Monday, June 30, 2008

Genesis 23 - To be a prince

At first glance, this is one of those chapters that does not have a tremendous amount of action in it. There's no ark or tower of babble or angels smiting people. This is not exactly a blockbuster chapter, but there is an idea that caused me to pause in verses 3-6.

After Sarah died, Abraham needs to bury her. It says that he approached the Hittites and told them "I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead."

The Hittites respond by saying, "Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead." I missed it the first few times I read it, but there's a pretty powerful concept hidden in there.

I'm talking about the sentence "You are a mighty prince among us." That struck me because I don't live my life that way when I find myself surrounded by Hittites. The best example is the one I am living right now.

I want to write a book and start a ministry. I want to speak to churches and college groups around the world. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't. But regardless of the future, today I am working a full time job in advertising. I have a boss and coworkers and colleagues and responsibilities.

Right now, it is easy to be over focused on the book. Right now it is tempting to shrug off my real responsibilities for the fun stuff, writing and interacting with readers. But right now, I am living amongst the Hittites. And if I were ever to leave, what legacy would I have created? Would my boss stand up and say "You are a mighty prince among us?" Would my coworkers feel I had been kind and reflected the light of Christ in the workplace were I ever to leave? Would I be offered the choicest tombs based on my behavior?

All too often it is easy to get hypnotized by the future we think God might give us. Going to seminary, starting a ministry, doing something "big and amazing" for Him. But the reality is, we all live amongst the Hittites. In different ways, we all have the chance to leave an impact in the now. And that is what this chapter said to me.

Simply put, every day we have the chance to be a prince.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Genesis 22 - We change.

The things I struggle with most are not usually external. I rarely have to grapple with an opponent in my driveway on the way to work. In most situations, I am at the top of the food chain and do not have to fear tiger, crocodile or wolverine attack. My career is not all that dependent on the weather. External challenges, although present at times, are not what holds me back. It's the internal I struggle with most.

The thoughts of inadequacy. The feelings of doubt or shame or frustration. It's mindsets that I often wage battle with. Internal beliefs that hold me back from experiencing the true freedom of Christ. Quiet lies on the inside that say I'm not good enough or that God's forgiveness has a limit. And sometimes when I lose against these thoughts for the thousandth time, I wonder if I will ever change. Is that even possible?

Genesis chapter 22 says it is.

This is the chapter in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. This was not the first time we have seen God say something crazy to Abraham. In chapter 15 He promised him an incredible future. And when he did, Abraham expressed some doubt.

At one point in that chapter, when told he would possess the land, Abraham asked, "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?"

He had questions, doubts, internal battles he was losing when God spoke to him. But do you know what Abraham asked in chapter 22 when God told him to kill Isaac? Nothing.

He didn't say a word. He got a knife. He got his son. He got moving.

That is a dramatic change in character worth noting. As recent as chapter 16, Abraham was not trusting in God to provide and was instead going along with his wife's plan and sleeping with Hagar to extend the family line. So how is he so different in this chapter? How when God promises him something good in chapter 15 does he show doubt, but when God asks him to do something horrible in chapter 22 he says "here I am" and "God will provide?" What changed Abraham?

God did. He is the only one that can ultimately sustain life long change. I've changed a million things in my life temporarily, but the things I really struggle with, the big, gross struggles, those are so slippery when I try to do it myself. They just take a different shape. When I try to fix lust by myself, I just start working too much. When I try to not be a workaholic, I start finding other ways for approval or affirmation. When I get my approval issues under control, my feeling of inadequacy shape shifts back into lust and nothing really changes.

But Abraham did, in a big way. And God doesn't change, so it's not crazy to think that the same attitude change, the same heart transformation that Abraham experienced, is possible for me and it is possible for you.

You might think you'll never be a good dad or love your husband the way you should or be comfortable being single for the rest of your life, but people change. Or rather, God changes people and as difficult as that is to believe sometimes, it's true.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Genesis 21 - Invisible

There is an accidental theme starting to emerge from some of these Genesis posts. A consistent thread of an idea that I promise I am not deliberately weaving. And I think it is this:

You are not invisible to God.

God sees you. He hears you. He knows what is important to you and what is a struggle right now. You are on His radar. This is a message that comes across in chapter 15, chapter 16, chapter 18 and today, chapter 21.

In this one, Hagar and her son have been thrown into the desert but Abraham. His wife was too jealous to have them live in the same household. Hagar, believing her boy will die, is too devastated to watch his demise and leaves him off by himself. And then in verse 17 we see the five words that change the story:

"God heard the boy crying,"

There are perhaps bigger things that happens in this chapter. Words and promises that shape history in ways that might be more important than this half of a sentence. But, I think there is great hope hidden in this idea.

