Loving Children Equally. How Do We Do It?

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Genesis 37:2-3

Favoritism can be complicated. Jacob didn’t make Joseph his favorite to the exclusion of other righteous sons. The others proved themselves to be troublemakers, bound up in foolishness. They spurned their father’s ways and left a trail of disappointment and hurt. But in all of this, Jacob acted unwisely by setting the stage for the other sons to have permanent issues with Joseph.

The heart is a complicated thing. It can be difficult to have the same affection for each of your children. If one is bent toward evil, disrespects authority, and has no regard for family, isn’t it difficult to love that one as much as another whose heart clearly belongs to God? It can be hard to disguise the pleasure you feel over the one that is righteous. It’s equally hard to hide the pain the other one inflicts when they act out against members of your family.

This is where each mother and father needs Jesus desperately. Only He can daily heal the hurts caused by a wayward child. Only He can give the spiritual fuel necessary to love the one who is unloving. Only He can show parents how to bestow unconditional love to two kinds of children. How will the child who loves rebellion not see the delight in his parent’s eyes over the sibling who honors with love and respect? God is the only one who can write the relational roadmap for these dynamics.

In the long run, Jacob should have learned from his own troubled childhood. Favoritism didn’t work out well between he and Esau. Now, he repeats it again by failing to disguise his deep affection for Joseph. He will give him a coat, the kind of coat only a royal child would wear. This will fuel the other’s hatred for their brother. Despite Jacob’s mistakes, God’s purpose for Joseph and the future of Israel will not be thwarted. Again, that is comforting, isn’t it?

You are the God of grace and redemption. Bind our families together in righteousness so that we still stand in the last day. Amen

Years Of Regret

And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29

I’ve been doing some Old Testament math. It’s easy for there to be half a century between chapters. And, you and I know how long and how momentous just one year can be!  It’s important to comprehend how much time has gone by since Jacob has seen his father, Isaac. He left just after stealing his brother’s birthright and that would make the absence between them many decades long. I wonder if Jacob ever thought he’d see his father again. Perhaps he knew that this was the bitter consequence of his sin.

God, in His mercy, allowed Isaac to live until Jacob returned to his homeland. Esau was there too. Both brothers, long estranged, were there to say goodbye to their father and, together, bury him.

God is merciful. God is redemptive. But there are losses because of sin. They become a permanent ‘thorn in the flesh’ as, like Jacob, it takes a long time to find my way home. There is a lot of wrestling with God along the way, striving to be blessed again. How do I handle the loss of years? How do I not ‘grieve without hope’ for the things I suffer today that were done out of sinful intent and/or blind ignorance?  Or even worse, years seemingly lost through the wrongdoings of others?

Grace. My need for God to carry me through seasons of regret will bind me to Him like nothing else. In giving grace, He establishes His identity as ‘the Gracious One.’   My pain is transformed from bitter to bittersweet because experiencing God is such a powerful experience. It brings joy amid my losses. Given enough time, I might even experience moments of gratitude for the shipwreck because it brought me to my Safe Harbor.

The word ‘gracious’ is one of my favorite words because You have given it wings in my life. Thank you! Amen

Bilhah and All The Other Used and Abused

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it. Genesis 35:22

Bilhah is a woman without rights. She was Rachel’s maid all the way back to Rachel’s youth. She learned to obey orders very young. She never knew freedom. When Rachel couldn’t conceive, she gave Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife. She was used as a surrogate mother to conceive babies. Once they were born, Rachel took them from her and adopted them as her own. Once again, Bilhah had no choice.

Years later, she was victimized again as Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, took her honor. He snuck in her tent and in the darkness, lay with her. Bilhah could write books on what it means to be victimized.  Did she know God?  I want to believe so. She was immersed in all the teaching, the worship, the building of altars at pinnacle moments of the family’s faith. She saw it all and probably clung to God for the strength to endure hardship.

What can be said for the Bilhahs of this world? Perhaps you are one. Your life seems like a set up as choices were made for you. How do you come to believe in a God that appears to bless some and curse others? Those with heartbreaking stories have posed the question to me on many occasions. Can He be trusted?

God’s feelings toward Bilhah are not revealed, nor are her feelings for God recorded. But lest God become someone over whom I stumble, the whole context of scripture is at my fingertips. A generation earlier, Hagar was in similar circumstances. Used. Spurned. Banished. But in the aftermath of man’s sin and the tragedy that had been thrust upon this young mother, God’s character shone through when He remembered her and met her personally in an unforgiving desert. He revealed Himself as the ‘God who sees her.’ El-Roi

If I measure God’s goodness by my own story, He can look guilty. I must widen my view and live in the scriptures. I must rest in God’s overarching redemptive plan that includes the provision of a Savior who redeems tragic stories. I must look ahead to Paradise where faithfulness will be rewarded and where sin will be judged. There, the first will be last and the last will be first. Hagars and Bilhahs will lead the way in heaven.

The extent to which God allows one to be crushed, alternatively, that person is given an unequaled capacity to know Him intimately. Treasures of the darkness are promised to the one who seeks God by faith when all evidence against him seems ironclad.

