Archive for December, 2019

1 Chronicles 4:1-20 (Part 3 of 5)

Other Descendants of Judah

At this time of year in the world of college football, there are firings of coaches whose teams have underperformed to expectations from alumni and fans. Some college teams that you see out there, it just seems that there are systemic problems that have to be solved. For example, the once mighty programs at Florida State and University Miami and competitive programs like University of South Carolina all seem to be in a state of disarray. There are others out there in a similar state where coaching changes have either been made or need to be made. In each of these cases, the problems run deep. In each of these cases, the culture of the program needs to changed.

For us who are fans of the Clemson University Tiger football program, we are riding high right now. The Tigers are right now in the midst of the possibility of a fifth straight ACC title and a fifth straight trip to the College Football Playoffs. The Tigers have won 6 ACC titles in the last 9 season and have played in the conference championship game 7 times in the last 11 years. We are in the midst of our 10th straight season of 10 wins or more. The Tigers have won 115 or so games this decade. Only Alabama and Ohio State can match that. These are heady times to be a Tiger fan.

But it has not always been this way. The Tigers have had eras of greatness (though not to the extent they have now) during the 1940s, again in the 50’s, and then from 1977-1992. But from 1993 until 2009, they were mired in mediocrity and expectations from those championship days of the late 70s through the early 90s gradually lowered to the point that we no longer even considered ourselves championship material. We expected and we got mediocrity in the program. We no longer saw ourselves as champions. We saw ourselves as a middle of the pack team with no hope of rising to greatness again. We sold ourselves short as a fan base and as a football program. It was not until Coach Swinney became head coach and he started talking about things we no longer talked about. He started talking about championships. He went about changing the culture of mediocrity. It was more than talk. It took several years to get the program back to prominence, but it began with his passion to change the culture of the program. You have to believe you are a winner before you can become one.

When I think about my own church that I began pastoring 6 months ago, I think about Coach Swinney and his “changing the culture” because it applies to small town Methodist church life just as much as it does to a major college football program. Here, before we can become a more impactful church for the kingdom, we first must believe that we can. So often, in churches today, we have come to expect that we can no longer grow. We have come to expect that we “can’t” because we are small. We come to expect that we can’t achieve great dreams because we simply don’t have the people and the resources. When that attitude grips a church, you begin to accept less than excellent. You begin to accept that you are a second-tier bowl team and not a New Year’s Day bowl team. You begin to accept that you cannot do whatever it is. You accept second best. You do not have the belief that the dreams that you have in your mind can become a reality. You accept that the hard work required is just too hard. You have to change the culture.

That is what I have been about these past six months and will continue to be a challenger and a cheerleader for our people. To change the idea that “we can’t” to “we can”. To change the idea of “it’s too hard” to “well, there’s a challenge for sure, but we CAN DO IT!” That’s what I think about when I think of the part of Jabez’s prayer where he asks for his territory to be expanded. With that idea of changing the culture, let’s read the passage, 1 Chronicles 4:1-20, now:

Chapter 4

1 The descendants of Judah were Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal.

2 Shobal’s son Reaiah was the father of Jahath. Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad. These were the families of the Zorathites.

3 The descendants of[a] Etam were Jezreel, Ishma, Idbash, their sister Hazzelelponi, 4 Penuel (the father of[b] Gedor), and Ezer (the father of Hushah). These were the descendants of Hur (the firstborn of Ephrathah), the ancestor of Bethlehem.

5 Ashhur (the father of Tekoa) had two wives, named Helah and Naarah. 6 Naarah gave birth to Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. 7 Helah gave birth to Zereth, Izhar,[c] Ethnan, 8 and Koz, who became the ancestor of Anub, Zobebah, and all the families of Aharhel son of Harum.

9 There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez[d] because his birth had been so painful. 10 He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.

11 Kelub (the brother of Shuhah) was the father of Mehir. Mehir was the father of Eshton. 12 Eshton was the father of Beth-rapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah. Tehinnah was the father of Ir-nahash. These were the descendants of Recah.

