Thursday, August 31, 2023

A Mind to Know

We're talking about faith this week, and if you haven't caught on by now, the phrasing of the titles of these posts should seem fairly familiar to you - they are the criticisms that God has waged against His people, and their idols, for centuries. 

They have eyes to see, but they don't see. They have ears to hear, but they don't listen. They have a mind to know, but they don't seem to be catching on. (If your Christian spidey sense is tingling right now and you're thinking, "Wait a minute because..." hang tight. I'll hit you tomorrow.) 

For now, we're talking about the minds that we have to know. 

Faith is, at its core, not really an intellectual venture, but what we know about God certainly comes into play. In times of trial or trouble, it's helpful to be able to remind ourselves of who God is, who we know Him to be, who He says He is. Sometimes, that knowledge is the rope that we keep holding onto that keeps us from falling into a dark spiritual abyss. (And sometimes, it's the rope we hold onto while we're in that abyss.) 

There are a lot of folk who like to say that you can't know God. That you need expert help in understanding God or knowing anything at all. There are those that say that what He seems to say isn't what He's actually saying at all - we're seeing this one a lot more in our current world. Persons who try to reinterpret the Bible according to some kind of new-found (gnostic) perspective and tell you that everything you even thought you knew was wrong. 

Like when they try to tell you that Isaiah was written by three different authors across a bunch of different time spans.

All they really want is to raise enough doubts in your mind about your ability to understand God or to know anything about them that they get to step in as the authority and indoctrinate you into believing whatever they believe, whatever suits the ultimate purpose they have in teaching the way that they do. Often, this is some pet project they have - "social justice" is a big one right now. Often, these teachings do not correct the Word of God; they diminish it. 

But if you protest that you think it's simpler than all that, they'll tell you that you're wrong and that that is exactly the problem with your faith. With the faith. With the church. Whatever, until they get you to listen to them and accept their "authority" unquestioned. 

If you've been around here for very long at all (this blog, I mean), you know that I don't buy into that. I don't believe that the God who knit you together in your mother's womb and knows every hair on your head would make you incapable of understanding Him on your own. I don't think that's the way He works. 

He says in His Word that if all of the people of the earth fell silent, the rocks would cry out in worship. Rocks. Brainless, thoughtless, mindless rocks (so far as we know). And they understand the glory and the goodness of God? Then, of course we can understand it, too. 

That's what our brains are for. That's what our minds are for. He tells us plainly to love the Lord with all our minds...because He's given us minds for exactly this - to know, to worship, to love. So this is another essential element of our faith.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Ears to Hear

God has given us eyes to see - and yesterday, we looked at a lesson I'm learning about faith through vestibular therapy. Namely, that sometimes, we have to learn to keep our eyes open in courage when everything seems to be spinning around us and sometimes, we have to learn to close our eyes and trust. 

But God has not just given us eyes to see; He has also given us ears to hear. 

That's the next thing we need to think about when we think about faith. 

We live in a world that doesn't listen much any more. We all know this; we're frustrated by it. Who among us hasn't been in a conversation and known that the other person was just waiting for their chance to respond? Which one of us hasn't been asked a question only to immediately be asked the same question again because the person who asked it wasn't listening to our answer? Haven't we given a piece of information only to be asked for the piece of information we just gave? 

It's frustrating. And we all claim that we don't do it. At least, we don't do it as blatantly and we try really earnestly (sort of) not to do it. 

But the truth is, most of us aren't even listening to ourselves. 

Let me ask you something: what kinds of things are you saying to yourself? Not in the moments that you need to say something to yourself, but in all the times you're just kind of running on auto-pilot (so you think) and aren't really thinking about needing to say anything to yourself?

We make a thousand statements to ourselves every day - often, many more than that. And these little statement become the narratives that guide our lives and operate our days. Most of the time, we don't even notice them. It takes nothing for a new message to sort of sneak in. Something happens once, and we say something to ourselves that seems to make sense in the moment, but then, we keep saying that thing to ourselves until it shapes our moments. And by the time we figure this out, we're stuck in a pattern, in a rut, in a habit that seems, suddenly, almost impossible to break. 

As I've been trying to heal through vestibular therapy and work through what eight months of not being able to properly process my world or my body has taught me to think, I've noticed these things that I say to myself when I'm not even listening. And the strange thing is, I hear them

We know this, too. We listen-ish to someone speaking, and we don't think we heard them, so we ask them to repeat themselves and just as they start to answer us again, we answer our own question in their voice. We weren't really listening, not enough to process it, but we heard it. It's in there. 

The same is true with the things we say to ourselves. 

The cool thing is that once you realize the things you're saying to yourself, you can start to decide what those things are going to be. They no longer have to be quiet commitments or secret messages that just slipped in somewhere. You can change the tape. Once you listen, really listen, to the things you're saying to yourself that you don't even realize, you start to hear them as soon as they start. And once you start to hear them this early, you can start to replace them with things that might actually be helpful. 

Like...truths about God. 

Because I'll just be honest with you - more of the time than I want to admit, the things I say to myself are not the things God says to me. They aren't the things God would want me to say to myself. And when I start to ask what God would want me to be hearing right now, I start to listen for His voice and my inner voice starts to sound more like His and all of a sudden, the whole everything has changed. 

For no other reason than that I used my ears for what He created them for - to hear. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Eyes to See

We're talking about faith - about how we define it, how we understand it, how we live by it. What does it even mean? And I said that I'm learning some things about faith through vestibular therapy. So...what's up with that?

Vestibular therapy is like physical therapy, except it's designed to strengthen your balance system. Vestibular issues cause vertigo, dizziness, lightheadedness, an inability to focus on things, motion sickness, and trouble with proprioception (knowing where your body is and how much force you are exerting with it, for example). So the goal of vestibular therapy is to re-train the brain to process visual and physical cues to maintain an orientation in space. 

In practical terms, though, it's really much simpler: it's trying your best not to throw up while the therapist turns and twists you all around and lets your head dangle off things. 

But that's not what I'm learning. 

What I'm learning is that a lot of it is teaching myself to keep my eyes open when I'm panicked and disoriented and don't think I can stand to keep them open any longer...and at the same time, teaching myself to keep my eyes closed and trust that my body can figure itself out and understand its space. 

And that, I think, is faith. 

Faith is learning to keep our eyes open when we're scared. When we don't know what's going on. When we can't see what happens next or how it's going to all work out. When it would be easier to close them and try to center ourselves in something else. When we want to take a deep breath and back away...or jolt ourselves up and try to run. Faith is just...keeping our eyes open and looking at the disorienting things straight on until somehow, they straighten up. 

And at the same time, faith is also learning to close our eyes and trust. Trust in that still, small voice. Trust in the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Trust in what we cannot see, but can only feel somewhere deep inside of us. Trust that if we fall, there's something - or Someone - there to catch us. 

It's courage..and it's trust. That's faith, right? 

Courage...and trust.

There's something in me that relates deeply to this. That understands and feels that instinctual pull that wants to open my eyes or close them, that understands what it means to act against that. That understands that when it's easier to close my eyes, there may be something I don't want to miss seeing. That understands that when it's easier to keep my eyes open, it's because I'm trusting too much in what I think I can see. 

