Not Everyone is an Abraham

After dealing with the death of Abraham and a short view of the descendants of Ishmael, one would expect that we would then turn to the life of Isaac and begin to follow his life. While Genesis 25:19-26 starts by saying “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac,” it becomes clear rather quickly that the focus will not be on Isaac, but rather on his family line. Isaac’s sons, particularly Jacob, becomes the focus of the story.

Recently this has intrigued me. Isaac was the promised one. So much of Abraham’s story was spent in great tension. Would the promised son be born to Abraham and Sarah? Yes, he would be. Yet, the promised son has very little story of his own. His life seems rather overshadowed by his father’s life and the life of his sons. Even the chosen son of the promise does not seem to have the same kind of significant narrative of Abraham.

What we are told here is that like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah are facing barrenness as well. However, unlike the case with Abraham and Sarah, the barrenness is resolved simply by Isaac praying to God and with God answering the prayer. It is all put so simply. God is still relied on for life, but everything is resolved in a much neater fashion than with Abraham.

After this though the story moves away from Isaac and begins to focus on the twins that are now wrestling around within Rebekah. Already Isaac is moved from the center. It is even Rebekah who inquires of the Lord here. The rest of the chapter then focuses on the sons of Isaac, which I’ll look into more next week. While Isaac does take center stage again in the next chapter, it is really the only story that is really his.

It just seems so anticlimactic to me. We have all this anticipation for Isaac, but hear very little of his life directly. While still a bearer of the promise of God, he is not a trailblazer like Abraham, and doesn’t run into a life of conflict like either Jacob or Joseph after him. His life appears successful as we’ll see in Genesis 36, but rather subdued in comparison.

This strikes me so much, because I’ve heard so many people who want to be like Abraham, Moses, or some other major Biblical figure. Not only do they want to be them, some also think that everyone should be. While I think there is truth to that, as we are all called to be like Christ, the focus often seems a bit different.

Maybe I’m completely off here, but when I hear talk about being like Christ it seems more focused on our character and our ability to love others. When I hear people talk about being like Abraham or Moses, it seems that the focus is on accomplishment. Not to say that Abraham, Moses, or other significant figures didn’t have character, but what we focus on is the accomplishment. We invoke Moses because we want authority over a group of people like Moses did, often forgetting how much of a struggle it was for Moses). We invoke Abraham because we feel like we are setting sail in uncharted waters and want God’s promise to guide us, again ignoring that Abraham had doubts and wrestled with the implications of what God presented.

There can be times where we feel that our lives have some commonality with these figures, and that is okay. The thing is not everyone is going to be an Abraham, a Moses, or a Paul. I’m also pretty sure that’s okay too. Are lives that are somewhat uneventful somehow less appealing to God? I don’t think that’s the case. Isaac seems to live a rather uneventful life in comparison to some of the other figures in Genesis, yet Isaac appears to trust in God and God appears to bless him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, we might be pressured into feeling like we need to live up to some expectation placed on us to be just like someone else. I guess I don’t feel like that’s the case. In fact I’ve grown suspicious of people who try to compare themselves too closely to figures from the Bible. It seems like a power play to connect yourself to a authority figure. That’s not to say that we won’t see reflections of these stories play out in our own lives, but that we shouldn’t be trying to convince others we’re just like them.

We’re allowed to be who we are. That’s not to say we don’t have sin or flaws that need taken care of. It’s also not an excuse to just do whatever we please. It is just that we will be placed in unique positions and have unique strengths and weaknesses. We don’t have to be like Moses, Abraham, or whoever else in those circumstances, it is about being ourselves faithfully following after Jesus.

This may lead us to do amazing things that will be remembered for years to come, or it could lead us to a quieter, but faithful life that isn’t remembered except by those closest to us. Both are valid expressions of the faith we have.

Is Heaven Really the Goal?

At the beginning of the month we went to a local Labor Day parade, actually it would be more accurate to say that we made it there to catch some of it before it ended. During this parade there was a local church passing out tracts. Now I’ll be upfront and say that I really question the usefulness of tracts and this one was no exception, but it did make me think a bit.

Overall, as with most tracts, it was pretty simple. It went through three common points; knowing you were a sinner, understanding there is a price to pay for sin, and accepting Christ as your savior. What did the tract think we were trying to accomplish with this information? All of this was under the title of “How to Get to Heaven.” This leads me to the question is heaven really the goal of having faith?

This question has bothered me as far back as my college days. I remember talking with a good friend about this issue on a number of occasions. I didn’t like it then and I’m not sure I like it any more now.

This could be because I didn’t really have heaven as part of the reason for my decision to explore Christianity and follow God. It seems that trying to gain people by offering the reward is just a kind of sales gimmick. Is it really heaven that we should have our sights set on or is it God? Do we start our journeys of faith because of what we get out of it or because of the one who is the object of that faith?

