you and that other person.

You might still object and say that you are not ready to unearth what you have tried to bury. May I remind you that God is really good at resurrecting things! It’s like the Goatee Brothers rap that speaks of when one throws a stick of dynamite into the water that things under the surface that are dead tend to float again. God wants to throw a stick of dynamite into your life to upheave what you thought was dead under the surface. He doesn’t do this to hurt you, but just the opposite because that “dead thing” is unknowingly making you sick. It has affected your trust and relationships. You might be suffering from anxiety and depression because of these unresolved issues.

The stick of dynamite that God threw into Jacob’s life was that he had to leave his uncle Laban and would be forced to go back to his homeland to meet his brother Esau. The deception and a breakdown of trust whereby Laban kept trying to cheat his nephew and son-in-law Jacob out of his share of the livestock and essentially what was the retirement savings for Jacob’s wives led to a final rejection. Jacob had to leave. Genesis 31:16 records Jacob’s wife Rachel’s complaint against her father and praise of her Heavenly Father, “Surely all the wealth which God has taken from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.” (Come back tonight and I’ll tell you more about that story and how to leave your family well!)

In our story, Jacob has nowhere to turn but to his homeland. But remember, who is waiting for him in Canaan? Esau! Jacob takes the first step toward home and who shows up? God does! Genesis 32:1-2 declares, “Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, ‘This is God’s camp.’ So he named that place Mahaniam.” Friends, if you will just say to God, I am willing to make right the wrong I did, God will run to you! He will camp with you through the wilderness that reconciliation often takes you through. You will feel the cold and heat – the cold shoulder from those who have taken up an offense for you who can’t understand how you could forgive your previous offender and you will feel the heat because you seek to be reconciled. You will feel alone in this wilderness because every one thinks you are crazy. You will be hungry and thirsty and nothing you try to sooth your soul with will last. BUT God will be with you your whole journey!

So how do you reconcile with others? There are 3 steps toward reconciliation : 1) Use an emissary; 2) Make lavish restitution; and 3) Get right with God! Jacob starts with using emissaries. Genesis 32:3-5 reports, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying,Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord that I may find favour in your sight.” Most commentators see this as more scheming by the deceiver Jacob! John Sailhamer writes, “True to form Jacob then made elaborate plans to save himself and his family in the face of Esau’s potential threat.”[4] I humbly disagree with these esteemed scholars because it seems Jacob is changing. He starts to treat Esau with respect as evident by the new title Jacob gives his older brother “lord.”

We too need to start seeing those we need to reconcile with as worthy of our respect. Sometimes that requires using an emissary. Why? Because you have hurt somebody so much that they won’t even acknowledge you, so you send somebody who inquires if you can meet with them. It is not cowardly, but an effort to gage whether the person is ready to reconcile. In Jacob’s case, it would appear that Esau has not forgotten being cheated by his younger brother. Esau sends an army of 400 men – “a full militia!”[5] (Genesis 32:6)

This causes Jacob to be greatly afraid as verse 7 describes. “Jacob’s assumption is that Esau has not for one minute forgotten or forgiven Jacob.”[6] And yet, it is unlikely we will not take one more step in the reconciliation process unless we choose to assume positive intent. That is how love casts out fear. Maybe Esau was coming with a small army to protect Jacob? “Both Jacob’s and Esau’s grandfather many years earlier assembled his men numbering 318 men for a rescue mission of his nephew Lot as we read in Genesis 14:14.”[7] Maybe Esau was following Grampa Abe?

As we find out later in the story, Jacob’s fears were misguided, but God used the fear to drive Jacob to his knees. Verses 9-12 records the prayer, “Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’” This is why John Sailhamer says, “It was not the plan that proves successful, but Jacob’s prayer.”[8] Prayer must be the air we breathe as we walk towards reconciliation. It evidences the use of an emissary – the ultimate Emissary! We need God to go before us and soften the hearts of those we have hurt.

The first step towards reconciliation is using an emissary. The second step towards reconciliation is making lavish restitution. This is what Jacob does in Genesis 32:13-15, “Then Jacob selected from what he has with him a present for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.” That is “550 animals”[9] of which “490 are females”[10] (which were more valuable). John Walton teaches, “This gift is larger than towns were likely to pay in tribute to foreign kings.”[11] Jacob makes lavish restitution to his brother. He stole the birthright and blessing for a bowl of soup one day and two young goats another day. This is restitution many times over! Restitution is always higher than the original offense. The Scripture mandated at least double (Exodus 22:1, 3-6, 14; Leviticus 6:2-5). Zaccheus, a tax collector, who met Jesus offered to pay four times the amount he had cheated people (Luke 19:8). An adulterer had to pay back seven times according to Proverbs 6:31. It always costs you more to make right what you did wrong than if you did right in the first place! In Jacob’s case, “he is deliberately giving back to Esau the blessing which he cheated him out.”[12] Jacob is making restitution for the birthright, which meant a double portion of the inheritance, including the livestock. He is also making restitution for the blessing, when he calls Esau “sir” and then in Genesis 33:3, “He bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.” This was a verse that Jacob received from his father with the promise in Genesis 27:29, “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.” Do you see the reversal? Real repentance and reconciliation is revealed when we want others to enjoy God’s mercy and blessing as well! Are you willing to make lavish restitution?

The first step towards reconciliation is using an emissary. The second step towards reconciliation is making lavish restitution. The third step towards reconciliation is getting right with God. This is actually the first step but most of us are like Jacob and have to try our own plans first. For Jacob, he had to have a smackdown with God. He and God wrestle. Pastor Aaron will cover that more in depth next week, but as Derek Kidner says, “To meet God he must ‘first be reconciled’ with his brother.”[13] We see this even in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) God’s forgiveness is conditional, based on our forgiveness of others. It plays out way before Jesus spoke these words. Jacob got right with his brother and getting right with God soon followed. Do you need to get right with God?

So to whom do you need to reconcile? I bet God has been tapping you on the shoulder about it. The dust-up may have happened many years ago. The Good News is you can be reconciled. God can go before you and change the heart of those who once wanted to harm you! Only Jesus can change a heart to that degree!

Bruce Slaughter was reconciled with his murderous father. They stood beside his mother’s grave reconciled and remembering her life. You see, it is only by standing beside the grave of the one innocently killed when we see our sin and need for reconciliation. It reminds me of Dirk Willems. He was arrested for his religious beliefs in the 16th century and held in a prison tower. With the aid of a rope of knotted rags, he let himself down from the window and escaped across the castle’s ice-covered moat. A guard gave chase. Willems made it safely to the other side. The guard did not, falling through the ice into the freezing water; and Willems stopped, went back, and pulled his pursuer to safety. For his act of compassion, he was taken back to prison, tortured and then burned slowly at the stake as he repeated, ‘Oh, my Lord, my God’ seventy times over.”[14] Willems reconciled with his captors even when they continued to harm him. Why? Because His Lord did and He did for you and me! Jesus came back for us too when he was innocent. And in our rebellion we killed Him!

This is what the Communion Table is all about. It reminds us of the great reconciliation Jesus has given us to God and how we too can reconcile with our brother.

