When Our Plans Change, God Works!
June 20, 2014, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

When Our Plans Change, God Works!

I once stood before a homecoming crowd at half-time of a basketball game to share my thoughts about what the school meant to me. I was talking to many of my students, both past and current, as well as parents and teachers. Not only had I and my wife taught many years at the school, but our children and grandchildren had attended. At the end of my message, I talked about what my future would be. I planned on working full time until I retired at seventy, working part time until eighty-five, and then being a pastor of a church. That was my plan and I’m sure God must have smiled because His plans were different. By the end of the school year, I was heading in a different direction which took me at times to a place of doubt and uncertainty. It was at that point, God took control. Sometimes, maybe many times, life takes us on a different path than our plan. God works through those difficult times to accomplish His will in our lives. On example in the Bible is the story of Jacob and Rachel.

The story found in Genesis 29 is simple. God, through Isaac, directed Jacob away from his comfort zone to Haran, the homeland of Rebekah and Isaac. He was going to see Laban, Rebekah’s brother, and to seek a wife. God brought the one to whom Jacob should marry, Rachel, who was doing her everyday task of watering the sheep. It was an everyday event in the life of Rachel that intersected with a returning “cousin” who was looking for someone from his homeland to marry. After a kiss of greeting, Rachel ran to tell her dad, Laban, that Rebekah’s son, Jacob had come home. In Laban, Jacob met his match. They were two cut from the same cloth. As much as a deceiver and con man that Jacob was, Laban was more. Compared to Laban, the doctor of deceit, Jacob was still in elementary school. His world would be changed was he reaped the fruit of a lifetime of sowing deceit. After a discussion with Laban, Jacob agreed to work seven years for Rachel. Although the work was tough, because of his love for Rachel, to Jacob the seven years seemed like only a few days. So after the seven years, Jacob wanted Rachel, and was given a veiled girl at the end of the day. When the next morning came, Jacob realized that the beloved wife Rachel wasn’t Rachel but her older sister, Leah. The wool had been pulled over Jacob’s eyes and he was devastated by being deceived. The thing I noticed was how Laban blew off the deceit as nothing big. Just like Jacob had always done. In fact, he told Jacob that it was because Leah was the firstborn so she should be married first. Leah had the blessing and birthright of being the firstborn daughter. Can’t you see God reminding Jacob of his deceit of the firstborn? We see Laban then making a new deal for Rachel, getting seven years more work from Jacob. Let me mention to things that are often misconceptions. First, Leah had an “eye issue”. It has been suggested that she had poor eyesight, was cross-eyed, or some other abnormality with her eyes. It could have been that her eyes were of a light color. Most women of that region had dark eyes. If Leah had blue eyes, it could have been thought that was a fault. It was could also mean that she had “delicate eyes”, which may mean she had beautiful eyes. Second, the agreement with Laban over Rachel was that he had to fulfill a week, and then Rachel would be given to him. Then Jacob would work an additional seven years. Many times this story is told that he worked seven years for Leah, then an additional seven years, after which he received Rachel. But according to the Bible, he received Rachel after the week of celebrating his marriage to Leah. Also notice that God allowed Leah to have children because she was “hated”. The concept was that she was “unloved”. She thought that since Rachel couldn’t have children, Jacob would love her because she could. Three times we read that she had a son, so she could be loved. At the birth of the fourth son, Judah, she no longer concerned herself with being loved, but praised the Lord. Her focused turned away from herself toward the Lord and His grace. We see the emphasis on GRACE!.

We can see this story as merely God evening the score with Jacob in the areas in which Jacob has cheated others.
Jacob deceived both Esau and Isaac, his father. Now his father-in-law, and his mother’s brother deceive Jacob. Jacob had abused the rights of the first-born son and now he is forced to honor the rights of the first-born daughter. Finally, Jacob has to deal with the consequences of Laban’s deception and comes to realize that his deception had consequences dealt with by Isaac and Esau.

