Tag Archives: Deception

Dysfunctional

Dysfunctional (CaD Gen 27) Wayfarer

Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.

Genesis 27:20 (NIV)

Death and funerals tend to bring out all of the fun in family dysfunction. I remember officiating one funeral in which siblings and their families stayed in opposite rooms in their parents’ home and I had to bounce back and forth like a ping-pong ball to make the service arrangements because they wouldn’t speak to one another or be in the same room. I’ve done multiple funerals in which it was doubtful that a child or children would even show up. I’ve witnessed the fallout from parental favoritism, parental disfavor, deception, hatred, mishandled inheritance, and the relational scars of unreconciled issues or arguments that are decades old.

Family systems are mysterious and complex. Parents, children, personalities, power, favor, honor, and inheritance can make for highly dysfunctional systemic cocktails.

So, today’s chapter isn’t all that surprising to me. Isaac has always favored his son Esau, the firstborn twin. Esau is an alpha male with all the unchecked emotions that often go with it. He’s a rugged outdoorsman and skilled hunter. Jacob is a mirror image of this. A mama’s boy, quiet, quick-minded, and shrewd. Esau has married two Hittite women who have upset the system and have become the bane of Rebekah’s existence. Perhaps this is part of her motivation for urging Jacob’s deceptive theft of his older brother’s position as the head of the clan. Perhaps she believes that Esau will be a foolish, temperamental leader who will make life miserable for everyone. Whatever the motivation, Jacob lives up to his name (which means deceiver). He pretends to be his brother, deceives his father, and receives the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. Jacob will succeed his father as head of the family and administrate his inheritance.

What struck me as I read the chapter this morning is that Jacob, when addressing his father, refers to God as “the Lord your God.” At this point in the story, Jacob doesn’t appear to have a personal relationship with the God of his grandfather and father. He’s at arm’s length, and perhaps this helps explain his willingness to deceive his own father and dishonor his own brother.

Along my journey, I found that those who have not actually read or digested the Great Story often have the notion that the “biblical heroes” were righteous, upstanding examples of godliness to the point of not being human. Nothing could be further from the truth. I offer Jacob as Exhibit A. He was flawed human being in a dysfunctional family system and his faith journey and life journey are a struggle, a wrestling match with God and others. Even as he progresses in his own personal journey, he will forced to deal with the fallout of his own dysfunctional family choices. Jacob is a work-in-progress.

In the quiet this morning, I take some solace in this. I have my own issues and dysfunctional blind spots. Even after forty years as a Jesus follower, I’m still a work-in-progress. So is everyone else. Again, if you want to apply the rules of Cancel Culture to me, then go ahead and close the browser and don’t look back. I’m just glad that God shows Himself to be One who mercifully wraps His grace around my human failures and redeems my tragic flaws in transforming me throughout my own story.

Last night Wendy read me a post by a word artist we love and support. Her words feel like they were a divine appointment this morning. Here’s a partial:

“You do not have to be who you have been
You can think differently, feel differently —
Don’t let anyone nail you to
a selfhood that no longer belongs to you.”

She goes on to offer a breathing prayer:

Inhale:
I am not who I once was.
Exhale:
I am known and forgiven.”

By Cole Arthur Riley. You can find her on Patreon and on Instagram @blackliturgies.

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

Grace and Cancel Culture

Grace and Cancel Culture (CaD Gen 20) Wayfarer

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.
Genesis 20:7 (NIV)

I have been fascinated to watch the hoopla over the past several days as the latest victim of cancel culture falls from public favor. When I was young, it was institutional churches and fundamentalist Christians who were bemoaned, and rightfully so, for being judgmental and ostracizing sinners. With cancel culture, I observe that the pendulum has swung to the opposite side of the social and political spectrum. Witch hunts comb people’s past with a fine-toothed comb to find any evidence of past impropriety based on today’s rigid social mores of woke culture.

Just yesterday, I happened upon a YouTube video of a man telling his story. When he was a young husband and father he flatlined during surgery for twenty minutes. He had never publicly shared the story of his near death experience until this video. His experience was variation on the themes of the stories of others I listened to who have experienced this. One of the common themes of those who’ve died and returned is the experience of having their life flash before their eyes, or to have it replayed.

