Three Men, Three Hearts

Isaac (v1-5)

Reinforces his trust in God by repeating blessing. He may have had his ups and down in his walk with God, but Isaac stays steadfast here at the end by giving fully to Jacob the blessing.

the unusual phrase a company of peoples adds a new richness to the promises made to Abraham and Isaac. In the word company, from the root ‘to assemble’, the Old Testament term for the church or congregation makes its first appearance, bringing with it the idea of coherence as well as multiplicity.

Esau (v6-9)

Marries two Hittite (Caananite) women (26:34-35), which shows him not waiting for God to lead (like He did for Isaac and Jacob in their spousal searches)

Seeks parents approval and adds to his sins by getting a third wife…from Ishmael. Though he is seeking to find favor and probably forgiveness from his parents, he was not looking for it from God and only went from bad to worse by picking this third wife from a family that was left out of the main line of promise.

Jacob (v10-22)

Jacob obeys and goes (maybe partially out of fear, but he obeys)

Jacob recognizes God’s contact with him during the dream. He knows it is God.

Jacob chooses to trust and follow; setting up the altar as a spot to worship when he returns. He sees his place in the promise and leaves himself something to come back to and praise God for.

Jacob’s reply is often condemned as mere bargaining; yet it was as thorough a response as he knew how to make. It expressed profound awe (16, 17), a preoccupation first of all with the One who had been encountered, not with the things that were promised. From this it issued in homage and in the vow to pledge himself in covenant. The vow was no more a bargain than any other vow (the ‘if’ clause is inherent in the form).

He sees God as the giver of all things and doesn’t hold ownership, but sees his role as a steward with a responsibility to return it to God.

SO WHAT?

The effectual revelation of God’s protective presence and promised blessings for Christians will inspire devout and faithful worship. Those who fully realize God’s gracious provision, those whom the Word of God has powerfully impressed, will respond with consecration and commitment. Where there is no reverential fear, no commitment or no devotion, there is probably very little apprehension of what the spiritual life is all about. Like the revelation to Jacob, the written revelation of God makes people aware of the Lord’s presence and prompts them to a more abundant life.

In other words, is your heart open or closed? To a heart open to Jesus, blessings and promises will flow to us like a raging river. To a closed heart, no matter what a person does, they are only heaping burning coals on their head. The promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are repeated, and even magnified, to believers today. As we are told in Hebrews 13:5, God promises to never leave nor forsake us. Ephesians 1 tells us that we are blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms; chapter 3 says that God will do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

You may be struggling with some sin or a situation that is out of your control, but if you are already in relationship with Jesus, then these promises are already yours. If you are open to Jesus this is available to you too; all you need is to begin a relationship with God. It works like this:

  1. Recognize that God IS…. (holy, perfect, the creator) and that God loves you; in fact, He created the world just so that He could love and be in a relationship with you. Psalm 139
  2. Admit that you have sinned and realize that sin is what separated you from a holy God. Romans 3:23
  3. Agree that Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection really happened. Choose to trust in that sacrifice for you to make you right with God. Hebrews 9:11-14
  4. Reach out to Jesus through prayer and introduce yourself, confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness. Once is enough. Romans 10:9. You are then in a relationship with God and He will lead you through the rest of your life. Those promises I mentioned earlier become yours. IT ALL STARTS AT THE INTRODUCTION. The Holy Spirit in you becomes the guarantee of the inheritance we all have in Christ. Ephesians 1:14
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Breaking Down Barriers of Self

Thankfully, God works with us inside each step of our obedience. Abram obeyed and went (thus, going all-in); and we see God leading Abram on a path of a righteous life. Though he believed and it was credited to him as righteousness, he still had a faith journey to walk, much like we learned about in the 1 John series. God had to break down Abram’s stubbornness and reliance on self, which we see in numerous stories between chapters 12 and 22. Yet in our text today, we see Abram growing a ton while dealing with this situation with Lot. He was given an opportunity to grow through the consequences that came because of him bringing Lot in the first place.