A boy had become invisible. He was expelled from his father's house. He was left alone in the wilderness to die. He was no one, about to die a no one's death. And yet God heard the boy crying.

You have probably not been in this exact situation, alone in the desert, waiting for inevitable death. But you have lost something. There is something in your life that you feel is invisible to God. Maybe it's a dream, a career that pulls at your heart but you are convinced God doesn't see. Maybe it is a lost relationship that left scars you know won't heal on their own but you think don't matter to God.

It could be anything, but I don't think that is the point. The point is that God still hears boys and girls crying. He still listens. He still acts. Regardless of how big or how small your desert is.

You are not invisible to God.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Genesis 20 - Besides

Abraham said some big lies. In Genesis 20 we're told that because he lied about his relationship with his wife, God had closed up the wombs of every woman in Abimelech's household. I've lied before, lots even, but I'm not sure that has ever happened.

What's weird about the whole event is that when it comes out, when Abimelech confronts Abraham, we witness one of the greatest tools that liars ever use. I am of course talking about the word "besides."

This is such a dangerous word because it starts to break down our resolve and represents the point when our beliefs weaken. And it's so easy to use:

"Sure, I talk with that guy at work a lot, but that's OK. Besides, my husband doesn't have the same passion for music that I do."

"I know I shouldn't have taken credit for that project at work, but it’s not a big deal. Besides, that's just something that happens in the corporate world."

"Yes, they were expensive, but I really like them. Besides, I deserve something nice, it's been a really tough week."

Besides is so insidious because it comes wrapped in the cloak of truth. Technically speaking Abraham was right. But the technicality of what he did wasn't what was in question. What he did was and it was clear that God was not looking to discuss technicalities.

Besides is like a tiny black drop in a white bucket of paint. It doesn't change the whole bucket into night sky darkness, but it blurs the color. It softens the crispness of the white into a grey. It makes the issue at hand feel fuzzy and up for discussion and debate.

This weekend, watch out for the word besides. It's cheap to use but usually, like the women in Abimelech's household would tell you, costs you much more than you expected.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Genesis 19 - Jokes

The last few chapters of Genesis have been thick with events and experiences. Angels predicting births, wives plotting, men sleeping with maid servants and this chapter is no different. But rather than the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or Lot's mistakes, I wanted to briefly touch on nine words that hit close to home in this story.

After the angels at Lot's house had blinded all the sex hungry men beating down the door, they turn to Lot and say, "Get them (anyone in Lot's family) out of here, because we are going to destroy this place." You get the sense that something powerful is about to happen and there is a tension that settles over the scene as Lot goes to speak to his family.

When he finds his future son-in-laws, he tells them, "Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" He yells at them. He pleads with them. Their response?

"But his sons-in-law thought he was joking."

They interpreted a warning as a joke. They laughed when they should have left. They dismissed when they should have disappeared. They died of disbelief that day.

I don't face situations that are so clearly dangerous. My potential downfall is not so neon. That I am aware of, sulfur curtains are not about to close on Atlanta where I live. But I need to treat more things as dangerous in my life. I need to see less jokes in my actions and the actions of those around me.

My favorite example is when someone will tell me, "I just have a flirty personality." I get that. Believe me I do. I tend to be gregarious and feel energized by crowds and love meeting new people. But as things kind of progress with the book and speaking engagements, how I interact with people not named "my wife" is an area I have to be hyper careful about. Because if I'm not, I'm Lot's son-in-law, standing on a stone-covered town square laughing at a warning while death and destruction quietly amass at my doorstep.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Genesis 18 - The death of monologue

I have to admit, Genesis 18 is one of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible. For some reason, I find the interchange between the Lord and Sarah very humorous. In verses 13-15 it almost feels like the Lord is being witty. When He hears Sarah laugh, He asks why she did that. She lies and says she didn't. His immediate response is, "Yes, you did laugh." For reasons I can't explain, that sounds like a scene from an episode of the show Frasier or something to me. I just picture God sitting back and saying, "Oh, you laughed. You laughed."

But the real cause for my deep affection for this chapter is that for me it marks the death of monologue and the birth of dialogue. The idea that we serve a God that speaks but does not listen, a God that gives words but does not receive them, a God that dictates but does not discuss, is laid to rest.

For when Abraham and God discuss the fate of Sodom, it's not simply a one way street. It's not that God is a four star General barking out commands to Abraham. Not at all. In this passage, He is listening. More than that, He gives Abraham freedom. Did you see what Abraham did? He kind of pulled a Blockbuster on God. (Yesterday on SCL I wrote that Blockbuster changed my service plan from infinite movies a month to 2 movies a month.) Abraham did something similar.

