The Great Escape

“Endure hardship as training; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not trained by his father?”  Hebrews 12:7

Wendy and I are reading a book by her friend Vanessa (http://www.amazon.com/Among-Myrtle-Trees-Restoring-Abandoned-ebook/dp/B00J08X21M/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1440175314&sr=1-1&keywords=among+the+myrtle+trees). In it, she quotes her husband as saying, “I am built for the fight, not the run.”

All creatures, it seems, react to a difficult situation in one of two ways, “fight or flight.” Christians, though, are not built for flight. Have a look at Ephesians 6. There’s no protection for our backs.

Many of us are in the middle of some difficulty. The difficulty is not necessarily from God (although some certainly are), it may be of our own making, or a result of someone else’s choices. Regardless, though, Hebrews teaches us that in that situation, if we look hard enough, God is wanting to teach us something.

All of us, at one time or another, need to unplug and unwind from a situation that we’re in. This is healthy and can give us some perspective that we desperately need. If you are doing this more than once, though, in the same situation, be careful–you are probably escaping.

I’ve been seeing this week that escape leads to addiction. Your drug of choice may be alcohol, food, sex, music, TV, video games, hunting, fishing, sports, whatever, but it all leads to addiction of some sort and, in the end, will damage your relationships, your family, your home, and your walk with the Lord.

We are made to stand. That’s what Ephesians 6:13 says:

” Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

I have never served in the military, but many of my family members have. None of them liked boot camp. All of them found it to be one of the best experiences of their lives. Why? Because they learned something very important about themselves. They learned how to be an overcomer.
In your situation right now God is wanting you to learn something. He wants you to overcome. The situation may not change, but you will.

In your situation is the best experience of your life. God has something there he wants you to learn. Stand strong, overcome. The battle’s not over until we win.

The New Gentiles, Part 3, The Age of the House of Judah

Caanan in the time of Joshua
Caanan in the time of Joshua

This is the third part of a four part series. See also: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.

Joshua began the conquest of Canaan at the fortified city of Jericho. The reason that Jericho was equipped with the walls it had was because it was in the middle of a river plain. This was a horrible spot to be defending yourself in case of an attack.

Once God demolished the walls of the city, there was no refuge for the Israelites. Joshua had hundreds of thousands of women and children grouped up like sitting ducks awaiting a counter-attack from one of the seven nations occupying the region of Canaan.

So Joshua does what any good commander would do. Immediately, he begins moving this vast people to higher ground. He heads north and west and settles in the area of Shiloh on top of Mt. Ephraim. This becomes his headquarters for the conquest of Canaan.

Here, the tabernacle is deployed and Shiloh is now the center of worship for all of Israel. Shiloh is firmly in the middle of Ephraim’s territory, and the home of God’s worship remains there until after the birth of king David. Later Saul screws up and the ark of the covenant ends up at the house of Obed-Edom in what would later be the northern kingdom of Ephraim.

During David’s reign in Israel, he moves the center of worship for the first time into Jerusalem in the territory of Judah and sets up the ark of the covenant there on Mt. Zion. Now David, flowing out of the Melchizedek side of his anointing, builds a temporary home for the ark of the covenant out in the open behind his palace and everyone in Israel has access to God’s presence for the first time in the history of Israel.

But David lacks the spiritual “sperm,” if you will, to pass on the Melchizedek side of his nature. He places Solomon on the throne, and one of Solomon’s first acts is to put the presence of the Lord in a box (the temple) and re-institute placing a man (the priest) between the people and God.

Because “Judah is my lawgiver” (Psalms 60:7, KJV), the house of Judah is forever tied with the Levitical priesthood and anointing. You see this as you read through the history of the kings of Israel in I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, and I & II Chronicles. Every time you read of a strong king, he is joined by a strong Levitical priest. Every time you read of a strong priest, he is joined by a strong king.

  • David and Zadok
  • Solomon and Zadok & Abiathar
  • Josiah and Hilkaih
  • Zerubbabel and Ezra
  • Nehemiah and Ezra
  • And many more…

This marriage of the line of Judah and the Levitical priesthood continues until completed by Jesus upon his arrival on earth. To continue this tradition, he needs to be joined by a powerful priest.

During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a [Levitical] priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old. It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear. But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John [the Baptizer].

Luke 1:5-13

All of this was to wrap up the Levitical anointing.

Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures – either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama.

Matthew 5:17

And so, Jesus did.

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last. At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces.

