All posts by Tom Vander Well

Wayfarer, husband, father, consultant, thespian, writer, thinker, and back porch musician. Pressing on through the journey one step at a time.

Knowing and Not Knowing

[God said to Israel] “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
Genesis 46:3-4 (NIV)

When I was a kid, many years before Top Gun was a thing, I wanted to be a Naval aviator. I’m not sure how this developed in me, though I’m pretty sure the television show Black Sheep Squadron and the movie Midway were somewhat involved. I wore a sailor cap all the time. I read my Uncle Bud’s Navy manual, and I corresponded with him about his experiences in the Navy during the Korean War. Those are letters I regretfully did not save.

At some point after what seemed like a long period of correspondence in those days, Uncle Bud said he wanted to have a talk with me. He wanted to give me a reality check regarding what life was really like for him in the Navy. He wanted to share with me the things I was not asking him about as I looked at his stories through rose-colored aviator goggles.

My desire to be a Naval aviator quickly died. I consider this a good thing in retrospect.

In today’s chapter, God speaks directly to Israel and assures the elderly patriarch that he should take his entire family and all that he has and go to his son in Egypt. God even foreshadows what will happen next. The clan is going to grow exponentially in Egypt. And God will bring Jacob back. There’s a double meaning in this. Yes, Jacob’s body will be returned and buried in the family tomb. God is also foreshadowing the next chapters in the Great Story when God will deliver and lead the “nation” of Israel’s descendants out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land in the book Exodus.

What stood out to me, as one who knows the story well, is that God omits any mention of Israel’s descendants being enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years as they become “a great nation there.” Looking at this as an isolated incident on a merely human level, this seems unjust and unfair. Yet, along my spiritual journey, I have personally learned and observed that struggles, trials, and difficulties are requisites for spiritual maturity in this life. This is not hidden. It’s stated directly in multiple places in multiple ways.

If I had forewarning of every difficulty I have personally faced on my life journey, I’m quite certain I would have opted out of most of them, just like I opted out of my childhood dream of being a Naval aviator. In hindsight, I see now that opting out would have been to my detriment in so many of my life’s struggles. Yes, I would have avoided painfully difficult circumstances, but I also would have avoided the wisdom and spiritual maturity that was forged in me through them. That, I realize from my current waypoint on life’s road, would have been eternally detrimental.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back and being grateful for both stretches of difficulty on life’s road as well as times of deliverance and protection. They are equally important chapters in my story, just as they are in the Great Story. I find it an important reminder as the deliverance of Israel’s clan leads into hundreds of years of slavery between the final chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Exodus.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

God in the “Hevel”

God in the "Hevel" (CaD Gen 45) Wayfarer

[Joseph said] “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Genesis 45:5, 8 (NIV)

Two weeks ago, among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I was tasked with giving the final message in a twelve-weeks series on the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the main themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that everything is “meaningless,” a word the author uses 33 times in the book. The Hebrew word the ancient Sage used was “hevel” (or “hebel“, it can be transliterated either way) for which there’s not really a good English equivalent. It’s like smoke or vapor that you can see with your eyes but can’t physically grasp or hold onto. It evades full comprehension or understanding.

In an earlier message in the series, I used my blog post on Ecclesiastes 9 as a springboard to try and help communicate what I think the Sage was trying to get at by describing life as smokey hevel:

One couple in our midst prayed for a baby and gets pregnant. Another couple prayed for a baby and remains childless. “What the hevel?”

We watch so many young people grow to adulthood while a family tragically loses a child at a young age. “What the hevel?”

One person in our community is miraculously cured while another suffers and dies when no miracle occurs. “What the Hevel?”

I provide you this flashback on Ecclesiastes because the story of Joseph could be Exhibit A in understanding hevel. I even used it as an illustration in my message. The fact that I was reading through the story at the same time I was tasked with the message felt like a divine appointment. Joseph, the favorite son did nothing more than share with his family a dream he had. He’s beaten, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused of rape, unjustly imprisoned, and unfairly forgotten. He had every reason to sit in prison groaning “What the hevel?! Why is this happening to me? Life isn’t fair. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Why me, God? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Why!?”

