Tag Archives: System

Dealing Swiftly with Troublemakers

Dealing Swiftly with Troublemakers (CaD 2 Sam 20) Wayfarer

Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted,

“We have no share in David,
    no part in Jesse’s son!
Every man to his tent, Israel!”
2 Samuel 20:1 (NIV)

One troublemaker is all it takes to bring ruin to an entire group. I have experienced this on teams, in a cast/production, in churches, in civic organizations, and in business. Years ago I witnessed a business suffer from the schemes of a troublemaker who happened to be the son of the owner. The father refused to discipline or deal with his son while the son connived to gain more and more power within the company. Eventually, the father sold the business to his friend. When the transaction was completed and the new owner was in place, the former owner advised his friend to fire the son. The new owner thought to himself, “Even though he told me to fire his son, my friend will surely hold it against me if I actually do it.” So the new owner refused to deal with the troublemaker for many years and the son continued to be a source of contention and strife within the organization. I remember watching this unfold. It felt like one of Jesus’ parables come to life.

I thought about that business this morning as I read today’s chapter. Like the father in my example, David refused to acknowledge and deal with his troublemaker son, Absalom, until it was almost too late. Still stinging from the fallout of Absalom’s failed coup, David appears to have learned his lesson. He moves swiftly to deal with the troublemaker, Sheba.

When Sheba flees to hide in the town of Abel Beth Maakah, David’s army surrounds the town and lays siege to it. A wise woman in the town arranges for a parlay with the general, Joab, and learns that the entire village is being threatened with destruction because of one troublemaker, Sheba. The wise woman quickly surmises that it would be better for the whole city to expel the troublemaker than face possible ruin. The townspeople kill Sheba, cut off his head, and hurl it over the wall to Joab and David’s army. The threat is eliminated.

The further I get in life’s journey the more intolerant I have become of troublemakers and crazy makers. I have discovered that there is a difference between a reasonable person with whom I am having conflict and a troublemaker with whom I cannot reason. Wisdom and discernment are required, but once it is clear that I am dealing with a troublemaker or crazy maker, I have found that acting quickly to diminish that person’s exposure to me, my life, and my circles of influence is ultimately in my best interest.

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

(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son

(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son (CaD 2 Sam 18) Wayfarer

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33 (NIV)

A few years ago I ran into some old friends of the family whom I had not seen since I was a teenager. When the gentleman looked at me he exclaimed, “My goodness, there’s no mistaking who you are. You look just like your old man!” As I get older, the more comments I get about looking like my father.

“Chip off the ol’ block,” they say of children who become like their parents. As Wendy and I spent time with our young grandchildren this week, we couldn’t help but have the requisite conversations regarding who each of them resembles in the family.

It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not the similarities, but the contrast between David and his rebellious, patricidal son Absalom:

  • As a young man, David was the anointed king but refused to take the life of Saul or take the throne by force. He waited and suffered for years to let God’s plan unfold. Absalom schemed and plotted to take the throne and kingdom away from his father in a coup d’etat.
  • David was a warrior with blood on his hands, but he also stayed opportunities to kill his enemies, and he even ordered his generals to afford Absalom both respect and gentleness. Absalom, on the other hand, was more indiscriminate. He killed his own brother out of revenge and arguably would not have afforded his old man the same courtesy his father sought to afford him.
  • David made his share of mistakes, but he also acknowledged his failures when confronted with them. While not perfect, David’s self-awareness led to humility and he was constantly aware that even the king was subject to a higher authority. Throughout the story, Absalom’s actions appear to have been motivated by anger, pride, and hatred. His actions were a pursuit of vengeance and ultimately, the pursuit of personal gain.

I was struck this morning as I pictured David mourning for the son who had caused him and his kingdom so much injury. I imagined what Absalom would have done had he been successful at stealing the throne and confronting his father. I can’t picture Absalom being as gracious and forgiving.

As a parent I am fully aware of the ways our adult daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they have each been affected by my words and actions both positively and negatively. I believe David was aware of this, as well. David understood that the seed of Absalom’s rebellion took root in the wake of David’s own moral and relational failures. It did not absolve Absalom of his poor choices, but it afforded David the ability, much like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, to be gracious in his attitude toward his son.

