Facing Our Fears – Genesis 33

And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked,
and behold, Esau was coming,
 and four hundred men with him. 

The moment of truth was here for Jacob. Would Esau take his revenge and secure his birthright? Or would God be true to his promise?

First, Jacob showed humility, repentance, to Esau. He bowed himself to the ground seven times, each time getting nearer, and nearer, to his brother.

And then the surprise – Esau “ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

Continuing in humility, and probably fear and unbelief, Jacob introduced his family to Esau, calling himself Esau’s servant. He insisted Esau keep the gifts he sent before him, and Esau responded by wanting to escort Jacob and his caravan back to the homeland (Seir). 

But fear still must have had hold on Jacob. He refused the escort, making excuses about the strength of his children and flocks. And after Esau left, Jacob didn’t go to his homeland where Esau was, but settled in a place nearby (Shechem), keeping a safe distance just in case Esau changed his mind. The years of distrust ran deep.

Jacob came close to facing his fears, but he couldn’t let go. Wrestling with God miraculously put him face-to-face with his brother, seeing God’s deliverance in the moment. But Jacob must have had doubts that God’s grace would continue. He believed God in the moment, but not for the moments ahead.

How often do I trust God, only to see his miracles? I’m grateful, but then seconds later, I’m taking control again, doing what “makes sense” to me, doing what is comfortable for me. I forget how big God is, and what he wants to do in my life.

Sometimes I am like Jacob, stopping short of all God wants to bless me with…

Finally, a Birth! – Genesis 21

The story of Abraham and Sarah is long and detailed, because God wants to embed in us the beginning of his people, a nation we have been grafted into as believers of Jesus Christ. After all their wanderings, in the midst of protection from sin, God answers their prayers with a new beginning.

Not much is said of the actual birth. In some ways, it was quite ordinary, just like the birth of a baby in a stable, placed in a manger.

But it signaled a new beginning. 

It signaled the potential for the promise, all those visions, to come true. 

We don’t hear about Abraham’s emotions, although they must have been plentiful. But we hear Sarah’s –

God has made laughter for me;
everyone who hears will laugh over me… 
Who would have said to Abraham
that Sarah would nurse children?
Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Sarah’s laughing again, but not in scorn. She’s laughing in fulfillment. Her doubting has turned to joy.

There are times when I doubt and God surprises me. Just recently I gave up hope, resigned myself, on ever being able to walk normal again, to not have to use a wheelchair when going out for the day with family. And then, after consulting several doctors, one gave me hope. And now I’m walking…and laughing!

A new beginning…

So Human – Genesis 20

So lot has escaped from Sodom and the city is destroyed because of sin. God has just taught Abraham about justice and mercy. Don’t you think Abraham would have learned about sin and its consequences?

But, just like us, he falls back on human patterns of sin.

Moving to a new place, Abraham gave his wife to the local ruler, repeating the same lie he told Pharaoh, “She is my sister.” 

Once again, in what seems like endless patience, God speaks to the uncircumcised ruler to cause him to reprimand Abraham. And Sarah has an active part in all this, saying “He is my brother.”

But nothing can get in the way of God’s promise.

God needed to keep Sarah’s womb pure so that there would be no question of who the father of her child would be. His desire to complete his work in Abraham and Sarah’s lives was stronger than their faith.

Sometimes we get this backward. We believe that if we have faith, then God can work through us. But God reminds us once again that his work is not limited by our faith.

Do you ever wondered when you miss a witnessing opportunity if that person will ever know Christ? Let me assure you, if he desires to know God, God will reveal himself to him. He is a just and merciful God. He will not punish the person for your lack of faith. He is not limited by your abilities.

That doesn’t mean you were right to not share your faith, just as it was not right for Abraham and Sarah to lie. But God goes beyond our abilities to show his justice and mercy.

God is not limited by our unbelief.

Simple Faith – Genesis 16

A great injustice was done to Hagar. She didn’t ask to be a slave in Egypt. She didn’t ask to be given to a foreigner and then taken to another land. And after ten years, I doubt if she asked to be given sexually to Abram.

But when she conceived, “She looked with contempt on her mistress.”

And she probably had good reason. Remember Sarai had allowed herself to be given to Pharoah who almost took her sexually. That deceit caused Hagar to lose all she had known. 

And Abram didn’t want to get in the middle of two women. He’d already tried to please his wife by “embracing” Hagar and lost. So he punted again, afraid to lose with Sarai, but knowing he could lose his child, the only heir he might ever have.

Sarai was wrong to treat Hagar harshly. Only God can judge if Hagar was wrong to run.

But what we learn as Hagar weeps at the spring in the wilderness is that God sees EVERYTHING. He saw all of Abram’s sin, Sarai’s sin, and Hagar’s sin. 

He seeks us out and finds us, just as he sought out Adam and Eve, Cain, and so many others. He wants to dialogue with us, not because he doesn’t know the situation, but because it is healing, clarifying, for us to talk out loud. Dialogue builds relationship. And Hagar needs relationship if she is going to have the strength to return.

She also needed a vision, not of the reality that Sarai is really mad, but that she has a purpose before God. She was to have a son, and even though he would cause conflict, he would, and she would, survive.

Her response: “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” 

She trusted God would “look after me.” She couldn’t trust that Abram would, even though he slept with her. And she couldn’t trust that Sarai would, even though she was her master.

But she knew God would take care of her.

Simple faith.

What do I need simple faith in that God will take care of me?

Words of Thankfulness – Philemon

 So just how does Paul feel about Philemon? What is their relationship like? This verse lays it out for us…

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,
because I hear of your love and the faith that you have
 towards the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,

First, he thanks God for him…always. Not once in awhile, but always. I have great kids, a great husband, but I’m not sure that I have “always” thanked God for them.

But when Paul thinks about Philemon, his heart is overwhelmed with gratefulness. I wish I could crawl into his mind and remember what he was remembering, but whatever it was, it was beautiful. 

And Paul prays for Philemon. Think about it – what would it be like for Paul to pray for you? Would it be prayers of thanksgiving, or prayers for strength, confession, maybe humility? What would his prayers be for me?

And why did Paul thank God for Philemon? He was hearing, even in prison, how Philemon was loving the people around him. He was hearing about Philemon’s faith as he trusted God. And he was hearing how that love and faith were directed not only to God but to those around them.

What a wonderful way to be remembered? Philemon put feet to his faith, and his reputation went before him. Can’t you see Paul writing at his makeshift desk, smiling, musing, remembering what he had heard about Philemon.

Lord, help me put feet to my faith…