13 The sons of Kenaz were Othniel and Seraiah. Othniel’s sons were Hathath and Meonothai.[e] 14 Meonothai was the father of Ophrah. Seraiah was the father of Joab, the founder of the Valley of Craftsmen,[f] so called because they were craftsmen.

15 The sons of Caleb son of Jephunneh were Iru, Elah, and Naam. The son of Elah was Kenaz.

16 The sons of Jehallelel were Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel.

17 The sons of Ezrah were Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. One of Mered’s wives became[g] the mother of Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (the father of Eshtemoa). 18 He married a woman from Judah, who became the mother of Jered (the father of Gedor), Heber (the father of Soco), and Jekuthiel (the father of Zanoah). Mered also married Bithia, a daughter of Pharaoh, and she bore him children.

19 Hodiah’s wife was the sister of Naham. One of her sons was the father of Keilah the Garmite, and another was the father of Eshtemoa the Maacathite.

20 The sons of Shimon were Amnon, Rinnah, Ben-hanan, and Tilon.

The descendants of Ishi were Zoheth and Ben-zoheth.

In this passage, you will note that Jabez asks God to expand his territory. To expand means to widen, to enlarge, to increase, to add on to that which is already existing. In the history of Israel, Jabez lived just after the dividing of the Promised Land into portions for each tribe.  As he looked over the spread his family had passed down to him, he calculated the potential and made a decision: “Everything you’ve put under my care, O Lord, take it and enlarge it.” He wanted to expand beyond what was known to the present and past generations. He wanted to expand beyond what was even known to him. Jabez, wanted to stretch out for more. Although, it is not recorded why Jabez asked for an expanded territory, nor is it recorded what prompted Jabez to ask God for more. What is recorded, is the faith of Jabez to ask God for enlarged borders. Jabez had the faith to ask beyond his current situation.

What we must have in our church and many like it today is the belief that through God we can accomplish anything. We must believe that God has not assigned us to second best. We must believe that God has great things in store for us. We must believe that God will grant us the resources, the people, and especially the passion to do great things for the kingdom. We must believe that we are capable of being a championship church. We must believe that in striving for the things that seem impossible and we don’t have anything but a belief that WE CAN is where we must have great faith that God will grant us what we need if our desires are in alignment with His designs for our church.

We have come to believe that we must accept second best. We must accept less than because we have sold our God short. God parted the waters for Moses because Moses had full faith in God to pull off a miracle. To be a championship church, we must believe we have championship potential. Back in 2009, when Clemson was 3-3 and mired in mediocrity for a quarter century, a bold brash young head coach said we can compete for national championship again. He had to change the culture of accepting mediocrity, of think “we can’t”. The first step in a journey to greatness is believing that you CAN achieve greatness. It is the same with churches. We must believe that God can still part the waters. We must believe that when we are all fully believing that God can make us an impactful, growing church, even in a small town, that God will provide the miracles. We must believe in our hearts that God can so then WE CAN. We must have championship belief in a championship God. We must not eliminate ourselves from championship contention before the season begins. We must seek and expect greatness. We must seek and expect excellence. Why? Because we have faith in a God of miracles who can expand our territory.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 4:1-20 (Part 2 of 5)

Other Descendants of Judah

As a full-time lead pastor now, I have to pray publicly quite a bit and I have to pray for families always when I visit them in the hospitals and virtually every time that I visit a family on a regular pastoral visitation in their home. Thus, prayer has been elevated in importance for me not only because I am lead pastor now but also, as a result of that, personally too. I admit prior to taking on this role as the lead or solo pastor here at my “little engine that can” church in Lamar, SC my prayer life just was not what it should have been. I tended to be a person of prayer in times of personal crisis, rather than a person who prays multiple times per day. As with anything else in my journey since the day of my salvation back in December 2001, the Holy Spirit often pushes, make that, shoves, me out of my comfort zone when it is time for me to grow further in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Sometimes, He has to use a metaphorical 2×4 up against my head to get me to grow. Then I go, “Ouch, and OK, I get it now” and start growing in the way the Holy Spirit desires me to grow. Prayer is no different. So, it is kind of ironic that we are now upon the famous prayer of Jabez in this, our walk through each book of the Bible.

