Tag Archives: Wisdom

Generations

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.
1 Kings 12:8 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I had all the confidence in the world. I had an intense belief that I could do anything to which I set my mind. I didn’t even question it. The only question was what it was to which I would set my mind and heart. I was three years old when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, and for my generation, I believe there was a certain anticipation and belief that we could shoot for the stars. Our grandparents were “the greatest generation” who grew up during the Great Depression and gave their lives to save the world from tyrannical evil in World War II. Our parents’ generation put men on the moon. There was no limit to what our generation could accomplish.

In those early years, I don’t remember having much anger or animosity toward the previous generations other than what I perceived to be their blind obedience to institutions and institutional traditions. I was an obedient and good kid for the most post, but I bucked traditions that I found silly and void of any tangible purpose.

By way of contrast, our daughters’ childhood and youth were marked by September 11, 2001, and a post-9/11 world. Taylor was 11, and Madison was not quite 10. Now in their 30s, I look at their generation and find them to have a very different mindset. My personal observation has been that they’ve largely rejected the faith and belief systems of previous generations outright. Despite being arguably the most affluent and privileged generation in the history of humanity, theirs is a pessimistic and cynical worldview of a world made perpetually evil by the previous generations and their belief systems, an assuredly apocalyptic future from any number of doomsday scenarios from climate change to capitalism, and their conviction that only they can change the world and save it for subsequent generations.

Generations are fascinating.

In today’s chapter, Solomon’s son Rehoboam takes over his father’s throne. I couldn’t help but think through the experience of the generations:

Generation #1: David
David has an incredibly difficult journey to the throne. Despite his early victory over Goliath and popular acclaim, David lives as a mercenary in the desert with a price on his head for well over a decade. He’s a middle-aged man by the time he ascends to the throne. He earned the kingdom through grit, faith, perseverance, and conquest.

Generation #2: Solomon
David’s marriage to Bathsheba and the subsequent birth of Solomon came relatively late in David’s life and reign. Solomon was born into the wealth and power of the royal family, but he was relatively young when he ascended the throne and inherited a vastly larger and wealthier nation that his father had spent a lifetime building. Solomon enjoyed the heck out of it, but his excess and extravagance came at a heavy expense to the everyday people of the nation.

Generation #3: Rehoboam
From what we can surmise, Rehoboam never knew a difficult day in his life. He great up, not only in the Royal palace like his father, but he also experienced the wealth, extravagance, and excess with which his father lived. Solomon may have known privilege, but Rehoboam knew only privilege and fortune on steroids. When he finally has his chance at the throne, he has no regard for his people or his nation. He and his entourage of similarly privileged and wealthy friends treat the throne as if it’s their golden ticket to continue their extravagant living while using their power to lord themselves over others.

In the quiet this morning, I ponder my place in the Great Story from a historical and generational perspective. On one hand, I feel humble in accepting the reality that generations are often unwitting products of the generations before them and the circumstances around them over which they have no control. On the other hand, I find myself desiring to not be fatalistic about the differences between generations but rather to help other generations with the wisdom of experience. Ultimately, you can’t control whether another generation will listen to or accept that wisdom.

The elders who tried to speak wisdom into Rehoboam learned that the hard way.

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

Solomon: Most Wise Fool

Solomon: Most Wise Fool (CaD 1 Ki 4) Wayfarer

The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.
1 Kings 4:20-21 (NIV)

In the list of Solomon’s officials are two secretaries and a recorder. I’m not sure if one of them functioned like the press secretaries that Presidents have today, but today’s chapter drips with the positive spin we’ve come to cynically expect from modern press briefings of national leaders. In today’s chapter, everything is rosy. Everyone is happy. Solomon is the perfect ruler whose wisdom is second only to the future Messiah.

Over a lifetime of observing positive spin from both sides of the political aisle, I have, perhaps, grown a little cynical. Many readers may take the information shared in today’s chapter on merit, but between the facts written through rose-colored glasses, I couldn’t help but notice a few things.

