Today’s Reading: Genesis 13:1-17:27
Wow. I was smack in the middle of today’s reading when I simply couldn’t read anymore. I just had to stop and write down the whopper of a truth that God plopped right down in my lap!
Abram has just met with King Melchizedek, cut a covenant with God and now we enter into Sarai’s story of longing for a child of her own. And it is from this place of longing that she says “Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” (Genesis 16:2) Now this is a verse that I have read over and over and over again and normally would have passed right on by without seeing the significance in it except for the fact that when I started this writing through the Bible in a year project, God led me to pick up a different Bible instead of my usual NIV translation that I’ve read from since I was in middle school. But even more than reading from a different translation I am reading from a simple standard Bible, no fancy leather cover or silver edged pages, no commentaries to cloud my vision, no other voices being spoken except that of the Holy Spirit straight to my heart. And it is because of the simplicity of this Bible that this verse stood out to me today, because it had a footnote at the bottom of the page and in this Bible there aren’t that many of those. So in my Bible the verse looks more like this:
“Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children2 by her.”
Usually in this Bible the footnotes generally point to another scripture that this one might refer to, or an alternate meaning of the word in the original language. So when I saw the little two next to children I thought it was quite strange that there would be a footnote for that word in particular. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but in Bible Study it’s the stuff of discovery!!! This one little footnote has completely confirmed a theory for me that I had felt in my Spirit for so long and experienced in life over and over again but never really understood until today! (Am I building the suspense up enough for you? Are you screaming at the screen, “Get on with it!”?) You wanna know what that foot note said?
“Hebrew be built up, which sounds like the Hebrew for children” (pg 10. The Holy Bible. English Standard Version (ESV) copyright 2001 by Crossway.)
Now I know that on the surface that doesn’t sound that terribly exciting, but trust me it is! At least it is if you want to know more about a relationship with Jesus.
In Galatians chapter four Paul introduces to us the concept of Sarai and her servant Hagar being symbolical of something more, something deeper than just a story of two women competing over the same blessed man. Sarai, being Abram’s covenant wife is the wife of promise and a symbol of the Holy Spirit and grace. While Hagar, being a slave woman in Abram’s household, represents slavery in general and therefore of course slavery to the Law, our own efforts and slavery to religious traditions and customs. To be a slave you don’t have to wear chains or have a physical master, to be a slave to something you feel like it’s something that you have to do, rather than it’s something that you get to do. When you are in slavery to something, like a tradition or a religious custom, you feel like you have to do it or if you don’t, it will bring condemnation down upon yourself, whether from God, religious leaders, or simply your friends. You can be a slave to your addictions like drugs or smoking, but you can also be a slave to the idea that in order to gain God’s favor, forgiveness or pleasure you have to do something to earn it.
Traditions and religious rigmarole build us up. Think about all the pomp and circumstance that goes into attending just one church service. You get up early, shower, get all dressed up, try not to scream at each other as your trying to get out the door in time, usually fail , drive to church, go to Sunday school perhaps, walk into the sanctuary filled with fancy decorations, candles, banners, pews or nicely padded chairs. If you get there early enough you may mill around and check on your friends see how they’re doing, grab a donut and some coffee, this time seems like a break in the pandemonium of the morning thus far right? Then the service starts and you sing to God with all your might, church announcements are made, the most biblically educated person in the room steps forward and says an official prayer for the church, the country perhaps, individuals in the church with ailments and issues, etc. They finish their prayer and begin the sermon. After this we sing a few more songs, receive a blessing from the pastor and we are set free to once again roam the earth with those who have not participated in a church service possibly ever.
(*) Now, I want to make sure that you understand in NO WAY am I condemning any of these actions, I for one am a huge sucker for a good church service, trust me, I am. However, I want to make clear my point that the process of religion strips away the feeling of casual familiarity with God and puts on the robes of formality. I have attended many different church services and I have never stepped foot into a service where I felt like I was stepping into someone’s living room to have a casual encounter with a friend, no matter how casual the dress code or the music. Yet this is the very relationship that God wants with us. He is not opposed to worship of His greatness and superiority, if he was then Jesus never would have allowed people to fall at his feet, bathe them with their tears or dry them with their hair. However, when it came down to his very last moments on earth he showed us how he wants us to see him, how he wants us to worship him and how he wants us to spend time with him. He had supper with his friends. HE scrubbed their dirty stinky feet, the job of a servant. (*)
You know, there’s just something very special about holding someone else’s foot in your hands. This foot that bears every pound of weight they carry with every step that they take, including the weight of the stress sitting upon their shoulders and the worries upon their head. In the end it all comes down to our feet, they are what hold us up throughout every day. Feet are what make it possible for us to stand tall, to stand firm. To hold that in your hand is very powerful indeed. And there was Jesus, outer garment removed, towel wrapped around his waist and a bowl of water in his hands. He stooped down before Peter, most likely completely aghast at what his LORD was doing because he is the one that said “Lord, do YOU wash my feet?” Jesus tried to calm Peter by telling him that he would understand later but it didn’t help and Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet by saying “You will never wash my feet”. Oh Peter, never is a very long time isn’t it! I mean it was so obvious that it was what Jesus wanted to do, he was doing it. Yet Peter refused to allow Jesus to have his own way. Here Jesus was trying to show Peter just how much he loves him by washing the dirt and stink off the burden bearers of his entire body and Peter was refusing to allow him to do it. How often do we do that to our friends and to Jesus? We think that we have to carry all our burdens by ourselves. We refuse to let anyone help us, maybe because by allowing them to help us it admits that we need helped; that we are not strong enough to bear all of our burdens ourselves. You know what the Holy Spirit said to me once about that? “Human shoulders were never designed to carry burdens.”
