Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From Single to Married: the story of Isaac and Rebekah

It pains me to hear the reasons why people think they'll have a hard time getting married, or fear they will never have a flourishing, godly marriage. Every time I listen to the pain, the hurt, the fears, hesitations, misunderstandings and perceptions people have about getting married, it reminds me that I once thought the same way. Glance through the Bible and you will find a long list of messy lives. Isaac could have had the same story.

What we know about Isaac's early years is found in Genesis 21 and 22. Imagine what Isaac could have said in a modern day counseling office. "I've got nothing to offer. I've never experienced the city; I can't even say I come from the country. My dad had a lot of money but he chose to live like hippies and raise me in tents in the wilderness. If I wasn't fighting thorns and snakes, my half-brother was making fun of me. Do you know how hard it is to get a girl when your mom looks like your great-grandma? Having a really good-lookin old mom who throws pity parties and petty fits is bad enough, but the maid my dad slept with lived there too. Talk about tension--Mom and Hagar hated each other. Then there was this one time when I had to walk a big hill carrying the firewood that my dad was planning on burning me with. I was so freaked out when Dad tied me to the fireplace and put a knife over me. Thank God this sheep showed up and started whining in the bushes. Don't know what that was about, but the ram was so loud and annoying my dad decided to kill it instead of me."

A person's worth is not determined by the circumstances one comes out of, but by the One who created the person. God is not limited to one's physical conditions. He does not need perfect family trees--He'll grow His own branches from a new Vine (Jesus). It is nonsense to believe that God won't defy the odds with the man or woman who trusts in Him. The determining factors that make someone "marriage material" are not rape, abuse, neglect, personality defects, lack of experience, genetic disorders, family secrets, age, having kids, being the innocent party of divorce, having an abortion, or in Isaac's case: a weird lifestyle brought on by the radical faith of his parents. Just because one's options are limited doesn't mean the omnipotent One is. Whether married or unmarried, the only things holding people back from a flourishing life are unrepentant sin (sin they do not turn away from and keep repeating) and unbelief in the power and promises of God.
During Abraham's time, marriages were mostly arranged by parents. It didn't necessarily mean that brides and grooms-to-be had no say in the matter, but marriages usually didn't happen without parental initiation and consent. This made it very easy in their culture to view marriage as a gift. In our western culture, marriage falls under the category of "decision-making" by the bride and groom, but we should never loose sight that marriage was created by God, is a gift of God and should bring glory to God.

When Sarah, Abraham's wife died, Abraham thought it was a fitting time to find Isaac a wife. There was only one problem: they lived in the land of the Canaanites who believed in many gods. God had previously promised all of this land to Abraham and his descendants, and that He would establish a covenant through Abraham's offspring. Father Abraham wasn't willing to move his son anywhere else. A wife had to come to Isaac--the son of promise in the land of promise. So Abraham sent his most trusted servant to travel back to his old country, to his own relatives and find Isaac a wife from his own kinsmen. (Isaac ended up marrying his cousin, which was permittable during that time. Since the world started off with two genetically perfect people, there was no risk of genetic disorders. Inter-family marriage relationships weren't prohibited until later.)

Dating didn't exist in the biblical times and the cultures were so different from ours, we should not try to copy specifics from the Old Testament. Instead we can draw out the principles. Note the wisdom of Abraham. He was not going to step out of the boundaries God had set for him. It was either find Isaac a wife who would fulfill the covenant and move to Canaan, or let Isaac be single for now. Abraham had learned from his past mistakes and was not going to take matters into his own hands. Note the wisdom of Abraham's servant. He went to the city, to a bigger population of people. He went to the well at the very time of day women were drawing water. He earnestly prayed for success. He asked for something specific: that Isaac's future wife be the woman who gave him a drink. He asked that the woman take not only take care of his thirst, but his camels. I don't think this is a "putting out the fleece" type of prayer. It's not random when you think about the context. Those women were busy. The one who would look outside of her own agenda and take the time to help someone in need, would be a person who possesses deeper character qualities: flexibility, thoughtfulness, compassion, servant-hood. God not only answered his prayer, the woman whom Abraham's servant saw was very attractive. Rebekah was holy and hot--it's a win-win. Many men would stop and make the decision on the spot; what else is there to consider? But this wise servant of Abraham "gazed at [Rebekah] in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not." (Gen 24:21) When the servant talks to Rebekah's family, he still asks questions to ensure that this was the woman God had appointed. Don't miss God's sovereignty in this story. God is in control. He works. He orchestrates things we can not see. At the same time, He uses people to carry those things out. The servant, Rebekah, Rebekah's brother and parents all saw this as a union ordained by the Lord.