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about motivations, character, family, and choices. We don’t get to choose our family. We must all play the hand that we’re dealt. As I’ve progressed in my own life journey I’ve discovered that there is a fine line between acknowledging and understanding the ways our parents and family system affected us and using that knowledge as an excuse for our own poor choices. I think David and Absalom, father and son, are great examples of living on opposite sides of that line.

 A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
.

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

Great Stories, My Story

But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.” 2 Samuel 17:5 (NIV)

It is said that one of the aspects of great stories is their timelessness. When I studied theatre in college there were entire sections of study devoted to Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus Rex and, of course, the works of William Shakespeare. It was the late 20th century and in many classes, I spent more time studying plays and stories that were hundreds and thousands of years old than contemporary works.

As I read ancient stories like the story of David we’re wading through now, I can’t help but hear echoes of other timeless stories and make connections between them. Power plays for the throne (Game of Thrones), tragic human failure (Anakin Skywalker), and the intrigue of family rivalries (Succession) are the stuff of which classic stories are made. Today as I was reading the chapter, I thought of The Godfather films and the saga of the Corleone family; A timeless classic in its own right. As they led their mafia family, Vito and Michael Corleone always tried to have a guy, loyal to the family, on the inside of a rival family or faction. Luca Brasi dies while trying to convince the Tataglias that he wants to betray Don Corleone. Michael sends his brother Fredo to Las Vegas which not only serves to get Fredo out of his sight but also plants his own brother inside of an operation he doesn’t trust.

A few chapters ago, amidst the chaos of Absalom’s coup, the last thing that King David did before fleeing the palace was to plant his man, Hushai, inside Absalom’s inner circle. It proved to be a cunning move. Absalom took the bait hook, line, and sinker. In today’s chapter, David’s scheme comes to fruition and Hushai sets the hook which will be the undoing of Absalom. Absalom was a cunning young man and had planned his moves against his brothers and father well. In the end, however, he underestimated all the wisdom and experience his father had gathered while running for his life in enemy territory for many years. In addition, Absalom’s self-seeking motivation was about anger, vengeance, hatred, and personal power. The repentant David may have been facing the tragic consequences of his own blind spots and failings, but at the core of his being his heart was still humble before God.

In the third act of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather epic, Michael Corleone’s son confronts his father about the “bad memories” he has of his family and childhood. “Every family has bad memories,” Michael replies. And, so they do. Another appeal of great stories is the connections we make to our own lives and experiences. We are all part of the human experience. Even in my own family, there are true tales of tragedy and intrigue. Times change, but people are people, and our common human flaws source similar tales in our own lives and families. We each play our part in the story. We are each a cog in our family’s system. The cool thing is that we get to choose our character and influence the story with our daily choices of words, relationships, and deeds.

How will I choose to influence my story, and my family’s story, today?

 A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
.

The featured image on today’s post created with Wonder A.I.

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

The Trials of Transition

The Trials of Transition (CaD 1 Sam 11) Wayfarer

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one.
1 Samuel 11:6-7 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory of election night 2016. I was in a hotel room in Chanhassen, Minnesota watching the election returns. As the surprising results became clear, I received a text message from our daughter. She, like many Americans, was distraught with the outcome. My daughter and I have different views on many things including things political and spiritual, but as our text messages flowed back and forth, I recognized a couple of things.

First, my daughter was a relatively young adult. This was only the second presidential election in which she could vote. It was the first in which I observed her being politically aware. I watched as her personal journey over the previous four years had opened her eyes and heart to political issues that affected herself and particular people for whom she cared deeply. The previous one-third of her entire life journey to that point, our country had been led by one leader whom she admired and respected. That night, she was entering a major season of transition.

Along my life journey, I have experienced several seasons of transition. There are transitions that come from new experiences in life, such as the move from elementary school to middle school, then to high school, and the big transition to moving away from home to attend college. There are transitions in proximity, moving from one place to another which brings with it the loss of security, familiarity, and community and the process of establishing new footings, patterns, and relationships. There are transitions that come with the loss of family and loved ones. I distinctly remember when the last of my grandparents passed away and I had the realization that an entire generation of my family was gone; The rest of us had graduated to a new stage in our life journeys. Then there are transitions of leadership when a human system in which we are a part (e.g. government, family, work, church, community organization, etc.) gets a new leader that will affect our experience in that system.

