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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

RETRACING YOUR STEPS

Blogging Genesis 35:1-15

Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.” (Genesis 35: 1)

Chapter 34 ended with Jacob worried the Canaanites would attack his family to avenge the men of Shechem whom Jacob’s sons had all murdered. Chapter 35 begins with God telling Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.” 

It seems that between the two chapters, Jacob said, “God, I gotta get out of town.  Where can I go that these people won’t kill me?” 
And God replied, “You can go to Bethel.”   

Or, more specifically, BACK to Bethel.

Bethel is where Jacob stopped on his way to Syria to look for a wife and escape his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him.  By the end of chapter 35, Jacob was back on his father’s land.  He had retraced his steps with a great deal of repetition along the way. 

Bethel used to be called Luz. His first stop there, Jacob dreamed of angels climbing a ladder to Heaven and he christened Luz with the new name Beth-el, “the house of God” (Genesis 28:18-19).  On his return visit he re-renamed the spot El Beth-el which means “God of the house of God” or “God’s house of God.” 

His first night in Beth-el, Jacob was running out of Canaan, away from a vengegul brother.  This time he was fleeing deeper in Canaan, away from vengeful neighbors.

God made Jacob retrace his steps.  And not just geographically.  God wanted Jacob to retrace the spiritual and emotional steps that began his journey.
  
Coming out of Syria on his way to Shechem, years ago, Jacob had been afraid of meeting Esau, but his fear was unfounded.  His brother never tried to harm him.  Coming out of Shechem, Jacob feared the Canaanites would attack, but “they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35: 5). 

His first time at Bethel, Jacob “took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it” (Genesis 28:18).  This time, he repeated the ritual. “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it“ (Genesis 35:14).

Earlier, the Lord had said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” (Genesis 33:28).  Now exactly two chapters and an indeterminate number of years later, God said to him AGAIN, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:28).


When you feel your life going into a skid, when the negative hypotheticals overwhelm you, when you can’t focus on the blessing for the fear and anxiety, when you’re gifted and anointed and destined and falling apart ----- retrace your steps.

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Revelation 2:4–5).

Re-reread those goals you wrote down when you first set off to change the world.  Pray like you prayed when you had nothing but you believed, you KNEW God had a plan for you.  Remember before you had possessions, and middle-class debt, and important relationships with influential people that you can’t afford to jeopardize by taking a stand.  Remember how disciplined, and creative, and bold you were when you had nothing and therefore weren’t afraid of losing.

“So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ “ (Hebrews 13:6)

Jacob had forgotten, so God made him retrace his steps.

But the walk back requires you to leave some of your new stuff behind. 

And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.
Then let us arise and go up to Bethel . . .
So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” (Genesis 35:2-4)

Go through your emotional baggage and take out the idols you’ve collected along the way.  Bury them and leave them behind.  There’s no place for them in God’s house that God is building in you.  Purify yourself.  Put off the trappings of title and your new class.  Then, retrace your steps.

Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.  (Zechariah 1:3)


Go back and re-anoint the pillar of your calling.  Go back and re-dedicate your life to the mission.  Go back and listen to God.  Listen like you listened when you were hungry in every sense of the word.  Go back because maybe you don’t need a NEW solution.  Maybe you need a reminder.

Go back so God can remind you who you are.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” (Genesis 33:28). 

“Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:28). 


---Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama. He writes a blog called A Word to the Wise at www.andersontgraves.blogspot.com

Email atgravestwo2@aol.com
Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

Click here to support this ministry with a donation.  Or go to andersontgraves.blogspot.com and click on the DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar.

Support by check or money order may be mailed to 
Miles Chapel CME Church
P O Box 132

Fairfield, Al 35064

Monday, December 11, 2017

LEAVE ROOM FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT: A NEW NORMAL

Sermon #2 in the Advent preaching series, LEAVE ROOM FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT: A NEW NORMAL


Listen well.  Leave a comment.

If you can’t get the audio on your device, visit the main podcast page at http://revandersongraves.podomatic.com/

---Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama;  executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO);  and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).

Subscribe to my personal blog  www.andersontgraves.blogspot.com .

Email atgravestwo2@aol.com
Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

Click here to support this ministry with a donation.  Or go to andersontgraves.blogspot.com and click on the DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar.

