Tag Archives: Great Story

Prescience

“When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near…”
1 Kings 8:46 (NIV)

Prescience noun (Prē-sh[ē]en[t]s): foreknowledge of events
a. Divine omniscience
b. Human anticipation of the course of events

A few years ago I was gifted the book The Fourth Turning. It was written in 1997. In it, the authors William Strauss and Neil Howe document what they suggest to be a generational pattern in history. In general, they submit that human generations have a “seasonal” pattern and historical human events follow that seasonal pattern just as things die each winter and spring back to life in the spring. Writing over twenty years ago, and based on the generational pattern they’d identified, they correctly predicted that around the year 2020 there would be a catastrophic, global event. They even suggested a pandemic fit the bill as a potential catastrophe. Fascinating.

Their book was eerily prescient.

In today’s chapter, King Solomon calls the entire nation and all the leaders of the twelve tribes to dedicate the Temple he’d built in Jerusalem. On his knees before the altar, Solomon prays a rather long prayer of dedication. In the midst of that prayer, he prays for a future generation of his people who sin against God and are taken captive into the land of their enemies.

It was a prescient utterance.

Approximately 400 years after the events of today’s chapter, Solomon’s people will be warned again and again by the prophets to turn their hearts back to God. When they refuse, the city of Jerusalem and the very Temple Solomon is dedicating will be destroyed by the Babylonians. Solomon’s people will be taken captive and carried off into exile. Next to the Exodus out of Egypt, it is the defining event of the Hebrew people. The entire story is foreshadowed in detail within Solomon’s prayer.

Another 400 years after the final exiles return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, Jesus and His disciples find themselves leaving the Temple just days before Jesus would be crucified. Jesus tells His followers that every stone of the Temple would be thrown down and destroyed. In 70 A.D., just 40 years (or one generation) after He made this statement, the Romans did exactly that.

Jesus’ statement was prescient.

Along my spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus, I have come to believe what I once heard U2’s Bono utter in an interview: “I think things are already written.” He belongs to a long line of people who made the same observation using different words. Looking back on my own life journey, I see certain events and relationships that I have no doubt were meant to be. Even if I didn’t have the prescience to see them on the road ahead of me, it is obviously clear in 20-20 hindsight.

As a person of faith, this gives me both comfort and hope as I enter each day, each week on this life journey. I am uncertain of what this day holds. I am uncertain what this week holds. I am, however, certain of who holds both this day and this week. Things are already written. There is a Great Story being told by the Author of Life. My role is to surrender, to follow, and to keep pressing on.

Lace ’em up.

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

Change

Change (CaD 1 Sam 7) Wayfarer

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.
1 Samuel 7:15 (NIV)

What is the most acute example of change that you have experienced along your earthly journey? That’s the question that came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter.

I thought of the time the place where I worked went through a transition of leadership that was tremendously difficult for everyone involved. It personally rattled me enough that I started looking for another job.

Then there was the experience of moving to a small, rural town (just over 300 people) after growing up in the city of Des Moines and going to college in the Chicago area. There were so many things that I had to learn about the culture and realities of small-town life. It was a completely different paradigm.

Going through a divorce brought both radical changes and unique challenges in virtually every area of life.

The changes I have experienced in daily life because of rapidly advancing technology and the internet are so great that it’s hard to believe.

Then there are the changes to our world because of a pandemic and a global shutdown that we’re still grappling with, and we will continue to realize its effects for some time.

There are days when I feel as if the world has turned upside-down in my lifetime.

Change is a challenge. I’ve observed it bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve had to learn how it affects me. I’ve grown to better understand how I handle it both positively and negatively. I’ve had to learn discernment between that which is ever-changing and those things which never change. I have had to gain wisdom to know the difference.

The book of 1 Samuel is about a massive change in the history of the Hebrews. For 300-400 years the Hebrews have lived and survived in a loosely structured tribal system with occasional national leaders, called Judges, who typically rose to power in times of war or crisis and who were recognized for their leadership through the rest of their lifetime.

But the times were changing.

