Tag Archives: Thought

Warning Signs & U-Turns

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is controversial for more than one reason, largely because it contains references homosexuality, misogyny, and incest. All of these topics are worthy of a deeper dive into the text, context, and subtext. For the purposes of this devotional, chapter-a-day trek, I found myself pulling back from a focus on the deep weeds in order to get a handle on a larger picture of the forest.

A few chapters ago, Abraham humbly gave his nephew, Lot, the choice of settling anywhere he wanted. Lot chose what appeared to be the greener grass of the Jordan plain, despite the fact that the nearby towns of Sodom and Gomorrah had reputations like that of Las Vegas in our own day and arguably even worse.

In the previous chapter, the divine visitors tell Abraham they’re going to destroy the cities because of their wickedness. Abraham barters with God to spare the cities if there are ten righteous people living there. While Abraham does not name his nephew and family, the number of Lot and his direct family (including betrothed sons-in-law) is ten.

In today’s chapter, Lot and his family are spared though they are given a three-fold instruction for escaping the destruction: Flee to the mountains, don’t look back, and don’t stop. Lot’s wife disobeys. The Hebrew word used is translated “look” but a careful reading of the text implies that she chose to literally make a u-turn and return for some reason, while Lot and his daughters had made it safely to the town of Zoar.

Archaeological excavations in the area support the history of a cataclysmic burning in the region, by the way. A violent earthquake could easily have ignited the deposits of sulphur in the area. Just recently, a team of scientists have concluded that there was a meteor strike that may have ignited the entire Jordan plain.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating two overarching spiritual lessons I excavated from the story.

First, Lot chose to settle in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah because it promised to be the best land for his livestock, even though he knew that he would be required to deal locally at Sodom and Gomorrah, towns with the reputation of being wicked places. I found myself asking: “Have I ever made decisions that appeared a benign choice on the surface of things while ignoring the warning signs that I should have heeded, only to have circumstances tragically turn against me?

The answer for me is “yes,” by the way. You?

Second, Lot’s wife chose to turn back after being warned not to do so. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’ core message was that of repentance, which literally means to “turn around” and proceed in the opposite direction. Along the way Jesus met a would-be follower who told Jesus that first he needed to “go back” to his family. Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The spiritual principle is the same as that of Lot’s wife. Turn away from what is evil, cling to the good direction where God is leading, and don’t go back.

As I launch into another work week, these lessons resonate. I’m asking myself asking three questions:

  • Where am I headed? Am I on a wise and spiritually healthy course?
  • Are there any warning signs I should heed as proceed on this path?
  • Are there any temptations to abandon course and return to foolish and spiritually destructive ways and places?

Have a great week, my friend. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh (CaD Gen 17) Wayfarer

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Genesis 17:17-18 (NIV)

There is an old saying, “Whoever laughs last, laughs best.”

That came to mind today as I meditated on the events of today’s chapter. Abram is ninety-nine years old. His wife is ninety. God has been promising Abram for years that he will be the father of many nations. Abram believes God, but faith isn’t always easy.

Along my journey I’ve found faith to be a struggle. It ebbs and flows like the ribbon tied on the middle of the tug-of-war rope. One moment faith seems easier and the ribbon moves my way, then doubt muscles up within me and the ribbon slips back to the other side of no-mans-land. As one man said to Jesus: “I believe…help my unbelief.”

In today’s chapter, God once again proclaims that He has made (past tense) Abram to be the father of many nations. God then changes Abram’s name (which means “exalted father”) to Abraham (which scholars believe to mean “father of many nations”). God then changes Sarai’s name to Sarah (both mean “princess” but the latter, once again, is believed to point to “many nations” or descendants). So God continues to double-down on His promise to Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham then laughs.

He laughs, because it’s been decades and Sarah is still barren.

He laughs, because he and Sarah are well beyond childbearing years.

