We Are Family

we are family 3  From the very time of his birth, Jacob’s life was set to be a tapestry of trial. His very name means “supplanter” or “deceitful”. He was a twin, born grasping his brother Esau’s heel in what seems to be a fight to be first. Of course, being first born in ancient Hebrew culture had very significant meaning and carried with it certain birthrights. But Jacob did not come out first. Making him, even if by only a few seconds, the younger brother.

But when opportunity came, Jacob took the advantage and conned Esau out of his birthright; though it seems Esau did not take his birthright seriously at this point in his life. Jacob and Esau are, perhaps, the classic example of sibling rivalry. Esau being the outdoorsy, sportsman type while Jacob was mild-mannered and more domestic. Their parents, Isaac and Rebekah, didn’t help matters much, as Isaac clearly favored the more traditionally manly Esau, while Rebekah had preference for Jacob, her baby.

The Bible doesn’t go into great detail about their family life but, we can probably imagine Isaac and Esau spending time together outdoors – hunting, fishing, camping, and so on while Jacob stayed home spending time with his mother around the house. Perhaps we get our best glimpse of parental favoritism when Isaac becomes old and nears the end of his life. That is when he instructs Esau to embark on a hunt so he can make some wild game stew, Isaac’s favorite, and a meal after which Isaac will pronounce his blessing on Esau.

Rebekah, desperate to secure the patriarchal blessing for Jacob, overhears the conversation and launches a plot to deceive her own husband into blessing the younger brother. She hatches her deceptive plan with Jacob’s obvious consent and, while Esau is still away hunting, they make a goat stew, form an elaborate disguise for Jacob, and send him in, pretending to be Esau. Isaac suspects a problem, but instead of coming clean with the deception, Jacob navigates his way through his father’s inquiries, completing the con job. Isaac, being too old to see for himself, is convinced and offers his blessing to Jacob.

Of course, Esau eventually comes home with the wild game, only to uncover the web of deception that occurred in his absence and cost him his birthright. I do not quite understand how the blessing works, but it is apparent that once given it cannot be revoked, and though given in deceit it still had force of law. Esau wept bitterly and experienced great sorrow. Eventually, Esau’s sorrow festered into deep resentment and he began to launch a plan to kill his younger brother, but Rebekah sends Jacob away to his uncle Laban.

Those of you familiar with the story know the family dysfunction did not end there. Jacob goes to the land of Laban, falls deeply in love with Rachel at first sight, and seeks to make her his wife. He asks his uncle the price for her hand in marriage and agrees to work seven years for Laban so he can marry Rachel. After the seven years pass by, Laban throws a marriage feast, after which he gives his daughter to Jacob to be his wife. There must have been some alcohol involved, because Jacob apparently doesn’t notice (or perhaps in a drunken stupor loses the ability to care) that it is Laban’s older daughter Leah that he sleeps with.

After confronting Laban over his trickery, Jacob ultimately takes Rachel also as his wife and agrees to work for Laban another seven years. At this point, I’d like to say the pattern of destructive behavior finally came to an end, but it would continue, seemingly ad infinitum. Leah and Rachel experienced sibling rivalry of their own, ultimately leading to even more sexual sin as they both have Jacob sleep with the personal servants. And the twelve children that result from this cavalcade of corruption find their own sibling rivalries that ultimately see their brother Joseph sold into slavery. And this family dysfunction ultimately leads to the entire Hebrew nation becoming slaves in Egypt. Talk about far-reaching consequences!

But perhaps young Joseph ultimately sums it up best when he tells his older brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20) And the point of me recounting all of this is simply to point out that, at one time or another, all of us have experienced some amount of dysfunction in our families. We live in a fallen world and such chaos must be expected. As painful as conflict with our loved ones can be, we can be confident God is present within us and able to carry us forward. In fact, as Christians, we can bring the light of Christ to our family situations.

