Saturday, May 26, 2018

Big Red and Tricky Jake - Genesis 25

When I was growing up, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) wasn’t a diagnosis. We were just called “fidgety” and “hyperactive.” Now, every other little boy I meet seems to have been given that label. Every church I have served has had at least a couple of boys or girls who have been diagnosed as ADD, and even many adults have these symptoms.

My sister, who was an exceptional education teacher, told me that as a child, I was probably ADD.  I took an adult ADD test and out of 160 indicators, I had 159 of them. Today I am an ADD senior citizen.

I strongly disagree that ADD is a disorder I view it as a superpower! It’s like being the Flash. You see yourself moving at what to you is a normal pace, while everyone else is moving super slowly.  ADDs aren’t smarter or stronger than others, they just go faster. It’s the rest of the world that doesn’t keep up with our pace. It’s hard to sit and wait, or to keep focused on things for very long. We tend to have quick tempers. We miss details and can be pushy or bossy without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes we hyper-concentrate and miss the big picture. We can make snap decisions, but because we don’t think things through we can often have poor judgment.

Most children have symptoms of ADD—especially boys. There’s a wildness in them—some part that doesn’t like to be tamed. If we over control them, we miss what is best about them. Nothing you do or say will make a child sit still for long. Indeed, I would worry about a child who didn’t act childish! God loves a wild child! If you aren’t wild, God loves you, too. God made us all different, and He loves the differences between us. He wants us to respect each other, whether we are ADD, or calm and collected.

Which leads us to our story for today---Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25.  

We read this story through the lens of history. If you’ve been around a church for long, you’ve probably heard Esau portrayed as the bad child and Jacob as the good child. But this interpretation is grossly unfair. True, there are places in the Bible such as Malachi 1 and Romans 9 where we hear God saying, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated” but God isn’t talking about the boys. When it comes to the boys, God loved them both. 

These two boys had very different personalities, which was revealed in their names.  Esau means “Big Red”.  He was red from the sun and the outdoors. Esau had many traits that we associate today with ADHD children. He was restless and he liked to wander through the woods. He was active and he loved hunting and fishing. He couldn’t sit still at home, so he wandered. He had a hot temper and made sudden, impulsive decisions. 

His father Isaac saw all this and loved him for it. There’s a wild child in the heart of every man.  Author John Eldridge is right about this, every man is wild at heart. Esau embodied the character traits associated with masculinity.

Jacob had the opposite. His name means “Trickster”—tricky Jake. He was quiet and polite. He liked to stay home with Mother. This probably didn’t make him popular with the other boys, but his mother, Rebekah, loved him for it. 

Here we have two fraternal twin boys with very different personalities. Each one had a parent who favored them. Isaac wanted Esau to be the clan leader. It made sense to him. Esau was a man of action, he had a winning personality that attracted others to him. He was full of energy. Who wouldn’t want him to be the leader?

 Rebekah didn’t--she wanted Jacob! We can see Rebekah’ point. He was a quiet, studious, well-behaved child who was smart with good manners.  He was responsible and he wasn’t always tearing off for the woods to hunt. It seemed obvious to her that Jacob, not Esau, would be the better leader.

Isaac and Rebekah had the same problem. They judged the worth of their children by their own judgment. But God doesn’t look at us the way we do.  He doesn’t always pick the strongest or the best, but has a whole different way of judging who should lead. He doesn’t pick people for jobs based on their personality traits, but on their ability to be formed into the one He wants. He doesn’t take us as leaders when we are born, but breaks us and makes us into what He wants us to be. In this way, we don’t get the glory—He does. 

Our behavior as children has little or no connection with our success in life. Those who are well behaved can develop problems later, and those who are ill-behaved can be the best adults. Our personalities are not fixed, they are fluid, developing throughout life. If we allow God to work in us, God will use us, and grow in us. God uses both quiet and rambunctious ones. 

But Rebekah didn’t see this. She judged her boys by her perception of their childish behavior.  Jacob was her favorite, so she conspired with him to steal Esau’s birthright.

First, they went about tricking Esau to give up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Later, when they thought Isaac was dying, she had Jacob pretend to be Esau, to receive Isaac’s blessing. They stole from Esau the place that was rightfully his. 

When Esau found out, he acted like a typical ADD—he blew up! He threatened to kill his brother.   Rebekah arranged a long trip for Jacob to keep him out of harm.