Matthew 27:50-51

And once again, as had only happened once before in back of David’s palace, the people had direct access to the Holy of Holies, to the very presence of God. The Levitical priesthood had ended. There was a new priesthood in charge. This is the next chapter.

On to Part 4.

The New Gentiles, Part 2, The Priest, the Prophet, and the King

This is the second part of a four part series. See also: Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

There once was a man who lived in Ramathaim. He was descended from the old Zuph family in the Ephraim hills. His name was Elkanah. (He was connected with the Zuphs from Ephraim through his father Jeroham, his grandfather Elihu, and his great-grandfather Tohu.) He had two wives. The first was Hannah; the second was Peninnah. Peninnah had children; Hannah did not. Every year this man went from his hometown up to Shiloh to worship and offer a sacrifice to God-of-the-Angel-Armies. Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as the priests of God there.

I Samuel 1:1-3

And so begins the next chapter of our story. We see the family of priests Eli and his two sons ministering in the tabernacle in a place called Shiloh. There are references here to the “temple” but the temple is still nearly a hundred years from being built. For now, some temporary structure, probably some oft-repaired version of the tabernacle built by Moses, houses the ark of the covenant and the other items of worship.

This is the scene where something quite extraordinary is going to happen. A minor upset in the way of things that’s going to have impact for centuries to come.

Eli, as with all of the priests, is a Levite, a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi. These were selected from all Israel by God himself to belong especially to him as a replacement for the first born, which belonged to God.

This was because the final plague in Egypt, as you may recall, was the death of all the firstborn. To protect themselves, the Israelites had to take blood from a lamb and sprinkle it on the door posts of their houses. When the angel of the Lord passed by to slay the firstborn, they would see the blood on the door and “pass over” the house. This is the origin of the feast of passover.

Consecrate every firstborn to me – the first one to come from the womb among the Israelites, whether person or animal, is mine. You are to set aside the first birth out of every womb to God. Every first birth from your livestock belongs to God. You can redeem every first birth of a donkey if you want to by substituting a lamb; if you decide not to redeem it, you must break its neck.

When the time comes and your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you tell him, ‘God brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery, with a powerful hand. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, God killed every firstborn in Egypt, the firstborn of both humans and animals. That’s why I make a sacrifice for every first male birth from the womb to God and redeem every firstborn son.’ The observance functions like a sign on your hands or a symbol on the middle of your forehead: God brought us out of Egypt with a powerful hand.

Exodus 13:2,12-16

As a result, God claimed the firstborn of every womb, the people and the livestock both, for himself. But God knew that this was going to be disruptive, so, instead of the firstborn, he claimed the Levites.

God spoke to Moses: “I have taken the Levites from among the People of Israel as a stand-in for every Israelite mother’s firstborn son. The Levites belong to me. All the firstborn are mine – when I killed all the firstborn in Egypt, I consecrated for my own use every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They belong to me. I am God.”

Numbers 3:11-13

The Levites then ministered to the Lord and served him as a proxy for the firstborn. It was always the firstborn’s place, but the Levites stood there for them.

And so Eli ministered in the house of the Lord as a Levite. He offered the sacrifices and trimmed the oil lamps and ran the team of Levites that were responsible for taking care of the place of worship in every way.

But things were changing. Troubled by her barrenness Hannah cried out to God.

Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried – inconsolably. Then she made a vow: Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, If you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, If you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me By giving me a son, I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.

1 Samuel 1:10-11

God gives Hannah a child as she requested and she names him Samuel. After she weans him she bring him into the temple and leaves him to grow up as a priest before God.

Also, something was happening with Eli as well.

Eli’s own sons were a bad lot. They didn’t know God and could not have cared less about the customs of priests among the people. Ordinarily, when someone offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant was supposed to come up and, while the meat was boiling, stab a three-pronged fork into the cooking pot. The priest then got whatever came up on the fork. But this is how Eli’s sons treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh to offer sacrifices to God. Before they had even burned the fat to God, the priest’s servant would interrupt whoever was sacrificing and say, “Hand over some of that meat for the priest to roast. He doesn’t like boiled meat; he likes his rare.” If the man objected, “First let the fat be burned – God’s portion! – then take all you want,” the servant would demand, “No, I want it now. If you won’t give it, I’ll take it.” It was a horrible sin these young servants were committing – and right in the presence of God! – desecrating the holy offerings to God. In the midst of all this, Samuel, a boy dressed in a priestly linen tunic, served God. The boy Samuel stayed at the sanctuary and grew up with God. A Hard Life with Many Tears.

