I married Sarai in the land of my father, a place called Ur, before God called us to go. Looking back, it seems odd that we didn't know where we were going. I do remember the move feeling right, beyond reason or explanation. She felt it too, so we went. Our sense of purpose was clear, and it was easy to trust.
My bones are older now, and she is gone. Looking over the canvas of my days, I remember divine moments and conversations, and I see that God is so faithful in every single thing He promised. His words to me as a young man are finding their beginning in the earth. I can see in my children the nations they will become. Their children will be generations upon generations held in the very hands of God.
I can still hear His voice to me like it was yesterday.
Your children will be like the stars in the sky.
And it's happening. I don't deserve how good God has been to me.
Yet sometimes I wonder about the mistakes I've made. There are so many things I would undo if I could.
When I convinced Sarah to lie about being my wife to the Egyptians, it seemed so necessary. The famine was severe; both of us were very afraid. She was immediately noticed like I knew she would be. Pharaoh treated me extremely well for her sake, like I knew he would. I've never been more frustrated for being right.
My decision put her in an impossible situation and wounded her deeply. More than that, it wounded "us" deeply. She still loved me. I still loved her.
But our relationship was never quite the same.
Seasons came and went, but the years of trying and remaining childless were the hardest. To watch the joy and growth of children, who are not your own, is bittersweet.
Our hope for a son by itself was a strong one. Coupled with God's words about our destiny, it was unbearable. We were failing Him. The dream of starting a nation to bless the earth eventually was something we just didn't talk about. For years we lived just maintaining our house and wealth. The hope of children faded like a barely remembered dream.
When we were older and the chance for our own children was long past, we came up with a plan to return to the dream God had for us. Sarah suggested Hagar, and it seemed like a way for us to finally have the children we longed for. It seems obvious now, but I could have said, "No."
I dishonored my wife completely. I was trying to do what I felt was right, what I talked myself into believing God would have me do to carry on our family name and heritage. I was such a fool.
It's a hard lesson, but if we trust God to do only the things we can do without Him, that isn't trusting at all. That's glorifying our own effort and calling it divine.
It wasn't until God spoke that the weight of our mistake settled on my heart completely. I looked at my hands, now grown old. I looked at my wife's features and her beautiful gray hair, seeing for the first time what I had missed all of these years.
God wasn't bringing the promise through me.
He was bringing the promise through us.
His plan was for Sarah to make this journey with me. He changed her name, too.
The times I trusted God afterward—the great moments of faith and the stories that live on—all find their root in the failures I experienced with her. The fear, the lack of trust and the belief that the promise was dependent on us were all revealed in my relationship with Sarah.
He used my mistakes and lack of courage to open my own heart to me. He used those moments to teach me and to lead me closer to Him. But the wounding she experienced wasn't the only way for God to shape me; it was the path that I chose. I would do that differently if I could.
All of my regrets find a single truth in common: I didn't love Sarah like I should have.
So focused on what I wanted God to do, I lost so much of the joy that we should have had together. The way I pursued my work and my drive to follow God hurt my marriage. My wife paid a heavy price to walk through life with me.
"Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre ... the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites.
There, Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah" (Genesis 25:8-10).
Called to Build
There comes a time in God's calling when you discover that you simply can't accomplish anything on your own. That moment came early for me.
God had clearly spoken to me of a catastrophe to come. The evil of my generation was about to come to a tragic end. Walking with Him, like my fathers before me, was the best thing in my life yet I've never experienced sorrow like I felt in anticipation of the flood. Was it really too late? Was there no other way? Even as I questioned, I knew in my heart this was right. It was like the knowledge of a dream, present without explanation or cause.
The task didn't make any sense, and the enormity of it was almost beyond imagining. I was to build an ark, on dry land, with the blueprints coming from the mind of God. We were to build, we were to gather, we were to trust and the project would take generations.
As I moved to obey, I realized I didn't know where to start. I didn't have the tools or the material. I didn't have the needed expertise. In fact, no one had the expertise. God was doing something new. Waters would come and cover the earth, and the island of safety for a remnant of creation would fall under His protection.
The mystery was this: Why did God need me to build anything? He spoke the universe into creation, and the heavens moved in their places according to His Word and will. He could speak, and it would be so. Why hand off the most important task in the world to amateurs? At some point, it hit me. It is His pleasure to work in us and through us. His plan is not dependent on our ability. It's only dependent on our ability to trust and obey. That much I could do.