You can read about Isaac & Rebekah and their descendants starting in Genesis 24. Most people think the Bible is a book about perfect people but it is anything but that. It tells the stories of imperfect people and how God interacts with them. Imperfect people just like you and I; and our imperfect families and friends. So if you find yourself struggling with dysfunction in your personal relationships, remember that when we are weak, when we struggle, often that is when God’s work in our lives becomes the most profound. As the psalmist wrote, “He remembered us in our weakness. His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:23)

And as Isaiah wrote: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!” (Isaiah 53:4) And the Lord told Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

It is our sincerest prayer that you will find the sustaining power and love of our Lord Jesus in all areas of your life and especially in your trials. For His love endures forever!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
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With Fear & Trembling

Fear & Trembling 3 Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Am I really a Christian”? Perhaps you recognize you have fallen for that same old sin once again or you’re just not sure there has been that much change in your life. Or maybe you feel you’ve been a Christian all your life but you are now beginning to question your salvation. Whatever may be the reason you have engaged in such self-reflection, I want to assure you it is a good thing!

Paul instructed Christians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. (Philippians 2:12 NIV) This direction refers to sanctification, which is the process of bringing to fulfillment that which started with our salvation. So, becoming a Christian begins with justification, which happens when we first accept Christ as our Savior, and continues with our growth in holiness, or sanctification. Once a person is saved, changes begin to occur. For some these changes may come more slowly than for others, but they always come.

When Paul refers to “fear and trembling” he is referring to the attitude with which the Christian is to pursue his or her sanctification. It involves a healthy fear of being offensive to God and a conscientious awe and respect for Him. Peter likewise tells us to “work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen” (2 Peter 1:10) and that “the more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

So, asking yourself the question “am I really a Christian” can be part of the process of sanctification in your life and is, therefore, a good thing. Though you may also wonder: “isn’t being a Christian just a matter of asking Jesus into your life and then you are saved?” And we should address that first. Yes, once we repent of our sins and believe in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, we are saved and thus we are saved by faith alone and not by works. However, the issue lies in that little word “repent”.

The Greek word from which we get our verb “repent” is metanoeō and signifies a changing of one’s mind or purpose for the better and includes remorse for sin. So when we “repent” we change our minds about the way we are living and we accept that God’s way is true and correct. King David displayed true repentance in Psalm 51 concerning his sin with Bathsheba: “For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.”

Wondering if we are truly saved, then, can start with reflecting on our repentance. Did we truly repent?  Are we truly remorseful? Are we truly seeking to live God’s way now? If you cannot point to a specific time and place where the answer to these questions became “YES” then perhaps you are not truly a Christian yet. You may still be at the justification stage, and I encourage you to really work through this. But if you can point to a specific time and place where you repented, you are likely in the sanctification process and reflecting on your spiritual growth is healthy and productive.

When we repent and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit that works in us during the process of sanctification, helping us to change the way we think. In Romans 12:2 we read: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” When Paul says “let God” in this verse he implies a willingness, on our part, to let God act in our lives. We certainly can, at times, have less such willingness than at others. But, if we are truly Christian, the Holy Spirit nudges our conscience and we eventually grow in the direction of God’s Word and we come to know that “the old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

To the Galatians Paul wrote: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25) When we repented, we agreed with God that the way we were living is wrong (and thus we nailed our passions and sinful desires to the cross of Christ), but that doesn’t necessarily mean we immediately overcame the sin in our lives. That process, the process of sanctification (following the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives), takes a lifetime and we are never 100% free of sin until we are in heaven with Jesus.

But Paul did provide a list of the results of our sinful nature (we’ll call this the “bad things” list). According the Galatians 5:19-21, the bad things are – “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”

And he also provided a “good things” list, in Galatians 5:22-23, the good things (fruits of the Spirit) are – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

These lists may be a bit of a theological oversimplification in our context here, but if you can point to that specific time and place of your true repentance and you can honestly say you are desiring and realizing more from the “good things” list in your life and less and less of the “bad things,” then it is likely you can honestly answer that you truly are a Christian. A true Christian also recognizes that the Bible, God’s Word, is the final authority for all things right and wrong. For it is written that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

I hope this provides you some insight into “working out your salvation with fear and trembling”. If you desire more information, we recommend the following resources:

KnowGod.org

Grow Your Faith

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.