[1] Source: Ulysses Butch Slaughter, http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Am-Estranged-From-My-Family/1676034. Accessed July 28, 2016.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 320.

[3] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 603.

[4] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 198.

[5] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 439.

[6] Hamilton, 320.

[7] Hamilton, 322.

[8] Sailhamer, 198.

[9] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 292.

[10] Hamilton, 325.

[11] Walton, 605.

[12] Wenham, 203.

[13] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 167.

[14] Malcom Gladwell, David and Goliath (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), 254-255.

 


Remember, Deceivers are Deceived!

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

How would you do on a lie detector test? Lie detectors measure the person’s breathing rate, pulse, perspiration and blood pressure and any significant increases may indicate the one being tested is lying. Everybody lies! You might have even lied coming into church today when asked how you were doing and you said, “Fine!” When in reality, you were not doing fine. I hope church can be that place where you actually are honest before God and others.

Apparently there are some people who are stone-cold at lying and can trick a lie-detector just because they are able to regulate their body’s reactions when they lie. You just have to make your body display those symptoms even when you are not lying and it will throw off the detectors. [1] Take the test after exercising and you are sweaty. Step on a thumb tack in your shoe as was done in the movie Ocean’s 13, though I think most polygraph administrators would now make you take off your shoes. Apparently, there are ways to fake out a lie detector. I bet you didn’t think you would learn how to defeat a lie detector test in church today.

The reality is that you and I might be able to fool a lie detector or fool others even in our own families, but we cannot fool God. It reminds me of a story I heard of a family who has a cottage on an island. They were having a fire in their fire pit the night before they were coming home from vacation and so they put out the fire with water and then threw sand over it. The fire was out and they went home. Seven days later a boater was passing by and noticed that trees were on fire on the island. The boater call the fire department and it took 5 hours to put out the fire. Thankfully the cottage was saved. When the fire inspector tried to find the cause of the fire, he dug up the fire pit and found that a root from a tree had been slowly burning underground and with the dry weather, it finally ignited the tree days later. The family was charged and unfortunately required to pay a fine for the expense of the firefighting.

I am wondering if there are any lies that we have told that are smoldering just under the surface ready to turn into an inferno in our lives. This is what happened to Jacob. He had just tricked his father into giving him his older brother’s blessing and now he is on the run from his vengeful brother. He had to be apart from his momma who also protected him. And so we find him in Genesis 29 on the prowl for a wife. Often when we are in a season of deception, we are vulnerable to being deceived ourselves. Mix in being alone and in search for love, and soon we could fall into a trap that could cost us for many years.

This is exactly what happened to Jacob. He was sent by his father to his mother’s hometown to protect him physically and spiritually. Jacob needed physical protection from his brother and he needed spiritual protection from marrying the wrong woman. If he were to marry wives like his brother did from the Canaanites, they would have turned his heart away from God. The bigger picture was that God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of becoming a nation who would live in Canaan would have been in jeopardy. So Jacob sets out to find a wife, not knowing that the root of deception was a cinder underneath the ground wherever he went. Let’s pick up his story in Genesis 29! Read Genesis 29!

Genesis 29 serves first as a warning to us. You might say, “I don’t plan on marrying two sisters, so what can I learn?” You and I can remember that deceivers themselves become deceived and that deception makes us prayerless, mindless graceless and loveless. In other words, deception creates deficits in all areas of our life! The first deficit is in our relationship to God. We see this in how Jacob had an encounter with God when God showed up in a dream with a stairway to heaven. God was offering salvation, but Jacob decided to barter with God. Genesis 28:20-22 describe Jacob’s terms for God, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give I will surely give a tenth to You.” Making deals with God reveals our own self thinking that we are in control of our lives. This story demonstrates just how not in control we are of our lives. When we try to bargain with God and stay in control, our lives spin out of control!

And when we try to bargain with God, we abandon prayer. We set up our deal with God and don’t talk to Him anymore because we are striving to fix our problem in our own strength. It is like signing your mortgage. There is lots of communication with the bank or lending company at the front end and then you don’t talk anymore. I haven’t talked to my mortgage broker for over 4 years since we signed the papers! Jacob didn’t talk to God through this whole episode. Notice how verses 1-30, a span of at least seven years, that there is no mention of God. God seems to be silent because Jacob is silent. Bruce Waltke labels Jacob “the prayerless patriarch!”[2] Ouch! Deception makes us prayerless. Maybe that is where you find yourself today? You don’t talk much to God because there is sin you are trying to cover up. It could have happened years ago. What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now that is the solution? The solution to prayerless deception is confession. You may have had an encounter with God like Jacob did, but you need to specifically confess what you did to God. 1 John 1:6 makes this clear, “If we say that we have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Practicing the truth requires praying for forgiveness.

Sadly, Jacob is not there yet. His quest for a spouse was “solely on the basis of physical attraction, not on the basis of prayer like his father Isaac did when he found his mother as we read in Genesis 24.”[3] And so without prayer and connecting to the mind of God, we become mindless. Jacob loses his mind when he sees Rachel. He flexes his muscles like the guys at the gym pumping iron to capture the attention of the ladies or like the male kangaroo called a “buck” or “boomer” who actually strikes a pose to win over the “doe” or “flyer.”[4] 

In our story, Jacob finds out that the local well is not being used because there is a large stone at the mouth of the well. Verses 2-3 describe that all the flocks were waiting for somebody to remove the large stone. Jacob inquires of the local men two questions: 1) Do they know his uncle Laban? and 2) Why is no one watering the flocks? The first question is answered in verse 5 by the men with a simple, “We know him!” As a side note, when you inquire about somebody and people acknowledge their awareness of a person and yet provide a scarcity of details, it is a clue that something is amiss. Usually people are more than happy to make a connection and give you the details such as, “Oh, yeah I know so and so, they live on such and such a street. I went to school with him or her. He was always nice to me when others picked on me, etc.” Maybe these men have been crossed by Laban as well. Jacob doesn’t pick up on the subtleties. Why? Because Rachel, Laban’s daughter, has arrived and Jacob loses his mind. Scientists, like Lisa Fritscher, tell us that the brain’s chemistry is working overtime in early love, “The ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain goes into hyperdrive, flooding the system with such powerful neurotransmitters. Responsible for feelings of euphoria and intense energy, these chemicals also fuel the somewhat bizarre actions of the newly paired.[5] In Jacob’s case, his bizarre action was to go over and remove the stone so that this shapely shepherdess Rachel can water her flocks. This has led to the belief, “In Jewish tradition that Jacob was a giant with superhuman strength.”[6] Jacob then goes over to Rachel and kisses her. I know this is better than a movie, but Jacob is moving too fast, too soon! In fact Victor Hamilton says, “This is the only instance in the Bible of a man kissing a woman he is not married to.”[7] Kissing puts us on the fast lane to greater sexual expression. Jacob wasn’t thinking straight. And it wasn’t just the desert sun that melted his brain cells; it was his deception of his father. “Sin makes you stupid,” as my dad often reminds me.