Most commentators seem to be on Jacob’s side here. Well, it was stupid for Esau to sell his birthright for soup! But they miss the point. They stole what was rightfully Esau’s. If someone is dumb enough to leave a wallet on a park bench that doesn’t mean you have the right to steal it! God sees and knows. God may have used Jacob, but that doesn’t make Jacob any less deceitful.

You may have psychological or social problems, but in God’s eyes, you are of no less value than anyone else. He can still use you. Our problems make us unique--they are not a curse. God has a special plan for Esau too, as we shall see. 

As for Jacob, God arranged some serious payback. He became a fugitive, living with his uncle Laban in Syria. While there he fell for his beautiful cousin Rachael. Laban promised that if he worked as a servant for seven years they could get married. But then Laban switched daughters at the altar, and he got plain Leah instead of beautiful Rachael. He had to spend another seven years in indentured servitude to Laban for the privilege of marrying his true love.

What delicious irony—the trickster became the tricked! He learned the hard way that tricking people out of what they wanted the most was not a nice thing to do. 

Jacob and his two wives had thirteen children—twelve boys and a girl. Then Jacob and Laban fell out over some cattle. Jacob ran away again. Uncle Laban promised to kill him if he came back. Now two close relatives were out to kill him—his uncle and his brother. (Family reunions in this family must have been interesting!) 

Jacob had no choice, but to move south into the Holy Land. But it’s hard to sneak around with a tribe that large. Esau heard that he was coming and rode for Jacob with an army at his back!

The Bible tells us very little about what’s been happening with Esau all these years, but it tells us enough to guess. Esau had become the leader of a very large tribe. Isaac was right about Esau—he was no fool. Esau had proved himself a good leader, and as result had collected a very large tribe around him.  It’s not a bad consolation prize for missing the birthright.

 Jacob may have had the covenant promise of Abraham, but in his day, Esau had a much bigger group. Now that group was at Esau’s back as he rode to confront his brother.

The clash happens in Genesis 32--33. Jacob tries to placate Esau by sending all his worldly goods, even his wives and children ahead, to placate his brother’s wrath. Esau kept coming. 

That night, gripped with fear and broken from all his cleverness, Jacob wrestles with God.    Wrestling is something we would associate more with Esau than Jacob. It’s a match he can’t possibly win, and Jacob loses it, big time. It leaves him lame for life. But out of the struggle he changes. He becomes a new person. He even has a new name—Israel, man of God.

 But Esau has also changed. By the time they met, something had been broken in Esau, too.  Maybe it was time that broke him, or maybe it was the humiliation of losing his birthright, but when they met, Esau was a very different man. He fell upon his brother and kissed him in forgiveness. Esau the hotheaded, impulsive child had grown into a man who could forgive his brother.

That’s the way it is with God. It doesn’t matter what you were before or what you think you’re good at, God will beat you at your own game and reduce you to humility and submission. God can want your talents. He wants your humility and obedience. He doesn’t need you to prove yourself to him. He only needs your willingness to be remade. 

When a person makes a sculpture, he doesn’t use the strongest wood. He uses the wood that is the easiest to work. If wood is too strong, it’s useless to the carver. When God makes a person to be used, he doesn’t want the most talented. He wants the one who can be remade. Our strength is a weakness to God, and our weakness is a strength. God must change us to use us.  

When God changes us, He uses two tools—prayer and pain, but mostly pain. Proverbs says, “He who, being reproved stiffens his neck will be broken beyond repair.” God breaks us until we can be used.

Dr. Haddon Robinson told me about sitting through a sermon series called, “Leadership Secrets of Moses.” At the end, he told the preacher. “You left one out. Tell them about the murder and the Egyptian, and burying his body in the desert.”

“Whaat!?” the pastor exclaimed.

He explained that it wasn’t Moses’ strength that made him a leader, but his weaknesses. His sin led him to repent and to humbly follow God. Without brokenness, God can’t use us.

Whatever your personality type, you can still be used by God. Personalities change, God doesn’t. We are all on a journey, and our personality quirks are part of that journey. God loves us just where we are. Don’t be defined by you labels, but trust his goodness, revealed in our failures as well as our successes which lead us to know and love Him more.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Love and Respect - Ephesians 5: 15-32

 Whenever I do premarital counseling, we go over Ephesians 5: 15-32. It usually raises eyebrows with brides to read vs. 22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as unto the Lord.”

If I were a bride, it would certainly bother me. This passage seems to go against everything little girls are taught today about being assertive and strong. To girls growing up in a modern society, this passage seems medieval!

I don’t blame then. I wouldn’t want any woman to simply accept these verses without understanding their true meaning. To see what it really means, see what Paul is saying in its context.