In this chapter-a-day journey, we find the Hebrew tribes are in a time of intense transition. They had known one system of government for hundreds of years and were entering another. They had known the steady, strong leadership of Samuel for many years, but had been told that this young man named Saul, a nobody from the smallest tribe who happened to be tall and handsome, was going to be their king and rule over them. He’d been appointed and anointed by Samuel, he’d been chosen by the “luck of the draw” by the casting of lots. But, Saul was young. He lacked confidence. He was unproven as a leader.

Today’s chapter tells of Saul’s first real test of leadership. Having faced a continuous military threat from the Philistines in the west, the Ammonites on the east seize the opportunity to attack a Hebrew town on the east side of the River Jordan. When Saul hears of it, God’s spirit descends on him. He makes an immediate decision to act. He rallies the fighting men among the Hebrew tribes and humbly calls them to follow both he and Samuel in this call to action. After the successful, daring rescue, the people call for a lynch mob to round up all those who questioned Saul’s anointing as king and kill them all. Saul puts the kibosh on their plan, stating that the victory was not his, but the LORD’s. As I read the chapter, I thought to myself that Saul’s leadership was perfect. It couldn’t have been better. It was his first at-bat as the anointed king and he crushed a home run that left the park.

For the Hebrews, this had to have helped all the tension, fear, and anxiety they had been feeling in their season of transition. How nice it would be if all our seasons of transition experienced that kind of hopeful sign. But, they don’t. And that brings me back to my text conversation with my daughter that lasted into the wee hours of election night 2016 as she felt all the tension, fear, and anxiety of one of the most tumultuous transitions of political leadership in our nation’s history.

While I have very different views than my daughter, I have complete and utter respect for knowing that she is on her own journey. My love for her is not lessened by our differences of views. And, if I truly believe what I say I believe (and I do) then I trust that God is at work in her on her own journey even though it looks very different than mine. I also happen to believe deeply in the American ideal of free speech, respect for others, and the process of our representative republic. In my 50 years, I have experienced multiple presidential transitions that created tension, fear, and anxiety in me. I have watched the political pendulum swing back and forth many times at different levels.

That night I reminded our daughter that in just four years there would be another election. I reminded her that our system allows people to get involved and influence the outcome of elections. I encouraged her to turn her tension, fear, and anxiety into action. We might not always agree on who to vote for, but I wholeheartedly believe in her right to believe, think, speak, and act on her personal convictions in our political process.

In 2020, I couldn’t have been more proud of our daughter, her husband, and their friends. They successfully held one of the few international sites of the Iowa Caucuses and had Iowans from all over Europe travel to join them for their Caucus in Scotland. What I observed was my daughter turning the tension, fear, and anxiety of a season of transition into positive, active momentum.

And, that’s just what God tells us over and over again throughout the Great Story. The trials and struggles of transition can either send us into the pit of paralysis and despair, or they can produce in us important character qualities of perseverance, maturity, faith, trust, and active growth. Sometimes, a little of the former ultimately leads eventually to the latter. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve been able to skip the former altogether and move right to the latter. I pray that our daughter’s experiences will enable her to do the same.

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

Family Patterns

Family Patterns (CaD Jos 15) Wayfarer

The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.
Joshua 15:1 (NIV)

I remember as a child beginning to see patterns of relationships in my extended family. Favoritism, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and broken relationships were all present in one form or another. I didn’t always know the source or how these things developed over time, or how far the patterns of relationship went back, but I certainly observed the fruit of their consequences in the present. I’ve always been fascinated by these things.

In today’s chapter, the first of the nine and a half remaining tribes receive their allotment, beginning with the tribe of Judah. It’s always interesting to see who goes first in a family system, and I can’t forget that the Hebrew tribes are a 600-year-old family system. Typically, I would expect things to be arranged by birth order, beginning with the honored firstborn. but Judah was the fourth of the sons of Jacob, and this got me pondering.