The gentleman in this video was completely alone as this happened. He saw all of his life. There were moments that made him feel joy and nostalgia. Then there were the flawed moments, the poor choices, and tragic mistakes. “I was all alone,” he said describing the moment. “There was no reason to make excuses. No reason to deny it. I did those things and I had to own it.” Before crossing over, he was told that it wasn’t his time and he had other things he needed to do. His spirit returned to his body.

Today’s chapter is a reprise of circumstances we encountered earlier in Abraham’s journey. He enters foreign territory and fears for his life. Apparently, his wife Sarah was quite a catch even in old age. Abraham fears the local king will kill him and take Sarah and everything he owns. So he plays the “She’s my sister” card. The local king takes Sarah into his harem which could mess up the covenant promise God has now been making for eight chapters. God intervenes by way of a dream and tells the king to send Sarah back to Abraham, stating that Abraham is a prophet and God has plans for them. God then releases the King from any guilt and the King, in turn, showers Abraham with gifts out of fear for God.

As I contemplated this story, the first thing that struck me was that Abraham acts deceptively out of fear rather than trusting that God would honor His covenant and protect him and Sarah. This is the second time he’s done this. It’s an obvious blind spot that is disrespectful to his wife, unfaithful to God, and could fubar everything God has promised.

The second thing that struck me was God’s grace with everyone in the story. God graciously redeems the entire situation. Not one of the players in this deception are judged or punished. The fact is that God called a fallen human being to be His prophet. Abraham is a dude just like me; He’s given to flawed moments, poor choices, and tragic mistakes.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for two things.

First, I’m thankful that I’m a nobody and that I’m not on cancel culture’s radar. Scour my past and you’ll find plenty of reason to cancel me. I’ve been a work in progress from an early age and I’m still at it. Like the dead man in the video, there’s no denying it or excusing it. I own it.

Second, I’m thankful that God, unlike many of His self-righteous followers past and present, is gracious and forgiving. The overarching theme of the Great Story is that of redemption, not cancellation. If God operated like cancel culture there would be no hope for me.

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

Speaking the Truth; Hearing the Truth

Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, ‘The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’?
Jeremiah 37:18-19 (NIV)

A member of my company’s team recently delivered some research results to a client. The client had not been happy about their recent performance in the market and wanted to know why. So, they approached us and asked our team to conduct a focused survey of their customers.

The story revealed in the data of the survey results was definitely not what our client wanted to hear.

I told them not to shoot the messenger!” my teammate reported to me after meeting with the client’s executive team. “But, it is what it is, ” he continued. “The data doesn’t lie and we had to give them the truth.”

Ugh. I felt for my colleague. I’ve made countless presentations across my career and it’s never fun when the story the data has to tell is going to make you unpopular. You never know how the client is going to react. It’s always possible the client will question the data and blame our company for not knowing what we’re doing. I can recall multiple clients who, after I presented some hard truths our data revealed, quickly deep-sixed the report and never called us again. I’m grateful to say that we have many examples of clients who faced the truth, utilized the data to strategize a turn-around plan, and were eventually grateful for the wake-up call.

I’m also reminded this morning of an experience years ago when I sat on an organization’s board. The organization was not doing well and many of us were convinced that a change in leadership was going to be necessary to move the organization forward. At a regular board meeting the question was asked, “Do we have a leadership problem?”

[cue: crickets chirping]

I confess that I remained silent as did everyone else on the board. The organization’s leader was beloved and no one wanted to confront this person and experience the painful conversation that would transpire if we honestly answered the question. The organization continued to struggle and I’ve always regretted not speaking the truth when I had an opportunity to do so.

Hearing the truth and speaking the truth are both hard. Jeremiah knew this only too well.

Today’s chapter is set in the critical years while the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah had been predicting this with his prophesies for years even though no one wanted to hear it. During the siege, Jeremiah is arrested for being a traitor and languishes in a dungeon for a long time. Meanwhile, King Zedekiah surrounded himself with prophets who continued telling him what he wanted to hear.

