Thursday, January 31, 2019


After his brothers come to Egypt a second time, Joseph can no longer contain himself. Though he wants to continue putting them through it, he just can't, and he ends up telling them who he really is - their long-lost brother who they sold into slavery so many years ago. He sends them on their way, this time telling them to bring their father back with them and live in the best of all the land, and he gives them one final word of wisdom as they depart:

Don't bicker and quarrel, and don't be nervous on your way home. 

Now, why on earth would they do these things? Why would Joseph have to tell them not to do these things? Could it, do you think, have anything to do with the fact that they were all about to get caught in the biggest lie they ever told?

Until now, their father, Jacob, has bought the story they told him about what happened to Joseph, which wasn't really a story at all. All they'd actually done was show him a bloody, tattered robe and invited him to fill in the blanks himself. They've watched their father's heartache for years without a single one of these brothers saying anything about what really happened, without one of them giving him the chance to go to Egypt and get his son back. 

Now, they've been to Egypt and seen this not-forgotten son, and not only that, but they have an opportunity to bring their father to see him, as well. Not only to see him, but to live with him once more. To be a family again. 

But first, they have to tell their father what they really did. So of course it's only natural to assume that much of the trip home is going to be spent working their story out, getting their "facts" straight, arguing and bickering and trying to figure out just how they're going to do this. You can bet they were more than a little nervous. 

Any of us would be. 

Which is why Joseph's words to them are so powerful, so poignant, so apt. With his wisdom, he guides them into their confession, telling them not to let the pressure and the power of the moment overwhelm them. Keep your heart. Keep your head. Keep your faith. And go. 

Confession is one of those fine arts that we've lost today, even in the church. We no longer confess our sins to one another, and we certainly don't want anyone telling us we need to confess them to God. It's just not "cool" any more or something, I guess. And most of us can relate to what these brothers must have been feeling when they realized they'd have to come clean to their father. 

It's the same thing we feel when we have to come clean to God. 

But be honest for a second - as hurt, as disappointed, as upset as Jacob is going to be at what his sons have done to him, especially in keeping their little ruse going for so many years, it's all going to be secondary to the immense joy he will feel at the prospect of seeing his beloved son again. That's number one, plain and simple. That's what he's going to care about. 

And in fact, as the story unfolds, that's all we see - Jacob's great joy at having the chance to see his Joseph again. Not once do we see him yell at his other sons. Not once do we see him discipline them. Not once do we see him even say how disappointed he is or how hurt. No, Jacob hears that his son is alive and anxious to see him, and all we see is tremendous joy and anticipation and excitement. 

The same is true of our father, when we have to tell Him the truth. We're often concerned about how hurt, how disappointed, how upset He's going to be. But the truth is? That's all secondary to His great joy at having us back. That's number one. Plain and simple. 

So go, confess to your Father. Don't bicker along the way, and don't be nervous about it. 

Keep your heart. Keep your head. Keep your faith. And go. 

He'll be thrilled to hear the good news about His child.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Years pass, and Joseph's brothers come to him in Egypt to buy grain during the famine. It's important to realize that although the people of Egypt have been storing up grain for just this purpose for years, it's not free to anyone when the time comes to need it; everyone has to pay for their fair share, even if they contributed it to the storage in the first place. 

When Joseph's brothers come, they leave their youngest brother at home. This is because he has become his father, Jacob's, treasured possession; he's the only remaining son from the beloved Rachel, who died in childbirth with Benjamin. But Joseph knows there is another brother, his closest brother, and he longs to see him. 

So he sends his brothers back with their grain and their money and tells them, in no uncertain terms, that if they come back even one more time, their youngest brother must come with them or they won't get anywhere near him or his grain. This sends a panic among the brothers, who know that there's no way they can ask their father, Jacob, to send Benjamin with them. 

In order to understand what happens next, we have to remember what happened before, when the brothers plotted to kill Joseph, then decided to sell him into slavery instead. Remember that it was Reuben who secretly tried to salvage Joseph's life, who begged for him to be buried in a dry cistern with the plan to come back and rescue him later. 

And it is Reuben who steps forward first here. The eldest of all sons. He tells his father that he will take responsibility for the boy, Benjamin. He guarantees his safe return. He in no uncertain terms promises that they will all come back, and if Benjamin doesn't come back, Jacob can take it out on him. He's willing to make that deal. 

But Jacob, it seems, is not. Because nothing happens when Reuben speaks his deal. Nothing. The sons do not return to Egypt then. They do not go in search of more grain. Nothing. 

It is only when the grain runs out, when they have no choice but to go back to Egypt, that the same deal is offered to Jacob for the safety of Benjamin. But this time, it's not Reuben, the firstborn, the eldest son who had tried to save Joseph's life that fateful day....'s Judah. 

That's right. It's the same Judah whose devious plan was to sell Joseph away and tear his coat and cover it in blood. It's the same Judah who broke his father's heart the first time. It's the same Judah who unwittingly set all this up, but who has carried with him the guilt (we assume) of what he's done to Joseph for all of these years. And it's Judah's offer that Jacob accepts. The brothers return to Egypt with Judah held accountable for Rachel's other son. 

It's one of those interesting Bible things that's easy to miss, but how rich it is when we see it. How beautiful.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Best Defense

Joseph rose to honor very quickly in Egypt, becoming the head of the household for the man whom he served. The Scriptures tell us that with Joseph in charge, Potiphar worried about nothing; he fully trusted the Hebrew slave he'd purchased, and his whole house prospered under the man. 

But it doesn't take long before Joseph finds himself in more than a little trouble. The man he serves has a wife, and the wife has wicked intent toward Joseph. It's hard to say what would have happened, how Potiphar's wife would have behaved, if Joseph had simply given in and slept with her as she requested, but he refused, and she ends up scheming to get him excommunicated from the home. 

All it takes is her word. All it takes is one scream and her tearing off of his robe, and now, she's got him. She yells and screams and cries and through her fake tears, which stem more from her rage from rejection than from any actual offense, she tells a story about that Hebrew slave that just took advantage not only of her, but of the entire household. He used his position for his own pleasure, and he's just a dirty, disgusting, low-down dog. 

So Potiphar throws him in prison. Immediately. 

Most of us reading this story think, now, wait a minute. Joseph goes from being wholly trusted, completely in charge, absolutely honored to being thrown in jail without a single chance to defend himself. We never once see Potiphar asking the slave what happened. We never see Joseph get a chance to speak in his own defense. We never hear the truth of the story coming out, except to later generations of Hebrews who have to know how it happened. 

You'd think that if this guy trusted his slave as much as he said he did, if he recognized so fully how his whole house prospered under this man, if he was truly thankful for all that Joseph was doing for him, he'd at least take a minute and ask, "Joseph - what's up, man? What gives?'

No dice. No such thing happens. Potiphar is willing to throw away every blessing he's got on the mere word of his wife, and it doesn't matter how much good Joseph's done; there's no benefit of the doubt.

The story doesn't look good for Joseph, at least not right away - and that's often true where such dynamics exist. But it's a good lesson for the rest of us, something we must take to heart and live every day. That lesson is this:

You may not always get the chance to defend yourself, so live with such integrity that you don't have to. 

It's far too easy for us to think that we can do pretty much anything that we want to do, as long as we can answer questions about it later. As long as we can explain. As long as we can show why we did what we did or, especially, why we had to do what we did. But the truth is that we're not always going to get that chance. Often, actually, we don't. Often, the world is making snap judgments about us without asking for our rationale. They see, they interpret through their own lenses, and they come to conclusions without us even realizing they were watching. The world never asks, so our reasons never matter.

Living above the board, acting with integrity, won't stop this world from making false accusations, of course. We just can't stop someone else from saying whatever they're going to say. But we can know that it's false and, when we tell the story later, we can be persons of such integrity that anyone listening knows it's false. It may not help us in the short-term, but it gives us a firm foundation of righteousness to stand on in whatever the next season of our lives brings. 