God always talks about how He's given us eyes to see. I just never really thought about it before. Not like this, anyway. 

Not until I had to let go of the hand rail, close my eyes, and try not to fall. 

Then, all of a sudden, I get it. 

I think.  

Monday, August 28, 2023


What is faith?

It's the fundamental question about...well, everything. And yet, it's one of those questions that most of us aren't quite sure how to answer. 

The broadest answer is that faith is putting your trust in something. This is the core of it, and by this definition - everyone is living by faith in something. Whether it's God, Allah, science, human nature, "goodness" or whatever they choose to call it, everyone has trust in something that is guiding the decisions they make in their life, and this is faith. 

(This is why it's troubling when someone says to keep your faith out of politics; you can't. Every one of us brings our faith to every decision that we make, political or not, and we can't separate ourselves from the thing we put our trust in. Not without becoming hypocrites. It's no less faith just because your foundational "truth" is "science" and not "God.")

But for the Christian, this question is even deeper. Because we want to know not just what faith is - we kind of know because it is our "belief in God" - but what faith means for our living. How does it guide our lives?

How, then, shall we live? 

For many, faith is living with our eyes on eternity, on that glorious day when Jesus will come back and we will go to be with Him because we believe. We put the entire weight of our faith not just on tomorrow, but on a really future tomorrow when it will all make sense and pay off. This is a difficult kind of faith to keep because we don't live in tomorrow; we live in today. And it's really hard to keep holding onto a faith that isn't doing anything for you today.

For many others, faith is about being a basically good person. Doing your best to do the things that God wants you to do. So it becomes a set of rules or guidelines by which to live - don't steal, don't murder, only lie if you have to, try to go to church more often than you don't. It becomes a burden that we put on ourselves, then judge whether we are actually good or if we're failing at it...and either applaud or condemn ourselves on the basis of what we find there. This is a difficult kind of faith to keep, too, because we somehow always find a way to blur the lines and to justify our behavior. (We're experts at this.) 

But the truth is, what we're all really looking for is a faith that tells us not what to do, but how to live. How to approach life. What kind of philosophy we're supposed to adapt.

We want a faith that sets out not a guideline, but a guiding principle. Something we can turn to when we have questions and find an encouragement, a truth, an answer. Something to move forward on. Something that tells us how to look at whatever situation is in front of us. 

What is a life lived in faith? What does it look like? 

We've been asking this question for thousands of years. And we keep coming up with different answers, some of which are helpful and some that aren't. Some really connect with us; others leave us scratching our heads and maybe aren't our thing. 

I stumbled upon another definition of faith - at least for me - in recent weeks, and it's changing the way that I think about things. 

And it's come, from all places, through a season of vestibular rehabilitation....  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Called By Name

All of a sudden, it's harder to just read past all of those names that don't automatically register in the Bible, right? Most of us have spent our whole lives skimming through the reading, not really pausing at all to consider who it is we're reading about if it's not a name we recognize from Sunday school already - David, Moses, Jesus. 

But here we are with the Ishmaelites, and they change the entire story of Joseph being sold into slavery.

And the only reason we can put the Ishmaelites into context is because several chapters and three generations earlier, God told us about Ishmael - by name. 

If we're paying attention, the Bible is full of names that may not seem important the first time we read them, but maybe they come back into the story later. The Edomites, for another example, are the sons of Esau. Esau was Jacob's brother, the one who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. The Moabites were the descendants of Lot, who was Abraham's nephew and the only righteous man in Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Are you starting to see? 

These are all threads that run through the Bible, and we miss them because we think the names are not important. 

Yet, they were important enough for God to include them in His Word. 

They're important because they help us to see how the world is oven together, not just in God's chosen people but beyond them. Remember in Isaiah when God calls not just Israel, but Egypt and Assyria His? Israel may have been chosen, but the rest of the world is no less God's. There's not a single person who is not God's child. 

And that is why He takes great care to call them by name every chance He gets. 

We can learn a lot from this. 

I'm a big proponent of calling others by name. It's not "the cashier at the grocery store;" it's Christy. It's not "the server at the restaurant;" it's Dana. It's not "the guy who lives down the street;" it's Morris. It's not "the guy I talked to on the phone about that;" it's Spencer. It takes three seconds to look at someone's nametag or listen to them introduce themselves, and it costs absolutely nothing to call someone by name and give them the dignity of a human being created in the image of God. 

Because the truth is, you don't know where their story is going to be woven back in. You don't know how their thread runs through the world. You don't know where or when God is going to pop them back up. 

But how many times have you read the story of Joseph without realizing Ishmael was a part of it? And how much difference does it make to suddenly realise that?

So how many stories have you read in your life without realizing Dana is a part of it? How many times have you read right past Spencer? How many times have you missed the countless number of other persons right in front of you whose thread is woven in right here matters. It always matters. It always changes the depths of the story, always changes how we understand things. 

If God calls them by name, it's a name we ought to know and pay attention to. That's the point. 

(And remember, I'm just as guilty as nearly everyone else of missing Ishmael in this story embarrassingly long time, even though I try to make this an emphasis in my life. So I'm not just talking to you; I'm also talking to me.)

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Illegitimate Son

It's easy for us to want to curse Ishmael. Actually, to want to curse Abraham - if he could have just listened to God and waited like he was supposed to, none of this would have happened. 

If he could have controlled himself and trusted God, he wouldn't have taken Sarah's slave woman to bed, wouldn't have had a child through her, wouldn't have had to cast them into the desert, and wouldn't have made it possible for his great-grandson to be sold into slavery to the great-grandsons on the other side of his affair. 

See? This is what happens when you sin. This is exactly what happens when you sin. 

That's how our minds think, anyway. 

No sin -> no Ishamel -> no Ishmaelite traders -> no slavery in Egypt. 

But let's be real: that famine was coming whether Joseph was there or not. 

The famine was coming on the land. The people were going to be starving. Jacob and his sons were going somewhere looking for food; they were ready to give everything they had to someone. While it's true that if Joseph were not in Egypt with his powerful gift of interpreting dreams, Egypt would not have had the storehouses that they did and would not have been the place to be able to provide for the rest of the world, that wouldn't have stopped Joseph's brothers from scouring the world for help that might be anywhere. 

And it's quite possible that without Joseph in Egypt, there wouldn't have been help anywhere and the whole world would have just starved to death. 

It's true that God didn't need Joseph in Egypt to save Jacob and his sons; He sent a raven with food to Elijah. He provided manna for His people in the wilderness. Just as He drew a line between Israel and Egypt in the course of the plagues, He could have drawn a line between them in the famine. But then, the rest of the peoples would have died. God needed Joseph in Egypt to save the world - to save everyone, not just His chosen people.

We also have to acknowledge that if Joseph never goes to Egypt, his brothers never go to Egypt (probably). If his brothers never go to Egypt, God's people are not enslaved in Egypt. And we might think that's a good thing - that's the argument we laid out above. But we have to keep going here. 

