Can Anything Good Happen Now?

         God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Genesis 35:1-2

A series of bad choices result in a train wreck. With life in shambles, it appears as if it’s too late for a clean start.  Jacob knows how that feels. His family has narrowly escaped assimilation into a pagan society. He knows that if they had intermarried, they would have destroyed the line for the Messiah. How his heart must have ached when he discovered that his sons had tricked the men from Shechem and murdered them in cold blood.  Maybe he wondered if the covenant with God was now null and void. 

But God was gracious yet again.  He appeared to Jacob with instructions for how to pick up and start fresh. He was to gather all the foreign gods within his household, bury them, and tell his family to purify themselves by putting on clean garments.  They were to renew their vows to God in a holy place.

The message for us is this ~ we can’t mess things up so badly that God can’t redeem waste places on the other side of repentance. If beginning again is possible, why aren’t there more of us at the altar bringing the shambles of our lives to Jesus?  Probably because we must own our mistakes, consider why we went astray, and then look at our choices from God’s perspective. It’s hard to own rebellion and not justify our actions. Inflated and fragile egos resist being wrong.  It’s easier to forfeit God’s invitation to start again.

God continued to speak this same message throughout Israel’s history. Joshua will tell God’s chosen people, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Joshua 24:23  How ironic. The descendants of Jacob will have to hear the exact same message their parents heard, in the very same place, so that they can experience the cleansing that precedes another needed beginning. Is there a limit to the number of times God offers a clean slate?   No. Not then.  Not now.  His mercy knows no boundaries.

I want to make the practice of exposing idolatry and asking for forgiveness so familiar that it’s instinctive. Amen

It Goes Against Everything I Want To Do

And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.   Genesis 34:24-25

Simeon and Levi were the two brothers who were concerned about their sister’s honor.  They sought retribution against the prince of Shechem, the one who assaulted their sister, because he did not admit his sin.  But the brothers acted unjustly and not just against the perpetrator but his people.

They made a covenant with them under false pretenses, requiring circumcision to be a part of the agreement, and then went into the city to kill them in their weakened condition. They broke their covenant vow. To make matters even worse, after the slaughter, the other sons of Jacob joined them in taking the wealth, women, and children for themselves.  God did not order any of this nor did He condone it.

It is human nature to go too far to right a wrong.  Revenge is never rational.  It usually exceeds the original offense. A vengeful heart relishes the scheming and thirsts for a moment to strike and do greater damage than what was done to them.  In retaliation mode, no one thinks clearly.  Rarely is anyone prayerful.  Waiting on God is not a desired option.  The need to see immediate justice blinds wounded souls to wiser options. 

God is clear. Vengeance is mine, He says.  His eyes see what mine can’t. When I leave justice in God’s hands, I relinquish control.  Paul says it this way in The Message.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.  Romans 12:19-21

God loves His children, of which I am one.  He defends me, even if that defense and judgment are deferred according to His wisdom.  While I wait, I can rest in the love, power, and authority of God.  This righteous, ruling God is my Abba Daddy. If I have been wronged, or someone I love has been wronged, prayerfulness to discern the next steps are critical for my blessing and the greater good of my enemies.

I can’t guess what my responses should be.  Please speak, Jesus. Amen

It Appears Simple Enough

But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Genesis 34:8

How many times has sin been excused because of a love professed? Affairs are condoned because someone cried, “But I found my true soul mate.” A couple who should never marry do so anyway because they profess love for each other. This seems to provide a valid excuse for most anything.

For Hamor, the king of Shechem, the matter appears uncomplicated. His son loves Dinah, got carried away and raped her, but now wants to marry her to make it right. What is the problem? The mindset is simplistic as he believes his son should marry the person for whom he longs.

For Jacob and his family, the matter was much more complicated. God wanted a pure bloodline for the coming Messiah. He told them not to intermarry. Jacob’s family should honor the promise that they made to God and turn down the marriage offer. Instead, revenge colored their judgment, so they disgraced the sacred rite of circumcision.

Is there a sin in my life that I excuse because doing it makes me feel happy? Or it brings me needed funds? It might even bring me peace and help me cope.  To honor my commitment to God, I will struggle from time to time. I must ask for the grace to obey. God promises grace, after all. I’m never allowed to take a vacation from God’s ways just because things get hard.  Doing something else might make me feel better momentarily, but detours strip tender hearts of peace and security.

How well I remember some bad choices I made because I felt ‘I couldn’t take anymore.’ Thank you for the discomfort that led to repentance and a beautiful homecoming. Amen

Taking Responsibility Too Far

And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. Genesis 34:2

How much responsibility did Dinah assume for the rape she suffered?  Probably a lot. Perhaps she embraced all of it. After all, if she hadn’t given in to her curiosity to explore Shechem, she wouldn’t have been there to be preyed upon. It was probably hard to separate her part from the predator’s part. Now, she may have been in the wrong place, but she didn’t go there to engage in sexual behavior. The idea of a violent rape was the man’s idea, not hers. In eternal realms, God held him responsible for it.

It is human nature to go to extremes when dealing with responsibility. Either I’m not willing to assume any, believing that everyone else is to blame, or I take every ounce of the blame when it’s not all my fault.

I’m 68 years old. I’ve made a lot of alliances over the course of my life. Some friendships have been seasonal and significant to my spiritual journey. Others, I wish I’d never made. I was naïve and didn’t see the true nature of the ones I let close. In one case, the damage done by the ‘friend’ was severe. I spent years assuming all responsibility for the fallout. I reasoned, “It’s my fault for making friends with this person.” I couldn’t see that my naiveté and their predatory and deceitful behaviors were two separate things.