The thing that struck me and always has about this prayer (and I am sure that it has for you as well) is the fact that Jabez prays for God not just to bless him but to bless him, indeed! I am not a great Hebrew scholar and we don’t have time this morning for an in depth word study so we will limit ourselves this morning to the English words presented that are in question. I think that we all understand what bless me means. So, it is the word indeed that is peculiar in this phrase. In the Webster dictionary, we find that indeed means “without any question, truly, undeniably”. Thus, Jabez is asking the Lord to bless him in a way that is undeniable and without question that it is a blessing from God.

With that idea of undeniable and without question blessings from God, let’s read the passage, 1 Chronicles 4:1-20, now:

Chapter 4

1 The descendants of Judah were Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal.

2 Shobal’s son Reaiah was the father of Jahath. Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad. These were the families of the Zorathites.

3 The descendants of[a] Etam were Jezreel, Ishma, Idbash, their sister Hazzelelponi, 4 Penuel (the father of[b] Gedor), and Ezer (the father of Hushah). These were the descendants of Hur (the firstborn of Ephrathah), the ancestor of Bethlehem.

5 Ashhur (the father of Tekoa) had two wives, named Helah and Naarah. 6 Naarah gave birth to Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. 7 Helah gave birth to Zereth, Izhar,[c] Ethnan, 8 and Koz, who became the ancestor of Anub, Zobebah, and all the families of Aharhel son of Harum.

9 There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez[d] because his birth had been so painful. 10 He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.

11 Kelub (the brother of Shuhah) was the father of Mehir. Mehir was the father of Eshton. 12 Eshton was the father of Beth-rapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah. Tehinnah was the father of Ir-nahash. These were the descendants of Recah.

13 The sons of Kenaz were Othniel and Seraiah. Othniel’s sons were Hathath and Meonothai.[e] 14 Meonothai was the father of Ophrah. Seraiah was the father of Joab, the founder of the Valley of Craftsmen,[f] so called because they were craftsmen.

15 The sons of Caleb son of Jephunneh were Iru, Elah, and Naam. The son of Elah was Kenaz.

16 The sons of Jehallelel were Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel.

17 The sons of Ezrah were Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. One of Mered’s wives became[g] the mother of Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (the father of Eshtemoa). 18 He married a woman from Judah, who became the mother of Jered (the father of Gedor), Heber (the father of Soco), and Jekuthiel (the father of Zanoah). Mered also married Bithia, a daughter of Pharaoh, and she bore him children.

19 Hodiah’s wife was the sister of Naham. One of her sons was the father of Keilah the Garmite, and another was the father of Eshtemoa the Maacathite.

20 The sons of Shimon were Amnon, Rinnah, Ben-hanan, and Tilon.

The descendants of Ishi were Zoheth and Ben-zoheth.

In this passage, you will note that Jabez is asking God to bless him in an undeniable way, in a way that raises no questions as from whom the blessing came. When I pray for families and even in corporate pastoral prayers, it has been often laid on my heart by the Holy Spirit to pray that the Lord would make Himself known to those for whom I pray in ways that they will know completely and undeniably that it is God that did whatever we are praying for. That breaks down two ways, I think. One is that asking God to bless a person, a situation, a request for change, recovery, or whatever is for God to do so in a powerful way that is undeniable to us. As well, there is an aspect to that type of prayer is so that others, particularly non-believers, cannot deny or offer up another explanation other than it was God who did it.

For us, we are often dense people who cannot see the working of God in our lives until we look back in hindsight. What we pray for and what Jabez may have been praying for is for God to work his wonders in our lives in a way that we can actually perceive it at the moment. In that moment, we are praying, we are asking God to clear the clutter out of our minds and our perceptions and allow us to see His handiwork in our lives in that very moment that He does it – not some 10 years down the road when we are reflecting on how God has grown us over the years. We are begging God to give us assurance in the moment of happening that He is working on our behalf in that very moment of happening. Sometimes, we just need our Abba Father to give us, the dense human beings that we are, some extra sense of His presence in the moment. There are times when we are down and out and just need an extra dose of knowing His presence is real in our lives and that He has not forsaken us. It is not wrong to seek that from God. I think it is through regular and routine prayer that God prepares our hearts to see what’s been there all along – the way that He is with us through everything – even the darkest moments.

