Sunday, January 31, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

05/11/09 It is apparent that God creating a pure heart in us and renewing a steadfast spirit are two entirely different things. It’s not just that one is about the heart and the other is about the spirit, but that’s a significant difference. We’ve discussed Ezekiel 36:26 previously that says God will give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us. Well, that’s not renewal. That’s installing something new! By installing that new Spirit – the Holy Spirit – God repairs our spirit, refreshing our soul. God renews a steadfast spirit within us by giving us a close encounter of the holy kind! You cannot run into the Holy Spirit head-on and not come away changed, renewed, repaired, and refreshed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

05/06/09 The New American Standard version of this verse begins with the word “Now.” The Greek is “de” which means but, moreover, and, etc. This implies that we are to attach this verse to the previous verse. 1 Thessalonians 3:14-15 begins this thought. In the New International Version, these verses say, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” The instructions in the letter were designed to bring about repentance. Those who disobeyed weren’t persevering in the Christian life, and we who obey need to warn our brothers not to live in sin and defeat. We need to share the reason for our peace and set an example by our endurance through Christ.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bible Study: As It Was In The Beginning - Genesis - Chapter 13


Please forgive this rough draft format, as these are my raw study notes on the book of Genesis. I felt a great sense of urgency to publish them rather than waiting until I had the time to pretty them up. Thank you and I pray that God blesses you through this material.

Stacey


Take a few minutes to savor Genesis Chapter 13. Then return here and ponder the thoughts, answer the questions, and be sure to leave comments about your own revelations…



13:2 – compare with Exodus 3:22 and 12:36 – Abram left Egypt wealthy, as his descendants will also do (led by Moses).

13:10-11 – Lot chose selfishly.

13:10 – appearances can be deceiving. The land was beautiful to look at, but it was filled with corruption, sin and evil.

13:12 – Sodom had a reputation for wickedness, so Lot knowingly flirted with disaster. (NIVSB)


What attributes of God have you observed in your study today? How will this change your relationship with Him?

Today's Daily Devotional


“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

04/20/09 God will give you rest. “Anapauo” is the Greek word used here for “give rest”. The definition is amazing! In essence, this phrase means that Jesus makes us stop moving or working so that we can recover and collect our strength. He refreshes us. He quiets us. He calms us. He stops us from fighting and kicking and struggling. When we recognize our weariness or burden, we run to Him. And then what? He holds us. He makes us sit a spell with Him. He pours peace over us. Zephaniah 3:17 says that the Lord quiets us with His love. He stops our struggling against Him by loving us. He renews our strength. He actually exchanges His own strength for our weakness! Isn’t that a beautiful thought? Are you allowing Jesus the opportunity to give you rest? Why don’t you take Him up on it right now?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

REVIEW: Love Finds You in Poetry Texas by Janice Hanna

Janice Hanna’s “Love Finds You in Poetry, Texas” is a touching romance novel set in the west at a time when the men greatly outnumbered the women and one way to rectify the imbalance was to send for a mail-order bride. In this charming story, Belinda Bauer is playing matchmaker. She wants to find a bride for her friend, Georg Kaufman, the town barber, but the bride she sends for falls for someone else. She tries to match up others as well – some work out, some are horribly mismatched. But will Belinda come to regret sending for a second bride for her best friend when she finally realizes that she is in love with him?

I adore Janice Hanna’s writing! Her contribution to the “Love Finds You…” series is entertaining and inspiring. That said, I must admit that her more modern Texas love stories (the Weddings by Bella series penned as Janice Thompson) are my favorites. Hanna’s humor seems to be more conducive to contemporary plotlines. Still, I would highly recommend this novel for entertaining, wholesome Christian reading with a historical perspective.

Today's Daily Devotional


“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

04/17/09 God doesn’t want you to be harmed. Considering all of the catastrophes in the world, this may be difficult to believe. But it’s the truth. Our inability to readily accept this idea is primarily that we think about our own definition of the word “harm” which may include any painful or uncomfortable circumstance. Whereas, ultimately, God’s concern is for our souls. God knows our earthly bodies are temporary homes while we consider them to be all that we have. The Lord wants to save us from eternal harm which equals separation from Him. His plan is specific to each of us and includes distinct opportunities and motivations to know Him, love Him, pursue Him, and participate in the plan that He has designed exclusively for each one of us! Where is He trying to get your attention?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

REVIEW: Lessons From the Fairway by R. McKenzie Fisher

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to R. McKenzie Fisher and her publisher for sending me a copy of "Lessons From The Fairway" to review for them. I have always been grateful for this generosity, and I am trying to improve at being consistent in taking the time to thank these wonderfully giving individuals in a public forum. I really appreciate your time, effort and expense in making a reviewer copy available to me.

R. McKenzie Fisher has penned a charming gift book for the golf enthusiast in your life entitled “Lessons From The Fairway”. This little book is a collection of 30 devotional offerings – stories from the links that teach valuable life lessons for all ages. Each offering is a short read that is packed with valuable wisdom that applies to life, in general as well as the golf course. This book would not only be a good gift for the golfers you know, but also a good book to set out for friends and family to peruse when they visit.

January CSFF Tour: North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson



There's also a site for this book series. Click here.


I would love to have reviewed this book. I was really looking forward to reading it. But I never received a copy. My library has it, but I had to reserve it, so I won't have it in time to read for the tour, either. If you've read the book, please leave your comments about it, here. If I'm not scrambling to read a book for another tour when my library copy comes in, maybe it will influence me to drop everything and read it. Or perhaps your comments will inspire me go buy a copy and add it to my "read as soon as I have time" pile of books.




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Today's Daily Devotional


I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4

04/10/09 I returned recently from my first women’s retreat. I was reluctant to go because it made for a busy weekend, which wasn’t really conducive to relaxing at Jesus’ feet. I was asked by one of the ladies running the event to call a woman who might need a ride, and I kept forgetting or was too tired, excuses, excuses – imagine the guilt I felt when that lady walked into the lodge by herself an hour late. I had an argument with my husband the morning I left, which put my heart in a bad place – angry, bitter, not willing to admit my fault in the matter. But Jesus met me in the mountains. He led me to befriend another first-time retreater and a lady who is routinely misunderstood. He helped me to see the graciousness of women I thought were in ministry just for show. He revealed Himself and blessed me from my head to my toes! He has never been so beautiful!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jenna’s Cowboy by Sharon Gillenwater


Romance on the Ranch:

When Jenna’s cowboy returns to their small hometown in Texas,
she discovers that the memories of the past aren’t so easy to shake after all

Popular author Sharon Gillenwater releases a new novel, Jenna’s Cowboy, set in the beautiful part of West Texas where she grew up as the debut novel in The Callahans of Texas series.

Readers meet Jenna Callahan, who has a young son and is working hard at her father's ranch. She's content with her life. But she never expected to see Nate Langley back in town—the first guy she ever noticed, the very same one her father sent away all those years ago. And she never thought the attraction they felt would be as strong as ever.

Jenna's cowboy has some healing of his own to do, though, after two tours of duty in the armed forces. With the help of good friends, strong faith, and a loving family, he hopes to put the horrors of the past behind him—and become the man Jenna deserves.

With an emphasis on simple acts of love, Jenna's Cowboy gives romance readers what they want most: a love story with a Texas touch. This contemporary novel will appeal to fans of Debbie Macomber and Lisa Wingate.

Sharon Gillenwater was born and raised in west Texas , and loves to write about
her native state. The author of ten novels, she is a member of ACFW and Romance Writers of America. When she's not writing, she and her husband enjoy spending time with their son, daughter-in-law, and adorable grandson. She lives in Port Angeles , Washington .

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life. They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet.


Available January 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


Here is my review of this terrific novel:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Sharon Gillenwater and her publisher for sending me a copy of "Jenna's Cowboy" to review for them. I have always been grateful for this generosity, and I am trying to improve at being consistent in taking the time to thank these wonderfully giving individuals in a public forum. I really appreciate your time, effort and expense in making a reviewer copy available to me.