He placed a number in the conversation. God essentially said everyone is going to die. Abraham however changed "everyone" to "no one" if 50 righteous people could be found. That's gigantic. And then he eventually worked down to only 10 people being needed to save the city.

Some times we pray things like "just give me the strength to handle whatever it is that you throw at me Lord." That is a monologue prayer, as we are expecting to receive a monologue from God. I think God likes dialogue. I think this example shows His ridiculous flexibility in some situations. Why else is this passage in the Bible? I mean Sodom still fell. The result was still the same, but I think we're supposed to learn from and trust in the conversation Abraham had with God.

I think we're supposed to dialogue.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Genesis 17 - The limits

Yesterday, I got a very positive email from my literary agent about some of the publishing things we're trying to figure out. It was the kind of email that writers dream about getting, but when I spoke to my wife, she felt I was "reverse jinxing" it. I need to do another post on the topic, but a reverse jinx is basically where you pretend you think the opposite is going to happen in order to make what you really want happen. For instance, if your team has one chance to score a free throw to win a basketball game, you will verbally say, "Oh this guy always misses free throws." You don't want to jinx the situation by saying, "This guy is great at free throws," so you reverse it while secretly hoping he makes it.

But in addition to my reliance on the "reverse jinx," that experience also revealed that I am like Abram. I have limits on what I think God is capable of. Has He saved my marriage? Yes. Has He blessed me in more ways than I can understand? Yes. Has He put words in my heart over and over again? Yes. Is He capable of getting me published? Uhhh, that's up for debate.

The same thing happened with Abram in Genesis 17. When God appears, we are told that Abram fell face down. He understood that this was God. He did not question the things God had done or would do. When God says, "I will make nations of you," Abram doesn't doubt that. In fact, at the end of the chapter, Abram believes so fervently that he goes off and has every male in his house circumcised. Talk about a tough thing to sell to your landscapers.

But when confronted with the idea that he and his elderly wife would have a kid, Abram laughed out loud. He laughed at God's plan and then he suggested an alternative. "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"

That was Abram's limit. God had reached it. He didn't think old people could have babies. Pretty simple, clearly defined limit to what God can do. Make nations out of me? Yes. Have me circumcise every male in my house? Yes. Change my name during a conversation with you, the Alpha and Omega? Yes. Get me and my wife pregnant? Doubtful.

On some level, we all put limits on what God is capable of. We all have specific issues that we think he might need us to suggest an "Ishmael solution" for. So that, becomes the question for today.

I have to give God the publishing of my book. What limit do you have to let go of?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Genesis 16 - Out of sight

The neon topic to discuss when it comes to Genesis 16 is what happens when we take things into our own hands. In the story of Sarai, Abram's wife, we see someone desperate set into motion a desperate series of events. In verse 2 she does the classic "Lord/I" scenario. She says "The Lord has kept me from having children." Then she follows it up with "Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her."

In the first sentence she lays out what God has done. In the second sentence she lays out what she was going to do to fix God's mistake. To succeed where He had failed. But that's not what I want to talk about today.

What I find really interesting is what Hagar says in verse 13. She says, "You are the God who sees me." We are told that "She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her."

What I think is cool about that is in essence, Hagar summarized what she believed about God with a name. At a time in her life when she must have been feeling invisible. After all, despite being with child, she was pushed out of the house and had run away alone. Was she hurt that Abram was acting like she didn't exist? When we read the story it's easy to brush aside the fact that the two of them had been doing something incredibly initimate. They had created a child together. Was she sad from the isolation Sarai certainly thrust on her with her anger? Did she know who she was or where she and her child could possibly go?

She had no identity. She was a maidservant who had temporarily been more but was now back to nothing. But in the midst of that, she is told, "You are now with child and you will have a son." God knew her condition. He was well aware of what was going on in her life. More than that, she is told, "for the Lord has heard of your misery."

Do you ever feel disconnected from God? Like the line has been cut? That your call has been dropped? That He is unaware of your life and your struggles and your joys and the things that matter most to you? That He doesn't see you?

He does. He has heard of your misery. He knows your dreams and your hopes, the ones still alive, the ones that seem to have been suffocated by the weight of time and inaction. He is watching with anticipation and with love. You are not invisible. I promise you, you are not hidden.

He is the God who sees you.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Genesis 15 - The darkest light

This chapter has a few really interesting moments in it. The first is that Abram talks back to God. They actually dialog, with Abram expressing honest doubt. It's not that God says something and Abram instantly replies, "You got it. I'm super happy thanks! Rainbows and ponies!"

Not at all, he actually discusses his future with God and details what he fears about the days ahead. This kind of changes the game. This changes how we can interact with God. This makes faith a two way street. A conversation, not a hand off of rules and ideas.