Ephesians is a primer on basic Christianity. In the first half, he focuses on what God does for us.  He loves us unconditionally, without limits. Jesus gives us forgiveness and unites us together in love.

Love is inviting, not demanding. If love is demands, it isn’t love. If a man acts like a tyrant and demands obedience from his wife, he is not following God’s example. God invites a special lifestyle between man and wife, but He doesn’t demand it. God still loves you if you don’t. 

In the second half, Paul focuses on how we love God and each other. In Ephesians 5 and 6 through 6: 9 applies love to three basic relationships in our lives—marriage, children, and employment.

The first thing in all three of these relationships is that they should be love relationships. We are rooted and grounded in love. (Ephesians 3:17), “we bear with each other in love” (Ephesians 4:2), “the Body builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15), “and in all our actions we walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1).  “Love isn’t just something men give to their wives, but everyone gives everyone. Wives should also love their husbands.

In each relationship, love looks a little different. Paul describes in three kinds of relationships—husband/wife, parent/child, and servant/master-- how love looks in each relationship. A child who loves his parents must obey them. A slave who loves his master will do the same. And a woman who loves her husband in Roman society will be obedient. This does not make them unequal in the eyes of God.  The love of Jesus makes us all equal.

The treatment of husbands and wives is given extra treatment in society, because it is the most basic of all human relationships. Only in marriage and in the church are people called one flesh. The unique relationships of husbands and wives makes it more important than any other relationship on earth. 

As we have said, God calls upon us all to love each other as Christ loves us. But he also calls on us to do something else. We also submit to one another. Ephesians 5:21, says,Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Submission isn’t just something that wives do to their husbands. Husbands must submit to their wives. Children don’t just submit to their parents; parents submit to the child. Servants don’t just submit to their masters; master also submit to their servants. Submission is mutual in the Body of Christ. 

What is submission? Obedience, yes, but also consultation and respect. You don’t keep secrets from people to whom you are submissive. You don’t play power games with them. You don’t conceal facts or try to gain the upper hand. You are straight up honest and open. If you respect your boss, you respect his opinion. You don’t work behind his back, you don’t try to circumvent him, and you don’t conceal what you are doing. If the boss doesn’t like your plan and you do, you don’t do it. You respect your boss’ opinion even if you don’t agree. 

Notice, respect is not something that we earn.  We give it “out of reverence for Christ”—that is, because Christ commands we respect. We honor and trust not because they have earned it, but because He has earned it. 

This is mutual in every love relationship. I submit to my wife--if she says no, I don’t proceed.  Our relationship is rooted in God and our mutually submissive behavior is because of what God commands us. The same is true in every other relationship. I respect authority because God has placed me under it.

Love and respect are commanded for all people and to all people. So why does God tell us in Ephesians 5 that men should love their wives and that women respect their husbands? Why is man commanded specifically to love, and women commanded specifically to respect? I believe it is because of the differences between genders. Men are like dogs and women like cats. 

Women are like cats only in this aspect. To make friends with a cat, you approach them directly.  Cats are solitary hunters. When cats look each other in the eye, it is a sign of friendship. Cats look at you, because they demand affection. 

Dogs run side by side, in nature with those who are by their side. If you approach a strange dog directly to give them attention, you might get bitten.  If a dog wants affection, it presents its side, not it’s front. They are indirect in their approach to affection.

Women, like cats look for direct signs of affection. They want to be told you love them. They need to talk about feelings, relationships and love. The primary love language to a woman is direct and emotional. One of the main ways a woman seeks respect is through compliments and signs of affection.

Men, like dogs, do not seek so much a direct expression of love as a show of respect. If two women want to form a friendship bond, they go out to dinner and say so. They compliment each other’s dresses or hair. They discuss their feelings. Through direct revelation of their feelings they build love with each other. If a woman senses that another woman is concealing her feelings, it is seen as a sign of distrust, even if they seem helpful. If two men want to form a friendship bond, they do something together. They put a new engine in a car, go to a football game, or play cards. No one talks about feelings directly. But if you are with men in a conversation you discover their feelings often through indirect feelings. Men care about each other, but they tend to express it in actions and respect. 

Women hear and express love through words, men through actions. This causes problems in marriage, when women don’t hear what men are saying and men don’t hear what women are saying. To address this difference, Paul encourages men and women to speak to each other’s love language. 

Men tell your wives you love them and cherish them as the precious gifts they are to you. Women, respect and admire your husbands by showing them you are willing to follow them. In this way, we are learning to speak each other’s language. Nothing destroys a woman’s self-esteem like not being cherished. Nothing destroys a man’s self-esteem like being disrespected. 