“Jenna’s Cowboy” by Sharon Gillenwater is one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in a long time. And if you are familiar with my reviews, you know that I read quite a few wonderful books! I love the Texas landscape that the author has painted in this novel that showcases ranching and cotton farming with equal story time and meticulous description to educate the reader and put her in the position that the main character, Nate Langley, occupies. Nate returns home from serving in the military to help his ailing father on the family cotton farm, taking on a part-time job with a neighboring rancher for some extra income. Nate is reunited with Jenna Callahan, the rancher’s daughter and an old friend from high school. Happy to learn that Jenna is divorced and hoping to pursue a relationship with her as he should have back in school, Nate tries to balance a growing love with his own denial about sleepless nights and post traumatic stress disorder.

This book tenderly honors servicemen. I was touched by Gillenwater’s handling of the issues associated with PTSD. And, even though the story wrapped up a little too neatly to be confused with a possible reality (thought I will admit that God can do anything), I loved that the characters in this book displayed characteristics of true friendship and Christianity. Their reactions to the situations in this incredibly romantic novel put on display what a church family should look like. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, Nate received grace as he struggled with various issues that would make weaker men and women walk away. I am inspired that there are human beings on this planet like the characters in this novel who were willing to stand up for the one they loved and see him through the most difficult of times. I want to be that kind of person.

I am glad that this book promises to be the first in a series called “The Callahans of Texas”. I look forward to reading more exciting and romantic fiction about these characters that emulate such admirable Christian behavior. I am also a sucker for patriotism, so this novel (and future books in this series) will find themselves on my keeper shelf.

Today's Daily Devotional


He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:8

04/09/09 I learned something while studying this verse today. The Greek word for “end” is telos. It means “termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time), eternal”. WOW! This definition teaches me that the Lord strengthens my participation in His plan even after my death. God will use what He has called me to do until His plan is fulfilled at the end of time and possibly beyond. The description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation shows that the very architecture of our heavenly home is built upon God’s people. Their involvement in God’s plan is eternal. So is ours! Hallelujah! After all, I’m a Christian, and I assume you are, too, if you’re reading this. That means that the message of the 12 apostles reached you! Their legacy lives on. What legacy is God building from you?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Psalm 150:1-2

04/08/09 Today was a difficult day to start praising. I walk outside this morning to find one of my car’s tires nearly flat. That was going to make me late for work. Nausea set in. My husband was going to send me to work driving on a tire inflated with a can of fix-a-flat! I think not. I learned from a co-worker about a week ago that he had a flat tire on his truck, so he took it straight to the shop to have it fixed. What a novel idea. So, I took my novel and drove to Pep Boys and waited for them to open at 8AM. I was in and fixed and out the door before 9. Sure, I was two hours late to work. But I have vacation to cover it. Praise the Lord. For that matter, I HAVE A JOB!!!!! Praise the Lord. Besides, I learned that the car is in dire need of an alignment that won’t cost me very much and can save me lots. God is so good! Praise Him!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

04/20/09 I love the “keep” part! It means that the Lord will keep watch over you. It means that He will protect you. It means that He will not allow any harm to come to you. It means that you belong to Him. It means that anything that touches your life must first touch His. I am floored that the King of the Universe cares that much about me! This is what it means to be truly cherished. We are loved so deeply, so completely, that everything else pales in comparison. There is no greater love than this. Christ laid His life down for us so that we would be spared. He paid the penalty for our sins by spilling His own blood, and now we belong to Him. Paid in full. He gets to keep us. Forever. Hallelujah!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


“Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Revelation 7:12

04/22/09 The praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength mentioned in this verse belongs to God. The word for God used here is “Theos”. It refers specifically to the Trinity. Our proclamations of praise and worship glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And those praises belong to the Trinity forever and ever. The “forever and ever” part of this verse is really incredible. The same word (aion) is used for both terms, which means for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity. In essence, this translates as “forever and forever” or “for eternity”. Isn’t this just the coolest verse of scripture. If praises belong to the Trinity for eternity, wouldn’t that be a verse to support the idea that we will be praising God when we get to heaven? How will you praise Him?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

04/27/09 Anxiety is defined as worries and distractions. We experience anxiety for many reasons – bills, relationships, the future. But if you really think about it, the things that worry us and distract us are either things we can control or things we can’t. If we can’t control them, there’s no sense in worrying about it. Right? If we can control it, we need to step up and do it because we are responsible for creating worry and distraction in our own lives! Matthew 7 flat out tells us NOT TO WORRY! And what do you think the Lord is talking about in this verse? What are we being distracted from? Him! Our focus falls on our worries rather than Him! That is a sin – it’s called idolatry, and there are many examples of that in the Bible. The golden calf story in Exodus 32 comes to mind. STOP WORRYING! FOCUS ON JESUS!!!

Bible Study: As It Was In The Beginning - Genesis - Chapter 12


Please forgive this rough draft format, as these are my raw study notes on the book of Genesis. I felt a great sense of urgency to publish them rather than waiting until I had the time to pretty them up. Thank you and I pray that God blesses you through this material.

Stacey


Take a few minutes to savor Genesis Chapter 12. Then return here and ponder the thoughts, answer the questions, and be sure to leave comments about your own revelations…



12:1-3 – God preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand. See Galatians 3:8. (A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place – Moore)

12:1 – “your father’s household” – they had become rich. Abram was leaving his affluence. Not sure if Abram was firstborn and entitled to double-portion of inheritance. He did have one living brother (11:26-28).

12:2-3 – the 7 promises of God to Abram.

bless – barakh – to bend the knee.

“There was a close association felt between kneeling and receiving a blessing.” (The Complete Word Study OT: KJV, p. 2298 - A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place – Moore) See Philippians 2:8-11.

12:4 – so Abram left – prompt obedience to God is a wonderful trait for which Abram was known. But Lot went with him. According to verse 1, Abram was supposed to leave his relatives behind.

75 at that time was the equivalent of about 40, today. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:5 – When Abram moved from Haran to Canaan, “It might be compared to a resident of Manhattan, New York, moving to Montana.” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs – Vos) The land was in a rural state with very few urban centers.

12:6 – Canaan was a land of extremes. In weather, torrential downpours followed by bright blue skies. In landscape, hills and valleys, fertile plains and wilderness. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:10 – Abram’s story foreshadows Israel’s (when he comes to Egypt to be with Joseph). (See NIVSB) This was disobedience because Abram didn’t consult God.

12:12 – “Abram’s attempt to secure his own safety matches Sarai’s attempt to overcome her own barrenness. (See Ch. 16)” (NIVSB)

12:13 – say you are my sister – see Gen 20:12

Sarai and Pharaoh probably didn’t sleep together since there was a time of preening observed before he would come to her.

“For those who love God, there are no white lies.” See Ephesians 4:25. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:15 – Pharaoh’s officials – “Pharaoh’s princes (his pimps rather).” (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs – Matthew Henry’s Commentary, 71.)

Pharaoh means “great house”. (NIVSB)

12:16 – Did Pharaoh intend these gifts to be a dowry for Sarai? (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:17 – How did Pharaoh know the disease was caused by Sarai’s presence in his house? She and Abram were the only people not afflicted. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:18 – Pharaoh confronts Abram, not Sarai. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:19 – Abram asked Sarai to lie about being his wife, but apparently he lied, not her. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

“…took her to be my wife.” – this implies that Sarai had sex with Pharaoh. Other translations (KJV, NLT) suggest that this union was contemplated, but not consummated. (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

“Pharaoh, as a gesture of respect, did not use Sarai’s name when he sent them packing.” (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs)

12:20 – “everything” included servants, specifically Hagar, who was thought to be Pharaoh’s “own daughter…born to one of his concubines.” (Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible – Higgs – Anne Roiphe “Water From the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah,” p. 45)


What attributes of God have you observed in your study today? How will this change your relationship with Him?

