In the Beginning…

Central Christian Church

Genesis 1.1 – 2.3

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the disparity between what the world says about the origins of life and what God says, and the implications for the question of purpose. Whether it’s the Egyptians view of a battle between the gods, or the atheistic evolutionary view that we are a cosmic accident…the result of time and chance, the resulting impact on the way we view ourselves, each other and planet earth is the same…negligible, forgettable, expendable.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Genesis presents a better, higher view of the world we live in…a world that reflects the creative genius of its benevolent Creator.” Several years ago, there was a movie that came out called “Contact”. Jodie Foster is the main character. As a little girl, looking through her first telescope, she was blown away by the enormity of the universe…

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Genesis Musings

I love road trips. I love going new places and seeing new things. I also enjoy going to familiar spots and getting reacquainted. I love the focused conversations and times of quiet reflection. And although the journey can be trying, the destination makes it worthwhile. Genesis has been just such an excursion.

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Blessing. Hope. A Future. Imago dei. Genesis 3.15. The beginning of the Nation. Love. Mercy. Judgment. A familiar story with lots of twists and turns. The revealing of God’s character and man’s purpose. An amazing landscape and a world of possibility. Genesis remains one of my favorite books. One of the biggest takeaways for me this go round is that God is not in a hurry…He will accomplish His purposes in His timing, and He can work through the most unlikely of circumstances and people…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah.

But another challenging learning along the way came from reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where he examines Genesis 22 and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard contrasts two kinds of knights and two potential approaches that Abraham could have taken to God’s request. The knight of resignation is willing to obey and sacrifice his joy and resign himself to a dismal, joyless existence because that’s what God’s asked him to do. The knight of faith believes the absurd…he is willing to obey, but does so not expecting to give up his joy, but receive it back in fuller measure. Abraham was the latter of the two. Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed the absurd, that he knew that God could bring Isaac back even from the dead…Abraham had no doubt that he would bring Isaac back down the mountain with him. It’s challenged me in my own thinking and my approach to ministry. Am I a knight of faith or resignation? Do I look at obedience as the death of joy, or the door to experiencing joy at an even deeper level? Do I live like a believe that God is for me, and wants what’s good for me (conformity to His Son), even when it may not seem like it at the time?

Coming to the end of a journey is always bittersweet. There are points along the path that all I’m hoping for is to be done, but then there’s that glimpse of something truly amazing that takes my breath away; I wish that the journey would never end. Our next road trip will be the book of Revelation (another favorite).

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Journey’s End

Jacob came to the end of his life and had the daunting and somewhat unenviable task of “blessing” his sons, of foretelling their futures (or better the futures of their respective clans) based in part on the forth-telling of their characters. There was Reuben, the firstborn, who sought to secure his birthright through an indiscretion with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. Simeon and Levi slaughtered a town in retaliation for their baby sister’s rape. Dan, whose tribe would become infamous for introducing idolatry to Israel. Benjamin whose family would be all but wiped out for siding with a group in their midst who committed a heinous evil. Then there was Joseph who received the longest and most elaborate blessing…who was not only his father’s favorite, but also the one whom God used to deliver the family and all of Egypt from the famine. And Judah, the one through whom the Genesis 3:15 Messiah would come.

For Jacob it must have been a bitter-sweet time. A reminder of his own shortcomings as a father and the sins of his sons, but also the prospective future of his boys. I wonder if that’s what prompts him to say, “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.” In effect, when I look at the future of the nation from a human perspective, all I can see is pain and disappointment, frustration and brokenness. But when I look through the LORD’s eyes, I see the hope of Genesis 3:15, deliverance from sin, salvation of the faithful and the reparation of the deep, deep fracture caused by the fall. Jacob finished his life still looking for that hope and so made Joseph swear to bury him back in the land.

Jacob’s hope is our hope. Except we know the Genesis 3:15 Deliverer is Jesus. And He is our Salvation, our Redeemer and the Restorer of all that has been broken. He is the One who takes an uncertain physical future, and infuses it with power to prepare for the radiant splendor of both a spiritual future and a present reality. And one day He will right the wrongs and crush the head of the serpent.