He laughs, because having a baby so easily with Hagar after decades of failure, month-after-month, with Sarah feels like a cruel joke.

He laughs, because he’s tired of all the promises without fulfillment.

He laughs because impatience has muscled up and the ribbon on the tug-of-war rope is so far on the side of doubt, the game just might be over.

Thank you, Abraham, for being human like me.

Then God makes one more name pronouncement. The son that will be born of the promise is to be named “Isaac,” which means “he laughs.”

“You’re laughing now, Abraham, but just you wait,” God says. “He who laughs last, laughs best. Remember that every time you utter your son’s name.”

In the quiet this morning, I needed today’s chapter. The ribbon on the rope in my own internal tug-of-war has been sitting precariously in relatively the same place Abram found it in today’s chapter. Of late, when reminded of God’s promises, I’ve laughed inside.

I believe, Lord……………Help my unbelief.

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

“Greener” Grass

"Greener" Grass (CaD Gen 13) Wayfarer

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.
Genesis 13:10-13 (NIV)

Wendy and I were invited to join dear friends at the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary last night. They asked me to lead those gathered in a time of praying a blessing over them. It was so beautiful to lay hands on them, to hear the prayers of love, to hear their laughter, and to see their tears. It’s one of the coolest things about giving a blessing; I always end up being blessed in return.

As we socialized into the evening I was asked by one guest if I was a pastor. This is always an interesting question to answer because culture tends to be mired in the 1800 year old paradigm of the institutional church in which being a “minister” or “pastor” is defined as professional, institutional vocation tied to a specific denomination and/or local church. Technically, I am businessman leading the research and assessment firm I’ve been a part of for almost 30 years. God led me to this job and this role, and I consider it a ministry. That said, I am also blessed to enjoy the opportunity given me by my local gathering of Jesus followers to serve in a pastoral role though I am not a member of the staff. No one wants to hear this long answer, so when asked if I’m a pastor I usually simply answer “No.”

Today’s chapter is a study in contrast between ol’ Abram and his young nephew, Lot. They’ve both prospered and have vast flocks and herds, so many that it was causing conflict among their respective herdsmen who were fighting over provision for their herds. Seeing this, Abram makes the call to separate and settle in different areas. While Abram was the elder and could have demanded the right to choose the land he wanted, he generously relinquishes his rights and allows Lot to choose his land for himself.

Abram’s relinquishing of rights and generosity are quickly contrasted by the younger Lot who sees that the plains to the east of the Jordan River were lush, green, and well-watered. There are also cities nearby for provisions and supplies. He selfishly chooses the “best” land for himself and settles near the city of Sodom.

After Lot’s departure, God tells Abram to look at the land God “is giving you and your offspring forever.” This is yet another contrast. Lot looked himself and chose what appeared to be the best. Abram waited for God to tell him where this land was. Abram is still believing the promise God made at the very beginning of this story in yesterday’s chapter. Abram and his family end up back at Hebron where he had previously built an altar to God.

Their respective destinations are yet a third contrast. Lot, having made his own choice, ends up near Sodom which already has a reputation of being Sin City and dwells in proximity to its temptations. Abram ends up back at the altar he’d once made to God and returns to a monument of his persistent faith that the childless Abram and Sarah will, indeed, experience God’s promise of descendants who will fill the earth like stars fill the sky.

I find myself back at the theme of contrast between humanity’s ways, and God’s ways. Lot made a perfectly reasonable human choice: “Hey, the grass is greener over there!” Abram chose to trust and have faith that God was going to fulfill His promise to lead Abram to “a land that I will show you.”

This brings me back in the quiet this morning to my own vocational choices. Early in my life I struck out on the path toward professional, institutional “ministry.” Then God made clear to me (it’s a long story) that He had a different path for me to follow. It was a path that led me to a more expansive understanding of God’s definition of ministry, and abundant blessing I’m still experiencing. Like the blessing of last night.