  1. Abram finally obeyed that command in letting Lot go, doing so in a generous and loving way. This is when God tells Abram to lift his eyes and see all around – all that land will be his with descendants that cannot be numbered. A reminder of the promise.
  2. God responds by lifting Abram’s eyes to see the promise (vs. Lot who chose on his own to go to Sodom) in 13:10-13. Sodom–known for its exceeding wickedness (13:13). We see of the city’s problems in 14:2-4, where the King of Sodom and some of his city-state king friends rebel against the bigger King over Elam (farther to the east). This ends up with the evil kings losing and Lot being captured in the war, thus needing Abram’s help.
  3. Abram then wins a major battle of vengeance for the coward kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (they run away and hide during the battle) and recognizes God’s thumbprint in this victory with the arrival of Melchizidek, King of Salem. Abram doesn’t know who this guy is, but Abram recognizes his faithfulness to God and sees a choice before him: either take from the King of Sodom or give to the King of Salem. We can understand this a little better by reading Hebrews 7, but the Israelites (as the intended recipients), nor Abram knew who Melchizidek was at the time. To Abram, he saw Mel as the one whom God approved as opposed to the king of Sodom and ultimately saw this is a choice between righteousness and sin. Abram chose wisely.

God does not rely on our obedience to accomplish His plans, but works with us on this journey. He patiently walked with Abram as he realized his mistakes and started to make better choices.

  1. Despite all the steps forward, Abram takes a step back. He complains that God hasn’t given him an heir and his main benefactor is a servant in his house. God’s response is to show him His promises still apply by laying out the details of God’s promise to Abram (ch. 12) in ch. 15.
  2. 2 questions: what were the terms of the contract? And why all the animal slaughter?
    1. Terms: the terms of the promise never change and create a clear line all the way to today – with Abram’s seed leading to Jesus, all in the world are blessed by His grace. Those who join Abram’s family (place their faith in Jesus) get to partake in the complete promise made through this covenant.
    2. Why animal slaughter? That was the cultural tender for a legal contract at the time. Two people entering an agreement would take those animals, slice them in half and create a path to walk through the middle of them. The consequence of breaking the covenant/contract was that they would be like those sacrificed animals. It’s gruesome, but important.
      1. What is most important to note here, though, is just who walked through the path. God puts Abram into a deep sleep, then God alone walks through the path. This shows that these promises are not dependent on Abram, but on God alone. There is nothing here for Abram to fulfill. It means this covenant is unconditional; God will bring it to pass fully on his own, regardless of what Abram or his descendants do.

So What?

We see God clearly leading Abram on a journey of faith; NOT a decision of faith. Yes, Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (15:6), but as we all know, that doesn’t mean all our choices after that are perfect. Faith and obedience with God is a journey and Abram is walking his path, tripping and falling on his way. Yet that doesn’t deter God’s plan for him.

Look at this from the Israelites perspective sitting on the plains of Moab ready to enter the promised land. They are fully aware that they have not been fully obedient either; if they had, their wilderness journey would have been 38 years shorter. They have dealt with the consequences of their sin just like Abram did and are on the cusp of physically receiving the promised land God walked through that covenant path to guarantee. God holds his promise true and fulfills it to completion regardless of our obedience. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The Darkside: Sin’s Engagement with the World

THE DARK SIDEI think we have reached an interesting crossroads in American culture. Causes abound for people to get behind some movement to create change for good. It almost seems popular now to join a cause or fight for others who may have it more difficult. Whether it is saving old buildings from being torn down by renovating them or making sure a service dog gets a proper retirement, there are GoFundMe pages for pretty much anything, and it is nearly impossible to scroll through your Facebook New Feed without seeing someone ranting about some problem or cause. It almost seems like our culture has taken a few positive steps ahead and is finally looking past ourselves and on to those whom we could serve, but I’m afraid it is merely a veneer, covering the reality of our current culture.

Take this for example; there is currently a GoFundMe page for someone trying to save the lives of two pit bulls. What the page doesn’t explain is that those pit bulls (along with their owner) are being prosecuted right now because of an attack on a person and the dog they were walking. What seems good on the outside may not be exactly the story taking place. Or how about this?

Last week in Seattle, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation, a man wearing board shorts entered the women’s locker room and took off his shirt. Women alerted staff, who told the man to leave, but he said “the law has changed and I have a right to be here.” “Really bizarre,” MaryAnne Sato said. “I can’t imagine why they would want to do that anyway!” Sato uses the locker room a few times a week, but she says this is a first for her. It’s also a first for Seattle Parks and Recreation. Employees report that the man made no verbal or physical attempt to identify as a woman, yet he still cited a new rule that allows bathroom choice based on gender identification (King5). This man has not been charged with a crime, and according to the report, has since done it again!