I Samuel 3:12-18, 21b

Eli was not a bad man, but he had grown old and fat and blind with age. His sons were bad men and were running rampant. The remainder of the Levites was falling apart. Many people teach that the time of the Levitical priesthood lasted until Jesus, but it did not. The High Priest line ended with Eli. It was time for this priesthood to be replaced with a priest from Ephriam.

But the boy Samuel was very much alive, growing up, blessed by God and popular with the people. 27 A holy man came to Eli and said: “This is God’s message: I revealed myself openly to your ancestors when they were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. 28 Out of all the tribes of Israel, I chose your family to be my priests: to preside at the altar, to burn incense, to wear the priestly robes in my presence. I put your ancestral family in charge of all the sacrificial offerings of Israel. 29 So why do you now treat as mere loot these very sacrificial offerings that I commanded for my worship? Why do you treat your sons better than me, turning them loose to get fat on these offerings, and ignoring me? 30 Therefore – this is God’s word, the God of Israel speaking – I once said that you and your ancestral family would be my priests indefinitely, but now – God’s word, remember! – there is no way this can continue. I honor those who honor me; those who scorn me I demean. 31 “Be well warned: It won’t be long before I wipe out both your family and your future family. No one in your family will make it to old age! 32 You’ll see good things that I’m doing in Israel, but you’ll see it and weep, for no one in your family will live to enjoy it. 33 I will leave one person to serve at my altar, but it will be a hard life, with many tears. Everyone else in your family will die before their time. 34 What happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be the proof: Both will die the same day. 35 Then I’ll establish for myself a true priest. He’ll do what I want him to do, be what I want him to be. I’ll make his position secure and he’ll do his work freely in the service of my anointed one.

I Samuel 2:26-35

Samuel grows up in the presence of the Lord and becomes the final Judge of Israel—a prophet of the Lord most holy and honored, from the tribe of Ephraim.

Samuel grew up. God was with him, and Samuel’s prophetic record was flawless. Everyone in Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, recognized that Samuel was the real thing – a true prophet of God. God continued to show up at Shiloh, revealed through his word to Samuel at Shiloh.

I Samuel 3:19-21

The Israelites came to Samuel and demanded that the Lord give them a king so they could be like the other nations. After warning them what this would cost them, God tells Samuel to anoint Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin to be king over all of Israel. Saul was everything you’d want in a king—tall, handsome, charismatic, and powerful.

Also, many people don’t realize that there were only three kings that reigned over all twelve tribes of Israel and Saul was the first of the three. But even though God chose Saul, he wasn’t the one God wanted to be king. Saul was there to set the scene for another king, one that would come from the house of Judah.

You, Judah, your brothers will praise you: Your fingers on your enemies’ throat, while your brothers honor you. You’re a lion’s cub, Judah, home fresh from the kill, my son. Look at him, crouched like a lion, king of beasts; who dares mess with him? The scepter shall not leave Judah; he’ll keep a firm grip on the command staff until the ultimate ruler comes and the nations obey him.

Genesis 49:8-10

Saul wasn’t a bad man, but the hand of the Lord had appointed a replacement for him because Saul had obedience problems. He wasn’t exactly disobedient, but he had a knack for just missing the mark of what God wanted him to do.

Instead, God appoints David to be king—David of the house of Judah—David the eighth son of his father Jesse.

Wait a minute! How can God appoint the eighth born son to be king? The firstborn belonged to him. Why wasn’t David’s oldest brother appointed king? How can this be?

Think back to what we’ve already learned. When Jacob bought the birthright from Esau, he bought it for all time. I call this birthright “the wild card anointing” because it doesn’t appear to obey any of the rules. Issac wasn’t the firstborn either, but was the younger brother of Israel. And yet, this Melchizedek anointing was passed through him, for “Your descendants will come through Isaac” (Genesis 21:12).

That birthright Jacob passed on to his grandson, Ephraim. I Chronicles 5 tells us that that birthright stayed in the line of Ephraim. This anointing was for the Chief Ruler. Keep in mind that, when we’re discussing these things, David and Jesus are interchangeable.

For the Messiah to come, his bloodline had to be established with the proper anointing. To ensure this, David was anointed king three different times.

God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.” Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.” 11 Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?” “Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.” Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.” 12 Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health – bright-eyed, good-looking. God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.” 13 Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life. Samuel left and went home to Ramah.