I backtracked to Genesis 49, where Jacob is on his deathbed and he gathers his sons to speak a blessing over each one. On that occasion, he did go in birth order, but he didn’t have many good things to say to his eldest three sons.

Reuben slept with his father’s wife, his stepmother and Jacob said that Reuben would “no longer excel.” This made me think about the tribe of Reuben asking Moses for land on the other side of Jordan. Is it possible that they worried that they’d better get an allotment sooner because they feared getting the shaft later?

Likewise, brothers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, were told by their father that their violence and arrogance in attacking towns without their father’s permission were a curse. They would be “scattered” in Israel. For Levi’s tribe, this was literally true, since they wouldn’t receive land but would serve the Lord across all of the tribes. Simeon would end up getting territory within Judah.

Judah was the fourth, and his father’s blessing is equally prophetic:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

A scepter was a token of royalty. King David would come from the tribe of Judah, and the Lord would “establish his throne forever.” David would establish his throne in the fortress of Jerusalem, the one fortified city of the Jebusites that the tribe could not conquer (vs 63). It would be from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus, would come.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about family systems and how they affect the individuals within that system for generations. There is something tragic in the way things often play out. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon, living 600 years later, had nothing to do with the mistakes their forefathers made, nor did the descendants of Judah do anything to deserve the favor afforded theirs. At the same time, along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are some things that I simply don’t control, and getting my undies in a bunch about it will profit me nothing. I have found it more profitable to seek to understand, to see things for what they are, and learn to flow with it.

That is not how things will play out for Judah I’m afraid. Eventually, all of the other tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, will turn on them in a long, bloody civil war. They will reject the throne of David and set up their own king. That won’t go well for them, I’m afraid. I’ve learned that sometimes there’s wisdom in learning how to live and operate within an unhealthy system and there’s often foolishness in trying to rage against that which I didn’t create, don’t control, and won’t be able to change.

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.

“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.

Favoritism

Favoritism (CaD Gen 37) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 55:8-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

A paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:18-26

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

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

Chip off the Ol’ Block

Chip Off the Ol' Block (CaD Gen 29) Wayfarer

When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
Genesis 29:25 (NIV)

Lately, I’ve been posting old family photos on social media in a series I’ve dubbed “From the Shoebox.” I have received a number of comments telling me how much I look like my father. It’s become more and more common the older I get, and I’m fine with being a chip off the ol’ block.

In yesterday’s post, I began the discussion of the way that very different family systems can create chaos when they are merged in marriage. I want to take that conversation another step deeper today because of the events in today’s chapter.

Jacob is sent to live in exile because he, and his mother, conspired to deceive Jacob’s father into giving Jacob “the blessing” as heir apparent to the family and its fortunes instead of Jacob’s twin brother to whom it rightfully belonged. Believing that Esau would kill Jacob out of vengeance, he is sent to live with his mother’s family, and it’s important to remember that it is mother’s family with whom he is living.

Jacob (whose name means “deceiver”) was a mama’s boy from the beginning. She was the parent who had the greatest influence on him. It was his mother who prompted the conspiracy to steal Esau’s blessing and ensure that Jacob would run the family and inherit the family fortunes.

Upon arriving at his uncle Laban’s settlement, there are two important things that happen. The first is subtle. The second is blatant. Uncle Laban initially greets Jacob by saying “You are my flesh and blood.” Ancient cultures of that area would use greetings such as this as a way of saying “you are being brought into the family” and will be treated as a family member. But then, a few verses later, Laban strikes a contractual deal with Jacob to work for seven years as the bride price for his daughter, Rachel. The gracious “you’re family” switches to “you’re a contract worker.” It’s a bait-and-switch that Jacob, in his infatuation with Rachel, does not question.

Seven years later, the wedding night arrives. The family feasts, but instead of sending Rachel into Jacob’s tent as agreed, he sends her older sister, Leah. We’re not told how it was that Jacob did not notice, but he wakes up to a big surprise. Laban tells Jacob that it’s “custom” to marry off the older sister first and he offers Rachel in exchange for another seven years of labor.

