Tag Archives: Grace

Justice Then and Now

Justice Then and Now (CaD Jos 20) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:1-3 (NIV)

Some of our most epic stories have ridiculously high body counts. I’ve had the joy of seeing many of Shakespeare’s plays produced on stage. His tragedies, in particular (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth) end with seemingly everyone in the play dead. The same with the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. The same is true in more modern epics like the Godfather trilogy in which warring families endlessly kill one another. Game of Thrones also found creative and nasty ways to rack up the body counts. Even the climactic final chapters of Harry Potter contained the death of some of my most beloved characters.

Throughout history, our epic stories are reflections of our humanity, complete with its deepest flaws and tragic ends. Ever since Abel’s blood cried out, murder, death, and vengeance have been a part of human tragedies.

In today’s chapter, God reminds Joshua of a rudimentary system of justice outlined in the law of Moses. Knowing that tragic deaths could often result in violent, systemic, and generational blood feuds between families, clans, and tribes, Cities of Refuge were designated. If a tragic death occurred unintentionally yet a person was accused of murder, the accused could flee to one of these cities of refuge. The town protected the accused from acts of vengeance until a trial could be held by the tribal assembly and a verdict rendered. It was rudimentary, but it provided a time-out so that hot tempers could cool off and vengeance could be stalled in order for justice to be carried out.

As a student of history, I have often read about the historical implications that the Law of Moses had on humanity. It’s the recognized seminal code of law on which our own system of justice is built. No human system of justice is perfect, just as no human system of government is perfect. But in the story of the Hebrews, I see God prescribing a huge step forward toward a more just society.

So what does this have to do with me here in my 21st-century life journey? First of all, I’m grateful to have very little need for a justice system thus far on my life journey. I am blessed to have lived what amounts to a relatively peaceful life. I take that for granted sometimes, and so I whisper a prayer of gratitude in the quiet this morning.

I also recognize as I meditate on the chapter that justice is more pervasive in the human experience than the weighty matters of manslaughter and capital murder. Justice is a part of every human relationship and interaction. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t ignore that He calls me to be just, generous, loving, and merciful in every relationship. Jesus taught that In God’s kingdom:

  • Cursing another person is as serious as murder.
  • Lust is as serious as adultery.
  • I shouldn’t worship God if I’ve got an interpersonal human conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • I am to forgive, as I have been forgiven, and then keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, as and when necessary.
  • When cursed by others, I am to return blessings.
  • When asked for a favor, I am to go above and beyond what was asked.
  • As far as I am able, I am to live at peace with every person in my circles of community and influence.

And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a top-of-mind list that came to me in the quiet.

And so I enter another day in the journey, endeavoring to be a person of love, mercy, generosity, and justice in a world that has always desperately needed it at every level.

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

A Different Way

A Different Way (CaD Jos 6) Wayfarer

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.
Joshua 6:25 (NIV)

Over the last year, I found myself subscribing to several accounts on social media that regularly publish posts and memes about what it was like growing up in the 70s and 80s. It’s brought back a lot of memories:

As much as these bring back fond memories, they also remind me of just how much life has significantly changed in just one generation. Just as I could never fully fathom what my grandparents’ lives were like living through two World Wars and the Great Depression, my grandchildren will never fully fathom life without access to more information in their hands than was available to me on the entire planet.

As technology, data, processing speed, and computer memory continue to advance at an ever increasing pace, I’ve observed what appears to be an increasing lack of empathy and/or appreciation for the past. What I witness is that Cancel Culture isn’t just about socially ostracizing people who don’t toe an ideological line, but I also see people dismissing the past as being as outdated and worthless as that second-generation iPod gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.

Today’s chapter introduces us to the brutal life that was daily human existence 3500 years ago and in the early chapters of the Great Story. The Hebrew conquest of Canaan is layered with meaning that contains implications and themes that foreshadow the larger themes of grace, judgment, and redemption that are present in the larger story. Yet, it is easy to dismiss for modern readers who are used to simply canceling anything that doesn’t comfortably fit in my 21st century, politically correct worldview.

War and conquest were the dominant way of life. City-States and regions were continually embroiled in surviving those armies, nations, and fledgling empires bent on growing their power. But what happened at Jericho is actually different in many regards. God makes it clear that it is He who is passing judgment on the people of Jericho, it is God who is out front making victory miraculously possible, and it is God who was gracious with Rahab and her family, who by faith, believed that the God was the one true God. The Hebrew people were not allowed to take spoil from the battle. Archaeological evidence at Jericho found entire jars full of grain that had been left which makes little sense in a world in which famine regularly wiped out entire people groups. There’s something different taking place. For forty years God has been doing something different with these Hebrew tribes than the world has ever seen.