I Samuel 16:1,10-13

After all this, David prayed. He asked God, “Shall I move to one of the cities of Judah?” God said, “Yes, move.” “And to which city?” “To Hebron.” So David moved to Hebron, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David’s men, along with their families, also went with him and made their home in and around Hebron. The citizens of Judah came to Hebron, and then and there made David king over the clans of Judah.

II Samuel 2:1-4

Then all Israel assembled before David at Hebron. “Look at us,” they said. “We’re your very flesh and blood. In the past, yes, even while Saul was king, you were the real leader of Israel. God told you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel; you are to be the ruler of my people Israel.'” When all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, David made a covenant with them in the presence of God at Hebron. Then they anointed David king over Israel exactly as God had commanded through Samuel.

I Chronicles 11:1-3

God has a plan for everything he does. The three anointings of David were each to inject him with a different portion of God’s anointing.

  1. Anointing from Samuel, representative of the tribe of Ephraim. From this anointing, the blessing that Abraham received from Melchizedek was injected into the House of David.
  2. Anointing from Judah. The authority to rule given to Judah prophetically by Jacob in Genesis.
  3. Anointing from Israel, almost certainly given by the Levites. Injection of the Levitical anointing for carrying out of God’s law.

David was the first to be anointed prophet (by the prophet Samuel of the Melchizedek line), priest (by the Levitical priesthood), and king (by the house of Judah, the royal line established by Jacob). So with this triple anointing, God has set the stage for the coming of the Messiah. The bloodline is ready. Now lets see what David does with this triple anointing.

On to Part 3.

The New Gentiles, Part 1: Jacob’s Birthright

This is the first part of a four part series. See also: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Jacob’s Birthright

Joseph took [his sons] from Israel’s knees and bowed respectfully, his face to the ground. Then Joseph took the two boys, Ephraim with his right hand setting him to Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand setting him to Israel’s right, and stood them before him. But Israel crossed his arms and put his right hand on the head of Ephraim who was the younger and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, the firstborn. Then he blessed them: “The God before whom walked my fathers Abraham and Isaac, The God who has been my shepherd all my lifelong to this very day, The Angel who delivered me from every evil, Bless the boys. May my name be echoed in their lives, and the names of Abraham and Isaac, my fathers, And may they grow covering the Earth with their children.” When Joseph saw that his father had placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought he had made a mistake, so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s, saying, “That’s the wrong head, Father; the other one is the firstborn; place your right hand on his head.” But his father wouldn’t do it. He said, “I know, my son; but I know what I’m doing. He also will develop into a people, and he also will be great. But his younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will enrich nations.” Then he blessed them both: Israel will use your names to give blessings: May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh. In that he made it explicit: he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

Genesis 48:12-20

For many years I have read this scripture and always thought Joseph’s behavior here a bit odd. He is going to see his sick father with his own children and then he suddenly bows to the ground and presents his children to Jacob in a formal way after they had been sitting casually on his knees.

Remember for a moment the stories of Jacob and Esau. Esau, as firstborn, had a privileged spot in his father’s house. The firstborn son was nearly always given what was called the birthright. This was the head of household status. The largest portion of the inheritance of his father was given to him and it was his responsibility to take care of his brothers and sisters and nurture them into adulthood. As such, this was the most honored position in a house and the oldest brother was the most deeply respected.

Jacob’s name means “heel.” This is because he and Esau were twins. Rebekkah noticed that while she was carrying them there was a lot of turmoil in her womb.

Isaac prayed hard to God for his wife because she was barren. God answered his prayer and Rebekah became pregnant. But the children tumbled and kicked inside her so much that she said, “If this is the way it’s going to be, why go on living?” She went to God to find out what was going on. 23 God told her, Two nations are in your womb, two peoples butting heads while still in your body. One people will overpower the other, and the older will serve the younger.

Genesis 25:21-23

When they were born, Esau came out first and Jacob followed immediately holding on to his brother’s heel. That’s how he got his name.

His whole life, he hungered for the position of Esau, although not always honestly. Nevertheless, because of the prophesy we just read, we know that this desire came from the Lord.

As you may know, Esau came in starving from hunting one day and Jacob had made some stew. Esau asked for some. Jacob said he’d give him some in exchange for his birthright. Esau agreed saying, “what good will it do me if I starve to death.”

And Jacob makes good. Instead of just handing him some stew, he actually sits Esau down and waits on him, bringing him bread and wine as well.

Later in his life, he and his mother, Rebekkah, cook up a deception. They go before Issac, who is now blind, and tell him that it’s Esau and Issac gives Jacob the blessing to go along with the birthright.