The second thing is that God uses His creation to teach Abram. He asks him to look at the stars as a way to show Abram how abundant his life would be. I like that, because it justifies us doing the same thing. I might think it's cheesy that some churches insist on singing every worship song over a waterfall or a sunset. But God Himself used nature to prove a point so I think it's completely OK to see Him in the world around us.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to discuss how God spoke to Abram in the end of the chapter. After what appeared to have been some fairly casual conversations (if such a thing is possible with God) Abram is instructed to prepare a sacrifice. Then verse 12 and 13 say, "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him …"

Did you ever notice how God appeared? I've written about it before. It was in the midst of a thick and dreadful darkness. The stage for their discussion was not the angelic yellow glow that most movies or stories associate with God. No chubby angels played harps. No sunlight blinded Abram. Instead, a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

What's terrifying about that is that I think God still works that way sometimes. I might like to believe that when I find myself surrounded by what feels like eternal night and get lost in a dark patch of life, God is not speaking then. But this verse suggests otherwise. I might think I am alone in the pit. That the night is something I have to get through before God will speak. But in this chapter, thick, dreadful darkness was His medium. It was His vehicle to share His message.

You might be in dark times right now. You might be in dreadful times next month. I hope that even in the midst of the long night, you will pause and ask, if like Abram, this is God's way of speaking purpose into your life.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Genesis 14 - The Keyser Soze of the Bible

A few years ago, when I got out of the pigpen and came back home, I used to struggle with a certain phrase. It was not some deep statement or complicated prayer. It was not even something even particularly holy. Here is what I said for a few frustrated months:

"I just wish I could figure God out."

I was angry because so much of who He is and what He does, did not make sense to me. I mean even the good stuff, that He loved me despite the things I had done, baffled my tiny head. And so I would sit and think and struggle and grumble to figure God out.

He wouldn't let me though. I think He knew is that what I wanted wasn't a relationship, it was a formula. I wanted to master God like a math problem and then I would be done. He knew that the minute I had "figured Him out," I would be done. I would be gone. I would be lost all over again.

That's part of the reason I like Genesis 14. In addition to Abram's lesson about taking money or gifts from people we shouldn't, Melchizedek makes a cameo. Have you heard of this guy?Scholars debate about who he is. Abram tithes to him and he is called a "priest of the God Most High." Some believe he was the "appearance on earth of the pre-incarnate Christ in a temporary bodily form." He's like the character Keyser Soze in the movie "Usual Suspects."

Regardless of who he is, to me he represents mystery. To me, in the middle of a very logical chapter about a battle and a rescue and the inner workings of kings, God drops an incredibly mysterious figure into the story. I think He loves doing that. I think He loves reminding us that His truth is deeper and older and more mysterious than we can understand.

It's easy to breeze on by Melchizedek. His cameo is so short in the grand scheme of things that it's not difficult to miss it. And the mysteries you'll see today are the very same. After reading one time about Moses and the burning bush I remember praying "God, I wish there was something mysterious in my life that you called me to understand like the burning bush." I felt like in a matter of seconds He answered by saying, "Your wife is a mystery. I want you to understand her."

He was right. She is a mystery. The way my kids process new things is a mystery. How or why people are reading this site is a mystery. And when I get comfortable with the idea that I can't figure God out, I get to enjoy the beauty of being surrounded by mystery. We miss the domestic mysteries in our own lives every day. I hope you won't this morning.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Genesis 13 - Good meaning bad

For me, using drugs wasn't the real problem. I mean the actual taking of the drug and the moments or hours that came after that was not a miserable experience. If it was, if it was devoid of pleasure and completely miserable, no one would ever take them in the first place. No, miserable always waited around the corner. It was never far away. It was always there lurking, but for at least a brief time, the drugs pretended to work. I was numb. I was not sad. I thought I was good.

But much like Lot in Genesis 13, I thought temporary green pastures meant permanent prosperity. Lot didn't plan on ending up in a city that God would destroy. I'm not sure anyone really makes that decision. But that is where he landed. I know this is kind of a spoiler, but things don't work out well for the city of Sodom. So how did Lot end up there?

From first glance, the land he entered is described as looking like "the garden of the Lord." Wow, that's just about the most extreme compliment you can give in the Bible. On the Biblical scale of awesome, the garden is near the top of the list. So I imagine that when Lot saw that, it was an easy decision to head that way.

And everything looked great. He was on his way. He parted company with Abram. He was moving up in the world like the Jeffersons. But, less than 40 words later, he's camping near Sodom. And the men of Sodom are described as being wicked and sinning greatly against the Lord. (By the way, let's talk about that word "against" later. We sometimes think we can be the sinning version of Switzerland, hurting no one.)

