What To Do When the Man Keeps You Down


What To Do When the Man Keeps You Down

Genesis 30:25–36

Jacob Prospers at Laban’s Expense

When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know very well the service I have given you.” But Laban said to him, “If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you; name your wages, and I will give it.” Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly; and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything; if you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it: let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons; and he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock.

James 3:13–18

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Like many working families, growing up we did not go on vacations. Summertime and Sunday afternoons were used for catching up on yard work and housework that could not be done during the week. One particular job I can remember well was painting our front porch. We had a big, Victorian style house with close to twenty white wooden columns and a rail that went all the way around the front of the house, and while I’m sure we did not repraint the entire porch, it was big enough that there was always a part of it that needed redone. It was a constant reminder of the futilities of life, especially for those with few options. The work is always there, but it is not rewarding work, and it will never be finished. Long after we are dead and gone, the wood will need another coat of paint.

So, give me a power sander and lets go to work, right? Nope. My dad was old school, which meant we might be able to use a small block to wrap our sand paper around, but for the most part it was just sandpaper and our hands. For many of the smaller spindles in the rail, it probably was just as well, but wow it seemed like the most boring work you could possibly do. Sometime, during my youth I saw the original Karate Kid. My dad must have as well. Mr Miyagi was his parenting hero. I’m sure I resented him for it then, but I can see know he was simply teaching me what he knew best: Patient, hard work.

James tells us that we are to show our wisdom, not by guile or showboating our knowledge, but instead by a “good life” whose “works are done with gentleness born of wisdom”. You don’t get that kind of wisdom without spending time and sweat preparing wood for painting. Some believe that true wisdom comes from life experience, particularly in learning from many mistakes. Learning from mistakes is important, but some kinds of wisdom are not learned that way. Patience, diligence, and the gentleness that is required for delicate, laborious work, are not learned by making mistakes. They are learned by pushing out our selfish ambition and grudgingly succeeding, one step at at time.

Jacob had intelligence and guile. He could have simply run off with Rachel from day one. After all, Laban had been less than honest with him. Instead, Jacob would beat Laban at his own game with hard work. It was the slow game, the long walk, but in the end, it is only these that truly get us to where we need to be, and more importantly, help us become the people we were created to be. We rise, not through talent and ambition, but ultimately, through perseverance and discipline, because without these, we will have no balance to stay in those high places we seek to ascend.

What experiences have taught you patience and hard work?

What is the task that takes your patience and perseverance today?

God’s Holy Humor and Provision


God’s Holy Humor and Provision

Genesis 29:15–28

Jacob Marries Laban’s Daughters

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 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 that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Psalm 128

The Happy Home of the Faithful

A Song of Ascents.

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,

who walks in his ways.

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;

you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots

around your table.

Thus shall the man be blessed

who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion.

May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem

all the days of your life.

May you see your children’s children.

Peace be upon Israel!

Romans 8:26–39

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s Love in Christ Jesus

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Follow God, go to church, don’t drink, smoke, or have sex before marriage, and you will marry a beautiful spouse and have lots of beautiful, healthy, talented kids and at least twice as many grandkids… and if you are worried about how you will pay for all those birthday presents, never fear… God will provide!

Does that sound familiar to you? Maybe no one ever said it quite that bluntly, but did you grow up getting that message communicated to you on some underlying level from church, from grandma, and from your parents?

Sometime our hopes and dreams for those we care about become some of the greatest stumbling blocks to preaching and teaching the gospel. The end of Ecclesiastes tells us pretty clearly that there are no guarantees in life. So, making big promises about smooth sailing in life is often tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment to those we are trying to encourage. I don’t think we need to go into predictions of divorce, job loss, and cancer. I just think it is wiser, and ultimately kinder to be upfront about the challenge that real life is.

Paul tells us like it is. Expect to be wounded for being faithful. Expect to be teased and taunted, picked on and persecuted. It is not just about preparing for the worst. Jesus Himself taught that a student is not above his master and the world ran Jesus right up a cross. How can we expect better treatment than the Son of God?