Solomon inherited everything from his father. The lands and peoples over which Solomon reigned were conquered by David. Solomon simply took over control. I can’t help but think that history is full of stories of children squandering what their parent(s) had earned. Governing and maintaining control over many tribal groups over a large area for any length of time was tricky business in that period of history. It took an amazing balance of diplomacy and military threat. The facts we are given simply point to a Solomon who lived rich, courted foreign diplomats who showered him with praise, and enjoyed every minute of being the richest and wisest man in his known world. Knowing from history that the entire kingdom implodes immediately after Solomon died, I’m left to wonder if Solomon gave any thought to preserving the kingdom that God had established and blessed for subsequent generations, or if he simply enjoyed the wild and luxurious ride he’d inherited.

Solomon’s administration was full of insiders. Solomon’s officials and advisors were largely sons of his father’s advisors and sons-in-law. David had built the Kingdom on a diverse group of supporters from different backgrounds that he developed from his decades as a mercenary. Solomon does not appear to be building bridges and political alliances with the conquered peoples over whom he’s ruling. He’s keeping his kingly power concentrated with what many in his kingdom might call “the same old cronies.”

Solomon’s great kingdom was built by forced labor. There are only seven or eight jobs listed in Solomon’s cabinet. One of them is the secretary of “forced labor.” Solomon’s lavish building projects are being accomplished on the backs of slaves and “forced labor” from his own people. This was not new. It was the way of the world back in those days. However, Solomon’s never-ending construction projects from palaces to the Temple would indicate that he likely required a level of forced labor that would have bred all sorts of anger and discontent among the masses.

Solomon’s twelve “districts” were a form of ancient gerrymandering that crossed tribal boundaries and redrew the map. There may have been a good reason for this. Perhaps Solomon was trying to ensure that every district had enough agricultural production to provide their annual monthly supply for his lavish lifestyle at court. Redrawing the map, however, meant that districts crossed ancient tribal boundaries, which in turn likely stirred up ancient tribal rivalries and resentments. The key to preserving a kingdom in those days was maintaining peace and stability, not stirring up trouble.

In the quiet this morning, I’m pondering two realities. The first reality is that Solomon was most certainly the intelligent, charismatic, and wise man described in today’s chapter. There is no doubt that he was wealthy and successful during his reign and in his lifetime. The second reality is the sobering fact that Solomon was also a flawed human being just like every other sinful human being. Solomon’s press secretary does a masterful job of diverting our attention away from Solomon’s flaws and focusing on Solomon’s greatness. History, however, reveals that it is Solomon’s flaws and blind spots that lead to his great kingdom dying with him. Those blind spots will plague subsequent generations with political strife, civil war, violence, and bloodshed for hundreds of years.

I’m reminded this morning of the word picture Jesus gives His followers at the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount. I’m reminded because I just gave a message a few Sundays ago about that very word picture. It is a contrasting word picture of two people who each build their own house. One of the houses blows down when the storms of life hit. The other house remains standing through those storms. For all of his wisdom, Solomon’s kingdom will fall with the first political wind that blows after his death.

As I mentioned in my message, Jesus’ word picture begs a number of questions of me:

What am I building with this life I’m given?
What am I building it on?
What am I building it with?
What will blow away with my death? What will last for eternity?

Today’s featured image, Most Wise Fool, was created with Wonder A.I.

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

Sometimes I Need a Lecture from Doc

Sometimes I Need a Lecture from Doc (CaD 2 Sam 21) Wayfarer

Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. 2 Samuel 21:15 (NIV)

The man who has been my doctor for most of my life is retiring at the end of this year. He has been my family’s primary physician since about the time I was entering my teens. Doc was a young man fresh out of medical school. The first time I saw him was when a large sliver from my the wooden skateboard, which I had received for my birthday, lodged deep in my thigh and required both a minor surgical extrication and a lecture about being careful with my toys. Lately, he’s lecturing me about fiber, cholesterol, and prostate health.