The simple truth is that Lot chased green pastures and found Sodom. I chased getting high and found the bottom. You're working a ton of hours and will find that every promotion in the world won't fill that space that needs filling. You're shopping for another pair of shoes without taking the last pair out of the box.

We all have our own pastures. We all find our own Sodoms. Today, as you enter the weekend, my hope is that you'll remember that sometimes, even the places that look like the garden of the Lord, turn out to be the city of Sodom.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Genesis 12 - The Battle of I

One of the things that sometimes makes me frustrated is when a friend asks me to repeat something I said. It's probably a sign of my immaturity, but I get irritated because on some level I feel like the only reason I have to say something twice is that the person wasn't listening the first time. They didn't consider me important enough to listen to, tuned me out and then woke back up when some word I said triggered them. Fortunately, as counselor #3 has said many times, I am not God.

God is all about repeating things. He is not afraid to be a broken record with a simple message if He feels for a second that we might miss it. Genesis 12 is a great example of that. Here, in the first three verses are six things God repeats to Abram:

go to the land I will show you
I will make you into a great nation
I will bless you
I will make your name great
I will bless those who bless you
whoever curses you I will curse

Six times He repeats those words, driving home over and over again that it will be Him, not Abram, that does this. He even follows it up in verse 7 by saying, "I will give this land." But what happens when Abram gets to Egypt? He gets afraid and tells his wife, "Say that you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."

Do you see the change there? Abram takes control and says "I will." He borrows God's phrase for a minute so that he can protect "my life." And in the process, he prostitutes his wife.

I confess, all too often, my hand is on the "I will" button. My heart is fearful that despite the constant reassurance, God won't do what He says. But the truth is, He repeats things because He loves us. And He fulfills the things He repeats because He is love. It is His nature. It is the air He breathes.

Today, I pray I will embrace the "I won't" side of things and give God the room to masterfully create the "I will" He has planned for my life.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Genesis 11 - What is possible?

One of the questions people ask me is, "How do you get all this writing done?" I think that's a good question. I have a full time job, where I write all day. I have two kids, a wife, a men's group, freelance writing on the side and a beta fish. That last one doesn't add a lot of time, but still, I have to keep that fish out of a lot of scuffles with the mirror in the bathroom, which is a hassle.

But the truth is, most of what I am doing right now seems really easy. Not because I am overtly talented or smart, but because God is. I feel like all I have to do is stay close to Him and show up to the blank page. I didn't create any of the cool stuff that is happening, so I don't have as much pressure to maintain it as I anticipated. I get to sit back and enjoy watching God do the impossible.

That's kind of the opposite of what happened in Genesis 11 with the tower of Babel. The people wanted to reach the heavens and make their own name known around the earth. God wasn't cool with that. So He stepped in and made everything impossible by fracturing the common language into a thousand different dialects.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt yourself push against the incredible momentum of God? I've written about it before and I will write about it again because it is impossible. The littlest things become complicated. The people you should be able to work with become difficult. Your best laid plans become a thousand different dialects in the desert.

I tried for about a year to write a book and get people to validate my ideas. I banged on doors like Relevant Magazine and a handful of publishers. But it didn't work. I was told no and no thanks and not right now at every step. I was building my own tower of Babel. I was raising a monument to how awesome Jon Acuff is and God made it impossible.

The truth is pretty simple. I think we all build towers sometimes. I think we all get frustrated at the languages we find when we try to march off without God. But ultimately, I think when God is moving with us, there is nothing we can't accomplish. When God is moving against, there is nothing we can accomplish.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Genesis 10 - My family

This is one of those chapters that challenges my concept of writing a post per day, for each chapter. If you read Genesis 10, you'll see that it is essentially a family history of Noah's sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Have you ever wondered why chapters like this are in the Bible? I mean, if you were God, wouldn't you make sure every chapter of the Bible had deep, deep wisdom and knowledge? Wouldn't you jam pack this thing with goodness on every page?

But maybe, despite my first impression, that is exactly what God did here. Maybe this chapter is actually pretty important. Maybe the information about Noah's family is there so that I'll get curious about my own family tree.

In counseling, they call that working on your "family of origin." You basically spend time trying to understand what the roles and rules in your family were. For instance, who was the "scapegoat" in your family? Who was the "hero" or the "addict?" Who played the role of the "mascot," constantly joking to make sure things never got too uncomfortable in the room? What roles did everyone play? What were the rules? In some families, there was a rule that you "did not show feelings" or that "anger is sinful" or that "boys don't cry" or that "honest feelings should be hidden and expressed in sarcasm."

There are a millions rules and roles. If we don't ever spend time understanding them, then we repeat them. We forget that. We forget that for 18 years, we basically had a crash course in life from our families. Good or bad, ugly or beautiful, it can be a pretty powerful thing to go back and learn what it is you learned growing up.