And, if I can’t fully fathom what life was like for my grandparents in the Great Depression, then I certainly can’t fully fathom what life was like for those Hebrew tribes at Jericho. Personally, I don’t take that as a license to ignore and judge either the Hebrews or God, but rather as an invitation to be gracious in my ignorance while also wrapping my head and heart around the larger Story being told that I might continue to gain wisdom in my own journey and where this Great Story is leading.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t shake the fact that it is God who is driving the action, God who is leading the charge, God who is just beginning to reveal Himself to humanity by telling His people “I’m going to show you a different way of doing things.” Which is the same thing that Jesus did when He revealed that Messiah was not about earthly power and kingdoms, but about a suffering servant compelled by love to sacrificially lay down His life for others.

Which reminds me that on this day, even with my phone in my hand which has more computing power than the Apollo mission had sending men to the moon, and access to an infinite number of distractions of any kind I could possibly want, I believe that Jesus is still trying to get my attention, to hold my focus long enough to get through to me: “Tom, I’m trying to show you a different way of doing things. A different way than you see all the kingdoms and power structures of this world doing with them amidst all the technology and knowledge they have. Follow me.”

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

Bad Blood

Bad Blood (CaD Ob 1) Wayfarer

Jacob will be a fire
    and Joseph a flame;
Esau will be stubble,
    and they will set him on fire and destroy him.
There will be no survivors
    from Esau.”
The Lord has spoken.

Obadiah 1:18 (NIV)

Some of the more fascinating discoveries in the excavation of my family history have been the bad blood that exists between individuals and family units. In some cases, entire family groups have had little or no relationship with one another for generations and have no idea that the distance is rooted in bad blood from generations before.

I found bad blood in both my paternal and maternal families. I discovered bad blood rising from a host of reasons including, but not limited to, unwanted pregnancies, marriages, re-marriages, inheritance, family business, addiction, and deception. Most commonly, bad blood occurred between siblings, but bad blood between parents and children was also present.

Today’s chapter is the prophecy of Obadiah who wrote a short prophetic poem against the nation of Edom at the time Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire were marching on Jerusalem around 600 B.C. The Edomites, who had considered joining the local defense against the Babylonian Empire, ended up siding with Babylon.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the elder twin brother of Jacob. If you were on our chapter-a-day journey through Genesis last year, you might recall the bad blood between them. Bad blood arose between brothers because of the favoritism demonstrated by both parents. Dad favored Esau. Mom favored Jacob. This led to Jacob’s deceptive stealing of Esau’s blessing and inheritance then fleeing into exile for years. All of this took place around 2000 B.C.

I did the math this morning. The bad blood Obadiah is writing about in today’s chapter between the people of Israel and the people of Edom began with a conflict between brothers 1400 years before Obadiah picked up his papyrus and stylus.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to thinking about family. I know that a lot of people could give a rat’s rear-end about the past. I get it. I have always had a bent toward the past and a love of history. It was fascinating to learn that this is part of being an Enneagram Type Four. I have personally found it worthwhile in a couple of different respects.

First, I have gotten to correspond with and to know members of my family I would otherwise have never known. Their stories have added new layers of understanding of the family systems from which I spring. It helps me understand myself, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents and their stories in a greater context, along with a ton more grace. There’s so much in life we don’t control, including the family systems that produced us.

Second, is the old adage that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I have tried very hard along my life journey to avoid the traps that lead to the kind of bad blood which can affect individuals and family groups. I can’t help but recall Paul’s words to Jesus’ followers in Rome:  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Along my journey, I’ve discovered that living at peace requires me to care more about what matters than what doesn’t. That has meant valuing people over politics (or religion, or morality codes, etc.), choosing relationships over being right, and letting go of things of temporal value to perpetuate love that is priceless. This sometimes (often?) requires letting go of the past and choosing forgiveness so that future generations don’t systemically perpetuate bad blood they personally had nothing to do with simply because that bad blood was never dealt with and permanently infected the family system.

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

The Context

The Context (CaD Matt 22) Wayfarer

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Matthew 22:8-9 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to read with a mental microscope or magnifying glass to inspect every word, every verse, or every parable as if they exist as individual and/or exclusive works of divine wisdom. I’ve come to observe that there’s more to be gained by launching my mental drone to rise above the text and see the word, verse, and parable within the larger tapestry of the Great Story. Today’s chapter is a great example of this.