Notice that Joseph was exactly the same guy in prison as he was in Potiphar's house - loyal, humble, wise. He quickly rose to become the head of the prison, taking charge of other prisoners. With him at the helm, the prison warden worried about nothing.... 

That's integrity. 

And you never once hear it asked in prison, never once hear it talked about, never once see it reminded what Joseph was accused of. Not once. Nobody's talking about "Joseph the Accused Rapist" because look at him - look at the integrity, the honesty, the righteousness of this man. Everything prospers under him. 

He never got to defend himself, but he never had to. May we live with such integrity ourselves. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Older and Younger

We're in this scene where Joseph's brothers are selling him into slavery in Egypt because they just can't stand how favored he is any more, especially after he started talking about these dreams he has where he's just that much greater and more important than his brothers. Yesterday, we noticed which of his brothers he spoke to and which of his brothers plotted against him; spoiler alert: they were not the same sets of brothers. 

But even with this, there's another interesting dynamic at play. And that comes from exactly which brother had which idea when the time came to do something about Joseph. 

It was Reuben, the Bible tells us, who convinced his brothers not to kill him, but instead to place him in an empty cistern. Reuben's plan was to come back later and pull Joseph out and return him home to their father. In other words, while the brothers were scheming to kill him, Reuben was plotting to save his brother's life. 

Reuben is the eldest of Jacob's sons. He's the firstborn of all of them, by wife or by concubine. He's it. If anyone has any reason to be upset that Joseph is favored, it's really Reuben because as the firstborn, it ought to be him. He ought to be the one in line for the greatest inheritance. He ought to be the one to curry his father's favor. Yet here he is, trying to save the life of the instead-favored brother, doing all he can to ensure Joseph's safety. 

It was Judah, by contrast, who wasn't having it. Judah is the most persistent of the brothers, the one most intent on doing something to Joseph. It's Judah's idea to sell him off and just get rid of him and be done. If Joseph is in Egypt, it's essentially as good as his being dead, and as a bonus, the brothers don't have real blood on their hands. Not really. Judah has an idea in his mind, he's sure he's right about it, and he's not letting it go. Joseph is done for. 

Judah is the youngest of Leah's sons. He's the baby. He's less mature than some of the others just by nature of his fewer years of experience, and he's got some firm ideas about how things are supposed to work, how the world is supposed to operate. He doesn't have any flexibility or any adaptability; he sees things as very black and white and that's just the way it is. 

The story of Reuben and Judah in this scene is the story that many of us face in our churches. It's the story of Christians young and old, the contrast between them. What it means to be mature in the faith. 

See, older Christians, those who have been around awhile, those who understand how favor falls know how to fight for their younger brothers. They know how to make sure to keep them safe. They know how to protect them when the world comes against them. Your elder, mature brothers and sisters will fight for you so that you can come into your fullness, so that you can become elder and mature yourself, so that you can do all the things God desires to do through you and for you and with you. 

Younger Christians have a more immature view of the world. They see things as very black and white. They're the ones quick to condemn when someone doesn't seem to be perfect. They're the ones still keeping hard and fast to the rules, thinking that this is what real brotherhood means. Real brotherhood means that you don't step out of your bounds. It's not that the younger Christians don't love their brothers and sisters; actually, they love them very deeply. They just haven't got the flexibility and adaptability of wisdom and discernment yet, so their love comes off as very harsh. Judah loved his brothers; it's why he had to get rid of the one that seemed to be threatening everything they had together. 

It's not that being a younger Christian, or a more immature Christian, is bad and that being an elder Christian, or a more mature Christian, is good. The goal, of course, is that younger, immature Christians would grow into elder, more mature Christians, but when we start to think about how we do that, we have to realize how it works. If we as younger Christians want to become elder Christians, we have to have elder Christians loving on us. We have to have Reubens in our lives. We have to know who these men and women are and seek them out and let them help us come to the next level in our faith. 

And we have to beware of Judahs. We have to know who those Christians are who will make our blacks blacker and our whites whiter and convince us that we're already right, that we don't need to grow - that it's the world that needs to change. We have to know who's going to hold us back from maturing because they are not yet mature themselves, and we have to journey with them, but not let them lead. We have to bring them with us to our Reubens, so that we can all grow. 

Find yourself a Reuben. Honestly. It will be one of the best things you can ever do for your faith. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Dreamer

Jacob's most beloved son was clearly Joseph; the Bible tells us as much in so many words. Joseph had a special coat of many colors that his father got for him, and all you had to do was ask any of the other eleven who was the favorite and they knew; it was Joseph. This is because he was the firstborn, and for a long time, the only-born son of the beloved Rachel. 

As if that's not a hard enough pill to swallow if you're one of the less-favored eleven, Joseph had a tendency to dream...and to not be quiet about it. We know that it was these dreams that finally pushed his brothers over the edge. It was the dreams, and Joseph's inability to keep quiet about them, that drove his brothers to want to kill him, although they pulled back and decided just to sell him into slavery instead. 

But there's something interesting about how Joseph shared his dreams...and how he came to be sold into slavery...that isn't apparent on the surface, though it is plain in the text. We have to pay attention to what we're reading to catch it. 

A number of brothers are listed as the audience for Joseph's sharing. When he tells his dream, the Bible tells us exactly which brothers he was talking to - they are his brothers by concubine, by slave. They are not his brothers by wife, neither by his mother nor by his step-mother/aunt Leah; they aren't named here. The brothers that are named when Joseph is telling his dreams about his brothers bowing down to his greatness are brothers that, by all social structures, he was actually greater than. 

Of course the son of a wife is greater than the son of a concubine, even if he is younger. Of course the son of a beloved wife is especially grater than the son of a slave. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, so when Joseph is telling these brothers about these dreams, it's not that bold of a statement. And it's not really news. 

What makes it news is when the sons of the concubines tell, apparently, the sons of the wives, for whom Joseph's claim is a bit more audacious (even though they know he's the favorite - in their minds, he may be the favorite, but that doesn't mean he's the best). 

Just a few short verses later, when his brothers are plotting to kill him and then deciding after all to sell him, it's his brothers by wife that are named as the schemers, not his brothers by concubine. 

Most of us miss this. Most of us read the names, read the identifier "brothers," and just think simply that his brothers heard his story and sold him into slavery. But there's a whole dynamic of relationship revealed here if we pay attention to which brothers are named in each scene. It doesn't mean the others aren't present, necessarily, but it does mean that it's important to notice how the brothers are socially arranged. 

The claim Joseph makes from his dreams is the least bold claim he can make in the context; he truly is greater than the brothers he tells. But it's his brothers by wife who are the most brazen; they're the ones who make a fateful decision regarding his life. 

It's interesting to think about how this dynamic may be true in our own lives as believers, particularly as we related with brothers and sisters in the church and those outside of it. I'm not going to spoil your fun on that one; just think about it for awhile. 

Oh, and there's another interesting dynamic in this slave trade. More on that tomorrow. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Tale of Two Mothers

And so Jacob, a faithful man made wealthy by his own integrity on top of the world's dishonest wages, ventures home. Just as an interesting side note, remember that when Jacob left home more than twenty years prior, he'd just stolen his brother's blessing from a father that both sons thought was dying...imminently. Yet Isaac, at this point, is still very much alive. 

Rachel, however, is another story. 

Rachel is the most beloved wife of Jacob. She has only, so far, been able to give him one son, the treasured Joseph. She lives in contention with Leah, the first wife, who has given Jacob many sons, but it's clear that Jacob's love is still for Rachel and for her son. And she's pregnant with another. 

Back in his homeland as Jacob journeys, Rachel is set to give birth. The family is on the move, again, as seems to be the custom with them; they just can't seem to settle down anywhere. And Rachel goes into labor with her second son on their way to Bethlehem. Giving birth, she dies. 