So how does a woman show respect for her man? By actions as well as words. Before you spend money, check with your husband. Before you make plans to do something as a couple, check with him first. He doesn’t like surprises; but prefers to be asked. And men, do the same for your wives. Wives need respect, too. Speaking up to your husband, not down to him. Don’t treat him as another child. Don’t fuss at him about his clothing, but praise him for his good qualities. Don’t speak in condescending ways to him. Let him know that you respect his ability to make decisions. Sometimes when women get together, they engage in gripe sessions about the men they married. Avoid this and think about his good qualities. And men, do the same for your wives. 

No spouse is perfect. But love and respect improve our perception of them. Look upon one another as the best things that have ever happened to each other. Do not let any resentment, anger, or retaliation pass between you without being resolved, prayed about and forgiven. 

Paul spends much longer describing what a man owes his wife.

First, he owes her submission. Our first ministry in life is to make our wives feel special. This is more important than your job, church, or even your kids. Next to honoring God, our purpose is to make our wife feel like queens.

Second, he owes her sacrificial giving. Paul compares the relationship a man has with his wife to the relationship Christ has with his church. He sacrificially loves her. It is a whole-hearted surrender of our lives to hers, without selfishness or thought of reward.

Marriage is not a contract—it’s a covenant. A contract is null and void if the person doesn’t keep up their part. But in a covenant, even if one party doesn’t keep it, it’s still in effect. It’s a permanent, whole-hearted commitment. Christian marriage is a covenant, and it is the duty of every Christian husband to surrender to his wife first, as an example of Christ’s love for us.    

Third, he owes her admiration. Paul compares the wife to Christ’s feelings about his bride. He prepares her in beauty and lavishing his love upon her. So, men should lavish love and affection upon their wives.  

I met a man who did that, years ago. Joy and I were celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary at the beach. As we walked along, we saw a man making a sand sculpture of a heart with an arrow though it. It was at least a foot high and six feet across. A woman looked on and smiled. She was clearly the other set of initials in the sculpture. I said something to her about how lucky she was to have a man who would go to all this trouble.

She answered, “This?  This is nothing! Every day of our marriage, he has found some new way to say, ‘I love you.’ Some days, it’s a note in my lunch box. Some days it’s a dinner. Some days it’s a poem. But every day, he comes up with some new way of saying it.”

I was amazed and more than a little embarrassed. Think the work and creativity involved in finding a new way of saying, “I love you” every day. Yet gentlemen, this is what our wives, your mothers, and our daughters long to hear from us. In doing this, we are taking care of our first ministry every one of us have in this world—our wives.
Husbands love your wives. Wives respect your husbands—not for their sake, but for God’s. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

God, the Mother - Mother’s Day Message - Genesis 1:27

Have you ever noticed how people make so much more fuss over Mother’s Day than they do over Father’s Day? Mothers get flowers, candy, and gifts, but fathers are lucky to get a card or a call. 

James Dobson told the story of a prison chaplain who wanted to promote attendance at the worship service on Mothers’ Day by giving out cards for prisoners to send to their mothers. It was a huge success. So many prisoners wanted them that they soon ran out. It was so successful they decided to try the same thing on Fathers’ Day. But that day it flopped. Only one or two cards were ever taken.  Many prisoners didn’t even know who their fathers were, and most had no desire to honor them.

Mothers are loved in a way that we fathers can only envy. We may love our father, but there’s something special and different in the way we love our mother.

Why? I believe it has a lot to do with the difference between people created as male and female. I want to explore that difference today, and in the next few Sundays. 

The first reference to gender difference comes from the first chapter of the Bible Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

Notice the structure of this verse. God made “man” in His own image. He says this before anything about gender differences. The best aspects of both genders are in God. He’s both protecting and tender. Though the Bible consistently calls Him Father, He’s mother as well. 

“Male and female created He them.”  God divide us into only two genders—male and female. Among us He divided up His perfect image into two distinct forms. One is not superior to the other, but complimentary creations. One gender emphasizes certain traits, while the other emphasizes others.

This last line reads, “male and female created He them.”  The line between male and female characteristics is not absolute, but both men and women possess all masculine and feminine characteristics. Each side represents a certain cluster of traits. Men can be emotional nurturers and women can be tough protectors. If a man loses his wife, then he must be both father and mother to his children. If a woman loses her husband, then she must be the protector and disciplinarian. We are all both masculine and feminine, but in a loving relationship we assume mutually agreed upon roles.