One of the things I have always loved about Doc is his blunt and honest way of giving it to you straight. He doesn’t mince words, though he may add a little colorful verbiage. Once when were discussing a minor procedure I needed done he simply laughed and said. “Get ready. It’s gonna hurt like hell.” It did. A few years ago I wrenched my knee in a waterskiing accident at the lake. He stormed into the examining room after reading my chart. His first words were an exclamation spoken so loud the the people the waiting room had to have heard it: “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?! WATERSKIING?! AT YOUR AGE?!

Thanks, Doc. Nice to see you, too.

He was half-joking with me, but only half. The truth is, every season of the journey comes with its own threats and opportunities. I can’t do some of the things I could do physically even ten years ago. At the same time, experience and maturity afford me the opportunity to do some things better than I ever have before. C’est la vie. I might as well embrace reality because I can’t change it.

One of the things I appreciate about the story of David is that we get to follow his story from a young boy to an old man. Unlike many biblical stories in which a life span can be reduced to a sentence or two, we have two entire books and part of a third that are dedicated to his biography. We started with the young shepherd boy slaying Goliath with his sling. In today’s chapter, David discovers that he can’t wield the sword like he once could. His men, speaking like predecessors of my family doctor, gave King David their own “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!” lecture. He’d reached that age. It was time for him to hang up his sword and lead from the rear.

A few weeks ago I posted about the threat of early retirement. On the surface it may seem contradictory with today’s post about about not trying to overdo things once you reach a certain age. As with so many things in this life journey, truth is found at the point of tension between the two extremes. I’m discovering that wisdom lies in channeling my available resources in the most constructive, efficient and effective ways. Where I best channel them changes at different waypoints on the road of life.

 A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be editing and re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off 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.

Waypoint Lessons

May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.
1 Samuel 25:33 (NIV)

Very early in my career, my boss and the founder of our company planted the seed that someday I would be an owner of the company and eventually lead it. That seed of vision he planted eventually bore fruit, though the process was almost thirty years in the making.

Along the way, I remember having one colleague who told me straight-up that they were glad I wasn’t leading the company. It was one of those comments that kind of stings at the moment. In my gut, however, I knew they were probably right, and in hindsight, I can affirm with certainty that they were right. Just recently, another colleague told me that they remembered when I wasn’t ready for the position of leadership, then affirmed that I am now. Along my life journey, God has used individuals to mark certain waypoints for me.

I mentioned the other day that David’s years in the wilderness are forging his God-given gifts and abilities into the tools of a true and experienced leader. In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel provides us a glimpse of this forging process. Yesterday’s episode of David sparing Saul’s life was an example of David doing everything right in God’s eyes. Today’s episode reveals that he’s still a leader in training.

Living in the wilderness, David and his men often came upon the shepherds and sheep herds of a local farmer named Nabal. They had multitudes of opportunities to kill and/or rob the shepherds. They could have rustled a sheep or two for food whenever they wanted. David, however, knew this was wrong. He ordered his men to protect Nabal’s shepherds from harm and never to touch Nabal’s sheep. Sheep shearing time was a time of celebration and abundance, much like a harvest festival for crop farmers. David sends a delegation asking Nabal if he wouldn’t share a little of his abundance with David and his men. Nabal, had he reputation of being a jerk, not only refused but did so in an insulting way.

David’s response is a stark contrast to yesterday’s episode with Saul. David humply spared the King’s life and withheld vengeange from the man who was hunting like an animal. In today’s episode, David is ready to take his entire band of warriors to vengefully kill a lowly sheep farmer and his entire household for refusing David’s request and insulting him.

David still has a few things to learn about himself, and leadership.

Nabal’s wife, Abigail, realizing her foolish husband’s mistake, quickly acts to intervene. She bring David and his men a donkey-load of food and wine. She then tells David that she is sure that he will one day be God’s king over the nation and that God will establish his throne. She then reminds David that he doesn’t want the bloodstains of petty vengeance on his hands when he places the crown on his head. “You’re better than this,” she’s saying. “Be the leader God’s making you to be.”