I’ve heard many a preacher stand in the pulpit and condemn Jacob for being a deceiver. Interestingly enough, though, the scriptures never do. The scriptures all condemn Esau for thinking so little of his birthright in the first place.

Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite.

Hebrews 12:16

And so Jacob, under less than honorable circumstances, obtained the blessing and the birthright that the Lord had wanted him to have. He took the place of the firstborn in his father’s house.

The Tradition of the Birthright

I am an American and land has never been an issue in our country’s history, because there’s always been plenty of it. In the East, though, they came to realize that 100 acres was a nice piece of land, but if you had 10 sons, and gave them each an equal share, they each got 10 acres. Not so good. One more generation and you’re down to 1 acre a piece.

So how do you fix this problem?

They came up with the concept of the birthright. In their tradition, the firstborn would be set up to rule the house in place of his father. Each of the other sons could not be dis-inherited, but all of them had their inheritance as part of the oldest brother. All the sons had rights, but the house would be ruled by the firstborn.

But Jacob’s desire wasn’t after his father’s lands and other possessions. We know this because the first thing that happened after he stole the blessing from Esau was that he fled in fear of his life and left all of that behind. Esau ended up with his father’s possessions. Everything Jacob got, he had to earn himself from his Uncle Laban.

So what was it that Jacob wanted so desperately?

For that, we have to look at some family history.

Jacob received the birthright and blessing from his father Issac. Issac, in return, received it from his father, Abraham. So Jacob wanted the same blessing that Abraham had.

Where did Abraham get it from?

The Battle of Kings

Then this: Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim went off to war to fight Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, that is, Zoar.

The four kings captured all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, all their food and equipment, and went on their way. They captured Lot, Abram’s nephew who was living in Sodom at the time, taking everything he owned with them.

A fugitive came and reported to Abram the Hebrew. Abram was living at the Oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and Aner. They were allies of Abram. When Abram heard that his nephew had been taken prisoner, he lined up his servants, all of them born in his household – there were 318 of them – and chased after the captors all the way to Dan. Abram and his men split into small groups and attacked by night. They chased them as far as Hobah, just north of Damascus. They recovered all the plunder along with nephew Lot and his possessions, including the women and the people.

Genesis 14:1-2,11-16

As you may remember from Sunday School, Lot was a righteous man, but had chosen to live in Sodom and Gomorrah. When four armies attacked, they captured these cities along with several others and led them off in captivity.

When Abraham learned of this, he got all 318 men in his house and went after them. Keep in mind that Abraham wasn’t a solider and that these 318 men were servants and so forth in his house. They are chasing down four armies with kitchen knives and pitchforks.

Amazingly, Abraham defeated them and wiped them out. This day, Abraham is the king of war. He has with him the kings he has allied with—the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, kings of wickedness.

But this isn’t even the best part. That happens next.

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley. Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine – he was priest of The High God – and blessed him: Blessed be Abram by The High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. And blessed be The High God, who handed your enemies over to you. Abram gave him a tenth of all the recovered plunder.

Genesis 14:17-20

Ephraim and Manasseh

And so we come to the story now of the next generation. There’s been a problem in Jacob’s house. His firstborn son, Reuben, has slept with one of Jacob’s concubines and has disgraced his father as a result. Everyone knew that Reuben had now forfeited his birthright in the same way as his uncle Esau had. So, then, who was Jacob going to choose to receive this birthright and blessing?

As he’s sitting with Joseph and his two sons, Jacob tells Joseph that he wants to make his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, equal to Reuben and Simeon, and Joseph suddenly realizes that he wants to pass on the blessing and the birthright to them.

This is the reason for the abrupt mood change. Joseph suddenly realizes something very special is about to happen. He grabs his two sons who’ve been sitting on their grandfather’s knee and sits them in front of him in the traditional way to receive the blessing—the oldest, Manasseh, on Jacob’s right and the youngest, Ephraim, on Jacob’s left.

Then Jacob does something that surprises and annoys Joseph. He crosses his arms and places his right hand on Ephraim. When Joseph tries to correct him, he says, “I know what I’m doing,” and proceeds to pass that same blessing and birthright down on to Ephraim.

God has selected Ephraim, not one of Joseph’s brother, to receive the birthright and the blessing for the house of Israel.

Many teach that the replacement for Reuben was Judah, since that became the ruling line, but the Chronicler, probably Ezra, makes it clear:

The family of Reuben the firstborn of Israel: Though Reuben was Israel’s firstborn, after he slept with his father’s concubine, a defiling act, his rights as the firstborn were passed on to the sons of Joseph son of Israel. He lost his “firstborn” place in the family tree. 2 And even though Judah became the strongest of his brothers and King David eventually came from that family, the firstborn rights stayed with Joseph.

