Surprising Plot Twist

I love a good mystery. Something about the twists and turns in the plot and the surprise of the final “who-dun-it” gets me every time. The great mystery stories are always unpredictable, much like life. And Genesis is like that. In the Genesis story, the focus has been on Joseph now for several chapters. In fact his episode accounts for more real estate than any of the other patriarchs, and more than both his father (Jacob) and grandfather’s (Isaac) narratives combined. Joseph was given dreams that indicated he would rule over his brothers and even his entire family. His experience in Egypt had borne this out, as he was promoted to the highest possible position, number 2 behind Pharaoh. As we’ve been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, Joseph seems like the most likely candidate to carry on the line that began with Adam and went through folks like Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…but then a sleeper candidate appeared on the scene.

In our first encounter with Judah, he appeared as the ring-leader of his siblings with a plan for making a quick shekel, while at the same time ridding both he and his other brothers of their none-too-loved younger brother, Joseph, by selling him into slavery.

Our next encounter found Judah marrying a Canaanite woman, and having three sons, two of whom are killed by the LORD for their wickedness…probably not a good decision on Judah’s part to intermarry (ala Genesis 6). The third son was seemingly spared the fate of his older brothers, but because of Judah’s unwillingness to fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter-in-law, she tricked him into fathering two more sons who ended up being both his sons and grandsons…talk about a twisted plot. But then we come to our next two encounters with Judah.

Genesis 43-44. In order to return to Egypt to buy more grain, Judah pledged before his father, Jacob, to be surety for his youngest brother, Benjamin. Surprising because Benjamin, like Joseph, was not only the son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he, along with Joseph, were clearly loved by their father more than any of their other siblings. Judah and company made the trip to Egypt, had a seemingly pleasant dinner with Joseph, and started back to Canaan. Then as Joseph’s final act of psychological terrorism reached its climax with Benjamin being falsely accused of stealing Joseph’s divining cup and facing a life sentence as a slave [Joseph creates a near perfect replica of the circumstances of his own demise at the hands of his brothers through deception, preferential treatment and false accusation. What would they do this time? Had they learned their lesson?] Judah reappears once again. This time instead of being the one to sell his brother into slavery, he begged permission to take his place, even though he might very well have believed that Benjamin was guilty. And so innocent (relatively) Judah was willing to take the place of guilty (apparently) Benjamin. Sound familiar? Genesis 3.15. So while Joseph would deliver his family (burgeoning nation of Israel) through the famine, Judah’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of another wins him the top spot. And so, as we will see later, the line of the Seed will pass through Judah (not Joseph).

The encouraging thing about this particular story is that Judah would never have been picked for his role if it were up to us…up to me. But I guess neither would Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. And if we fast forward to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, we see a host of characters that would not have made the list…murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, idolaters, etc., etc., etc. That gives me hope that God can use me as well. He can use you, too. And that, my friends, is the most surprising plot twist of all.

Until next time…stay salty.

On trial

Ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do? I have. I was in the second grade. It was early Monday morning. After breakfast, Dad began, “Son, I heard that some kids were throwing rocks (it was gravel) at each other yesterday evening at church and hit several cars. Do you know anything about it?” “No, Dad,” was my immediate response. “Are you sure, because someone said that they saw you out there with them?” I replied a little more apprehensively this time, “I saw the kids, but I wasn’t throwing rocks.” “Son, I think you’re lying to me.” Growing terror now, “No, Dad, I wasn’t throwing rocks!” Several swats later with tears streaming down my face, just as my dad was starting to believe me, “Yes, Dad, I threw rocks, too.” Three more swats for lying. To this day, I still don’t think I threw rocks, but I wanted to bring an end to the spanking.

Acts 24-26, Paul can relate to being falsely accused. Three different trials, three different Gentile authorities, three declarations of innocence (at least of anything worthy of death). With Felix, the Jewish leaders bring in the big guns, the lawyer Tertullus. Quickly Paul goes from being accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple precincts to being accused of starting riots, introducing a new religion to the empire and desecrating the Temple. A guilty verdict on any one of the three charges could easily mean the death penalty. Rome did not tolerate insurrectionists, introducing a new religion was a capital offense, and the Romans had given the Jews permission to kill any Gentile who violated the Temple. It looks like Paul is in big trouble, but you wouldn’t suspect that from his cool demeanor (unlike this scared 7 year old boy). Instead he calmly addresses the court, refuting the charges of insurrection and of defiling the Temple. And then he spends a great deal of time explaining that the primary issue was Jesus, as it had always been. He was on trial for the hope of the resurrection…a hope that he shared with his Jewish brethren. Since the time of Abraham and the beginnings of the Jewish nation and even all the way back to Adam, the people of God had been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, the Messiah, the Davidic King who would crush the head of the serpent and redeem all of creation along with every person who believes. Paul said Jesus was and is the Guy…He is the First of the Resurrected, the Jews disagreed. That was the crux of the argument. Although Felix informally dismisses the charges against Paul, he nevertheless keeps Paul in prison for the next two years, frequently visiting him, hoping to receive a bribe, but instead receiving the gospel, which cuts him to the quick.