David hears Abigail’s message loud and clear. He sees God setting a waypoint on his path to leadership through Abigail’s wisdom. He relents. Within ten days Nabal dies of natural causes. God affirms for David that “Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” and David learns an important lesson on his journey toward destiny.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for my own spiritual journey, for the people God has placed along the way to teach me invaluable “waypoint” lessons, and for the gifts of wisdom He delivered out of them. I’m also praying for the wisdom to perservere in pushing forward through the lessons that still lie ahead, until the journey’s end.

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

The Tragedy of Saul

The Tragedy of Saul (CaD 1 Sam 18) Wayfarer

When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
1 Samuel 18:28-29 (NIV)

The history of theatre traces its roots back to ancient Greece. The stories that the Greeks adapted for the stage were typically comedies or tragedies. Even Shakespeare’s plays are categorized as comedy, tragedy, or history. The iconic comedy and tragedy masks continue to symbolize the theatre to this day.

In all of the Great Story, Saul may arguably be the most tragic figure. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, his ego, pride, and envy lead him on an ongoing, downward spiral as he becomes obsessed with his anointed rival, David.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel documents the stark contrast between David and Saul. David is humble and successful in everything he does. He’s a successful warrior, musician, leader, and lover. Five times in today’s chapter the author reminds us of David’s success and God’s favor towards him. Six times in today’s chapter, the author documents Saul’s anger, jealousy, envy, and rage.

To make matters worse, Saul appears to heed The Godfather’s advice: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” He intertwines his life with David to the extent that he can’t escape. David is always there. David is his minstrel. David is one of his best military officers. David is his son’s best friend. Jonathan treats David like a brother. David is the husband of his daughter. Michal is in love with the guy. Every decision Saul makes assures his self-destruction, while every decision David makes solidifies his success to Saul’s envious chagrin.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed individuals whose lives appear to be an echo of Saul’s. Their lives are one ongoing series of tragedies, the fruit of their own foolishness and cyclical poor choices. I’ve also observed those whose lives appear to be charmed like David. They succeed at everything they do and appear blessed in every way. In contrast, they appear to make routinely wise choices and enjoy a general sense of favor.

In the quiet this morning, there were two things that struck me as I meditated on the contrasting characters of Saul and David. First, I’ve learned along my spiritual journey that I have a nasty envious streak. Not surprisingly, it is the core weakness of an Enneagram Type Four (that’s me). It took me years to see the fulness of it in myself. I’m still in process of learning how to address it in a healthy way. So, I have to confess that I identify with Saul more than I care to admit.

The second thing that struck me is simply the cyclical and systemic pattern of Saul’s decline and David’s rise. The text states that God’s favor was with David and not with Saul, so there’s a spiritual component to it, but there is also the fact that Saul continuously made poor choices that ensured his failure, while David continuously acted with humility and made wise decisions. This leads me to consider my own choices – the choices I made yesterday, and the choices I will make today. Where am I making poor choices? Where am I making wise choices? How can I make fewer of the former and more of the latter?

David wasn’t perfect, by any means, but I’d prefer that my story look more like his than Saul’s.

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

The “Uh-Oh” Moment

The "Uh-Oh" Moment (CaD 1 Sam 14) Wayfarer

Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country.”
1 Samuel 14:29a (NIV)

Have you ever been in a situation in which you suddenly realize that the person in charge has no business being the person in charge? I call it the “uh-oh” moment, as in “Uh-oh! If this is the person in charge, then all of us are in deep Shinola.”

There is an amazing scene in the mini-series Band of Brothers, based on the true story of a paratrooper company preparing for D-Day in World War II. Their company commander had turned them into one of the best units in the entire army, but he was a poor leader in the field. His men had their “Uh-Oh” moment as they contemplated jumping behind enemy lines with him in charge. They had no respect for him, and they knew that he would get them all killed. At the risk of being court-martialed and shot for committing treason, they wrote letters refusing to serve in combat under their commander. They were dressed down and punished, but the letters had their intended effect. The company commander was reassigned and a truly gifted leader rose up within the company to replace him.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel introduces two important themes in the story. First, we find that Saul’s son, Jonathan, is a courageous warrior, has qualities that his own father lacks, and the young man seems to have his act together. It is Jonathan who, by faith, acts on his own to attack the Philistines and unleash the panic that ultimately leads to Israel’s victory. This is contrasted with his father, Saul’s, own erratic and poor leadership. This is the other overarching theme of the chapter.