The entire chapter takes place at a very specific time and place. It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. He is in Jerusalem and spending His day at Herod’s Temple, the seat and center of Hebrew religious power and worship. There is an escalating conflict emerging between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. Public opinion is on Jesus’ side for the moment, and the religious leaders are working their fundamentalist political playbook. They keep sending different groups with questions in hope that Jesus will make a gaffe, say something stupid on the hot mic, or make a partisan comment which will offend His audience and give them political ammunition to publicly discredit Him. This is the same kind of political theater that plays out in press conferences and the media every single day.

They ask Jesus about paying taxes to Rome because it’s a hot-button issue. Most of Jesus’ audience hated the Romans, and they hated paying taxes. The religious leaders even make sure that Rome’s local political puppets, the Herodians, are there to witness the answer. They hoped Jesus’ answer would be treasonous enough to arrest Him.

A religious faction, the Sadducees, try a trick question on Jesus that was rooted in a hot-button theological debate about whether there was a resurrection or not. The motive was to trip Jesus up and make Him look like a fool. Jesus nailed the answer and discredited the questioners.

They tried another theological question, but Jesus nailed that one, too.

Then Jesus decided it was time for Him to ask the question. He asks about the popular term being used for the coming Messiah, the same one they were indignant about children applying to Jesus in yesterday’s chapter: Son of David. Jesus discredits the term (perhaps in response to their indignation the previous day?) based on David’s own lyrics.

This is a political tennis match with Jesus volleying back and forth with the religious leaders. And it’s in the context of this rising conflict that I must understand Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet. The guests invited to the feast who ignored the invitation are Jesus’ religious enemies. They’ve ignored the heart of God’s commandments to cling to their power, greed, and fundamentalism. The servants who get beat up and killed are the prophets. The King sending His army to destroy the murderers and raze the city is prophetic, as this is exactly what happened in AD 70 when the Romans razed Jerusalem and the Temple. The King’s decision to go to every corner and invite “anyone you can find” is equally prophetic. It is what happens in the book of Acts when the Jesus Movement breaks out of the shackles of Hebrew fundamentalism and embraces anyone, Jewish or not, who chooses to repent, believe, and follow.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking what this means for me today. My heart’s desire is to always follow Jesus, but I can look back on my journey and see ways in which I’ve been more like the religious leaders. I’ve been religious, but I confess that there’s hard evidence that my religion has at times been more about being right, condemning others, and holding appropriate political and doctrinal views instead of being about love, grace, and mercy. That makes me more like Jesus’ enemies.

Mea culpa.

Whenever personal faith intertwines with human institutions and systems, it’s hard for it not to get sucked into the same trap that the Hebrews fell into. And that’s as true for me as it is for anyone else.

So, for me, that’s the take-away. I want to be diligent in living out my “religion” in Jesus’ terms:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)

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

The Sticky Wicket

The Sticky Wicket (CaD Matt 19) Wayfarer

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Matthew 19:3 (NIV)

I married as a young man with every intention of never divorcing. I was blessed growing up that I didn’t experience it in my own family. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have feelings of shame and failure when it actually happened seventeen years later.

Divorce is a sticky wicket among many Christian persuasions. Among some more Fundamentalist branches divorce is leveraged as a major litmus test to distinguish the pure and the unpure, who is “in” and who is “out,” who is “holy” and who is not. When my first wife and I were amidst our divorce I received a handwritten letter of some 8-10 pages from a “friend” who felt it important to explain to me why I was going to hell in no uncertain terms and would be forever sealed with the scarlet letter “D” for the rest of my days. According to him, divorce was an unpardonable sin. There was no grace, no redemption, and no going back. What was really interesting about it, however, was that this friend’s wife had left him many years before that, divorced him, and got remarried though he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that they were, in fact, divorced. He continued to wear his wedding ring and live in denial.

Divorce brings out all sorts of emotions in all sorts of people.

In today’s chapter, the fundamentalist religious leaders approach Jesus with the motivation of testing Him. If you want to “test” someone, just ask the person to take a stand on a controversial issue knowing that you’ll make at least half your audience angry. Politicians and journalists do it all the time. It’s a tactic from a well-worn playbook.