I guess it just feels like a sales pitch any way you slice it. Not only that, but I feel that the sales pitch is selling something that is a little different than reality. As the end of the Bible leaves it, the end destination isn’t an otherworldly heaven with puffy clouds or an eternal church service, but the renewal of heaven and earth and the descent of a large city. Now I realize when you’re dealing with Revelation that taking everything completely literal doesn’t necessarily work, but the general idea here doesn’t seem to support a complete relocation to some other destination (heaven in this case), but rather a renewing of our current location and the active and visible presence of God.

So I feel that as we try to sell heaven, not only are we trying to present the faith as simply earning a ticket to heaven, but that the ticket itself is a bit suspect. Why is it that we need to focus on the concept of heaven and not focus on God or even the more used notion of eternal life that is seen in places like John 3:16 or Romans 6:23? I’m just not sure.

I’m even less sure, because many of the ideas I’ve heard about what heaven is like do not excite me all that much, to say the least. Ideas like wearing white robes, having halos, living in some clouds, and/or having an eternal church service just aren’t really that appealing. Heaven just sounds rather dull. I know that’s probably terrible to say, but since the whole concept of heaven is a bit sketchy anyhow, I’m not too concerned. It just seems like what we’re trying to sell is based a lot on speculation and are goods that I’m not sure many people would be too interested in even if our speculations were correct.

Now don’t get me wrong in all this, I do believe that there is eternal life offered by following God through Jesus Christ. I like to put this more in the framework of a new creation rather than in terms of heaven. For some this may not matter too much, but I think it is much more consistent with what the Bible presents. I do think that whatever it is like will be good, even if we can’t really fathom it in our current realities. I’m just not so sure about using it as a main selling point. Part of the reality of what is stated within the Christian faith? Yes, but as main motivator for seeking and accepting God? I’m not so sure.

I’m also not saying that those who have come to faith like this are only motivated by rewards or what is in it for them. I think we all run into times where we become a bit self-centered even in matters of faith, but hopefully we grow out of them and learn to seek not the gifts and blessings but the one who is behind such things. Even if we start our path this way it is certainly possible to grow to understand that following God is about more than just what we get out of it.

What I’m really trying to get at is that I’m not sure I really like the focus on heaven as the end goal of our faith. I wouldn’t even feel better if it was presented as eternal life being the main goal. I just think following God is a lot deeper than the final reward we are promised. Reducing the Christian faith down to “How to Get to Heaven” just seems like it is presenting such a shallow view of faith.

That’s just my take on such an approach, what does anyone else think? Do you think starting off with the rewards of the Christian faith, be it the more popular idea of heaven or the concept new creation, is fine? Has it bothered you? Feel free to let me know. I’m interested to hear what others think on this issue.

 

 

 

 

 

When The Reality of Easter Feels So Far Away

Today is Easter. It’s the day that we Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ who died on a cross just a few days earlier. Of course it doesn’t just start and end with Easter. There is Lent, then Holy Week, and then at the end of all that we have Easter.

If you’re friends with other Christians I’m sure you’ve probably seen or heard people talk or post about what they’re reflecting on or giving up in preparation for Easter. At least that’s been my experience as we’ve approached this time of year. As we approach that time of year, if I’m honest I’m not feeling it too much this year.

It’s not that I have anything against the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. No, it’s more that I feel inadequate as I approach the day of celebration. That I haven’t reflected enough, that I haven’t given up enough, or that I just am not a good enough Christian to truly approach Easter the “right” way.

This isn’t helped when so much of your day is dealing with young kids. Trying to spend time with them, develop boundaries so they also are able to do things on their own, listen to them talk about the things that excite them or makes them giggle, figure out appropriate punishments for when they step out of line multiple times in a row, get them to eat more than yogurt, applesauce, and string cheese for every meal, and do other things they may not be so keen on doing.

Then once they’re actually down for the night you spend the last couple hours of your day trying to do whatever tasks you still have the energy, you wind up left with very little time for reflection. In the midst of this sometimes the idea of grace and forgiveness feels so far away. You wonder if you’ve reflected grace during the interactions with your children, your spouse, and anyone else who may have crossed your path that day.

Often, even if we have shown love, grace, and forgiveness, what I tend to remember are the times that I haven’t. The times where I lost my temper more than I should, where I second guess how I corrected my kids, when I said something I didn’t really mean that hurt my wife. These become the memories that I dwell on and I feel that forgiveness and grace is something that is so far from my grasp. Especially when it seems like everyone else is able to do the whole parenting thing and still have that time to reflect on what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection for at least seven days, if not all forty days of Lent.