Over the years, my mother occasionally would ask me, “Are you ever going to go back into the ministry?” God love her. Her eyes were fixed myopically on what she perceived to be the lush, green grass of the old institutional paradigm. I get it. Old habits die hard.

My answer to her was always roughly the same: “Mom, I never left the ministry. Its boundary markers simply got expanded to include a land to which God wanted to lead me.”

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

The Journey

The Journey (CaD Gen 12) Wayfarer

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-2 (NIV)

In early 1889, a young man from the small town of Piershil, in South Holland, boarded the ship P. Caland of the Holland America Line (featured photo on today’s post) sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in New York on April 20th. He made his way to a Dutch settlement in northwest Iowa. His name was Wouter van der Wel, and he was 22 years old. He promptly found employment and Americanized his name to Walter Vander Well. Four years later he married a daughter of the owner of the local furniture store and funeral parlor.

Walter came to America alone. Family speculation is that he was angry about his widowed mother marrying an older man who had once been her teacher when she was a girl. Walter’s daughter, Kate, told me that later in life Walter wrote his mother and expressed a desire to return home to see her. “If you’re not coming back to stay,” she replied, “then don’t come. I’ve lost my son once in my life. I’m not going to go through that again.” He never made the trip.

Walter was my great-grandfather, and for the rather small, widely spread-out Vander Well clan in America he is our patriarch. He’s the one who made the journey and crossed an ocean and half a continent to start a new life, and the family from which we sprang.

Today’s chapter marks an important shift in the Great Story. The first eleven chapters lay the foundation in establishing humanity’s bent toward disobedience (Adam and Eve), violence (Cain), chaos (the time of Noah), and pride (Tower of Babel). Today’s chapter is an inflection point. The narrative shifts from humanity’s continuous and repetitive descent toward a promise and hope of redemption. It begins with one man named Abram, who will be known throughout history as Abraham.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found followers of Jesus to be largely ignorant of the larger narrative of the Great Story and of the importance of Abraham, the patriarch, from whom the redemptive work of Jesus and the hope of eternity ultimately springs. Abraham was a historical person who is still playing a role in history some 4,000 years after the events of today’s chapter. In August of 2020 the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to a peace accord along with the United States. It was called the Abraham Accords. Abraham, we will learn, is patriarch of both the Jewish and Arab peoples.

Like Walter, Abram’s story begins with a faith journey. God calls him to leave his tribe and follow towards a destination defined loosely as “the land I will show you.” God then makes the first of three covenants with Abram. It is a seven-fold covenant of blessing which begins with God telling Abram that he will be the father of a great nation and ends with the promise that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”

God’s blessing from one person to “all peoples.” Abram is the patriarch.

What is odd about God’s choice of Abram is that his wife, Sarah, was barren and in her sixties. This is yet another instance of God going against the grain of human inclination; Another reminder that “My ways are not your ways.

Abram sets out on his faith journey following God to who knows where based simply on belief in the promise God had given him.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about Walter and what it must have been like to leave everything and everyone behind, to board a ship, and to head west toward a land he didn’t know. I can’t help but think of my own life journey and places to which I have been led. I can’t help but think of the journey of being a follower of Jesus who says to each and every follower, “If you would come after me, then lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow.” Like Abraham, the destination of the faith journey following Jesus is not identified or defined in the call other than the rather audacious clue of bearing the instrument of your own execution.

Which brings me back to being a wayfarer. I am a wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe and simply believing a promise. Just like Abram. Just like Walter. Just like our daughters and sons and our grandson, Milo, who can’t even comprehend it as of yet. We spring from wayfarers who stepped out on a journey in faith. We make our own respective journeys on this earth. We carry the Story forward as we press on one unpromised day at a time.

May the road rise up to greet you today, my friend. Enjoy the journey.