Until next time…stay salty.

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.

Exiled in Egypt

It’s been twenty years. Over half his life spent hundreds of miles away from home. And now the folks responsible for his exile are within his grasp, standing before him, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. What will he do? What would you do? Genesis 41-42.

Joseph had two incredible dreams that defined his destiny. One foreshadowed the then current famine in Egypt, and both pictured Joseph in a position of power within his family. Sharing the dreams with his brothers proved to be a mistake, but his dad considered what these things might mean. Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, and what seemed like a lifetime later, the full meaning of the dreams began to take shape when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to the second highest office in the land, second only to Pharaoh. It hints at the importance that the interpretation of dreams played in ancient Egypt when a prisoner and one time slave is promoted to such high standing. And not only that, his marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On would showcase his new-found status.

With Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and his seeming success at every turn, it would be easy to see him as totally content and even better off in Egypt. But when he names his two sons, we get a peek at the heretofore unpublicized anguish of Joseph. We’re told he named his firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named his second son Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It shows his faithfulness during this time to be all the more outstanding…he never seemed to waver in unbelief or to doubt God’s hand at work directing him towards his destiny. Even in some extremely difficult circumstances.

Now his brothers, who were the catalyst of the pain Joseph had endured the past twenty years when they sold him into slavery, were standing before him requesting help. He had the power to end them. And at first, it seems that he might be looking for a little revenge when he accused them of being spies and had them thrown into prison; but upon further reflection it appears that he was testing them in some way. In order for his dream to be fulfilled, Joseph not only had to be in a position of authority, he needed to be in a position of authority over his family which meant that they needed to be in Egypt. In order for Joseph to deliver/save his family, they would have to leave Canaan and come to him. And so began the process of seeing whether or not their character had changed and of bringing them down to Egypt.

This section of Joseph’s story is challenging. We get our first glimpse behind the curtain to his emotions and the incredible pain he’s suffered that we could only guess at before. His steadfastness of faith and willingness to fully engage in the “little things”, giving his all to the task at hand especially during this time is all the more impressive and encouraging. I pray that God would find us as faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

Until next time…stay salty.

I Had a Dream…

Joseph came from a long line of dreamers. Abraham had a vision of God passing through severed animals as a smoking oven and a flaming torch. Isaac was told not to go down to Egypt. Jacob saw a ladder with its top in the heavens and angels ascending and descending upon it. And now Joseph is given a dream. Well actually two dreams. Gen 37

We should probably back up a bit. Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. He’s the youngest in the clan next to his brother Benjamin (also Rachel’s son) who is born some time later. As the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph always had a special place in his dad’s heart; and Jacob was none too discreet about it. In fact, Jacob (now Israel) had an elaborate coat made for Joseph to highlight his status within the family. It appears that Israel’s intent is to give Joseph the right of the firstborn and his blessing. This does not sit well with his brothers who would all be passed over, and so they hated Joseph. And then Joseph has a dream.

In Joseph’s dream, he sees eleven sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf. He can’t wait to share the good news with his brothers…they are all going to one day bow down to him! Probably not a good idea given their hostile disposition toward him. Then he has a second dream: the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Somehow Israel and Joseph’s mother are included in this sign of obeisance (although Rachel is gone). Joseph once again is compelled to share his dream, and once again the brothers are angered. This time Israel rebukes Joseph, although he keeps the matter in mind. You see Israel, too, has a had dreams in the past where God had made fantastic promises.

So, what are these two dreams? The first dream looks to be the first hint at the famine that will come upon Egypt and the circumstances under which the brothers will come and bow down to Joseph. The second dream is a little trickier. It’s not clear who the woman is who represents the moon. Could be Rachel, but she has already died. Maybe Leah or one of the maids? It’s interesting that John picks up the same imagery in Revelation 12 when he writes, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child…” Could it be that Joseph is given a vision of the ultimate Seed of the Woman who will rule over Israel, making Joseph in this instance a type of Christ? It is interesting to consider that not only is there a promise of near-term deliverance through Joseph, but also far-term, final deliverance, not only for Jacob and his family, but for all Israel (and for all who would believe) through Jesus. Something to ponder.

