Leah, the Unloved – a Christmas story

I’ve discovered a little known part to a story that often gets overlooked in the amplified fairy-tale type stories we usually like to hear.  At this time of the year, squeezed in between the endless Christmas tunes and the joyous family images we are constantly presented with, there’s a lot of heartache and loneliness for many people.  Even the psychologists have recently stated that too much Christmas music can be bad for your mental health, which reaffirms what many of us already know and feel this time of year.

This a story for all of us – a reminder for some and a hope for others.  It is about Leah, the unloved one.  I have never thought of this particular story in this way before.  If you are familiar with Bible stories, then you have probably heard of the love story between Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 28-29.  Jacob, who is also known as the father of the nation of Israel, is the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham.  Jacob fell in love with his boss’ daughter Rachel at first sight.  She was “shapely and beautiful”, while her older sister Leah had “ordinary eyes”.  It was not the custom back then for the younger daughter to be married first, so Jacob agreed to work for their father for seven years so he could marry Rachel.  After he finished the seven years, he was tricked into marrying Leah instead.  Jacob had to agree to another seven years of labor so that he may also marry Rachel, which he did.  In telling this story, we often focus on Jacob’s love for Rachel and his sacrifice, but what about Leah?  How did she feel?  She was forced into marrying a man who did not love her or want her.

As the story continues, when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb and she produced four sons, but Rachel was unable to conceive.  Each time Leah said, “surely my husband will love me now.”  But the beautiful Rachel may have started to become bitter, because when she saw that she was not bearing any children to Jacob, she began to envy her sister Leah.  She demanded that Jacob give her children, of which Jacob became angry with her and replied, “Am I in God’s place, who has withheld children from you?”  So Rachel instructed her slave to sleep with Jacob instead, and they had a son named Dan (who is later associated with pagan practices).

Fast forward a little through the turbulent life of Jacob and his twin brother Esau, and his demanding father-in-law, until we get to the end of Jacob’s life.  He eventually has a son with Rachel named Joseph, who has an incredible story all of his own in Egypt, but this little known story is still about Leah.  On Jacob’s deathbed, he gathers all his sons together to tell them what will happen to each of them in the days to come.  As a side-note, Jacob’s twelve sons will become the twelve tribes of Israel, who later fight and split apart into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  Jacob begins to tell each of his sons their fate – some good and some bad.  But it is Leah’s son Judah who receives the best blessing and prophecy:

Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
Judah is a young lion—
my son, you return from the kill.
He crouches; he lies down like a lion
or a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah
or the staff from between his feet
until He whose right it is comes
and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.
He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes. (Genesis 49)

It is through the lineage of Leah, the one who felt unloved, from her son Judah that the line of David will come and the birth of a Savior, Jesus Christ.  And in the end, it was Leah that Jacob honored in her death by being buried with her in Abraham’s burial site.

Then Jacob commanded them: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite.  This is the field Abraham purchased as a burial site.  Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried there, Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried there, and I buried Leah there. (Genesis 49:29-31)

If we only look at life from the short view, it can often seem very unfair and full of disappointments and sorrow.  But we must look at life with the long view in mind just as God does.  We are all beautiful in God’s eyes – with true beauty.  God has something special in mind for all of us whether we see it in this life or when we get to heaven.  I believe that Leah was loved after all.  And from her offspring, came Jesus Christ.

The One Percent Christian

Jesus-in-Bangkok

Before leaving on my trip to Bangkok, Thailand, I asked God to show me His people while I was there (“I have many people in this city”).  Bangkok is a Buddhist city of 8.5 million people and less than 1% are Christian.  A couple of days into my trip, I wandered into this shop.  I had found the 1%.

I asked the young Thai girl in the shop about the Jesus picture hanging on the top shelf.  With very broken English, she told me she was Christian. Wanting to know more, I asked her if she attended the Catholic church I saw down the street. She said no, she was Christian (probably indicating Protestant) and she gave the name of her church but I couldn’t understand.  There are a total of 2 Protestant churches and 4 Catholic churches in all of Bangkok.  I asked her if I could take a picture of the Jesus picture in her shop, but she misunderstood and thought I wanted to take the actual picture.  She offered to take me in a taxi to a Christian shop where I could buy one.  Finally she understood that I did not want to take the actual picture, and then she offered me a smaller one that she had stapled in her notebook.  I told her thank you, but no, I wanted her to keep that one.  She told me  “God bless you” as I left the shop, and I was very humbled by her generosity and eagerness.