Saul starts to seek God’s guidance but then fears that waiting on a word from God could lose him the advantage so he acts on his own. Later, he follows through with seeking God’s guidance but then gets angry and impatient when God doesn’t answer. Saul foolishly makes his men swear an oath not to eat until the end of the fighting with the Philistines. As the battle does on all day, his men become famished and weary. Jonathan, who wasn’t even present when the men swore the oath, eats some fresh honey he finds in the field. When his fellow soldiers tell him about the oath his father made everyone swear, even Jonathan has an “Uh-Oh” moment as he realizes that his father’s leadership has only served to hurt their cause. When it becomes clear that Jonathan ate the honey, Saul acts to have his own son killed for insubordination. Jonathan’s fellow soldiers rise up against this injustice and demand that Saul refrain from carrying out the sentence. They recognize that it was Jonathan, not Saul, to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for the victory that day.

These early episodes in Saul’s career as Israel’s first king only foreshadow what is to come. Along my life journey, I’ve learned that leadership at all levels requires a certain tension between confidence and humility, between decisiveness and wisdom. Every leader makes mistakes, but I have observed a big difference between those who learn from their mistakes and those who are incapable or unwilling to do so. I read one commentator this morning who described Saul as an ego-centric leader. I thought that hit the nail on the head.

As I wrap up another work week this morning, I can’t help but once again think about my own leadership. I have been honored to hold many positions of leadership along life’s road. Here in the quiet, I can quickly think of times that others may have had “Uh-Oh” moments as I failed and made some serious mistakes. However, I’ve done my best to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. Failure is a powerful teacher if one has the wisdom to be taught.

I’m afraid we’re going to find out that Saul was a poor student.

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

My Good Luck Charm

My Good Luck Charm (CaD 1 Sam 4) Wayfarer

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3 (NIV)

When I was a child I can remember praying for the silliest of things. I prayed for my favorite teams to win, sometimes fervently. I prayed for certain girls to like me. I was 10 years old when the United States celebrated our Bicentennial, and I have distinct memories of praying that God would let me live to 110 so I could celebrate the Tricentennial. That sounds more like a burden than a blessing from my current waypoint on life’s road.

In yesterday’s chapter, the author of Samuel made the point that while the boy Samuel had grown up living and serving in the Tabernacle of God, he did not yet know God. I find that an incredibly important observation. Looking back, that was one of the reasons my prayers were silly and self-centered. I didn’t have a relationship with God. I knew about Him, but I didn’t know Him. God wasn’t Lord of my life and I wasn’t a follower of Jesus. At that point in my spiritual journey, my prayers were indicators that I considered God my personal good luck charm.

Today’s chapter is the fulfillment of the prophetic words spoken against the high priest, Eli, and his sons. The people of Israel were embroiled in a battle against the neighboring Philistines. Remembering their history and the fact that in the days of Moses God brought victory when the Ark of the Covenant was carried before the people, they called for the Ark to be brought from the Tabernacle in Shiloh to the battlefield. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas are happy to oblige.

I think it’s important to note that those historic examples of the Ark being carried before the Hebrews were from the days of Moses and Joshua. There were men who knew God and their actions were sourced in God’s specific instructions to and through them. The Ark was carried before the people in the context of God’s divine revelation to God’s appointed ruler.

The corrupt priests Hophni and Phinehas, along with the entire Hebrew army, are treating the Ark of the Covenant like their national good luck charm. It doesn’t go well for them.

The Hebrews lose the battle, Hophni and Phinehas are killed, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken as a spoil of war. When Eli hears that the Ark had been taken, the fat 98-year-old priest falls off his chair and breaks his neck. I find it an ironic, almost Shakespeare-like end to the house of Eli. The fulfillment of God’s prophesied end comes from the consequences of their own presumptuous, self-centered, and divinely ignorant actions.

