Thursday, April 16, 2009

What A Man (or Woman) Wants from God

I had occasion recently to look at three separate portions of Scripture which I will call A (I Chronicles 4:10), B (2 Chronicles 7:13-18) and C (Matthew 7:7). They are reproduced for you below. Together they say a lot about us. In A, a man called Jabez calls on God to bless him and increase his material goods. He wants God's hand to be with him in whatever he pursues, so he will succeed. He also wants God's hand present for his safety and protection. In short, he wants to live without pain. And interestingly enough, God granted Jabez what he requested.

All we know about Jabez came from the previous verse (I Chronicles 4:9) which simply tells us "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers". Strong's Bible Dictionary, however, uses all the following interpretations of the word used here for honorable -- to be heavy, be weighty, be grievous, be hard, be rich, be honourable, be glorious, be burdensome, be honored. Not sure just which one applied to Jabez and why God granted his request so readily. What exactly may Jabez have been like to be so blessed? More importantly, what does it take to be successful in very difficult times that some of us are currently in? Some may be facing incredible personal challenges and difficulties. Others of us may be suffering collectively as a result of the economy. What does it take to succeed like Jabez in such times?

I believe that scripture portion B may give us a good idea as we listen to God speaking to Solomon, the son of David. God is basically telling Solomon what the secret of success, especially in adversity, is. But first let's talk about the adversity God refers to and compare that to what we may be going through. Here are God's examples:

1. drought (not having enough rain to grow crops to feed yourself and your family), or in today's lifestyle -- visiting the groceries stores to find nothing on the shelves -- that's adversity.
2. allowing locusts to eat up the land, so even if you had rain, nothing would grow, or in today's lifestyle -- allowing the immorality of man to destroy all that is good around us and within our families -- that's adversity.
3. pestilence (a fatal epidemic disease like the bubonic plague of old) to cripple or kill off your family, or in today's lifestyle -- Aids or Cancer or Mental Illness -- that's adversity.

God's formula for success will stand up to those levels of adversity and beyond. While some may be approaching that degree of adversity in their lives, the majority of us who believe we are suffering in North America today, are not playing anywhere near the same ballpark.

Now, here's the formula (even under extreme adversity -- which by the way, God Himself allows in order to deal with both the just and the unjust as they live their lives or for whatever personal reason He may choose -- for He IS God) -- here's the formula that will work for "His People" (condition number #1). We're talking about His people; those who know Him personally and have a personal relationship with Him. Yesterday, I was listening to a gospel song I had not heard before. It was about someone trying to enter heaven and finding out his name was not in the Book of Life. He argued he had been to Church, but admitted he had never knelt to pray. He had done some good things that he listed and felt his name should be there, but it wasn't. He had failed to accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior. In short, God was not able to include him in His "My People" that He refers to in passage B.

First comes the belonging to Him, then comes the obedience in four specific ways, for God says, if My People:
i. humble themselves (no more "I can do it myself; I know how to run a business; I know how to make money; I know how to succeed; I know how to get fit and healthy; etc."),
ii. pray (as a way of life, not as an obligation; continuously; believing He can; accepting if He doesn't wish to; but always giving Him the praise and glory regardless of His answer),
iii. seek My face (deeply searching to know Him and His will for us), and
iv. (the clincher) turn from their wicked ways (no exceptions; obedience to God has no loopholes).

First we qualify, then we follow the rules. Then He comes through. He's going to hear you; He's going to forgive you your sin; He's going to heal your own personal land. And we better be doing some of that praying right in our churches. I know a lot of discussion goes on about who and what the church is these days. And I agree it is not a physical building. But it is a physical body of believers. So some of that praying (or a lot of it) better be done in the communion of that body of believers because God specifically says in 2 Chronicles 7:16 that is He particularly tuned in to prayer that occurs in His House; because that's the place He has chosen and consecrated to be used to glorify His name forever. And besides, that's where His eyes and His heart are and will be. You can't avoid the Church -- both the universal Body of Christ and the local body of believers. Don't stay home on Sundays unless you're dying of illness. There's no excuse no matter what your mind comes up with.

Then God speaks to Solomon about Solomon. "Okay, I'll hear my people if they humble themselves, pray, seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways. But you Solomon (and that goes for each of us), you "walk before Me; you do according to all that I commanded you; and you keep my Laws, and I will establish your throne, Solomon!" Or, "I WILL increase your territory, Jabez. I WILL bless you Ken, Mary, Sally, Fred. That's a promise."