As the situation grows more and more dire, King Zed realizes he needs to hear the truth. He calls Jeremiah from prison and Jeremiah tells him the truth, just as he had always done: “You’re going to be handed over to the King of Babylon.” Jeremiah then takes the opportunity to ask King Zed, “Why am I, the one prophet who tells you the truth, languishing in prison? Where are all the false prophets who tickled your ears with deception and told you only what you wanted to hear? Why aren’t they in the dungeon instead of me?

This morning I’m thinking about all of the layers of life in which I have opportunity to be truth-teller or ear-tickler. I’m thinking of all the places I can embrace truth or choose to ignore it. It happens in relationships, families, organizations, communities, companies, churches, and teams. It even happens with my own internal conversations with self. I can be a truth teller or an ear-tickler. I can be open to hearing the truth or shut my mind and spirit to things I don’t want accept.

In the quiet this morning I find myself choosing, once again, to commit myself to the hard realities of both telling and hearing the truth. I’ve learned along the journey that it may not be pleasant in the moment, but it makes for a more level path down the road.

Spiritual Scarcity

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift….”
1 Corinthians 1:7a (NIV)

A few weeks ago I was wondering exactly where my property line lay in relation to a few adjacent lots. There are metal property pins driven into the corner of each lot, but most of them have been buried over time. So, I put out a plea on Facebook for a metal detector as I figured that was what I lacked to find the pins, and a friend brought one over to me. In the process, however, another friend messaged me a link to an iPhone app. I never knew it, but my iPhone can act as a metal detector. Who knew. All along I had what I needed right in the palm of my hand.

You don’t have enough….”
What you really need is….”
If only you had….”
You’ll never, until you have….”

Along the journey through life I have come to realize that our economy and our culture is predicated on an innate sense of scarcity. A market is driven by supply and demand. If a company is building a supply of widgets that they want to sell to the masses, then they must somehow create a demand for it. The marketing and branding gurus go to work convincing us that we want that widget. We need that widget. Our lives are less fulfilled without it and life would be more comfortable, satisfying, and complete if we only had this widget.

Scarcity is the underlying belief that I am not enough and I don’t have enough. We are subtly fed this message day in and day out without us ever being aware of it. Along the way, I’ve come to the realization that it seeps out of mass media into my very soul. It affects the way I view God and my spiritual thought and belief system.

If only I was a gifted [fill in the blank]….”
God won’t ever be happy with me because I’m not….”
I would feel closer to God if only I had….

In the opening of his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth, Paul reminds them that they don’t lack any spiritual gift. Other teachers were trying to convince them that what they “really needed” was to be baptized by this particular teacher, or the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, or this, or that, and et cetera. Paul made it clear. You’ve got what you need. You just don’t realize it.

On this Monday morning when my soul is weary and I’m staring out at long week ahead, it is easy to feel a sense of lack. It seems that what I really need is scarce and I’m starting the week in a deficit of [fill in the blank]. It is good to be reminded that as a follower of Jesus I am blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3) God has spiritually provided all that I need. It’s time to realize it, and accept the realization.

 

 

Balancing Truth and Love

from Classblog via Flickr
from Classblog via Flickr

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” Genesis 37:9 (NLT)

In today’s chapter, the book of Genesis takes up the story of Joseph who was Jacob’s son by Rachel. One of the stark contrasts we immediately see in the young Joseph is that he is a plain spoken truth teller born into a family system steeped in deception. Joseph had a dream and shared the dream with his brothers despite the ill-will and retribution it generated from his brothers. In this way, Joseph foreshadows the prophets who would also share God’s message through their dreams and visions and earn the ill-will and retribution of the nation.

Followers of Jesus are commanded to “speak the truth in love,” but I have come to appreciate the courage required to faithfully do so. Speaking truth often requires us to say what others do not want to hear. Doing it “in love” requires us to bless and be gracious with those who will respond to truth the way Joseph’s brothers did.