Be Authentic by Warren Wiersbe

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Be Authentic

David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings – The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


A man who has given his life to a deep examination of the Word of God, Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe is an internationally known Bible teacher, former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago and the author of more than 150 books. For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on the timeless wisdom of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s “Be” Commentary series. Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture have helped readers understand and apply God’s Word with the goal of life transformation. Dubbed by many as the “pastor’s pastor,” Dr. Wiersbe skillfully weaves Scripture with historical explanations and thought-provoking questions, communicating the Word in such a way that the masses grasp its relevance for today.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766306
ISBN-13: 978-1434766304

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Like Father , Like Son—Almost

(Genesis 25—26)


Isaac was the son of a famous father (Abraham) and the father of a famous son (Jacob), and for those reasons he is sometimes considered a lightweight among the patriarchs. Compared to the exploits of Abraham and Jacob, Isaac’s life does seem conventional and commonplace. Although he lived longer than either Abraham or Jacob, only six chapters are devoted to Isaac’s life in the Genesis record, and only one verse in Hebrews 11 (v. 9).


Isaac was a quiet, meditative man (Gen. 24:63), who would rather pack up and leave than confront his enemies. During his long life, he didn’t travel far from home. Abraham had made the long journey from Haran to Canaan, and had even visited Egypt, and Jacob went to Haran to get a wife, but Isaac spent his entire adult life moving around in the land of Canaan. If there had been an ancient Middle East equivalent to our contemporary “jet set,” Isaac wouldn’t have joined it.


However, there are more Isaacs in this world than there are Abrahams or Jacobs, and these people make important contributions to society and to the church, even if they don’t see their names in lights or even in the church bulletin. Furthermore, Isaac was a living part of the divine plan that eventually produced the Jewish nation, gave us the Bible, and brought Jesus Christ into the world, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.


Isaac wasn’t a failure; he was just different. After all, the people in each generation have to find themselves and be themselves and not spend their lives slavishly trying to imitate their ancestors. “Men are born equal,” wrote psychiatrist Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom, “but they are also born different.” Discovering our uniqueness and using it to the glory of God is the challenge that makes life what it is. Why be a cheap imitation when you can be a valuable original?


No generation stands alone, because each new generation is bound to previous generations whether we like it or not. Isaac was bound to Abraham and Sarah by ties that couldn’t be ignored or easily broken. Let’s look at some of those ties and discover what they teach us about our own life of faith today.


HE RECEIVED HIS FATHE R’S INHERITANCE (25:1–18)


Abraham recognized his other children by giving them gifts and sending them away, thereby making sure they couldn’t supplant Isaac as the rightful heir. Along with his father’s immense wealth (13:2; 23:6), Isaac also inherited the covenant blessings that God had given Abraham and Sarah (12:1–3; 13:14–18; 15:1–6). Isaac had parents who believed God and, in spite of occasional mistakes, tried to please Him.


Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael (chap. 16), wasn’t chosen to be the child of promise and the heir of the covenant blessings. God promised to bless Ishmael and make him a great nation, and He kept His promise (17:20–21; 25:12–16); “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac” (17:21;

Rom. 9:6–13). Ishmael was on hand for his father’s funeral (Gen. 25:9), but he wasn’t included in the reading of his father’s will.


Ishmael pictures the “natural” or unsaved person (1 Cor. 2:14), who is outside the faith and hostile to the things of God. But Isaac pictures those who have trusted Jesus Christ and experienced the miraculous new birth by the power of God (1 Peter 1:22–23). “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Ishmael was born a slave, but Isaac was born free (4:21–31; 5:1–2); and Ishmael was born poor, but Isaac was born rich. Every believer in Jesus Christ shares all the blessings of the Spirit in Christ (Eph. 1:3) and is part of Christ’s glorious inheritance (vv. 11, 18).


From the moment of birth, we’re all dependent on the older generation to care for us until we can care for ourselves. We’re also indebted to previous generations for guarding and handing down to us the knowledge, skills, traditions, and culture that are extremely important to daily life. Imagine what life would be like if each new generation had to devise the alphabet, invent printing, discover electricity, or design the wheel!


The most important part of Isaac’s legacy wasn’t the great material wealth his father had left him. Isaac’s most important legacy was the spiritual wealth from his father and mother: knowing and trusting the true and living God and being a part of the covenant blessings that God had graciously bestowed upon Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. How tragic it is when the children of devout Christian believers turn their backs on their priceless spiritual heritage and, like Ishmael and Esau, live for the world and the flesh instead of for the Lord!



HE PRAYED TO HIS FATHER’S GOD (25:19–34)


Genesis is a record of ten successive “generations.” Generations come and go, but the Lord remains and never changes. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1 NKJV).


A devoted home (vv. 19–20). When Isaac was forty years old, God selected Rebekah to be his wife (chap. 24; 25:20), and we have every reason to believe that they were both devoted to the Lord and to each other. The record indicates that Rebekah was the more aggressive of the two when it came to family matters, but perhaps that’s just the kind of wife Isaac needed. Whatever mistakes Isaac may have made as a husband and father, this much is true: As a young man, he willingly put himself on the altar to obey his father and to please the Lord (chap. 22; Rom. 12:1–2).


A disappointed home (v. 21). Isaac and Rebekah waited twenty years for a family, but no children came. The entire book of Genesis emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the wisdom of His “delays.” Abraham and Sarah had to wait twenty-five years for Isaac to be born; Jacob had to labor fourteen years to obtain his two wives; and Joseph had to wait over twenty years before he was reconciled to his brothers. Our times are in His hands (Ps. 31:15), and His timing is never wrong.


Like Abraham, Isaac was a man of prayer, so he interceded with the Lord on behalf of his barren wife. Isaac had every right to ask God for children because of the covenant promises the Lord had made to his father and mother, promises Isaac had heard repeated in the family circle and that he believed. If Rebekah remained barren, how could Abraham’s seed multiply as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens? How could Abraham’s seed become a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1–3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:6)?


It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. Even though every Jewish couple wanted children, Isaac wasn’t praying selfishly. He was concerned about God’s plan for fulfilling His covenant and blessing the whole world through the promised Messiah (3:15; 12:1–3). True prayer means being concerned about God’s will, not our own wants, and claiming God’s promises in the Word. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer and enabled Rebekah to conceive.


A distressed home (vv. 22–23). One problem soon led to another, because Rebekah’s pregnancy was a difficult one: The babies in her womb were struggling with each other. The Hebrew word means “to crush or oppress,” suggesting that the fetal movements were not normal. Since Rebekah wondered if the Lord was trying to say something to her, she went to inquire. Isaac was fortunate to have a wife who not only knew how to pray, but who also wanted to understand God’s will for herself and her children.


In salvation history, the conception and birth of children is a divinely ordained event that has significant consequences. This was true of the birth of Isaac (chaps. 18, 21), the twelve sons of Jacob (29:30—30:24), Moses (Ex. 1—2), Samuel (1 Sam. 1—2), David (Ruth 4:17–22), and our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4–5). Conception, birth, and death are divine appointments, not human accidents, a part of God’s wise and loving plan for His own people (Ps. 116:15; 139:13–16).


Imagine Rebekah’s surprise when she learned that the two children would struggle with each other all their lives! Each child would produce a nation, and these two nations (Edom and Israel) would compete, but the younger would master the older. Just as God had chosen Isaac, the second-born, and not Ishmael, the firstborn, so He chose Jacob, the second-born, and not Esau, the firstborn. That the younger son should rule the elder was contrary to human tradition and logic, but the sovereign God made the choice (Rom. 9:10–12), and God never makes a mistake.


A divided home (vv. 24–28). Esau probably means “hairy.” He also had the nickname “Edom,” which means “red,” referring to his red hair and the red lentil soup Jacob sold him (vv. 25, 30). The twin boys not only looked different but they also were different in personality. Esau

was a robust outdoorsman, who was a successful hunter, while Jacob was a “home boy.” You would think that Isaac would have favored Jacob, since both of them enjoyed domestic pursuits, but Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. Rebekah was a hands-on mother who knew what was going on in the home and could contrive ways to get what she thought was best.


It’s unfortunate when homes are divided because parents and children put their own personal desires ahead of the will of God. Isaac enjoyed eating the tasty game that Esau brought home, a fact that would be important in later family history (chap. 27). Isaac, the quiet man, fulfilled his dreams in Esau, the courageous man, and apparently ignored the fact that his elder son was also a worldly man. Did Isaac know that Esau had forfeited his birthright? The record doesn’t tell us. But he did know that God had chosen the younger son over the elder son.