Did Rebekah just "happen" to be in the right place at the right time? Yes and No. Good fortune does happen to the just and the unjust. At some point or another, every person experiences the common grace of God whether they believe in Him or not--whether they obey Him or not. This is not a "try harder" message to make one feel guilty about not managing every second of her day perfectly. However, the fact remains that Rebekah was not sitting on the couch flipping channels and hanging out with Ben and Jerry. She was doing routine, mundane, daily work: serving her home, her family, and her community. When the servant asked for her to meet his need, Gen 24:18 says "she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink." Quickly is a key word in that sentence. Rebekah didn't hesitate to serve another.

And so the match was made. Isaac was happy. God was honored. But don't think it was a fairy-tale marriage. Rebekah possessed some GREAT qualities, but she also badly sinned against her husband and deceived him decades later (Gen 27:5-13). It is true that even the best of women are prone to trouble. All women are daughters of Eve and all men are sons of Adam, so there's no doubt as to why even great marriages get hard at times. Thank God He sent Jesus, the second Adam, who got things right. When Jesus pursues His Bride, He makes no mistakes. And when believers see their Groom face-to-face, they'll finally stop making mistakes too. Our ultimate Savior does not come in tuxedos and wedding dresses. But blessed are the people who find a mate and mirror the relationship of Christ and the Church for the world to see.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Single to Married: Does it happen naturally, intentionally, or both?

There seems to be a lot of confusion among Christians on the gift of singleness as Paul described in the Bible (1 Cor 7:6-9). Let me describe two indicators that one does not have this gift: he or she REALLY wants to be married or really craves the deep companionship of the other gender. Those who have the gift of singleness view marriage as an afterthought or nice idea but not something they particularly desire. They do not flirt with or lead on those of the opposite sex and lust is often a minimal issue for them. These factors lead me to believe that the lifetime gift of singleness is reserved for a small number of people. The majority of people only have the gift of singleness until they receive the gift of marriage.

The fact that most people don't possess Paul's type of singleness makes it difficult for the majority of un-married people in our country to understand, particularly men. The two excuses I hear most often by men who want to be married but are not married are: they want a relationship to happen "naturally" or they are waiting for the moment that they will "just know" who the right woman is.

Ever cooked a meal? Ever slept on a bed or set an alarm? Ever used the toilet or mowed the grass? Eating is natural yet we prepare meals; sleeping is natural yet we have clocks, set alarms, and utilize beds; going "potty" is natural yet we have toilets and plumbing. Grass grows yet we mow it and keep our yards clean. 100% "natural" is not always a good thing. Weeds happen naturally. Flourishing rose bushes happen intentionally. Hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, earthquakes are all "natural disasters", and that's exactly where many marriages end up without intentional knowledge and application of God's Word long before the ceremony. "Natural" is not always the best way. In fact, it seems that the most important issues in life usually take significant intentionality--education, job success, financial stability, and yes… successful relationships.

There are a few people who "just knew" who their spouse was going to be the moment they saw them. These stories are the exception, not the rule. For most people, it took prayer, experiences, investigations, intentionality, discernment, knowledge, planning, strategy, etc. Here's what I believe "it’ll happen naturally and I’ll just know" mean: "I want God to give me a sign, so that I don't have to do the work. I want to risk nothing and go through the dating process without any rejection."

My opinion is worth little if the Bible doesn't support it. In my next post I'll recount my favorite "match-making" story found in Genesis 24. Abraham and Sarah's son Isaac was 40 years old before he married Rebekah. This should encourage EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of my single friends. Isaac was the promised son. God wasn't picking on him; In fact, one could argue he was a little bit favored. God talked about Isaac decades before he was even born. God promised to bless the nations of the world through Abraham, and therefore through Isaac. Yet to have a son he needed a wife! Isaac wasn't single because of something wrong with him. It seems there was one reason why Isaac had difficulty getting married at the common age: there were no God-fearing women in his land. And so, please read Genesis 24 before my next post and see how this godly family became intentional about finding Isaac a suitable wife.

#2: Isaac and Rebekah

#3: The Do's and Don'ts

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Starting to Expect the Unexpected

We set out Saturday morning for National Collegiate Week in Glorieta, New Mexico.  Chris drove the BCM van with college students and I drove our KIA with the kids.  Since we had to stop for a few more bathroom breaks, Chris and the big van were about 30 minutes ahead of me by dinner-time.  The KIA decided to stop on its own before I arrived to meet the rest of the crew.  I tried to get to the nearest exit ramp, but fell a little short and landed slightly off the interstate between two metal poles.  It just so happened that it was the first time in a year this part of Oklahoma had rain, and there I was in an inoperable vehicle in the middle of a lightning storm.  We rolled down the windows to get some fresh air (temperature over 100 degrees) but were overwhelmed by the smell of smoke.  I checked 911 to see if I was in a safe location—fortunately I was 15 miles away from the open field that was struck by lightning and caught on fire.  The kids and I sat in the car, praying for our safety as cars whizzed by.  Fortunately the 15 fire trucks and police cars on their way to the grass fire provided minutes of entertainment for my children, as did sitting in the back-seat of a tow truck while we watched the driver put our KIA on.