These differences are mostly revealed not through cultural force or dominance, but in a loving, trusting relationship where both men and women are free to be themselves. Gender roles come out more in mutual love and respect. Women can be fully women and men fully men when they are given freedom and love, not rigid structure.

God made differences between people so we can love each other better. Differences are necessary for learning real love. If we only love people who are like ourselves in every way, we are really just loving ourselves. To love another is to respect and to honor the differences between us. 

Love is the basis for the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What holds the Trinity together is the mutual love of three separate, distinct persons in the Godhead. The Father Is not the Son, nor the Son the Holy Spirit, but they love each other perfectly.  One does not lord it over the other. The Trinity is not subordination—Father on top and the Son and Spirit down lower—but the three Persons form an equal, loving partnership. In love, they invite us into the circle through the sacrifice of Christ. In their mutual love, they willingly submit to each other and we submit to them in gladness and joy, experiencing the blessing of our diversity in Him. The future of the human race dependent on men and women loving each other. 

The same is true of marriage. Marriage is an equal, loving partnership. A loving husband does not ever demand his wife obey him, nor would a loving wife fail to do anything her husband wanted or would make him happy. In a loving home, no decision would ever be made without consulting the other. There is no jealousy or fear in love, nor pride or dominance, but mutual concern and respect.

We need the love and companionship of those who are different from us. Men and women need each other, just as blacks and whites need each other, rich and poor need each other, and people of different political perspectives need each other. We complete each other, gaining perspective by sharing life with those who are different from us. Homosexuality and racism at their core have the same problem—we think we can get by only loving those like us. Our differences make us stronger.

Other than the obvious physical traits, what’s the difference between male and female? We can get a sense of what those are through God’s word and the observation of the people around us.  Whatever those differences are, they are both found in the nature of God. He is called “Father,” but He can also be called, “Mother” because He bears the traits that we love and admire in mothers. 

Here are a few verses that show that celebrate the motherly traits of God.   

Psalm 131, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Resting in God is compared to a child resting on a mother’s bosom.  

Isaiah 66:13, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” God provides Israel with the sense of nurture and protection we get from our mothers or wives. 

I Thess 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. Paul declares that his apostolic minister was that of nurture and protection, like a mother. 

God is like an ideal mother, (unfortunately, not all mothers are ideal!)  Ideal mothers love us no matter what. They don’t judge; they don’t reject us if we fail to perform; they don’t care whether we are pretty or ugly; but they just love us.  

Mothers bake us cakes on our birthday. They are our number-one cheerleaders. They kiss us goodnight in the evening and smile to see us get up in the morning. From our first moments, they hold us in their arms. They model before us care and gentleness.

There’s a poem by Julia Kasdorf called,  “Things I Learned from my Mother”:

“I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the seeds with a knife point. 
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.”

God loves us like a mother. He cares and caresses us from the first moment of our conception, even before our mother’s womb. He always loves us, no matter what we do. He’s perfectly empathetic—He feels our pain. He provides us with the confidence and support we need to face the world.

Do you feel the love of God in your life, the way we feel the love of our mothers? Do you recognize in the Trinity the same love, consolation and support that we ideally got from Mom? We should. Our mothers were there to show us this aspect of God.  Mothers teach us what it means to have God love us so when we grow up, they can know what God’s love feels like. This is our first and primary need. If we haven’t experienced the nurturing nature of God’s love, we cannot fully understand or appreciate his correction, power or judgment. God’s nurturing mother love is the first thing we need to know of Him.

This division of male and female doesn’t just speak to our understanding of God, but it has practical application in our daily family life. We need to learn to discover the masculine and feminine nature in our approach to one another. 

If men are protectors and women nurturers, then who nurtures the nurturer, and who protects the protector? Here’s where we make a terrible mistake--and men make it more than women. We make gender roles so rigid that we can’t provide support and love for each other. For a man to love his wife, he must embrace his feminine side along with his masculine side. Women need to be nurtured tenderly by their husbands.

When your wife is affectionate, do you return affection? When your mother tells you she loves you, do you tell her the same? Do you kiss your children good night, and tuck them into bed? If you want your wife to treat you like a king, treat her like a queen. While your wife is being tender and affectionate, she also need affection and tenderness.  

Showing love isn’t easy for some of us, but it is necessary for all of us. The capacity for tenderness exists in us all, because we are created in God’s image. But it may take attentiveness and concentration to remember this. Loving the different, beautiful creature in your own home is how we mirror the Trinity on earth.

More about that next week.