Because if there's no slavery in Egypt, there's no show of God's power in Egypt, either. There's no exodus and parting of the Red Sea. There's no provision in the wilderness. There's no deliverance into the Promised Land. 

Think about this - if there's no show of God's power in Egypt, there's no Passover. If there's no Passover, there's no sacrifice, no lamb. If there's no lamb, what kind of sense does Jesus make? 

Do you see how it's not so simple as to say that things would have been "better" without Ishmael? It's easy for us to look at it and say that without Ishmael, these bad things don't happen, but it's not that simple. Bad things still happen. But without Ishmael, there's no glory. 

(We could say the same thing about Judas Iscariot, by the way. Without a betrayal, there's no cross; but without a cross, there's no salvation.) 


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sons of Abraham

So who did Joseph's brothers sell him to that shapes the way that we have to understand the story?

If you went looking for the answer yesterday, you likely found first the name of the Midianites and then perhaps went on a wild goose chase, trying to figure out who the Midianites were and why that matters. Maybe that was beneficial for you; maybe it wasn't. (I always think it's better to know more things about the Bible than fewer, and if God names a people, it's important.) 

But if you kept reading past the first mention of the Midianites passing through, you would have found that Joseph's brothers sold him to a group of Ishmaelite traders within that caravan. 


Where have we heard that name before?

Ah, yes, we mentioned it the other day (and not by accident - I did that very much on purpose). Ishmael was the son born to Abraham when he was unsure about waiting on God's promise and decided to have a child with his wife's slave woman, Hagar. Ishmael was about a decade older than Isaac, the promised son, and when Isaac came along, Abraham's wife Sarah got jealous and sent her slave woman and the "illegitimate" child into the wilderness to starve or die or whatever might happen to them (she didn't really care, as long as they weren't there to mess things up for her and Isaac). 

When God came to Hagar in the desert as she was dying of thirst, a stone's throw away from Ishmael because she couldn't bear to watch him die, He told her not to worry, that Ishmael would become a nation all his own - because of who his father was (Abraham, yes, but also God. Right? You follow?). But He also promised that Ishmael and his descendants would always be at odds with Isaac and his descendants. 

And wouldn't you know it, just two generations later, they're picking up the beloved son and carrying him off to Egypt. 

That's not an accident. 

That's not a coincidence. 

I mean, you could try to say that it is. That the Ishmaelites were a more nomadic people who spent a lot of their time traveling from place to place in caravans and that they were skilled traders, so it made sense that when a caravan came through, there were Ishmaelites among it. That's what they did. That's who they were. And that's what region of the world they lived in. You might even try to compare it to, say, standing in the bus station in New York City and not being surprised at all at the number of folks commuting in from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Of course they are. That's where they live and work and that's the kind of life they live. It wouldn't be surprising at all. 

And yet...

The Ishmaelites weren't the only people who lived around there and did that kind of thing. We know they were in a caravan with the Midianites, who also, obviously, lived around there and did that sort of thing. And who knows what other nationalities were represented in that caravan? Joseph's brothers could have sold them to any one of them. They could have sold him to the Midianites. 

But they didn't. 

They sold him to the Ishmaelites. To their long-lost cousins. To the descendants of their grandfather's illegitimate brother. To the other sons of Abraham. To the ones who were cast out into the desert. 

That's not an accident. 

That's not a coincidence. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A Caravan of Traders

So we're coming to the story of Joseph. It's in the tail end of Genesis if you need some help finding it. And there's one little detail about this story that, over 23 years of faith and reading this story and acting it out in VBS and knowing it, I thought, forward and backward, I've missed - a detail that changes a lot for me about this story. 

You probably also know this story well. 

Joseph is one of the younger brothers of Jacob's children. Jacob, renamed Israel after wrestling with God, is the father of the Jewish people, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Yes, that Abraham. 

Abraham is the figure to whom God promised descendants as numerous as the stars and the sands on the seashore. Abraham is the guy who was pushing 100 without having any children and whose wife laughed when he told her God was going to give them a son. Abraham took matters into his own hand and had a son with his wife's slave woman before receiving the promised child from God more than a decade later, at which point he cast his first son aside and went all-in with Isaac, God's promise fulfilled. 

Fast forward to Joseph, and he is the first son of the favored wife for Jacob. Jacob worked years to earn Rachel as his wife, but was tricked first with Leah. He worked many more years and finally got Rachel. And each wife brought with them slave women. 

Jacob had children first through Leah because God was favorable to her. He had children through the slave woman of Rachel, since she was barren but wanted to compete with Leah. He had children through the slave woman of Leah, who wasn't about to be outdone by her little sister. And then finally, after ten kids, Rachel gives Jacob a son, and he names the boy Joseph. 

Joseph, being the firstborn of the favored wife, was the favored son. Jacob made him a beautiful multi-color tunic to wear to show how special he was. He sent Joseph to check on his brothers while they were tending the flocks. He loved Joseph. 

Then, Joseph started having dreams. 

Joseph dreamt that his brothers and father and mother bowed down to him. Not once, but twice. And he told them about these dreams because, well, that seemed smart. "Hey, guys, not only am I more loved than you, but I'm gonna be greater than you! Just you wait and see! How awesome is this?" Well, when you're not the favored son, it's not awesome. So his brothers plotted to get rid of him. 

They threw him into a hole they found in the desert, likely an old well. Thankfully for Joseph, it was empty, so he didn't drown right away. As they sat around talking about what they would tell their father, Jacob, who loved Joseph so much, and scheming to dip his beloved tunic, now slightly torn, into goat's blood as evidence of his obvious demise, a caravan of traders happened by. 

Suddenly, they had an idea. 

They pulled Joseph out of the hole in the ground and sold him to these traders on their way to Egypt. 

So far, I'm sure, this is the story you know. Nothing special here. Except...

Who were these traders to whom the sons of Israel, grandsons of Isaac, great-grandsons of Abraham sold their brother Joseph? 

God names them in His Word. 

And if you're not paying attention, you'll read right past it, like I did for more than twenty years.... 

(Yes, you could look this up and spoil all the fun. But come back tomorrow anyway and look at what's happening here. Please.)  

Monday, August 21, 2023

One Big Truth

We are a people who are not very good at complexity any more. We want to boil things down to the basics, to get down to the one thing we're supposed to recognize or know about anything. "Spare me the details," we say, with one hand raised in a "stop" motion; in other words, just tell me what I need to know. 

As if everything in the world can be boiled down to one big truth in the midst of a thousand little details. One important thing and a bunch of unimportant stuff. One lesson...and a lot of distractions. 

That's what we call them - the details of the story. They are distractions. They are things that we think take us away from what we're supposed to be paying attention to. 

But what if the details are the story? 

We do this with Bible stories all the time. We simplify them down to what we think we're supposed to understand about them, one big truth that we think we're supposed to take away. 

Noah was faithful and obeyed God even before he could see the rain coming. 

David was brave and stepped forward to fight the giant. 

Moses was curious and came to the burning bush to discover more of God. 

Peter was bold and stepped out on the water. 