Well, Rachel seems to be smitten too with her newly found cousin. You might think that is gross, but young people tend to notice their good-looking relatives. I knew a girl who met her football-playing cousins for the first time and was speechless when she saw all their muscles. Rachel runs off to her dad and tells him the story. Now, Laban wasn’t just glad to meet his nephew, but when he heard the story of Jacob’s strength displayed at the well, he knows that “he has a workman worth his weight in gold.”[8] Of course, Laban invites Jacob to stay with them. After a month, Laban slyly says to Jacob in verse 15, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Jacob’s addled brain misses the subtleties once again. Bruce Waltke gives this insight, “Since a family member would work for nothing as part of contributing to the family’s success, Laban is degrading the blood relationship between himself and Jacob into an economic arrangement. What Laban should have done as a loving relative is to help Jacob get a start on building his own home. Instead, Laban keeps Jacob as nothing more than a labourer under contract.”[9] This would be akin to Ed Hodgins saying to his son-in-law Andrew who is visiting for the weekend that he is going to pay him for his work in helping them move in. Ed wouldn’t offer and Andrew would accept, except for maybe Ed providing supper. That is how families not burdened by deception do it, but families like the clan of Bethuel, Laban’s father and Jacob’s grandfather, are graceless. They never show grace to one another. They are always trying to compete to better the other; working hard for each other’s affection. Does that describe your family? Jesus is offering you an eternity based on grace that filters practically into how you treat each other at home.

Furthermore, Laban and Jacob are graceless when they start bartering for Rachel. Verses 18-20 describe the exchange, “Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” It sounds so romantic, right ladies? But were Rachel or Leah ever consulted? We already know from Genesis 24 that Jacob’s mother Rebekah was consulted by Bethuel and Laban whether she would marry Isaac. Both daughters are treated like their names, livestock used in bartering. Rachel means “ewe lamb” and Leah means, “cow.”[10]

Speaking of Leah we read in verse 17 that “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.” Does this mean that Leah needed glasses? Not necessarily. It would seem that one who needed glasses in the story was Jacob later on! The NIV proposes an alternate translation in its margin that Leah’s eyes were “delicate.” So it could be that she had beautiful eyes, whereas Rachel had the whole package. Bruce Waltke however suggests, “Leah’s eyes lacked the fire and sparkle that Oriental’s prize as beauty.”[11] Studies show that those who “smile with their eyes” are considered highly attractive. I’m concerned that we have bought into the world’s belief that appearance is the top characteristic in a mate. We often choose outer beauty over inner beauty to our detriment. It may be costing us a relationship. It may have seemed providential that Rachel was the one for Jacob, but as it turned out Leah was more beautiful inside. And God blessed her with more children. Verse 31 records, “Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved (lit. “hated”) and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” God was making up the difference. Leah’s fruitfulness included giving birth to Judah, the son out of whose line would arise Jesus – our Saviour and Lord.  We will see throughout this narrative that though Rachel was chosen by Jacob for her outer beauty, Leah was chosen by God to be the more righteous foundress of the nation of Israel.

Jacob was blinded by Rachel’s beauty, which made him susceptible to Laban’s treachery. And yet, I want to keep reminding you that deceivers are deceived and it was Jacob’s deception of his father that made him vulnerable to being deceived. You see the lack of a presence of Jacob’s immediate family was caused by his own deceit and the burning of bridges. God gives you a family to act as guardians for your heart. Jacob’s deception caused the deficit of a relationship to his parents and sibling.

This initial deficit led to greater deficits with the family he started. And I would dare say that fewer marriages and families have got off to a rockier start. After working 7 years for Rachel, finally the wedding day comes. The text doesn’t say that Jacob got drunk, only that “Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast.” (v. 22) However, Jacob being drunk is the most plausible answer, especially after Jacob would have been so hot-to-trot working for Rachel’s hands for 7 years. Alcohol has ruined many relationships, especially the sexual relationship.

Laban sees the opportunity. “Jacob’s past has caught up with him. At a feast, not unlike the one he gave his own father, Jacob is deceived. Blindness allowed for Isaac to be deceived and blindness in the dark of the night allowed Jacob to be deceived. Jacob was able to exchange the younger for the older, and now Laban has reversed the trick and exchanged the older for the younger.”[12] And so Jacob wakes up the morning after his wedding night and finds Leah beside him. This was the first recorded wife swap. The deception cost Jacob another 7 years of labour for Rachel. “So much for Jacob’s hope of returning home with his new wife to show his momma!”[13] However, Jacob and Rachel were probably wed at the end of the week-long wedding to Leah. I can’t imagine either woman to be happy! In fact, we know they were not! “Tension festers into jealousy as each woman has something the other wants (Leah has sons, Rachel has love).”[14]

Deception made Jacob loveless towards Leah. So much so that Leah actually names her sons as a constant reminder of that lovelessness. Her firstborn was named Rueben meaning “Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” (v. 32) You can remember what Reuben’s name by the Reuben sandwich, which has bitter sauerkraut on top of corned beef. I feel afflicted every time I am offered a Reuben sandwich. And then there is Simeon whose names means, “Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved.” And Levi, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (v. 34) As Derek Kidner states, “There are few things more pathetic than the naming of Leah’s first three sons.”[15] You see, children do not take away the feeling of rejection. Even feeling loved and heard by the Lord does not totally mitigate rejection. For those desiring children, may I remind you that the Lord loves you! Unfavoured in the world’s eyes, does not mean unfavoured in God’s eyes. Leah finally learned that lesson when her fourth son was born. She finally found her satisfaction in praising the Lord as she declared in verse 35, “This time I will praise the LORD.” You might be in a loveless marriage, but God wants to rescue others through it and cause you to praise Him!

And here is the Good News: deception may make you prayerless, mindless, graceless and loveless, but God can turn that deception into the pathway of Truth. You see, out of Leah was born Judah whose distant son became Jesus – the Truth, the Way and the Life!  (John 14:6) He enables you to become full of truth rather than deceit. You can become prayerful, mindful, graceful and full of love if you will turn from deceit and follow the truth of Jesus Christ.

So to whom do you identify with in this story? Are you like Jacob? Always trying to make a bargain with God to get what you want out of Him? Are you prayerless because you think you control your life? Have you deceived others and you’re shocked when you find yourself on the receiving end of deception? You must see as Jacob did that God’s will cannot be bartered and bargained for. God would fulfill his covenant promises to Jacob, but he would do it through Leah the wife of his father-in-law’s deception, not Rachel, the wife of Jacob’s fleshly desires. We too are not in control of the blessings of God. Are you like Jacob?

Or are you like Leah? You have tried everything you can think of to get the most important people in your life to simply love you! Yet all you receive is rejection and the feeling of being used – starting with you parents and continuing with your spouse. You too like Leah must realize that your identity does not come from the love and acceptance of others, but the love and acceptance of the Lord. We must lay aside our striving and finally say, “This time I will praise the Lord!” It was with the birth of Judah that Leah accepted this and it was with the birth of Judah that God would establish the lineage of Leah’s Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ! Are you like Leah?

Or are you like Rachel? Your life could be perfect, but God won’t give you the one thing you think He owes you? And so you leverage everything you’ve got to grasp for it, but it remains out of reach. As we will see later in the saga of Jacob and his wives, Rachel will do her own wrestling with God and God will pour out his grace upon her in his own perfect timing.