We find out in today’s chapter, which is the climax of the story. Joseph, having been raised to a leadership position in Egypt, and having miraculously been given prophetic foreknowledge of a seven-year famine, reveals himself to his brothers. The same brothers who sold him into slavery now come and bow down to him, begging him for food. Joseph reveals himself to them. It all comes together, and Joseph sees God’s hand in the hevelish circumstances that brought him to this moment. As Paul might have described it: All things worked together for good.

Just yesterday morning, over coffee, Wendy and I recounted some painful moments and relationships we’ve experienced over the years. With each one, we were able to look back and see how God used those moments and difficult stretches of the journey both in our lives and the lives of others involved.

I ended my message two weeks ago with an observation. Just a few chapters further into the story, in the book of Exodus, God will lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Each day, for 40 years, God will lead them by appearing in the form of a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s like smoke. You might say it’s hevel.

God is in the hevel.

My friends even gave me a coffee mug to remember the lesson. 😉

FWIW: Here’s a link to the message I referenced in today’s post. You can find it and an archive of other messages on my Messages page.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Lessons in the Layers

Lessons in the Layers (CaD Gen 44) Wayfarer

[Judah said to Joseph ] “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Genesis 44:33-34 (NIV)

During my family roots investigation that I’ve discussed in the last couple of posts, I was blessed to discover and correspond with my cousin, John, in the Netherlands. John and I are third-generation cousins. When my great-grandfather sailed for America he left his younger brother, John’s great-grandfather, behind. When Wendy and I traveled to London back in 2009, John joined us and we spent a very enjoyable day together.

Late that day, the three of us were sharing a pint together in a London Pub. I expressed my curiosity about what would make my great-grandfather leave everything, including his entire family, and make a new life in America by himself. I remember John not being surprised by this. He shared that getting angry and walking away was not uncommon in our family.

Along my journey, I’ve observed that certain themes are recurring in family systems. It could be sin that occurs in repeated generations or behavioral or relational patterns that repeat themselves. I remember one family member observing that when her husband left her she was the exact same age as her mother when her father left. I have found these types of patterns fascinating and meaningful in gaining both understanding and wisdom.

I continued to see these patterns in today’s chapter. Joseph deceives the brothers who wanted to kill him, then chose to sell him into slavery. This is just like his father, Jacob, deceiving his own father, Isaac. It’s just like Jacob’s Uncle Laban deceiving him. It’s just like Isaac and Abraham deceiving their hosts into thinking their wives were their sisters. It’s just like Joseph’s brothers deceiving their father into thinking Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. It’s a pattern in the family system.

Yesterday I discussed that Judah, the fourth-born son of Jacob/Israel, has now ascended to the role of the leader, the position of the first-born. This is also a recurring theme as both his grandfather (Isaac) and father (Jacob) were second-born sons who ascended to the blessing and position of the first-born. This is a theme that will reoccur throughout the Great Story as an object lesson of God’s message: “My ways are not your ways.”

Faced with the prospect of fulfilling their father’s worst fears, Judah steps up to plead for Benjamin’s life and offers himself as a substitutionary slave in place of his little brother. Fascinating that it was Judah who saved Joseph’s life by pleading with his brothers not to kill Joseph but sell him into slavery back in chapter 37. Judah’s conscience is weighed down by what they did to Joseph and their father. He will do anything not to repeat the robbing of their father of his beloved son. He’s been down this road before. He doesn’t want to repeat the pattern.

Toxic patterns of thought, behavior, and relationship wreak havoc within a family system. These were the kinds of things I wanted to discover, process, and address in my own journey as I dug into the layers of stories, foibles, and flaws in my family’s root system. Did it succeed? One could easily argue not if perfection is the standard. Yet, I’ve observed that the pursuit and/or expectation of perfection is a toxic thought pattern in-and-of-itself. I did, however, discover invaluable lessons in the layers. It has been successful in imparting wisdom, allowing me to recognize certain patterns in other areas of life, and informing both my choices and how I manage relationships. I know that blind spots remain, but I doggedly pursue sight with each layer of blindness that’s revealed in my journey.

Perhaps the most important layer of lessons has been about grace. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Judah, and Joseph all had their faults and blind spots. They, too, were part of a very flawed, very human family system. It still didn’t disqualify them from being used by God in their leading roles within the opening chapters of the Great Story. So, I’ve learned (and am learning) to have grace with those flawed ancestors and family members in my own family system as I pray they and my descendants will have grace with me. It’s also teaching me that God’s amazing grace extends to, and through, very flawed human beings, and that includes me.