I Chronicles 5:1-2

In place of King David, the King James says “the chief ruler” because he wasn’t just talking about David, but about the Messiah, Jesus, as well. Jesus was of David’s royal line and, as such, a descendant of the house of Judah.

And so, something amazing has happened. Instead of one of his sons, Jacob adopts Joseph’s first two sons as his own and passes the birthright down to his grandson Ephraim. This is extraordinary. This also sets the stage for thousands of years of God’s plan that leads to the present time and into our future as well.

On to Part 2.

Strength in Weakness

“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” Hebrews 11:21

When Rabbis taught in Old Testament times, they’d sit down. Jesus taught sitting down on numerous occasions. Why on earth would a crippled old man stand up on his staff to worship and prophesy over his sons?

Jacob was a shepherd. The staff he leaned on was a shepherd’s staff. The staff was what the shepherd used when he was leading his sheep. When one of the sheep started to wonder off, he would smack the sheep with the staff and the sheep would get back in line. The shepherd’s staff, in scripture, is a picture of correction.

Jacob understood this because he’d been corrected. Years earlier he had wrestled with the Lord. In his arrogance he wanted to extort a blessing from the Lord by his strength. The Lord wrestled with Jacob all night, hoping that Jacob would give up–that he would, by his own will, yield trying to extract something from God by his own abilities.

When Jacob stubbornly refused to repent, God grabbed Jacob’s thigh. The word thigh means the place where a sword would be worn or the reproductive strength (loins) of a man. God hit him in Jacob’s place of strength and Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

And then, when Jacob yielded because he could go no further, God then blessed him.

The reason Jacob was standing up the day when he blessed his children was so that he could lean on the weakness in him, where God had made Himself strong in Jacob’s life. For, like Paul, it was in his place of weakness that God made him strong.

Earning Grace

We are working with a client today for whom we did some work last year. When we worked for them last year, it came at a time when we were extraordinarily busy with other clients.

This client had some real issues with our software and some of those issues were beyond our control and so we never fixed them. I am a nice man, but if I had been in their shoes, I would not have been nearly as nice as they treated us. They were always gracious and patient and are even a referenceable client, even though, by all rights, they really shouldn’t be.

When this project came up for us to do some more work for them, I told my developer about our history with them. I told her, “I would like to be so good to them and so responsive so as to earn the way they’ve treated us in the past.”

Afterwards, I reflected on this and realized that this is really what grace is all about. God’s salvation is like a line of credit that has been extended to us for free and we never have to pay back. We are free to draw on it as needed to deal with whatever we need through life with no strings attached.

Christian maturity though, is that one day, maybe, we’ll become the person God wanted us to be when he extended his grace to us in the first place.

It also occurs to me that this is why we are supposed to do unto others as you would have them do to you. We extend God’s grace to others in the hope that they will one day live up to the gift that’s been given to all of us.

God help me to be gracious and peaceful so that I may also be a good example of your amazing grace.

God is Amazing!

As a single guy, I only know this because it was pointed out to me by a woman, but you can’t wear red and orange together. They clash.

I was thinking about this the other day while driving around town and looking at the trees. Have you ever noticed that a bright orange tree and deep red tree look just fine together. In fact, you could have purple flowers, blue ones, bright green foliage, and a ruby throated hummingbird all jammed together in a very small garden and the colors would all look beautiful together.

It’s just an observation, but it’s really heart changing when you think about it: None of God’s colors clash!

The problem with red and orange is not fundamental to the colors but to our ability to make copies of what God did. If I were given a pallette and primary colors of paint to start mixing with, how many colors could I mix before I found one color that clashed with another? Maybe half a dozen? My niece is an artist, so she could maybe mix 15 or 20.

But there are millions of colors in creation and all of them look great together.

I’ve seen sunrises that would take your breath away. I stood on the beach and watched the purplish dark slowly give way to oranges and reds and then he yellow sun would pop out of the blue-green water. The sky filled with all shades and hues of these colors in close proximity and they all look great together.

What kind of a genius is our God that he can create a whole world of color and not one single clash among them?

It’s one thing to look at a giraffe, which has the highest blood pressure of any mammal to drive the blood all the way up their neck to their brain. I mean, survival of the fittest makes a little bit of sense when you see how the ones with the longer necks survived better and reproduced.