Trivia time: what other woman in the Bible do we know who gave birth to a son while traveling to Bethlehem? 

This brings us back, does it not, to something that we were looking at just a few days ago. Rachel births a second beloved son to Israel, a son that will be treasured by Israel, a baby boy who is the babiest of boys - the youngest of them all. But she loses her life - and Israel loses his love - in the process. Though he is blessed and favored and treasured and deeply loved, he still leads to death for his mother. 

Mary, on the other hand, comes to Bethlehem to birth a firstborn son who brings life and health and happiness and healing to the world, widening the circle to let Gentiles in on the promise. 

Yes, we're back to second and first sons and the mothers that bore them in the same place and what those sons meant to their fathers. 

It's all a pattern. It's a developing pattern. (And it's not the only one to come out of Rachel, but we'll have to wait until we get there to go into more on that.) 

What we can't afford to ignore at this point, as we continue our journey through the Bible, is where all this took place. All the way back in Genesis, all the way back before Israel is even a nation, before the Jewish people have even taken root. All the way back near the very beginning, God takes a beloved wife to Bethlehem to give birth to a beloved son. Bethlehem - at a time when there wasn't even a Jerusalem, at a time when there wasn't even an Israel, when there wasn't even a Sinai or a mountain or established worship or anything. 

That's no accident. That's no coincidence. It's something we shouldn't miss and definitely can't ignore. God's up to something in Bethlehem. He, apparently, always has been. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wealth and Honest Wages

Jacob, who fled his father's home after stealing his brother's blessing, has lived with his uncle, Laban, for quite a long time. He has lived and worked for the man in exchange for everything that he has, from his own herds and flocks all the way up to both of his wives and the slaves that came with them. 

It wasn't really the plan. In fact, it wasn't ever the plan. When Jacob left home, he was going to find himself a wife and then settle down somewhere and begin building his own family. When he came to Laban, he had his eyes set on one thing - Rachel - and agreed to live and serve seven years for her, a time that the Bible tells us seemed like no time at all because he loved her so deeply. And besides, if you're trying to escape your brother's potentially murderous revenge, seven years really isn't that much time. 

But seven years into it, Jacob receives not Rachel, but Leah - deceptively substituted in because Laban feared that marrying his younger daughter first would stick him with his older daughter forever. And let's be honest about Laban - he's a guy who only and always looks out for himself. He wasn't worried that Leah would never find a husband and would never have a family and would never be happy; he was concerned that he would have to take care of her forever, thus cutting into the profits he was making and damaging, perhaps, his social standing. 

So Jacob works another seven years for Rachel, and these, too, seem like no time at all because he still deeply loves her. This time, he gets Rachel, as promised, and all seems well. 

Then, Laban talks him into working another seven years as he builds his own house. Rather than gifting him a small herd to start his own life with, Laban puts him in charge of the large herds that the crafty man already owns and agrees to give him the cast-offs. Even though Jacob has married both of Laban's daughters, Laban has no interest in the establishment of Jacob's house; Jacob can have the deformed and defective. Laban wants to be rich. 

By the time Jacob has had enough and is preparing his family to leave - and they'll have to leave by literally running away without warning - Laban has changed the agreement he's made with Jacob time and time and time again. Never paying him what he agrees to pay him, never giving him the best of anything, always giving him the leftovers and the broken if he gives him anything at all, taking all that he can and giving the least he can get away with. 

And Jacob is a very wealthy man because of it

Let that sink in for a second. Jacob has spent decades in honest labor in a dishonest place. He has worked hard and with integrity for a master who has been deceptive and dishonest at every turn. He has served faithfully when he has not received his due. And somehow, he has this large, glorious house that is his. It's his. If Laban goes through Jacob's house and takes inventory of everything, he'll find nothing that was not at one point one of the man's dishonest wages. He'll find nothing that he didn't, in fact, give to Jacob by his own contract, even when he thought he was giving the man nothing at all. 

We're often told that if we want to succeed in this world, we have to do it the way the world does it. We're told that "that's just how things work," and we're expected to not only accept it, but to become just as skilled at it as anyone else. A lot of Christians would change a man's wages and not bat an eye because "that's the way the world works." It's not how we want it to work, but we've accepted that that's how it is. 

Jacob accepted it, too, but he never succumbed to it. He never traded in his own integrity on shifting sands. He submitted himself to Laban's rules, but he never played by them himself. And now, look at his house. Look at his wives and his sons, twelve of them. Look at his flocks and his herds. Look at the immense gifts he was able to send ahead to his brother, Esau, and how many camps he had to divide his household into for travel. 

All full of dishonest wages...honestly earned. 

Say that again - dishonest wages honestly earned. 

So no, you don't have to do it the world's way. You can do it God's way. And maybe it seems like you're getting taken, maybe it seems like you're being used. Maybe it seems like you're foolish, like your love or whatever has made you head-over-heels blind and this world has played you for a sap. Maybe it looks like that. 

But look around the see the house you're building. Look around and see what integrity gets you. It's really amazing.

More amazing still when the world sees your riches and starts to take inventory...only to find that there's nothing there it didn't contract to give you. Nothing there but the dishonest wages you honestly earned. Nothing there but something truly glorious.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Third Sons

We ended last week with a beautiful theology about first and second sons, about promises and blessings as reflected through the relationship between Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau, as a reflection of God's relationship with Israel and the world. 

But let's not forget that God also tends to have a soft spot for third sons. 

The first third son in the Bible comes all the way back at the beginning, of course, when Adam and Eve give birth to Seth. Cain and Abel were alright, and they certainly have their lessons to teach us, but when God is establishing the descent of the world and the fatherhood of all humanity, it is through Seth that He starts His sacred line. We've heard, of course, that God is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, but these fathers were the sons of Seth. 

Skip ahead a little, and the next father we see with at least three sons is Noah. On the surface, it doesn't look like the third son of Noah is very blessed; it's Ham, the son who exposed his father's nakedness and became the father of Nimrod, as we looked at last week. But Ham is also the father of Canaan, which became the nation who inhabited the land that becomes the Promised Land. Which means that God has used the third son of Noah to cultivate and fertilize the Promised Land, the land He will promise to Abraham and to which He will lead the nation of Israel after its captivity in Egypt. That's pretty big.

And then we come to Jacob, who is the next father we see with at least three sons. If you follow along in the birth of Jacob's offspring, you see that the third son here is Levi, who is a son of the only wife to this point to give children to Jacob - Leah. Leah's other children were not favored; the special son in Jacob's quiver is and always has been Joseph, hasn't it? The son of Rachel? 

But Levi...Levi is the son that God sets apart for Himself. Levi is the tribe that becomes servants of God. Levi is the tribe of priests. They get nothing in the inheritance because the Lord Himself is their promise. 

Moses and Aaron come from the tribe of Levi. 

It's all very interesting precisely because it is so unexpected. We believe there must be something about being a firstborn son, and we believe it all the more after we see the Passover. The firstborn son must always be redeemed or killed; he is precious and special in the eyes of his father. And we see through Jacob and Esau/Jews and Gentiles that the firstborn is the recipient of the promise. 

And certainly, there's something about being a second son, too. It's the second son who we see again and again receive the blessing. Not just Jacob and the Jews, but even with the sons of Joseph - Jacob blesses the second son over the first, then offers the first a promise. 

But God has a thing for third sons, and we should never forget this, either. For just look at what He has done through them. 