We got to a gas station/auto repair place that fixed the KIA’s battery on the spot.  That station was only a half-a-mile from where Chris and the students were eating, and was open at 8 pm on a Saturday night.  What can I say?  It just seems that I am constantly provided for.  I have more than once been helpless, unable to fix my situation, and been taken care of by strangers.  The tow-truck man even hung around and gave the kids some t-shirts.  We’ll always remember Hank.

The big white van and the KIA went on their merry way, scheduled to arrive in Amarillo, TX by 11:30 p.m.   Soon though, the air went out in the van.  10 minutes before our hotel destination, the van broke down.  So the 5-passenger- KIA shuttled the kids and students to the hotel in shifts.  By the time Chris, Kaci (age 4) and I got to bed, it was 2 a.m.  You’d think a kid would be snoozing away at this time of night, but Kaci was too busy playing with college students in parking lot at 1 a.m.  From what I hear, she had teenagers acting like baboons and elephants in her “play”.  Too bad I missed it.  Kaci’s world was just fine until she fell from her bed at 7 am while I was in the shower.  She’s okay, but cut her ear and half of it is blue and bruised. 

Chris discovered the next morning that the air compressor in the van went out and blew a fuse in the starter.  A local shop replaced the fuse at 10 am on Sunday morning, and again, we traveled across I-40 to Glorieta.  We arrived at camp (sweaty and nasty of course, since the van passengers had no A/C) only an hour later than we planned on.  I consider that amazing.

We had other unexpected setbacks: the rooms weren’t ready upon arrival, we didn’t get to make a Sam’s run for food when we planned, etc.  Chris made some phone calls and the van is currently in the shop so we can travel home with some good A/C.  I haven’t gotten to spend as much time with the students as I had hoped.  That’s hard to do when you see so many mechanics, and try to figure out how to feed 34 people from a kitchen that was built to serve 4 and you are a scatter-brained cook who doesn’t remember to turn burners off or get things out of the oven on time.
However, we have experienced God’s grace and abundance of good food much like the participants in the feeding of the 5,000.  I found a break while the lasagna baked & managed some rec time.

I’m happy to report that I can still keep up with students & catch a football.  Of course, raising my son has almost ensured that I catch things coming at me in high speeds to prevent injury.

To be fair, I should also report that I fell on my hiney and went to bed early because my back thought I should not be playing football.


The family is doing well and the kids are uncommonly chipper as we navigate sleeping arrangements for 5 people in a 4-person room.  I’ve discovered that an 8-year old’s toes fit nicely in my arm-pit at 3 a.m., everyone in our family talks in his/her sleep, the top bunk makes awful noises when my son rolls around (think fingernails and chalkboards), we all like to hog the covers, and the temperature here drastically changes making us sweat as we fall asleep, and chilled as we wake up multiple times in the a.m. hours.

I never thought of myself as a drama queen, but it seems lately that I only speak of dramatic things.  It would worry me, if I didn’t know about a passionate apostle who experienced more drama than any of us could boast of.  As I read about Paul’s suffering in 1 Corinthians 11:23-33, I can’t relate to the beatings, lashes or stoning.  I once thought being shipwrecked (vs. 25) was unfathomable, but it is the year 2011. Most of us don’t drive ships, we drive cars.  I have understood far too well the dangerous reality of driving.  I have been in some frightening situations, and yet the hand of God protected me.  I can also relate to his sleepless nights spent for the sake of the kingdom, as well as feeling cold and exposed (vs. 27).  I can relate to the anxiety Paul feels for the churches (28).  The more young people I meet the more I see the need for real discipleship. The anxiety about the task at hand can be overwhelming. 

But Paul, who has suffered and had more mishaps than anyone I know, teaches us how to think through these things. He recounts the past but doesn’t stay stuck in it.  He doesn’t sugar-coat his situations; he boasts about the things that show his weakness.  He boasts about how God protects and provides in situations where he could have been killed.  He doesn’t put his faith in material things, but in the grace God gives to sustain him.  He talks around in circles like a mad-man because he knows he has experienced God-sized things, but doesn’t want people to think more highly of him than they ought.  Paul has first-hand knowledge that God shows up when strength fades away.

Paul talks about his weaknesses, like the night he met a really nice New Mexico state policeman who could have ticketed him for going 56 in a 45, but said “Slow down.  We’re done. Have a nice day.”

Okay….maybe that was tonight when the idiot mom got mad at the slow Indian life and tried to hurry back to 3 kids after grocery shopping.