It was clear to the Hebrew tribes that other city-states with the centralized power of a monarchy, a king, were able to both secure their kingdoms and increase their power by conquest. The tribal system was becoming untenable. They needed to change.

Samuel is the lynchpin of this change. He was the last of the Judges. He will consecrate the nation of Israel’s first two kings and continue to be the nation’s spiritual leader in the background. He also becomes the first of the prophets who will become key figures on both the spiritual and political landscapes of the kingdom for the next 600 years. Samuel is the agent of change.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel explains how Samuel rose to become the last Judge, leading the Hebrews in holding back the advancing Philistines and providing strong national leadership for the rest of his life. The author is setting the reader up for this massive change that is about to take place.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself coming back to the question of change in my own life and times. Having just completed this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Revelations, it’s clear to me that things will continue to change until the Great Story’s conclusion. As a follower of Jesus, I should expect it. And, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I am called by Jesus to press on in this earthly journey with the dogged determination to live each day with the three things that will remain throughout this Great Story and into the next: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these being love.

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

The End is the Beginning

The End is the Beginning (CaD Rev 22) Wayfarer

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:1-2a (NIV)

Three times a week I get a phone call from Storii.com. The robo-lady asks me a random question and then gives me ten minutes to answer. The recordings are then stored on my personal Storii page where family and friends who have their own Storii account can listen. It’s a brilliant idea. I wish I had recordings of my grandparents and great-grandparents to hear their own personal stories in their own voices. How I would love to hear those voices again.

One of the questions that Storii asked me a few weeks ago was the time in my life that I felt most alive. As I have found to be the case with many of Storii’s questions, I had multiple answers. I shared some of them on the recording.

One of the periods I felt most alive is not deemed acceptable to some. It was a period of time after my divorce. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I consider the failure of my first marriage and all my mistakes that personally contributed to its demise to be the biggest failure of my life (thus far that is, technically I have time and opportunity to top it). I found divorce to be a terrible, death-like experience complete with those who chose to bury their relationships with me.

What I discovered in profound ways after the divorce was the truth of Corrie Ten Boom’s words: “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” Out of the ashes of my marital failure, seeds of new life began to germinate.

But that’s what God does. I wrote it yesterday: Death-to-Life is the meta-theme of the Great Story. I don’t follow the God of death. I follow the God of resurrection, redemption, forgiveness, grace, and love.

Today’s chapter is the end of the Great Story. It’s the last chapter in the 39 book volume, and guess where it ends? It ends back at the beginning. John’s vision reveals that the city he began to describe in yesterday’s chapter contains “the river of life” just like the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:10), and on either side of the river stands the Tree of Life just like the Garden of Eden. There is no more curse of sin just like in the Garden of Eden.

The end is the beginning.

Death-to-Life.

The Pheonix rises.

“Ashes-to-ashes” becomes “ashes-to-Life.”

To paraphrase Corrie: “There ain’t no grave so deep…”

We’ve reached the end. Tomorrow, I begin again.

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

Death-to-Life

Death-to-Life (CaD Rev 21) Wayfarer

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelations 21:5 (NIV)

Yesterday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers I witnessed three teenagers and an adult being baptized. These baptisms were by immersion in which the four publically professing their faith stepped into a small pool of water. They were plunged into the water and brought back up out of it. It is a metaphor. The Greek word baptizo means to “plunge forcefully.”

Buried with Christ in the likeness of His death.
Raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection.
Sin washed away.
A new creation.
A new start.
A new life.

Life and death. Resurrection. Death-to-Life.

It is the meta-theme of the Great Story. Metaphors are layered with meaning, and God layered this theme in creation itself as every year we experience the death of winter and experience resurrection and new life in the spring. It is revealed in Jesus’ story: born in the darkness of exile, dying as darkness covers the land, and raised to new life at the dawn of a new day, the first day of a new week.

God revealed it to His people at the beginning of the story.