The test for Jesus was the sticky wicket of divorce, though modern readers may not comprehend the full context of the matter in Jesus’ day. Among the Hebrew religious lawyers at that time, there were two schools of thought when interpreting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in which a man who “finds something displeasing” about his wife “because he finds something indecent about her” then he can write a certificate of divorce and send her from his house. One legal camp focused on the term “finds something displeasing” and contended that any man could divorce his wife for any displeasure no matter how small or trivial. He might simply divorce her for burning his steak. The other legal camp focused on the phrase “because he finds something indecent about her” and believed that divorce was confined to some kind of indecent sexual immorality.

In Jesus’ day, divorce was a much larger social issue. Women had no rights. Women had no legal standing. Women had virtually no means or opportunity to survive and provide for themselves. Thus, a widow or a divorced woman was placed in the precarious position of having very few options available to them. They could find another husband (good luck finding a husband with that scarlet “D” on your tunic), they could live off the charity of family or friends, or they could become sex workers. A man who dismissed his wife was not only placing her in an impossible position but was also adding to a larger social problem for which there were few good answers.

Jesus, of course, pointed back to the pattern of creation as God’s intent: one man and one woman who become one flesh for life. I find it intriguing that polygamy was not a heated religious issue given this fact and its prevalence throughout history.

In the quiet this morning, I guess you could say that I’m wrestling with my demons. Shame is a constant for me. Jesus certainly pointed to the ideal as God’s desire for us, though my experience is that the ideal is rarely seen or experienced on this life journey in any context. In this fallen world, divorce is a human reality as old as humanity itself. It will never be ideal. At the same time, my personal experience is that God was never absent during the breakdown of my marriage or during the time of my divorce. And, my experience through it all was ultimately that of God’s love, grace, restoration, redemption, and the germination of new life in multiple ways. Old things passed away, and new things began.

There are so many sins and mistakes that wreak havoc on lives, families, and, society. Divorce is one of them, but certainly not the only one. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my 40 years of following Jesus, it’s that the very heart of His entire mission was to take broken things and to redeem them, to make them new. Wendy and I have seen this and experienced it in countless ways, despite the pit to hell that my “friend” dug for me in his letter all those years ago. I can’t help but remember the words of Corrie ten Boom: “This is no pit so deep that God’s grace isn’t deeper still.”

Note: I will be taking a break next week while I’m out on a business trip and focusing on my client. Feel free to use the Chapter-a-Day Index to go back and read some old posts. You can also scroll back through old episodes on any of the podcast platforms. Have a great week!

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

The Debt

The Debt (CaD Matt 18) Wayfarer

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:35 (NIV)

He was a big man. He was not a person I would want angry with me, and he had a natural bent toward anger. As we chatted, he shared stories of just how hot his anger burned and the difficult situations he’d found himself in because of it. He’d been brought up with religion. In fact, there was a lot of religion. From the cradle, he’d been raised with rules, rituals, and regulations out the wazoo, but by his own admission, religion did nothing to curb his anger or modify the spiteful way he treated anyone who crossed him. And his rage led him to some nasty places. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, he found himself in the darkest, seething rage of his life. It was there he met Jesus.

This man came to mind this morning as I read the parable Jesus told His disciples in today’s chapter. If you didn’t read the chapter yourself, I encourage you to take 60 seconds and read it (Matthew 18:23-35). It’s a simple story of a servant who owes the king 10,000 bags of gold. When the king calls the loan, which will bankrupt the servant and ruin his life, the servant pleads for more time to pay it back. The king has compassion and forgives the entire debt. No sooner had this servant left the king’s presence that he runs into a fellow servant that owes him 100 silver coins from a wager they’d made on the Jerusalem Jackals game. The servant chokes his friend, demands payment, and has him tossed into debtor’s prison until he could pay the small sum.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve both experienced and observed that there are common circumstances in which individuals struggle to actually “forgive those who sin against us” as Jesus famously told us to pray.

I’m simply a religious person going through the ritual motions. This lesson can be applied to so many circumstances, but in this case, it has everything to do with my ability to forgive and withhold judgment. Being a member of a church, or adhering to the tenets of religious rules and rituals only modifies my public behavior. It does nothing to change my heart. I’ve only seen a heart and life transformed and changed when a person has experienced a relationship with Jesus. My religion will never transform my heart and life, but a heart and life transformed by Jesus will definitely transform my religion.