Maybe what Easter celebrates is something that is never supposed to be too close or too comfortable. That no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to get this love, grace, and forgiveness thing down one hundred percent every day. That ultimately it’s not about us trying hard enough, meditating long enough, or giving up enough to merit the work of Jesus Christ, but that we are so far away from it all. Perhaps the very need to do these things is because we aren’t close to these things naturally.

Few of us have ever seen someone raise from the dead. I’m willing to bet that even fewer, if any, have seen someone raise from the dead days later. It’s something that is hard to wrap your head around and that’s not even all of what is celebrated at Easter.

The celebration is that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has died for the sins of the people in this world, because He loves us. How do we get close to this reality on our own effort? Can we wrap our heads completely around that kind of love? I’m honestly not sure sometimes.

Maybe in all of this I’m closer to the reality of Easter than I thought. We celebrate a risen savior on Easter not because we deserve it through what we sacrifice for forty days, our reflections, or our attempts to be loving or obedient. We celebrate because the reality of Easter is that we don’t particularly deserve it and almost that it’s supposed to be a bit foreign to us.

We need the love, grace, and forgiveness of God, because it doesn’t come naturally to us. We need it more than once and even more than just once a year. Aren’t we all in the same place, trying hard to get closer to something that we can just never get close to on our own? Yet, God is still there inviting us to experience his love and grace and giving us the means to do so. Considering this, maybe it is a good thing that the realities behind Easter feel far away at times, it probably won’t make me feel like an inferior Christian at times, but we’ll take it one step at a time.

When Nobody Said “Merry Christmas”

We’re well into the month of December and that means that preparing for Christmas is in full swing. In fact one could argue that preparing for Christmas is pretty much in full swing by November these days. However, the point is that we’re right in the midst of the Christmas season.

Of course being in the Christmas season always brings with it a battle, at least for some people. This battle is largely a battle of phrases. Every year around this time is when the phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” decide to go to war. This war takes place in churches and in department stores and I’m not really sure who wins. It’s a lot of fighting and noise, but I never notice much change at the end of the season.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really been a supporter of this war. Phrases like “Keep Christ in Christmas” have always seemed a bit naive to me. That by simply saying Christmas meant that you understood what it really meant. I grew up celebrating Christmas, but never really understood what it was all about. My family knew it was connected to religion somehow, but they weren’t really entirely sure how. So simply saying Merry Christmas doesn’t really make it better as if the mere utterance of the words worked some kind of Christian magic.

I could belabor that point, but instead I wonder why this war is so important to us in the first place? The idea that “Happy Holidays” is some kind of affront to Christmas is a connection I don’t entirely see. I see it more as a acknowledgement of our country’s belief of freedom of religion that is starting to get pressure to include religions beyond Christianity. There may be some latent hostility towards Christmas in the picture for some people, but even then I say so what?

This whole battle just kind of makes me scratch my head. Jesus came into this world at a time when nobody said “Merry Christmas.” In fact he entered the world with very few people taking notice and even fewer of those were people of any earthly power. Jesus himself entered a world that was naturally hostile to him. In fact King Herod was seeking his death as soon as he knew of his birth and we know that Jesus’ earthly ministry doesn’t end with him getting honorary holidays from the religious and political leaders of the day, but with a crucifix. Did Jesus decide to withhold grace, mercy, and love due to this hostility? Or did he come into this world planning to love us unconditionally and give his life up for us. A life that was taken by the very people that he came to save.

If this is how Jesus lived than how are we to be approaching Christmas? In anger and frustration because people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? By promoting boycotts and rating sellers based on their commitment to saying what we think are the right words? Or are we to respond in love and grace? The same love and grace that we claim to have received from Jesus. The love and grace that he showed to a world that didn’t say “Merry Christmas” or throw royal parties for him, but instead sought to kill him from the very day of his birth, challenged and didn’t really understand his ministry, and eventually hung him on the cross.

If Jesus can show love in the midst of hostility, maybe we could too? That’s of course assuming that there is always hostility lying underneath every proclamation of “Happy Holidays.” If there isn’t than all the more reason we should be loving and graceful to those who say it, even if we prefer to say “Merry Christmas.”

I think we should be more dismayed if the celebration of Christmas suddenly lacked all these nuances and everyone said “Merry Christmas” with no hesitation and little thought. After all, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus and it was this birth of God Incarnate that incited hostility, inspired praise, was unnoticed by many, caused misunderstandings, and turned the world on its head. It is almost more comforting and more real to me that it still evokes those range of reactions today. Ultimately, Jesus didn’t come to this world to have people say “Merry Christmas,” but to be God among us, show us the love of God, and draw us closer to Him. These are goals that are worthy of carrying on and I don’t think they hinge on the words “Merry Christmas,” but rather on the One whom we’re celebrating.