Family Trees and Bad Apples

It is funny how when we are taught something as a small child, the story gets shot through a colorful prism of imagination and ends up a warped version of what the story should be. For instance, when you look at the first chapter of Matthew in the New Testament, we see the family tree of our Lord and Savior. It's made up of some of the most wretched characters in the bible: liars, cheaters, murders and prostitutes. But that is just at a glimpse. When you dig in and start to peel make back the pages of time and mystery, a much more complex and beautiful story is revealed.

I've never liked Jacob (son of Isaac, brother of Esau). I pictured him as the half-pint brother of strapping, gigantic, hairy Esau. From children's church, I learned Jacob was a cheat: he stole his brother's blessing and tricked his old, blind father. I disliked Jacob so much that I've never been fond of any boy, or man, that I've met in real life named Jacob. I figure they are liars and cheats, too. Gracious sakes, I have issues. ;)

But that's just a glimpse of Jacob.

According to Jewish history, Jacob wasn't half bad. He had his issues (like me, obviously), but he wasn't quite the villain my little girl brain pictured him as.

Jacob loved his father. He grew up learning at his father's feet, studying and soaking up all his father and grandfather, Abraham, had to teach him. He was a young scholar. Meanwhile, Esau had no taste for it; he hunted and stayed outdoors. I now picture Jacob with wire-rimmed glasses, tall and skinny; Esau a towering brute that guzzles wine, eats monstrous turkey legs and wipes his mouth on his hairy arm. Whenever Isaac tried to draw both boys in for lessons, Esau resorted to trickery to get out of it. Perhaps he simply ran out the door, slamming it behind him? My imagination can envision so many scenarios.

Here's where things get (I want to insert 'hairy' or 'tricky' here, but then it would a insert your own word here):

The birthright was a big deal back in the day. The birthright made the first born the heir and successor to the father, the head of the family. In Isaac's household, the first born happened to be Esau, even though his twin brother arrived just seconds, minutes later, taking his brother by the heel. Something tells me that Esau resulted to trickery in the womb, pushing and fighting his way out first, forcing his smaller brother behind. But whatever the case, Esau was the one to receive the birthright. It must have boiled Jacob's blood. After all, Jacob was the one that devoured every bit of knowledge Isaac and Abraham had to offer. He valued his heritage, their God and way of life. He took the time to learn from them while Esau spent all his time outdoors hunting. The big ape. ;P

On the day he was to receive the birthright, Esau wasn't simply hunting, he was plotting a murder of a family member, Nimrod, the grandson of Noah. It wasn't so much that Nimrod had crossed Esau. He hadn't snuck up and shot a buck Esau was after (for Nimrod was a hunter, as well). It had more to do with what was on Nimrod's back: the clothes of Adam (yes, the FIRST Adam), the most priceless treasure a hunter could dream of owning. And Esau wanted them.

When Esau finally made it back home, Jacob was livid. Didn't he realize how important this day was? He was supposed to receive the most precious commodity a son back then could gain! But Esau was wearing what he valued most. Filthy, muddy, and stained with Nimrod's blood, Esau made fun of his little brother for thinking so much of a silly birthright. Jacob's blood ran cold. It didn't take much convincing to buy the birthright from Esau. A bit of money, a little food, and Jacob was suddenly the heir to Isaac while Esau stuffed his face and sat happily in Adam's old clothes.

Isaac was too old and sick to fully understand the differences in his children. He still adored Esau and saw his heir when he looked upon the big hairy man. But his wife, Rebekah saw clearly all that was going on.  She noted when Jacob went to school to study to please his father. She also noted when Esau ridiculed and made fun of his little brother for doing so. Esau lived how Esau wanted to live.

When Isaac grew very frail and it was apparent his time on earth was about to end, he decided to carry on the tradition of his father and bless his eldest son for the last time. So, he sent Esau out on a mission to hunt, prepare the meat and join him for a meal that might very well be his last. With Esau gone, his mother flew into action. She gathered the skins of young sheep and covered her youngest son in them, hoping they would make Jacob feel as hairy and burly as Esau. She prepared a last meal, thrust it into Jacob's hands and told him to go to his father, pretend to be his brother and receive his father's last blessing.

Rebekah, bless her trickster heart (must be a family trait from her side of the family), knew there would be no convincing her husband of which son truly deserved the blessing. Jacob loved and valued the man his father was. Esau did love him, but openly mocked everything Isaac was about. There was a great deal of value over this blessing: a bunch of words that somehow became prophesy. Esau could not be the one that blessed and led the family; it would unravel to ruins...guided by the hands of a careless hunter, murdered, selfish man who did what he wanted when he wanted to do it. And then there was Jacob...

“And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of corn and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed!”

That was the blessing Isaac spoke over Jacob. Certainly they were given to the right man. The thought of kingdoms bowing before Esau makes my stomach churn. Gracious sakes, picture it! Big hair Esau in Adam's garments stained with Nimrod's blood, a flask of spirits of some sort, grease dribbling from the corner of his lips from the fat of a leg of lamb clenched in a giant fist.