Support by check or money order may be mailed to 
Miles Chapel CME Church
P O Box 132
Fairfield, AL 35064

Monday, December 4, 2017

DINAH'S STORY: THE SEXUAL ASSAULT OF ISRAEL'S DAUGHTER

blogging Genesis 34.

Israel, aka Jacob, had 12 sons, but he only had 1 daughter.  Her name was Dinah.  
She was raped.

Israel had settled his family on land he bought near the Canaanite city of Shechem (Genesis 33:19).  At this point in history, the house of Israel wasn’t on a campaign to dispossess the Canaanites, and God had not commanded them to separate themselves from Canaanite communities.  Israel (the man and the family) were free to cultivate close business and personal relationships with the Canaanites,  which is why it was neither sinful, unwise, or unusual for Dinah, Israel’s only daughter, to go visit Caananite girl-friends in the city (Genesis 34:1)

"Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land." (Genesis 34:1)

On one of those visits to Shechem, Hamor noticed Dinah.  Hamor was the richest young man in the city that was named after his family.  He was known as the “prince of the country” and he wanted Dinah.



The Bible says he “saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her” (Genesis 34:2, NKJV).  

The KJV says “he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.” The NASB translates “he took her and lay with her by force.”  The NIV says “he took her and raped her.”

The Hebrew verb being used is anah which means to afflict, to force into humility, to abase, to impose one’s will upon.  Hamor did to Dinah what Hamor wanted to do and he did it WITHOUT DINAH’S CONSENT.   He abducted and raped her.

Genesis 34:7 calls what Hamor did to Dinah “a disgraceful thing in Israel. . . , a thing which ought not to be done.”  In other words, it was NOT O.K. 

After his crime, Hamor tried to be charming.  He tried to convince Dinah that she had wanted it, too.  He even asked his father to arrange marriage between them.  That was verses 3 and 4.  Verse 7 says what Hamor did to Dinah was “a disgraceful thing in Israel. . . , a thing which ought not to be done.”  It was still not O.K.

The Bible is essential not comprehensive.  Scripture doesn’t provide comprehensive details of all or of any historical events in the Old Testmament and New Testament timelines.  I’m not on a tangent; follow me on this.  Through scripture, God retells the events, ideas, and details that are essential for knowing God and living in right relationship with Him.  Most historical events don’t make it into the Biblical record.  Those that do, like Dinah’s rape, are case studies from which we can extrapolate lessons about God and humanity which transcend culture, time, and geography.

So, the details missing from the case of sexual assault in Dinah vs. Hamor are details which the Holy Spirit has ruled are non-essential.

We don’t know what Dinah was wearing when she visited her friends in Shechem because God’s saying it doesn’t matter what she was wearing.   We don’t know if Dinah had been drinking.  God’s saying that doesn’t matter.  How’d she end up alone with Hamor?  Did she try to fight?  Why didn’t she fight harder?  Why didn’t she yell for help or yell louder?  There’s no way to know or derive those answer from the information in the Bible because IT DOESN’T MATTER.

What does matter is:  Hamor took Dinah and lay without her consent.    He raped her. 

Christians claim spiritual (not necessarily biological) descent from Abraham.   “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).  So Old Testament Israel is a metaphor for the church.  Dinah is the daughter of Israel, and she represents the daughters of the church.   Israel's response to Dinah speaks to the church's response to women in our congregations, our spiritual daughters.

So how did Israel handle Dinah’s sexual assault?  Typically. Which is to say BADLY.

Misstep 1.  Control the damage instead of comfort the victim. 

When Jacob/ Israel found out, his first act was to limit access to information to prevent negative publicity.  “And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came out” (Genesis 34:5).


Misstep 2.  Negotiation instead of investigation.    

In verses 6-9, Hamor and Shechem have the actual audacity to show up at Dinah’s home say, “Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife.”  As his wife in those times, Dinah wouldn’t be able to claim he’d dishonored her.    

Israel participated in what was the Bronze Age equivalent of offering a monetary settlement to the company in exchange for the victim signing a nondisclosure agreement.
  

Misstep 3.  Vaccum of injustice.  Israel did not appropriately handle these very serious allegations.  He tried to silence the complaint before it damaged his business relationships.   Where there should have been justice there was ----- nothing.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  God abhors a vacuum of injustice. 
You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.  (Deuteronomy 16: 19)

He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17: 15)

It’s easy to calculate a response when the perpetrator is an addict, a vagrant, or a certified sex-offender.  But what about when the predator is a prince, and he’s charming, and he speaks sweetly, and he’s from a good family, and we have important business with them? 