Sometimes, I think it's easy to think of ourselves as Christians as third sons. We're not quite 'the world' (first sons) and we're no longer Jews (second sons), but we're something else...something very special to God and to what He's doing in the world. Something like...a Seth. A new chance at life. Something like...a Ham. Cultivators of the Promised Land. Something like...a Levi. Servants of God. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Promise and Blessing

You're probably familiar with the brotherly rivalry between Jacob and Esau - Esau was loved by his father, Isaac, but Jacob was loved by his mother, Rebekah. Over the years, scheming ensued, and Jacob - not once, but twice - takes what is rightfully Esau's, forcing him to flee to Rebekah's homeland under the guise of finding a suitable wife. Really, he was just trying to get far enough away that his brother couldn't kill him. 


The most dramatic scene that takes place between these two pre-Jacob's flight back to Laban is the incident where Jacob and Rebekah devise a plan so that his ailing, blind father, Isaac, will bless him, the second son, rather than Esau, the firstborn. Isaac sends Esau into the fields to hunt wild game as an offering for his father's blessing, Jacob takes a goat, Rebekah prepares the goat, and Isaac eats the goat, blessing Jacob in place of Esau, convinced (though not 100%) that it is his firstborn son. 

Then, Esau comes in sweaty from the fields, fresh game on his plate, and offers it to his father, who has already given out his blessing and grieves that he has been deceived. Begging, Esau pleads with Isaac for something, anything - a blessing, too. And Isaac comes up with a promise for him. It's not, on the surface, nearly as wonderful as the blessing Jacob received, but a promise is a promise, and it stands. 

What is easy to miss in this exchange is how this interaction is a small taste of what is going on in the world around us, what is happening in the dynamic between God's people and the world. How this scene, all the way back in mid-Genesis, sets the stage for Jews and Gentiles generations later. 

Although the Jews are known as God's people, they are actually a second son. The original plan was that God was going to bless all of humanity, live with them, walk with them in the cool of the day in the Garden. He established this through Adam, then Noah, then Abraham - the plan was men all along. But sin kind of wrecked that, at least in the initial goings. 

So God's plan to bless people gets thrown off-track. By their own deception and depravity. In comes the second son. 

The second son, Israel, promises himself to be just as good as the first. In fact, you might even think he was the favored all along. At least, that's what it seems to be. And the Father speaks a blessing over the people, but it's not the blessing He wanted to speak. Then, in rushes the first son and says, wait a minute - what about me? 

The Father rends His clothes in grief. This isn't how it was supposed to happen. His blessing is already poured out on the second son; it's given to the people of God. But He cannot, in good conscience, neglect His firstborn, either. So He continues to hold a promise for him. 

The plan was men, but in the reality of sin, the second son - Israel - steps in and takes the blessing. But God has never forgotten His firstborn, never forgotten the Garden. And He continues, throughout generations, to speak promise over men, as well. Not just Israel, but all men, all mankind. We see it again and again and again - for the sake of the world, for all the world, for all the nations, for every generation, for all, for anyone

And eventually, we see it - for anyone. Though the second son remains blessed, the first retains the promise. God brings them together in His house, in His love, and both fulfill the glory of His grace. 

It started here, in mid-Genesis, with Jacob and Esau - a second and a first son, who bear in themselves the promise and blessing of the Jews and the Gentiles, from one house. From one Father. For one Love. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Strangers in a Strange Land

God makes a lot of promises to Abraham; He seals a lot of covenants with the faithful man. But it doesn't escape our perception that most of the promises, the covenants, are really just the same promise over and over and over again - you will be a great nation, and I will give this land to your descendants. 

Actually, God wants Abraham to not have to wait for his descendants, so the Lord brings the man to the land that He promises to give him, even in his lifetime. He takes him to the place He's promised and says, "Check this out. This land, this whole land, this beautiful and fertile and great land, is going to be yours." 

But not yet.

Abraham has been promised the land - multiple times - but if we watch carefully in the story of Abraham, we see that everywhere Abraham goes in his lifetime, he's an alien. A foreigner. A stranger. The land has been promised to him, but it's not his yet, and every time we see Abraham, he's deferring to the people who currently live in the land, trying to appease them, trying to live in harmony with them. 

He never asserts his authority, never claims his promise. He doesn't storm in and declare that the land is now his. He doesn't take more than he pays for. He doesn't set up his home and push everyone else out. He's meek about the whole thing, truly meek. 

Because he believes in God's promise, he doesn't have to be anything else. 

It's an important principle for us. We are a people who like to storm into our own lives, take charge and take names. We're a people who like to claim what's coming to us and hold on tight, taking our lives in our own hands and declaring every honor, privilege, gift that we deserve. Most of us, if given the promise that something is ours, would just go and take it. 

Foreigners? Ha. Strangers? Not a chance. How could we be strangers in our own land? How can we be aliens on a piece of property that's been promised - essentially deeded - to us? It's not our fault that other persons happen to live here, happen to be in the way. This is ours, and we're taking it. 

Our complete inability to be gentle with our own lives, ravenously devouring every promise and every chance and every hope that we have, has left us completely unable to be gentle with others, as well. So while we're busy taking our own lives by storm, we're running bulldozers over the rest of the world to get it. 

All the while, usually, proclaiming the love and goodness of God. Because, you know. 

It's interesting to watch Abraham live this story. It's telling to see how he does it, how it demonstrates his great faith and faithfulness. He's the only man in the entire world, at this point, with a real home. He's the only one who has a promise to any part of the land. And he lives as a foreigner, so as not to harm those who don't have the same promise, who don't have the same hope.

It makes me wonder what our lives, our world, would look like if we did the same. What if we took the promise that we have, the hope that we have, and let it make us meek? What if we used our promise, our hope, as a reason not to act the way the rest of the world acts? What if we were so sure of our place called Home that we were confident and comfortable enough to live as foreigners here? 

We are strangers in a strange land. We always have been. The promise doesn't change that. In fact, it ought to humble us into knowing it all the more. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Remaining Righteous

One of the lesser-known characters, and lesser-discussed, in the Scriptures is Lot, Abraham's nephew. For years, Lot traveled with Abraham. They herded their livestock together. Their houses grew together. In fact, it was only when both became too wealthy and amassed houses too big that they split apart, meaning that Lot learned a great deal - and acquired a great deal - from Abraham's blessing. 

And the last time we see Lot, he's fleeing from a burning Sodom and Gomorrah, his wife tragically turning to look and becoming a pillar of salt. 

In fact, the story of Lot gets so far buried in Genesis that when we think about Sodom and Gomorrah, we think only about sin. Only about atrocity. Only about fire and brimstone. And never about Lot. 

We spend our time discussing the finer points of God's vengeance. Trying to discern what the actual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was, as though we can narrow it down to just one thing. Some have said it must be homosexuality, as the men of the town came after the angels of the Lord who had visited Lot that night. Others have argued it was not homosexuality, but it was inhospitality that was the real issue - the town made no safe place for the angels to stay. 

The truth about Sodom and Gomorrah is that their sin was not so simple as either of these, but rather, they were perverse through and through. God called them thoroughly wicked, which means He wasn't concerned about one particular behavior over another, but had witnessed a complete turning away from Him. A complete fallenness. A horrible brokenness that corrupted every fiber in the fabric of their being. It's not that they were homosexuals or unwelcoming; it's that they were unrepentant sinners, through and through. There was nothing good left in their hearts. 

Except for Lot's. 

Lot, having come of age under the example of his uncle, Abraham, maintained his righteousness, even in such a sinful place. When the angels come, it is Lot who does not exhibit the sinful nature of the rest of the city. When God readies to send about His judgment, it is Lot who He spares. 

We cannot - and should not - overlook this, for the story of Lot is the story of so many of us. We are living in a world that seems wicked, perverse through and through. A fallen world that doesn't seem to care any longer about its sin or its brokenness, but seems to be pushing itself to new levels of depravity every day. 

We've seen the headlines. We've heard the stories. We've witnessed them firsthand, even sometimes in the church herself. Men have turned from God, and it's not just about one thing - it's not just about the "big" issues; it's every little thing. 