Rebekah sends Jacob into his father’s tent and pretended to be Esau.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, sends Leah into Jacob’s tent pretending to be Rachel.

The “deceiver” is deceived.

What comes around, goes around.

Guess where your mother learned it, Jacob?

Welcome to the family.

Sometimes being “a chip off the ol’ block” has less to do with looks and more to do with how we think, behave, act, and react within a family system. We spend years unconsciously playing a role within one family system and learning how to relate and interact within the family system. Suddenly we find ourselves living in another family system. We don’t wipe the slate clean and get a do-over. We bring all the mess of one system and merge it with a completely different one.

Merging flesh is quite easy. It’s quite another thing to merge souls, habits, traditions, and systemic thinking that I’m often unaware I’m even thinking. I’ve learned that successfully making that work requires two individuals willing to be introspective, honest, gracious, forgiving, patient, and persevering.

Thank you, Wendy.

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

Me and Messy Family

Me and Messy Family (CaD Gen 28) Wayfarer

Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
Genesis 28:8-9 (NIV)
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Genesis 28:20-22 (NIV)

I’ve written a couple of posts recently in which I touched on the fact that the Bible really doesn’t specify any type of ritual or tradition around marriage. In fact, the closest it gets is right in the second chapter of the Great Story. A man leaves his father and mother, is united with his wife and two become one.

As I’ve meditated on this over the years, I’ve come to observe that the focus is almost always on the two becoming one. But rarely do we think about or discuss the pre-requisite of leaving the parents, which happens for both spouses even though only the male is specified in the text.

In today’s chapter, we find the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, on divergent paths. Esau is already married to two Hittite women who have brought chaos and conflict within the family system. Having been cheated out of his birthright and blessing by his twin brother and mother, Esau is understandably bitter. Realizing how much his parents hate his wives, Esau decides to double-down and marry two more Hittite women and bring even more disruption into the family system.

Jacob, on the other hand, goes into exile with his mother’s family in order to find a wife from within the tribe. While on his way, Isaac meets God in a dream, receives the blessing God gave his grandfather and father, and chooses in. He makes a vow to follow and worship God and embraces Abraham’s covenant.

Welcome to the mess.

There was a specific stage of my own life journey when I thought long and hard about what it meant to be my own person, establish my own house, and separate from the family system of my childhood. I made a couple of key discoveries during this stage of my life:

It’s hard not to play the role one has developed as part of a family system. I leave home. I do my own thing. I follow my own path. Then I go to my parents for the holidays and I find myself thinking, acting, and behaving within the family system as I always have since I was a kid. This isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but neither is it necessarily healthy. I discovered that it was important for me to see it and work through it myself.

Parents are part of the entire equation. Both Isaac and Rebekah played a role in the conflict between the brothers. Parents can help or hinder their children’s “leaving” and the establishment of their own lives, homes, and family systems. The past decade has been crucial for both Taylor and Madison as they are in their own stages of establishing their lives. It’s not always easy to let go. It’s hard to watch them stake their own claims and feel the separation that naturally happens when one becomes independent of the system I established and controlled for so long. I am constantly having to have talks with God, myself, and Wendy about how best to bless our children by repeatedly choosing to let them go.

While Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Esau’s four foreign wives live in the messy consequences of Isaac and Rebekah’s own meddling, I have a feeling that twenty years of exile from that family system will be good for Isaac. He needs time and distance to establish his own relationship with the God of his forefathers, to become a husband, to become a father, and to make his own way.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about this life journey. Once I was a child learning what it meant to leave home, to be one with another, to be a father, to establish my own family system. Now I’m a parent learning to let go of daughters who are one with another and establishing their own family systems. It’s all part of the journey with its mess, mistakes, chaos, crazy, blessing, joy, laughter, and beauty.

I just want to do each stage well, and I’ve learned that I give myself some grace because I’m always a work in progress. I want to progress. I want to bring more sanity than insanity to the lives of our children and grandchildren. I want to make relational choices that will allow for more health than dysfunction. I desire that I can be more gracious and less demanding. I pray that I can increasingly trust God with the lives of my adult children so as to avoid meddling in their lives out of my personal fears and mistrust.

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