Featured image: Joseph Converses with Judah by Tissot. Public Domain.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Generational Impact

Generational Impact (CaD Gen 43) Wayfarer

Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.
Genesis 43:8-9 (NIV)

As I mentioned in a post last week, I consciously spent several years investigating my family history. The quest was motivated by a desire to understand the family systems from which I descended and how they may have influenced my own family system, my childhood, and the person I’ve become. One of the things that I discovered in my quest was the fact that decisions can have a far-reaching, generational impact.

My maternal great-grandfather committed suicide. The story goes that he had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis which was a death sentence at the time. The family suspected that he killed himself to spare them the agony and financial burden of his care. My grandfather was the eldest of three children and his mother sent him to be raised by her parents while she retained the younger two. My grandfather’s stories of life with his strict, disciplinarian grandparents were mostly unpleasant. It was not a fun life, but he learned the value of hard work and was taught strong values. He also had an uncle, a Methodist minister, who took him under his wing and planted seeds of faith in him. His brother and sister, on the other hand, were left under the care of a desperate woman who became a gold-digger, worked on the riverboats, went through a series of failed marriages. Her children’s lives would become equally broken and tragic.

My paternal great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands. He owned a hardware store in Rock Valley, Iowa and his eldest two sons were partners in the business. My grandfather and his sister were younger siblings who desperately wanted to be part of the family business but were shut out. Since the family business was not an option, my grandfather decided to go to college. He went into education and was a career educator.

As I look back, I can trace the events of my grandfather’s stories to my own life. Had my grandfather not have been farmed out to his grandparents and taught strict lessons of hard work, discipline, and spiritual values, my mother would not have been the person she was and those life lessons would not have been passed down. Had my grandfather not gone into education, I’m not sure how much education would have been valued in my own family. I’m not sure my siblings and I would have had the life journeys we’ve had or would have the careers we’ve each chosen. I even discovered, unexpectedly, that my love of theatre may have had its roots in my Grandpa Vander Well’s college years at Central College.

In today’s chapter, there’s a subtle shift in the storyline that is lost on most readers, and few see the generational impact that the events will have on the history of the world. Desperate for more food to ensure their survival, Israel tells his sons to go buy more grain in Egypt. But Joseph told them not to return without their youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah steps up to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. From this point in the story, Judah becomes the leader and spokesman for the brothers. Judah is fourth-born, but his elder brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been involved in sexual scandal and had instigated the bloody massacre of Shechem that brought disgrace to the family and threatened their survival.

Hundreds of years later, the twelve tribes would be settled in the Promised Land. The tribe of Judah would emerge as the leading tribe. It was from the tribe of Judah that King David would emerge along with the capital city of Jerusalem, the temple of Solomon, and the dynasty from which the Messiah would be born. When the nation eventually splits in bloody civil war, ten tribes would break away and reject the Davidic line of succession. Two tribes would remain allied in maintaining the Davidic line in the belief that the words of the prophets would be fulfilled and a Messiah would someday spring from it. Those two tribes were Judah and Benjamin, the very brother whom Judah swore to be responsible for in today’s chapter.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the decisions we make in our lives that will have a generational impact on our descendants. I can see the past and how it’s affected my own life. It’s harder to imagine how my own choices and decisions will affect my great-grandchildren and great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces. I am reminded why God continually reminds us to love our children, to teach them God’s ways, and not to exasperate them. And, why God tells children to honor their parents. For good or for ill, we are part of one another’s stories and the stories of generations who will come after. While I have no control over those who came before me nor do I control those who will come after me, I do have control of my own story and my own family relationships on this journey. I best consider what I do with those relationships wisely.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Both/And Family

Both/And Family (CaD Gen 42) Wayfarer

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6 (NIV)

There was a period of time in my twenties and early thirties when I did a deep dive into my family history. I investigated both my father’s and mother’s family lines. I talked to my parents, grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. I asked many questions about relatives I knew nothing about. I heard many fascinating stories, and I learned a great deal. I was led to the conclusion that family is messy. My family, like almost every family, always put our good foot forward for public perception. In both my paternal and maternal families going back several generations, I found plenty of skeletons hidden in the closets.