This ought to give us good insight into the reality of where we are at today as Americans. The last few years have been spent trying to defend everyone and not make anyone feel uncomfortable (which is impossible, by the way), which is where this Seattle law came from – anyone can go into any restroom they want as long as they admit to identifying with that gender. Miss Sato even said she couldn’t believe that someone would use the law for their own desires, yet this is exactly where we are.

We Have Changed the Definition of Good

As a nation, the outside actions may look like the choices people make are motivated by care, love, or some other kind of goodness (that, of course, depends on your personal point-of-view), but the reality is quite different. We have, as a nation, each become our own wolf in sheep’s clothing. Why?

The problem of sin has hit an exponential growth rate in this latest generation. With the open acceptance of sin and the refusal to publicly call it sin anymore, independent sin issues have given way to corporate sin permission. Basically, whatever is evil is not called evil anymore and whatever is right is now considered evil. Guess what, friends, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Let’s pray that He light a pathway through these next few chapters to give us some insight into how we can live a Gospel-centered life and not only navigate the murky waters of our communities, but also be a source for good.

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” (Gen 4:3-12)

There are numerous other stories through these passages that could be looked at and referenced, such as the Nephilim, details on the flood, etc… but with this being an overview of sin’s engagement with the world, we don’t have time to go into all the details. You can read those on your own and see how they add to the exposition here.

Dueling the Sin Nature of Man

The duality of man is a difficult subject and intensely personal battle we all face. Cain was seeking the favor of the Lord, though He was not offering his first fruits, or the best he could offer, therefore the Lord chose Abel’s offering instead. Cain’s sin was rooted in his selfishness and desire to hold back the best for himself, yet his pride deceived him into real anger when he found out that Abel had the better offering – Cain seriously believed his offering would be accepted, despite its impurity. God still gives Cain a choice, a better option, yet with warning. Verse 7: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

When we allow the Gospel into our lives through the saving grace of Jesus, the old has gone and the new has come. That slave ownership to sin is dead, but we have not yet been perfected and sin still wages its war in us. Paul described that very battle in Romans 7. It is a lot like this. Imagine a  briefcase as my sin. Before I received the Gospel of Jesus, it was handcuffed to me and there was nothing I could do to put it down or get rid of it. It was shackled to me. Even when I wanted to do good or keep it at bay, the best I could do was hide it for a while. With Christ, he unlocks the handcuffs and frees us from the sin. It is no longer stuck to us, and its power to enslave is gone. We can, however, still pick it up and carry it along, yet all we need to do is put it down and focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Sin is still right there and we can pick it up anytime we desire. This is why God’s offer/warning to Cain returns in Revelation 3:20; except this time it is directed to the church, to Christians, and it is Jesus knocking at the door. It becomes very easy as Christians, especially for those that have been following God for a long time and who have allowed Him to make changes in their life to become more like Jesus, to forget how close to sin we really are. No matter a person’s age or maturity level, that briefcase will still be right there, available for pick up. All you need is the right trigger at the right time. We are not that different from Cain, even as believers. We don’t get farther away from sin; we can become stronger against its advances, but don’t let yourself believe it’s not right around the corner waiting for you.

It is this ultimate reality that leads God to question this quest; to test Himself and His resolution.

A Glimpse into the Person of God

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. (Gen 6:5-13,17-19)

Allow me first here to make a specific note on a few theological items. First, we cannot look at God’s story using linear chronology. What this means is that, as we read the Bible starting from Genesis 1, it can look like God’s plan unfolded like this: Creation-Fall-Redemption. Simply put, that means that what happened is the way we read about it. God created the world, we messed it up, then He set about on a plan of redemption. However, from passages like Psalm 74:12-17, 1 Peter 1:18-20, Eph. 1:4 and others, God’s chronological order was Redemption-Creation-Fall. Basically it means that before the world was created, the Holy Trinity existed and knew they wanted to create humanity for the purpose of showing us how much He loves us. Jesus and the cross was the whole plan. That’s why He created the world.

Second, God is allowing us to see in verses 5-8 a glimpse into His “person-hood”; His emotions. Our sin grieved God to a point where He actually felt betrayed by us and wondered if the love of those who would follow him was worth the pain caused by everyone else. Verse 8 teaches us a profound lesson – but for Noah. All it took to save humanity was the return love of one individual. God’s whole purpose is love, and it doesn’t take much to get Him to notice. We see this kind of response from God again in Genesis 18. What we are given through this story of the flood and even of Sodom and Gomorrah is God defining for us His views on justice and mercy.