But did you know that their blood pressure is so high that if they bent over to drink water and their brain went below their hear that the blood pressure would blow apart the blood vessels in their head and they’d die instantly? It turns out that giraffes have a pressure valve at the base of their skull that returns the blood to their heart.

What kind of a sane person can look at creation and say, “Yeah! That all happened by accident?” And scientists think we’re crazy for believing in something we can’t see.

How can you not?

How to Lose your Salvation

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.” Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Oh? Tell me.” “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.” Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.” That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!” He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50

I heard a story about a week ago that has caused me to lose a couple of nights sleep. It reminded me of a woman I met about a dozen years ago who had come to an encounter with the Lord after decades of hard partying. The woman was extremely critical and judgmental against anyone with the smallest weakness in her life.

Jesus taught us in this passage, though, that anyone who is forgiven much, will love much. Yet, neither of these people showed the least grace or mercy towards Christians with weaknesses in their lives, or towards unbelievers.

All of us have, in our walk with the Lord, encountered the Pharisee Christian. These are the ones who probably grew up in a Christian home and who never sinned very much. They toe a harsh line and demand that same harsh line out of everyone they encounter. Their self-righteousness causes them to judge others with little grace or mercy.

These Pharisee Christians meet the rule Jesus spoke here to another Pharisee. These have been forgiven little and so love little. Because of the small amounts of grace and mercy needed to redeem them, they have not come to an understanding of the depth of God’s grace and mercy. They fulfill the rule.

Then what of these people we encounter, rare though they be, that have been forgiven truckloads of sins, and yet they are harsh taskmasters when it comes to forgiving others? It has cost me many hours of sleep, but I have finally come to a shocking conclusion:

RIGHTEOUSNESS IS NOT A FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT!!!!!

Jesus gives to us the acid test of identifying a believer: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:16)” Paul identifies for us what these nine fruit of the Spirit are:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Did you notice that righteousness is not on the list? In our culture, much importance is placed on living a “good life” and being a “good person” and yet, there’s nothing about that in this list, or, rather, this list defines what a “good person” is.

Jesus never said that you would recognize his servants by their morals or their ethics or by their ability to obey the ten commandments. You would know his servants by these nine fruit.

So where does that leave us with these people who appear to have cleaned up their lives and yet judge others so harshly?

If those who have been forgiven much, love much and these people love little, then the only remaining conclusion is that they haven’t been forgiven at all. They may have come to the Lord and ask for help and the Lord may indeed have cleaned up their lives, but the forgiveness is gone. How is this possible?

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. “The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. “The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt. “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’ “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid.

When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Matthew 18:21-35

The servant in this story had already been forgiven his debt. Yet, because he was unwilling to walk in grace and mercy, the grace and mercy he’d been given had been retracted. There was no more forgiveness for his sins.

This, then, is the unpardonable sin. You blaspheme the Holy Ghost, the one who forgives, by not showing grace and mercy on other sinners.

Learn to walk in grace and mercy and forgiveness. The soul you save will, in fact, be your own.

The Bad Levite

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?” Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead.

“Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill – I’ll pay you on my way back.’”

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

Luke 10:25-37

We’ve heard many people preach on this story about the Samaritan and how, despite the fact that he was a member of a group hated by the Jews, he stopped and helped a Jewish man. What is frequently missed is the role of the Levite and the priest.

Remember that Jesus told this story to one of the leaders of the Pharisee sect. It contains a warning as to one of the excesses that religion can lead us all into.

Notice that the first two that passed by the wounded man were religious leaders: the first a priest, the second a Levite, one of the keepers of the temple in Jerusalem. These men were enthusiastic about serving God in the way that they best understood.

The key here is that he was left half-dead. To passers-by he would’ve looked like a corpse, or nearly so. By Jewish law the dead were unclean and anyone that touched a dead body would be unclean.

The Levite and the priest were on their way to conduct service for the Lord. If they had stopped to assist this man and he died, they would be unclean and, by law, would be forbidden from entering the temple until the following evening.

“I’m on my way to do what’s really important and serve the Lord in his temple,” they must’ve thought. “Anyone can stop and help this man. I’m sure someone will be along any minute.”

These men were so caught up in what they thought was doing God’s work, that they missed an opportunity to do the real thing.

For Christians, serving the Lord is not something that goes on when we go to church, it’s what we do during the week. Going to church is important for us to recharge our batteries for the week ahead. It’s during the week that we pour out what we’ve received by being servants to the people around us.