For the one who is Bilhah, disclose Yourself to her today as El-Roi. Amen

Too Many Changes At Once

Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Genesis 35:16-18

Too many changes all at once puts me in a challenging place emotionally. Everything seems too much to process. If I initiated the changes, it was a bit easier but most change is what happened to me and I had little control over it. Even good changes were challenging enough but bad changes brought the onset of grief.

Jacob’s life, a life much longer than mine, had drastic twists and turns. He left home, by his own doing, and never saw his parents again. His dreams smashed repeatedly when Rachel’s father tricked him into working past a decade. He lost the relationship with his brother. God changed his name to Israel and that identity change was a huge adjustment. His perception of his sons took a downward and tragic turn. Rachel, the love of his life, died during childbirth. This last tragedy happened on the very arrival to Bethel, the place of blessing where they would have settled to live out the remainder of their days.

Now there is a certain kind of personality that thrives on change, but I contend that it’s change they control. No one likes an unexpected knock on the door in the middle of the night. Ron and I experienced that when our son died.

Why is it that difficult times never seem to last just a year? Instead, five years, twelve years, even twenty-two years go by. There are seasons of life where one thing after another overwhelms us and we learn that we must draw close to Jesus and follow His lead to develop spiritual strategies.  What did Jesus do when he felt the pressures of life?  He withdrew to get alone with His Father. He reviewed the scriptures and God’s history. He communed with Him through a prayer life that’s hard to imagine. 

These are the prescriptions for any of us who knows that the only stability available to us is childlike trust and unshakeable faith in in our God.

“It is well for us that, amidst all the variableness of life, there is One whom change cannot affect; One whose heart can never alter, and on whose brow mutability can make no furrows.”  Charles Spurgeon

Get Up Close and You’re Changed!

God has always been an identity changer. One cannot be near someone like God and not come away different. The identity-changing nature of God has never been more evident than when He personally changed the names of people. Jacob, despite all his failures, received a new name.  Israel.  The name Jacob meant ‘supplanter….one who takes something by force through treachery.’ Fitting, since he tricked his brother and stole his blessing. But years later, Jacob wrestled with God to receive God’s blessing. Part of that was a re-naming.  God called him ‘Israel….one who perseveres with God.’

While God may not give new earthly names to every person, identities still change radically once we are adopted into His family. We are no longer aliens, but residents of heaven. God says that we’re no longer enemies, but friends. We are no longer cursed, but blessed, no longer lost, but saved, no longer rejected, but chosen. We are no longer unclean, but righteous.  The list could go on awhile.

Have we really embraced our new identities? It’s hard to digest that we are no longer who we were, especially if people around us treat us as if nothing has changed. Satan is also bent on reinforcing, through hurtful circumstances, that we are the same old sinner.

I can immerse myself in the wonder of a changed identity by spending more time with the Name-Changer.

Let me bask in the spiritual assurances of ownership that come from running home to You. Amen

Angels At The Door

And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:5

God makes His child many, many promises. As long as my heart is sensitive toward sin and I’m quick to repent after falling on my face, the blessing of God is on my life.   Living without sin is not a prerequisite. Who can do that?  But instead, God asks me to live a cross-centered life characterized by a daily awareness of God’s love, my brokenness, and His daily grace.

After the sons of Jacob went on a rampage and took the lives of many innocent men in Shechem, God appeared, gave new orders, and Jacob quickly made a course correction for his family. The fallout of his family’s murderous rage complicated the picture, however. They had been known as a peace-loving people; a tribe of shepherds. Heathen nations had not been afraid of them but that all changed. They were now considered to be a viable threat.  God kept His promise of protection to the sons of Abraham. He sent a wave of panic to all the inhabitants of foreign cities. The fear was so great that no one entertained the thought of attacking Jacob’s tribe. God stepped up to define the psyche of alien peoples.

Some years ago, I had been invited to come and speak to a group of women at a church in the Midwest.  I was going to drive it and travel by myself.  The women’s ministry leader told me ahead of time that the area was spiritually dark and was known nationwide as the center of strong occultic activity.  A group of intercessors, both there and at home, promised to cover me in prayer. 

The day came.  As I approached the city, I got out my map to find the name and address of the motel the church had provided for my stay.  Arriving, I pulled into an old-fashioned, one-story motel.  Everyone’s room had a window that looked out on the parking lot.  I settled in, got some dinner, and went to bed. Around midnight, I was awakened by a raucous group of men slamming car doors and then banging on my window.  I heard them say, “She’s in here.  Let’s go get her.”   I threw on some clothes and fell to my knees in prayer.  I asked God for help and then waited.  I never heard them in the hall.  I heard nothing.   About five minutes passed.  Then again, I heard men’s voices outside, then the sound of them opening their car doors and pulling away.  Nothing had happened to me.  What had they seen or heard that stopped them?  I picture a host of warring angels standing at the outside entrance, not allowing them access.  Whatever happened, they stood down and were silenced.  

You might be curious to know why I didn’t pick up the phone to call the desk or 911.  Honestly, it never occurred to me, even though I had called for help in similar past situations.  I believe now that I didn’t think of it because God wanted to show me His power and the extent of His protection over my life.

I am certainly not unique to threats of trouble.  Itinerant bible teachers, especially women, have some close calls quite often. There are so many stories that show how creatively God has looked out for His servants.

I have seen you change people’s hearts and their godless plans, a full 180 degrees over matters great and small. How great you are. How small I am. Amen