Verse 13 makes it clear that God does bring judgment down on the earth. Justice will be served; wrong-doing will be accounted for. However, that is not the end of the story. With the ark, God provides a remnant, a survivor and makes that survivor a promise – this will not happen again. Humanity will not be wiped away in one fell swoop. In the end, the sheep will be separated from the goats, but that is a different act. What God is saying to Noah is that God is merciful in His justice. That’s the key.

God is saying that justice and mercy are not separate terms; they are one in the same. They cannot exist without each other; for justice without mercy is revenge and mercy without justice is enablement. True justice includes mercy. This becomes clearer at the end of the flood.

God’s Definition of Mercy

And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (Gen 7:21-24)

Noah is that mercy in the justice of the flood. This is the precedent that God is setting when He promises not to flood the earth again; no hasty decisions, no surprises. Each person will one day have to face God and account for their life; but His mercy is offered by way of a pardon in the person of Jesus. His mercy is time – patience. I can’t tell you how many blog posts I have read talking about the world today that end in “Come quickly, Lord Jesus”, and yes, I am all for that, but the reason that evil still exists in the world is purely a result of His mercy! See what Peter says here: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God has allowed time to unfold and His return to be stayed not because He is off doing something else or doesn’t care anymore, but because He does! The longer He delays the more people have a chance to repent! If you all knew that in 1 hour the world would end and you would be in front of God, how different would that last hour be compared to the previous 23? Instead of being weary of the world around us and begging for His return, shouldn’t we take advantage of His patient mercy and make sure everybody has the opportunity we’ve had?

We are given a chance to be a force for good in this world. The Gospel in us, the hope of salvation and the only source for change is in us. God is holding back His return to give us time to share and others time to respond. The problem of evil in our world today is a gift of His merciful justice! No one is escaping punishment, but we are all given the chance to have our debts paid by Jesus. Yet the Gospel is even more than that; it is the power in us to make us Holy and strengthen us against sin.

A Christian’s Fight

Regardless, sin never strays far from us. Christian or not, it is still crouching at the door, waiting for an open opportunity to strike. It is weakened, in that once we choose Christ, it cannot re-enslave us, even though it can distract us. Those who are honest with themselves know all too well that sin can creep up anytime.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. (Gen 9:20-23)

Notice that sin did not die with the flood. As soon as the covenant with the rainbow was in place, Noah got drunk and Ham fell into corruption and gossip. Evil still exists; it is still there in you and won’t be fully gone until the day of perfection in Christ Jesus – the day you see Him face to face. What we Christians have today is a choice. We have options – we can pick that sin up if we want and will most likely have some earthly consequences to deal with; or we can go step by step and day by day, giving our life over to God and being asked to be filled by His Spirit. We can choose to do good, not for earthly reward, but to please our Lord and build up treasures in heaven.

Engage Sin or Engage God?

We can choose to be angry and disconnect from the world around us, or we can choose God’s pathway – to engage with the people around us and, through patience and mercy, stand up for God and show others the way to freedom. How does that look in our lives? We need to stop hating and ranting against what we don’t like and focus on solutions. Here is an example – I saw a Facebook meme recently that posed an interesting question. “If you call yourself pro-life, what are you doing for the orphans and homeless?” It can be so easy to take up the cause against abortion and fight to make it illegal again; yet being pro-life is much bigger than that, isn’t it? Jesus showed us the power of human touch and love through His miracles – how many lives have you touched lately? Many people have asked me how I can be a foster parent – they say that the fear of a child being taken away from them is just not something they can face. I agree with them – that is a terrible feeling, but that’s not the right way to look at foster care. People shouldn’t be afraid of a child being removed from their care, but of the countless children in southwest Florida alone that are going without love, food  and care tonight.

This is just one way to engage with the world and there are many angles on which to fight for Jesus through love and mercy. But the challenge today is simple: you need to be careful, because as God said to Cain, sin is crouching at your door, especially if you are not engaging with God.

God engaged with us when the whole world was at its most corrupted and defined true justice. He has chosen to make us His representatives today. I think there is a direct correlation between our passionate activity following God and the strength sin has to distract us. It will always be there, it will always try, but if we don’t have time for it because we giving all of our time to the Gospel, then there won’t be as many chances to pick it back up. What do you need to put in your life today that will help you stay strong against sin and be God’s mercy in the world?