When the widow woman came to Elisha in I Kings 4 and asked for help to pay her bills, Elisha said, “What do you have in your house?”

She told him, “A little oil.” Oil is a symbol of the anointing. The churches are filled with people hungry for the anointing of the Lord. We all want more. How do we get more?

Elisha told her to gather together the vessels of her friends and neighbors and fill them up with oil and as long as she was pouring into them, she would never run out.

What do you have in your house?

When the disciples came to Jesus in Mark and asked him how they were going to feed the multitude, Jesus said, “You feed them.” They then protested that it would cost all this money to feed them. Jesus simply replied, “How many loaves do you have?”

The ministry we do as Christians starts in our own neighborhood. If you can’t take your block for Jesus, how are you going to take a nation?

Evangelists and missionaries start in their grocery store, in the restaurant you have dinner with your family, at your local bar. These are the ones that need to know who Jesus is.

And you don’t have to preach for them. Jesus said, “They shall know you by your love.” After you’ve spent months or even a couple of years sowing into the lives of those around you, you can tell them anything you want about Jesus and they will lap it up like a sponge because for the first time in their lives, they’ve seen real fruit about what being a servant of the Lord really means.

Your home is a beacon of light in your neighborhood. Your neighbors see lots of their friends go to church and that means nothing to them. Be salt and light to them and your world will begin to change.

After you’ve taken your neighborhood, then you’re ready to start taking the nations for Jesus.

“The first said, ‘Master, I doubled your money.’ “He said, ‘Good servant! Great work! Because you’ve been trustworthy in this small job, I’m making you governor of ten towns.’”

Luke 19:16-17

Rock Music

You always know when God is speaking to you about something. This week, the Lord has been speaking to me about rocks of all things. This morning, the Lord sent me to a church called Quest Community Church here in Lexington and guess what they were talking about? Rocks.

When the Babylonians built the tower of Babel, they used bricks made by man. When God built his temple, he built it out of stone.

It’s a real problem building stuff out of stone. Bricks are neat and easy to work with because they’re all the same size and shape. It’s easy to figure out how to put them all together because they fit like building blocks.

Stones, on the other hand, are messy. If you were to take 1,000 rocks out of a creek, each would be a different size and shape. Their chemical makeup will even be a little different from rock to rock, each one completely unique.

No wonder the Babylonians used bricks. What a mess building a house out of these messy shapes that are difficult to fit together. It’s more like putting together a jigsaw puzzle than it is constructing a neat building.

And yet, we are the living stones that God has chosen to build his house with. Not only that, but we don’t even start out as stones.

Peter was first called Simon, which means “Wishy-washy.” Then the Lord called him Petros, which means, despite our thinking, a stone easily detached and disposed of—a pebble. But Peter was called Simon Peter throughout the scriptures, meaning, literally, “wishy-washy rock.” It’s not until Acts that the Simon is dropped and he becomes Peter. Then later in Paul’s writings he is referred to as Cephas, meaning, “the head.”

So, a rock is something we become, and we can’t do that until we are placed by the Lord. We don’t always like the place God puts us, and it probably won’t be comfortable, but through faith, we understand that that place is according to God’s plan and he alone knows what the house is going to look like.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, when Solomon constructed the temple, he built it out of stone. He then covered the stone entirely in wood. Wood is the nature of man. The stone is our perfected state in the body, but it’s always covered with our imperfections.

God, for whatever reason, insists on using us. He could use angels to send his message, but he, instead, sends us, with all our imperfections, to be his representation in the earth.

I’m sitting here looking at the rock that was given to me this morning. It is worn smooth from years of being in rough water. I understand what that feels like. It is also jagged on one side where it has been broken. All of us, in our imperfect state have been broken. As I hold this rock, I rub across the jagged edge knowing that if I keep this up long enough, the jaggedness will disappear and it will be smooth like the rest.

There’s something else about this rock. It is small. In our culture, we build foundations for a house using concrete. To us, a boulder is not very useful. What we need to pour a concrete foundation is a bunch of these tiny pebbles all ready to be mixed together to be a part of the house God wants to build on the earth.

I do not desire to have a huge church with hundreds or even thousands of people. All I want to be is this “very small” pebble that is useful to be in the foundation of the Lord.

This rock, from now on, will sit on my desk. Whenever I start to think too highly of myself, I will pick it up and rub my fingers across the rough side. All of us need a little smoothing. All of us need to remember that we’re only created to be a small part of the huge house God is building in the earth.

If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.

Luke 19:40