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There is much for us to learn about ourselves and our God in this story! Choose truth over lies! Choose Jesus over deception!


[2] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 405.

[3] Waltke, 401.

[6] Waltke, 401.

[7] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 256.

[8] Waltke, 402.

[9] Waltke, 404.

[10] Waltke, 405.

[11]  Waltke, 405.

[12] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 194.

[13] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 237.

[14] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 587.

[15] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 161.

 


Are You on the Stairway to Heaven?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

What is the best stairway you have ever been on? Maybe you came down the stairs in your prom dress or even better, your wedding dress? Maybe you climbed up some stairs to your apartment where a surprise birthday party awaited you? Maybe you were in a building that needed to be evacuated and you found the stairway that led to safety? I think of those who were able to get down the stairways in the Twin Towers during 9/11! But one of my favourite stairways was in my grandparents’ house. They actually had two stairways. One went down to the creepy basement where the pickling jars and cobwebs were in abundance. Anybody been in one of those types of basements? The other stairway at my grandparents’ house led to the upstairs bedrooms. It was a narrow wooden stairs with a strip of patterned carpet. It led to rooms with treasures such as old toys. Toy guns and farm equipment. As I got a little older another feature to the stairs was added. My grandfather started to have trouble walking, especially navigating that old staircase, so he got an electric chair lift to get up and down to his bedroom. As a young boy, it was so neat to sit in his lap and go up or down the stairs secure in his arms.

However, the chair lift might have been fun for me, but for others it was a difficult obstacle to navigate, which is probably why my parents have bought homes these last thirty years with no stairs to a second floor. You see, stairs can be a gateway to a world unexplored or an insurmountable obstacle. This is not only true in the physical realm, but also the spiritual realm. Do you realize that there is also a stairway to heaven? No, I am not talking about the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven” where “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”[1] The stairway I’m talking about can’t be bought, even with gold. This stairway I am talking about is found in the Bible in Genesis 28. And today we are going to find out that this stairway to heaven is available for everyone to take no matter how bad you are. It is less one you climb and instead one you are carried up just like how my grandfather carried me up the stairs. The first one to encounter this stairway was a guy by the name of Jacob at one of the darkest moments of his life when he was alone at night. Jacob’s name means deceiver and he lived up to his name. He even deceived his blind, dying father out of the blessing intended for his older brother. And yet, Jacob discovers the stairway to heaven and so will we as read Genesis 28. I believe some of you are going to discover you are not on the stairway to heaven and today God will lift you on. Read Genesis 28!

How do you make it up the stairway to heaven? Five steps: 1) Leave temptation and sin behind; 2) Wait for God to show up to help you up; 3) Acknowledge God; 4) Believe in God’s promises and 5) Commit to God by putting Him first. Let’s start with the first step – leave temptation and sin behind. Home for Jacob was a dangerous place. Sometimes that is true for us too and it can be self-inflicted. Maybe we are fine when we are at work or out in the community, but there is some temptation to sin at home. It could be gluttony at the refrigerator. It could be a TV, tablet or computer screen that is a portal of evil into your home when you guard is down. It could be that at home you stop being nice and spew all sorts of harmful venom at your family.

Jacob was a full-blown deceiver under his parents’ roof. And because of that his older brother Esau wanted to kill him as Genesis 27:41 records, “So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” Jacob had brought this security risk upon himself, but the other security risk was to his future children. Genesis 27:46 identifies that risk, “Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land (notice the repetition to emphasize their Canaanite origin), what good will my life be to me?” “Rebekah essentially says to Isaac, ‘You do not want a third Hittite daughter-in-law do you, Isaac?”[2] Now, this wasn’t just about Jacob marrying a girl that pleased his mom and dad. No, this was about the fact that a Hittite wife would draw Jacob’s heart further away from God. “Jacob must marry someone outside the land to reduce the risk of assimilation.”[3] The whole covenantal promise to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and his father Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) would be in jeopardy. Friends, often we have to leave home behind because it keeps us from following God completely.

Jesus taught this in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” This is why it is so hard to follow Jesus. Jacob had to leave behind the temptation of finding a hot Hittite girl who would make his heart stone cold towards God. As Bruce Waltke teaches, “Accommodation is as great a threat as persecution to the community of faith.”[4] Jacob was susceptible to accommodation so he had to leave. Leaving would have been doubly hard because he was close to his momma. You see, “Behind Jacob lays Beersheba, where Esau waits to kill him, ahead of him is Haran where Laban waits to exploit him. He is situated between a death camp and a hard-labour camp,”[5] as one commentator describes it. So you are getting the picture of the struggle.

The first step in the stairway to heaven is leaving temptation and sin behind. What temptation and sin do you need to leave behind? It has to be radical surgery. As Jesus taught, If your right hand (the one representing your strength and power) makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30) The trouble we have is the second part of throwing it away. We keep going back to the offending part of life that causes us to stumble. We have to get rid of it. Just like when my son Noah found drug paraphernalia in a park yesterday. We had to take those drugs to the police station so they would not be a temptation to anyone anymore. In Jacob’s case, his greatest strength was his mother, but she was also his greatest stumbling block. She conspired with him to take away Esau’s blessing. Jacob needed to get away from Rebekah and from the Canaanite girls. Temptation and sin is both in the home and in our community.

When Jacob left temptation and sin behind, he was immediately blessed. Isaac pronounced a blessing over him in verses 3-4, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” Isaac was passing on the blessing he received from his father. It was the legacy of land and the promise of becoming God’s people. Though that promise of possessions and people is not guaranteed on this earth, it is up in the heaven. We are called co-heirs with Christ and we will dwell with God and His people in the new heavens and new earth forever (Romans 8:17). Obedience always brings blessing even if the blessing takes years to realize. This is why the second step is to wait for God to show up.

Contrast this truth with Esau. Verses 6-7 record, “Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take himself a wife from there and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan.’ So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael.” What a bad choice! You know the saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a ___________?” Esau tried to fix his problem, but went to the wrong source in finding a wife, not in the line of the son of promise. Commentators agree that this was a mistake by Esau. Victor Hamilton remarks, “Esau’s marital liaisons have disqualified him from both the birthright and blessing and confirm the correctness of the divine choice of Jacob over Esau.”[6] Derek Kidner also comments, “To take a third wife, even though an Ishmaelite was better than a Hittite, was hardly the way back to blessing.”[7] Can you imagine if Esau would have left sin and temptation behind before he married the Canaanite girls? What if he would have gone to his uncle Laban? Laban did have two daughters. History would have been changed big time! Instead, Esau went down a foolish path further and followed his grandfather’s practice of polygamy that his father Isaac had abandoned.

Jacob though made it up the next step on the stairway to heaven. He waited for God to show up! Now it would be good for me to correct something that maybe you are thinking. When I talk about making it up the stairway to heaven, it may appear that if we just do these certain steps we will achieve a great after-life. No, waiting for God to show up evidences that there is nothing we can do to get right with God on our own. In fact in Jacob’s case, he is asleep when God shows up. Verses 11-12 describes, “Jacob came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” God shows up in a dream with a stairway to heaven traversed by angels. Those angels are “an assurance of God’s protection of Jacob all the way to heaven.”[8] “God takes the initiative and surprises Jacob with the dream of salvation. And notice that God’s revelation requires no scheming from Jacob.”[9] And this is still true today. God is the initiator in finding you and rescuing you. There is nothing you can do to rescue yourself. You need Jacob’s greatest Son Jesus to do it for you!