We do this with pretty much everything we read, boiling it all down to one thing we are supposed to learn, to do, to become, to incorporate into our own faith. And in doing so, we often miss the threads that run throughout the Scriptures that show us the way that God weaves things together. We miss the connecting points and the places where stories tie in. We miss the nuance and while we think we know what we're supposed to learn, we miss so many layers of what a story means

Then we live what feel like isolated lives, separated from the stories of others and the stories of God. When we don't see how the stories we know tie in, how are we ever supposed to see how ours do? When we don't understand the deeper meaning behind a trial or a trouble in a story we try to imitate, how can we understand the deeper meaning of our own trials and troubles? 

The Bible is full of tiny little details that you'll miss if you're not looking for them - and sometimes, you'll miss them even if you are. Stuff we read right past again and again and again as we engage what we think the story is or is supposed to be. 

But once one of these things jumps out at you, you can't un-see it. Once you notice it, it stops you in your tracks. At least, it does me. 

It happened to me last week. I was reading a book that was telling a Bible story, and it was telling it just exactly the way that the Bible tells it -nothing special. Not drawing particular attention to the thing I'd been missing (and the thing I think a lot of persons have been missing because I've never heard anyone preach on this one, and I'm telling you - this would preach). Yet, it jumped off the page at me anyway and stopped me in my tracks. 


This one little detail that doesn't seem important, that doesn't seem like anything, is something. And of course it is because God names it in His Word. 

Come with me to the story of Joseph.... 

Friday, August 18, 2023


There's one more elephant in the room that we have to address, even if everything we've talked about this week is true (and I think it is). If God knew we were going to be broken by this world and He created us to break in a certain way when exposed to pressure and time and this is not the brokenness we think we'd choose, even if it ends up being beautifully perfect for us, that still doesn't mean that God wants us to be broken. 

It doesn't mean that God breaks us. 

This is really hard for a lot of folks, even Christians, to wrap their minds around. As soon as God makes a plan for us to be broken, we kind of jump to the conclusion that God plans to break us. We have all kinds of narratives around this, where we convince ourselves that God is testing us. Or punishing us. Or pushing us to grow us. Or challenging us. Or whatever He's doing to us because He wants us broken. 

Then, the narrative seems to say that God wants us broken because it is our brokenness that brings us back to Him. 

A narrative like this one raises a lot of difficult questions. How can God be good if He's always trying to break us? How can God love us if He's pushing us to fall apart? How is our relationship with God what He desires if it comes best by crushing us? 

This is a far cry from the God we see in the Garden, who walks with man in the cool of the day and tenderly knits clothing to cover his fallen shame. And it's a far cry from the Christ we see on the Cross, who carried our sin and shame and exposed Himself to a brutal death on our behalf. 

The truth is, these narratives are wrong. God can plan for our brokenness without causing it. He can know that we're going to break without wanting us to. 

An aircraft engineer fills the cabin with oxygen masks that everyone hopes they'll never have to use. We don't say he wants the plane to crash because he provides for it crashing. That's ludicrous. So why would we say that the God who built safety features into our design to keep us from totally crumbling wants us to crumble? 

And there are other things that can bring us to God besides brokenness. Belovedness, for example, is a really good one. Have you ever heard the phrase, "You can attract more flies with honey"? You don't need stinky things to draw near to God; the sweet things work just as well. 

We came to this narrative because we've been told that we have to remember our need for a Savior. We have to remember that we are fallen, sinful, backward human beings who needed Jesus to come and save us. And we never want to forget the meaning of what He did on the Cross. 

But the meaning of what He did on the Cross was not our badness; it was His goodness. It was His love for us that was on most prominent display. And I think, well...I think that in this broken world, a genuine love is more powerful than any heavy burden of brokenness. If, in your fallenness and hurt and ache, you find someone (Someone) who truly loves you, that's reason enough to come...don't you think? 

My heart says so. 

So we have to stop blaming God for our brokenness just because He provided for it. Remember, the Bible tells us that He works good out of all things, not that He causes all things. Some stuff just happens. Especially on this side of Eden. 

Thank God, then, that He's already prepared for that...and woven it into our very creation.  

Thursday, August 17, 2023

A Cross to Bear

At the mere suggestion that perhaps the brokenness in your life is the way God created your life to break, several of us bristle. We look at our broken selves in the mirror and think about the longings for wholeness in our hearts, and we think, "If this is the way God thought was best for me to break, He doesn't know me very well."

Our brokenness crushes us. At least, I know mine does. I have lost track of how many nights I have lied awake, praying desperately to God to make me whole again. To take this away. Not some generic this, but this - this brokenness. This exact thing that my body, my heart, my mind, my soul can't seem to bear. 

And yet, of course, I'm bearing it. It's not easy. It's not pretty. It's not fun. It makes me spend a lot of time questioning my strength, questioning my resolve, questioning the goodness of God, questioning His love for me. It's not what I would have chosen given the chance. 


I ran across a story recently. It's a story that seems like the kind of thing that's been circulating for awhile, that you're more likely to have heard than to have not heard. Personally, I had never heard it. And I've been doing so much reading lately that I honestly can't tell you exactly where I came across it this time. (Sorry.) 

But the story goes something like this: a man had a cross to bear, as we all do. A brokenness he couldn't get rid of. And it weighed him down. It burdened him to brokenness, and he longed for God to take it away. He begged and pleaded and even tried to make a deal with God. Anything, he prayed, but this

So God, gracious as always, answered the man's prayers and took the man to a room filled with crosses. If the cross you've been given to bear is too much for you, God told the man, then choose any other cross. Choose whatever one works for you. 

The man went through the room trying all of the crosses. The small ones were surprisingly heavy, and there wasn't a good place to a get a grip on any of them. Many had splinters that dug into his shoulders as he tried to move even a few steps. The big ones were immovable with his small size. One by one, he went through the crosses, but there was something about each of them that made it not the one he thought was for him.

Finally, he picked one up that actually fit perfectly. The weight was significant, but it was not too much. The beams laid in just the right places to fit his shoulders. There were no splinters coming off and digging into his skin. There were good places to hold onto, almost as though they were fit just for his hands. 

This one, he told God, certain that he'd found just the right cross for himself. Finally. 

God smiled and said, "Son, that's the one you sat down when you came in here." 

We all have our cross to bear. None of us gets out of this fallen world unbroken. And it can seem sometimes like our cross is crushing us, but the truth is - given a choice, we'd find that this cross actually fits us perfectly. It's just the right weight, the right size, the right shape, the right roughness to do what it's supposed to do - draw us closer to Him. 

Maybe God knows what He's doing after all. 

(One more really important thing to talk about tomorrow. Please don't bail on me yet.)  

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Created to Break

We are fearfully and wonderfully made - so why does it feel more fearful than wonderful? 

It's the question we've been asking all week, but I keep asking a second question that I think is key to understanding all of this: what if we're not as broken as we think?

Today, I'm going to tell you what I mean by that. 

But let's start by making clear that we are broken. Sin, disease, disability, abuse, addiction, depression, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness - these are not the things that God wanted us to experience in this world. Were it not for a forbidden feast of fruit, we wouldn't even be here. So, no, this isn't the life that God meant us to have when He knit us together in our mothers' wombs, when He bent down into the dirt and breathed His very Spirit into us. This wasn't the plan.