I have always struggled to balance my desire to be an obedient truth-teller with my personality of being a people pleaser. So often I err too far to one extreme or the other. When I speak truth I often harden myself so as to build up the courage to do so and it comes out as callous and angry. When I try to speak in love I often soften myself to the point that I conceal truth and avoid any potential unpleasantness it would generate. Once again, I find myself trying to find the point of tension between the two extremes. I hope as I get older I’m learning to get it right once in a while.

The Erosion of Relationship

Jacob Talks with Laban (illustration from the ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps?” Genesis 31:27 (NLT)

The pattern of deception and manipulation we’ve seen within the family system of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continues to escalate between Jacob and his Uncle Laban. It finally breaks the relationship.  Jacob sneaks off in the middle of the night. When Laban asks the question above, the unspoken answer is obvious. Jacob doesn’t trust Laban because Laban has proven untrustworthy. Laban doesn’t trust Jacob because Jacob isn’t trustworthy. There can no longer be relationship between them because the foundation of relationship has been destroyed. There is no mutual trust on which to build life together.

Honesty and trust are critical to a healthy, growing relationship. Deception and passive aggressive manipulation will eventually make any kind of intimacy untenable.

Today, I’m reminded of my responsibility in the circles of relationship and influence around me. I cannot control others, but I must control my own actions and manage my end of relationships. That responsibility includes my being appropriately honest, transparent and worthy of another person’s trust. It also includes the responsibility to set boundaries between me and others when it is necessary to protect myself, my loved ones and others from relational harm.

 

The Chaos of Forcing God’s Hand

BERCHEM Nicolaes landscape With Jacob Rachel A...
BERCHEM Nicolaes landscape With Jacob Rachel And Leah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Then Jacob became furious with Rachel. “Am I God?” he asked. “He’s the one who has kept you from having children!”

Then Rachel told him, “Take my maid, Bilhah, and sleep with her. She will bear children for me, and through her I can have a family, too.” So Rachel gave her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife, and he slept with her. Bilhah became pregnant and presented him with a son. Genesis 30:1-4 (NLT)

There is so much happening in this chapter I felt chaotic reading it this morning. There are four discontent main characters, all part of the same dysfunctional family system, all trying to force God’s hand and make things happen on their own:

  • Rachel becomes jealous of Leah and parallel’s Jacob’s jealousy of Esau.
  • When Rachel, then Leah, can’t have children on their own they take matters into their own hands repeat the mistake of Jacob’s grandmother and have him sleep with their maid servants.
  • The sisters, catty and desperate to have more sons, grasp at superstition, eating mandrakes in hope it will make them pregnant
  • While the baby-making contest continues between Jacobs wives and concubines, Jacob and Laban continue the family tradition of deception in the ordering of the family business:
    • Laban deceptively takes the sheep he agreed to give Jacob and gives them to his sons instead
    • Jacob answers deception with deception, using superstition to try to make more of the spotted sheet Laban had agreed to give him.

I get the sense that all of this jealousy, deception, superstition, desperation, and generational family sin makes for a dramatic amount of crazy in their everyday lives. It feels more than a little out of control, and I think that’s one of the points that I’m taking away from today’s chapter. When we desperately seek to take God’s will into our own hands and make things happen by our own ways and means, the results are often disastrous.

The other thing that I must acknowledge in all of this is that God continued to work His own will and purpose in and through Jacob, Leah and Rachel despite their own sinful deception and foolishness (So, I guess there’s hope for me!). As I journey through God’s Message I’m continually reminded that God’s divine purposes in this world are often carried out by unlikely and arguably unworthy individuals. There’s something unsettling and seemingly unfair about it, but it reminds me that I am not God. I do know see the big picture nor is my butt big enough to occupy His judgement seat.

Tragic Stories Touch Secret Wounds

English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On...
English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On, watercolor by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 27

Isaac said to Esau, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” Genesis 27:37 (NLT)

As an actor, I find it interesting to read the theatrical lengths to which Rebekah and Jacob went to make Jacob convincingly play the part of Esau and deceive Isaac. As  I read today’s chapter, I also thought what a tragic story is revealed in these past few chapters.