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… Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)

It is revealed spiritually in the life of every one who follow Jesus.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Cor 5:17 (NASB)

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5 (NIV)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. 1 John 3:14 (NIV)

The end of the Great Story is a new beginning. John’s vision reveals that earth and heaven as we know them “pass away” and a new heaven and new earth are created. I’m always surprised that I rarely hear these final chapters of the Great Story discussed, even among believers, given that it is an epic grand finale that so perfectly captures the grand theme of the Great Story itself.

Today’s chapter describes the vision revealed to John of an eternal city, a New Jerusalem, in which God and His people dwell. The city described is not novel. In fact, it’s an epic culmination of what God revealed from the beginning. The City is square like the camp prescribed through Moses for the Hebrews as they made their way to the promised land. The City is a giant cube, just like the “Most Holy Place” in the tabernacle and temple. The old “Most Holy Place” was an exclusive place for God’s holy presence, and only the High Priest entering once a year. This new “Most Holy Place” is for God and His people to dwell together. No sun or moon, because the Light of God’s glory illuminates the city in perpetuity. No more darkness, or crying, or pain. The old has passed away, the new has come.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking of the baptisms I witnessed yesterday. Parents, family, loved ones gathered as witnesses and even participating in the ritual. An individual’s choice to make public profession of his/her personal faith. An outward sign of an internal spiritual reality. Old things have passed away, new life has begun.

It is the meta-theme of the Great Story.

It is where I’m headed, this wayfaring stranger. Today, each day of this earthly sojourn I’m traveling through this world of woe. One day I will cross over to a place where “everything is made new.”

But there’s no sickness, no toil or danger
In that great City to which I go
.

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

Not of this World

Not of this World (CaD Rev 12) Wayfarer

“Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
    because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 (NIV)

Several years ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I talked about how the writers of the James Bond film, Skyfall, subtly tapped into themes of the Great Story in order to make Bond into a Christ-like figure (you can watch/listen here). I shared that morning, as I have many times in these chapter-a-day posts, that all good stories are reflections of the Great Story.

That came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter. The images of John’s vision like those in today’s chapter sound like some kind of bad acid trip to most modern readers, but to learned Hebrews and Gentiles of John’s day, they echo themes and images from familiar mythologies. Both the Greeks and Egyptians had myths of dragons or serpents chasing mothers to kill their young.

Once again this morning, I set aside the minute details in order to consider the larger picture being presented in Revelation and in today’s chapter. The Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately a story of good and evil on a grand spiritual scale. I have observed along my spiritual journey that as an earthbound human who views reality through my brain and five physical senses, it is difficult to comprehend, let alone understand, what Jesus taught: that there is a spiritual reality that is not only “not of this world” but also more “real” than this world. I find it interesting that those who have had neath-death experiences in which they experienced heaven commonly relate two things: First, they didn’t want to come back. Second, they don’t have the vocabulary to express how amazing and how “real” it was. Having been to heaven, they realize how our earthly “reality” is but a shadow world in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.

Today’s chapter has two main characters. A woman “clothed” with the sun and moon and twelve stars on her head. Hebrew mythology and prophecy often referred to Israel as a “mother.” Joseph’s dream was of the sun, moon, and eleven stars (his brothers, the tribes of Israel) bowing down to him. The second main character is the dragon, which is also a recurring image in the prophets and the psalms, and the text tells us that it represents Satan.

The overarching theme of the entire Great Story is established in Genesis 3. Satan temps Adam and Eve. They are expelled from the Garden, cursed to an earthly life, and to suffer death. God establishes enmity between Satan and the woman, especially her offspring whom Satan will attack. God prophesies that Satan will bruise the heel of woman’s offspring, but He will crush Satan’s head.

Today’s chapter is a re-telling of this great spiritual conflict that lies at the heart of the entire Great Story. Once again, the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt is a microcosm of this grand spiritual conflict. The Dragon pursues the Woman to the wilderness (like the Egyptians chasing after the Hebrews). The Dragon attempts to stop the woman with water (like the Egyptians trying to pin the Hebrews at the Red Sea). The earth swallows up the waters (like the Red Sea swallowing up the Egyptian army).