At the end of Felix’s term, Festus takes over as governor. Festus is ready to clean up Felix’s mess and so looks into the charges against Paul. There doesn’t seem to be anything to the charges, but in an effort to please the Jews, he asks Paul if he is willing to be tried in Jerusalem. Paul, knowing that Jerusalem would be a death sentence, appeals to Caesar. Festus acquiesces. King Agrippa happens to be in town, and aware of his intimate knowledge of the Jews, Festus asks him to hear Paul’s case. Agrippa agrees, and Paul defends himself yet again. This time he describes his life before conversion, his conversion experience on the Damascus road, and his commission to preach the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. At the conclusion of his defense, he is once again declared innocent, but as he has appealed to Caesar, Paul now must go to Rome.

It’s easy to blow past these three chapters on the way to finish the book of Acts, and I even considered not writing on them; but I was struck with the similarity between Paul’s experience and Jesus’ experience with the mock trials and declarations of innocence from Gentile authorities and the vitriolic hatred and rejection by those who do not believe. Jesus said the same would happen to those who follow Him. So what about you? Are you ready to be falsely accused, to be misunderstood, to be mistreated and persecuted and rejected for the sake of the Name? I have a feeling that those times are not far off my friend. But may we face those times with courage and grace, fiercely trusting in Jesus and leaning into the Holy Spirit for the strength to finish well, proclaiming the gospel until our time on earth is done.

Until next time…stay salty.

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.

Family Feud

It’s a familiar scene. Younger brother runs in crying. “Dave hit me in the back!” And the rejoinder from Dave, “But he started it!” And back and forth it goes until finally a parent steps in and sorts out the details. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A question that has been asked by every big brother in a variety of ways from the beginning of time…or at least from the time of the first big brother-little brother episode in the Bible. Abel’s a keeper of flocks while Cain is a tiller of the soil. Two brothers. Both bring an offering to the LORD. The older brings an offering of fruit – he’s a farmer. The younger brings an offering from the flock – he’s a shepherd. So far the story is pretty straight forward. But then the unexpected happens. Cain’s offering is rejected. And worse yet, Abel’s is accepted. And still worse yet, God says, “Hey Cain, why so glum? If you do what’s right, then you will be accepted. But beware if you don’t, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you”, which Cain interprets as, “Why can’t you just be like your younger brother? If you were more like him, then we would all be happy.” Talk about salt in a wound. So Cain visits his brother Abel in the field and then, another shocking twist, Cain rises up and kills Abel. Cain is quickly found out when God shows up and says, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain lies and responds as if he doesn’t know, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” totally expecting a negative response. But God has different expectations and confronts him, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground…” And then God pronounces sentence; however, in a move similar to Genesis 3, God shows mercy in the midst of judgment.

On the surface it sure looks like Cain may have gotten a bad rap. How was he to know what kind of sacrifice to bring? He brought what he had. Shouldn’t that have been enough? Maybe, if the story started in Genesis 4.1. But the story begins in Genesis 1.1. And in Genesis 3.15, God revealed that the innocent Seed of the Woman would give His life crushing the head of the serpent to deliver folks from death, and that there would be constant enmity/warfare between those who follow God (seed of the woman) and those who follow the enemy (seed of the serpent). The animal skins provided by God to cover Adam and his wife after the fall illustrate the former, while the story of Cain and Abel illustrate the latter.

Now to the offerings. The two offerings reflect two different approaches to God. Cain brought fruit…his parents covered themselves with fig leaves. In both cases the respondents were coming to God on their terms. They did what was right in their own eyes. But then God corrects the parents through Genesis 3.15 and provided for their covering through an animal sacrifice. The blood of the innocent to cover the sin of the guilty. Now of course, the blood of animals cannot take away sin. But the picture of the death of the innocent was a reminder that the wages of sin is death. It was faith in God’s promise in Genesis 3.15 that took away sin and restored the relationship with God. Abel got it. He offered a blood sacrifice. He exhibited faith in God’s promise by employing the same picture that God had used to illustrate Genesis 3.15.

And going forward…you shall love your neighbor as yourself is the second highest commandment behind loving God with all that you are. So I guess we are our brother’s keeper.

Until next time…stay salty.