What happens to Dinah’s allegations when they implicate someone we like?


A vacuum of injustice  will be filled with VENGEANCE.  Organized, public, loud, costly vengeance. 

Misstep 4.  Division of the house.  Dinah’s brothers pretended to go along with the old, rich men’s  plan for settlement and damage control.  

“The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father, and spoke deceitfully, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. And they said to them, “. . . On this condition we will consent to you: If you will become as we are, if every male of you is circumcised” (Genesis 34: 13-16).

But  the militant young brothers in the (church) family had plans of their own.  

“Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. And they killed Hamor and Shechem . . . and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, . . . and plundered the city” (Genesis 34:25-28).

Organized, public, loud, costly vengeance. 

Israel rebuked them.  The old head(s) of the family   Israel argued that their extreme, public actions would upset the dominant majority and make trouble for their good, law-abiding community. 

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.” (Genesis 34:30)

The young militant brothers didn’t care (verse 31).

Israel's standing in that community was ruined.  The next chapters detail how they had to close and move.  The whole (church) family entered a season marked by soul-searching, death/decline, and inconsolable grief (Genesis 35).  The relationship between the 2 generations in the house of Israel was damaged beyond repair.  The rest of Genesis is story after story of betrayal, drama, mess, back-stabbing, selling-out, and moral hypocrisy that makes the house so dysfunctional  that all their old leader Israel ever talks about for the rest of the book is dying.

Mess.  Drama.  Cross-generational infighting. Organizational dysfunction.  Hypocrisy.  Loss of moral center.  An obsession with the death of the institution.   Does any of this sound familiar to the church? 

This generation will no longer accept the old missteps.  They won’t settle for silence  just to keep peace.  They demand justice and if that is denied ---- they will fill the vacuum.

So will our spiritual Israel learn from the missteps of the man Israel, or will we repeat them like all our institutions have been doing for all the centuries since Dinah was attacked?

We’ll find out.  And I don’t think it’ll be long before we do.


 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?  (1 Peter 4:17)

---Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama;  executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO);  and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).

Subscribe to my personal blog  www.andersontgraves.blogspot.com .

Email atgravestwo2@aol.com
Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

Click here to support this ministry with a donation.  Or go to andersontgraves.blogspot.com and click on the DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar.

Support by check or money order may be mailed to 
Miles Chapel CME Church
P O Box 132
Fairfield, Al 35064



Sunday, December 3, 2017

A CHANGE GONE COME (audio of message 1 in the Advent 2017 series)

First in the Advent 2017 preaching series is the story of a family that waited so long for their blessing they didn’t believe it when it came.  Inspired by a classic r & b song, the title of the sermon is:  A CHANGE GONE COME.


Listen well.

If you can’t get the audio on your device, visit the main podcast page at http://revandersongraves.podomatic.com/

---Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama;  executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO);  and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).

Subscribe to my personal blog  www.andersontgraves.blogspot.com .

Email atgravestwo2@aol.com
Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

Click here to support this ministry with a donation.  Or go to andersontgraves.blogspot.com and click on the DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar.

Support by check or money order may be mailed to 
Miles Chapel CME Church
P O Box 132
Fairfield, AL 35064

Sunday, November 26, 2017

THE PRICE OF PEACE

The book of Exodus includes a lot of rules about oxen, donkeys, and sheep that seem irrelevant and (let’s be honest) boring.  But not when you realize what God was really saying, what gets lost in the translation. 

Those ancient rules are actually a contemporary guide to restoring the divided and declining communities we live in right now.  But, there is a catch:  restoration is expensive, though not in the way you might suspect.

The title is of this sermon is THE PRICE OF PEACE. 


Listen well and leave a comment.  

If you can’t get the audio on your device, visit the main podcast page at http://revandersongraves.podomatic.com/

---Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama;  executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO);  and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).

Subscribe to my personal blog  www.andersontgraves.blogspot.com .

Email atgravestwo2@aol.com
Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

Click here to support this ministry with a donation.  Or go to andersontgraves.blogspot.com and click on the DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar.

Support by check or money order may be mailed to 
Miles Chapel CME Church
P O Box 132

Fairfield, AL 35064