Divorce
Broken relationships and members refusing to speak to one another
Deceit
Suicide (more than one)
Depression
Alcoholics (more than one)
Illegitimate children
Children sold into servitude
Secret marriages
Sexual harassment
Attempted sexual assault
Public scandal
Lawsuits
Court hearings
Prison sentences…

I also found multiple examples of…

Deep love
Intense devotion
Genuine faith
Sacrificial generosity
Honorable character
Faithfulness to duty
Unquenchable hope
Inner strength

One of the lessons my family history adventure taught me is that family is not either/or “good” or “bad,” but rather it is both/and good things and bad things. Yes, I am a product of a loving family. Yes, my family has failings and dysfunctions like every other family system. I endeavor to do my best to be a healthy cog in my family system. I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in some ways. I must confess I’ve tragically failed in others.

I thought about these things as I read today’s chapter. The dramatic story of Joseph is drawing to its climax. Everything begins to “work together” for Joseph. Israel and his sons are starving in Caanan because of the severe famine that was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The same brothers who almost killed Joseph and sold him into slavery because Joseph told them of a dream in which they bowed down to him, now arrive in Egypt to buy food and they bow down to him. The dream is fulfilled just as Joseph described thirteen years earlier.

I thought it fascinating that Israel would not allow Benjamin to travel with the brothers. With Joseph presumed dead, Benjamin was the only son that Israel had left who was born of Rachel, his first love. It would seem that when Israel thought Joseph was dead, he replaced his “favorite” with the only other son of Rachel in the tribe. Joseph, longing to see Benjamin, uses his brother’s ignorance of his true identity to force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Israel balks. Having lost Joseph, he fears that the same will happen to Benjamin.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about the very human family drama of Israel and his many sons, including the lost son Joseph. Yes, it’s a tragic story fraught with flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. And, it’s also a beautiful story of redemption, salvation, and God weaving these flawed human beings into a larger story, the Great Story, of God’s redemption of all things.

This gives me hope for my own family story which, when I really dug in to look at it objectively, I found to have its own flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. Along my journey, I’ve discovered that God has redemptive purposes for me/us as well. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“I’m Over It!” (Or Not)

"I'm Over It!" (Or, Not) [CaD Gen 41] Wayfarer

Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
Genesis 41:51 (NIV)

I was directing a play many years ago. As the director, I asked my actors to do a study of their characters. I gave them specific questions to answer about their character’s life and background. Through my studies and acting experiences, I found this to be an invaluable tool in taking performance to a higher level. Few actors, especially in community theatre, actually followed through in doing these assignments and it’s not like I could make them do it. I watched those who did measurably improve their skills and create some memorable performances.

One of those who did was a lead actor who attacked the character work and wrote some great stuff in a journal. During the rehearsal process, I allowed me to read what had been written about the character. It was thoughtful, detailed, and really, really good. I noticed, however, that there was one thing that was glaringly missing in the character study: There was not a single mention of a father in the character’s life. When I mentioned this, it opened a doorway to a much deeper life conversation. Actors tend to bring all that we are, including our blind spots, to our characters. There was a reason a father was not mentioned in the character study. It was a touchy subject for my actor in real life.

Today’s chapter is a major turning point in Joseph’s story. His life, like Limony Snicket, has been a series of unfortunate events. What Joseph doesn’t know is that each circumstance has been leading him to the fulfillment of the dream he had as a child; The dream that started the chain of unfortunate events. Pharaoh has a dream that plagues him. His cupbearer remembers Joseph interpreting his dream and tells Pharaoh. Pharaoh has Joseph brought to him from prison. God, through Joseph, interprets the dream. Joseph is raised to the position of VP (Vice-Pharaoh) of Egypt.

What struck me in today’s chapter was the fact that Joseph had a son and names him “Mannaseh.” The name sounds like a derivative of the Hebrew word for “forgets,” and Joseph says, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that there are some things we never forget and we never really “get over them.” This is especially true of the soul wounds that come from fathers and family. When I read of Joseph saying that he has forgotten the soul wounds of being beaten, almost murdered, and sold into slavery by his own brothers, my own soul cynically cried, “Foul!” When I’ve asked friends with serious father wounds how they’ve dealt with it and they’ve told me, “It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m over it” it’s never true. In my experience, one never “gets over” a soul wound (especially father wounds). Rather, I have to “get through” it and do the hard work of understanding just how intimately the wound is a part of me. Ignoring it allows it to be a blind spot forever plaguing my journey. Walking through it is the opportunity for it to teach me wisdom.

