Laying Down My Isaac

220px-Rembrandt_Abraham_en_Isaac,_1634Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, had been promised by God that, although his wife was barren, he would have more offspring than stars in the sky. It was through that offspring that God would save his people. God promised. Abraham believed.

Eventually, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, would conceive and have a son whose name was Isaac. The promised one had come and Abraham and Isaac were overjoyed at God’s provision for them, just as he had promised.

But the story took a turn when God asked Abraham to go and sacrifice his son as an offering. In our day, this is astounding, but in a day when child sacrifices were prevalent, it wasn’t the concept that was strange, it was the thought of sacrificing a child of promise, one who was to be the first of many offspring who would eventually result in the saving of a nation, a people, and the world.

The heading in the Bible for this passage simply reads, “Abraham Tested.” It lasts a total of nineteen verses, which hardly seems adequate to convey the depth and gravity of the situation. There is little hesitation on the part of Abraham. His language communicates his hope that he and his son will come out on the other side, unscathed.

No matter how many times that I read the passage, I struggle to put myself in the place of Abraham. To be honest, I struggle to put myself in the place of Isaac either. But what happens when God calls someone to lay down their dreams, their hopes, their future? What happens when the very thing that God promised is the very thing that God asks us to lay down at his feet?

I am very willing to give up certain things in my life, things that seem expendable, things to which I am holding loosely. But what are the things to which I am holding more tightly? What are the “Isaacs” in my life that I am reluctant to let go of?

When we think about all that we must give up in our pursuit of God, it can sometimes feel as if he is a cosmic killjoy, calling people to give up everything. But if we find that mindset dominant within us, we probably need to look towards the end of Abraham’s account. Not only did God spare and preserve Isaac, but he kept his promise.

Did Abraham realize as he trudged up that hill with anxiety weighing heavily on his heart that God had a plan? Was he concocting an escape route in his plan, waiting for the right time to make a break for it and try to outrun God, something Jonah would do hundreds of years later?

I’m looking at the “Isaacs” in my life. I’m trying to figure out just what it is that I’m holding onto so tightly. I’m asking myself, “If I’m holding onto these things so tightly, is it possible that they’ve become idols to me?”

Soul searching is never an easy thing and we rarely get the pat answers for which we sometimes wish. But at the end of the day, I’d rather much rather be self-aware and in a bit of discomfort than to be like the emperor with his new clothes, blissful in ignorance and unable to see what was perfectly evident to the rest of the world.

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What Are You Hiding?

In the wake of the suicides of two prominent public and successful figures, many are reeling and wondering just what happened. How did two people who had experienced such success find themselves in such darkness and despair that they felt the need to take their lives? How did it come to this? And the question that haunts me more than any other is, “Did anyone really know how bad it was?”

We live in an age of information. We get up to the minute news details from around the world. At our fingertips lies more information than generations before us could gather in a lifetime. We call ourselves “connected” but deep down inside, there are so many who are alone, afraid, and in desperate despair.

I’ve been through my own struggles lately, none which have led me to the sickness unto death. Struggles are one thing, but where do we go with them?

My thoughts on my own recent struggles and experiences are raw, but one thing that has emerged larger than life to me is that we are rarely honest people. We love to cover things up. We will divert and project and use all kinds of tactics to ensure that no one has a clue what’s really going on inside of us.

Even the answers that we give of our despair are untrue. We tell ourselves lies, and we tell those lies to others. Why? Why are we trying to hide? What are we trying to hide? What keeps us from confronting the truth of the situations in which we find ourselves?

I am a student of people. I watch, I learn, I gather information. Over the years, I have been both frustrated and intrigued to find that the answers that people give and reasons for their actions are rarely true. I’ve rarely received an answer when asking for a reason or rationale that I haven’t felt the need to mine, dig deeper, and discover the real reason behind the reason.

In an age when we are all supposed to feel closer than ever, we couldn’t be more further apart.

I have been blessed by many things in the midst of this world, but three stand out to me.