And we, who are a people of faith, find ourselves asking more desperately, more defeatedly, every day - is there any hope for us? How can we remain righteous in a place like this? 

The truth is that many of us aren't. Many of us have fallen to the ways of the world, claiming that we must play by her rules if we ever want to have anything, be anything, do anything at all here. Claiming that we have to live the way the world tells us to live because that's the only thing that works here, that's the only way to function in this fallen place. We have become just as deceitful, just as deceptive, just as depraved as the world around us, while still proclaiming our love for God and our sorrow that it "has" to be this way, that we "have" to be this way. 

But it doesn't; we don't. That's what the life of little-known Lot teaches us. There is a way to remain righteous in a sinful world, even in the most sinful world. There is a way to live above the board, to live a life holy and pure even in a despicable place. This broken world doesn't have to break us. It doesn't have to change who we are at the core of our heart. It doesn't have to draw us into its depravity. We can remain righteous. 

We simply have to choose to and then act accordingly. 

If Lot can do it in a place like Sodom and Gomorrah, how much more can we in a place like this? 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What God is Doing

Abraham is known as a faithful man. Even as far as the book of Hebrews, deep into the New Testament, the people of God praise Abraham for his faith. We know well the stories of how he left home and went to the land that God had showed him, how he climbed a mountain with his only promised son and prepared to sacrifice him on the altar, how at every turn, Abraham believed God and trusted Him, and this trust was counted to Him as faith. 

We even know that at one point, Abraham argued with God, reasoned with Him, and seemed to have talked Him into a compromise. This happened when God revealed what He was going to do to the wicked cities, and Abraham immediately came to the defense of any who may have been righteous among them. If there are 50 righteous persons, how can You destroy a whole city, Lord? And by the end of the conversation, he's talked God down to just a handful of righteous persons. 

It's this conversation that tells us something about Abraham's and God's relationship that is crucial for our own, if we're paying attention. Something that we generally miss, but that promises to revolutionize how we, as a people of God, believe. 

And it has nothing to do with what Abraham did

Most of us think that faith is a personal journey, a private endeavor, that our faith depends upon what God is doing in us and what we are doing for God. It's a one-on-one interaction, an intimate relationship that doesn't concern the rest of the world and isn't really concerned with it, either.

So we spend our entire lives of faith trying to figure out what God is doing in us and what God wants us to do. We spend our lives preparing to travel to new lands, preparing to offer our sacrifices, preparing to climb mountains. We wait for God to tell us which lands, which sacrifices, which mountains, and we believe that this is the heart of our Christian faith. Do this well, and we will know all that we need to know about, well, anything? 

But this conversation that Abraham has with God about the wicked cities - ready? - has nothing to do with Abraham. Nothing. He doesn't live in the wicked cities. He's not trying to preserve his own life. He doesn't even travel or frequent there, from what we can gather. God has revealed to this man what He's planning to do, not in Abraham's life, but in the world. And Abraham listens with every bit the same intensity as he does when he is called to the mountain. 

This is important. Because it's what we so often lose sight of. We spend so much of our time figuring out our own lives of faith, praying for our own healing, focused on our own redemption, that we miss what God is doing in the world around us. We're too busy trying to determine what He's doing in our lives, and a lot of the time, let's be honest, it looks like "nothing." And we've started to think that God is nothing except what He is to us.  

If we would broaden our vision, however, and let God show us new things - things that He's always wanted to share with His faithful - we would start to see in a new way. We would start to see how the God that we depend upon for our healing the world. How the God we wait on for redeeming the world. How the God who calls us to the mountain...dwells on the mountain. 

We think God is hiding from us what He's up to, we think it's some big mystery He's protecting, but the truth is that God wants to tell us more than we are often willing to hear. He wants to share with us more than we often think we care about. He didn't hide from Abraham what He was doing in the wicked cities; what makes us think He's hiding from us what He's doing in our world? 

We can learn so much about who God is and how God loves if we let Him tell us about things He's doing that have nothing to do with us

And, if we're righteous, we learn how to speak righteousness into a fallen world. Even when it doesn't seem to matter, at least not personally. 

These are valuable encounters with God, tremendously valuable. They can change our entire faith, for we get to see God in all His glory and not just in our own. We get to see Him as He is, not just as He is in personal relationship with us. We get to remind ourselves how deeply God loves the world, and this reminds us, even in our darkest moments, how deeply God loves us. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Birth of Babylon

As we continue our journey through the Bible, we come to the repopulation of the earth after the flood wiped out everything, and everyone, who wasn't in the boat with Noah. And in general, it's easy to think that maybe these genealogies are boring, but if you pay close attention, you can discover some very interesting connections among people and places.

For example, Genesis gives us an account of Noah's descendants, stemming from each of his three sons - Shem, Ham, and Japheth. As we're reading through the sons and the sons of sons and the sons of sons of sons, we come upon Nimrod, a descendant of Ham. And the Bible tells us that Nimrod, in contrast to the way that we use the word today, was a mighty warrior.

But that's not all that the Bible tells us about him.

The Bible also tells us that it was Nimrod who first settled Babylon, which we know became a thorn in Israel's side and a nation that God often used to discipline His people.

Now, on the surface, that seems interesting enough. The idea that Babylon could come out of the boat with Noah? Whoa. That takes some spiritual gymnastics just for us to wrap our heads around. I mean, we know that God is the God of all nations and all peoples, but Babylon? In a post-flood earth, God saw a need for Babylon?

Even that, however, is not the most remarkable thing about this. There's something even more telling about all of this, and it has to do with whose line we find Nimrod in: Ham's.

Remember what we know about Ham from Friday's post about Noah's drunkeness: it was Ham who discovered his father drunk and naked in a barn, and it was Ham who went and told his brothers about their father's shame, though he did nothing at all, apparently, to actually address the shame.

It is Ham who becomes the forefather of Nimrod, who settles Babylon, who becomes the nation that exposes Israel's nakedness and her drunkenness (her seasons when she is not sober before her God).

Like father, like son.

So when we get deeper into the Scriptures and we start to see Babylon pop up again and again and again and we see what this nation does to the nation of Israel, when we see how Babylon interacts with God's people, when we see Babylon put Israel's sin and shame on full display, it should come as no surprise to us. It ought to, in fact, make perfect sense. Just look at where Babylon came from -

From a son who exposed his father's shame instead of covered it. From a son who gossiped about his father's drunkenness. From a son who invited others to look at his father's nakedness.

Through Nimrod, a mighty warrior, who exposes the same.

Makes sense. Doesn't it? 

Friday, January 11, 2019


After the flood, when God reboots the world, it's worth noting that one of the first things that man has to deal with in the new creation is the most devastating thing he dealt with in the original - shame. 

Adam and Eve ate the fruit and discovered that they were naked, so God knit them together some fig leaves to cover their shame before kicking them out of the most perfect place on all the earth. It's why they hid in the bushes - they were ashamed. It's why they didn't want God to find them - they were ashamed. Shame is a powerful thing, and in the Scriptures, it's closely related to nakedness.

Fast forward to after the flood. Life is starting to settle back down. Plants and animals are making homes again, and man is starting to make his own place once more. One of Noah's sons - Ham - comes upon his father, drunk in a barn and naked. 


What Ham does next is important, for reasons we'll look at tomorrow (you're gonna love this; it's great): he goes and tells his two brothers that their father is drunk and naked and exposed. 

His two brothers, in turn, do something unexpected, perhaps - they care more about their father than about the spectacle of his nakedness. They devise a plan where they drape a blanket over their shoulders and walk backwards together into the barn where their father lay passed out and exposed, and they drape the blanket over him while he sleeps. 

They cover his nakedness without ever seeing it. 

More of us in the world today would benefit from the example of Shem and Japheth. We live in a society that's centered around gawking. We all want to look. We're taught that we ought to look. We're taught that there's nothing in this world that we need to hide our eyes from, nothing we shouldn't look at because if there were, others wouldn't put it out there. 