Despite the joy and redemption that Joseph is feeling with his deliverance, his exalted position, and the birth of a son, Joseph has definitely not forgotten his troubles and his father’s household. God has him on a collision course to face those soul wounds head-on.

And, that’s another thing I’ve observed and experienced along my spiritual journey. Until I consciously walk “through” my soul wounds, address them, process them, and learn from them, they continue to bleed into my life again, and again, and again. I can say “I’m over it” as much as I want, but the honest subtext of that statement is “I’m ignoring it.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Circumstances I Don’t Control

Circumstances I Don't Control (CaD Gen 40) Wayfarer

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
Genesis 40:23 (NIV)

This Sunday, I am giving the final message in a series on the sage words of Ecclesiastes among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that the notion we have any control in this life is an illusion. In fact, the Sage has a Hebrew word for it: hevel (or hebel). It gets translated into English as “vanity” or “meaningless” but its meaning is really more like “smoke” or “vapor.” I can see it. It looks like I should be able to touch it, grab it, or contain it but I can’t.

The continued story of Joseph in today’s chapter is a prime example of life and circumstance being out of our control. Life is not turning out to look anything like he expected. He thought things were comfortable at home being his father’s favorite. Then his brothers sold him into slavery and told their father Joseph was dead. Joseph then became a successful house manager for a powerful Egyptian official, only to be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. In today’s chapter, Joseph successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who is reinstated to his position. Joseph asks the man to “remember him” and it appears that circumstances are finally in Joseph’s favor.

Alas, no…the restored cupbearer completely forgets Joseph. He continues to languish in the Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His circumstances are out of his own control.

As I look back on my own earthly journey, I have so many examples in my own life. A grandmother was run over and was killed by a distracted teen driver. Getting unexpectedly fired. The “perfect job” turned out to be a year of purgatory within a dysfunctionally chaotic system. My marriage fell apart. I was scandalized by wrongful accusations. Family members were diagnosed with cancer. Mom developed Alzheimer’s. And these are just the big items. There as countless small experiences that have affected my circumstances and my life; Circumstances that were unexpected, unforeseen, and completely out of my control.

Meditating on the reality of control being an illusion leads right to where the Sage ends up. It’s futile. It’s like trying to chase the wind or contain the morning fog. It’s all hevel.

But there’s another layer that I have to consider as a follower of Jesus, and this layer redeems the hevel. It’s a parallel reality that we are part of the Great Story, and the Author of Life is a sovereign storyteller.

Once again, Joseph is a prime example. Prior to his life being hijacked by circumstances out of his control, Joseph had a dream. That dream was a foreshadowing of the end of Joseph’s story. Joseph couldn’t see it in the moment. Every hevelish circumstance in Joseph’s experience is leading somewhere that’s known and has been foreshadowed. In the next chapters of the Great Story, God will lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. He chooses to appear to them each day as a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s hevel.

God is in the hevel. That’s good news within the out-of-control circumstances of my life.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling hevelish moments along my life journey that seemed out of control. Looking back from my present waypoint on Life’s road, I can see how God used each one to grow me up, teach me, hone me, and lead me to another waypoint a little further up the road and further in my own story. God has always been in the hevel.

I have to believe that Joseph was frustrated, angry, and depressed that the cupbearer forgot him rotting away in his cell. I imagine he felt the futility of his circumstances. He might have even whispered, “It’s all hevel.” What he doesn’t recognize is that he is part of a larger story. The cupbearer will remember him at just the right moment. The rest of the story has yet to be told.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Whispers

Whispers (CaD Gen 39) Wayfarer

From the time [Potiphar] put [Jospeh] in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.
Genesis 39:5 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, about 30 years ago, I became aware of the soul whispers. The whispers are subtle, yet powerful messages whispered into my soul from childhood. The whispers form, and then reinforce, deeply held beliefs about myself, others, and my place in the world. The whispers are typically incongruent with what God says about me. The whispers are typically unhealthy. As I progressed in my journey, I discovered that it is important for me to be aware of the whispers, to identify the messages that are being whispered, and to examine them in the light of God’s Message. I’ve discovered that this is not a one-and-done event, but a perpetual process on my earthly journey.