First, I have a family who I love and who loves me. My family has gone through transitions in the past few years, losing my parents, losing other loved ones, but we adjust. I am grateful for what I have in the form of loves ones.

Second, I have a select group of friends with whom I feel I can be more honest and open. Some are near, some are far, but the benefit of having those who I feel no need to hide from, whom I don’t need to don a social media presence before, that benefit is invaluable.

Third, my faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, critics of Christianity have criticized it as a crutch. Many horrid things have been done in the name of Jesus, but putting the blame for those things on Jesus hardly seems fair. Call it a crutch if you will, I know the depths of despair from which I have been rescued because of the hope and faith that I have. While that certainly can’t be distilled down into any empty statements suggesting that Jesus is all you need to avoid despair, depression, and suicide, I know that the smallest glimpse of hope has saved me and helped me to seek help in trying times.

I want to be part of a community that knows how to be honest with one another, even when it’s awkward, even when it hurts, even when it’s uncomfortable. I have seen the alternative and it’s been less than appealing to me.

And when we can’t be honest with each other, when we feel the need to hide, can we dig and probe and ask questions to get to the bottom of the despair that’s plaguing our hearts? Can we not settle for, “I’m fine” when we know that it’s less than an honest answer?

Two passages from the Bible come to mind. The first from Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” It takes time and trust to get to the deep waters of a person’s heart, are we willing to spend that time? One who has insight and wisdom will take the time and will do their best to draw it out.

I am also reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul from one of my favorite passages in all of the Bible, Romans 12:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

As much despair as there is in the world, there is always hope, we can always find it if we look in the right place. I hope and pray that wherever you are, wherever I am, that we might be honest enough with those around us that we can face our despair and find hope in the midst. And if we can’t be honest, for whatever reason, I pray that there are those around us who will take the time and do the hard work of loving us and drawing out the purposes of our hearts so that we can move towards hope and peace.

Faith Among the Faithless – A Book Review

faith among the faithlessOne of the most difficult things that I have found when reading the Bible is remembering to look at the contents based on context of both writers and readers (or hearers). I often find myself jumping right to how what I read applies to me today rather than processing just how the original readers received it. When I do this, I miss some significant pieces of the story and, frankly, it’s a fairly self-consumed and overall selfish reading without gaining the benefits of exploring context.

Mike Cosper’s book “Faith Along the Faithless” takes the ancient story of Esther and connects it to the world we now live in. He retells the story and fills in some of the details that might be missed on a perfunctory reading. In looking at this ancient story, Cosper sees many lessons that modern day Christians can learn and apply to their own lives.

Cosper tells the reader that this modern, secular age has had a profound impact on the church. As he moves through the story, he reminds the reader that this story is much less like Veggie Tales or the flannelgraph Sunday school versions of Esther that we may have heard and is much more like Game of Thrones. Deception. Betrayal. Conspiracy. Murder.

Esther was not the squeaky clean poster child that Sunday school teachers have sometimes portrayed. Esther and Mordecai were Jews living in Babylon. They’ve been assimilated and it’s become hard to tell the difference between Jews and Babylonians, very similar to our current situation.

Cosper intertwines his retelling of this story amidst his own thoughts and commentary. He makes references to the portions of the Book of Esther to which he is referring. This is a helpful reference for the reader who wants to be more thorough in looking at the biblical account while reading Cosper’s retelling.

My interest in this book was more about Cosper’s digging deeper into the story than it was seeing the comparisons to modern day. His overall connection to the exilic story of the Bible was good, I didn’t feel like he was trying to take the story and overlay the lessons that he was hoping or trying to teach. He gave the lessons in context and then made the leap to apply them today.

I appreciate good storytellers who are able to accentuate with added detail when they tell stories. Cosper does that well here with the story of Esther. I appreciated this book and even think that I may go back and refer to it in any future dealings with Esther or even reread it as a reminder. It’s a worthwhile read and the lessons that Cosper takes from the story of Esther and applies to today are definitely worth considering.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)