Bad Deal. Good God.

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Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. –Genesis 25:34

Esau walked into the house and there was his brother, Jacob, making a delicious smelling lentil stew.  His brother said, “I’ll give you a bowl of this stew if you give me your birthright.”  Jacob was always trying to make deals like this.

Esau laughed and said, “I’m hungry, Jacob, but not THAT hungry!”

No wait, that’s what he should have done.  Instead, he raised his fork, and forked over his dad’s inheritance, his leadership and position in the family, all for a bowl of steaming lentil goodness.

Bad deal.

What are some of the bad deals you’ve made?

  • Jan and I bought a used car from a high school kid without taking it to a mechanic.  7 minutes into taking possession of it, flames began to pour out underneath the hood.  Jan got our money back, but that’s a deal I wish we’d never made.
  • When I lived in Kansas City, some guy was going door to door selling alarm system contracts.  We signed up for a 6 year monthly plan, which they held us to…even though we moved after 4 years.   Man oh man I wish we hadn’t agreed to that deal!
  • And more than once upon a time, I’ve given up my birthright, just like Esau.  I’ve turned my back on the blessings God’s given me to do something…stupid.  Self-destructive.  Selfish.  Or even just because I craved something else.

Yep.  I’ve made some bad deals.  I’ll bet you have too.  Well the Good News is that Esau recovered, as can we.  It wasn’t like God was out to get Esau, but more that Jacob was willing to move his life in a direction Esau wasn’t yet ready or willing to take. Bad deal or not, God never gave up on Esau.

Years later, the two brothers unite on a field.  Jacob is ready for bloodshed from his angry brother, but Esau is gracious and forgiving and beautiful.  I don’t know if God so much as helped Jacob steal his brother’s birthright, as he helped set these two young men on faithful courses with their lives.

Bad deal. Good God.

There are many lessons to be learned from the story of Jacob and Esau, but one of those lessons should NOT be that God is some kind of a used-car salesmen looking to take advantage of our shallowness.

Rather, God can work through us even when we’re gullible, shallow, and impulsive.  It was a bad deal, to be sure, but Esau came out alright.  As did Jacob.

The next time you agree to a bad deal, (and there will be a next time) don’t let it eat your lunch.

You’ll likely be hungrier for Good News next time,

so don’t stew in your juices about it.

(if you have a good pun using the word ‘lentil’, I’d love to hear it)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Mary, I Didn’t Know

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To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. — Genesis 3:16

In 5th grade, all the guys were led into a classroom down the hall, where we were taught some sterilized version of the facts of life.  The girls had their own lecture.  If I remember correctly, their conversation lasted longer than ours did.

I remember rejoining some of my female friends, and seeing a strange look in their eyes. They all seemed to have aged a year or so in maturity.  I wondered if they had been told different facts than we had.

Indeed, they had.  More than just the rough outline of Male/Female sexuality, they were learning about pain.  The monthly ordeal of menstruation, the excruciating process of childbirth.  I don’t know if any time was given to the discussion of other forms of pain for women — objectification, harassment, abuse.  Somehow I doubt it.

I had no clue.  I knew of none of this, and wouldn’t for years.  Some of it, I’m still learning.

Last week, for instance, I sat with my senior high Sunday School youth at the coffee shop and asked what was meant to be a throwaway question, “The angels said ‘be not afraid’.  What’s your biggest fear?”

One of the young women said, without irony, “I’m afraid of men.”  The other two quickly agreed.  They began to share with me and the other young men there, how difficult it is for them to be out, anywhere, by themselves.  I don’t know what it was about this unexpectedly frank conversation, but as they each gave real world examples of how scary and painful it can be living as a young woman in this world, it occurred to me…

That little wood-carved figure of Mary, there on my coffee table nativity set, is going through some stuff I simply can’t imagine.

Not only do I have next to no concept of what it means to be a young woman in our world today, I am utterly clueless of what that young girl in her teens must be enduring on Christmas Eve.

Having a baby is a big deal.  Having a baby in a cattle stall, with only (I’m guessing) a pretty clueless husband to assist must have been terrifying.  I can only imagine such physical pain coinciding with great joy!