A friend of mine kept a card under the glass on his office desk that read: “Faith is living without scheming.” Jacob could have used that card. Before his birth, he had been divinely chosen to receive the birthright and the blessing; thus there was no need for him to scheme and take advantage of his brother. It’s likely that Jacob had already seen plenty of evidence that Esau didn’t care about spiritual things, an attitude that made Esau unfit to receive the blessing and accomplish God’s will. Perhaps Jacob and his mother had even discussed the matter.


The name “Jacob” comes from a Hebrew word (yaaqob) that means “may God protect,” but because it sounds like the words aqeb (“heel”) and aqab (“watch from behind” or “overtake”), his name became a nickname: “he grasps the heel” or “he deceives.” Before birth, Jacob and Esau had contended, and at birth, Jacob grasped his brother’s heel. This latter action was interpreted to mean that Jacob would trip up his brother and take advantage of him. The prediction proved true.


The fact that God had already determined to give the covenant blessings to Jacob didn’t absolve anybody in the family from their obligations to the Lord. They were all responsible for their actions, because divine sovereignty doesn’t destroy human responsibility. In fact, knowing that we’re the chosen of God means we have a greater responsibility to do His will.



HE FACED HIS FATHER’S TEMPTATIONS (26:1–11)


True faith is always tested, either by temptations within us or trials around us (James 1:1–18), because a faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. God tests us to bring out the best in us, but Satan tempts us to bring out the worst in us. In one form or another, each new generation must experience the same tests as previous generations, if only to discover that the enemy doesn’t change and that human nature doesn’t improve. Abraham is mentioned eight times in this chapter, and you find the word “father” six times. Isaac was very much his father’s son. Abraham Lincoln was right: “We can not escape history.”


The temptation to run (vv. 1–6). When Abraham arrived in Canaan, he found a famine in the land and faced his first serious test of faith (12:10—13:4). His solution was to abandon the place God had chosen for him, the place of obedience, and to run to Egypt, thus establishing a bad example for his descendants who were prone to imitate him.5 The safest place in the world is in the will of God, for the will of God will never lead us where His grace can’t provide for us. Unbelief asks, “How can I get out of this,” while faith asks, “What can I get out of this?”


When Isaac faced the problem of a famine, he decided to go to Gerar, the capital city of the Philistines, and get help from Abimelech.6 Isaac and Rebekah were probably living at Beer Lahai Roi at that time (25:11), which means they traveled about seventy-five miles northeast to get to Gerar. Even after arriving in Gerar, Isaac and Rebekah may have been tempted to go south to Egypt, though God had warned them not to consider that possibility.


God permitted Isaac to remain in Philistia and promised to bless him. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be greatly multiplied and one day would possess all those lands. Thus Isaac had a right to be there as long as God approved (12:2–3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:3–8; 22:15–18). God blessed Isaac for Abraham’s sake (25:5, 24), just as He has blessed believers today for the sake of Jesus Christ.


We can never successfully run away from trials, because God sees to it that His children learn the lessons of faith regardless of where they go. We can never grow in faith by running from difficulty, because “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character” (Rom.

5:3–4 NKJV). Like David, we may wish we had “wings like a dove” so we could “fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6 NKJV), but if we did, we’d always be doves when God wants us to “mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa. 40:31).


The temptation to lie (vv. 7–11). Isaac could flee from famine, but when he put himself into a situation that offered no escape, he had to turn to deception to protect himself. Abraham committed this same sin twice, once in Egypt (Gen. 12:14–20) and once in Philistia (chap. 20). Remember, faith is living without scheming, and telling lies seems to be one of humanity’s favorite ways to escape responsibility.


Isaac was asked about the woman who was with him and, like his father Abraham before him, he said she was his sister. But when Abimelech saw Isaac caressing Rebekah, he knew she was his wife. Why did Isaac lie? Because he was afraid his pagan host would kill him in order to obtain his beautiful wife. His lie was evidence of his unbelief, for if he had claimed the covenant promise when he prayed for children (25:21), why couldn’t he claim that same covenant promise to protect himself and his wife?


The English poet John Dryden wrote, “Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all societies.” When people don’t keep their word, the foundations of society begin to shake and things start to fall apart. Happy homes, lasting friendships, thriving businesses, stable governments, and effective churches all depend on truth for their success. The American preacher Phillips Brooks said, “Truth is always strong, no matter how weak it looks; and falsehood is always weak, no matter how strong it looks.” Truth is cement; falsehood is whitewash.


When he found himself in difficulty, Isaac was tempted to run and to lie, and we face these same temptations today. Isaac succumbed to temptation and was found out. It’s a sad day when unconverted people like Abimelech publicly expose God’s servants for telling lies. What an embarrassment to the cause of truth!


HE DUG AGAIN HIS FATHER’S WELLS (26:12–35)

Isaac inherited flocks and herds from his father, who had lived a nomadic life, but now the wealthy heir settled down and became a farmer, remaining in Gerar “a long time” (v. 8).


The blessing (vv. 12–14). Isaac and his neighbors had access to the same soil, and they depended on the same sunshine and rain, but Isaac’s harvests were greater than theirs, and his flocks and herds multiplied more abundantly. The secret? God kept His promise and blessed Isaac in all that he did (vv. 3–5). God would give a similar blessing to Jacob years later (chap. 31).


But Isaac was a deceiver! How could the Lord bless somebody who claimed to be a believer and yet deliberately lied to his unbelieving neighbors? Because God is always faithful to His covenant and keeps His promises (2 Tim. 2:11–13), and the only condition God attached to His promise of blessing was that Isaac remain in the land and not go to Egypt.


God also blessed Isaac because of Abraham’s life and faith (Gen. 26:5), just as He blesses us for the sake of Jesus Christ. We’ll never know until we get to heaven how many of our blessings have been “dividends” from the spiritual investments made by godly friends and family who have gone before.


The conflict (vv. 14–17). In spite of his material blessings, Isaac still suffered because of his lie, because the blessings he received brought burdens and battles to his life. Seeing his great wealth, the Philistines envied him and decided he was a threat to their safety. (A similar

situation would occur when the Jews multiplied in Egypt. See Ex. 1:8ff.)


“The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22 NKJV). Had Isaac not lied about his wife, God would not have disciplined him but would have given him peace with his neighbors (Prov. 16:7). Because of his sin, however, Isaac’s material blessings

caused him trouble.


The Philistines tried to get Isaac to leave their land and settle elsewhere, and to encourage this they stopped up Abraham’s wells and deprived Isaac’s flocks and herds of the water they desperately needed. Water was a precious commodity in the Near East, and adequate wells were necessary if you were to succeed in the land. The crisis came when the king commanded Isaac to move away, and Isaac obeyed.


The search (vv. 18–22). No matter where Isaac journeyed, the enemy followed him and confiscated his father’s wells and also the new wells that Isaac’s servants dug. To find a well of “springing water” (v. 19) was a special blessing, for it guaranteed fresh water at all times, but the Philistines took that well, too. The names of the new wells that Isaac’s men dug reveal the

problems that he had with his neighbors, for Esek means “contention,” and Sitnah means “hatred.” But Rehoboth means “enlargement” because Isaac finally found a place where he was left alone and had room enough for his camp and his flocks and herds.


Whenever Abraham had a problem with people, he boldly confronted them and got the matter settled, whether it was his nephew Lot (13:5–18), the invading kings (chap. 14), Hagar and Ishmael (21:9ff.), or the Philistines (vv. 22ff.). But Isaac was a retiring man who wanted to avoid confrontation. Since he was a pilgrim, he could move his camp and be a peacemaker.


In every difficult situation of life, we must use discernment to know whether God wants us to be confronters like Abraham or peacemakers like Isaac, for God can bless and use both approaches. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NKJV). Sometimes it isn’t possible, but at least we should try, and we must depend on the wisdom from above that is “pure” and “peaceable” (James 3:17).


