Decisions, Decisions

Several years ago, just before my son Jack was born, I worked for a multi-billion dollar company headquartered in downtown Houston. At the time, we lived in The Woodlands area about 40 miles north. The commute everyday was a killer, and I just wanted to get closer to home so that I could have more time with my growing family. My job offered incredible benefits and a flexible work environment. I enjoyed the folks I worked with and really had no complaints…except that it was too far away. So I began to talk to recruiters, my primary criteria being that it was closer to home. A few months later, a job came along that would cut my commute in half. Benefits were lousy compared to what I had. The pay was not that much better. And it was not a good fit for my skill set. But it was closer to home. It was a bad move. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it should have been obvious. It ended up being the only job I’ve ever been fired from. It led to a series of four different jobs in a two year span of time. My resume took a serious hit.

Have you ever been there? A bad decision that turns into a string of bad decisions that lead down a divergent path to the one you were on. Abram can relate.

There is a famine in the land of Canaan that results in an unplanned trip to Egypt. A seemingly innocent lie about Sarai his wife, finds Abram in a precarious situation. Pharaoh takes notice of Sarai, and she becomes his wife. Not what Abram had planned at all. But God rescues him and curses Pharaoh and his people. Abram leaves a richer man, but not unscathed by the experience. He allowed his wife to be taken by another man, and that has consequences.

Fast forward. God has promised Abram some fantastic things – real estate, lots of descendants, a great name, and the unique position of being a blessor of the the nations. The Genesis 3:15 Seed of the woman will come through his line.

Abram has a foothold in the land. He has experienced a taste of the blessing. But he still doesn’t have a son. So it’s time to make things happen. Plan A, adopt a servant to become his heir. God says, “No, but you will have a son from your own body.” OK. Plan B, (several years later and still no son), how about Hagar as a surrogate mother for their son. Hagar would bear Abram’s son, then Sarai would adopt him. Screaming red lights. This is not a good decision. But Abram ignores the warning signs and goes along with the plan. It leads to great strife within the household and the expulsion of Hagar. Abram abdicates his responsibility to lead. And the original bad decision to go to Egypt is revisited as an Egyptian maid becomes his concubine.

Finally God offers Plan C. He becomes more explicit with His instructions to Abram. He and Sarai will have a son. It should have been understood. Genesis 2. Adam says of the woman whom God has created, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.” Moses adds the commentary, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife. And the two shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The original promise that God made to Abram was meant for the two of them. Adding Hagar to the mix confused the two becoming one. And it caused a great deal of problems for the couple.

Although Abram takes a circuitous route to get there, he finally arrives at the place of promise. Choosing to do things his own way resulted in a great deal of pain and heartache. It would have been much easier trusting God all along…easier to say than do. So many times in my own life I’ve looked back thinking, “If I’d only waited here, or done that there…” but God still uses the detours to mold and shape us (if we will let Him) and to make us who He wants us to be. It’s interesting that in the midst of Abram’s wilderness experience, God uses Hagar to remind him of His character…Hagar’s son is to be named Ishmael because the LORD had heard her affliction. Hagar called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me”. God hears. God sees. God cares.

Until next time…stay salty.

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A Fierce Faith

Our youngest son is fearless. Maybe it’s being the youngest of three boys, maybe its genetics, but there is nothing that he won’t try at least once. And he generally succeeds in his attempts. One of the drawbacks to his confident approach to life is the tendency to be a bit cocky and very competitive. Great for sports, but not so great when it becomes a hammer that crushes his opponents into dust. Humility is our key word when praying for him. And while having an aggressive personality can be challenging, it can also be advantageous. He is well-known and well-liked by most of the kids in his school, including friends of his older brothers, much to their chagrin.

I imagine Saul had a similar personality. I bet he didn’t lose much growing up. And I bet his adversaries both feared and respected him. We get a glimpse of his zeal as a Pharisee persecuting the Way before his conversion at the stoning of Stephen and as he relentlessly pursues believers to throw them into prison. But after his encounter with Jesus…watch out! Everywhere Saul (now Paul) goes, trouble follows. He has to be snuck out of Damascus in a basket at night  to save his life (I bet he didn’t like running away from a fight!). The church in Jerusalem sends him away to Tarsus because of the trouble he’s stirring up for the church there. When Barnabas picks him up as a travelling companion and fellow missionary, Paul’s consistently the one whose beat up, stoned and run out of town. Yet he refuses to back down. He has a fierce faith.