Okay. Perhaps I am a little unfair in my prediction. But I'm certain he would still be wearing those blood stained garments of Adam's.


I guess my point is that not everything is as crystal clear as it is when you hear the story with the ears of an eight year-old child.

Jacob = misguided youth and thief
Esau = ripped off older brother
Rebekah = underhanded wife
Isaac = clueless old, blind man

Not quite.

Somehow, God orchestrated everything the way it should have been. We forget that God has even this story in HIS hands. Maybe God truly wanted a bit of 'dirty dealing' included in the life of Jacob, knowing Jacob would be the third from the top of His son's family tree. And why? Because He didn't want this whole giant story of His to be perfect. If it was, we wouldn't be able to relate. Because you and I, we're far from perfect. We may not kill for a relatives clothes, but we know what it feels like to want what we do not have. We understand that feeling in the depth of our heart when we see that we are not getting what we so obviously deserve...when we know we're the best man for the job not offered to us. Some of us know what it feels like to live in the shadow of a towering giant like Esau and not be valued in the eyes of those we crave approval from.

So God dirtied of the family tree. He tilted the frame hanging on the wall. He messed up the masterpiece, little by little, for us...on purpose. I imagine it was all done just to prove, "If I will include them, murderers and thieves as they are, what makes you think I won't include you, too?"

And that's good enough for me. From now on, I'm going to hug every real-lfe Jacob that I meet.



Not Like Those Other Guys


It means laughter. When you are young and sitting all fidgety in children's church, you're told it is because Sarah, his mother, laughed when the Lord said she would bring forth a son from her womb. After all, she was an old lady. Instantly, your child brain starts picturing Lucille (or insert a woman from your own childhood here) who sits at the front of the church, playing the tambourine with painted on bow-shaped lips and singing opera style to I'll Fly Away. In your mind, Lucille is Sarah, and she's about to give birth to a son. Gross.

Yeah. I'd laugh, too.

Yes, Isaac was the son of Abraham and Isaac. God did honor the promise He gave to Abraham, even though Abraham did not believe Him, took matters into his own hands, and had already produced an heir in Ishmael. Yes, Isaac is the key in that troublesome story that comes later on, the story I never understood as a child. Abraham had gone through many trails and tests the Lord set before him. He faced famine, near death time and time again, promises that seemed to go unanswered, and then God asked Him to prove his devotion by sacrificing his son on an alter. That's just not cool. It doesn't make sense. Why would God promise Abraham a son through Sarah, only to have Abraham sacrifice him? In children's church, when you reach this part of the story, the whole room goes quiet. All the kids stop fidgeting and grow wide-eyed. Everyone looks at the adults in the room, checking their hands for knives or any other instruments for sacrificial rituals. Would they be next? Where were their parents? Why were the doors shut? Would anyone hear them scream???

But here's what my teacher left out:

In this time and age, living child sacrifice was common practice.


How horrible! What kind of people do things like that (heathens)?! What kind of god demands such an honor?

But the God of Israel was making a point: He didn't demand such an honor. The Lord of Israel was attempting to develop a new relationship with the people and bring them out of some messed up ways they had created for themselves. First, He wanted to show them there was only one true God. He even calls Himself the one true strong God (Genesis 17:1 Message). But the people were stuck in rituals, idol worship, human sacrifices (again, seriously?!), and really had no clue who God really was. I am sure even Abraham was learning with each step toward this God few understood or knew. So when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, he didn't second guess it.

Some rabbis teach that Isaac was not a child at this time, but instead, was around 37 year-old. They believe Isaac loved this new, strong God his father was devoted to (yes, God wasn't new...but kind He was at this time because we'd fallen away). Isaac was willing to be a sacrifice. That's how devoted He was to the Lord. He blindly agreed to do whatever he could, play whatever role he was asked, so long as it brought honor the name of the Lord.

Yet, God had a good plan. He didn't want His people sacrificing their children on alters. That wasn't love! That wasn't honor! That hurt. Literally. And what kind of people did He want following after Him? People that could so savagely take the life of another; people bound by ritual, tradition and law? Not really. He wanted something different, and yes, it would take until the moment HIS son died on the cross for it to fully mature, but He had a plan. So when Isaac was placed on the alter and Abraham raised his weapon, God stopped everything...

Remember, this was normal to Abraham. I'm sure he didn't want to kill his son, but it wasn't unheard of. So imagine the surprise when God provided a lamb. Imagine Isaac's surprise when He realized he was not going to die that day. Basically God showed up and said, "Guys...I have a new way. Everything you thought you knew about Me, well...I'm not like those other guys. I'm not going to hurt you. I have a better way."

Imagine that laughter. Both in heaven and on earth.