Looking at Isaac’s experience from a spiritual point of view, we can learn an important lesson. In the Bible, wells sometimes symbolize blessings from the hand of the Lord (Gen. 16:14; 21:19; 49:22; Ex. 15:27; Num. 21:16–18; Prov. 5:15; 16:22; 18:4; Song 4:15; Isa. 12:3; John 4:14).9 The church keeps looking for something new, when all we need is to dig again the old wells of spiritual life that God’s people have depended on from the beginning—the Word of God, prayer, worship, faith, the power of the Spirit, sacrifice, and service—wells that we’ve allowed the enemy to fill up. Whenever there’s been a revival of spiritual power in the history of the church, it’s been because somebody has dug again the old wells so that God’s life-giving Spirit can be free to work.


The assurance (vv. 23–25). Beersheba was a very special place for Isaac, because there his father had entered into a covenant with the Philistine leaders (21:22ff.). Beersheba means “the well of the oath.” The Lord comes to us with His assuring Word just when we need encouragement (Acts 18:9–11; 23:11; 27:23–24; 2 Tim. 2:19). No matter who is against us, God is with us and for us (Gen. 28:15; 31:3; Rom. 8:31–39), and there’s no need for us to be afraid. In response to God’s gracious word of promise, Isaac built an altar and worshipped the Lord. He was ready to meet his adversaries.


Like his father Abraham, Isaac was identified by his tent and altar (Gen. 26:25; see also 12:7–8; 13:3–4, 18). Isaac was wealthy enough to be able to build himself a fine house, but his tent identified him as a pilgrim and stranger in the land (Heb. 11:8–10, 13–16). A fugitive is fleeing from home; a vagabond has no home; a stranger is away from home; but a pilgrim is heading home. The tent identified Isaac as a pilgrim, and the altar announced that he worshipped Jehovah and was heading to the heavenly kingdom.


Like Isaac, all who have trusted Jesus Christ are strangers in this world and pilgrims heading for a better world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). The body we live in is our tent; one day it will be taken down and we’ll go to the heavenly city (2 Cor. 5:1–8). Life here is brief and temporary, because this tent is fragile, but our glorified body will be ours for eternity (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:1–3). While we’re here on earth, let’s be sure we build the altar and give our witness that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.


The agreement (vv. 26–33). Isaac’s strategy paid off, because the Philistine leaders came to him to settle the matter of the property rights (21:22ff.). Fortified by God’s promises, Isaac was much bolder in his approach, and he confronted the Philistines with their misdeeds. It’s worth noting that Isaac’s conduct during this conflict made a great impression on them, and they could tell that the Lord was richly blessing him. More important than possessing his wells was the privilege Isaac had of sharing his witness with his pagan neighbors. (For a contrasting situation, see 1 Cor. 6:1–8.)


Isaac and the leaders were able to reach an agreement. To seal the treaty, Isaac hosted a feast, for in that culture, to eat with others was to forge strong links of friendship and mutual support. That same day, Isaac’s servants found one of Abraham’s wells (Gen. 21:25–31) and opened it, and Isaac gave it the original name, Beersheba. “The well of the oath” now referred to Isaac’s treaty as well as Abraham’s.


More conflict (vv. 34–35). Isaac was at peace with his neighbors, but he had war at home. His worldly son Esau had married two heathen wives who caused grief to Isaac and Rebekah. (Later, just to provoke his parents, he married a third heathen wife. See 28:8–9.) In view of Esau’s sinful lifestyle, we wonder that Isaac wanted to give him the patriarchal blessing (chap. 27).


All of us would like to find our Rehoboth (enlargement) where we have plenty of room and no contention, but Isaac’s Rehoboth was found only after he endured conflict. It’s through difficulties that God enlarges us for the larger places He prepares for us. “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). When the troubles of our hearts are enlarged and we trust God, then the Lord can enlarge us (25:17) and bring us “into a large place” (18:19). If we want room, we have to suffer, because that’s the only way we can grow and feel at home in the larger place God gives us when we’re ready for it.



©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Be Authentic by Warren Wiersbe. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.



Here is my review of this wonderful commentary:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Warren Wiersbe and his publisher for sending me a copy of "Be Authentic" to review for them. I have always been grateful for this generosity, and I am trying to improve at being consistent in taking the time to thank these wonderfully giving individuals in a public forum. I really appreciate your time, effort and expense in making a reviewer copy available to me.

I absolutely adore Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” series of commentaries. These informative books are a valuable tool for any serious Bible student. They are designed to be read in conjunction with the book of the Bible that is being studied to shed light on words and phrases and customs of the time. Each chapter addresses a manageable portion of scripture and ends with a series of questions that can be used for discussion or personal reflection and study. The notes at the end of the book also contain valuable information that will lead the reader to greater understanding of scripture, and consequently, a deeper relationship with the Lord.

“Be Authentic: Exhibiting Real Faith In The Real World” is a wonderful resource in this series. There are valuable lessons within the pages of this incredible work of non-fiction that will inspire and grow the faith of the reader. This brilliantly engaging and informative book deals with Genesis 25-50, some of my favorite Old Testament reading. I cannot wait to use this book in my next in-depth study of those passages.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him. Nahum 1:7

04/27/09 Yada-yada-yada. We’ve heard the phrase. We may have said the phrase. But it doesn’t mean “blah blah blah.” The Hebrew word “yada” actually means “to know.” What does that have to do with our verse? The New American Standard Bible says, “…He knows those who take refuge in Him.” He cares for us. He knows us. He ministers to us. Personally. Intimately. Lovingly. As only the King of the Universe can. As only a Loving Father can. As only One who knows and cares for my innermost being can. The Lord knows each of us so well that He is the only One capable of giving us the care that we truly need. All we need to do is trust in Him and put our hearts in His capable, nail-pierced hands.

REVIEW: The Amazing Grace of Freedom

“The Amazing Grace of Freedom: The Inspiring Faith of William Wilberforce – the Slaves’ Champion” is a beautiful gift book that blends historical fact with images from the film “Amazing Grace”. Quotes from the actors in the film season the pages alongside quotes from the historical figures they portrayed. This book is filled with breathtaking photographs and poignant writing about the life of William Wilberforce as well as the other men and women who were instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade in England. There are also plenty of eye-opening drawings and historical posters that will shed light on the practice of slave trading. Although it is not an exhaustive resource, this is an easily readable book that is bound to become an invaluable source of historical information and an inspirational journey into a dark time in history. It will whet the appetite of any reader interested in the person of William Wilberforce or the slave trade that he fought against.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Today's Daily Devotional


Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth. Isaiah 42:10

03/31/09 “You break the glass, try to hide your face. Recorded lines that just will not erase and buried in your loss of innocence, you wonder if you’ll find it again. Was I there for the worst of all your pain? And was I there when your blue skies ran away? Was I there when the rains were flooding you off your feet? Those were My tears falling down for you, falling down for you. I’m the One that you’ve been looking for - I’m the One that you’ve been waiting for. I’ve had My eyes on you ever since you were born. I will love you after the rain falls down. I will love you after the sun goes out. I’ll have My eyes on you after the world is no more. Did I arrange the light of your first day? Did I create the rhythm your heart makes? Could you believe when your candle starts to fade? I want to be the One that you believe
Could take it all away, take your heart away. Isn’t My life a clear sign since I have crossed over this chasm to fill the space between Me and you? And I will do it all over again. Just look for Me, just wait for Me. The One you’ve been looking for. The One you’ve been waiting for. You won’t have to look anymore.”

After the World – Disciple.

Us by Daniel Tocchini

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Us

David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jenningsn of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Daniel L. Tocchini has worked with more than 5,000 couples through personal marriage coaching and the unique and life-changing marriage seminars offered through his organization, the Association for Christian Character Development. An ordained minister, chaplain, author, and highly successful speaker/coach, he lives with his family in California.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764737
ISBN-13: 978-1434764737

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Consumer vs. the Kingdom

“The level of thinking that created the problem is not sufficient to solve it.”

Albert Einstein


This book is about challenging the marriage assumptions that have prevented you from seeing new possibilities in the unchartered waters of Us. The first assumption that simply must go is that you or your spouse needs to change in order for your marriage to improve.


As difficult as it may seem, I want you to consider the possibility that nothing about you or your spouse needs to change.


Nothing at all.