So we gathered materials, we gathered animals and learned what we could on the way. And what a ridiculous way it was. Even in the face of the most solemn task ever attempted, there were moments of laughter and a sense of this being beyond us. How do we find the animals we need to bring? What do they eat? How do we close the door? Where will the water come from? Where will it go? Do we draw straws for who gets to clean up after the giraffes? Anybody have any giant boat building tools we can borrow?
Let me be perfectly clear. Our neighbors were not laughing "with us." Folks for hundreds of miles would stop by to laugh at our ship without a shore and the animals beginning to surround us. I couldn't blame them. In fact, I was heartbroken. They hadn't walked with Him. They didn't—they couldn't—understand a world where this made any sense. It hurt to know that the people with their lives and stories and families would never understand, at least not until it was too late. We could only do our best. So we started, even without clearly seeing the whole picture.
For years, we prepared and eventually were ready to start laying the framework. God was faithful and at every step, He guided us directly, making possible the impossible and leading us in the moment to prepare for what came next.
We built, we found every animal we could and tried to learn all we could. Many simply came, and God gave us favor beyond our comprehension. We worked as season gave way to season and year gave way to year. Generations passed, the work continued, with no outward sign that anything would ever be any different. We could feel it though. There was a sense of holy anticipation that the day was coming, and all would be as He said it would.
When the day came, we had everything aboard and God Himself shut the door. I have to tell you that the next few days were terrifying. The wind and the sounds we heard were alien things; even the depth of our trust and the relief we felt at God being true was strained by the enormity of what was happening. When the ark lifted and began to move, we knew what it meant.
The cities of men and their accomplishments were wiped away in an instant. Nations were scraped clean from the surface of the earth as if they had never been. All was given to the deep. We were buffeted and spun, bounced and swirled on a thousand waves of His judgment and presence. The myriad of life around us was strangely quiet in the days we floated on the ocean of the world. There was a weight to it, a sense of cataclysm with an undercurrent of hope difficult to grasp even for those of us who were there. We grieved the world we knew. We ate and slept and hoped for a day when the world could become new again.
When the light of creation came again and we rested on the mount of His presence, what could we do but built an altar and worship? There were portents beyond our control and there still are. Walking into the footsteps of His presence and power brought us to a place we could never have imagined. It all boils down to this.
My life is not my own. My calling and the task He has led me to are beyond me. The key isn't ability or effort, or a will set into the things our hands can build. The key is surrender.
"When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth ..." (Genesis 9:14-15a).
Caught in Sin
We had been at our task so long that it felt good to get back to farming again. Reading the seasons and feeling dry earth upon my hands was simple joy. The grapes were in, and we were finally eating fresh food we had grown ourselves. It felt good.
Our wine had run out some years before, and we were just now building back up to what my family would consider normal. I tasted one of the new wines, and it was heavenly. I took a skin and sat watching the sunset, drinking in peace. When that was done, I got another. I don't know that I consciously intended to get drunk, but I have to be honest ... I wanted, at least for a little while, to forget.
I wanted to forget what had happened, forget the weight of the world that had literally been on my shoulders for generations. I wanted to forget the cities that were now gone. I wanted, for a little while, to forget the friends of childhood that had been swept away in the storm of His judgment. I wanted to forget the wood and the grain and the animals in their sevens and twos. I wanted to forget the earthy smell of creation as we cared for her. I wanted to forget the rocking days on the crest of the waters, wondering when we would see land again.
I drank. I let go completely. I should not have.
I don't remember much after that.
I woke up in my bed, and the story slowly came to me.
My son had found me naked and alone, passed out in sin and shame. With nothing but evil intent, he immediately ran to tell whomever he could. I sensed he took delight in it.
My other sons were truer. Shem and Japheth walked in backwards carrying a garment and covered me with the honor and the dignity of men who walk with God. They turned their faces away from me, caught in my sin, so they would not even look upon my shame. They brought me to a place of rest and watched over me until I came back to myself.
I walked with God and still do. My failing doesn't change fundamentally who I am and it certainly doesn't change who He is. Don't misunderstand. I have no excuses to give. I own completely my drunkenness and the fact that my actions brought dishonor to God and my family.
The revelation in my story isn't that we're flawed. We knew that already. It isn't that we can't be righteous on our own; that's a given. We need God to help us on our way, and this will always be true. The consideration here is, how do we respond when we find someone caught in sin?
How do you want to be treated on the day you're uncovered? How do you want the men you know to respond when you're the one undone? What action do you want people to take when you have lost all self-control and moved beyond the laws of God and of man in moments or patterns of weakness?
Should we make failings known to other people as quickly as possible? Do we run to tell our brothers? Is it loving to further damage families and people for the sake of flaunting the story? Do we laugh and mock and delight in the fall of great men? Do we arrogantly shake our heads and whisper cautionary tales about how they should've known better? Do we pass judgment on them and write off their work and purpose in the earth?