In Jacob’s case, God was going to do it for him. Jacob wasn’t even aware of God’s presence and often we aren’t. And yet God gives massive promises to the conniving Jacob in verses 13-15, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land of which you live, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised.” Bruce Waltke summarizes these promises as “God’s presence, preservation and protection.”[10]

Jacob makes the next two steps on the stairway to heaven quickly – he acknowledges God and believes in God’s promises (sort of). Verse 17 records Jacob being fearful of God for the first time, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He then builds an altar and names the place Bethel, which means house of God. Again to make it up the stairway to heaven, we must do what? 1) Leave temptation and sin behind; 2) wait for God to show up; 3) acknowledge God; and 4) believe in God’s promises. Jacob does all these, though the last one depends on how one reads the text – a declaration or a condition. Check out verses 20-22, “Then Jacob made a vow saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Most scholars believe Jacob is bartering with God. John Walton declares, “In contrast to God’s placing conditions on Abraham so that the promises can be realized, Jacob puts conditions on God before God can become the ‘beneficiary’ of the promises Jacob offers. In his vow, he presumes on the grace of God. Everything is backward here, and it is an intolerable situation that will have to be fixed before God can proceed with Jacob. Jacob is still more scoundrel than saint.”[11]

Nevertheless, my perspective is that Jacob is making progress upward to God. We need to remember that sanctification is not instantaneous from an earthly practical standpoint. It was like the young woman I heard of who grew up sniffing glue as an addict and then she came to faith in Christ. Three months later she slipped up and sniffed glue again. Her disciplers were discouraged until they talked to a pastor who was a former drug dealer. The pastor reminded them that for her to be off drugs for even 3 months was a miracle. That’s a different perspective. Often our sanctification is a gradual process. We may get tripped up on the stairway to heaven, but “the righteous person, though he fall seven times, will rise again.” (Proverbs 24:16) Jacob at least is starting to put God first and promises God a tithe or 10% of whatever he makes. To make it up to that top step before heaven, we must put God first. That usually takes awhile!

I conclude by retelling the Grimm Brothers’ story of the Fisherman and His Wife:[12] A poor fisherman once lived in a ramshackle hut by the docks with his wife, a cantankerous woman with pretensions to greatness had she not been held back by the social station of her husband’s humble occupation and paltry income. One day while fishing, the man caught a fish of unusual size and coloring. He thought that he might be able to get two meagre meals out of it for himself and his wife, so he was happy. How surprised he was when the fish spoke to him as it lay in the bottom of the boat. ‘Throw me back,’ it pleaded, ‘for I am a magic fish. If you spare my life, I will grant you any wish.’

The man was of a charitable nature and agreed to the fish’s suggestion. But being a contented man, he could not think of a wish. Finally, he suggested that perhaps the fish could give him a new hut with no cracks between the boards so that he and his wife would not be so cold in winter months when the chill sea breeze rattled their bones. The fish said his new hut would be waiting for him when he arrived home. Moreover, if he thought of any other wish, he could come to the dock and call to the fish, and his wish would be granted.

When the man got home, his wife was curious about what circumstances had suddenly transformed their dilapidated shack into this fine sturdy one. The man told the story. But as he recounted the details, the wife’s face grew redder and redder until it looked as if she was about to burst. ‘A pitiful excuse for a husband you are if you cannot take any more concern for your poor wife’s welfare than to make her live in a fisherman’s hut, however sturdy it may be. If you cared about me at all, you might at least have asked for a cozy little house with a green front door and a fireplace to warm ourselves by.’ The man felt chastened at his thoughtlessness and agreed to go back to the fish the next day to see if he would provide the cozy cottage his wife described.

When he told the fish of his wife’s request, the fish responded with a flip of his tail that it was done. He thanked the man again for saving his life and wished him well in his new little cottage. The man returned home glad that the matter was settled. But on arriving home, he found that all was not well. His wife was pacing around in front of the fireplace but dissatisfied. Now she wanted a mansion. So the next day found the man back on the dock talking to the magic fish. With apologies he explained the situation, but the fish showed no irritation as he granted this wish as easily as he had the others.

But as might be expected, soon even the mansion was unacceptable. The wife wanted a castle, complete with a ballroom. The man shuffled slowly to the docks the next day, his mind reeling humiliation at what he was to ask. The fish appeared, and if a fish’s face could show pity, that is what you would have seen. The fisherman sadly and reluctantly conveyed his wife’s latest demand and the fish only replied, ‘Then a castle is what you shall have.’

The first ball was that night and all the finest lords and ladies attended. It was a lavish affair enjoyed by all, but the next morning the wife spoke again to her husband, ‘Our castle is magnificent and the ball was grand, but we are still a fisherman and his wife and are not accepted by the fine folk of society. Tell the fish to make us charming and appealing in the eyes of our society.’

The man delayed going to the docks as long as he dared, but knew he could not face his wife without speaking to the fish. At his call the fish emerged and asked what was to be done. It took some time and persuasion for the fish to convince the man to blurt out the latest request: ‘My wife wants you to give us the social station becoming to our home.’ The fish grinned, if fish can grin, flipped its tail and declared it was done.

When the fisherman returned home, he was surprised to find his wife sitting outside their original dilapidated shack. She had been crying, but then she looked into her husband’s eyes, it was clear that she was a wiser woman. The fish had indeed granted their wish – their social station was becoming to their home. Having come to respect herself and her husband for who they were, the woman was never again discontent but enjoyed the life of a fisherman’s wife.”[13]

This story reminds me of another ladder that so many are trying to climb – the ladder of success. Jacob’s ladder is opposite. The stairway to heaven requires us to leave sin and temptation behind instead of trying to get bigger and better. We are wait for God to show up rather than treat Him like a magic fish who owes us perpetually. We are to acknowledge God and believe in His promises and we are to put Him first.

Our Lord did this, which is why He is the Way to Heaven. Because we never really could climb a stairway to heaven, which is why our Saviour descended to come to us. We like Jacob and the Fisherman’s wife were stuck in our pride and selfishness and heaven was out of reach. So Jesus was the first to climb that stairway whereas Jacob merely watched angels do it. You see, Jesus always left sin and temptation behind, He waited on God and acknowledged Him in all He did, He believed God’s promises (even the one of God raising Him from the dead) and He always committed to putting God first.

And because Jesus did, you can eat. You can eat at the Lord’s Table. Jacob waited to be all in if God would come through and “give him food to eat and garments to wear” (v. 20). The good news is that God came through for Jacob and He came through for us by clothing us with His righteousness and giving us His body to eat and blood to drink representing His salvation. So come eat.

[1] Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven” Song, Released November 8, 1971.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 234.

[3] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 570.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 385.

[5] Waltke, 388.

[6] Hamilton, 235.