Beyond this, I ask you to consider the reason that you began thinking that one of you needed to change. Could it be that you have unwittingly embraced the consumerism of our culture and applied it to your precious wife? Your precious husband? Such that you began to think of that person as a commodity? That's exactly where Mark and Rene were at when they came to see me. (I should mention that there are times couples are counseled by me and my wife, Aileen. We do this on an as-needed basis.)


Mark and Rene, a forty-something couple with fifteen years of marriage under their belts, spewed venom back and forth at each other during our marriage coaching session. The verbal onslaught was tough to listen to, even though I’ve worked with hundreds of couples and heard it all.


Mark furrowed his brows, glared at his wife, and then looked at me. “You know Dan, I can’t stand being married to Rene any longer! If I had known this marriage was going to be like this I never would have gotten married. Now we have four children and I feel like I’m trapped!” Mark’s rage bubbled over. It was obvious he was purposely trying to hurt his wife with his words.


Rene looked disgusted. “Married? Really? You really believe we’re married? If that’s true, you don’t act like it at all!” She spoke with contempt in her voice. “For starters, you have a girlfriend in New Mexico. If you think you can continue to carry on with that woman, I want a divorce.”


Mark escalated the attack. “Well, you drove me to her. She pays attention to me when I’m around and actually cares about what I do. All you do is gripe at me for not being enough. Besides, you kicked me out so what am I supposed to do? Just wait around until you feel like inviting me back home?”


I was silent and let them duke it out with their words for a bit. I knew exactly where this conversation was going.


In a soft voice, as tears dripped down her cheeks, Rene turned to me. “Dan, I just got tired of waiting for him to do the things he said he would do.” Then she whipped her head around and faced her husband. “When you were home with us, you would get up early in the morning and go to the office, where you worked all day with women. Then, while I was stuck at home with the kids, you would go out to dinner with them. I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That’s why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again. That never happened. You seemed glad to have left. Anyway, even while you were here, there wasn’t an ounce of romance left in our marriage! How do you think that makes me feel? I want a man who will put me first in his life. Honestly Mark, when we first met twenty years ago, I believed you were that man, but now I don’t even know you.”


Mark bristled and took a deep breath, doing his best to maintain some semblance of composure. “Dan, I’m in the fashion business. Most of the people I work with are either gay men or women. I can’t help that! Why can’t Rene support me? After all, I’m the one who provides a great home and pays for the kids’ private school, the medical care, food, clothing—geez, nobody has had to go without anything. I wasn’t seeing anybody until I realized that I just couldn’t go on like that any longer. I was beginning to feel like a hermit. All Rene was doing was getting back at me for what she felt I owed her. When she kicked me out I got an apartment and, sure, a girlfriend on the side. But I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn’t take the nagging and complaining anymore!”


Rene turned away so that Mark couldn’t see her cry. Then she said something I’m sure many of you either say yourself or hear from your spouse.


“But what about me, Mark? What about my needs?”


It was the classic “I-need-I-need-I-need” complaint. Yet each one was only listening to their own needs.


The frustrating part for me was that Mark and Rene had the tools they needed to turn their marriage around. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what they needed to do. Though I had worked with them for about two years, they were not getting anywhere. If there was any chance of this marriage not ending in divorce, one thing needed to happen.


They needed to renew their thinking.


Specifically, Mark and Rene had to come to a transformation of how they viewed their marriage. It had nothing to do with changing their behavior or actions towards themselves and each other. Change in that sense is superficial and many times it is temporary. God has called us to rely on Him, not for changing even what we consider “wrong” with us or bad, but in how we relate to God, ourselves, and each other, as well as what we cannot not change. We don’t need to change, fix, or better the bad stuff about us, we need the kind of change we call transformation—changing how we view ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage. In other words, the way you view your spouse or a particular situation you are in—whether you are fighting again about the same thing you fought about yesterday, or your kids are rebelling in the worst way, or there has been betrayal—is what determines the quality of your life together.


This is what Mark and Renee needed to do. They had to look at their union in a completely new way. If this didn’t happen, all the tools and applications and skills they had learned to save their marriage would be useless. Why? Because they had begun to view one another as products—something they thought needed to be different or better. Therefore, they would use those tools, applications and skills to try and “fix” what they thought needed to change, like a defective product, radically distracting them from what could be new without having to fix anything. In fact, if you pay close attention to the language they use, it is not much different than the language we might use when researching a purchase. It was time for them to stop tallying their expenses and start counting the cost.


Luke writes how Jesus was once followed by a large crowd. Jesus tells these folks something very powerful about what it really means to follow Christ and His Kingdom.

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn't finish.’” (Luke 14:25–30 MSG)


Jesus was saying that before we even consider getting into relationship with Him, we need to count the cost. He clarified His statement by specifying that the potential cost could be loss of familial affections and those close to us, as well as the death of the traditions and habits that are a part of these relationships. Jesus pulled no punches. The cost is great.


Marriage is one of God’s tools for building His kingdom, and if we are to pioneer the possibility of a kingdom life together we must prepare to make life-defining sacrifices. We must prepare to change the way we view life or change our purpose for living together.


This call doesn’t make any sense when it comes to our culture. Why? Because we live in a “consumer”-oriented culture. It is a part of who we are because it is what we were born into. Our relationships, in particular, are immersed in consumerism.


A consumer views marriage as if it exists for individual fulfillment. If a spouse isn’t being fulfilled, then that “consumer” looks for another relationship or even falls into an addiction to fulfill their particular needs—whether to look good, feel good, be right, or be in control. Mark and Rene’s marriage is a prime example of a consumer marriage. Remember some of their complaints?


Mark talked about his reason for dating a woman in New Mexico. He said, “I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn’t take the nagging, whining, and complaining!” Mark wanted to feel good by being appreciated and not be asked to live up to what he had promised. He also wanted to be right and in control, so he used his interpretation of Rene’s asking him to move out as a way to justify his going out with the other woman.


Rene remarked, “I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That’s why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again.” She also wanted to feel good and be in control. She longed to be romanced, and her way to control that outcome was to kick her husband out.


Notice the price Mark and Rene were willing to pay to manipulate the other to get what they wanted—the looming dissolve of their marriage. Many Christian couples approach marriage this same way, as a consumer, because they don’t know or understand what God intended marriage to be.


And Now for Something Completely Different


Mark and Rene had entered the death spiral of the consumer marriage. For all their talk about their “needs,” they were missing their real need: A new way of understanding what marriage is all about for them as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus.


Jesus steps on the scene and says, “Where's My kingdom in all of this? Your personal fulfillment and satisfaction are the means to the end. There's nothing temporary about your marriage, and it is not disposable. You stick with each other and work diligently to develop your oneness, even if it is deeply dissatisfying and unfulfilling for long periods of time. Abandon your consumer marriage mindset and come and follow me. I will train you in how to stick with something and not be stuck with it!”


I don't have a program to prescribe, or a list of marriage pointers to post on the fridge. I want you to enter something completely new, together. Set the past aside. Don't even look back there, not even as a frame of reference. What I'm offering is total transformation, something truly, completely new. Something unprecedented, unparalleled.


Surrendering Certitude


The question before us is, Will we take Jesus up on His offer or will we allow our precious marriages—our families for generations to come—to go down with the ship of the consumer mindset? Let's focus in and look at the difference between the two types of marriages in greater detail.


The consumer marriage says: “I will be who I ought to be as long as, and to the degree, that you are who you ought to be.” The kingdom marriage says, “I will be who I ought to be whether you are or not.”


If you are anything like me, you're probably asking, “Why would I be who I ought to be if the other person is taking (or may take) advantage of me?” or “Why should I change if my spouse doesn’t (or may not) want to change?” or “Why should I do all the work if my spouse doesn’t (or may not) want to work just as hard as I am?” These questions are all grounded in the fear of the unknown, which is a huge part of consumer thinking.


Here is what I mean: The one thing we as consumers want from products is predictability. We want to know exactly what we will get, how they will work, who will be delivering them, when they will arrive, and how much they will cost. In short we want to have as much control as we can possibly get, with the most efficiency and convenience possible. Anything outside of that is unknown, uncertain, and definitely uncomfortable. Therefore, we strive to maintain control at all costs and eliminate any risks of encountering or dealing with the unknown.