The first Christian church in Bangkok was founded by Portuguese missionaries in the 1780’s and was provided through a land grant from the Thai King.  I wonder what made the King give the land to a group of people who probably seemed very strange to their customs.  For the thousands of years prior to that, Thailand had only known Buddhism.

I thank God for that beautiful young Thai girl who proudly said, “I am Christian,” with a smile on her face.  It made me realize just how important our missionaries are to the world.  They bring beauty and smiles and hope, in the name of Jesus Christ.

“I am the light of the world.  Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” Jesus (John 8:12)

feet with waves cropped

Look for Hope

old_hotel_christmas_tree

My first experience after arriving in Bangkok was the taxi driver who was taking me from the airport to my hotel, at 1 AM, after having been in an airplane for 24 hours.  He got us lost.  We wandered through the dark and narrow one-way streets of Bangkok, circling around and around, looking for my hotel.  It is supposed to be a large, well-known American hotel chain.  How could he not find it?  “It must be on a main road,” I said.  “I’m sure there is a large entrance sign leading up to it…”, my voice trailing off as I look around at the streets that appear to be nowhere close to where we should be.  That was my first cultural surprise.  I was expecting large American style.

The taxi drove by the same obscure street at least four times.  I remember it well because I saw a Christmas tree in the window of a café every time we passed by.  How strange, I thought.  It’s early November, and in a city full of Buddha statues on every corner, here is this lone Christmas tree in the window, which seemed to shine off a light so I could see the silver garland appearing through the dark, unlit window.

When in distress, look for Hope.
In the dark, look for Hope.
Hope wins over fear.
Hope wins over evil.
Hope wins over despair.
Hope is Faith of better things to come.
Hope brings Peace.
Hope is Jesus Christ.

The taxi driver eventually found the hotel.  How did he find it?  He changed his view. He got out of the taxi and looked up into the sky so he could see the hotel towers rising above the dark buildings that were surrounding us.

This picture is not that same Christmas tree or hotel, but it is one I saw outside the window of my office building when I arrived back home.  In this old hotel converted to  apartments, one window stood out with a Christmas tree in it, in early November.  It reminded me again to always look for Hope.  Do you see it?

feet with waves cropped

I have many people in this city. – God

I-have-many-people-in-this-city

“Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” – The Lord said to Paul in a night vision. (Acts 18:9-10)
What if Paul had not listened, or had not traveled as much as he did?

God’s people are everywhere.  His angels are everywhere.  Jesus is not limited to our earthly space or rules.  Jesus is living, always with us in our hearts and souls, and he extends his Saving Grace to everyone who sincerely asks.

Tomorrow I will be boarding a plane to Asia.  I am excited to get to see some of God’s people from the other side of the world.  Although it’s a business trip, I am sure I will come back with a new appreciation for God, for all of His people, and for God’s plan for the world to know Him and His Son.  And I’m sure I’ll have a few more stories to tell too.

feet with waves cropped

The Truth

truth

What is truth?” Pontius Pilot famously asked of Jesus. (John 18:38)

“Is this true?” the high priest asked of Stephen before he was martyred. (Acts 7:1)

Stephen’s response and final speech, where he explains all things from the beginning, is recorded in Acts 7.

“…And when they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said,  “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  Then they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him.  They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul…”  (Acts 7:54-58)

Saul helped kill Stephen.  He was a cruel and powerful man.  Later, Saul became a follower of the very same people he persecuted.  He gave up everything – his reputation, his money, his status – all to be willingly persecuted himself.  There is only one thing that would make a person do that – the truth.  And today, there is only one thing that would make 21 Coptic Christians in Egypt not waver in their faith as they are being beheaded – the truth.  It was clearly not the response their executioners were expecting.  One of the 21 was an unnamed African from the Muslim Brotherhood, who had recently become a new follower of Christ.  When he was asked to return to Islam in order to spare his life, he said he would rather stand with his Christian brothers and Jesus Christ.

“…And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus.” Revelation 20:4 – Apostle John’s vision

Many people debate truth, but no one would disagree on the importance of knowing it.  I cannot think of another thing more important than knowing the truth, though it’s not always the most popular.  Popularity and majority do not equal truth.  There is no price tag on knowing the truth, and there is no substitute.

As we go through this Easter week, with celebrations and remembrances, stop and think on the truth.  Are you willing to live for the truth?  Some are even willing to die for it.  The more serious we take our belief in who Jesus is, the more serious we’ll take our responsibilities and actions here on earth.  For there is no salvation without a Savior.

feet with waves cropped