And so God continues to carry out His plan of redemption. Although the road seems a bit winding and treacherous, and the end is not all too clear, God will be faithful to His promise and will deliver His people from bondage to sin and death through the Seed of the Woman, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the Conquering Warrior King of Revelation 19, Jesus of Nazareth.

Until next time…stay salty.

Just a Reminder…

Gen 35.

Jacob’s life was a mess. Four wives, thirteen children, strained relations with family, a daughter who was raped, two sons who slaughtered an entire town…some of it inflicted upon him, but most the result of his own selfish, sinful choices. But there is one constant in Jacob’s life. God has been faithful to provide and take care of him and has even promised great things to come about through him and his progeny. He has brought Jacob back into the land and given him a new name: Israel, a reminder that God is the One who fights for him. Clearly God has blessed him…not for anything that Jacob has done, but because of who He is and His choice to bless. And although Jacob is back in the land and has built an altar and called God his God, he seems to forget his promise to return to Bethel, and instead buys a plot of land to settle in Shechem.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Jacob had promised on oath to return to Bethel. In narrative literature, the lesson is learned through the characters…by what happens to them and by the consequences of their actions. In the case of the trip to Shechem, Jacob’s daughter is raped and two of his sons commit mass murder. We find out also that Jacob’s clan has picked up foreign gods as a result of their excursion. Probably not a good decision to go to Shechem. Fleeing from there, the terror of God is on the inhabitants of the land (God fighting for Jacob). And God reminds Jacob to return to Bethel to fulfill his oath.

Seeing Jacob’s life displayed in all it’s tragic glory is…encouraging. You see, I’m a lot like Jacob in many ways. I too tend to want to take matters into my own hands, to “grab the heel” and gain the upper hand. I too have a hard time trusting that God will fight for me and remembering that He has done so in the past. I too face the consequences of selfish, sinful choices that I have made. But God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to use broken vessels to accomplish His purposes. And I too am thankful for that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Retribution

One of my favorite “dad” books is called Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis. A phrase that was particularly meaningful for me that Lewis uses in defining authentic manhood using medieval imagery was, “A knight (man) rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, looking to the reward.” It was impactful and easy to remember. And although it’s been a couple of years since we’ve done our “knight’s training”, the boys still remember the phrase. It makes me wonder about Jacob and his sons.

Gen 33-34. After two decades of being absent, Jacob finally returns to the land. As he does so, Esau comes with a band of 400 men to meet him, and Jacob is afraid. Never mind that God continually reminds him that He is on his side, Jacob still tends to see the world from a very earthy perspective. The meeting with Esau is a non-event, and Jacob ends up settling in Shechem where Abraham first settled in the land.

Life seems normal enough at first as Jacob buys a piece of property to settle on, but the situation sours quickly when his daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem, the prince of the land. When Jacob hears about it, he’s silent, waiting for his sons to return from the field. Meanwhile, Hamor, Shechem’s father, approaches Jacob to negotiate a marriage proposal between Shechem and Dinah. Hamor attempts to convince Jacob that a wedding would create a favorable alliance for his family and give them access to the land. Jacob remains silent as his two sons, Simeon and Levi, present terms…all the male Shechemites must be circumcised. Hamor tries to convince the townsfolk that circumcision is a minor concession given that the Shechemites will have access to all of Jacob’s property. An agreement is made, and all of the males are circumcised. Three days later, Simeon and Levi wipe out every man in town and take the rest as spoil. Finally Jacob speaks and rebukes his sons for putting the family in a precarious place in regards to the surrounding peoples.