But the best laid plans...

God has another plan for the world besides the "very good" with which it was created. It's the plan that involves Jesus, that involves grace, that involves forgiveness and mercy and redemption and the re-creation of all things just the way that God wanted them to be in the first place. 

And it involves the very real brokenness that we live in on this side of that re-creation. 

Now, if it's true - and we saw yesterday that it is - that all things break, and that all things break in a way specific to them (for example: every time I kill a camel cricket, its legs fall off. I don't know of any other creature whose legs fall off at the thigh like that when you kill them. A spider, to make a point, curls its legs inward and tucks itself into a ball. Isn't creation fascinating?)....anyway, if all things break and all things break in a way that is specific to them, then isn't is possible that the brokenness you feel is the way that God designed you to break? 

Think about that for a second. 

The brokenness you feel is the way that God designed you to break. 

God knew that you would come into this world and be exposed to the two things that make all things break: pressure and time. And He knew that with enough pressure and time, you, too, would break. And this brokenness you feel is right along a seam that God has already woven into your life so that you can come apart in just exactly this way. 

This is God's perfect less-than-perfect design for you. God knit you together so that this thread could be pulled and not completely unravel you. He wove into your life a structure that can bend without breaking. He made you so that if you stumble, you don't have to fall. Like a Weeble, you might wobble, but you've got enough left to stand on. And when you don't, you end up just leaning a bit - enough to brace yourself on the Cross. 

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I think this is it. I think this is the key to understanding the brokenness we feel and putting it into a different kind of frame. None of us likes being broken. I sure don't. None of us likes the battles that we face. But what if even our brokenness is God's grace to us? 

(More tomorrow. I know, I know - there's still an elephant in the room.) 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Breaking Point

To understand how it could be possible that we're not as broken as we feel, we have to understand something about brokenness: it's universal. 

Everything in creation has its breaking point. There's nothing in this world that you can't break. 

A cockroach can reportedly survived a nuclear bomb, but stomp on it with a good boot, and it's done for. 

Diamond is one of the hardest substances in the world, but it can be chiseled and hammered and chipped away at. 

I was walking my dog a few weeks ago and saw a bunny hopping across the road with its back foot dangling off its hind leg, clearly broken. 

The clouds come together, and then they wisp away and break up back into the blue sky. 

Silence is shattered by noise. 

Darkness is penetrated by light. 

Everything you've ever come across in this big, grand world can be broken. 

And what's interesting is that almost none of it breaks in the same way. 

Even if you were to use a hammer to smash a bunch of different objects, none of them would break in the same way. A piece of wood might splinter. A banana would smush. A rock would shatter. A piece of glass, shatter in an entirely different way still. 

It's as though there are invisible seams running through everything that, at first glance, we think must be holding that thing together but when we look more closely, we see that these are the seams along which that thing breaks. Because in a fallen world, it will break. 

One of my favorite movies reminds us that human beings are not exempt from this breaking. "Every man has his breaking point," the line goes. All it takes, it continues, is pressure and time. 

Pressure and time and every single one of us will break. We know this. We see it all around us. Abuse, addiction, divorce, anger, jealousy, rage, outrage, injustice, depression, anxiety, disability, disease. The list goes on and on. No matter where we look, we can't help but be confronted by the brokenness all around us. 

This fallen 

But remember what we were talking about just a week or two ago, about how God made the first provisions for our fallen world when He sacrificed an animal to cover us with its skin? 

What if...we're not as broken as we think? 

(I know - I said this yesterday. I promise I'll tell you what I mean tomorrow. But it was important to think about the universality of brokenness first - it's important to know that all things break and to think about how they do that.) 

Monday, August 14, 2023


God knit you together in your mother's womb. He knows every hair on your head and every fiber of your being. Do you believe this? 

I do. 

And yet, we have to be real about the broken world in which we live. Bad attitudes, bad habits, bad choices, addictions, sin, sickness, disease - these are realities. And when I think about these things and look in the mirror, there's something inside of me that says, this can't be who God had in mind. 

We even have a narrative around this. We have a narrative that says that one day, God will restore us to who He intended us to be in the first place. When we get to Heaven, we will meet persons we once knew, but without all of their baggage. We will see them in their full image of Him. 

We say this, and it breaks our hearts a little. It does. It makes us feel like everyone is just a shadow of themselves, like there is something missing or something inherently wrong or damaged in every single person we meet. Including ourselves. There's something about us that' 

We hear this a lot more in our current culture as everyone talks about finding themselves and throwing off their trauma and uncovering who they are supposed to be. Some will even throw it back in your face - this is who I am, and if you can't handle it, that's your problem, not mine. We've become almost militant about "finding" our "true" selves and forcing the world to reckon with us. 

We all just feel...broken. We feel like failures. Like there is something fundamentally wrong with us that we'll never get back on this side of eternity, no matter how hard we spend our days fighting for it. What we all want most of all, I think, is to not feel this way, but look around you at this fallen world - how can we not? 

This is magnified all the more for those of us who do have faith, who do have this narrative that God knit us together and that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." We consider ourselves doesn't seem fearful and wonderful. It doesn't seem like this is the "very good" design God had in mind when He created order out of chaos, and it certainly doesn't seem like we have any semblance to bear to the image of the One who created us. 

We feel broken, like failures, and with this narrative, we feel like we've disappointed God. Oh, how far we have fallen from who He had in mind when He knit us together. 

In rare moments of indignation when we come close to accepting that this may just be how we are, we lash out at God - how could this be what He had in mind? How could He dare create us this way? 

But at our core, for most of us, we know that we weren't supposed to be this way.


What if we were? 

What if - hear me out on this - this is part of God's plan, too? 

(Stick with me on this. It's very important. See you tomorrow.) 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Should We Suffer?

As I reflect on my thoughts in reading this book about a "Christian" approach to pain and suffering, I'm struck by (at least) one more thing: 

This notion that we give our suffering to Christ so that He might use it to heal someone else or save someone puts us in Christ's place. It hangs us on that Cross as the savior of the world. It puts on our shoulders what Christ has already borne for us. 

And that realization, that understanding that if we give our suffering to God to heal someone else then it makes us into little saviors, helped me to think about the grander scheme of things.

Does God even want us to suffer?

This question gets interesting depending on who you ask it to. There are some branches of Christianity that believe that God sends us suffering to purify us. That He uses it to refine us. To punish us. To make us repent. To test our faith. The number of reasons seem to go on ad nauseum, all of these reasons why God wants His people to go through suffering. 

There are other branches of Christianity that believe that God never wants His people to suffer. That He wants us to thrive. That the greatest testimony of our faith is to live a life without suffering, whether that means staying on a righteous path or somehow detaching ourselves from our earthly experience so that we are unaffected by anything that might potentially cause us something like suffering. 

There are still other branches of Christianity that believe that God doesn't want us to suffer, but there's not really anything He can do about it. The broken world we live in, ruled by sin, is pretty much out of His control until He comes back and sets everything right, so suffering is inevitable until Jesus returns. 