In the quiet this morning, I find this sad end an apt reminder. As a follower of Jesus, I am to follow where I am led by Jesus, not take Jesus with me wherever I want to go like He’s a personal good luck charm.

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

Two Retirement Funds

Two Retirement Funds (CaD Matt 6) Wayfarer

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Last autumn, I spent a lot of time meditating on the ancient sage wisdom of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher spent a lot of time expounding on the grim reality that one spends a lifetime saving, acquiring, and hoarding wealth and possessions only to die and have it all passed on to someone else. In fact, it goes to others who didn’t do the working, saving, and acquiring. The Teacher called this hevel in Hebrew. It’s futile, empty, and meaningless. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

I’m getting to the stage in life when retirement starts to become an increasingly important topic of discussion. It’s always been out there in the distant future, but now I can see it there on the horizon. I have friends who have already retired. I have friends and colleagues who are almost there. The eyes start looking more seriously at what all the working, planning and saving have accumulated.

The lessons of the Teacher echoed in my spirit as I read today’s chapter. We’re still in Jesus’ famous message on the hill. Jesus spends most of the chapter addressing common religious practices: giving, praying, and fasting. He tells His followers to carry out the disciplines of faith quietly and privately as though only God need witness it.

Jesus then seems to address the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, the building up of earthly treasure is hevel, Jesus agrees. It rusts, rots, and is given away when you die. So, don’t do it. Instead, Jesus recommends investing in heavenly treasure that has eternal value.

The further I get in my spiritual journey, and especially in the past two years of Covid, I’ve observed how myopically focused one can be on this earthly life. If this earthly life is all there is and my years here are some cosmic coincidence which comes to an abrupt and final end when I die, then I might as well moan and wail along with the Teacher and the bitter pill of life’s meaninglessness. If, however, Jesus is who He said He was and there is an eternity of life waiting on the other side of the grave as He said there is, then His investment advice is profound.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering those I know in my circle of influence who appear focused on earthly treasure is if it is the most important thing in life. I’m ponder yet others who appear to live as if death is an utterly final, bad thing to be feared, avoided, and delayed at all costs for as long as possible. Fear is rampant everywhere I look, which makes perfect sense to me if I’m living in the hevel of a hopeless, meaningless, material world.

I contrast this, of course, with being a follower of Jesus. Death, Jesus taught, is the prerequisite for Life. Death was the mission to make resurrection possible. Death is not a bitter and final end but rather the gateway to a resurrected Life more real than the one on this earth. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then it changes how I view this life, what I consider of real value, how I invest my personal resources, and how I approach my impending death.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m mindful of the fact that I have two retirement funds. One is for this life, and whatever is left will end up with our children and grandchildren. The other is for the next life, where it can be enjoyed for eternity. If I’m wise, Jesus taught in the message on the hill, I will invest in both accordingly.

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

Lessons in the Layers

Lessons in the Layers (CaD Gen 44) Wayfarer

[Judah said to Joseph ] “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Genesis 44:33-34 (NIV)

During my family roots investigation that I’ve discussed in the last couple of posts, I was blessed to discover and correspond with my cousin, John, in the Netherlands. John and I are third-generation cousins. When my great-grandfather sailed for America he left his younger brother, John’s great-grandfather, behind. When Wendy and I traveled to London back in 2009, John joined us and we spent a very enjoyable day together.

Late that day, the three of us were sharing a pint together in a London Pub. I expressed my curiosity about what would make my great-grandfather leave everything, including his entire family, and make a new life in America by himself. I remember John not being surprised by this. He shared that getting angry and walking away was not uncommon in our family.

Along my journey, I’ve observed that certain themes are recurring in family systems. It could be sin that occurs in repeated generations or behavioral or relational patterns that repeat themselves. I remember one family member observing that when her husband left her she was the exact same age as her mother when her father left. I have found these types of patterns fascinating and meaningful in gaining both understanding and wisdom.