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

Back to Babel

Back to Babel (CaD Gen 11) Wayfarer

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…”
The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
Genesis 11:4, 6 (NIV)

Over the past month, Wendy and I have been listening to a podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast documents the story of a small group of people in Seattle who started a church, which became a movement, and then it was gone almost overnight. It’s also the story of the pastor, a young man who became one of the most famous and influential individuals in Christian circles. Yesterday, while I spent the day driving on a business trip, I listened to a bonus episode about another young man who also became famous and influential at about the same time, and then deconstructed his faith (something of a fad at the moment, FYI) and eventually announced on social media that he no longer identifies as a Christian.

After I returned home last night, Wendy and I discussed the episode. On one hand, there’s a morality tale in the stories of these individuals about the effects of celebrity, fame, and influence. There’s also a larger societal story about our culture of celebrity itself in which an individual can be a famous celebrity without having any particular talent or having accomplished anything other than to have become a celebrity.

Today’s chapter tells the story of the Tower of Babel and is the final story in Genesis which scholars would classify as primeval. It joins the story of creation, the Garden, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Great Flood as foundational stories of the Great Story. On the surface, the Tower of Babel is intended to describe how humanity went from one people and then was scattered into different nationalities, cultures, and languages. Under the surface, it’s about humanity’s pride nature, and its ends.

Humanity is one homogeneous people group, and they conspire to build a tower to the heavens “to make a name for ourselves.” I thought this a bit of synchronicity in the quiet this morning as my heart and mind continue to mull over the stories I heard in the podcast about two young men who “made a name for themselves” only to find their own lives and the worlds of those who followed them crumble. In the case of the intervie w I listened to yesterday, at least one of the two is still reeling, confused, and lost like humanity itself at end of the Babel story.

But there’s another aspect to the Babel story that I recognized thirty years ago. As my life journey and spiritual journey have progressed, the more important I think this lesson is. In the story, God recognizes that humanity’s capabilities coupled with sinful pride will result in “nothing being impossible for them.” It seems that the narrative of the storyline is moving too quickly for God’s design, and the scattering of the peoples and confusing of the languages appears to be God’s way of slowing the pace of the narrative back down.

My earthly journey has been a fascinating time to live. I’ve watched the dawn of the computer age, experienced the beginning of the internet, I watched it grow, and witnessed how technology has effectively united the globe. Think about the coronavirus, which originates in China where scientists and countries from around the world had invested in woring together on biomedical research in a country who is considered less than friendly. I can’t imagine this happening even a generation ago.

Never, since the Tower of Babel, has humanity been more of a global village increasingly uniting under the umbrella of technology and connected to all countries and cultures through social media. Just last week the Wall Street Journal said that Facebook will soon be the sole news source for 80-90 percent of the entire world population.

I’ve also come to recognize that perhaps, for the first time since the Tower of Babel, we’re living in a generation that can say “nothing is impossible for us.” We can genetically design babies. Scientists hope to birth a Wooly Mammoth in the lab within a few years. W illiam Shatner, at 92, will take a commercial ride in space next month. In the last month I’ve read articles about scientists who are focused on making it possible for humans live forever. Mining asteroids, life on Mars, and now Amazon announced a robot for your home that rolls around to assist you and monitor your home for threats. I can have my own personal Wall-E.

The question, of course, is where does it all lead? What fascinates me the most as I contemplate the answer to this question is that, factually, life on Earth has never been better on the whole. There’s less extreme poverty, less sickness, longer lives, better education, higher status for women, more access to information, better access to clean water supplies, and less starvation and malnutrition. This is true. It is a fact. Read Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness.