The trouble with these three ideas is that none of them give us an adequate vision of God. If God purposely makes us suffer because He wants us to suffer for some reason, then He is a sadistic God that is hard to worship. What is love in sadism? On the other hand, if God wants us to completely detach from our experience here and not be bothered by the world, why would He have sent us into it? It implies He doesn't really love His creation, and if He doesn't love His creation, how can we trust that He loves us? And if God can't do anything about our suffering, then He's not omnipotent. Period. And if He's not omnipotent (all-powerful), can we even rightfully call Him "God?" 

It's that old thing I always come back to - you can't settle for an answer that raises more questions. If the answer you come to calls into question what you are sure you already knew (what God has said is truth about Him), then it can't be the answer. 

Here's what I think: 

I don't think God wants us to suffer. I think that's the whole reason Jesus went to the Cross for us, so that we wouldn't have to suffer any more. We can live with confident assurance about God and all of His promises and put the pain that we feel here into perspective. It is not up to us to suffer, and our suffering will not heal the world.


But I also think that God wants us to be willing to suffer. That is, He wants us to so wholly embrace our living and fully give ourselves to this life that He's given us that we can't help but suffer. But that when we do, we do so joyfully, with our eyes on His goodness. I think He wants us to be so engaged here that suffering is just part of the package - not because He wants it or doesn't want it or can't help it, but because we are so thoroughly plugged in to the life we're living for Him that it just is...and we accept it as the cost of living a holy life in a fallen world. 

That's what I think. 

Maybe I'm crazy. 

Then again, if I'm crazy, hasn't He made me crazy?

Thursday, August 10, 2023

United with Christ

This book that I'm reading about pain and suffering and the Christian response has a theme running through it that what God most wants for our pain is that we bring it to Him and "offer it to Him to use as He sees fit," "uniting" ourselves with Christ as He hangs on the Cross in a brotherhood of pain and suffering. To the glory of God, of course. 

There are a couple of notions in this idea that are touchpoints for me, things that I have to think about more than the author probably wants me to think about them. 

The first is the way that the author suggests that my choosing to embrace my own suffering in this place and uniting it with Christ might just be the thing God uses to heal a paraplegic orphan halfway around the world. 

Now, I'm not saying that God couldn't do this. God is God; He can do anything He wants to do in any way that He wants to do it. would be very unlike Him. 

I don't see any stories in all of Scripture that tell us that this is how God works. That God takes the faithfulness of a person on the other side of the globe who has never heard of you, never thought of you, never knows you, and uses their daily acts of faithfulness (whatever that looks like) to your benefit. 

I mean, just...what a weird thread this is. The notion that you should be faithful because if you aren't, you might condemn someone in Timbuktu to a crippled life without ever meaning that really how we think God works? 

God sent His Son to suffer for all of us, but I don't think my suffering is the salvation that someone else is waiting for. At least, not someone that I don't know. 

God has always been a God who uses us in relationship to one another. In real relationship with one another. He uses us to touch and to bless the persons around us, those He has placed in our path or in our neighborhoods or in our day-to-day living. God's M-O (modus operandi) has always been physical presence and human touch. It's been getting to know each other and being able to look one another in the eye. 

That's why Jesus was so important. That's why Jesus was so radical. God is so focused on actual relationship that He put on flesh and came here to have a real relationship with us so that we could see, with our own eyes, what Love looks like. What grace looks like. What mercy looks like. And yes, what suffering looks like. 

There's absolutely nothing in the Scriptures that tells us that God works without relationship. Everyone God ever healed was healed because they came, because they were in actual contact with a person of faith. Naaman came to Israel to be healed. The prophet Elijah went to a woman's house. Jesus walked the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem. Even when we see miracles from a distance, such as in the case of the sick child in the Gospels, it's because the father is standing right there with Jesus. Relationship. 

Moreover, this notion of giving our pain to Christ so that He can use it as He sees fit halfway around the world for someone we don't's weird. It's suggesting that God just keeps a bank full of human pain and suffering to dole out faithfulness and grace and mercy from it. It's bizarre. I don't see anything about God that suggests that He's the kind of God who would do that. 

So that's one thing I'm thinking about as I read this author's ideas about how we should be faithful in our pain and suffering. 

Something else I'm thinking about I've touched on just briefly in this post, but I'll expound on it more tomorrow.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Pain and Suffering

It's one of the long-standing questions of Christianity: what are we supposed to do with pain and suffering? How do we keep believing in God, let alone honor and glorify Him, when we are hurting?

I'm reading a book about this very thing right now, and it's touching on some ideas that I didn't know I really had thoughts about, but here we are. 

The first thing that struck me as I was reading was the notion that pain is not optional for us, but suffering is. That is, the author proposes that pain happens just because life happens, because things are broken and humans are broken and terrible things do occur. But suffering is about how we respond to that pain, and if we are suffering, it's because we're choosing to suffer - implying that we are wallowing in the pain that life has given us and have not yet "risen above" it to make it a glorifying thing or whatever. 

When I first read those words, I thought that was a very interesting point to make. On the surface, I agreed with it. There's something about choosing our attitude in response to pain that is simply spot-on. And I absolutely agree that you don't have to suffer unless you choose to suffer, no matter what kind of pain you're dealing with. 

But I don't think that means that suffering is pitiful. I don't think it means that if we're suffering, it's because we're wallowing in our own pain. I don't think that suffering is necessarily a character flaw, that it is the hallmark of a person whose attitude we don't want to be around, let alone copy. 

I say that after reflecting on none other than Christ Himself. 

We have to be honest and say that Christ suffered on the Cross. There was pain, yes - He could do nothing about the pain. But He suffered there. And He chose to suffer there. 

Christ chose to enter so fully into the pain of His experience that He came to the point of suffering. He chose to embrace all that the pain was, understanding how it represented the pain of separation from the Father, the pain of sin, the agony of redemption and restoration. He chose to feel all of it. 

We would not say that Christ was wallowing in the pain. Not by any stretch of the word. That's not what was happening there. We would not say that there was a single ounce of pity anywhere near that Cross, nor nothing for us to pity in its shadow. There was something beautiful, glorious, wonderful happening there. 

And we would further say that Christ had to suffer on the Cross. Can you imagine a crucifixion in which He didn't embrace that pain? In which He didn't feel it to the depths of its fullness? To which He did not wholly and completely submit Himself? It would change the story of Calvary in a profound way if Christ hurt, but did not suffer. 

Imagine if Christ, hanging on the Cross, said something like we might applaud in our culture today, something like, "Yes, my body hurts, but I rise above the pain. It's just a temporary inconvenience." It would be a stark and obvious contrast to the body wasting away in front of the very eyes of those watching. They could hear in His weakening voice that His words were hollow. It would be laughable. Yet, even as I write this fictitious scenario, there's a part of me that thinks, "What's wrong with that?" So thorough is our culture's bravado when it comes to pain. 

But suffering is real. Yes, it is a choice, but it can be a holy choice. It is a choice that can be a declaration of our willingness to enter fully into our human experience, to embrace all that is thrust upon us to its fullest. And it can glorify God. 