But Paul continues on… it is this very persecution which unveils our faith, and ultimately God’s faithfulness to us. While we are not promised prosperity, God promises to provide what is truly necessary. Some days that is money to pay the bills. Other days it is a free dinner at a church. On rare occasions it may even mean a night spent in prison to give us the time to pray and examine our priorities, because the truth is, we often draw closer to God in times of loss than in times of gain.

Jacob is a perfect example. He did not live the perfect life, but he thought he found the perfect woman to be his wife. Then, as it turned out, he got a double blessing by being tricked into marrying two sisters. Now, I don’t believe in multiple spouses (polygamy) and I sorta think you’d have to be completely off your gourd to even attempt two relationships that take more than everything you have each… but marrying two sisters would top even that. Not only would there be the normal amount of jealousy and family conflict to deal with… you would inherit some 20 years of their family conflict before you even met them. Jacob may have initially thought he was getting the best deal out of this, but that prosperity would become the heart of conflict for the rest of his life. All those children only means thinner rations when there is famine in the land. Multiply your blessings and expect your challenges to go right along with them.

But that is just God’s sense of humor isn’t it? He teaches us to be content in and trust ultimately in Him, and Him alone. It is only God Himself who will never let us down. Everything else is meant to be the icing on the cake.

What blessings have turned into struggles for you in your life?

How do you return to a place of gratitude for one of the challenges?

How is God providing for you today?

Wrestling with a Name


Wrestling with a Name

Genesis 29:31–30:24

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”; so she named him Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.

In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband”; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons”; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.

Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach”; and she named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

Matthew 12:38–42

“The Sign of Jonah1

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

Naming was done in such a way as to present hopes or to express sentiments of the parents, especially during the birth of their children. With the importance and danger of childbirth in the ancient world, and the way, even today, childbirth has a powerful way of creating the social construct of family.

Just doing the role call at a family gathering would recount years of family conflict. The twin acts of deception and jealousy, which had characterized Jacob himself, through much of his life, flows through the pages in our hands, trickling down across the generations, through marriages, and raising children like a generational curse. This plot twist became a generational curse that would take God’s chosen people from their life in Canaan, ultimately into slavery in Egypt, due to their own jealous and deceptive acts, taught by their parents, and given to them in their very names. If you want to see all the mess that family can be, you will find a buffet of problems in the first book of the Bible alone.

Names can be blessings as well. For the most part, names themselves are not guarantees for either good or bad. The blessing of a name, and really any blessing for that matter, usually comes with the possibility of a downside if we do not handle it well. This may be why we struggle to be as thankful for these gifts as we perhaps could otherwise.

What about the name Jesus? What does it mean? The Bible tells us that it means “Savior”. I think our understanding of ‘savior’ is often a little shallow though. Jesus as our savior does more than just pull us back from the fire at the last moment. His work in saving us reflects God’s work in creating us from the beginning and the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us today. The name of Jesus, the name of our God (to me at least) is the One who makes something good out of nothing. This was the name that Jonah knew God to be, and the reason he wanted to stay away from Ninevah. He wanted to keep God for the worthy, at least in his own regard, and Ninevah had no one who qualified. Solomon, on the other hand, knew he was nothing when he was made king. He made his first act as king to be seeking out this God who makes something good out of nothing and God did not disappoint Solomon.

What does God’s name mean to you?

What kind of meaning does your name have to those around you?

  1. (Lk 11:29–32)

Life-Changing Moments – Part 2


Life-Changing Moments – Part 2

Genesis 29:9–14

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

Acts 7:44–53

“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,

and the earth is my footstool.

What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,

or what is the place of my rest?

Did not my hand make all these things?’

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

What makes those special moments so powerful? Plot twists.

Plot twists? Well maybe plot turns is a better expression. They are moments though when we make decisions, even if we don’t feel like we really have choices to make. Not just choices about what to eat for breakfast (at least on most days). Choices that reshape the path we walk on for the rest of our lives.