At the same time, I observe more and more confusion about who we are. Adults are asking children what gender they believe they are, then arranging to physically alter their biology. Scientifically, there are still just two genders, but philosophically we’re how told that there are endless genders to choose from based solely on my choice to identify in the moment. After centuries of progress towards ending slavery, reducing prejudice, and accepting bi-racial and cross-cultural marriages in an increasingly large global village, we’re suddenly regressing back into racial separation and segregation. What was once good is now bad. What was once bad is now good. What was once regressive is now progressive. Children now make life-altering adult decisions. Adults now chase an endless childhood. I am who I identify myself as in the moment, but that might change. What is important is what’s trending in the moment. What’s not important is anything in the past or that which is not trending.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself fascinated by the world in which I live, where increasingly “nothing is impossible.” I find myself mulling over the possibility that we are in process of building a new Tower of Babel with DNA, 5G networks, stem cells, lasers, robotics and fiber optics. I find myself marveling at a culture that appears to me to be increasingly confused despite all of our knowledge and advancement.

I find myself grateful for my simple identity…

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV)

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

Blood and Covenant

Blood and Covenant (CaD Gen 9) Wayfarer

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…”
Genesis 9:8-9 (NIV)

As my maternal grandparents entered the home stretch of their earthly journeys, they faced difficult financial circumstances that led to a difficult decision. My grandfather’s medical needs were draining their savings which was threatening the financial security of my grandmother, who would most certainly survive my grandfather, possibly for years to come. A social worker suggested that one solution would be for my grandparents to legally divorce so that their finances would be legally split, allowing my grandmother to retain their savings under her name while my grandfather’s needs would be provided for by the State.

I was quite a young man at the time, and I have a vivid memory of my grandmother asking me what she should do. I remember it because it was the first time that I’d considered both the legality, spirituality, and the tradition of marriage. That led me to realize, perhaps for the first time, that while the institutions of both church and state are involved in the process of a couple getting married, there is absolutely no detailed prescription for marriage in the Bible other than addressing it as a basic, assumed relational construct of human familial relationship and cultural systems. So far in our chapter-a-day journey of Genesis the husband and wife relationship has been assumed but no where has there been discussion of ceremony, process, or particulars other than a man and woman leaving their respective homes and becoming “one flesh.”

So, the relational agreement between husband and wife is assumed and its process is not specifically prescribed in the Great Story. What the Great Story does address is the agreement(s) between God and humanity. In the ancient times they were called “covenants.” Once again, since we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, we are going to keep running into firsts, and in today’s chapter we come across the first “covenant” between God and humanity since expulsion from the Garden. God initiates and makes the covenant never to destroy all earthly life by natural catastrophe.

Just before this covenant, God establishes the sacredness of human life, and it is metaphorically established in blood, or “lifeblood.” The ancients recognized that when blood poured out of a person, they died. They made connection between blood and life.

So in today’s chapter God establishes the sacredness of “life,” “blood,” and “covenant.” And just as I mentioned that the flood was an earthly foreshadowing of what would be the spiritual sacrament of baptism, today’s events are an earthly foreshadowing of the spiritual metaphor in the sacrament of Communion:

Then [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:27-29 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning, I am once again awed by the connected themes of the Great Story from the very beginning. God is proactive, from the very beginning, in initiating a committed (a.k.a. covenant) relationship with humanity that will bring life in contrast to the death which came through disobedience and the breaking of relationship. And, God is still doing it as I remember each time I choose to step up and partake of the bread and cup as Jesus prescribed for his followers.

As for my grandparents, they chose not to take the social worker’s suggestion. My family helped to find other alternatives for them. That said, I told my grandmother that I did not believe a legal divorce on paper from the State of Iowa could ever nullify the spiritual bond of covenant and spiritual oneness or the chord of three strands woven between them and God. I believe that still. Matters of Spirit are deeper and more eternal than the reach of any human legal system on earth.

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

Order>Chaos>Reorder

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
Genesis 6:5 (NIV)

Yesterday was a long day, but a very good day. I spent eight hours in the car with a member of my company’s Board of Directors. We drove to Minneapolis for our first in-person Board gathering since January of 2020. It also afforded me and the Board our first face-to-face meeting with a new member of our team. My colleague and I then drove back. It was a festive occasion in which I, as leader of our company, tried to make sure that the joy of being physically together and the opportunity to eat, drink, and share life in one-another’s presence took precedence over the less important, though seemingly more urgent, aspects of business.