Acts 21-23. Paul’s on his way back to Jerusalem to deliver the offering that the Gentile churches have raised to support their poor Jewish brethren. But even then, he becomes the center of controversy, first with the church and then with the non-Christian religious leaders. With the church because he’s accused of steering Jewish believers away from following the Law, and with the religious leaders because he’s accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple, thus defiling it. Neither charge is true, but ironically, Paul’s mission is to share the gospel which includes the good news that Jews and Gentiles are co-heirs of the kingdom through Jesus, that there is no longer a dividing wall of separation.

Paul’s story begins to look eerily like Jesus’ own story as he is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for a mock trial. They call for his blood, while the Roman commander Lysias, pronounces him innocent. Sound familiar? Being made aware of a plot against Paul’s life, Lysias sends Paul with an escort of 470 soldiers to governor Felix.

Paul can’t seem to help getting into trouble. Riots and violence nip at his heels at every turn. But he’s in trouble for the gospel. He refuses to compromise. Bonheoffer in The Cost of Discipleship  writes, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.” The fierceness of Paul’s faith is evidence of his total lack of fear of man. He had a vision for the kingdom to come and was on mission to share that with the world.

I pray that my son is like Paul. Until next time…stay salty.

What’s in a name?

My oldest son’s name is Life. Crazy name for a kid, right? But it has always fit him. I remember when he was a baby, he would smile with his whole face…half moon eyes and grin from ear to ear. I’m often asked why we named him that. Was there great tragedy involved with his conception or birth? Nah, just a family name that I really liked. It speaks of hope and joy and love and…well, life.

Names. We all have them. Our parents gave us our first name in anticipation of our birth or shortly thereafter. Some names were earned later. They were given to us by close friends or family. Some were given to us by our detractors. Some by coaches or teammates or fans… Some names describe what we do, or the extent of our education. The Bible says, “A good name is better than great riches, and favor than silver and gold.” Names carry a great deal of weight, especially as a marker of character. We all want a great name, a name that matters.

Chapter 10 of Genesis, we are introduced to Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord. Builder of cities, erect-er of towers, powerful, feared, intimidating. He’s a man who’s made a name for himself. And in chapter 11, we have a group of his descendants seeking to make a name for themselves. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to leave a lasting legacy. We all want a great name, right? But the question is what kind of legacy are we leaving, and how are we going about it. We are told very clearly that these tower-building folks are operating in rebellion against their Creator. Not a good move. God responds in judgment, and so we have the confusion of the languages and disbursement of the nations.

Chapter 12. I love the way chapter 12 begins. Out of the chaos of 11, after the genealogy of Shem, God chooses a man. And the thing that the tower-builders sought for themselves…a great name, God will give to this man. He says to Abram, “And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” What an amazing thing to say to the son of an idol worshiper with no hope of leaving a legacy of his own in terms of children being borne to him through his wife, Sarai. And so the hunt for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the woman continues. And the line will flow directly through Abram.God is the One who blesses, and the names that He gives to His followers certainly do have weight. Names like “Beloved” and “Blessed” and “Friend” and “Son” or “Daughter” and “Forgiven” and “Life”.

So what about you? Will you seek a name for yourself, or will you allow God to make a name for you? Those who are famous in the world’s eyes rarely make a splash in the kingdom, but those who are famous in God’s eyes send ripples throughout eternity.

Until next time…stay salty.

Goodbye Ella Mae

We celebrated my grandmother yesterday. Well, celebrated and mourned. You see, Ella Mae Dumas, 96, of Brady, Texas, passed away on Monday, October 15, 2012, and yesterday was her funeral. It was not a grand affair…that wouldn’t have fit “Granny.” It was a simple ceremony attended by her two sons, one of her two remaining siblings and a group of about 30 other friends and family. I learned more about my grandmother yesterday, than I had in the previous 42 years of my life. She truly was an amazing lady. She enjoyed gardening, playing games, dominoes or cards, and cooking and was well-known for her chocolate cake recipe. She was also an avid quilter. She had been a welder at on Oregon ship yard in World War II — one of the famous “Rosie the Riveters.”  She loved her God and her family fiercely.  She will be missed.