Maybe this chapter wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Genesis 9 - We show our drunks

Chapter 9 is jam packed with some pivotal information. In it, God instructs us to "be fruitful and increase in number." He lays out the symbolism of the rainbow and promises never to wipe us out again with a flood. He establishes boundaries for the protection of human life and the very relationship between us and all the animals. But that's not why I like chapter 9. I like it because Noah gets drunk.

Not that I support drunkenness. Not at all. Not that I like Noah sinning and laying naked in his tent, essentially passed out from too much wine. It's actually a pretty gross picture of a man that just followed God with all his heart. The reason I like it is because it's real.

Different people have different criticisms of the Bible. It's full of errors because it was written by man. It's not true. It's not relevant to this day and age. There is no shortage of arguments that attempt to defame the Bible, but one that is really hard to make is that "the Bible isn't real."

Verses like 21, "When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent" are such perfect examples of how very real the Bible is. Noah is a hero of faith. He should be held up as a great man. He walked with God and helped save mankind. But when he fell, when he got drunk and lay nude, the Bible didn't gloss over that. The Bible didn't sugar coat that story or omit it. The Bible tells us like it is. When our heroes rise, we see that, when they fall, we see that too.

I don't know if other religions treat their heroes like that, but I am glad the Bible does. I am glad the word of God is real and deals with both the beautiful and the ugly. Because it means that I can trust both.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Genesis 8 - The birds we send

It is not good to test God. A guy named "Jesus Christ" said that, so I have to believe it's true. But in Genesis 8 it almost feels like Noah tests God.

I'm of course talking about the verses in which Noah sends out the birds. I don’t think I ever realized how many times he sends them out. He sent a raven first and then three doves. Those actions have certainly come to symbolize hope in Christianity, the image of a dove flying with an olive leaf in its mouth, but I think they are more than that. There are three things I want to learn from this passage:

1. 40 meant 40
Noah didn't open the ark and send a bird out until it had been 40 days, which was the amount of time God had promised. His sending of the first bird was not just an aviary adventure, it was a testament to Noah's belief that God kept his word. If He said 40, then Noah trusted that He meant 40.

2. It's OK to change birds.
I really like that Noah started with a raven and ended with a dove. He was flexible. He didn't whine when the raven didn't work out, he was open to trying something new. Sometimes I get so focused on doing what I think God wants me to do that I get frozen in my methods. It has to be this job you want me at God. I have to marry this person and live in this town and have things exactly this way. But I think sometimes God wants us to start with ravens and end with doves.

3. Patience takes time.
Noah didn't expect things to change on day 41. In fact after the olive leaf dove he waited seven more days to send out another one. God's will takes time and Noah was willing to give God the time He wanted. How many times in my own life have I seen an olive leaf and rushed into action? How can I wait seven days and send out another bird if that's what God wants?

I like Genesis 8. It feels simple and honest and yet full of interesting things like ravens and doves and patience and rain. It feels like a slow start to a deep book, a gradual entry to deeper pools of knowledge. It's not complicated, but there are layers of ideas to unfold. Which is fun and challenging and what I hope to do with every chapter of the Bible.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Genesis 7 - Until Love

I'm not sure if there were dinosaurs on the ark with Noah. They don't get a shout out in Genesis 7. None of the verses specifically say, "And then, with great difficulty, Noah captured a T-Rex and was able to strap him down in the basement of the ark."

But I do think that this section of Genesis is one of those Velcro places in the Bible. People get stuck here and argue here about the intricacies of the story. They discuss whether dinosaurs were on the ark, how old the earth is, where science and faith intersect.

I have to confess that I'm not an expert on a lot of that. I think it's a perfectly legitimate thing to discuss and I think God smiles when we learn and explore His truth and the nuances of it with the brains He gifted us with. I think that there is great beauty in understanding science and seeing God's fingerprints on the things we experience in this world from a biological, physical sense. I applaud the many people that use this approach as a way to engage people that don't know the Lord. I don't however think God's cool when we get stuck on any one particular issue.

With me, that issue isn't evolution, it's porn. I often rail against that topic, trying to get people and churches to see it as a problem and start working toward a plan to combat what I feel like is an out of control monster. But sometimes, I focus too much on the specifics of that issue and not enough on the actual people that are struggling with it.

What if we kept faith simple instead? What if the only things we got stuck on was loving God, loving others and loving ourselves? The other day I admitted, it's easier to traffic in ideas than it is to love people. People are messy and difficult to understand. An idea can be put in a box and controlled to an extent, mastered even a little. But until I've got my love for God, my love for others and my love for me (perhaps the hardest of the three) humming along nicely, I probably shouldn't get lost trying to figure out whether there was a brontosaurus on the ark or whatever happened to all the unicorns.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Genesis 6 - The walk before the water.