“There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” the Sage of Ecclesiastes said. The purpose for this day was to bask for a moment in togetherness and enjoy the ever-living heck out of it.

It was only natural that our free, open, and meandering conversations led to discussions of the current landscape of life on earth. Observations and contemplation flowed around current events, corporate issues, COVID issues, supply chain issues, political issues, and tech issues. I’m personally grateful to have arrived home late last night to report to Wendy that the spirit of love, contemplation, and gratitude brought me home with a full soul despite the weariness of body.

Yesterday’s conversations, however, came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter. The landscape of life, my team members and I discussed, is full of chaos that has us all shaking our heads with both wonder and perplexity.

Yet this is why I love my chapter-a-day journey and my daily contemplation of the Great Story and the flow of eternity. It provides much needed perspective for the acute anxieties of the current moment.

Today’s chapter is the beginning of the four chapters which contain the story of Noah. We’re just five chapters in from the very beginning and just two chapters from the order and goodness of the Garden. How quickly everything has descended into chaos.

This is the first of a recurring cycle of life outside the Garden, “east of Eden,” and the inaugural appearance of a theme that perpetually reoccurs throughout the Great Story, and also my life journey:

Order —-> Chaos —–> Reorder

A marriage typically starts with a well-ordered wedding and honeymoon phase which then leads to the chaos of two very different individuals who are motivated in different ways learning how to reorder their world together. Families start as a relatively stable nuclear family system and can quickly become chaotically disordered by conflict, financial stress, infidelity, a rebellious child, a tragic loss. Sometimes the system is able to find reorder and remain intact. Other times the system splits and finds reorder in the creation of new systems. Businesses launch with an orderly business plan and bright hope for success only to flow into the chaos of competing interests, personality conflicts, and the disruptions of the marketplace that force restructure, reorganization, and renewed vision. Times of relative peace and stability fall into the chaos of societal change, international conflict, and the disruptions of war, drought, famine, disaster, pandemic, or revolution, only to eventually find their way to the next season of relative peace and order.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself encouraged by the simple pleasure of being face-to-face with my beloved colleagues in the same conference room and around the same lunch table. I’m also encouraged by the reminder of this grand macro-level theme of the Great Story. Order, chaos, reorder, is the natural flow of life on earth between the fall of humanity in Genesis chapter three and the new creation of the last two chapters of Revelation. I find that digesting the reality of this theme into my conscience helps me remember, in times of chaos, that the flow of life from order to chaos is a part of life’s reality on this earth, but reorder is a part of that flow as well and it will eventually follow even if it doesn’t look perfectly the way I desire.

On a more micro level, long days on the road for business are always a bit chaotic. I’m grateful to re-enter the reorder of a normal day in the office.

NOTE
A new message from this past Sunday, on Ecclesiastes 3, is now available on the Messages page.

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

Beneath the Text

Beneath the Text (CaD Gen 5) Wayfarer

Enoch walked faithfully with God.
Genesis 5:24

I’ve always been interested in family history. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal, but there’s a point at which the scant evidence of names and dates leave a lot to be desired from a story perspective. My “van der Wel” surname seems to spring from one particular neighborhood in Rotterdam, while the Bloem genes trace back to Gronigen. I have McCoy genes that likely lead back to the McKay clan in Scotland. My Hamblen genes trace back to Virginia during the American Revolution, and then back to England where there’s a knight entombed in effigy in eastern England. Informational clues that leave a lot to the mystery of history.

In the same way, the first 11 chapters of the Great Story are considered “primeval” history. They provide a broad brush sketch of creation and God’s relationship with all of humanity with scant information and a lot of mystery, but there’s plenty of good stuff to mine in the mystery.