In the grand spiritual conflict, Satan has always been seen as the ultimate heavenly accuser and prosecutor (cf. Job 1-2). In today’s chapter, as the end of the Great Story draws near, there is a spiritual battle in heaven and Satan is thrown down to earth with his hoard of fallen angels. Furious, Satan goes after “the rest of her offspring” which would, presumably, be the people of God left on the earth. This is, again, the overarching theme of John’s Revelation; The great spiritual conflict of heaven is coming to a climactic head on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I come back to the familiar themes of the Great Story and all the good stories that echo them. Good and evil, the threat of death and the desire for immortality, the grand struggle, the threat and fear of a dark ending before the grand moment of eucatastrophe. There are many who revere Jesus and His teaching, claiming to respect His teaching as a guide for living on this earthly journey. As a disciple of Jesus, I find that His teaching for living and relating to others on this earth was ultimately not about this earth, but about His kingdom that He said is “not of this world.” John’s visions are glimpses of it, just as Jesus referenced it on His way to the cross:

A large number of people followed [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:27-31 (NIV)

And so, I proceed on this another day of an earthly journey, believing not just that Jesus offered a helpful guide for behavior in this temporal, earthly existence, but that He came as part of a Great Story, pointing me to a Kingdom that is more real and beyond description with the limitations of human vocabulary. In fact, it might seem like an acid trip to my human understanding (based on friends who’ve told me about their acid trips). I choose to believe that my story is a part of that Story in ways that equally lie beyond my human comprehension.

Note: I’m taking tomorrow and July 4th off. See you back here on Tuesday of next week.

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

New Layers of Perception

New Layers of Perception (CaD Heb 1) Wayfarer

…in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:2 (NIV)

I woke this morning remembering that it was time to choose which book in the Great Story to trek through on this chapter-a-day journey. There has never been much rhyme or reason to where the journey goes next. At this point, I believe every book has been blogged through at least twice with many having been revisited four or five times.

So why keep going?

When Jesus was tempted by the Prince of this World, He compared the Great Story to spiritual bread. It is basic nutrients. It is sustenance. It is a foundational, life-giving staple. When Moses commissions Joshua to be his successor as leader of the Hebrew people, he tells Joshua, “Always keep this book of the Law [the only written pieces of the Great Story at that time] on your lips; meditate on it day and night, and be careful to do everything written in it.”

That was the first verse I ever memorized. It launched my perpetual reading, meditation, and study, and it has never gotten old. In fact, it only gets deeper and more fascinating for me. Why?

First, because every time I trek through a book again I am at a different place on the journey. My perspective from this waypoint in the journey changes what I see, hear, and receive in spiritual nutrients and sustenance. It’s like going back to a favorite restaurant and having your favorite meal off the menu after not having tasted and experienced it in years. It is the same meal, but you experience it differently.

Second, with every step of my life journey, I acquire new information, inputs, and experiences which lead to greater insight into the stories, episodes, lyrics, and poems as well as the Great Story as a whole. Metaphor is layered with meaning, and the more experiences I have in life the more I see layered in the Message, and the more connections I make the text, both to other pieces of the Great Story and to other pieces of my life.

Third, I have found it to be exactly what Jesus said it was: foundational, life-giving, spiritual staple. It centers me at the beginning of the day. It informs my thoughts and meditations for the day. It reminds me how to think, speak, act, relate, and live this day. It often gives me an encouragement to inspire, a promise on which to cling, or an affirmation to comfort.

And so, a quick perusal of the latest chapter-a-day treks by book revealed to me only a couple of books missing from the list referred to as New Testament books. The first one I noticed missing was Hebrews. So, here we go…

Since the last time I’ve made the chapter-a-day trek through Hebrews, my dear friend sent me a personal essay about Pierre de Chardin that has greatly inspired me to learn more about this 20th century Jesuit priest, mystic, and scientist. His writings were banned, his teaching was censored, and he was silenced by the institutional Catholic church. History teaches me that this is always a credible sign that he was on to something true. In particular, Chardin’s thinking around “the Omega point” had a huge influence on both the worlds of science and art in the 20th century. In short, “the Omega point” theorizes that everything in the universe is connected, and just as the entire universe sprang from the explosion of a tiny point of matter (I guess that’s the Alpha point), so it will eventually collapse and return to a tiny point of matter: the Omega point.