Maybe you’re in a business relationship gone bad. Maybe you married someone you regret. Maybe you chose to go somewhere once and had no idea that something awful would happen as a result. The only thing worse than grieving the loss itself is to punish yourself for what is not your fault. The guilt for other people’s sinful behavior lies with them. They conceived it. They committed it.

What complicates this is what happens when others who love us hear what we suffered. Consider what went down when Dinah told her family about the rape. I can hear her father rage. “How could you have gone outside the camp to bring this on yourself!” This is often where misplaced responsibility is born. People in grief don’t think clearly and often speak things they regret. They play the ‘only if’ card.

What can I do today if I am partly responsible for something bad that happened? How can I come to understand the right proportions regarding true guilt and over-responsibility? From personal experience, I would advise two things. 1.) Ask God to show you someone safe with whom you can tell your story, someone who listens like Jesus listened. Ask them for a fresh viewpoint.  2.) Seek God in prayer and meditation about your story. I have found that my version of my own story and His version are two entirely different narrations. As long as I assume responsibility that isn’t mine, there can be little healing. Letting go of false guilt and allowing the truth to permeate my perspective changes everything.

You promised that Your sheep would hear Your voice. Speak today, Lord. Be the counselor that each one of us needs. Amen

The Dangers of Curiosity

Now Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. Genesis 34:1

Has curiosity ever gotten you in trouble? There was something in you that just had to know something you didn’t know ~ but could know ~ if you pursued it. Restraint and prudence were set aside.

Curiosity ruined Dinah’s life.  She had grown up sheltered. She only knew the ways of her family. She’d heard stories of other tribes but had never seen them up close. But now, living on the outskirts of Shechem, she was interested to know the ways of these peculiar people. So, she left the protection of her family and wandered off just to satisfy her curiosity. She would be raped and her innocence would be stolen.

There are many things God tells his children to stay away from. Mystical spirituality, peripheral and beguiling edges of the occult, these beckon the curious. So many have tasted hell’s delights and paid a high price for the after-effects. A door was opened that gave Satan access to their lives. Most, even know, don’t know how to close it, or know that it can be closed, and live a life of unrest that comes from spiritual compromise. 

What am I to do with my God-given curiosity? What can I do about my thirst for what is hidden? Is it wrong to want to know the secrets of the kingdom? No. I am the child of a Father who loves to teach me His ways. “There is a God in heaven who is the revealer of mysteries.” Daniel 2:28   My thirst for kingdom secrets, the ones that leave me in openmouthed in wonder, is found in God. If I ask Him to teach me, He takes me to stunning places of wisdom and understanding. When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. John 16:13

The problem is this ~ Satan has led us to believe that spending time with God is boring, that reading scripture is monotonous, and that prayer is the stodgiest thing of all. The problem is compounded by the fact that many of our spiritual teachers aren’t alive to the Spirit of God and keep perpetuating the lie. They are merely reporters of their traditions rather than revealers of the spiritual keys of the kingdom.  We are left to believe that to be emotionally, intellectually, and emotionally stimulated, we must go outside of scripture to find it.  Tarot cards beckon.  Horoscopes attract.  The sins of the flesh glitter.  And the price of consumption is the ravaging of our spiritual boundaries by an enemy who slithers into our property because we give him the legal right to oppress. 

I love to meet with others whose hearts bubble over with what God is teaching them.   Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Romans 11:33 If I set aside an hour to share and to pray with them, the time flies by, and the clock becomes an enemy.  It seems we just got started.  The older I get, the more I discover that life in the Spirit is like a suspension in time.  

Curiosity can be dangerous!  While Dinah didn’t sin by leaving home, she ventured outside safe boundary lines. She would never be the same again. It doesn’t matter who it is ~ roaming outside God’s boundary lines exacts a stiff price and is never worth it. The best things in life are found at home in the courts of our King.

I pray for everyone reading this who doesn’t know You as the revealer of secrets. Open the eyes of their spirit to Your Word. Open the ears of their heart to Your voice. Feed us at Your table, and we will be content. Amen

How Bold Am I?

And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem and from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. Genesis 33:18-20

Jacob’s boldness in erecting an altar in a land with other gods is a challenge to every modern-day Christian. Timidity will not serve God well in these days when the opposition is growing. Maybe we have enjoyed walking in neutrality, never revealing our beliefs for fear of not fitting in, but the time is here when we are being forced to choose publicly whom we will serve.

Imagine moving to India, and just outside a major city, you erect a monument with the inscription, ‘The Mighty God of Israel.’ As you do it, you know that everyone around you is a Hindu. Your worship of any God other than Hindu gods marks you as different. In today’s world, that invites retaliation, even death.

Today, it’s fact and not fiction as an Indian pastor, earlier this year, was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists and beaten for hours. Yet when the police arrived, they charged the pastor with violating a blasphemy law rather than charge the radicals for their violent assault.

Some Hindu nationalist leaders are deeply paranoid about Hindus converting to Christianity or other religions. One former member of parliament called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

It is prudent for us to put ourselves in their place. By doing so, our heart is stirred to pray with an intensity born of identification and empathy. It also enables us to role-play for what may be coming our way. Are we bold enough to display our altars to the God of Israel in the midst of Shechem?

How long, Lord, before You come and reign? How long will the blood of martyrs spill on our streets? For Your honor and glory, may only Your sovereign plans for Your people prevail. Amen