[7] Derek Kidner, Genesis – An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries) (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 157.

[8] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 222.

[9] Waltke, 392.

[10] Waltke, 392.

[11] Walton, 574.

[12] Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale The Fisherman and His Wife.

[13] Walton, 574-576.


Burying the Old Results in Resurrection

This sermon was preached on Canada Day weekend at our outdoor service! (Please excuse the delay in posting the sermon.)

A lot has changed in our country. At one time, we could pull one and two dollar bills out of our wallets to pay for things. How many remember $1 or $2 bills? Now we pay with loonie and twonie coins. At one time, we had pennies, now they cost us more to print than they are worth. At one time, our major concerns were free trade and the environment. Though those are still important, security of our nation in light of terrorism has become a priority. The divide between French and English and the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada used to be the hot topic. Now, the topic is how do we bring in enough immigrants to sustain us since our birth rates are so low? I know our church is very excited to be sponsoring a refugee family from Eritrea who arrives tomorrow morning after being in a refugee camp in the Sudan for at least 17 years. Our need for immigration has caused pluralism to be a priority. Canada has changed. Our economy has changed from the original fur trade to the oil trade, but what drives our economy is the service sector. Despite being service oriented, our morality has changed to become very self-focused. We forget that when we want doctors to help us assist with suicide that we don’t foresee all the lives that we inspire when we don’t give up against disease and death. Life shouldn’t be Me before You. We also have left Jesus’ teaching that our love is not to be proudly paraded, but done so in secret where we can’t be rewarded for our acts of kindness. So what do we do with all this change in our country?

Not only has our country changed, so has our church. Tonight we recognize that fact. We want to honour the past. This is why at the end of the service we will be burying a time capsule. Included in the time capsule is a history of our church, our academy and our bus ministry. Many in our community at one time either went to our academy or came to church on one of our buses. I am so thankful for the foundation our founding members and all those who were faithful to God’s Word in the past. We don’t want to forget them because God doesn’t forget them. We stand on the shoulders of giants and so we are burying a time capsule and I promise that we won’t forget where the time capsule is buried like what was front-page news[1] this week in Cambridge with St. Margaret Catholic School that buried their time capsule, but forgot where it was. We won’t forget, but even if we do, there is something we commit to remembering. We must remember that our ultimate foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the rock, the Cornerstone, that doesn’t change!

And it is His words that I think help us the most in dealing with change. Jesus said a lot of important things, but the words I want to focus on occurred during one of the biggest holidays in Jesus’ day – Passover. Here is what we read in the Bible in John 12:20-26, “Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee and began to ask him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.” Let me stop there! The Greeks in that day were considered outsiders in the land of Israel. This was a Jewish festival and yet the Greeks wanted to join the festivities. Maybe that describes some of you tonight? You are not part of our church, but you are here! I want to say that you are very welcome. Maybe some of you like the Greeks in that day, wish to see Jesus! Maybe you don’t even feel worthy to see Jesus so you are going through a mediator or advocate. That is what the Greeks did! They went through Philip. And then Philip went to Andrew and they both went to Jesus. I have some Good News for you tonight that to see Jesus, none of you have to go through any red tape like you might when interacting with the government. You don’t need to go through a priest or a pastor. You can go directly to Jesus and have an encounter with Him. However, the church is still here as a support and guide for you to come to Jesus. We have your back. We welcome the outsider because Jesus welcomed us when we were outsiders.

In fact, Jesus is alive and is still personally welcoming people to God. Here is what He said in John 12:23-26 to Andrew and Philip, which still rings true today: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Seeds are amazing. Often they are beautiful, attractive and sweet to the taste, which is why many plants surround their seeds with fruit. Sometimes the seeds themselves taste good and are nutritious. I know the baseball team I coach loves sunflower seeds. We have a tradition of keeping a few bags of sunflower seeds in the dugout for everyone to grab a mouthful and to eat and spit out. Hey, its baseball! There is always spitting in baseball. Remember that when we play our baseball game afterwards. But for now, I want you to remember that seeds are amazing! And yet, the whole purpose of a seed is to die!

This is what Jesus was teaching, but He made it personal. You see, He was the ultimate seed. He was attractive like fruit. His teachings have nourished people like no other teacher. However, He was more than a teacher. He was the Son of Man, a reference to being the ultimate man. He was the God-man, the Son of God. And this is why there is a promise that if we serve Jesus, God the Father will honour us! But first we need to believe that Jesus, like a seed, had to die. He died for the sins of the whole world and that includes you and me! His death has brought about fruit that has multiplied from 12 original disciples to the billions down through the centuries.

Jesus “hated” His life in this world so that we would be able to have a life with Him in the new world, the eternal new heavens and new earth. When I say, Jesus “hated” his life, I do not mean He lived a life of despair, but He knew that there was something better to live for. That better life was the one He gained when He was resurrected from the dead. This is why burying the old brings about resurrection. Maybe there is something you need to bury to bring about resurrection in your life? It could be a besetting sin. It could be unforgiveness. Or it could be your life as a whole, where you finally recognize that only by surrendering your life, dying to self and following Jesus as your Resurrected Lord will you find new life.

But what about the past? Maybe you are holding onto the past because that is what is comfortable and feels secure in an ever-changing world. This reminds me of a group of people who were exiled from their home country and then returned. The Jews were exiled to Babylon but returned to the Promised Land. What they found was disturbing! I can relate because I grew up in Canada and then left for 9 years to go to school in the U.S. When I came back I struggled with our more lax morality. Things and perspectives had changed. Conservative Canada was no longer conservative and I don’t mean that politically. We had adopted a more relativistic view that each individual determines what was right in his or her own eyes. I found that unsettling. Likewise the Jews found a temple in ruins and when it was rebuilt, it was not to its former glory. Haggai 2:3, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does is it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But then God goes onto say, “Take courage and work, for I am with you… My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear.” (Haggai 2:4-5) Burying the old brings about resurrection. God wants to do a new thing in your life. It may look different, very different, than before, but it will bring about a resurrection. Only by surrendering to Jesus will you find new life.

Tonight we celebrate living in a free Canada. But we need to remember that somebody died to make us free. People fought for our freedom. And we need to remember that even more so, Jesus fought for our freedom. He became the seed that died so that we may be changed and live fruitful lives.

[1] Source: http://www.cambridgetimes.ca/community-story/6746587-st-margaret-school-s-mystery-of-the-missing-time-capsule/. Accessed July 2, 2016.