As I launched into the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews this morning I only had to get to the second verse before I ran into something I’ve never seen in my reading of this text before.

“...in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus] whom he appointed heir of all things...

The heir receives the inheritance. If Jesus is the heir of all things then all things eventually return to Him. He is the “Omega Point.”

and through whom also he made the universe.

Jesus was also the “Alpha Point.” And, the author of Hebrews goes on to state in the next verse, Jesus is “sustains all things.” In this letter to the followers of Jesus in Colossae, Paul states that in Jesus “all things hold together.” Therefore, I am reminded this morning that Jesus is the “Alpha Point” from which all things spring, the “Omega Point” to which all things return, and also what science ironically refers to as “dark matter” which holds everything together.

So, what does this have to do with my day today?

My meditation on Jesus being the “heir of all things” leads me to conclude that nothing I think I own or possess is truly mine. I will die and it will be passed onto others (who will also die) and/or it will erode, decay, or be destroyed to eventually flow back to the Omega Point. Makes sense, then why Jesus would tell His followers not to worry about, or invest in, the things of this world. He sees the bigger picture. He’s looking in context of the Great Story in which all of creation Jesus “will roll up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.” And, if Jesus is the sustainer holding all of creation together, then how ever-present and accessible He is. He’s holding me together in ways I never consider.

In the quiet this morning, I head into my day considering everything in my temporal life in the context of a much larger reality. This is what I find Jesus constantly teaching His followers: “Break out of the crimped tunnel vision of this human existence. Learn to see as I see! Step back and see in the context of Alpha and Omega, inter-connectedness and omnipresent sustaining. Then you will see each day, each moment, each interaction with hope and possibility!”

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

Three Stories, Three Questions

Three Stories, Three Questions (CaD Matt 25) Wayfarer

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

I’ve been experimenting this year with an organizational system based on the way monks operate. It asks me to prepare, act, and reflect on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. I admit that I’m still trying to get into the swing of it, but the biggest takeaway so far has been the addition of a conscious and deliberate process of reflecting.

At the end of the day: How did today go? Did I accomplish what I set out to do? What was the highlight? For what am I grateful? How can I do better tomorow?

At the end of the week: How did this week go? Did I accomplish what I set out to do? What were the highlights? For what am I grateful? How can I do better next week?

At the end of the month…

At the end of the year…

What it’s teaching me is that reflection is a more powerful tool than I’ve ever understood. I’ve too often moved forward to the next day and thrown yesterday onto the scrap heap of days gone by without mining that day’s (or week’s, or month’s, or year’s) experience in a way that can inform my tomorrow.

This idea of reflection came to mind as I pondered today’s chapter, which is a continuation of the previous chapter, in which Jesus’ disciples asked Him about the end times and final chapters of the Great Story. Jesus said that He would someday return, but that the day and hour of His return were unknown. Nevertheless, there are three parables Jesus tells in succession to inform me regarding how I, as His follower, should conduct myself in light of His unknown yet imminent return.

The first parable is about virgins at a wedding awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom. In Jesus’ time, all the eligible single girls would carry lamps and accompany the bridegroom and his bride at night to the wedding feast. The lamps illuminated the eligible single women for all the single men who were looking for wives. In Jesus’ parable, the Bridegroom is running late and half the virgins were unprepared, missing the opportunity. Jesus is telling me to always be mindful and prepared for His arrival.

In the second parable, Jesus tells of a man who went on a long journey. He leaves money with three servants. Two of them invest the money and grow the investment, the third does not. Jesus is telling me to invest the gifts and resources I’ve been given to advance God’s Kingdom on earth until my number’s up or He returns.

In the third parable, Jesus envisions Judgement Day. Those He welcomes into eternity are those who took care of Him by caring for the poor, the hungry, the sick, prisoners, and the needy. Jesus is telling me where to focus my investment of gifts and resources.