This story is disturbing. Not only for the rape and the ensuing slaughter, but also for the actions, or better the refusal to act by Jacob. In this story, he is the epitome of passivity. Strange for the “heel-grabber” who is constantly fighting for himself to refuse to fight for his daughter. Had he stepped in, the outcome may have been exactly the same…it’s unlikely that Hamor would have handed over his son, or that the inhabitants of Shechem would have allowed harm to befall their favored prince…but the means would have been different. Instead of deception and murder, Jacob might have had the opportunity to see God fight for him and through him, much like He did with Abraham against the four kings. But now his sons Simeon and Levi will have to realize the consequences of their hot anger and merciless retribution. Makes me wonder what I’m teaching my own boys through my activity and inactivity…

Until next time…stay salty.

A Close Encounter

It was an encounter that forever changed my life (Gen 31-32).

Ever since I can remember I’ve known that I was destined for greatness. When I was a kid, not a day went by that my mom didn’t remind me that God had marked me out for a special purpose. And while that purpose wasn’t entirely clear as a kid, I knew it had something to do with my grandfather and the legacy that he passed down to my dad. I also knew that it was not good news for my older brother…although we were twins, he still narrowly beat me out of the womb. And as the older brother, he had the obvious right to all that belonged to my grandfather and father through his birthright and the expected blessing that would be bestowed on him by my father, including this unbelievable covenant with God. That was going to be a problem. Somehow I had to get my hands on both the birthright and the blessing.

So as time went by, I waited and looked for opportunities to gain the advantage over my brother.  Now my brother was an excellent hunter; but he was never particularly bright, so acquiring the birthright was a snap. The blessing, however, was more difficult…mainly because it involved deceiving my dad.

The idea was actually my mom’s. She knew that my dad intended to bless my brother, and it looked like my chances of realizing the destiny that she had promised me were in jeopardy. A plan was hatched and pulled off to perfection, and I left my father’s tent with his blessing. Only when my older brother returned to meet with my dad did my dad find out that I had tricked him. I felt bad about it, but it would be a small price to pay for greatness.

My brother was fuming mad, so my mother sent me to stay with her brother and find a wife among her relatives. On the way there, I met the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and found out she was my cousin, my mother’s brother’s daughter! I fell in love, and agreed to work for my uncle for the right to marry her. Seven years seemed like only a few days, but then I learned something about my uncle that I had somewhat expected…he wrote the book on deception. He tricked me into marrying his eldest daughter, and then for another seven year stint, he allowed me to marry the girl of my dreams. Fourteen years. Then he asked me to stay on to tend his flocks. We determined my wages, and I turned the tables on him. Six years later I was the master of most of his livestock, and it was clearly time to go.

My family and I fled from my uncle, but he caught up to us. We had words, but parted in peace. Now it was time to reenter the land that had been promised to my family by God.  I remember when I left the land, I saw a vision of angels ascending and descending and called the place Bethel. Now as I neared the border, I again saw angels. Preparing to meet my brother, I sent a gift to try and dissuade him from taking retribution on me. I had planned to spend the night alone, but I encountered a stranger and wrestled through the night. As the day was dawning, he tried to pull away, but I wouldn’t let him. Then he touched my thigh, and all my strength left me. I clung to him and asked him to bless me. He asked my name…curious. I told him, and he gave me a new name, saying that I had wrestled with men and with God and had prevailed. What! At that moment, I knew that somehow the man I had been wrestling with was God! And I named the place Peniel (face of God) and limped away.

Reflecting back on that episode I realized something. That wrestling match was a metaphor for my life up to that point. Even though God had promised great things for me, I always felt the need to fight for myself. I had lived up to my name, “heel grabber” (Jacob). All my life I had been grabbing the heel of my brother, my father, my uncle and of God. But God changed my name, and my outlook changed as well. My new name was “God fights” (Israel). And now God would be the one who would fight for me. The ironic thing is, He had been fighting for me all along, but I never realized it. Twenty plus years of struggling to make things happen for myself…broken relationships, lies, deception…but now a new chapter. And my prayer for you this new year is that you will cease striving and recognize that God is the one who wants to fight for you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a role to play in the working out of His design, His destiny for your life. But it does mean that you need to trust Him with all your heart and not yourself, acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths.

Until next time…stay salty.