Often, we leave the explanation at this point, feeling that we have interpreted the passage and “now you know and knowing is half the battle”. But before we leave, let’s see how God was working all these events together to comfort Jacob to “Christ-likeness”. First, Jacob was away from the hustle and bustle of the Promised Land where he was running one “con” after another. Surrounded by his stuff and his friends, no doubt, Jacob was a person full of plots and plans. But in Haran he was dealing with the unknown. He was out of his “comfort zone” and had plenty of time to think and reflect on his life. He didn’t have his mom building his ego during times of doubt. During those unplanned events that life brings, God uses the time to have us reflect and think about how we have been living. Second, God allowed Jacob to fail at what he considered his strongest point. No one had gotten the best of Jacob. He was always the one in control. But with Laban, Jacob is humbled. His one strength vanished. God wants us to remember that His desire is that we come to Him realizing our spiritual bankruptcy. We have nothing to offer God. We have nothing but weakness. Once we come to that point, He can become our strength. We have to be “IN CHRIST” to do anything. God will also use those times when life isn’t fair to develop faith and reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s control of our lives. With the Spirit in control, we then see our godly character developed. If we never stop complaining that life is unfair, we develop a victim’s attitude of bitterness which destroys us while not harming the one with whom we are bitter. When life seems unfair, ask what lesson God is teaching you. The final lesson is that God works His plan for our future during times that we don’t understand. This is where trust is learned and practiced. We also have a time of seeing what is really important. We then will share those things with our family as well as our friends. What was the result of God’s lessons in the life of Jacob? He was a different man when he left. From this point on, Jacob could not take credit for anything that was accomplished through his life. It was all through God. Whatever happened in his life, God did it!
So what about you? When you’re out of your comfort zone, what is God teaching you? Spend time thinking about what God wants changed and listen to God. Second, how is this “humbling” you? Third, how are you reacting, with a better trust or a bitter spirit? Finally, can’t I trust God, even when I don’t understand?




When God Introduces Himself!
June 18, 2014, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

When I was 19 years old, I did something drastic. I moved to college. I grew up in a little town called Belsprings, VA. It was Virginia’s version of Mayberry, except we didn’t have a sheriff’s department or a mayor. We did have a barber, a gas station, and a baseball field on which we played baseball in the spring and football in the fall. We had a little elementary school that went through seventh grade. I was a paper boy to most of my neighbors, put up hay, and enjoyed a simple life. I attended Belsprings Baptist Church and was known as a good kid, a reputation I didn’t deserve. I had anxiety attacks when I had to go to Dublin High School as an eighth grader, but adjusted because I got involved in sports with my friends. I was shy which caused me to limit my opportunities because I was afraid of getting out of my comfort zone. So why did I move to go to college, out of state, and out of what was comfortable? It was because I also came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and He worked in my life to lead me to Winston-Salem and Piedmont Bible College. God introduced Himself to me and the encounter changed me. There was (and is) nothing special about me and I certainly didn’t do anything to earn this meeting. God was pursuing me.

My encounter with God is something like God’s initial contact with Jacob in Genesis 28. Like me, Jacob was a “momma’s boy” and like me, there was nothing special about him. But God had plans which including Jacob and in order for Jacob to understand, God set up a meeting with him. Let’s take a look at the meeting and see what God reveals to us.