As I thought about what to say for the ceremony, I couldn’t help but think of Genesis. Creation. Fall. Crack through the earth. Curse of death. Hope of resurrection. We grieve Ella Mae’s passing, but not as those who have no hope. Since the fall, our hope was not in these physical bodies that are subject to age and decay and cancer… Our hope is in the resurrection.  In a time when we will see our Creator face to face and receive new bodies – bodies that do not wear out, that do not fade, where death and pain are swallowed up in life. Ella Mae has preceded us there. She’s in the presence of her Savior. What a glorious time!

But here we weep. Here we mourn her passing. Praise God we can also celebrate a life well-lived. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Until next time…stay salty.

A city and a tower…

I was digging through an old souvenir box the other day sifting through artifacts of past accomplishments trying to find relics to substantiate my academic acumen from my collegiate days for a project I was working on. It had been years since I had dug through the old box, and it was fun to see antique ribbons, medals and trophies commemorating successes from a bygone era. I was struck by my attachment to these momentos of my own achievement. And I realized that I’m probably not alone in that. Every season, every sport my boys receive trophies as a testimony of their participation with the team. We hang diplomas, certificates, etc. on walls so that others will see our credentials. We build buildings, erect statues, and establish foundations to celebrate the lives of the influential, wealthy, important and famous among us. So it’s not surprising that this tendency toward self promotion reaches back to hoary antiquity.

Genesis 9, Noah and company exit the ark into a brave new world, de-created and re-created by the flood. The instructions that God gives to Noah mirror those given to Adam with a few important distinctions. Now animals are food. Instead of a benevolent rule, the fear of man now dictates the relationship between man and the animal kingdom. Murder receives capital punishment. But the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth remains the same. Moses uses garden imagery to describe the shortcoming of Noah and the subsequent curse of his grandson.

Then in chapter 10, Moses includes another genealogy to delineate the prodigy of the sons of Noah. Three sons who will propagate the nations of the world. Many of the people groups will be familiar (or will become familiar) to the Israelites as they exit Egypt and enter the promised land. And in this chapter, Moses highlights one man…Nimrod, who is described as a mighty hunter and also as the founder of some famous old world cities including Nineveh and Babel (Babylon) in the plains of Shinar. This is a man highly esteemed from an earthy perspective. Power. Prestige. Aggressiveness. Ingenuity. Quite possibly the man with the plan for the capital projects mentioned in 11.1-9.

Chapter 11. Moses tells us that the whole world had one language and one speech. Great opportunity for collaboration. Folks heading to Shinar say, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Lots of irony in the passage…bricks for stone, tar for mortar (man’s self-sufficiency), the LORD came down (apparently the tower didn’t succeed in reaching heaven), name for ourselves…its name was Babel (confusion). God’s assessment of their building project: “Behold they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” This verdict isn’t a resounding “at-a-boy”. It’s confirmation of what He said in both chapter 6 and 8, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Whether or not the tower that was built was a ziggurat (most likely) designed to worship a pagan deity, pride and rebellion are wrapped up in this building project. It’s another way of giving into the lie of the serpent, “…you can be like God.” And if the genealogy in 11 is with out gaps, this happens within 100-200 years of the flood.

So God pronounces judgment. Third worldwide judgment to-date if you are keeping track. He confuses their language and scatters them abroad. His directive is accomplished through judgment. And the name they sought for themselves becomes confusion. At this point in the story it’s easy to lose sight of the Genesis 3.15 Seed of the woman. It appears that humankind is hopelessly scattered. But then Moses includes the genealogy of Shem, and we see the blessing of Shem that will pass down to successive generations all the way to Abram. And so the search for the Seed continues.

But back to my old trophy box. Just like Genesis 11, it reminds me of my own tendency to build towers, to architect monuments for myself, for my own glory. And each time I’m reminded, I say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner” because He died for every tower that I, that we build. As the tower pictured man’s pride and rebellion, so Jesus, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, became that tower. He became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And not only that, but now He is truly the only tower that reaches into heaven and bridges the gap between us and God the Father. What an amazing truth! I hope you know that today.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Outsiders

The gospel is good news. It’s the story of God’s redeeming work, reconciling mankind to Himself. It’s the story that’s been unfolding since the beginning chapters of Genesis, from the dawn of time, and will continue to the final chapters of Revelation, to the end of time as we know it, when Jesus returns and establishes a new heavens and a new earth. It’s a story for all people at all times. But it didn’t always appear that way.