And that promise was carried right through to the New Testament when we check passage C. If we ask, it will be given to us; if we seek, we will find; and if we knock, it will be opened to us. But you see, it's all part and parcel of passage B. Passage A is what we want. Passage B is what God expects and promises. Passage C reconfirms the arrangement for the 21st century.

Passage A
1Ch 4:10 Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep {me} from harm that {it} may not pain me!" And God granted him what he requested.

Passage B
2Ch 7:13 "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people,
2Ch 7:14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2Ch 7:15 "Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer {offered} in this place.
2Ch 7:16 "For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
2Ch 7:17 "As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,
2Ch 7:18 then I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, 'You shall not lack a man {to be} ruler in Israel.'

Passage C
Mat 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Discover for yourself, if you already do not know, that God is in the business of saving the lost and blessing the found.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Season's Greetings

Do you ever wonder why we only send Season's Greetings at Christmas? I received no valid explanation when I asked that question of others. So, at this Easter Season, I send you Easter Greetings.

It is Good Friday. I just returned from walking through two local malls in a coastal resort city of South Carolina. Both in the malls and driving from where I was staying to them and back, I saw no evidence anywhere of what, or better still, Who gave us cause to celebrate Easter in the first place. Even the billboards in front of churches were low key. There is no doubt that we are moving into a new post-modern era. Christendom as we know it is quickly slipping away in North America. In fact, some call this the post-Christian era. Will Mancini, in his book, Church Unique, even goes so far as to suggest it is anti-Christian. As Christians we have squandered our earthly inheritance just like the prodigal son. Put another way, we have lost our influence. Easter means nothing more than bunnies and chocolate eggs. Even the Easter bonnets have disappeared in many places. Christian parents are struggling to focus their children on its true meaning.

Okay world, we admit it. We have failed. But please don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes, we've done a lot of things we should not have, and we've failed to do things we should have done. We've pursued goals and objectives under the banner of the Church that had no place being associated with the Church. We've fought with each other in the Church and left a bad taste in the mouths of those that observed us from outside the church. Even, inside the Church, many who found themselves involved in the differences we never resolved, leaving them as 'unfinished business', were also disillusioned. Yet, to be fair, for many, we have been the means by which they were introduced to the God they sought and shown how to find peace with Him. In the name of Christ, various of our brothers and sisters have done much to help humanity. While I can give you hundreds of names of Christians over the decades that fit this category, I only need to mention one to get my point across -- Mother Teresa. Enough said.

But here's the rub. God does exist even if we don't choose to recognize Him. And furthermore, He has chosen the Church, with all its warts, as His official representative. So if we're not succeeding in our mission, it's not God's fault. It's our fault. He has no other plan to complete His personal mission for the world and He does not intend to go back to the drawing board. Some of us in the Body recognize that. We recognize that we need to change. And we're also doing all we can to change how the world views us. Chances are, however, that most of the world won't notice because we're not using a multi-billion dollar advertising campaign; we're not having major cosmetic surgery performed; we're not even changing many of our administrative leaders. No, instead, we're working as a group, yet very individually, to each become the man or woman we were intended to be. We are doing all we can to learn how we can live and proclaim Christ's gospel "in the world". We know that many of you won't come to the church anymore, so we need to "be the Church" outside the physical church building. In fact, we want as many of you as possible to start thinking of church not as "a place where some people go" but rather for what it was intended to be. We want the Church for you to be "what John, Janice, Tom, and Mary and all those who are truly Christ-followers in deed and in word, are." Not a place, but a group of people who are indeed different because of Christ's love being extended to others through them. When you can recognize that Church, whether you belong to it or not, we'll have achieved our goal. When you have voluntarily chosen to join us in our beliefs because of what you have seen as you observed our lives, then we can rejoice together that the Holy Spirit of God has done HIs work in you.

This small group of Christians, from all denominations and backgrounds, refers to itself as "the missional church". By that we mean that we are less interested in what we can do to reach more people for Christ than how we can be more like Christ in the world. If we stay true to our desire, you'll see many more of us moving away from a goal oriented strategy (i.e. doing things) to one that emphasizes 'being' more like Christ not so much in the church, but "in the world" where the rubber hits the road and where everyone is living life. We believe we will be of more earthly good there.

There is no guarantee that all of you will buy into what we are doing. Unfortunately, there will be many who will continue to ignore what they heard before, and even now, what they may see in the lives of missional Christians. We, for our part, will go on living as we believe we should. We'll leave your relationship with God between the two of you.