One of the things I’ve discovered on this chapter-a-day journey is that sometimes it’s God’s Message that reveals my whispers in the quiet. The lyrics of Psalm 119:130 say “the unfolding of your words give light.” Sometimes as I read each morning the “unfolding of God’s words” is like hitting a light switch in my soul, and suddenly I see things in myself that had been previously hidden. Things like the message of a soul whisper.

As I read today’s chapter, I became aware of a pattern. Joseph, the kid brother of Jacob’s sons, had been sold by his brothers into slavery. He ends up being purchased by an Egyptian official named Potiphar. Potiphar recognizes that the Lord’s favor is on Joseph, so he puts Joseph in charge. Joseph gets wrongly accused and ends up in prison, and the warden sees the same thing Potiphar did. The Lord was with Joseph and blessed him, so the warden put Joseph in charge within the prison.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this. Jacob’s uncle Laban repeatedly stated that he could see that the Lord blessed Jacob. He was blessed because of Jacob’s blessing. Abimelek said the same thing about Abraham. He saw God’s blessing on Abraham and wanted to make sure that he got in on the blessing and not on any kind of disfavor. Abimelek, Laban, Potiphar, and the prison warden hooked their wagons to the gravy train of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph’s blessings.

As I became aware of this, the light came on in my soul. There was the whisper staring me in plain sight. It said, “You are only blessed by your association with others God has truly blessed. God’s blessing isn’t yours. You’re simply eating off the gravy train.”

As soon as I saw it in the Light, I knew that it isn’t true. A passage from Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus immediately came to mind:

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Ephesians 1:3-6 (MSG)

At the same moment, I realized that this whisper has been with me for a very long time. That’s the way the whispers work. They keep reinforcing their unhealthy messages so quietly in my subconscious that I’m deaf to them amidst the din of everyday life.

You’re hopelessly flawed.”
“You’re unworthy.”
The blessings aren’t really yours.”

So, in the quiet of this morning, I find myself realizing that it’s one thing to read and know what the truth is, but it’s another thing to embrace it. God’s Message says that faith is “the evidence of what we do not see.” This morning I’m wondering how long the evidence of the whisper I did not see has hijacked the evidence of what God has been clearly telling me all along.

This is a faith journey. Progress requires this perpetual process of transferring faith in what I believe about myself to faith in the truth of who I am in the light of what Jesus has done for me.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Different Times, Same Journey

Different Times, Same Journey (CaD Gen 38) Wayfarer

As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law [Judah]. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

I have blogged often in my posts about my maternal great-grandmother, Daisy, who was the celebrated matriarch of my mother’s family. The untold story of Grandma Daisy is her complicated relationship with her husband, Will. As heralded as Daisy was for her faith, joy, strength, fortitude, Will was remembered by his family as a tragically broken man who, from birth, was trapped in circumstances that were not of his own making, and from which he would never truly escape.

One of the challenges for modern readers of Genesis is to understand the social customs and mores of the tribal Near Eastern Mesopotamian cultures in the time of 1900 B.C. There are aspects of humanity and human behavior in which “nothing is new under the sun.” At the same time, the matters of daily life, systems of family, marriage, commerce, religion, government, survival, and culture are largely foreign to a 21st-century reader.

Today’s chapter is a fascinating lesson in the roles of men and women with regard to marriage and widowhood. It was a true patriarchal system. A woman had no status but for her husband and/or sons. She could not own land or inherit an estate. Widows were in a particularly vulnerable position. Unless her husband’s family agreed to marry her to a relative and she produced male offspring (called a Levirate marriage), she could either return to her father’s household (if he would have her) or try and survive by prostitution or the generosity of others.

Once again, the recurring theme of deception crops up, now in the fourth generation from Abraham. In yesterday’s chapter, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father into thinking his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. In today’s chapter, Judah’s eldest two sons die, leaving him to care for his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to marry her to his third son once he was of age, and sends her back to her family as was the custom of that day. He didn’t keep his word, however, and married his youngest son off to another. Judah knew he was not keeping his pledge to Tamar in yet another deception.

Tamar, left in a vulnerable position with no recourse, shrewdly beats Judah at his own family’s game of deception. Eerily similar to Judah’s father’s deception of Isaac, Tamar disguises herself, pretends to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her and impregnate her. Having birthed a son by Judah, he is forced to bring Tamar and his son into the family or risk public humiliation.