Genesis 12. God chooses Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation and reveals that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Moses recounts the story for the children of Israel coming out of Egypt as he rehearses their history and the God who has saved them. God makes a shocking statement to this motley crew, “You will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, the Israelite nation is reminded of their privileged position and relationship with God, while the nations are pictured as His enemies, as outsiders. So no doubt, the early church, being primarily Jewish, struggles with the inclusion of the Gentiles (the nations) into the fold.

The story of the conversion of Cornelius in the book of Acts should have settled the question of God’s acceptance of the nations. It’s always been a part of His plan. But this early Jewish church is faced with a major dilemma. If the Gentiles are welcomed in, it will mean a final irreparable break with Judaism. And so some of the converts from the ruling parties of the Jews have a hard time seeing the Gentiles come to faith without first becoming Jews because it feels like they are turning their backs on their Jewish heritage.

Yet it is undeniable that God is at work among the Gentiles through the ministries of Paul and Barnabas. And the Jerusalem church, at the first church council, supports them. The outsiders are in. They don’t have to become insiders first, they don’t have to become Jews, to be Christian. And Luke, writing for a predominantly Gentile audience, records this for his readers.  And as the book of Acts unfolds, Luke turns a subtle spotlight on another group of would be outsiders – women. Both in Jesus’ ministry and now in Paul’s, a number of prominent women begin to take part as the gospel goes out to the ends of the earth. The gospel is good news for all.

Until next time…stay salty.

Stowaway

A stowaway is a person who hides aboard a vehicle of some sort (boat, train, plain, etc.) in order to gain free passage. Images of immigrants hiding in ships traveling to the new world or of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn train-hopping come to mind. In most cases there is likely no ill intent predetermined, but occasionally the stowaway has nothing good planned. Welcome to Genesis 6-9.

Up to this point in Genesis, we’ve seen a number of different episodes in the story that Moses is telling for the benefit of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt. Creation. Genesis 1.26-28. Dominion. Imago dei. Work. Marriage. Fall. Judgment. Genesis 3.15. Hope. Curse. Fig leaves vs. animal skins. Cain vs. Abel. Seed of the serpent vs. seed of the woman. Sons of God and the daughters of men. [See previous posts]

And now we come to the second major judgment on mankind resulting from the disappearance of the seed of the woman (godly line of Seth, those who call on the name of the LORD) and the increased violence on the earth. Adam was told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1). The idea was that, as God’s representative, Adam would rule over the earth on God’s behalf as a benevolent governor. But instead of the imago dei and altruistic rule increasing, violence has filled the earth and only one man has found favor with God…Noah. Because of violence and the inclination of men’s hearts only toward evil continually, God finally says, “Enough!” And He determines to destroy the earth with the flood. But similar to His initial judgment, God’s mercy shines forth in saving Noah and his family and representatives of the creatures of the earth.

Why does the earth suffer for man’s sin? Both the curse on the ground in Genesis 3 and the flood account in Genesis 6-9 make it clear that all of creation is under punishment. But why? Because man, as God’s caretaker, is given dominion over creation, and creation is therefore tied to man somehow. When man fell, creation fell. When man is finally redeemed, creation will be redeemed as well. Paul says in Romans 8, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

With the flood, the earth once again suffered the repercussions of man’s sin. In Genesis 7-8 we get a description of the de-creation of the earth and its re-creation after the flood. But curiously enough, although Noah will be physically delivered through the flood, spiritual deliverance is another story.  There was a stowaway on the boat with the most wicked of intentions…sin! We see it in God’s pronouncement of the covenant after Noah leaves the ark when He says once again, “The intent of the hearts of men are only evil continually.” We see it in the sacrifices that Noah offers when he set up an altar – a reminder of Genesis 3.15 and the death of the innocent for the guilty. We see it in the echoes of the garden in Noah’s vineyard.

Sin cannot be defeated by physical judgment. It needs a spiritual remedy. Noah is our first candidate for the Genesis 3.15 Deliverer, and although he starts out with great promise (Lamech’s pronouncement over him and God’s assessment of him), in the end he’s not the guy. So we are left to look for another…One who will deliver like Moses; but this One will take the flood of God’s wrath on Himself and provide for the deliverance of all those who will believe in Him. He will provide the ultimate solution, final salvation – both physical and spiritual for those who are His kingdom citizens, and He will crush the head of the serpent once and for all destroying sin, death and the enemy.

So where are you? The story of the flood reminds us that God is serious about sin. And although He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness…He is also a God who will ultimately judge. Are you a kingdom citizen?

Until next time…stay salty.