Do we refuse to gossip about the shame of our brothers and friends, our fathers and sons? Do we walk in backwards, carrying the holy cloth of His restoration and grace and seek to protect them? Do we turn our face and treat their dignity as something precious—not to be touched by human hands? Do we bring them to a place of healing and safety?
At some point in this life, you'll find someone worthy of love in a place where they are caught in their own sin. You'll see them in that horrible place where embarrassment and shame replace everything else. You'll have a choice to make.
Do we recognize they are still children of God?
You can approach them with a heart filled with pride and a desire to add evil to evil.
Or you can find your brother and walk into that place backwards, carrying the cloth of redemption on your shoulders. You will have the chance to find the very heart of God in helping even the best of men come back to His presence with honor.
"But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness" (Genesis 9:23).
The rules we set down for our children are for their good and protection. Love writes those rules and following them brings a blessing that lasts forever.
It's a simple truth: Obeying God's heart for us brings good things; disobeying brings tragedy and separation.
I remember those days with a relaxed mixture of joy and contentment, for the days spent in simple pleasure were heavenly. I remember the first time I felt sunshine on my face turned up to the sky so warm and welcoming. I remember feeling the dew beneath my feet in the amber-covered mornings. I can taste the sweetness of the fruit God provided us. I can smell Eve's hair in the embrace she gave, secure in the knowledge that we were literally made to be together.
Walking with the Ancient of Days in the evening are the memories I cherish most. Telling Him all about the things we did, the names we had created for the ones in our care. It was a wonderful sharing of the discovery of creation and the new experiences we had known. I could feel His pleasure in us.
A part of me is glad my children and children's children never saw the Garden. I think they would be less joyful if they really understood how far we have fallen. For me, it's a reality I can't escape and the passing years don't lessen the burden I bear. I love Eve. I love my family. In that sense, this life has been good, in spite of the curse and guilt I feel for separating future generations from the life we knew. We've eaten and the little ones want to hear about the Garden again.
Though it hurts in the telling, they will hear it again. Remembering that place still makes me pause and brings tears to my soul. Is there a heavier-borne remorse than a king without a kingdom? How can I convey the difference of life now compared to what we knew?
We lost our Home.
The accounts of our story to future generations will mention that Eve was deceived as she was tempted. But the story will not talk about my misunderstanding or the idea that I was deceived.
That's because I wasn't deceived.
I didn't try to stop her. I was tempted, too. I wanted to know the things I didn't know. I wanted to be more than I was. But when she bit into the forbidden, I was suddenly aware of where we were, and the weight of the moment hit me fully. It was a slice of time filled with possibility and the metallic taste of fear was in my mouth.
I had lost her. She looked at me with a new awareness and fear filled her eyes. The terror and shame and insight combined in a way she never expected or wanted, and the serpent was looking, not at her but at me. His hungry, expectant eyes knew he had me even before I took the fruit myself. Do I turn away from her? Or from God?
I knew the price I would pay when I tasted the fruit. I betrayed God and disobeyed Him willingly, with my eyes wide open. Both of us sinned striving for something good, but we disobeyed the One who gave us everything for our own selfish ends. Eve desired to be more like the Father we loved. For me, I did not want to lose her. I did not want her to face the horrible consequences alone. By lifting my desire and relationship for her above my relationship with God, I condemned us both.
Trying to accomplish something good through illegitimate means will never work in the end. Turning our backs on God always makes things worse and separates us from who we truly are.
I tell our story as an explanation, to help the coming generations understand why there is evil in the world. Why are we the way we are? Where did we come from? Why are there things in our lives that are so hard to bear and understand?
I tell our story as a warning, to help them learn from our mistakes. If we weep at the part we played in our separation from God, let that be a lesson to carry the weight of warning to them deeply and well.
I tell our story as a promise, to bring generations hope. God loves us and will make a way for us to recapture everything we've lost. Even in the story of our fall, there are seeds of hope and hints of the redemption to come.
The very deepest part of me, even my bones remember walking in the cool of the day with Him. Deep within you, somehow, you remember that day, too. It's why you long for a time when you will walk with Him again. The path to that day is not closed. It is a dream that will be fulfilled.
The rules He sets down for us, His children, are for our good and protection. Love writes those rules and following them brings a blessing that lasts forever. If you hear anything from me, hear this—a simple truth.
Obeying God's heart for you brings good things. Disobeying brings tragedy and brokenness. Take the better road.
You'll never regret it.
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:6-8).
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.