Wallowing never will. That's not a good choice. But suffering isn't necessarily wallowing. There is a way to suffer well, and that's the road we must choose. That's how we ought to do it.   

Tuesday, August 8, 2023


We have been talking about sacrifices, about animal sacrifices in particular. About how God was the first one to sacrifice an animal - the one He slaughtered in the garden to cover our shame. But then, He rejects Cain's offering of an animal, only to go on and command His people to bring Him animal sacrifices. 

As we have said all along, it's...complicated.

Yesterday, we looked at a handful of contexts for the animal sacrifice - at remembrance, obedience, atonement, righteousness, thankfulness, etc. 

Believe it or not, there are a great many Christians who believe none of this matters. We aren't a people offering sacrifices any more, at least not animal sacrifices, so all of this is outdated. All of it is swallowed up in what we call the "old covenant." We've moved on from this. We don't need it any more.

We have Jesus.

But here's the thing, we can't understand Jesus unless we understand animal sacrifice. Jesus - the Lamb of God - is every single one of these sacrifices that we're talking about. 

He is the sacrifice that covers our shame. 

He is the sacrifice that reminds us of what God has done. 

He is the sacrifice that draws out our thankful heart. 

He is the sacrifice of obedience.

He is the sacrifice of atonement. 

He is the sacrifice of righteousness. 

Everything we've learned about animal sacrifice through the story of the Scriptures, Jesus is. And unless we have in our minds and our hearts a framework for understanding what the animal sacrifice was, we cannot - hear me, cannot - understand the Lamb of God. Period. 

And if we don't understand the fullness, the depth of Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross, then we, like Cain, bring a lesser offering. We shrink Him. We pick the parts of Him we think are worthy, and we try to worship just around that...and it doesn't work. God rejects that. 

God says, "Here it is. Here He is. The perfect sacrifice. He's everything I've been trying to get at for thousands of years, from the very first moment that I told you I would take care of you. When I skinned that animal in the Garden to cover your shame, I was thinking of this. I was thinking of Him."

So here we are. 

And just look at the way that Love covers us now. 

Monday, August 7, 2023

On Sacrifices

God rejected Cain's offering or an animal, but then provided a ram in the bushes for Abraham and later commanded His people to bring Him animal sacrifices until ultimately, He offered His Son as "the Lamb." 

So does the God who created animal sacrifice in the first place accept it or hate it or...what's going on?

This is where it gets complicated.

Animal sacrifice, though it began as God's gift to cover our shame, actually has a lot of reasons behind it, a lot of different circumstances in which it applies. 

For Cain, he was bringing a thank offering while the echo of the curse was still ringing in the valley. It wasn't what God had asked for. 

On the mountain with Abraham, the animal sacrifice was substitutionary - Abraham had gone to sacrifice his son, as he was instructed to do, and because of his faith and righteousness, God stepped in with a ram to save Isaac from the sword while not letting Abraham off the hook of actually offering something

Israel was instructed to bring the firstborn of their flocks after the Exodus from Egypt, after the plague where God had killed the firstborn of every livestock in the country. In this case, it became an act of dedication and remembrance. 

Animal sacrifice was also prescribed in the sin offering and burnt offering, which were meant to be acts of atonement - recognition of the sin that separates us from God and a chance to bridge that gap a little with an aroma pleasing to Him. 

God also accepted freewill offerings of livestock, gifts to God just because the person wanted to give something of value. In this case, it was the act of sacrifice itself - the fact that it was sacrificial in nature (in giving up a portion of one's economic and domestic viability in trust and love) was the key. 

What we come to see, then, is that animal sacrifice is always a measure of the heart and the circumstance behind the offering. 

And that, I think, is also part of Cain's story. The Bible tells us that he didn't bring all of the animal, but just the "choice" parts. To us, that means he brought the best, and we think that might be good, but it also means that he sat there and decided what was for God and what wasn't. He picked at his own offering until there was no meat left on the bones, then had a pile for God and a pile...not for God. And that's not the heart God wants in the sacrifice. 

Abraham came in faith. Israel came in obedience and repentance and joy and hope. 

So really, it's not as complicated as it seems, though it is complex. When you sit down and look at the stories, at what's actually happening in the sacrifices, it makes perfect sense. (Strange how God does that, huh?) 

There's one more thing we have to talk about, though.... 

Friday, August 4, 2023

Cain and Abel

It's one of the great mysteries of the Bible - and there are several really good great mysteries of the Bible. But why did God accept Abel's offering of grain from his fields and reject Cain's offering of meat from his livestock? Especially knowing that God would later provide a ram for Abraham's sacrifice, then command His people to bring Him livestock. 

The short answer is: I don't know. I'm not God. Many commentaries have been written on this passage with several theories proposed, but it's difficult to be too convinced by any of them. 

Still, I will offer one of my own.

I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with the realities given in Genesis 3. 

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they fell under the curse. They would have to toil and work hard in the land to produce anything. Life would become very hard for them as they were cast out of a place of provision into a place of scarcity and labor. So when Abel brings to the Lord an offering of grain, it is grain that he has worked hard for. Grain that he has labored for. Grain that he has worked from the ground in the context of the curse. 

It's remarkable faith to bring something to God that you've had to work so hard for, knowing you're under a curse and that's the only reason you're working for it. Abel knows he's living in the curse. He knows he's cast out. He knows how much blood, sweat, and tears went into bringing that grain offering to the Lord, but he brought it anyway. He chose, in the curse, to be thankful, grateful, and gracious. 

I think God's always going to accept that. 

At the same time, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they discovered they were naked and they tried to cover their own shame with some leaves. Then, God, in His graciousness, slaughtered an animal and made skins for them to cover themselves (the first animal sacrifice, as we talked about yesterday). So then, there's something about slaughtering an animal that brings to mind the shame that you are trying to cover up. 

Perhaps Cain's statement, in his offering, was that he believed he could cover his own shame. Remember - this wasn't a sin offering; it was a thank offering, a gratefulness offering. Perhaps his offering to God reeked of him trying to earn his way back in. He was trying to show that he could be self-sufficient and take care of this nakedness that he feels. He wanted to show that God could make skins and so could he, that God could use an animal and so could he. He wasn't working within the curse, not the way that Abel was; he was...trying to work out the curse.

I think God's always going to reject that. 

Again, I don't know. I'm not God. I'm not Cain, and I'm not Abel. I'm not even really a biblical commentator (although, you know, I have thoughts about stuff). But I do think that if we read the story of Cain and Abel in light of the first animal sacrifice, the sacrifice that God just made to cover man's shame, which lies in the shadow of the ultimate sacrifice, the Cross, it changes the way that we read it and maybe we start to understand a little bit better what's happening here. 

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The First Sacrifice

So we're talking about animal sacrifice and how Israel came to be a people who practiced it, and we started by looking at Cain and Abel, at Abraham, at God's command for His people to bring Him livestock, and we decided that, at the very least, it's complicated. 

But we also said that Cain actually wasn't the first to sacrifice an animal, so that begs the question, then: who was?