For example, numbers and patterns play a role in the telling. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet do double-duty as numbers, and the authors of ancient Hebrew often hide numerical patterns in the writing. The number 10 is associated with harmony and completeness, especially related to humanity. The book of Genesis is divided into ten sections. Ten times in Genesis the phrase “God said…” is used. The genealogies in today’s chapter and again in chapter 11 both list ten generations. God will later deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through ten plagues, and subsequently provide humanity with ten commandments.

Yesterday’s chapter told of the sin and curse of Cain and then traced his family line to the 7th generation after Adam. Seven is also a number associated with “completeness” but it is more associated with the divine, as in the seven days of Creation. The seven generations of Cain’s line hint at the completeness of God’s divine judgement on the family which remained rebellious toward God in the 7th generation. The 10 generations listed in today’s chapter hint at the complete human family line of Adam that will perpetuate humanity to, and after, the flood.

Then there are the patterns that emerge in the telling. The seventh generation in the line of Cain was Lamech who continued his ancestor’s murderous and rebellious ways. The seventh generation on Seth’s line is Enoch who “walked faithfully with God.” There’s also the fact that Cain, the first born son, was cursed and it was through a younger son, Seth, that humanity was blessed and perpetuated. In human terms, the blessing, power, and position always go to the first-born son, but God’s blessing through the younger son is a pattern repeated through Genesis as well as the Great Story:

Seth over Cain.
Shem over Japheth
Isaac over Ishmael
Jacob over Esau
Judah and Joseph over their brothers
Ephraim over Manasseh
David over his brothers
Solomon over his brothers

The pattern of going against human tradition is a continuous reminder of what God would later say plainly through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor. Today’s chapter is more than a genealogy. It is layered with numbers and patterns that metaphorically speak to the moral contrast between Cain’s family line and Seth’s family, the contrast of divine judgement and blessing, and the contrast of death and life.

On Sunday, I’m giving a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers from Ecclesiastes 3, the passage made familiar to millions by the Byrds: “To everything there is a time and season.” One of the things I plan to discuss is that my own life contains patterns that lead to deeper understanding of self, of family, of life, if I’m willing to search under the surface of simple dates and memories.

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

Ezer Kenegdo

Ezer Kenegdo (CaD Gen 2) Wayfarer

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

For whatever reason, God saw fit to surround me with women most of my entire life journey. My eldest brothers are twins, my sister came five years later, and I brought up rear. Most of my childhood the sibling dynamic in my family system was two pairs: the twins and Jody and me. When I was very young, I can remember times when dad and the twins would be off doing something and I was home with mom and Jody. It made an impression on me.

Further down life’s road, I find myself the father of two girls, and then was blessed to have Wendy’s sister live with us for a few years. I always seem to find myself in situations in which I’m surrounded by women. About four years ago I wrote a post with my first words to my grandson, discussing this very phenomenon.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I rather enjoy it most of the time. In fact, the experience has significantly changed my view and understanding of women along my life journey. For most of my early journey I loosely held a fairly fundamentalist view of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives. And, I confess that many of my views early on were downright misogynistic. My life experiences, my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, and the amazing women in my life, have led to embracing what I consider to be a deeper understanding of women and all the incredible things they are in creation.

In today’s chapter, God looks at Adam and makes a “helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew words are ezer kenegdo. Ezer simply means “help” or “assistance.” Kenegdo is made up of three words. The study text I read this morning stated that it suggests: “someone God fashions for the man who would correspond to him.” This does not imply inferiority, weakness, or submission, but rather one who “uniquely his counterpart and uniquely suited for him.”

And that brings me to Wendy, the woman who is the definition of my ezer kengdo. We couldn’t be more different in so many ways, and the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours (me) and Eights (Wendy) “the most inherently volatile” of combinations, though it adds the combination can be “one of the most creative relationship couplings.”