For others, particularly non-believers, we are asking God when we say indeed is to make His presence known to the hardened hearts of non-believers. We are asking that the Holy Spirit soften their heart and they see God at work after years or even a lifetime of having the scales on their eyes when it comes to things of God. We are asking that God make Himself known to these individuals in a way that is unique for each one and thus in a way that this person cannot explain away a true move of God, a true miracle of God in someone’s life. We are praying that such things open their heart up to the Lord. So many times in life, those who do not believe in God will explain away the things of God with such ease that they are closed off to the possibility of a Creator who is actively involved with his Creation. Indeed, undeniably, without question, we are asking God to make it impossible for a situation to be explained away by these folks. That’s a bold prayer. We are not moving God to do something that He is not already doing but we are asking for that person to be unable to explain away something of God so that their arguments are gone and they can begin now to consider that there is a God and that He is worth believing.

Bless me indeed, Lord. Do miracles in our lives and let us be attuned to what You have been doing all along.  Indeed, open our eyes and the eyes of others to what You are doing in ways that are undeniable and without question.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 4:1-20 (Part 1 of 5)

Other Descendants of Judah

Right in the middle of 9 chapters of genealogies, we find the famous “Prayer of Jabez”. For me, it was a welcome break from the monotony of the genealogies that are rattled off in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. But wait, what is this, why is it here?

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother named him ‘Jabez’ saying, ‘Because I bore him with pain.’ Now, Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, Lord, bless me indeed and expand my territory. Keep Your hand on me, and keep evil from me, that I may not cause pain!’ And God granted him what he requested.” Nothing is known about the man who voiced this heartfelt cry to God. He appears to be a man whose family was erased from Israel’s history. But if the man and his family’s memories were erased, why is he mentioned at all? And why does his prayer appear in a listing of the members of the tribe of Judah?

We may never really know why God caused Ezra, the author of 1 Chronicles, to pause at Jabez and add this “prayer of Jabez”? It was significant enough to cause a pause and write out Jabez’s prayer. Jabez apparently is remembered for his prayer to God. Maybe, it is that we must remember that Chronicles was written to encourage the people of Israel while they were in exile. It was to encourage them that God was still with them, that they were still God’s people, that God would restore them. The book was to remind them that things may look bleak now but God has not abandoned them and that they should keep the faith.

I think that may be why Jabez, a little known character in the Bible, and his prayer are included. Jabez is a little known character and he still prayed boldly to God. His name speaks of disadvantage. He name means “one who brings sorrow and pain”. Talking about “thanks, mom!” Wow. Talk about starting off at a disadvantage. Even his name put him at a disadvantage. But here we are at his mention in 1 Chronicles and he is praying fervently to God in the midst of trouble. He prays with confidence to God in the midst of what apparently is a looming big event, maybe a big battle, ahead. Even though he is a man whose very name means sorrow and pain is believing God for his provision and protection.

That’s the thing that speaks to me this morning as we begin a 5-blog series on this prayer. We will look at what he actually prays in the remaining four blogs but for today, it’s Jabez himself that captured my attention. A man of sorrows, a man of disadvantage from birth, has an amazing faith in God. It reminds me of the powerful faith of the slaves in the South during slavery and of blacks during the period of racial oppression in the South that followed slavery all the way up until the 1960s. How do you still have faith when everything in life puts you at a disadvantage? How do you have faith when everything sucks? Everywhere you turn, there is oppression and there is nothing that you can do about it. How do you have faith in the midst of all that? That’s the thing that struck me about the man, Jabez. He had faith. A man of pain and sorrow boldly praying for God to provide and protect even in the midst of a life that was marked by pain and sorrow from the beginning. Let’s read the passage, 1 Chronicles 4:1-20, now:

Chapter 4

1 The descendants of Judah were Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal.

2 Shobal’s son Reaiah was the father of Jahath. Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad. These were the families of the Zorathites.