As you approach Easter Sunday, you have a choice. You can consider it an old holiday started by a bunch of fanatics that has now turned into just another marketing day for the sake of Wall Street. Or, you can investigate why that single day in history was so pivotal to the world for the last 2000 years and will once again, form the vary foundation on which the entire world and all humanity will be judged by the very God who sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice so that you and I may live forever. Either way, I wish you a Happy Easter!

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Genesis 25:19-21 -- Isaac’s Family

Genesis 25:19-21: Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.

At this point Isaac’s family tree seems to be shorter than Ishmael’s. To our chronological chart we can now add the year of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah, when he was 40 years old:

• 3271 Abraham was 100 when Sarah bore Isaac to him (Gen. 21:5)
• 3308 Isaac was 37 years old when Sarah died (3271 plus 37)
• 3311 Isaac, at age 40, marries Rebekah (Genesis 25:20)
• 3346 Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7,8)
• 3394 The death of Ishmael (based on his birth in 3257 and now Genesis 25:17)

Whereas one would have thought that people married very young in the past compared to now, that was not always the case. Isaac was a full 40 years old when he married. When one is waiting for God’s chosen mate for him- or her- self, sometimes one needs to wait a relatively long time. However, as all who wait on the Lord have found out, the wait for His chosen mate for them is well worth it. If you do not readily agree with that statement, maybe the premise “that it was indeed His chosen mate for you” was not the fact in your case.

Our chronological chart also tells us that Abraham lived another 35 years after Isaac married Rebekah. Long enough to have enjoyed grandchildren through both Ishmael and Isaac. Reminiscent of his mother Sarah’s story and her barrenness, Isaac now finds himself praying to the Lord for his own wife, Rebekah, asking Him to help her conceive, as she too was barren. Scripture very simply just tells that “the Lord answered him and his wife conceived”.

As I consider those few words uttered as simply a “matter of fact”, I stop and wonder whether things have really changed between the period of Isaac’s life and now. Can we still pray to God on someone’s behalf? Can God still answer? Can the thing we prayed for simply come to pass? And the answers always come back in the affirmative. God is still the same. We still have access to Him through prayer. He is still involved in our lives and He still works both within and beyond the natural. I believe what makes the difference between prayer answered along our line of request and prayer answered differently (for God always answers prayer – sometimes with a ‘yes’, sometimes with a ‘no’, sometimes with a ‘later’, and oftentimes with a ‘better’), is whether or not what we are asking for is in His will for our lives or the lives of those on who’s behalf we are praying. In fact, I have come to discover that the real purpose of prayer is to glory God and to have His magnificence manifested to us and to others through our lives. It is not primarily to gain outcomes that we desire, although those may well come in the bargain. C.S. Lewis once suggested that God answers prayer in one of two ways, either “Yes” or “God’s grace is sufficient!” How true.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Genesis 25:11-18 -- Ishmael's Family

Genesis 25:11-18: And it came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi. Now these are {the records of} the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's maid, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes. These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives.

Volume I ended at Genesis 25:10 with the death of Abraham. As we begin Volume II we are informed that after Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac or perhaps continued to bless Isaac. What a delight that must be for a parent? And what does that look like in today’s world?

To begin with, the God we believe in cares for our family. His relationship may be strongest with us, but He, partly, but not exclusively, because of that relationship, He also cares for those that we cherish and love. And that care goes on after we’re gone from this earth. That is a benefit for the Christian. Genesis 25:11 is the first clear evidence of that in scripture.

So what does that look like for us today? For starters, it is not about fame and riches. It is not about prestigious positions in big companies, or fancy houses, or multiple luxury cars. It is not about having money to travel the world in Executive Class. No, for in fact as I pen these words, I think of one of my beloved children. At this very point in time, he is once again between jobs, separated from his wife of two years, and living in a very small basement apartment. Yet he is walking with the Lord, volunteering at his church, enjoying friends, is in good health and excellent spirits. He is pursuing journalism classes and with his wife, working on their relationship to see if they can get back together. His finances are limited to whatever small writing assignments he can get and he’s doing a great job of writing when he does get work. I believe God is very much interested in him. Perhaps to teach him more lessons that he has not yet learned. For me, that is blessing enough and I thank God for it.

The text records that Ishmael, Abraham’s eldest son through Hagar, the Egyptian handmaid of his wife, Sarai, had twelve sons. Each one set up their own village or town that was likely protected as one or more campsites of many tents. This was typical of Nomadic tribes at the time and each of Ishmael’s sons was the chief or prince of their village people or tribe.