Putting Genesis 28 in context, remember that Jacob has deceived his father, Isaac, and made his brother Esau angry enough to plot to kill him after his dad’s death. Rebekah realizes her favorite son’s life is on the line, so she goes to Isaac and manipulates him to tell Jacob to leave and go to Rebekah’s brother, Laban back in the homeland. I think Isaac also saw God working to use Jacob as the son through which the promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. While he had already blessed Jacob while deceived, he now knowingly blesses Jacob and commanded him to their homeland to find a wife. His command also contains a prohibition, “don’t marry a Canaanite woman”. Let me make a couple of observations about this command. Jacob was seventy-seven at this time. His brother Esau had already been married for 37 years to two Canaanite women. Why had Isaac and Rebekah not told their sons about this standard before? It seems a little late to tell them. Second, notice that Esau saw that Jacob had officially been blessed by Isaac and had been told not to marry a Canaanite but a wife from “home”. So he decides the reason he missed the blessing from Isaac was his “sin” of marrying someone from Canaan. He then goes out and marries Mahalath, Ishmael’s daughter. When you read Esau’s reaction to Isaac’s blessing, it reminds us of our misunderstanding of GRACE. Like many of us today, Esau incorrectly thought that God’s blessings come because we please Him or do the right things and the reason we aren’t blessed is because we have messed up and failed to do the right thing. So he devises a plan to get blessed by Isaac and through him, by God. Let’s look at this for just a moment. What good things had Jacob done? Was he right to deceive his blind father, steal a birthright and blessing away from his brother, and include God in this deception? God answers this question Himself in Romans 9:10 to 13. God’s blessing was decided before birth by God’s choice. Notice in Romans that they hadn’t done good or evil works when God told Rebekah that Jacob, the younger, would be blessed. If God didn’t choose Jacob over Esau on the basis of works, then it is oblivious that blessings from God on the basis of GRACE. But also remember that God blessed Esau. Esau may not have been the one through whom the promises made to Abraham would be fulfilled, but we see God working in his life just as much as in Jacob’s. At this time, however, we see Esau as the master of his own life, making the decisions he made for his own benefit.

Now back to the encounter God had with Jacob. Jacob has left his comfort zone and at age seventy-seven takes off in a new direction. With nighttime approaching, he went on what might have been his first overnight camping trip. Resting his head on a rock; he finally went off to sleep. God then revealed Himself to Jacob through a dream. In the dream, Jacob saw a ladder going from the earth up into heaven. Angels were going up and down on the ladder but the most important part of the dream was who Jacob saw at the top of the ladder. It was the Lord. The Lord reaffirmed the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob. Not only had Isaac given the “blessing” to Jacob, now God was telling him that He was blessing him. Jacob woke from his sleep, realizing that God had been there. He set up a monument to his encounter, and renamed the place Bethel, the “house of God”. This encounter had an impact on Jacob and he wanted a relationship with God. But here is what struck me. The relationship was based on the conditions that Jacob established. When we are in a relationship with someone equal, we both set the boundaries or conditions of that relationship. But when one person in the relationship wants to be in charge, he sets the standards. When God made the covenant with Abraham, He put Abraham asleep and walked through the meat offerings alone. That established that He was in charge of the relationship, including the promises and provisions. Jacob wasn’t willing to let God be in charge of his life, but saw God as a source of blessings and protections. Jacob made a deal with God. If God met the conditions established by Jacob; to be with him, to protect him on the journey, to provide food and clothing, and to allow him to return home in peace then Jacob would let God be his God. He promised to worship Him and to give Him a tenth of that which God blessed Him.

At best, Jacob has an immature faith. But I really believe this is just the starting point from which his relationship with God will develop. But notice how Jacob tried to negotiate with God on the conditions he demanded of God before he would agree to follow. Are we doing the same when we “believe on Jesus”, but only let Him be in charge of what we determine is His (the spiritual). We continue to run the rest of our lives the way we think is best. That may describe the disciples before the cross and resurrection. They followed Jesus, but had lives characterized by selfish interests but lacked power. But their lives were radically different after the resurrection. They were redeemed sons, saints, and slaves to the One they followed. Our walk with God should be based on a totally realization that we come to God spiritually bankrupt and are totally dependent upon His completed work of the life, death, and resurrection. He is not only my Savior, but also my Master. Through Him, I can have a relationship as a son with God my Father. Through faith in His GRACE, I follow the One through whom I have sins forgiven, righteousness imputed, and the indwelling presence and enablement of the Holy Spirit.