3 The descendants of[a] Etam were Jezreel, Ishma, Idbash, their sister Hazzelelponi, 4 Penuel (the father of[b] Gedor), and Ezer (the father of Hushah). These were the descendants of Hur (the firstborn of Ephrathah), the ancestor of Bethlehem.

5 Ashhur (the father of Tekoa) had two wives, named Helah and Naarah. 6 Naarah gave birth to Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. 7 Helah gave birth to Zereth, Izhar,[c] Ethnan, 8 and Koz, who became the ancestor of Anub, Zobebah, and all the families of Aharhel son of Harum.

9 There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez[d] because his birth had been so painful. 10 He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.

11 Kelub (the brother of Shuhah) was the father of Mehir. Mehir was the father of Eshton. 12 Eshton was the father of Beth-rapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah. Tehinnah was the father of Ir-nahash. These were the descendants of Recah.

13 The sons of Kenaz were Othniel and Seraiah. Othniel’s sons were Hathath and Meonothai.[e] 14 Meonothai was the father of Ophrah. Seraiah was the father of Joab, the founder of the Valley of Craftsmen,[f] so called because they were craftsmen.

15 The sons of Caleb son of Jephunneh were Iru, Elah, and Naam. The son of Elah was Kenaz.

16 The sons of Jehallelel were Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel.

17 The sons of Ezrah were Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. One of Mered’s wives became[g] the mother of Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (the father of Eshtemoa). 18 He married a woman from Judah, who became the mother of Jered (the father of Gedor), Heber (the father of Soco), and Jekuthiel (the father of Zanoah). Mered also married Bithia, a daughter of Pharaoh, and she bore him children.

19 Hodiah’s wife was the sister of Naham. One of her sons was the father of Keilah the Garmite, and another was the father of Eshtemoa the Maacathite.

20 The sons of Shimon were Amnon, Rinnah, Ben-hanan, and Tilon.

The descendants of Ishi were Zoheth and Ben-zoheth.

In this passage, you will note a unique diversion from the normal listings of descendants that you find in the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles. At 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, we learn of Jabez. He is remembered for a prayer request rather than some conquest. He is remember for having faith. When we remember the context in which 1 Chronicles was written, Jabez reminds us that no matter our circumstances, no matter if we have lived a life of pain and sorrow from the beginning, God is with us and He will not abandon us.

Sometimes our faith is all we have. Sometimes, life really sucks. Sometimes, we are oppressed on all sides. We have no visible evidence, as did the Jews in Babylon, that life is ever going to get better, but Jabez shouts to us that what we can see on this side of eternity is not a measure of our faith, it is not evidence of how much faith we should have. We believe and have hope in the Lord because of what He has promised us through Jesus Christ in eternity. Our eternal reward for keeping the faith is far greater than what we are experiencing on this side of eternity.

We should keep the faith because the prosperity gospel is false. God never guaranteed us earthly treasures because we believe in Him. He promised us eternal treasure with Him. It is the true test of our faith in God when we still have faith in the midst of when life is crap, when life is sliding downhill, when everything is sucky. We must have faith in God not because of what we see but because we believe in God’s provision for our lives and that he will never abandon us. Remember, the Apostle Paul singing in prison. He had a serious faith that allowed him to have joy in the midst of trouble. Does this mean that we accept oppression and trouble, no. But we should never see oppression and trouble as a sign of a lack of faith and that if we just believed a little more that God would bless us with prosperity.

This man, Jabez, whose very name means sorrow and pain, prays a prayer of man who has full faith in God regardless of circumstance. He prays to God as a man that believes in the joy of the Lord regardless of whether he has been blessed with a good life or not. He trusts in the Lord no matter the circumstance and prays boldly as a man with great faith.

May you and I have the faith of Jabez. No matter what. We pray boldly to God and fully believe that He will provide us with what He thinks we will need. And therein we find the joy of living. Not obsessing over what’s wrong but believing that we have a God that is building something in us and through us. That is the way to contentment. Knowing that God’s got our back no matter what the circumstances are.

Amen and Amen.