Want to find out what yours are? Take a moment and write down the top 5 things you would do differently if you had a chance. Next write down the top 5 things you would definitely want to do the same. Those are likely the 10 major plot turns in your life.

Jacob had one such the day he met Rachel. Another the day he married her. Yet another, in between those two, on the day he thought he married her. Can you imagine the conversations held in that family, reminiscing on the “good ol’ days”?

Stephen, had a similar experience reminding the Jewish leaders who had handed Jesus over to be crucified. He reminded them that this was not the first messenger of God they had killed. In fact, the very fact that they had rejected Jesus was actually part of the evidence that He was indeed the true messiah they had been waiting for… irony of ironies. Plot twists.

How do you handle those plot twists in your life?

Where do you see God at work in those plot twists?

Life-Changing Moments – Part 1


Life-Changing Moments – Part 1

Genesis 29:1–8

Jacob Meets Rachel

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.

Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

1 Corinthians 4:14–21

Fatherly Admonition

I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church. But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Those powerful life-changing moments happen to us all. Many of them require preparation, but some of them sneak up on us. Either way, the greatest success stories all share one thing in common: Someone was in the right place at the right time, and did the right thing.

I get all bent out of shape around these moments. Something happened to my nerves when I was young and I’m not sure exactly what or who to blame (although at this point it really doesn’t matter). I start getting nervous somewhere between a week and 2 days before I know these moments occur. Then, during them, I just go on autopilot. I talk more, faster, and louder, than I would normally do. In fact, looking back at recordings of some of these moments is a little bit embarrassing. Then, shortly after I finish whatever automatic response I had stored up, my nerves kick in again and I want nothing more than to crawl into a hole in the ground and cease to exist for a couple weeks.

Psychologists have dubbed me and introvert, and I would add that I have some false extroverted coping tendencies. In a world that demands a particular degree of extroversion from us all, I struggle during some of those life-changing moments to simply fit in and feel human. Some of my most powerful, life-changing moments have been times alone, or at least alone with God. I hear more clearly from God and honestly, from everyone else as well when I am out of the crowd.

I cannot always plan time away from everyone in the middle of those important moments, and you may not need that yourself, but we all need a way to prepare for and process those moments. How can you tell when an important moment approaches? What do you do to make sure you are ready? Do you find yourself fighting against automatic responses that are unhelpful or do you find it better to simply rely on your instincts? These are things that are not often taught in life, but the whole of life tries to teach us.

It is, in many ways, the blessing of the Law. It prepares us for handling those important moments well, by training us throughout our lives in responses that are meant to become automatic – part of who we are. It is like parents who train their children to wash every day and brush their teeth, knowing full well, that most of their days they could probably get by without it… but one of those days young Jacob is going to meet Rachel, and the smell of his breath could change the course of his life forever. A long string of romantic relationships may keep you from being alone for a handful of years, but they may also keep you from a soulmate you have yet to meet. Learning to rein in your temper may be frustrating, until the one time you catch yourself before throwing a punch keeps you out of jail and helps you land that dream job you’ve been working towards your whole professional life.

God’s Law is not the end all and be all of spiritual life. It simply helps us recognize those important moments and successfully navigate them. It is not meant to just be read, it is meant to be lived out and modeled. That is why Paul sent Timothy back to the Corinthians – a church full of people on with untrained autopilots. They needed to see the Law in action and be lovingly corrected before the harsh consequences of life corrected them permanently.

What have been the most important moments of your life so far?

How did you know how or learn how to respond in those moments?

What important moments do you see coming up ahead?

The End of Glory


The End of Glory

Genesis 35:16–29

The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel

Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

The Death of Isaac

Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Matthew 12:15–21

God’s Chosen Servant

When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,

my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not wrangle or cry aloud,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

He will not break a bruised reed

or quench a smoldering wick

until he brings justice to victory.