Did you catch that? From the creator himself, your shoulders were never designed to carry around stress and worry and doubt and fear. So why do we INSIST on keeping those burdens shouldered? Why do we bear them alone when there are people that God has sent into our lives for just such a time as this? While humanity was not designed to shoulder burdens, we were designed for companionship! Why else would solitary confinement be such a horrid punishment? Yet we place ourselves in solitary confinement all the time in order to shelter our problems, nurse our worries and harbor our fears. Jesus came to show us that he cares for us, that he loves us and that he wants to be that kind of trusted friend with whom you can share that dirty little secret that has been weighing you down for so long, too long. He wants to wash that worry and stress away with the Living water of his Spirit and the Word. And there are times when that can be accomplished through a church service, I’ve seen it happen and I’ve had it happen. But you know what; Jesus washes my feet the most when I’m talking to my friends.
We have a little group that meets once a week, usually at the park or an indoor play place, sometimes in each other’s homes, and all we do is share prayer requests and talk. Sometimes we will bring something that we read through the week that meant something to us, a scripture or a reading from a devotional or a book, but usually we just hang out and share our burdens with one another. No ceremony, no pomp or circumstance, just a few friends hanging out with their kids at the park. Simple. Casual. Friendship. Relationship is not a ritual. Sarai didn’t feel like she was ever going to have a child so she decided she would do the thing that would build her up, have a child through the slave woman, religious law. Yet that child was not the child she had hoped for, longed for, he was the child whose children have persecuted others for generations. My friend, we can enjoy and find religion through relationship, but it is much harder to find relationship through religion. Religion builds us up to make us feel like we’ve encountered a supreme being, and we may have. But it’s not the continual friendship experience that Jesus longs for from us. He wants us to lean on his breast at the dinner table and talk about the day. He wants us to share our burdens with him across the table with some bread and good wine. He wants to laugh with us and cry with us. Yes, he is a supreme being with supreme powers and supreme authority… but he set all that aside to make friends with you. Are we willing to set it all aside to be friends with him? Would we be willing to set aside all the things that we do that build us up in order to let him build us up? I honestly don’t know that I could.
For one, this blog builds me up; it makes me feel like someone who has something important to say just because a few people read it from time to time. For the most part, I gave that up this summer. And for a couple of months, I was just me… and it was great, and I almost didn’t come back. Except that God showed me that he wanted me to come back, to continue posting and sharing my stories, because they’re stories about him. And because he uses this blog to build me up. But he had to show me, test me, to see if I was willing to give it up for him.
What do you do that makes you feel like you’re doing something for God? What things in your life make you feel like you’ve encountered a supreme being rather than a friend? While those things aren’t bad, they’re not the entire relationship so don’t rely on them completely for your spiritual wellness. Remember Jesus. He was born in a barn. He slept in a feeding trough. He grew up a poor carpenter’s son with no pomp, no circumstance, no trumpets announcing his arrival into the room at dinner every night, he was just Jesus. Common every day Jesus; son, brother, FRIEND!
(*) If you have not read the entire post yet (to the line) do not read what I write next!
If you have read the entire post, go back up and re read the section between the *’s. Just now I was proof-reading back through it and as I was reading that section the Holy Spirit spoke to me again. And while I know that I may not explain this correctly I am praying that Ruach will help you understand it the way he just did for me. Thinking about the significance of feet and how they carry burdens. Jesus showed us that he is asking that we allow him to wash away our burdens by washing our feet. This is where the * comes in: Think about HIS feet! The burdens they carry, having picked up all of ours. They are certainly feet worthy of worship are they not? Yet what was the picture message that he gave me to finish that sentence? The woman washing HIS FEET with her tears of gratitude!!!!! Our gratitude washes the burdens that he carries away!!! Wow! Oh wow! Wow! Wow!!! There is a way WE can wash HIS feet, wash his burdens away and it’s simply by being grateful for him carrying ours. Seriously, we make this relationship with him WAY too hard on ourselves don’t we?!? It’s as simple as saying “thank you” and meaning it; taking a moment to capture gratitude and hold it captive in our hearts. Instead of being slaves to tradition we can become masters of gratitude! Wow, our friend God is AWESOME!!!!!!!