Are You Seeking a Blessing?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

John Gowder Jr. was working hard at being an electrician in his family business, but there was a growing tension with his father over the business when he learned that his father John Gowder Sr. was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS for short). John Jr. watched as his dad, a strong and capable man who had provided for his family his whole working life, was now bound in a wheelchair due to a deteriorating body. In order to take care of his dad, he and his wife moved in with his father. One day they were watching the TV show “American Ninja Warrior” together and his dad thought the athletes trying to complete the obstacle course were amazing. John Jr. got the idea that he would attempt to become an American Ninja Warrior to make his dad proud of him. John Jr. got through all the tryouts and actually competed in Philadelphia on the TV show. It was so cool to watch this son compete for his dad. His dad wore a bright orange shirt that said, “My son is a ninja!” In the interview afterward, John’s dad said that he was proud of his son and gave him a hug, even though John Jr. didn’t quite make it through the very challenging obstacle course. Man, that brought a tear to my eyes! A father was proud of his son, not just for what he did, but who he was![1]

The Gowder’s demonstrate how much of our lives are spent in an effort to receive a blessing or approval from our parents. Gary Smalley and John Trent have discovered, “For almost all children who miss out on their parents’ blessing, at some level this lack of acceptance sets off a lifelong search.”[2] One radio preacher puts it this way, “We all want a blessing! A blessing is defined as seeking our parents’ approval and vision that goes beyond an acknowledgement of our accomplishments but to who we are. For example, a toddler making a sand castle will run over to their parents after it is done and ask, “Mommy and Daddy, look what I did!” They want their parents to make over them. Teenagers going to the prom or graduating from Grade 8 will come out of their room from getting dressed eager to hear praise from their parents’ lips about how beautiful or handsome they are. Newlyweds buying a new home or car can’t wait to show their parents the reward for their hard work.”[3] Also, new parents can’t wait to present their baby to their own parents, especially if the baby is the first grandchild in the family. Children come home with that new college or post-graduate degree hoping it meets with their parents’ approval. Even when we are old, we seek the blessing and approval of others. I can still remember my grandparents proudly showing off their big garden to us as a family when we go back east each summer. So this raises some questions: What blessing are you seeking? What blessing are you giving?

This morning we are going to study a story from Genesis 27 of two sons seeking a blessing from their father. It will teach us a lot about what to do and not to do to create family harmony, but more importantly, it is going to teach us about the importance of blessing one another. I believe this has life-changing implications for you and for our church. You see, “both praise and criticism seem to trickle down through the generations.”[4] A lack of blessing can lead to favouritism, sibling rivalry, marital discord and ultimately a break up of the family. As counsellors Gary Smalley and John Trent have observed, “The terrible fact is that most people who missed out on their parents’ blessing have great emotional difficulty leaving home. The unmet need for personal acceptance can keep a person emotionally chained to his or her parents’ home, unable to genuinely cleave to another person in a lasting relationship.”[5] Do you see how “the blessing” is a major driver in your life? It is either motivating you to do what you do at work or school to receive it or maybe your family is being torn apart because the blessing has not been received. Let’s read Genesis 27 to find out the importance of seeking and giving a blessing! Read Genesis 27!

There comes a point in a person’s life when you want to pass on a legacy. You might be 40 or 50, but certainly in your 60s, you start to think about things that will outlast you. That is how Isaac felt. This is why he called his oldest son Esau to him. My dad has given me that talk. It kind went like this, “Jonathan, I need to tell you something. I went to the doctor and he told me I have prostate cancer. You need to take care of your mother if I go home to be with Jesus.” The rest of the conversation was just for my dad and my ears, but I can say this, I have his blessing and approval and other than my Heavenly Father’s approval, nothing has meant more to me my whole life. He always told me whenever I did something, “Jonathan, just do your best and no matter how you do, I still love you.” Those words gave me so much confidence in life. Whether it was failing to deliver a good pitch in baseball or a good sermon in church or anything else, I know that my dad loves me and is proud of me. My dad has passed on the blessing to me, which makes him an outstanding father.

Isaac was a good father on one level when he brought Esau before him as Isaac sensed his life coming to an end. However, it would still be “another 80 years before Isaac died”[6] (Genesis 35:28-29). Nevertheless, we can learn from Isaac that it is better to give the blessing sooner rather than later. Remember, my second question: what blessing are you giving?

Isaac wanted to give a blessing to his son Esau at the expense of his other son Jacob. Jacob wasn’t supposed to be a part of the blessing ceremony, at least not by invitation. You see, the custom of the day was the oldest son had the birthright, which meant a double portion of the inheritance. Esau was supposed to get two-thirds of everything, while Jacob would get one-third. However, Esau came in one day from being out in the field so hungry that when he saw Jacob making some stew, Jacob took advantage of his brother’s hunger, and requested Esau’s birthright for the stew (Genesis 25:27-34). (As an aside, notice the pursuit of food and temporary pleasure were roadblocks for blessing in this family. Maybe they are in your family as well as you have your eyes on things that don’t last?)

Now in the story of Jacob and Esau, we see Jacob’s wickedness. A good brother would have gladly fed his hungry brother, but Jacob was an opportunist first and when he saw that for essentially a can of Campbell’s soup, he could get two shares of the inheritance, he went for it. Esau, who lived by his stomach, took the deal. Maybe this is why years later Isaac called only Esau to his side. Isaac knew that Jacob had the birthright, but maybe Isaac thought that Esau could get his blessing. Or maybe Isaac just liked Esau better. Esau was a man’s man. He was a hairy outdoorsman – a mighty hunter. Jacob was a smooth-skinned Mama’s boy, who would have tried out for the TV show Masterchef! It is hard not to favour children you share an affinity with. Isaac favoured Esau, especially since both shared the same god – their stomach. Such favouritism is divisive because it causes everybody to choose sides. Remember, a lack of blessing can lead to favouritism, sibling rivalry, marital discord and ultimately a break up of the family.

We see this in how after Isaac chose Esau over Jacob, Rebekah chose Jacob over Esau. There could be a number of reasons for this: Rebekah and Jacob’s shared affinity for cooking. Or maybe Rebekah favoured Jacob because he was the youngest – her baby? Or maybe Rebekah was protecting the covenant that God had made with the family? You see, Esau had married two Hittite wives as Genesis 26:35 records, “and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Maybe Rebekah didn’t want the blessing to fall to Esau and his two wives who had no regard for the things of God? We can’t be certain, but what we do know is “Esau made life bitter for Rebekah by marriage and in turn Rebekah made life bitter for Esau by manipulation. Both son and mother are involved in the no-win game of one-up-manship.”[7] And as we know, no one gets blessed in that game! In our story, Isaac and Rebekah are divided. She plots to deceive her husband. Jacob himself is a deceiver and tricks his father. As Bruce Waltke remarks, “He has no qualms about the morality of the plan, only about its feasibility. Later on, Jacob wrestles with God, but wrestles little with his mother or his conscience.”[8] I believe this is because Jacob did not consider his father’s God his God. Notice how verse 20 records the second person pronoun “your”: “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” Jacob even lies to his father by invoking God’s name! And even though Jacob deceived his father, his ruse would soon be found out. As John Walton reminds us, “Duplicity cannot be forever sustained. A person’s true character will emerge.”[9] All this costs big time. Esau wants to kill Jacob. The curse that Rebekah put on herself in verse 13 was fulfilled in that she never got to see Jacob again as he has to flee Esau’s wrath. All seems to be lost including God’s promised blessing of establishing Abraham’s descendants in the land of Canaan. Esau’s indifference to the blessing and his Hittite wives would lead him astray. Isaac is at the end of his life with no chance for more children. And now his other son Jacob is on the run and has left Canaan. “The plan is in danger of not succeeding right up to the end.”[10]

But we need to remember that God’s blessing is based on His Word, not us keeping ours. That does not mean we shouldn’t keep our word, but that when we don’t keep it, He offers us an irrevocable blessing that fulfills His promises and plans for us. This is why Esau couldn’t get another blessing after Jacob had stolen it. There was one plan and One Man to redeem God’s people and it was to come through Jacob. Esau didn’t care about the birthright so it fell to Jacob and God used Esau’s indifference to produce a Messianic line through Jacob that would actually save some of Esau’s descendants. God saves some from every tribe, tongue and nation, including Esau’s. Isn’t God brilliant in His redemptive plan of blessing Jacob?