And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

If we begin with the end in mind we can find a better path to achieve those goals and experience real success in our life. However, life is generally not just one goal, but rather a series of goals, some bigger and some smaller. We do not often think about this until we experience it firsthand, but the very fact that goals have beginnings and ends means that there will come a high point in our lives, a moment of achieving success by our own standards (hopefully), and somewhere shortly after that moment, everything will begin to fall away and our end will approach. I have heard of preachers actually dying in the middle of preaching or leading worship services – perhaps most notably Archbishop Romero, who was killed while serving mass.

Others set a goal to live to be a certain age and often pass away shortly afterwards. Still others seek to finish a particular task or work before they die. The one thing that draws us all together though, is that we all have an end, and for the most part, do not have control over when it will be. Even someone like Terry Pratchett who sought to end his own life through physician-assisted suicide, died before he had planned… and some might say that his glory, his moments of success had since passed as he had fallen victim to the devastation of Alzheimer’s Disease. The fact is, we never know what moment may be our last great moment in this lifetime.

I wonder when Jacob’s last truly great moment was. Was it when he wrestled God? Was it when he was reconciled with Esau? Was it when his first child was born by Rachel, his beloved wife? Perhaps it was later, when he was reunited with his estranged son Joseph… we won’t know until we get to ask him. Regardless, we need to recognize up-front, that this life we live has to be about more than success and achieving goals, or else, once all is accomplished, there is nothing left to do but lay down and die.

How many people did Jesus meet who had passed their prime and were ready to cash in the few chips they had left? Those who were old, sick, paralyzed, filled with leprosy, cast out as demon-possessed, sinners despised by their neighbors? What was His response to them?

He loved them. He reminded them that life is about more than what we can accomplish. He showed them that they were loved because God created them, not because of what they had done with that creation. Jesus saw an immense value in us, below the surface, that we never be able to understand, the way we cannot comprehend a mother’s love for her own child. We only come close in knowing love for our own children. Yet it was here, at the end, not at the moment of conquest, that these people truly saw God for Who He is.

What moments in your life have you been most proud of?

What moments in your life have you most experienced God’s grace?

Do you know someone who is experiencing the end of their glory and needs a reminder of God’s love that transcends this lifet?

Surprised by Grace


Surprised by Grace

Genesis 33:1–17

Jacob and Esau Meet

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.

Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.” But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “Why should my lord be so kind to me?” So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.

Galatians 4:21–5:1

The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah1

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,

burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;

for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous

than the children of the one who is married.”

Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. 5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The moment arrives. Esau comes down to meet Jacob. Palms are sweating. Anything could happen. We expect a showdown. Few words shouted sharply back and forth, then followed by fists and firearms. Well perhaps not back in those days, but we have similar moments all the time in our world. Most of our biggest conflicts are not spur of the moment quandaries we fall into. They are sharp stones we keep in our shoes for years, feeling with every step we take.

The last thing we expect to see is our nemesis wearing new shoes and a smile… and carrying a pair of new shoes for us as well. That is what Jacob found when he met his brother. Grace. How would this look if we applied it to international relations? It would mean meeting our enemies with help instead of threats, despite past transgressions. I suppose it depends upon which side we stand on in the conflict. It is an unexpected surprise to receive grace. Can we give grace back in return?

The Galatians, like most of us, assumed that once we became Christians we were supposed to follow a higher moral code than everyone else and that this obedience would confirm our faith. Their eyes and their aims were on obedience, which is not bad, until we set that aim to others as well… expecting obedience from those who have not first received grace. That puts Christians at a permanent disadvantage in their dealings with others because we are indeed expected to follow a higher law than them, and instead of reciprocating wrongdoing for wrongdoing. Paul wrote to them that this surprising grace looks unfair and sometimes wrong. Paul says, it is like when the unmarried woman is able to have more children than the married one, and he points back to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as the founding example.

We skip over that example (it’s just an illustration anyway isn’t it?) and push on to the more ambiguous ideas of grace and law. But these ideas were never meant to be ambiguous, any more than God was just an idea. God became flesh to show us that grace to, must become flesh in us.

Where have you been surprised by Grace?

Where is God calling you to surprise someone else with Grace today?

  1. (Gen 21:8–21; Isa 54:1)