I want to do "big things" for God. I am not entirely sure what that means. It probably means that I want to write a book and become a public speaker and eventually get really big fake teeth so that I look "pastor handsome." OK, everything except that last one is real. I want to do big, massive, powerful things with God, right this second. In the immortal words of Van Halen, I want everything "right now."

But in reading Genesis 6 today I realized that God doesn't work that way. He can, I mean He's not incapable of doing that, but I'm not sure that's His style. In Genesis 6:9, we are told that Noah "walked with God." It's a pretty simple sentence really, but it's one we take for granted because we get distracted by the ark.

I think the Bible has a rhythm and when we ignore it, we miss things. I don't think it's accidental that before God tells Noah to build the ark, before Noah gets his instructions, we are told they walk together. We think sometimes that it had to Noah must have been dumbstruck when God gave him his instructions, but maybe he wasn't. Have you ever thought about that? Maybe years spent walking with God taught Noah that anything was possible?

We often don't take the time to walk with God. We want the Ark moment right now. But maybe God wants to walk with us first. Maybe He wants to hang out, like He did with Noah, before He reveals some massive mission. Maybe He wants to take a million walks with us before He sends a single raindrop. Maybe I need to be focused on taking one smell step with God instead of one giant leap for me-kind.

It's an admittedly simple idea, but I think we all need to walk before there's any water.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Genesis 5 - Repeat

Chapter 5 in Genesis is not exactly packed with action. It's essentially a list of lineage with the names of people and how long they lived. But hidden inside that information are two verses that are pretty interesting. Here is what verses 1 and 2 say:

"When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them 'man.'"

I highlighted a few words in that section because I think they are really important. The word "created" is repeated three times in two verses. Why? I think God repeats the things He knows we will struggle with. On those days when I don't feel like His work of art, He has left a love note for me, He has gone out of his way to tell me He created me.


And if I miss that, He tells me He made me. He called us man. He gave us our name.

Above that, He blessed us. After He made us, He blessed us and named us. Please note that it doesn't say, "He blessed those that deserved it." Or, "He blessed those that had a consistent quiet time and were able to read the whole Bible in a year." The blessing is part of our nature as much as the need for oxygen is. We are wired with it. From creation, it has been a gift we were given.

My prayer today is that regardless of how gross you feel, regardless of if you've made life one big, broken inescapable mess, you'll remember one true idea - you were created by God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Genesis 4 - The Green Barrier

The country of Algeria is fighting a losing battle against the desert. Right now, the Sahara occupies 85% of Algeria and only 3% of all their land is cultivable. And the desert is growing. It is getting bigger. It is hungry.

In order to stop it from swallowing up more land, Algeria built a forest 2.5 to 16 miles thick called "the green barrier." It's essentially an army of trees tasked with waging war against the marching sands of the Sahara.

For some reason, this information reminded me of what God told Cain in Genesis 4.

"But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

I like that idea, the need to be aware that sin is crouching at our doors. Sin, like the Sahara is waiting for us. Waiting for our trees to fall and give way to sandstorms of temptation and the steady wear and tear of desert life.

How's your forest? The one in Algeria is failing. They only planted one kind of tree and it looks like that may have been a mistake. That should have planted a dozen different varieties. I think life is the same way. If you only have one plan, one accountability partner, one time during the day you connect with God, one idea for dealing with all of the outside influences that are trying to get in, I think we'll fail.

I pray your forest will be thick with friends. I pray it will grow strong on God's word. I pray it will weather the storms that this life stirs up.

Because the desert is waiting for us, it is crouching at our doors.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Genesis 3 - The Count in the Garden

What is your take on the whole ejection from Eden? When you read it in Genesis 3, what do you think? In that moment when Adam and Eve, images of God, are barred from the garden, what feelings does that conjure up for you? For me, it conjures up a scene from the book, The Count of Monte Cristo.

In the book, after the Count has been gracious to everyone that was kind to him before he was wrongfully imprisoned, there is a turning point. There is a drastic change of character and pace and story. For revenge is about to be enacted. This is what the Count says before he launches himself at his enemies with an unsurpassed violence.

"And now, farewell to kindness, humanity and gratitude. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked."

I used to imagine that was how God felt when he kicked Adam and Eve out. That He was enraged and disgusted and overwhelmed with the desire to hurt them. And in the midst of all those negative thoughts, I missed the unbelievable tenderness of the verses.

You probably did not miss it, but I did. I failed to see that by barring Adam and Eve from Eden he was loving them. By preventing them from entering, He was creating a way for them to find Him in the end. For if they ate the tree of life, they would live forever and be apart from God forever. In verse 22, God says, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." They would never die, never know His embrace again.