Let’s find out more about this blessing and how we can give it to others. I am going to adapt Gary Smalley, John Trent and James MacDonald’s 5 basic parts of the blessing[11]:

  • Meaningful Touch (Genesis 27:26-27a)
  • A Spoken Message (Genesis 27:27b-29)
  • Personal Affirmation (Genesis 27:27b)
  • Spiritual Vision (Genesis 27:28)
  • Multiply the blessing (Genesis 27:29)

Quickly, let me unpack this blessing by calling up one of my children. First, we need to give a meaningful touch. When you call somebody to yourself and lay hands on them in an appropriate way, you have their attention. In the case of Isaac, he and Jacob kissed as verse 26 and 27 describe. Some authors see this more like a “bear hug, not some Aunt Martha’s side hug.”[12] The Hebrew word has the idea “of armies drawn together in battle. It is even used to picture the overlapping scales on a crocodiles’ skin.”[13] You have to get close to pass on God’s blessing. Parents, you need to lay your hands on your children and communicate that you love them. Temple, you need to appropriately and lovingly put your arm around your hurting neighbour.

The first part of the blessing is what? Meaningful touch! The second part of the blessing is a spoken message. This is required. “In the Scriptures, a blessing is not a blessing unless it is spoken.”[14] You have to say the words, “I love you! I bless you!” Those are tough words to spit out if you never heard them yourselves, but today is a new day for your family. Parents, you need to put your hands on your kids and say, “I love you! I bless you! My prayer for you is that you would make a difference in God’s kingdom; that your heart, mind and soul would be laser-focused on God and His ways.” You can put such a blessing in your own words, but you must ask God to bless the person.

And yet, there is more to the blessing than just expressing your love both through meaningful touch and words. A blessing needs to affirm the uniqueness about the person. Like how Isaac said to Jacob in verse 27, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field, which the Lord has blessed.” But this immediately raises a question: Isaac was invoking a blessing on the wrong son being deceived by the smell of his outdoor garments. Isaac was applying a blessing on his homebody son Jacob, which should have been only given to his outdoorsman son Esau. Here is what we need to understand: the blessing is not based on a person’s character or competencies, but by the will of the blesser. Simply put, a blessing is based on grace not works. We already know that Esau was not worthy of the blessing even though in this instance he was obedient to his father’s request for a wild game dinner. And we certainly know that Jacob wasn’t worthy of the blessing. No, the blessing was given as an act of grace by Isaac! This is also true with God’s blessing. God’s blessing is not based on what we do or don’t do for him, but on His grace. Even Jesus, the perfect One, was blessed by His Father before He started His earthly public ministry. Recall the words from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, “This is My Son, whom I love and in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

Speaking a blessing of grace over someone will often change their life and direction. It did for Jacob. Isaac unknowingly blesses Jacob to be a man of the field and that is what Jacob would soon became. He went to his uncle Laban’s and become a shepherd and finally learned how to protect, provide and care for sheep as well as people. Before that, Jacob was only ever concerned about himself. Giving that meaningful touch and message as well as personally affirming somebody will change their life.

What is the next part of the blessing? Spiritual Vision! One can bless their children with vision, but what matters most is a spiritual vision. A vision that is empowered by God and ensures the vision turns to reality. Only a vision of God’s blessing will truly accomplish something lasting and eternal. This is what Isaac does! Verse 7 records Isaac’s command to Esau, “Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.” Then in verse 28 Isaac says, “Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine.” As James MacDonald says, “This was a blessing more than just to feed Jacob. It was a prayer to connect the blessings of life to God as the Giver.”[15] This blessing wasn’t only about physical prosperity, but the ability to recognize that prosperity only comes from God. Are you giving your loved ones a spiritual vision? Something that extends beyond health and wealth and the things of this world?

The last part of the vision is to multiply it. Christians are never to be a lake of blessing, but a river of blessing. We are blessed to be a blessing. This is why the end of verse 29 emphasizes that blessing extends beyond Jacob. Isaac projects that Jacob would have “the nations bow down to him and he would be a master to his brothers.” But this is peculiar because Jacob was on the run and he had only one brother. However, this blessing was not just for Jacob, but his son Joseph who would become Egypt’s Prime Minister and his own brothers would bow down to him. Furthermore, this blessing would be ultimately fulfilled by Jacob’s future son Jesus. This blessing was to be passed onto others. Friends, when you receive a blessing from God don’t hoard it, but pass it onto others.

You see, AS GOD’S CHILDREN WE DON’T HAVE TO COMPETE FOR A BLESSING BECAUSE WE ALL SHARE IN THE BLESSING! You see, there was another Son who was blessed by His Father, but He didn’t need to trick His Father to get the blessing. And He wasn’t trying to rob His brothers from the blessing, but actually get the blessing for His brothers and sisters. Who am I talking about? Jesus! Jesus received the blessing from His Father in order to share with us. This is despite the fact that like Jacob, Jesus’ brethren wanted to kill Him. But one of the differences between Jacob and Jesus was that they succeeded in killing Jesus. Yet, His Father rescued Him from the grave and amazingly Jesus still wanted to share that blessing with us. This is the best news you and I could receive. Your blessing has been redeemed, bought back by Jesus. Now, He wants to speak a blessing over you. This is why right now we are asking all of you who are missing that blessing to come forward and have our Elders pray with you. Some of you need to receive God’s ultimate blessing of becoming one of His children. Others of you need to come forward and have our Elders and their wives pray a blessing over you because you never received it from your earthly parents. No longer do you need to feel cursed and missing the blessing. Come forward and be blessed! And then you can truly do what you were called to in this world – bless others!

[1] Source: http://www.ctv.ca/AmericanNinjaWarrior/video.aspx?vid=898903. Minutes 37-41! Accessed June 28, 2016.

[2] Gary Smalley & John Trent, The Blessing (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), 14.

[3] James MacDonald, “Seven Words to Change Your Family – The Blessing,” Radio Sermon, November 25, 2015.

[4] Smalley & Trent, 59.

[5] Smalley & Trent, 19.

[6] Bruce Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 376.

[7] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Chapters 18-50)NICOT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 217.

[8] Waltke, 378.

[9] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 565.

[10] John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 191.

[11] Smalley & Trent, 24. As well as James MacDonald, “The Perfect Gift,” Online devotional – http://www.jamesmacdonald.com/teaching/devotionals/2016-05-16/. Accessed June 29, 2016.

[12] Smalley & Trent, 37.

[13] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles A Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), 139.

[14] Smalley & Trent, 50.

[15] Source: http://www.jamesmacdonald.com/teaching/devotionals/2016-05-16/.


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