And the answer is...God was. 

If we go back in the Scriptures before Cain and Abel, there's only one scene: Adam and Eve. And as we know, they sinned and ate the fruit that God told them not to eat, then they discovered they were naked, hid in the bushes, wove together some coverings for themselves out of some leaves, then walked sheepishly (pun intended?) back out into the Garden when God came calling their names. 

For many of us, this is the last image we have in our heads about Adam and Eve - walking with little leaves in front of their private bits, heads hung, cast out of the Garden to toil in the land and have pains in childbirth. 

But there's another little verse tucked in there that changes everything, and it is the verse that tells us that when God saw them in their shame, He was moved by His great love for them and fashioned them coverings out of skin

Since we already have reference to the flesh of men, it is not human skin that God covered them in, so it must have been animal skin. 

Thus, God sacrificed the first animal in order to harvest a skin to cover the shame of man. 

Animal sacrifice was initiated. 

If, then, God initiated animal sacrifice when He created the first clothing for humankind, then the sacrifice of animals is something that we do primarily in remembrance of His gift. That is, we are meant to think about our sin and shame every time we do it. We are meant to recall His mercy and grace. We are meant to think about what it means that the God who had no choice but to cast us out of His Garden first covered our nakedness and shame. 

Because of His love. 

All of a sudden, then, everything we know - or think we know - about animal sacrifice starts to change. We start to understand it differently, not as a very human thing to do, but as a very holy thing to do. As an offering, yes, but as a remembrance. As a sacrifice, but out of gratitude. We cannot help but to be filled with thankfulness every time we lead our little lamb to slaughter; it is such a small price to pay for such a great, great love. really puts the Cross into new perspective, too. 

Which isn't to say there aren't still some lingering questions. (Did I mention it's complicated? Kind of...)  

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Animal Sacrifice

One of the threads that runs through the Scriptures is the ritual of sacrifice. Abraham did it on the mountain. Israel did it at the Temple. Jesus did it at the Cross, where He is called the "Lamb" of God.

This seems strange to us on this side of the Gospels. It looks a lot like some of the sacrifices that other religions offered to their so-called gods. We aren't really sure what to make of this practice, where it came from, why it was important. God even says at a few points in the Old Testament that He's not satisfied by the animal offerings; it's not what He really wants from His people. 

So then, what's up? 

It looks like a very human thing to do in an agrarian society. You want to offer something to your God, so you offer Him something that you have - livestock. You want to figure out how to offer it to Him, so you offer it by fire. You cook it for Him. You take the time to slaughter it carefully, to cut out the choicest parts, to remove all the stuff that isn't the best, and to give Him the most worthy part of it. 

This is how our brains works. 

Certainly, I think, it's how Cain's brain worked. Abel's, too, really, but he didn't offer livestock. 

When we go back through Genesis, we catch this story of offerings to God pretty early. Abel, who worked the land, offered the best of his crops. Cain, who tended livestock, offered the best of his herds. Each man brought to God what he had, the things that he invested himself in every day. 

Of course, God accepted the crops from Abel, but rejected the animal from Cain. This led Cain into a fit of jealous rage, and he killed his brother. 

This doesn't, then, seem like a people who would end up sacrificing animals to the Lord. The first time it happened, that sacrifice was rejected and it resulted in creation's first murder. (Unless you count the slaughter of the animal itself as murder....) 

But we cannot ignore that just a few chapters later, Abraham is ordered to sacrifice his son, then given a ram in the bushes instead. Abraham sacrifices this animal in thankfulness to God, and the whole thing is changed. God actually starts commanding His people to bring Him livestock. 

So how do we get from a rejected offering to a commandment for ritual sacrifice? Why does God reject Cain's offering? Why does He accept Abraham's? Why does He tangle a ram in the bushes in the first place? And why, then, does He command His people to bring Him livestock? 

It's...complicated. (Obviously.) 

So let's start here: Cain's offering wasn't the first animal sacrifice in the Scriptures. Actually...

(Stay tuned.) 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

A Challenging Faith

Sometimes, from the outside looking in, faith looks really easy. Sometimes, it looks really cheap. Sometimes, it looks like it isn't the massive engagement that it actually is. The truth is that when I talk about my faith, I usually talk in absolute terms about the things that I know, and this can make me come off really confident, often to the point that others ask me, "How do you do it? How do you stay so faithful and confident and sure?"

And well, the truth is...I don't.

I speak the things I know for certain - things like God is good, life is full of grace, all things are working together, etc. - but these may not be the things I believe or the things that I wrestle with in any actual given moment. 

So just to be clear about what faith looks like in the dark and quiet places, I want to share with you an actual conversation I had with myself the other night when I suddenly was thinking about this particular situation and could not fall asleep. 

As you may know, I've been looking for a new car for a few years. My current car is 22 years old and has a host of hilarious issues that cannot be fixed because they no longer make the parts to fix it. So I just have to deal. But I am also currently in a season where, due to an inner ear issue, I am struggling to drive at all. So here's the conversation: 

Maybe God hasn't let you get a new car yet because He knew this season was coming and you were going to wreck your car. (I have not wrecked my car.) 

Oh, my goodness. That sounds just like Him!

Wait...does that mean I'm going to wreck my car? Suddenly, I don't like this...

Well, maybe that is just the enemy trying to make you too scared to drive at all any more, at a time when God is just about to finally heal you from this. 

Oh, my goodness. That sounds just like him!

So wait...then is the fact that I'm still driving my old car a goodness from God so that when I wreck it, I'm not as sad as I would be if I had just dropped a big chunk of change on something new...or is it a trick of the enemy to just want me to think that so that I'm scared to drive in my car at all and anxiety eventually just takes over and crushes me until I'm no longer a functional human being? 

One of these must be the truth. Lord, please tell me which one of these is the truth.

But how will you know if it's the Lord revealing the truth to you or the enemy just wanting you to think that the Lord is revealing the truth to you so that you'll act in a way that the enemy wants you to act. The enemy could want you to think it's the enemy talking so you'll be more likely to act in rebellion to it and in fact, lead you to the very thing you don't want by convincing you that you wanted it all along. 

What if you can just never know?

The truth is, I don't know. The other truth is, I actually have this conversation with myself a lot, trying to figure out if God is really doing a good thing that I maybe don't like or if the enemy is just trying to convince me that God is doing a good thing I don't really like so that no matter what, I end up in a bad thing. 

I can never really know, either. If I wreck my car, I cannot know if God kept me from buying a new car because He knew that was coming. If I don't wreck my car, I cannot know that I wouldn't have if I had had a new car. There's not really a way of knowing in this case that gets me out of the conundrum of whichever voice was truly echoing in my head the other night. 

And that right there is the very reason why when I talk about faith, I talk about the things that I know for sure - that God is good, that grace is abundant, that all things are being worked together. Those things don't change, no matter what happens with my car situation. Those things are eternal. Because God is eternal and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

So when you hear me talk about the faith, yes, I am talking about the things that I know. But don't let that fool you for one second into thinking that I don't lie awake at night wrestling with all of the things I don't - and can't - know. 

Such is the journey of faith.