With the knowledge of the fact that Ishmael died after living 137 years, we can now return to our chronological table that we started in Volume I of the series. As shown by the first three, the birth of Ishmael, and the last three entries we made in Volume I reproduced below, we are keeping track of the number of years since Adam was created (that year being designated as ‘year 0’). To these we now add Ishmael’s death according to Scripture.

• 0 Adam created (Genesis 1:27)
• 130 Seth born to Adam (Genesis 5:3)
• 235 Enosh born to Seth (Seth was 135 years old) (Genesis 5:6)
• . . . .
• 3257 Abraham was 86 when Hagar bore Ishmael to him (Gen. 16:16)
• . . . .
• 3271 Abraham was 100 when Sarah bore Isaac to him (Gen. 21:5)
• 3308 Isaac was 37 years old when Sarah died (3271 plus 37)
• 3346 Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7,8)

Now we can add the following:

• 3394 The death of Ishmael (based on his birth in 3257 and now Genesis 25:17)

Scripture tells us that the sons of Ishmael settled from Havilah to Shur. Havilah is first mentioned in Genesis 2:11 when the text identifies the various lands that the rivers flowing out of Eden went through. Havilah was on the river Pison. In Genesis 10, Havilah is the name of a great-grandson (vs. 7) and a great-great-great-great-great-grandson (vs. 29) of Noah. (I continue to be amazed at the details that God had arranged to be passed on to the author of Genesis so many years later.) Havilah as a place was part of the old Persia, the new Iran, and likely closer to India or at least that part that today is Pakistan.

But more interesting than the exact location is the fact that the Bible specifies that Ishmael and his families settled there in “defiance of all his relatives”. The King James Version uses the words “in the presence” of his brethren (or relatives). Several other versions however seem to indicate the Hebrew word used implied more than that as hinted at in the New American Standard Bible we are using. The consensus is that he settled facing, or opposite, or away from his brothers or relatives. This may well be in keeping with the prophecy that angel gave to Hagar when she was pregnant with him. In Genesis 16:12 we read, “And he will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.” Certainly these verses here are evidence that he flourished and stood out among his brothers, holding his own. Still, there is no record here that he was weary of the world when he died or willing to leave it as Abraham, his father, was.

On the other hand, Ishamael did live 137 years which demonstrates how God listened to Abraham’s prayer for him in Genesis 17:18 when he pleaded, “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!”

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The First 3,346 Years

At Genesis 25:10, we come to the end of the world’s first 3,346 years since God created it. Man and woman enter the picture and are given benefits beyond belief as well as a pleasant responsibility to take care of the earth. However, through the deception of the serpent Satan, they are encouraged to disobey and contravene what God had asked of them for their own good. This disobedience introduced sin into the world and with it, the fall of mankind. Adam and Eve are evicted from the Garden of Eden and life became very difficult for them.

One of their sons murders his brother and the corruption of mankind continued to slide so much that God wanted to start all over again. To do so, He had to destroy every living thing through a flood. Only Noah and his family were spared, along with the animals God had instructed Noah to take into an ark that he had build to God’s specifications.

God then promised that He would never again destroy the world in that way. Abram comes into the scene and God selects him to be the Father of God’s chosen people, the Israelites through which God was going to bless all of mankind. From Genesis chapter 16 to the early parts of chapter 25, we followed the story of Abram, how his named was changed to Abraham, and finally having a son, Isaac, through his wife Sarah, formally called Sarai. Prior to Isaac’s born, Sarai, being anxious to give Abram a male heir, gives him her Egyptian maid, Hagar, who bears him Ishmael. Sarai then requests that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. God pursues His own plan and the promise He made to Abraham in spite of the assistance that Sarah and he were trying to give Him. Eventually Sarah dies, Isaac marries Rebekah, Abraham takes another wife named Keturah who bears him six sons, and eventually the Patriarch Abraham dies at age 175.

But the foundation has been set for a great people to rise up through which God would bless all mankind. The story may have begun with Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac, but it continues to this very day with you and me, and those that may well come after us. We are just as much a part of this story as the characters we read about and studied. The exact role we are to play is a function of our faith in, and relationship with, the God who created Adam and was a Friend of Abraham’s.

Living in the 21st however, we, however, have the benefit of being involved with more of the triune God than Adam or Abraham were. We have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, and being guided every day of our lives by the Holy Spirit of the Almighty.

As we close this volume, I hope you will join me, as God may permit both of us, on the next journey of this incredible story starting some 3,346 years after creation.

Sign up (on the right) to receive free updates. We bring you relevant information from all sorts of sources. Subscribe for free to this blog or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar. And please share this blog with your friends and while you’re here, why not check out some more of our recent blogs shown in the right hand column.

Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.