Surely it is no accident that because of our innate need for this type of certitude, God calls those of us who desire to be united with another to be married. This union, in His eyes, depends on submission instead of control. In marriage, when we submit to the unknown we become open to the rewarding depths of its mysteries. One of my favorite passages about this concept is found in Ephesians and is a pictorial example of a kingdom marriage that counters the consumer lifestyle.

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” (Eph. 5:21–31 MSG)


What strikes me most when I read this Scripture is the way Christ treats the church—through loving, honoring, respecting, and giving. This illustrates for us the manner that each husband is to treat his wife and how each wife is to honor her husband. Paul’s commission to us powerfully aligns with Jesus’ words in Luke about counting the cost. In both passages we are called to submission. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples, we must submit to Him and follow His example. If our marriage is to be a blessing to us and our community, we must submit to each other.


While our culture has taught us that the highest reward is to be served and be the master of our own destiny, we are told something contrary in the Bible. God reminds us that the greatest value in life is to submit and give ourselves over to God and one another. Becoming a servant will bring forth a greater blessing than this consumer world could ever give us. As it relates to marriage, submission is an opposing force to certitude, our need to be in control, and our beliefs that we know everything. The bottom line is that being a know-it-all is an obstacle to embracing mystery in marriage.


Think about this. Do we know everything about God? Of course not. Actually, the one thing we can be certain about is how inexhaustible the mystery of God is, as Job declared.

Do you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, stretching farther than earth's horizons, far wider than the endless ocean. If he happens along, throws you in jail then hauls you into court, can you do anything about it? He sees through vain pretensions, spots evil a long way off—no one pulls the wool over his eyes! Hollow men, hollow women, will wise up about the same time mules learn to talk. (Job 11:7 MSG)


The foundation of life is God, and He has revealed Himself as mystery. This characteristic and the way He has invited us to discover and experience who He is reflects the very nature of mystery inherent in marriage. When we abandon our certitude and instead submit to God and then to one another, we open the door to the possibility of continual renewal. We stop pigeonholing ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage into what we think we know about them. And it is only by embracing mystery that we can begin to experience a transformational kingdom marriage.


Possibilities?


One night, Mark showed up at my house with steam pouring out of his ears. It was obvious he was desperate. “Dan, I need to talk to you. I can’t take Rene’s nagging any longer. All she wants to do is try and control me. She is so insecure that I can’t stand being with her! I can’t do this anymore. It’s over.”


Frankly, I was taken back by his certitude about where Rene was coming from, so I asked him how he knew she was insecure. For the next hour, Mark and I talked about that supposed surety. Mark also remarked that there was more bad than good in the marriage.


I reminded him about the “for better or for worse part” he uttered in their marriage vows and asked, “Isn’t that what you promised her? That you would stick around for better or for worse?”


Mark thought for a moment and said, “Sure, but she just won’t submit to me!” (Ah, spoken like a true consumer. I have heard this same thing from so many people of faith.)


After talking with him a bit, I learned that many of Mark’s Christian friends thought Rene was rebellious. I asked him to consider another point of view. I brought up the passage in Ephesians about submission and asked him what level of submission men are called to.


Mark replied confidently, “We are to be the head of the family!”


“Actually,” I pointed out, “it says we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church and gave Himself as a sacrifice for her. My question to you is, if we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church, who actually gave themselves first, Jesus or the church?”


“Jesus did.” Mark said in low tones.


“And who was crucified for the church to see her resurrected?”


“Jesus was.”


“The Bible says Jesus’ love was ‘marked by giving not getting,’ yet when we talk about your relationship with Rene,” I said. “You dwell on what you are not getting. I wonder how anybody would tend to feel if they were constantly reminded of their insufficiencies?”


“I get your point,” Mark retorted. “But the bottom line still is that all she does is gripe.”


I probed further, “Are you certain that is all she does?”


“Okay, not all the time. I know it isn’t healthy to use the words “always” and “never,” but she does it most of the time!”


I asked Mark if he was certain what Rene was doing was complaining. Could she, in fact, be doing something else that he was not able to see because he was so blinded by what he was so sure he knew?


Mark thought about what I said for a moment and then looked at me. “I am so tired of this relationship and how hard it is to just connect on anything. I think I just want to be done with it.”


I paused for a minute, weighing my response. “Mark, I do get you are being honest about how it feels for you, but do you think your certainty that the relationship is what you have described has anything to do with your despair? I mean, if Rene is who you are certain she is, and there is no possibility that she could be any other way, then I understand your despair. But what if things were NOT exactly the way you have them set in your head? Would it matter? If there was another possibility, would you like to know about it?”


“Yes, I would want to know if I am missing something.” Mark let out a frustrated sigh. “But it just doesn’t seem worth the time!”


“According to who? You? Rene? Your kids?” I asked with an edge in my voice.


“You’re right. I guess there can’t be much possibility if I am so certain about who she is, how she will respond, what she says, and what she wants.”


(Bingo!)


“Mark, what if the loss of your romance for Rene had little to nothing to do with her?” I inquired.


A sense of surprise came over his face and he inquired, “What do you mean?”


“If you think you know who she is, what she will say and think, as well as how she will react, then there are no new possibilities available. There is no mystery in the relationship and therefore no sense of anticipation for what God may be doing between you. No mystery equals no romance!”


“Perhaps that has something to do with the despair I’m feeling,” Mark mused.


I wondered out loud and asked, “Do you think seeing Jennifer contributes to that sense of despair?”


“Why would you say that?”


“It seems obvious to me that the more you see her, the more you will need to be right about these judgments you have about Rene so you can justify seeing Jennifer. That way you don’t have to be open to who you and Rene can be together. But sooner or later, Mark, you will have to explain this to your children. The prices are huge for the few fleeting moments of self-satisfaction you are gaining with Jennifer. Now that is a real formula for despair.”


Mark sat still for a few moments and then came back strong. “All this wondering about my certitude about Rene seems like a waste of time. I have been with her for fifteen years. I really do feel like I know how she will react.”


“Mark, I am asking you to consider and explore what you are making up about her reaction. When she complains about things, do you investigate her complaint? Have you stopped and wondered what she is trying to communicate by her complaining?”


His answer was immediate. “Yes. She is trying to control me because she is insecure.”


“Are you certain she is insecure? Perhaps part of submitting to another is being open to who your spouse is outside of your prejudice of them. I know you have your historical evidence to validate your judgment of why Rene reacts the way she does, but how much time have you spent questioning that certainty?


Mark still wasn’t fazed. “Dan you don’t understand what it is like to live with her and her nagging. She doesn’t care and I don’t see any good what could come out of this. This is just too much suffering to have to go through.”


I made one last attempt. “Mark, you know the suffering Aileen and I have gone through in our marriage, right?”


He nodded his head in acknowledgment while I reminded him of my story. “My wife and I were discussing divorce and were separated in our own house for a year. We saw no possibility that we would ever care enough for each other to ever be intimate again. But we decided that our son deserved the chance of us trying. We needed to at least try and trust God. We needed to at least try to devote some time to exploring our own judgments of each other. We needed to at least try and understand where the other was coming from outside of the record of wrongs we had built up to bolster our judgments of each other.


“Our hope and prayer was that God would somehow draw us into some new possibilities for each other. We realized we had loved one another once before. We experienced great passion for one another, much like you and Rene have shared in the past. We kept believing that God would open possibility in the suffering if we were willing to love each other as we wanted the other to love us. We were determined to get out of the consumer mindset that had done nothing except ruin our marriage.”


Something hit home. Mark promised to think about it and we ended the conversation.


Mark needed to abandon the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality and discard his certitude about Rene’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. He needed to embrace the possibility that could emerge from exploring the mystery of who she is and who they could be together.


I know this because this is what saved my marriage. I gave mystery a chance. The second I was able to allow mystery to seep into my thought process about my wife … the second I was able to admit that perhaps I didn’t know what she was thinking or the reasons for how she would react to particular things … the second I was able to allow God to intervene and transform my heart to give without expecting … was the second that the possibility opened for transforming our relationship.


Letting Go of Yesterdays


Experiencing this renewal and other possibilities that emerge from embracing the unknown is impossible until we let the past die. We need to let go of yesterday. The record of the past is the foundation upon which we built up a structure of false assumptions. The more we attempt to recapture the past, the more we miss the “new” God is doing now.