We slow down when we drive by vehicle accidents. We soak up headlines about murders and rapes. We put in our two cents about child molesters and abuse cases. We watch pornography with eyes wide open. We gossip about the addictions of those in our pews. We spend our entire lives watching, with great anticipation and expectation, the world's failures, exposing its shame, convincing ourselves that we're entitled to every detail. 

What if we're not? 

Spoiler alert: we're not. 

We are a people created to walk backward into this world with a blanket draped over our shoulders. We're a people called to comfort the shame of the world, not expose it further. We're a people called to turn our eyes away, not to gawk. 

The truth is that you can do a lot for someone's shame without ever seeing it. You can do a lot for the human soul without exposing it. You don't need to know all the details to help. You don't need to know all the details before you step in. You just need to know what what you are hearing actually means. 

Shem and Japheth heard that their father was drunk and naked in a barn, and they knew instantly that that meant that his shame was exposed. And that's all they needed. They draped their shoulders and tiptoed in without looking, then walked away without a whisper. 

We ought to do more of that. Imagine how we could help heal the world. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Starting Fresh

Only a few pages into the whole story, God regrets that He made man in the first place. He's upset with how the earth has turned out, particularly how it had turned away from Him in sin. (Note that He's not upset with how the heavens turned out and only targets the earth with His sorrow.) 

Despite His hurt and His bold statement about destroying everything, however, He doesn't. Not really. He saves one righteous man and his family, seven pair of every clean animal, and two pair of every unclean animal, plus enough food to feed them - food that contains the seed of plant life on earth. Which means that when God decides to start over, He still believes in His original design. The earth is just as full at the reboot as it was in the beginning, and life is given the same mandate as before - be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 

But there is something dramatically, and crucially, different in the way that things start anew after the flood as compared to how they began in the beginning, something that sets the stage for everything we know about being a people of God, being a faithful people of God. 

When God started this whole thing, He built a beautiful, lush garden and put man there. In a place teeming with life, teeming with fruit, teeming with shade and shelter and flowing with love. Nourished by the rivers running through it, Eden was the place to be. Man walked with God there, but he did not worship; Adam and Eve never built a single altar in Eden. They didn't have to.

After the flood, God brought the Ark to settle on Mount Ararat - on the mountain. A place with rough terrain, difficult life, where everything flows down instead of through, nourished by the sky above. The mountain is a whole different place to be, a place that reflects more realistically what it is to be bound to the earth for a season. And what's the first thing Noah does when the ship hits the mountain and comes to rest? He worships.

Throughout their history, the people of God have centered their worship on the mountain. This is why. It's because when everything reboots, when everything starts over, when God regrets the earth and begins again and makes a covenant with men, it's on the mountain. It's because when life gets a second chance, it's on the mountain. It's because, all the way back at Noah, ship hit mountain and changed the dynamic of man and God forever. 

We talked about this a little at Christmas, when we talked about what it meant to go tell it on the mountain - go tell it to the faithful people of God first. The people of God had their disagreements; they had their differences. One of the biggest ones was which mountain they should be worshiping God on. They weren't arguing over whether they should worship God on the mountain or in the streets. Whether they should set up synagogues next to the river or in lush fields. Anyone and everyone who desired to be faithful to God knew that you worshiped God on the mountain. A mountain. 

It's how it was set up, not from the beginning, but from the second beginning, the starting anew. All the way back in Genesis 6. God delivers life to man in the form of a sprig of green in a dove's mouth, places a rainbow in the sky to seal the new covenant, and man builds an altar on the mountain and begins to worship. And that becomes what he does, what he knows, how he lives. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


A relatively short time passes between "It was very good" and the appearance of sin in the world. By Genesis 3, God speaks His first difficult word into the world: the curse.

When we read the curse, it's easy to focus on what it means for us. It's easy to think about the hard labor of men that will produce limited returns. It's easy to think about the pain of childbirth for women and their perpetually-frustrated love. These things make sense to us, probably because we're living them. We recognize them in our own lives, so when we read them in the curse, we are able to say, ah. Yes. Cursed indeed that is. 

But the curse that is perhaps most telling, because it is most foreign to us, is the curse on the serpent. 

The curse on the man and the curse on the woman are hard for us to grasp because they are so familiar. They are the story of our lives, and they are how things have always been for us, so it's difficult for us to see how that's different in any meaningful way. We did not walk with God in the cool of the day like Adam and Eve did; we didn't eat from the Tree of Life. We don't know what things were like without the curse, and it takes a great feat of imagination to even begin to try. The truth is that most of us can't imagine a life without the curse, so it's just...well, life. 

The serpent, on the other hand, points us to just how devastating the curse was, changing the very nature of life itself. The curse on the serpent is simple - he will crawl along the ground on his belly all the days of his life and will eat dust. He will strike the heel of the woman and her offspring will crush his head. 

Sounds everything like a snake, doesn't it? Crawling on the ground. Stirring up dust that then gets in its mouth. Striking at the heels when threatened. Yup. Sounds like a snake. So the serpent was a snake. 

Not always?

If this is the curse, then the life that God is describing here for the serpent is different than the life that the serpent was living before the curse. It's likely that the serpent crawled along the ground on its belly, as the curse for both men and women began with something that they were already doing - working the land, having babies. But before the curse, the serpent may not have eaten dust. It may not have struck at the heel of the human, and it would not have had its head crushed. 

Before the curse, the serpent might not have been a snake. 

That means that every time you see a snake, you're seeing a creature shaped by the curse. You're seeing a creature that didn't exist like that in its purest, intended form. You're seeing a fallen being, not the wise, intelligent creation of God. 

Let that sink in because it's important. It's important not because it should change the way we think about snakes, but because it should change the way we think about humans. Ourselves, yes, and others also. 

Every time you see a human being, in the mirror or in the grocery store or in the pew right beside you, you are seeing a creature shaped by the curse. You are seeing a creature that didn't exist like that when God first fathomed it. You are seeing someone who is not what they were most intended to be. You are seeing a fallen being. 

Our challenge, as persons of faith, is to try to imagine what that creature, that human being, would be like if he or she weren't cursed. What that human being looks like in God's eyes. What He intended for him or her, what He hopes for him or her, what promise He holds out for him or her. Our challenge is to see in everyone what he or she would be like in the Garden in the cool of the day. In a perfect world, who is that? 

What if the serpent is not a snake? 

And what if we treated him like he wasn't?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

In the Beginning

Of course, if we're going to dive into the story of God and the Scriptures, there's no better place to start than in the beginning. In the beginning, we're told, everything was formless and void and there was God and the Spirit hovering over all things until He speaks the Word and substance starts to take shape. 

That right there is enough to talk about - all three persons of the Trinity present at Creation - but it's not day zero that ought to tease our imaginations about the beginning; it's day two. 

On day 2, God separates the waters with an expanse between them, and the waters below, He calls earth and the waters above, He calls heavens. And then, by Genesis 1:8, we completely lose track of the creation of the heavens, though we follow closely the filling of the earth. 

See, the creation story goes on to tell us about land and sea, about birds and fish, about animals that move along the ground, and about man - and then woman - all the way through to the seventh day, when God's work of creating was finished and He rested. But come to day 7, and an interesting little factoid surfaces - God had not just finished the creation of the earth, but the creation of the heavens, as well. 

By day 7, both are done, but we know only the story of the earth. 

There are two theories we can have, then, about the heavens. The first is that they remain waters. That having separated them out on day 2, God was finished with the heavens and left them just as they were - waters above the expanse of the sky. Waters separated from the earth. Simple waters above, in stark contrast to the more developed waters below. After all, maybe God doesn't require a lot in the heavens. Maybe He doesn't need as much stimulation as we do. Maybe waters are fine for Him and His angels. 