I have no idea how great a debt I owe. If the servant in Jesus’ parable had been ignorant of just how much he owed the king, his behavior toward the fellow servant would not seem like such huge hypocrisy. As humans, I’ve observed that we have a penchant for keeping score with our mental scales. We know we’ve done this bad thing so I’ll throw that on one side of the scales. But, the person who injured me has done this and that so I’ll throw them both on the other side. See that! They’re worse than me so they deserve my wrath! James 2:10 points out that God’s economy doesn’t work like ours. If I keep all the rules and trip up on just one, I stand condemned and guilty of all of it. From God’s perspective, keeping score is a fool’s errand. We’re kidding ourselves to think or believe that we’re “not that bad.”

I haven’t truly experienced the power of grace myself. In the parable, the servant had experienced grace at an unbelievable level. 10,000 bags of gold was an incalculable sum to Jesus’ listeners. It’s like Elon Musk’s net worth in today’s standard. As I just mentioned, in God’s economy we all spiritually owe 100 billion dollars. It’s the contrast between the sum the servant had been forgiven and the paltry pittance the servant was owed that powers the moral of the story. When I know and have experienced how great a debt I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, it transforms the way I perceive and respond to those who offend and injure me.

In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to my big, angry friend. After meeting Jesus amidst his dark, seething rage had shared with me how his life began to change. It transformed his religion, his relationships, and the entire direction of his life. He’s still prone to anger, and he’s still not someone I’d want to see angry, but I wasn’t really worried about it as I listened to his story. After meeting Jesus and experiencing true grace, the fuse on his anger began to grow increasingly longer. The explosions of anger were more tempered, and he began to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess when it occasionally went off.

The words to an old, old hymn have been resonating in me the past month or two:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure!
That He would send His only Son,
To make this wretch His treasure.

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

The Choice

The Choice (CaD Gen 50) Wayfarer

But Joseph said to [his brothers], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)

Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed hosting Godfather nights. We have a big Italian dinner with friends who have never seen the all-time classic movie, and we watch together over wine and cannoli. It’s so much fun.

[Spoiler Alert] In the final minutes of the film, the patriarch of the family dies, and his son, Michael, decides to make a move against all of the family’s enemies. This includes traitors within the family itself. As Michael stands in a Catholic church and becomes godfather to his sister’s baby at a baptism ceremony, the vengeance is mercilessly carried out. It all takes place as Michael is asked in the baptism ritual: “Do you renounce Satan?” and he responds, “I do renounce him.”

That scene came to mind this morning as I read the final chapter of Genesis. Jacob dies. He and his family are living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection. With the patriarch of the family dead, Joseph’s brothers realize that they are in a precarious position. Joseph has all the power of Pharaoh and Egypt at his beck and call. Should Joseph decide to “settle accounts” with his brothers for beating him with murderous intent and then selling him into slavery he could. All Joseph had to do was give the word and they would all be sleeping with the fishes.

The brothers send word to Joseph begging for his forgiveness. They bow down before him and offer to be his slaves.

Joseph’s response is classic:

“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph is foreshadowing the song of Moses after the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, along with the instruction in Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Joseph makes a willing decision to allow God’s intentions to overshadow the ill-intent of his brothers. Once again, his thoughts and actions mirror the behavioral instructions given to Jesus’ followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… 1 Peter 1:6-7

“…to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s response foreshadows two important spiritual realities.

First, he understands that all that has happened to him has resulted in saving the lives of his family. When God leads the tribes out of slavery in Egypt, He will say to them: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut 30:19) God is the God of Life. Joseph chooses not to go the Michael Corleone route down the path of death and vengeance. Joseph chooses life for his brothers.

Second, the promise given to Abraham was that through his descendants “all nations of the earth will be blessed.” Through Joseph’s trials, he was placed in a position to give life, not only to the Egyptians and his family but also to the other nations who came to Egypt to buy food in the famine. Had it not been for Joseph’s many trials, so many people from so many nations and peoples would have perished. Instead, they lived and were blessed through Abraham’s descendant.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself searching my heart to see if the seeds of vengeance are present. Stories like Joseph and The Godfather are so epic, yet the principles involved are intensely personal. Who has caused me harm? Who has made my life miserable? Who has wronged me, slandered me, or thrown me under the bus?

What seeds are taking root in my heart?

The seeds of resentment, hatred, and vengeance?

The seeds of grace, mercy, and forgiveness?

I’m reminded that the fruit of the former leads to death, while the fruit of the latter leads to life.

Spare the gun. Share the cannoli.

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.

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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.

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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.

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