It’s better to end with 1 Cor 12:9-10. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Experiences on Edinburgh

With movers here to pack our belongings, I had plenty of time to sit and reflect on the last 3 ½ years of living on our street.  When Chris and I arrived, we planned to be intentional—to get to know our neighbors and build relationships with them.  So we made ourselves available, and have some crazy and wonderful stories as a result.

·                     I heard Neighbor 1 scream bloody murder.   I found out later that Neighbor 2 saw neighbor 3 move a dead squirrel from the street right in front of Neighbor 1’s mailbox.  I moved the squirrel because Neighbor 1 was too traumatized to do it.
·                     On my way home with the college student who was living with us, I got distracted by our crazy conversation and the cat that crept his way into our garage.  I left the garage door open and my purse was stolen out of the van.  The credit card was used several times at various gas stations.  Chris and I got to know the shady side of town as we tracked the criminal’s steps and was given the picture/video by a store-owner.  Now there is one less druggie off the streets and in jail.  He has to pay me $72 when he gets out in 20 years.
·                     60-year-old neighbor jokingly asked me to join him in the shower and his bed, prodding at the “good ole Baptist” girl.  I told him that I love Jesus and my husband, so I would have to fight that temptation J .  Since I didn’t tuck my tail and run, we challenged his stereotype of “ministry” people.
·                     After going without cable or internet for three days, we realized that the new backyard neighbor had broken into the public cable box.  He meant to splice it so we could share, but accidentally took it all.  
·                     Chris was pushed and threatened in our driveway.  Chris later went to the man’s house, forgave him, and told him he hoped he would get control of his anger and let Christ change his heart.
·                     Across the street, a lovely young wife kicked her drug-addict husband out of the house.  He later broke into his wife and son’s house and stole their stuff.
·                     We finally trained one neighbor to realize the garage door was not “hers.”  It took months for her to knock before entering. Chris was glad to finally not have to look both ways before walking in the laundry room for pants.
·                     That same neighbor once walked in while we were taking a nap and had a twenty-minute conversation with Kinley.  We found out after we woke up.
·                     Chris not only shared the true Gospel with a Jehovah’s Witness who repeatedly came to our door, but struck up a friendship that resulted in a year-and-a-half long conversation about the person of Christ.
·                     Imagine an early morning conversation that starts out:  “If you ever have a case of the farts, come see me.  I’ve got plenty of beano.”  TMI Neighbor.
·                     One neighbor knocked on my door at 9 p.m. and asked me to go on a walk with her. She gushed her life story (20 years as a lesbian) and wanted to know if I could still be her friend once I knew her past.
·                     A common scene: 10-year-old neighbor running through our back yard in full camo/war attire, and a pellet gun or paint-ball gun.  Imagine finding your house and driveway decorated with neon-colored circles.
·                     6-year-old Neighbor girl would come over and constantly ask for food or toys.
·                     Junior high neighbor loved to share his victory stories with me.  His classmates deemed him “Sir Farts A Lot”.  I once gave him a sack of dog poop and used it as a gateway to the Gospel.  He actually listened. That was the first time I saw his mom smile and the last time he annoyed me with his stories of bodily noises.
·                     An anonymous stalker called 16 times in a 36 hour period.  He also called every day for about 2 weeks.  I finally started reading him some judgment passage out of Isaiah—either that or the legal letter made him stop.
·                     We discovered that a young girl from the kids’ school lived down the street with grandparents.  She was often home alone but came to our house for food and fun. 
·                     A middle-aged woman stands in our living room and takes off her shirt to show me her tattoo.  That was the day our kids found out what a bra was.
·                     Our 13 year old neighbor trashed our yard with his fireworks and even shot them off our back porch.  I confiscated his un-used bottle rockets and took him a trash bag so he could clean my yard up.
·                     I restrained my neighbor who was having a seizure.  She spit, hit, and threw up on me.
·                     Chris was called several times in the middle of the night to help our bed-ridden neighbor get off the floor.
·                     Our youngest child overheard a man tell another kid to “shut-up.”  She put her hands on her hips, looked straight at him and said, “You are very mean and I don’t think you love Jesus.

I’ve often wondered why no one wanted to buy my house. 

Those are the quirky stories, but in reality my neighbors have done a million nice things for my family:  keeping the kids, bailing me out of missing kitchen items, giving me rides when I was car-less, bringing the kids toys and candy on EVERY major holiday and birthday, telling me when they saw my son swinging across the window on the string of his blinds.  They’ve laughed with me, cried with me, laughed at me, and have given us the freedom to be who we are.  I love the fact that they know how imperfect we are, and don’t feel the need to make their language “religous”.  But one thing I have learned: If we want to live intentionally, we will experience the unintended.