But maybe...

But maybe the heavens are just as full, or fuller, than the earth. Maybe for every move that God made on the earth, He made a move in the heavens, too, and created in them a landscape and a biosphere and a fullness as diverse and rich and wonderful as that of the earth. Maybe fuller, richer, more wonderful than we could even imagine. 

It's so easy for us to get this image of the heavens where we'll all floating around on clouds, wearing robes, and playing harps, and in this cartoon, it certainly seems like maybe the heavens are just waters, just expanses above the sky. Empty and void and null except for worship. But man, that's just so hard to believe. It's so hard to believe that God wouldn't make them full and wonderful, just as He made the earth. It's hard to believe that God wouldn't make the heavens glorious

Genesis doesn't tell us a lot about the heavens, except to say that God created them and that God finished creating them. Bookends on another world we haven't seen yet, but enough to tell us that it's there. Not only is it there, but it's striking. It's brilliant. It's fully formed...and full, teeming with life and love and glory. 

Doesn't it make you wonder? Doesn't it make you want to know? I want to know. I can't wait to see. The heavens in all their glory, from the very beginning of it all. 

From day two, day two, God was preparing a place for you. Ain't that somethin'? 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Through the Bible

This year, I am reading through the Bible. All of it. You might think that's quite a lofty goal, but the truth is that last year, I read through the Bible. All of it. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. In fact, I have read through the Bible, in its entirety, for the past six or seven years, once each year. 

To many, that probably sounds boring. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard, "I read through the Bible once already. Why would I do it again?" And then the person moves on to read through something else or picks up a devotional or spot-reads as the mood strikes him or her. 

After all, how many times can you watch a movie you've already seen? Especially a long, sometimes boring, movie with a lot of what seems like unnecessary information? There's too much going on, too many distractions, too much in the Scriptures that simply isn't "relevant" for life today. 

Yes, many conclude, it's much better to read the Bible once, to say that you've done it, and then focus on the important parts or the parts that are most pertinent to whatever you're doing. 

There's so much false in that that it's almost impossible to know where to begin to refute it. 

First, let's be clear: the entire Bible is relevant. It's relevant today. It's relevant tomorrow. It's relevant for Jesus-lovers and for Jews. It's relevant for anyone and everyone who wants to live a life of faith and do something sacred and holy in this world. There is not a single Scripture that is not useful for teaching, rebuking, loving, leading. So let's stop pretending that some parts of the Bible are less meaningful than others or that they have less to do with anything than others. 

Second, yes. Some of the Bible is more boring than other parts of the Bible. Some of it is a drudgery to read through sometimes. The genealogies, for example, can be grueling. But if you don't read through every name, you can't put the pieces together when peoples run into each other. And you miss some of the best little snippets of faith when you skip the lists of names. The tale of Nimrod is tucked away in a genealogy, and so is the prayer of Jabez. In the New Testament, it is the genealogy of Jesus that is the first testimony to His holy identity. 

Or what about the Old Testament law? Boring, right? Wrong. Most Christians are content to skip right by it because we're no longer bound by the law, but unless you understand the law, you can't understand what Jesus teaches about it. You can't understand what He means when He says He came to fulfill the law unless you know the law first. 

And the sacrifices? What could Jesus on the Cross possibly mean to you if you don't have a framework of sacrifice in which to place it? You can't understand why He is called the Lamb - and not the Ram or the Male Goat - unless you've read through the sacrifices and understand what they all mean. Or, as I've written about before, how His sacrifice on the Cross most closely mimics the sacrifice of the pigeon or the dove, the poor man's sacrifice. You miss that stuff when you don't read the law. 

But here's the most important thing, I think, and the truth that we have to know about reading the Bible: every time we read the Bible, we find something new in it. It's true. The story doesn't change; what's written is written. But the lens through which we read it changes as our lives and seasons change. 

I've read the Bible through every year for several years, and every year, I've taken new notes, had new insights, learned new things, and grown deeper. Because every time I read those words, they're fresh and new and something different is happening in me. 

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to take you through the Bible with me this year. Most days, I'll be sharing with you something that I've picked up from reading the Scriptures this year - Genesis to Revelation. Sometimes, I may break to do a topical series or I may take a few extra days to develop a point, but it's going to be right here - the Bible. In ways that maybe you've never read it. Things maybe you've never seen. But that I hope will give you plenty to think about and encourage you to pick up the Bible yourself and see what you can't uncover. 

There's life in these words. And it's beautiful. 

Join me. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Faith that is Blind

One of the temptations of modern Christianity, as discussed yesterday, is having a blind faith, a faith that doesn't want any additional information about God and isn't really looking for Him in the world. It believes what it believes, and it doesn't need more data. 

But another temptation of modern Christianity, at least as pervasive as the first, is a faith that is blind. 

That is, we can believe so strongly in God and what He's doing that we no longer see ourselves as responsible for anything or as needing to grow or to change or to really even participate. We can believe so much that God loves us and will just take care of everything that we come to believe just as much that we're perfect just the way we are and that nothing is required of us. 

There is a version of this that comes out of the too-simplified statement, "Jesus loves me." It's the idea that Jesus loves us, so there must be something about us that's lovable, and that Jesus loves us just the way we are, so there's no need for us to ever change. That's not the version of this kind of blindness of faith that we're talking about today. (That particular version is so ridiculous that it should not require elaboration to see how false it is. It has also been widely discussed.)

No, this version of a blindness of faith believes that God is going to do what God is going to do to me and through me and for me and that all I have to do in wait. That's it. I just have to be patient. I just have keep doing the things that I'm doing, keep living the life that I'm living, keep praying the prayers that I'm praying, and God is going to do it. In His time. 

I don't have to prepare myself. I don't have to study differently. I don't have to pray differently. I don't have to live differently. I don't have to change my attitude or grow my heart or work on my weaknesses and blind spots. I don't have to do anything because whatever God is doing through me, He's doing through this me. If it's not happening right now, that's not because of me; it's just not His time yet. 

In other words, because I am not responsible for what God wants to do in this world, I am not responsible for whatever role I might play in it. I am not responsible for being ready. I am not responsible for being qualified. I am not responsible for any of it. It's all God. It's all Him. All I have to do is be alive and...voila! Watch Him do it. 

This is a difficult frame of mind to combat, for any of us. It requires us to understand a lot of things that are, honestly, much easier to not concern ourselves with. We have to understand what it is that God wants us to do. We have to understand where it is that we're not quite ready for the mission yet. We have to understand what we can do to help ourselves grow into what God wants to do through us. And we have to also stay patient because even if we are ready, that doesn't mean that God is ready or that the world is ready. 

We're just one piece in the puzzle, but we're one piece in the puzzle. And we do need to put in the work to make sure that our rough edges are rounded out so that when God needs to lock us in, we fit. We're ready. It's seamless. 

One of my prayers for this season of my life is that I would not have a faith that is blind. I'm not prone to a blind faith; I'm too enamored with God to stop looking for Him. I can't wait to discover all of the little things about Him. But a faith that is blind is a struggle for me, just as it is for all of us. It's harder to look at myself and know that I'm not ready. It's hard to motivate myself to change when I'm not sure exactly what it's for or when my day is coming. 

But that's a bit of a lie in itself, and if we want to live a faith with eyes wide open, we need only realize it as such. Not sure what it's for? Not sure what my growth and change and development and maturation are for? Not sure what my discipline and direction are for? Not sure what my prayer and worship and study are for? 

They're for God's glory.

Which isn't just going to happen one day when I'm just being me. I have to be His. And to do that, I have to have a faith that sees. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Blind Faith

Not too long ago (relatively), most of civilization had what we might call a blind faith. They believed that God was the center of the Universe, that He had created and guided them, and that anything and everything that happened was His doing. They attributed their entire lives to Him, good and bad, and lived as though He, not they, was running the show. 