Wendy and I do everything together. We work together out of our home, we serve together, and we play together. There are certainly things each of us do and enjoy alone, but for the most part we are around each other 24/7/365 in our daily lives. And that’s a good thing for me. It’s a great thing for me.

I had a member of my company’s Board of Directors once ask me if I could imagine doing my job without Wendy. My response was immediate: “Absolutely not.” In fact, I can’t imagine doing it without her. I can’t imagine doing anything without her. She’s “uniquely suited” to make me better at everything I do in life, in community, and business as I like to believe I am uniquely suited to make her better in the same.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. We’re not perfect. We clash. We have flashes of volatility as the folks at the Enneagram Institute describe. Sometimes sparks fly. Yet that, I believe, is inherently a by-product of ezer kenegdo. Not alike, but uniquely suited.

So, in the quiet this morning, I think there are a whole host of things that I could have blogged about from today’s chapter. It is chock full of truth on multiple layers. Yet, on this chapter-a-day journey, I often find that the thing that is most meaningful to me is the thing that rises to the top of mind and soul. To me, this day, that is ezer kenegdo; that is Wendy, and all of the women with whom God has surrounded me my entire life journey to teach me about manhood, and to make me a better man.

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

On Being a “Member”

On Being a "Member" (CaD 2 Pet 1) Wayfarer

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have served a number of local churches in either a volunteer or paid part-time basis. As a young man, I spent a total of five years in full-time pastoral ministry and served two different churches in very different denominations. These two full-time stints were very different experiences, but there was one thing the two experiences had in common. In the middle of my tenure at each of these churches, I was called to account by well-intentioned, legalistic busybodies for having not become a “member” of the said church.

I will never forget receiving a phone call asking me to be at an emergency meeting of the elders; the raw emotions of disappointment, anxiety, and suspicion expressed with regard to my reasons for not being a “member.” I will also not forget the abject silliness of jumping through all the institutional, bureaucratic hoops to appease the religious busybodies, including apologizing in a congregational meeting for my “oversight” and requesting that my “membership” be approved by the people who hired me to be their pastor.

It was no different than Jesus getting called to account for healing someone on the Sabbath day of rest. Being a member of a church does not make one a follower of Jesus, and being a follower of Jesus has nothing to do with adherence to religious, institutional bureaucracy. Confusion of the two is one of the legitimate realities that lie at the root of the world’s criticism and condemnation of Christianity. There are a host of other reasons, both legitimate and illegitimate, that lie with it.

In the opening of Peter’s second letter to first century followers of Jesus, he begins by identifying those who are legitimate followers of Jesus. You won’t find mention of a “membership certificate” or congregational approval anywhere in the description. Rather, Peter points to the evidence of ever-increasing spiritual maturity:

Faith that leads to goodness in words and deeds toward all.
Goodness that motivates a desire to know more about the things of God.
Knowledge that contributes to personal self-control in temptation.
Self-control that contributes to perseverance in tough stretches of the journey.
Perseverance that produces deeper levels of godliness in the daily mundane.
Godliness that shows up in sincere affection for others more than self.
Affection that results in acts of sacrificial love for others.

Peter goes on to explain that the goal is life that is effective and productive. This is exactly what Jesus told Peter and the team on the night before He was crucified: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” The goal is a life of connection to Jesus, being a “member” of the divine dance in the larger work He is accomplishing in the Great Story. Being a “member” of Christ effectively produces fruit in my life, and that fruit includes the very character traits Peter listed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about this penchant I’ve witnessed in many for taking institutional church membership so seriously. I’ve just never considered the bureaucracy worthwhile. I’ve always believed that my “membership” is proven, not by taking a class, signing my name, receiving a certificate, and saying “I do” to list of rote questions, but rather by the evidence of my being spiritually effective and productive within my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and my community, just as Peter describes. If I have the former without the latter, then “my faith” is not faith at all. It’s just a membership that carries as much spiritual benefit as my membership in the rewards club of my local grocery store.

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