So what is the story of Isaac revealing to me for such a time as this? Well...I sit her at the kitchen table and the sun is just now beginning to brighten the night sky. My heart is confused because I can't see the way ahead of me in ministry as clearly as I'd like. I know what I've been taught as a child, what my heritage is, but I see something new on the horizon. I see a strong God leading me....

And I suppose that in the very quiet of the morning, I hear the laughter of my Father echoing across the walls of my heart. He bellows out with joy, "My daughter, I have a new way! Everything you thought you knew about Me, well...I'm going to show you something different. I won't hurt you. I have a plan."

So I won't be surprised, but will laugh with him. I have a strong God leading me.

And you remember those Abrams I was talking about yesterday? He's leading them, too. I think He wants to use all of us Abrams and Isaacs to show the church and the world that our God is strong, good...and taking us into something new. Whatever it is, it's beautiful; it's good. It always is.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
~Jeremiah 29:11



Smashing Tradition

Lately, I've been noticing a new generation of young people rising up. It's a group of people that don't look like the 'traditional' Christian. They don't all look the same, but a great many of them have the same uniform: ripped up jeans (or skinny jeans), beanies on messy hair, tats, piercings, and TOMS. I mean, there's some give and take to this 'uniform'...but it's the basic make-up of a good many of them. Some of these kids/ adults might even be more 'traditional' in their appearance, but one thing unites them: They're tired of a religion that's stagnant. They are Abrams. I am an Abram.

If you grew up in church, you know the children's church song 'Father Abraham'. Oh, come on, you know..."Father Abraham, had many sons. And many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them. And so are you. So let's just praise the Lord!" ((I know you just sang it in your head...half tempted to get your right arm going as you march in place.))

Here's something you might not know about Abraham: He was tired of stagnant religion too, tired of nothing real or effective. His father was an idol merchant (according to Jewish tradition). Imagine being a kid and helping your dad run his store as people come in and out, buying little gods made of gold, bronze, wood and other inanimate materials. People valued these trinkets lining the shop walls; they handled them with the utmost care. But Abram wasn't convinced. All he saw was wood and gold and bronze. He didn't see the breath of life in the idols. They were not capable of creating the world he lived in; a world abundant in life. Maybe he heard stories of a one, true God? Maybe he simply heard the whispers of the Lord deep down in his bones? Who knows. But either way, he knew his dad had it all wrong. He realized there was only One.

It isn't easy to go against the flow. It isn't easy to stand against tradition and say, "Hey! Nothing real is happening here. I don't want any part of it. I want to follow something, someone, that has life!" Abram's father certainly wasn't listening to his son. In fact, one day when his father went out, Abram took a hammer to his father's store, smashing all the idols. Then, keeping the largest idol in tact, he placed the hammer in it's hand. When his father returned, he asked what had happened, clearly furious and shocked by the destruction. Young Abram calmly stated, "While you were gone, the idols got in a fight and the big one smashed all the other ones."

((Just take a second to picture how ridiculous his father must look right about now.))

"Don't be stupid," his father would have said, although probably in whatever lingo was hip in the city of Ur at that time. "These idols have no life in them! They can't do anything!"

It must have been hard for Abram not to shout, "EXACTLY!" Instead, he asked, "Then why worship them?"

In my world, I see God sitting on a shelf all over the country. He isn't doing anything. It's not His fault. I think it's our fault. We are shelving Him in our churches and our lives. Maybe we are afraid of what He will do, how He will 'upset' our lives if we let Him off the shelf...allow Him to truly be God?

But then there's this generation of Abrams rising up. They're tired of everything. They reach down and pick up hammers in angry fists. They  are ready to bust up everything we are allowing to replace the effective power of God in our word, churches, families and lives. They shout, "Why worship Him at all if You won't let Him truly reign?"

Because here is the thing...

If God was truly off the shelf, this place would look a heck of a lot different. Church would look different. You would look different. Our country and world would look different. There would be true life and power. There would be revival. There would be a whole lot of love cycling from church to church, from people to people. Open your eyes and look around; there's a whole lot of hate, drama, hurting hearts, broken people, social groups abusing other groups...

There's nothing real happening.

There's no real life...

No power...

No real worship.

It's there somewhere. But it's not shining bright. There's still too many people shelving God in their lives and hearts, churches and cities.

So watch out. There's a new generation of Abrams. They don't like tradition. In fact, many of them despise tradition. They want something new. They want to see God lifted up in such a time as this (which will not look like it did in the PAST). They're tired. They can't be fooled. They refuse to allow something counterfiet to replace truth. They want scripture that COMES from scripture. They don't want comfort. They're not afraid of storms and bruises. They want something real.

Why does any of this even matter? Because He loves us too much not to bring an army of Abrams to life. There's too many people in bondage; mummified in brokenness. God's love is too valuable to pack away, especially when He COMMANDED us to love Him and then love others.

I'll gladly lead the way with hammers in fists. Because there's no more time to waste. I'm over tradition. I'm ready for His love to shine through me and set the captives free. And maybe...just maybe...set the church free.