I continued to see these patterns in today’s chapter. Joseph deceives the brothers who wanted to kill him, then chose to sell him into slavery. This is just like his father, Jacob, deceiving his own father, Isaac. It’s just like Jacob’s Uncle Laban deceiving him. It’s just like Isaac and Abraham deceiving their hosts into thinking their wives were their sisters. It’s just like Joseph’s brothers deceiving their father into thinking Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. It’s a pattern in the family system.

Yesterday I discussed that Judah, the fourth-born son of Jacob/Israel, has now ascended to the role of the leader, the position of the first-born. This is also a recurring theme as both his grandfather (Isaac) and father (Jacob) were second-born sons who ascended to the blessing and position of the first-born. This is a theme that will reoccur throughout the Great Story as an object lesson of God’s message: “My ways are not your ways.”

Faced with the prospect of fulfilling their father’s worst fears, Judah steps up to plead for Benjamin’s life and offers himself as a substitutionary slave in place of his little brother. Fascinating that it was Judah who saved Joseph’s life by pleading with his brothers not to kill Joseph but sell him into slavery back in chapter 37. Judah’s conscience is weighed down by what they did to Joseph and their father. He will do anything not to repeat the robbing of their father of his beloved son. He’s been down this road before. He doesn’t want to repeat the pattern.

Toxic patterns of thought, behavior, and relationship wreak havoc within a family system. These were the kinds of things I wanted to discover, process, and address in my own journey as I dug into the layers of stories, foibles, and flaws in my family’s root system. Did it succeed? One could easily argue not if perfection is the standard. Yet, I’ve observed that the pursuit and/or expectation of perfection is a toxic thought pattern in-and-of-itself. I did, however, discover invaluable lessons in the layers. It has been successful in imparting wisdom, allowing me to recognize certain patterns in other areas of life, and informing both my choices and how I manage relationships. I know that blind spots remain, but I doggedly pursue sight with each layer of blindness that’s revealed in my journey.

Perhaps the most important layer of lessons has been about grace. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Judah, and Joseph all had their faults and blind spots. They, too, were part of a very flawed, very human family system. It still didn’t disqualify them from being used by God in their leading roles within the opening chapters of the Great Story. So, I’ve learned (and am learning) to have grace with those flawed ancestors and family members in my own family system as I pray they and my descendants will have grace with me. It’s also teaching me that God’s amazing grace extends to, and through, very flawed human beings, and that includes me.

Featured image: Joseph Converses with Judah by Tissot. Public Domain.

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

Exile and Return

Exile and Return (CaD Gen 35) Wayfarer

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 35:1 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve discovered along my spiritual journey is that the return is often as important as the destination. In some cases, they turn out to be one and the same.

In today’s chapter, God calls Jacob to return to Bethel which is the place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob. Jacob has been on a journey of exile for over twenty years, and now he has returned to his home and family. At Bethel, God renews the promises made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God makes Jacob’s name change to Israel official.

The timing of this is important. Isaac is about to die. Having the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God is leading Jacob through a rite of passage. He’s returned from exile to lead the family, and head the family business. Things are about to change in a big way.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back. My spiritual journey has led me on paths of exile and return. I found it to be the path of both wisdom and maturity. In exile, I face trials and struggles that grow me up as I learn essential lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, joy, and hope. The return is the place where those lessons bear fruit. The landscape looks different upon my return. Time may have changed things, but most importantly I have changed. I see old things with new eyes. In exile, I have been refined, honed, broken down, and rebuilt for a purpose. The return is where that purpose eventually comes into focus.

I also found myself meditating on God’s name change for this patriarch-to-be. In exile, Jacob (meaning the deceiver) is transformed into Israel (he wrestled with God). When Jacob left Bethel, everything he had and came from his (and his mother’s) own deceptive cunning and initiative. In exile, he struggled with his Uncle, himself, and with God. He discovers in exile that his blessings come from God and not his, and his family’s, penchant for deception. Jacob left Bethel and went into exile. It was Israel who returned to Bethel ready for the next stage of the journey.

I have found that there are certain spiritual truths that do not change. Among those truths is the necessity of both exile and return.

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