Every time my chapter-a-day journey brings me back to today’s chapter, it’s always a gut-check for me. It prompts introspection and self-evaluation. As a follower, Jesus asks me to consider three questions:

Today, am I living, speaking, thinking, and acting with an eternal perspective?

Today, am I investing my time, energy, gifts, and finances in the things of God?

Today, are the objects of my investment the poor, needy, sick, and/or outcast?

Good questions on which to reflect in the quiet this morning as I prepare to launch into another work week.

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

“Effed Up Family”

"Effed Up Family" (CaD Gen 48) Wayfarer

Joseph said to [Israel], “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Genesis 48:18-19 (NIV)

Wendy and I became hooked on Yellowstone in its first season. It’s now in its fourth season. Sunday night has become a weekly watch party with our friends. Wendy and I have often described Yellowstone to family and friends as “The Godfather meets modern day Montana.”

Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the widowed patriarch of a family who has owned a million-acre ranch of the most beautiful and desirable land in Montana for over a century. Everyone wants the land and they will do literally anything to wrench it from Dutton’s control. Dutton will do literally anything to prevent that from happening. Let’s just say, if he asks one of the ranch hands to drive you “to the train station” you’ve just been given a one-way ticket to the end-of-the-line. Dutton finds himself forced to manipulate and coerce his own adult children to “protect” the family and the ranch. Each of his children is, respectfully and understandably, his or her own form of messed up.

Our daughter and her husband watch Yellowstone every week along with another show about a wealthy, dysfunctional family empire. They’ve dubbed the evening “Effed up family night.”

I couldn’t help but think of it as I read today’s chapter. The book of Genesis is known by many as simply the story of creation and Noah’s ark. The truth is that about 80 percent of Genesis is the story of one man, Abraham, being given a promise that his descendants will become a great nation. It then tells how Abraham builds a wealthy nomadic herding operation and has a son, who expands the family and the family business. By the third generation, they grow to become a wealthy clan that other peoples fear as they wander the land. In the fourth generation, the clan continues to grow into the making of twelve tribes, who will become a people before the book of Exodus in which God makes them into a nation.

I’ve often said that all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. Families growing into tribes, people, and empires is a common theme in some of the epic stories we love, as is the struggle of flawed human family systems to protect and perpetuate the family legacy. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the seminal source material.

In today’s chapter, two recurring themes are present. First is the ancient patriarch on his death bed blessing his children. It’s the conduit through which power and privilege are passed down to the subsequent generation. The second recurring theme is the bucking of the embedded cultural tradition of the day in which the firstborn son inherits everything. Israel, the second-born son of Isaac who stole the birthright and deceived his father into receiving the blessing, is now the dying Patriarch. His first move is to call Joseph to him. Joseph was at one time his youngest son and his favorite. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the younger sister, whom Israel loved. Two important things happen.

First, Israel raises Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, to the status of sons and heirs of their grandfather. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, will become the head of their own tribes next to their uncles. In doing this, Joseph’s family is receiving a double-portion of Israel’s overall blessing.

Second, Israel willfully crosses his arms when blessing Manasseh and Ephraim. He places his right hand (the hand of favor) on the younger son’s head. He places his left hand (often the metaphor of disfavor or secondary favor in that culture) on the firstborn son’s head. Joseph is ticked-off at this and tries to reverse it. The tradition of honoring the firstborn son runs deep in family systems to this day. Israel refuses. Like Isaac, like Jacob/Israel, and like Joseph himself, the younger brother Ephraim will be the greater. Hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel splits into two after Solomon’s reign, the southern kingdom will be called Judah (the fourth-born son who emerges as the leader of the tribes) and the northern kingdom will be often referred to as Ephraim. Prophecy fulfilled.

Along my earthly journey, I’ve observed that one’s place and position within the family system can often have a tremendous impact on how one sees and perceives themselves, their self-worth, and their place in this world. One of the things that Jesus taught, one of the spiritual realities He put into place, was that anyone who follows Him will be lifted into the potion of child of God, heir of God, and co-heir with Christ Jesus Himself. It’s good news for everyone who grew up with real family stories that would fit right in with “Effed up family night.”