Along came our own explorations, advancements in our technologies, breakthroughs in our discoveries, and we began to think, how silly. How foolish those persons were. We began to believe that there was more that we could understand about our world than just throwing God at everything, and we determined that faith no longer need be blind. In fact, the argument went, the more you see, the less you need faith at all. 

Yet, we hold on to faith because we know that faith has something for our souls that we haven't discovered anywhere else in the universe. We know that faith does something that nothing else can do for us. We know that faith holds a truth that hasn't yet been uncovered. 

But the faith of the modern Christian is once again becoming a blind faith, something it was never meant to be. 

It ought to be that the more that we know about God, the more ewe discover about Him and even about His world, the deeper we love Him. It ought to be that we seek to know as much as we can about Him who we love (and who loves us). It ought to be that we aim our inquiries heavenward and seek to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible of the God of the universe. After all, He's never claimed to be a mystery; forever and for always, He has labored to make Himself known to His people. 

For many modern Christians, however, in a world in which faith is just an option, in a world in which it's private and personal and really about whatever you get out of it, whatever it does for you, that just doesn't seem to matter. For many modern Christians, there is no drive, no instinct, no desire to know anything more about God than one already knows. 

Ask a Christian what they know about their God, and they are likely these days to shrug and say, "He's God." 

He's God, and that's enough for me. He's God, and that means that I believe in Him because He's God. He's God, so He has heaven, and that's all I really want. He's God, and everything in the world is His and I'm just a cog in His machine, but if I'm a good cog, then I get to go to heaven when I die. And that's all the faith I need.

Scarier still, try to teach a Christian today something about God's goodness, something about His grace, something about His love, something about His heart, and they will tell you that's all well and good, but it doesn't necessarily change anything about their relationship with Him. It doesn't form their bond any deeper. It's not relevant, they say, to what's going on here.

He's just God; He doesn't have to have a heart for me to believe that. 

So here we are in a time where we have more tools than ever before to uncover and discover the fabric of God knit into our universe, and too many Christians are living with a blind faith. Not because we can't know, but because we don't want to know. It doesn't, for some reason, seem like valuable information to us. 

In some cases, it would require us to have to...grow. And who wants to do that? 

Nah, it's cool. I believe in God. That's enough. 

Is it? Is it really? 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Be honest - have you already ruined this year? It's day two of something new; does it already feel like something old?

The truth is that most of our resolutions, if they aren't already broken, will not last longer than a week or so. A week. Which means that most of us, in the very same breath that we have so much hope, so much optimism, so much joy, so much confidence...will breathe out utter failure, self-hatred, self-loathing. 

We can't even do the things that we really, really, really want to do. We can't even keep one measly promise that we made to ourselves, a promise we made because, honestly, it was important to us. It was meaningful to us. It meant something, not just for today, but for all of our tomorrows. 

And already, even our best promises are so...yesterday. 

That means that many of us, in this new year, are already looking back and no longer looking forward. We're already wondering what happened to our hope, wishing we had yesterday to do over again. Wishing we had a chance to do it better. Just like that, we went from living in our bright and glorious future to living in our dark and defeated past, still longing for the future but believing it now to be hopelessly and forever out of reach. We blew it. 

It's the same kind of pessimism and defeat that creeps so easily into our Christian lives, as well. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that every time I feel deeply the love of God, I go off and do something so stupid that I can't even fathom how He could love me at all. I go from feeling an intimate connection with Him and the fullness of what it means to be His child to hiding in the corner, hating myself, wishing I had a chance to make that decision all over again. Believing, in the same breath that I embraced all of His promises, that there's no way now that I could ever really hold them. 

Look at me. I blew it. 

So we spend our Christian lives looking backward, trying desperately to come back to yesterday, to come back to the point at which we blew it, the point at which we messed up, the point at which we went astray, wishing there were a way for us to get back on track, but feeling like we've ruined everything and it's just not possible any more. All the hope that we had for forever is buried in the rubble of yesterday, and we spend our whole lives turned around, trying to dig it back out. 

It's a lie. Do you hear that? It's a lie. Because here's the secret truth, the little bit of truth that escapes us in all of our clocks and calendars and artificial notions of what time is - quietly, while you were sleeping, yes. Today became yesterday. 

But it didn't change a thing about today. 

The hope you had for this day passed on, maybe in failure, to yesterday, but when you opened your eyes this morning, it was this day again. Today all over again. Today is happening right now. Which means all that hope you had for today? You can still have it. 

You can still embrace the promise of God. You can still look forward with great anticipation and confidence. You can still mark your time by what is coming, not by what is passed. Because every breath you take, every time you blink your eyes, every time you move your feet, it's always today. The strange thing is, it's never yesterday. Never. 

So let yesterday be whatever it was because today is what it is and the promises of God are just as real, just as vital, just as near, and just as much yours today as they were yesterday, when yesterday was today. And no matter what happens today, that remains true tomorrow, when today passes into yesterday and tomorrow becomes today. 

God loves you. 

You can't blow that. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


And so it is here, the dawning of a fresh, new year with all of its possibilities and opportunities and promise. With all of its hope. 

If you're like many around the world, you have grand ideas for a day like today, a plan for how things are going to be different. But not just different, better. And maybe not even just better, but good. The resolutions that we make for ourselves are all centered around this idea - what is good? What is good for me? What is good to do? What is good to get involved in and invest my energies in and sink my time into? 

None of us ever decides things just aren't bad enough. Of course not. We're always looking for a greater good. 

It's a start, but it's also a deceptive start. The sad truth is that more persons, including most Christians, live with more conviction today than they do for the rest of their lives. Most persons, including Christians, have their greatest conviction on the first day of a new year than they have in the first breath of any given morning. And all because they've decided to give themselves good, and they've decided to cling to it. 

There's a lot to be said for what we can learn about ourselves on a day like today, and what we can learn about living as a people of good. The way we cling today to the promises we've made ourselves for good shows us what we're capable of. It shows us how to hold onto something that we've deemed worthwhile. It shows us how to live in light of a new hope, and it gives us practice in doing so. 

But if we only ever hold on to the promises that we've made to ourselves, if we only ever cling to our own expectations of good, then we've missed the greatest opportunity and the true greater good. 

The conviction that we feel today - that attitude that confidently and passionately and adamantly holds onto what we hope, that will that says yes, we're going to get it, that seeming inability to either give in or give up - that's the kind of conviction we ought to be living with every day. Particularly as Christians.

Particularly in light of the fact that God truly gives us something not just better, but good. Oh, so good. 

What if every morning looked like this morning for you? What if every day looked like today? What if you woke up, looked around, realized that today is a day where there's something good going, and you decided to cling to that with everything you've got? Every day. 

What if we were a people who lived holding on to the promises that God has made us for good, promises that don't depend entirely upon our will to go out and get them? What if we were a people who believed that every day holds the same promise, the same hope, the same opportunities as this one, and we lived each day to the good things wrapped in that day? 

The truth is that God has already promised us greater good even than we have promised ourselves. We get excited about the ideas that we have because they're usually very meaningful for us - we don't make our resolutions on a whim; they matter. God's goodness? It's good, doesn't always make as much sense. At least not right away. 

But what if it did? What if we believed that every good and perfect gift from above is ours for a reason, because it matters, because it's meaningful for us? What if we believed that the good in every day, like the good in today, was something worth holding onto? What if we locked into the promise of Heaven, to the notion that love lives here now, to the call on our lives to live in the fullness of His glory? Not just today; today is too easy. We've tricked ourselves into believing it's somehow different.

What if...every day? What if every day, we lived with the same conviction, the same passion, the same hope, the same energy that we will live with today - to go out and get the good things God has promised us and to cling to them with all we've got? Not giving up, not giving in, not letting go. 

What if?