So the ejection from the Garden wasn't hatred. It was death, because in this case, death was a gift, the gift of one day being reunited with the Lord that loved them enough to allow them to die.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Genesis 2 - Alone

When I read chapter 2 in Genesis, I was first struck by the intimacy of God breathing the breath of life into Adam. It was incredibly tender, a reflection of how much we matter. While the magnificence of the ocean and the brilliance of light was spoken into existence, only we were shared life in such a personal way.

But other writers, better writers, have covered the gift of life and what breath really symbolizes. So instead, I want to spend a few seconds on loneliness. Have you ever noticed that the very second thing God says about Adam is "It is not good for man to be alone." The very first is a warning that death will result if he eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The second statement God makes is about being alone.

Sometimes, in this world, we get intoxicated by the concept of independance. We see "going it alone" as a sign of strength, a testament to our character. It's just me against the world, if I can make it there, I'll make it, anywhere.

But God thought loneliness was so important he mentioned it second. Maybe eating the apple wasn't the only way you could die. Maybe being alone is a different kind of death. Not that everyone has to be married. Not at all. I think there are lots of people God calls to remain single. But I think He always wants us in relationship. Whether that's in the context of marriage or a friendship with a neighbor or a brother.

The last thing I'll say is that it's kind of funny to me that in essence, God and Adam auditioned all the animals American Idol style to see if they could find a suitable helper for Adam. Verse 20 says, "But for Adam no suitable helper was found." What if kangaroos had been suitable? Am I the only one that thinks about things like that? What if, at the end of the day, God said, "You know what Adam, the kangaroo has a helpful pocket, this strong tail and can reach high places with his incredible ups. Let's make him your helper."

I'm weird for thinking that, right?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Genesis 1 - The butterfly

I used to think I was broken. I used to pray these long, rambling prayers in which I asked God to fix me. To take all the shattered pieces and put them back together. And at some point I felt like He said, "No."

It wasn't a mean no, but rather an honest refusal to do something that couldn't be done. Because ultimately I wasn't broken. God's image in me was too deep and too true and too powerful to break. Despite what I did, what was inside remained true. I may have dimmed it or hidden it under layers of sin, but it was still there, glowing and waiting. Ever waiting.

Genesis 1 talks about that. In a matter of two verses, God repeats three times that we are made in His image. I think He repeats it so often because He knew we wouldn't believe it. But it is true.

I once heard a guy named John Lynch touch on this point. I think I may have written about this before, but he basically said that if you took the DNA of a caterpillar it would return results that said "butterfly." Regardless of what it looked like, regardless of what it felt like, the caterpillar was a butterfly at the core. That could not be changed.

I think the same is true of us. We were made in His image. Sin is not more powerful than God. Sin cannot destroy what God has set in place. We are all butterflies. Even if we don't know it and we're living caterpillar lives.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Code Adam. Code Jon.

Today, I saw something at Wal-Mart that I had never seen before. In the middle of shopping, the loudspeaker buzzed to life and a less than calm voice said, "All employees, we've got a Code Adam."

In seconds, every employee was sprinting to the front doors. A few went outside to scan the parking lot, the others formed a wall blocking the exits. It was like an anthill had been kicked over.


Because a Code Adam means that a child has gone missing.

I imagine that most times, the child is found quickly and all is returned to right. That's what happened today. But for a few minutes, nothing in the store mattered as much as finding that missing kid. The world of commerce and price tags and sales figures stopped dead as they tried to locate a lost child.

I think that's how heaven is.

When I am lost. When like the prodigal son, I stumble from the father's grasp and gaze, I don't think He cries out "look at Jon sinning again! Look at him failing me again!" I think God cries out, "Code Jon! Code Jon!"

And then He rushes out into the parking lot, hoping to intercept me before I get in the wrong car, desperate to keep me from making the type of decision that is going to hurt me. Because He loves me. I am His delight. Just like you, I am the reason He rises in the morning. (Is. 30)

When I am lost He does more than just lock a store down. He sent his son to the cross for me. He speaks his message in a thousand ways every day. He would move the mountains and the cosmos if it meant I came home safe. If it meant I returned to the father and he could stop saying, "Code Jon, Code Jon."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A simple prayer for a simple day.

I am not good at praying. Most of the times, when I open my heart and my mouth, only the simple things fall out. "Help," or "I can't do this without you" or "Lord Jesus have mercy on me."

But last night I heard a song that had a poetic prayer accidentally hidden inside it. I say accidentally because it's a secular song about a girl. But like Ken Boa, I believe that every good story ultimately points back to the greatest story of all, Christ.

Here is what this musician said:

"Pull me down hard, drown me in love."

That's it, nothing fancy. Just a simple request. And that is what I will be praying today.