  • How twin brothers could be so different
  • The conspiracy of (seemingly) heaven and earth to favor Jacob from birth
  • The parental favoritism that divides the parents and family
  • The deceptive stealing of birthright and blessing
  • The fulfillment of Jacob’s given name (which in Hebrew sounds like both “Heel” & “Deceiver”)

I couldn’t help, as I read, to think of other epic stories told on film such as Legends of the Fall and The Godfather which deal with similar themes of fathers and sons, of favoritism and blessing, and of tragedy and loss. I believe that there is something very compelling in these stories for us because they tap into very human realities from our very own family systems and experiences. These are things which families rarely speak about or even acknowledge, and  their suppression makes the truth and reality of them even more powerful when we read or see similar themes so artfully articulated in story. It’s like scratching at an old wound.

I walk away from some stories and chapters with more questions than answers. Today’s chapter is one of them. Why did God seem to honor the deception of Rebekah and Isaac? How could Isaac so passively allow these things to happen? How and why does God utilize human brokenness and sin to bring about His will?

It’s a good morning for a cup of coffee and a thoughtful conversation around such interesting questions.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 16

HDR @ the DMV
Image by stevelyon via Flickr

The right! The right! Pursue only what’s right! It’s the only way you can really live and possess the land that God, your God, is giving you. Deuteronomy 16:20 (MSG)

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day, and he related an experience from his day. Standing at the teller of the local office of the County Treasurer, he was registering a used car he’d just purchased. When asked how much he’d spent to purchase the vehicle he had a momentary mental struggle. If he simply gave an amount that was a few hundred, maybe a thousand, lower than what he actually paid, he would have to pay less tax to register the vehicle.

“Truth wins out,” he heard inside his head, inside his heart. And the struggle yet ensued. There were, I’m sure, all sorts of arguments for being dishonest. It’s not a great amount, no one would know, and who really cares if the government gets a few dollars less on a registration tax in the grand scheme of things. “Truth wins out,” his conscience whispered. Or, perhaps it was Holy Spirit.

He gave the true amount of the purchase, paid the proper amount for registration, and slept much better that night.

I thought of my friend when I read today’s chapter. Little white lies and small dishonesties are easy to get away with. We think very little about them, but perhaps we should heed the challenge in today’s chapter to actively pursue what is right. Little dishonesties have a tendency to grow in unexpected ways and require further deception. Doing what’s right in the little things clears the conscience and paves the way for doing right in much more substantial life matters.

Indeed, “truth wins out” in many ways.

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Chapter-a-Day Romans 3

 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. Romans 3:20a (NLT)

It’s been a tough year for my teams. Last January my favorite team, the Vikings tragically missed going to the Super Bowl (once again). Then the boys of summer let me down as the Cubbies fells far short of expectation and finished the season in disappointing fashion. Even the local boys, the I-Cubs, missed the post season when they lost the last game of their season. [sigh]

As a kid, I used to think that my behavior influenced whether my team won or lost. If I was a good kid and made God happy, then maybe God would let the Vikings win on Sunday. One little trip up on my part and a victory was in jeopardy. I was pretty sure three of the Vikings four Super Bowl losses were my fault.

Along the journey, I’ve come to recognize two great lies that trip people up:

  1. God could never forgive me for all the bad things I’ve done.
  2. If I do enough “good” to balance out all the “bad” I’ve done, perhaps I can tip the scales in my favor and God will accept me.

These lies burrow and root themselves deep within the soil of our hearts, but I realize now that the focus of both of these lies is me. I’m the center. My sin is so great. I am so awful. But if I can do better, then I can be “good enough.” My sin is so great that it affects the outcome of the football game for my favorite team, or whether I get that job, or whether that girl will go out with me, or if I win the lottery (notice the I, I, my, me).

The more entrenched in these self-centered lies, the harder it is to hear God’s good news:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26

Silly me. The Vikings winning or losing has nothing to do with me. Getting into heaven has nothing to do with me, either. Being right with God is not about me and what I’ve done. Being right with God has everything to do with Jesus and what He did for me. By placing my faith in what Jesus did for me, I’m made right with God.

As for being a fan of the Vikings and the Cubs, that takes a lot of faith, too.