In the Bible God tells us, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun” (Isa. 43:19 NLT). Part of counting the cost and picking up our cross is trusting God in letting the old die so He can begin a “new.” This is what it means to embrace the kind of mystery Jesus talked about of losing your life in order to gain it (see Matt. 16:25).


Embracing mystery and letting go of the old is never a comfortable process. It is ambiguous and uncertain. But this is what prompts us to cling to our faith in God. And this is what demands His intervention.


You may be thinking I don’t know if I can let go of feeling neglected or I’m not sure how to stop thinking about my wife’s infidelity or Can my husband and I really find peace in the middle of this tumultuous marriage with all we’ve been through?


The beauty of a kingdom marriage is that the designer is God Himself. He is the one who is able to renew our marriages by eclipsing the past with new possibilities. Even in the midst of the suffering, pain, and brokenness of a failing marriage, if we submit to God instead of submitting to our selfish, consumer-oriented desires—wanting to be in control, be right, look good, and feel good—He can renew our inner being and, ultimately, our marriage. This only happens, however, if we reinvent our relationship to the past, which will transform the power it has over us and give Him permission to bring about transformation.


When we allow God to get into the middle of our marriages and submit to His will, He not only transforms our character, but He transforms the value of the very things that caused us harm or were unhealthy in the past. God’s intervention in these things creates an opportunity for healing and renewal. Even our failures as spouses can be turned into learning lessons that can bless our marriage and even those around us.


Sure we have to designify our past—the hurts we’ve been caused, the hurts we’ve caused—but there is more to transformation than just that. God has the power to take the bad things, even what we consider our character flaws, our lapses in judgment, our bad decisions, and turn them into blessings in disguise. God transforms us by taking those things we judge as bad or evil that we have thought, said, or done and turning them into strengths or gifts, if we are willing to live in the light. This is what spiritual transformation is all about.


A year or so after counseling Mark and Rene, they shared with my wife and I how God transformed a particular aspect of their marriage that relates exactly to what I’m talking about.


Mark admitted that he finally realized how selfish his need for Renee’s attention had been, especially when it came to their sex life. He said they had a breakthrough in this regard because not only had their sex life increased in quality and quantity, but their intimacy in conversation had been dramatically heightened during this time.


Rene nodded her head in agreement. “When Mark turned that sensitivity from himself on me,” she explained, “I was completely overwhelmed by his love and appreciation. He recognized things about me I didn’t know anybody could see or appreciate. It transformed the way I view him and I began to experience respect where I formerly experienced contempt.”


Mark chimed in. “In the beginning, I couldn’t take Rene’s sharp edge and eye for detail. To me she seemed critical. But as I began to understand her perspective and she made room to investigate her own assumptions, her griping transformed! The ‘edge’ that I viewed as a threat was really a powerful commitment to integrity and congruity. Instead of hearing her as if her intentions were solely to criticize and knock me down, I started considering what she was seeing. This transformation opened up my eyes to other areas that we had been lacking in, like finances and our relationship with our kids. Though our willingness to be so open initially made us uncomfortable and even hurt in some ways, I realized how powerful it is to have a friend who cares for our future more than just living in the status quo. We are truly becoming a family because we can see specific situations we can pray into and discuss that make a real difference in our way of being together!”


Mark and Renee both agreed that this kind of transformation came through their willingness to suffer through being misunderstood, making mistakes, and feeling alone—all the emotions and feelings that are endured when we let go of past and allow God to step into our suffering and bring light to our darkness. Standing in the middle of challenges like these pays spiritual dividends far beyond what we know is possible.


What’s my point? Suffering in a hurting marriage can bring possibility. It can transform your union and yield the passion to bring you closer to your spouse. It can lead us to love as God has ordained it. Here, in the mere shadows of this world, faith hangs on to the possibility that what looks temporally harsh and horrible can be transformed into something that is eternally passionate and life-changing. Faith is the antithesis of the consumer mindset, which says that anything unpleasant should simply be discarded and replaced.


A New Beginning


Before Mark and Rene made the turnaround in their marriage, they had gotten to the point where I was mediating their divorce instead of trying to fix their marriage. Two years of hardcore counseling seemed to be worth nothing as I did my best to wisely help divvy up their assets. It was a gut-wrenching process to orchestrate.


When the subject of the custody of their children came up, the mood transformed from bitterness to sadness. Mark and Rene burst out, almost simultaneously, that they didn’t want to go through with the divorce. It was a surreal moment. It was as if all the things we discussed came alive in one moment for the two of them. They wanted to give their marriage another chance. They wanted to really listen to each other. They wanted to let go of what they thought they knew about the other person. They wanted to allow God to intervene with His love.


Mark and Rene have now been married for twenty-four years. They are very much in love and are enjoying their renewed, God-designed kingdom marriage. As a matter of fact, they recently shared with me that their romance continues to increase as they maintain their trust in God and embrace mystery while working with the other tools we originally practiced in our sessions. They say no to the temptation of being a consumer spouse. They resist asking, “What’s in this for me?” and continue to let go of their addiction to be right and in control. In doing all of these things, they are influencing the kingdom of God in a powerful way.


When will that surreal moment of surrender come for you in your marriage? What will it take for you to realize that God has called you to a mystery not a purchase agreement? That He has invited you into a conversation, not stump speech to promote your personal agenda? Be encouraged that no matter how bad you think your marriage is right now, there is hope. All is not lost.


If your marriage is not ailing in any way, use these lessons like a business person might use the Wall Street Journal or Forbes Magazine to build their foundation, keep an eye on the market or to better get a grasp on the trends that may be coming up. You can use this book to check, strengthen or expand the foundations of a kingdom marriage so you are better prepared when tough times do eventually come. Understanding how to live marriage in a way that expresses the kingdom will help weather future storms.


HIGHLIGHTS


A consumer-oriented marriage teaches us that we are the focal point of our marriage. It’s about our needs getting met. It’s about us.


God commissions us to live a kingdom marriage where the relationship is the highest good. We are called to be who we ought to be, even though our spouse may not be who they ought to be.


The first step to experiencing a renewed and transformational marriage is to look at it and start living it from a kingdom perspective. Otherwise whatever tools you apply will be used to accomplish the purposes of a consumer, not a servant in the kingdom of God.


Being in a kingdom marriage means submitting to God and your spouse. We are called to give of ourselves in a sacrificial way.


When we submit in this fashion, we embrace mystery. God is part mystery and so we, created in His image, are part mystery. When we understand that we don’t know everything about ourselves, our spouse, or our marriage, we open the possibility to experience our marriage and our spouse in new ways.


Letting the past go is critical to moving forward into a kingdom marriage, where God is the focal point. He is the one who can bring transformation, even out of our pains and suffering. He is the one who can turn what we thought were curses into blessings.


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Us by Daniel Tocchini. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.



Here is my review of this valuable marital aid:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Daniel Tocchini and his publisher for sending me a copy of "Us: A User's Guide" to review for them. I have always been grateful for this generosity, and I am trying to improve at being consistent in taking the time to thank these wonderfully giving individuals in a public forum. I really appreciate your time, effort and expense in making a reviewer copy available to me.

Daniel Tocchini’s “Us: A User’s Guide” is a vivid and very frank non-fiction work designed to spark conversation between men and women who are willing to make an effort to remain a couple. There were moments while reading this book, when I wanted to close my eyes and cover my ears and yell, “TMI!” But Tocchini’s honesty and the frankness of the subjects that he showcases in this book are insightful and inspiring. The detail about the relationship that each case subject pair reveals isn’t so graphic as to be inappropriate, but rather shows the issues in the marriage that needed to be addressed.

This book is not just for couples in trouble. Healthy marriages can benefit from this reading, as well. Some may call it a dose of prevention to discuss these topics, others may use this book to appreciate their spouse and come to an understanding that we need to put our partner first more than we do. “Us” is loaded with scripture, which is absolutely crucial if you want a Biblical marriage. This is one book that I am glad to be reading. I know it will improve my attitude, lead me to the Word of God, and help to improve my own marriage relationship.