Which, in the quiet this morning, brought me back to the story of Will and Daisy who, like Judah and Tamar, lived in a culture of intense social pressure. Their divorce left Daisy alone and scandalized with five children to raise on her own with whatever meager means she could scrounge in that day. She even graciously agreed to marry Will a second time as he attempted to redeem himself and pull himself out of his endless cycle of poor choices and unfortunate circumstances. His death was a sad metaphor for his life. He was run over in the street. Not surprisingly, no one in my family talked about Will. I only learned his story because my great aunt investigated and wrote a short biography of her father. I believe it was a daughter’s attempt to understand and reconcile with a father who brought so much pain into her life.

And thus, I return to the fact that humans of every time and place in history are human. In that, there is nothing new under the sun. In Judah and Tamar’s story, in Will and Daisy’s story, are two human beings navigating their own life journeys complete with the obstacles of personal failings, generational sin, relational struggles, and cultural obstacles. Sometimes we’re hampered by our own choices. Sometimes we’re stuck with circumstances that were not of our own making. Sometimes we struggle against the systems of culture, religion, community, and society that are lined up against us. It’s all part of our journeys and our stories. How I walk that journey will impact the legacy and the journeys of my physical and spiritual descendants.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Favoritism

Favoritism (CaD Gen 37) Wayfarer

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.
Genesis 37:3 (NIV)

Years ago I was giving a message and I pointed out that one of the recurring themes of the Great Story is the fact that God continually uses the youngest, the weakest, and the least to be His chosen vessel. We’ve already seen it in all three generations of Abraham’s family. We’ll see the theme again in the likes of David, Solomon, Samuel, Mary, and Jesus’ disciples, After the message, I was asked by a listener if I believed that God plays “favorites,” and that he believed that was exactly what I was saying. It was a question that required far more conversation than the few seconds we had to exchange words. It felt as if my words might have picked at a relational scab.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed many ways that favoritism wreaks havoc on family systems and the individuals within. Favoritism is not only insidious when it’s directly and blatantly practiced by a parent, but I’ve seen it be just as insidious when it is unjustly perceived and projected onto a parent by a child. The larger and more complex the family system (e.g. mix in step-parents and step-siblings), the greater the likelihood for favoritism, or perceived favoritism, germinate and take root.

Jacob (aka Israel) had a family system in which favoritism had already taken root and born fruit. It has been present in three generations of his family. Abraham and Sarah favored Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. I’ve observed that once favoritism is present in a family system, it easily passes down to subsequent generations.

We’re told directly in today’s chapter that Jacob favored Joseph because he was “born to him in old age,” but there’s more to it than that. Jacob loved Rachel and was deceived into marrying Leah as well. I believe that the fact Joseph was the first child born to Rachel added to the mix of Jacob’s favoritism cocktail.

The fascinating thing about it is, God is using Jacob’s favoritism for His own purposes. Joseph’s dreams are a foreshadowing of the very thing God is going to do through Joseph in order to ultimately save his father and brothers.

Does that mean that God plays favorites? My answer to that is no, not in the way we as humans perceive it and experience it. I believe that it’s easy to project onto our Heavenly Father the heart and soul wounds of favoritism we may have experienced in our own family systems. God continued the theme of using the youngest, weakest, and least throughout the Great Story in order to remind me of the truth that the Kingdom of God does not operate like the Kingdoms (and broken families) of this world, in which power, wealth, ability, popularity, influence, status, and fame are highly favored.

Again and again, God reminds me that His Kingdom works differently:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
Matthew 11:25

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:1-3

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But in fact God has placed the [members] in [God’s family], every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one [family member], where would the [family] be? As it is, there are many [family members], but one [family].

The [oldest] cannot say to the [youngest], “I don’t need you!” And the [youngest] cannot say to [another sibling], “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those [members of the family] that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the [members of the family] that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the [members of the family] that [have special needs] are treated with special [treatment], while our presentable [members of the family] need no special treatment. But God has put the [family] together, giving greater honor to the [family members] that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the [family], but that its [members] should have equal concern for each other.

A paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:18-26

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that I have a role to play in God’s Kingdom that is not better or worse than any other. My gifts and callings are an indispensable part of the whole in God’s Kingdom. If I consider them better or worse, more or less favorable than others, then I am mistaking human ways with God’s ways.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.