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-48 (MSG)

…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26 (NIV)

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 (MSG)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

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.

Flawed Characters

Flawed Characters (CaD Gen 30) Wayfarer

Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
Genesis 30:22-24 (NIV)

One of the things Wendy and I have enjoyed doing the past year or so is to watch some of the epic film series in order. This summer we watched all eleven movies of the Star Wars canon in the chronological order of the story arc. We’ve begun doing this with the Marvel Universe.

One of the things that she and I have discussed about the Harry Potter films, in particular, is that they were written and produced with a fatal flaw. None of the films’ writers and directors knew the entire story until the final installment because they were produced as the story was still being told. There was, therefore, important story elements in the earlier books that were important threads to the larger story, but those telling the particular episode of the epic didn’t know this or couldn’t see it.

Along my journey, I’ve observed a common flaw with those who read and study the Great Story. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the immediate episode I’m reading that I lose sight that this episode is a thread in the larger theme that the Author of Life is telling.

Today’s chapter contains two stories that can be, quite frankly, head-scratchers. Both episodes of Jacob’s story flashback to earlier events and they foreshadow important elements of the story to come.

The first episode is a great birthing contest between sisters Leah and Rachel, both wives of Jacob. The second is Jacob’s deceptive scheme to increase his herds at his uncle’s expense.

In the culture of that day, providing your husband with a male heir was of utmost importance. In fact, a wife who did not produce a son by a prescribed period of time could nullify the marriage. In many cases, a wife lived with her father’s house until she did produce a male heir. The rivalry between sisters fuels their desire to win favor by producing sons for Jacob. Rachel’s barrenness and her demand that Jacob bear sons by her servant are flashbacks to Grandma Sarah who did the same thing. Likewise, Jacob’s shrewd deceit of his Uncle Laban in increasing his flocks hearkens back to the theme of deceit that pervades Rebekah’s family and Jacob’s life.

The story also foreshadows important elements in the story to come. Of all the sons born to Jacob, two are going to figure prominently in the rest of Genesis and in the history of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah’s son, Judah will lead the tribe from which King David and the future Messiah will come. Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, will live a life of exile and redemption, ultimately saving the entire family and becoming the conduit through which the next major chapter of the Great Story will be told.

The forest that is often lost in the trees of this story is the covenant God gave Abraham to expand his descendants and bless all the nations of the earth. The blessing that Jacob is part of. The birthing contest, with all of its human flaws, conflict, and intrigue, is going to exponentially increase Abraham’s descendants. The many sons of Jacob will become the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself again contemplating the fact that the Great Story is being told through flawed, sinful human beings. I can look at each character from Abraham to Rachel and find character flaws, sins, and mistakes. Yet, with the exception of Jesus, that’s true of every human character in the Great Story.

That’s true of me.

Jacob, Rachel, and Leah are part of the larger story of Abraham’s covenant. Abraham’s covenant is part of the larger story of God redeeming fallen humanity. With no one to use but sinful human beings, God weaves the storyline through human failings, ultimately redeeming them in the larger work of ultimate redemption which is the meta-theme of the Great Story itself.

And, in the quiet this morning, I take comfort in that. In this way, I am Jacob. I am Rachel. I am Rebekah and Laban. Jesus placed His ministry into the hands of twelve flawed human beings which they passed on to other flawed human beings, and it has passed from flawed human being to flawed human being until it ultimately reached me.

I am a flawed human, but that does not disqualify me from playing my role in this penultimate drama. It does not cancel me in God’s eyes. It merely makes me part of the meta-theme of redemption, just like every other human in the Great Story.

I recently heard that the great actor, Alan Rickman, was considering quitting the role of Severus Snape in the series of Harry Potter films because Snape seemed like a one-dimensional, irredeemably bad character. J.K. Rowling pulled him aside to explain the powerful, redemptive role that Snape plays in the epic, which does not become fully clear until the end. Gratefully, he stuck with the role.

Sometimes, the seemingly irredeemable characters are essential to the ultimate story of redemption.

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