I’m aware there are many women in the world whose pregnancies aren’t successful, due to complications, or lack of assistance, or poor sanitation. Wow. More pain that I can hardly fathom.

I’m reminded of Adam and Eve, expelled from the Garden of Eden.  There were consequences to their disobedience, and one of them was that childbirth would bring pain. I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about it before.  The literal pain alongside the joy of Christmas.

I tend to think that God is not inflicting these punishments, but that they are natural consequences for us choosing to live in the harshness of the world.

Regardless, I feel that Eve got the worse end of the deal, compared to Adam.  As did Mary, with Joseph.  As I’ve come to believe more and more, women in general face pain that men aren’t always aware of.

This is not a pity party for the ladies. It’s closer to a celebration of the strong and faithful women I have known in my life, who may have had to struggle more than I know just to celebrate Christmas this year.

In the least, I’m aware that the mother of my Savior deserves some gratefulness on my part.  I’m guessing the same is true for all the other women in my life.

It’s not much, but I wanted to say, on behalf of my 5th grade clueless self, and my 50-year-old slightly less clueless self…

I was thinking of you this Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Mitch

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Four Blessings

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Recognize this?

“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 12:2-3

This is God’s call of Abram, long before their famous covenant is made.  It’s just the beginning of their relationship, but look at all God is offering in such a small space.

Two short verses, four distinct blessings.  

Blessing #1: I will bless you (Genesis 12:2a)  God is talking to Abram and Abram’s offspring here, and says it outright:  You and I are going into a partnership, and I’m gonna make sure that your lives will be rewarding and Holy, and your future will be fruitful.  Wow. Just one blessing in and already hard to resist.

Blessing #2: You will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2b) Here’s an unexpected curve ball. Not only will Abram’s family know the blessings of God, they will also show the blessings of God.   From the beginning, here, there is a divine mission and a special purpose given. To properly receive a blessing from God is to multiply it.

Blessing #3:I will bless those who bless you (Genesis 12:3a) What?  This level of blessing is unexpected and extravagant.  God’s blessing will extend to those who show kindness and mercy to God’s people.  God’s promises now extend to all who choose blessing as a way of life.

Blessing #4. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3b) God throws the power of blessing wide open, and makes it clear.   The world will be better because Abram and his people are a part of it.  This is a charge to make God’s blessings known through the whole earth.   Through us, God has a message to send to all who will listen.

Just think of it.  In two verses, God calls Abram into a relationship that has literally world-changing ramifications.  In four blessings, God frames out God’s task with and for humanity, a task that has in so many ways come true, yet continues to unfold.

Abraham’s children include approximately 53% of the people on planet Earth.  Christianity, Judaism, Islam and others all trace their lineage back to this man.

What would happen if those 3.6 billion people responded to God’s call to be a 4-fold blessing? We’d have to find some of them first.

(Oh yeah–I am one of them, and so are you).

Have a great week,

Mitch

 


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The Supreme Supreme Court

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Down through the annals of American History, there have been 118 supreme court justices.  We’re due for another, and the confirmation process is getting messy, as it sometimes does.

I understand why.  The stakes are high. As a country, we should be very discerning about who gets to join this exclusive club.  Let’s hope our elected officials make good, informed decisions.

9 people sit on the court, making definitive decisions about what is right, what is just, and what is law in the USA.  When there’s a death or retirement, a replacement justice is found.  Sometimes the nominee leans to the right, and sometimes to the left.  Sometimes the court is more balanced than others.  Whether or not we live up to the “Supreme”, the idea behind this “Court” is a lofty goal for us as a country.

I wonder if you are familiar with a court that is even more supreme than the Supreme Court.  There are hints of it in a few places in the Bible, although we rarely pay attention to it.  Genesis 1:26 is perhaps the best example.  .

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Who is “us”?  Who is “our”? Why does suddenly God shift to the plural, and then back again afterwards?  Ever notice that?  It may seem like a small thing, but this passage, along with some others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7, 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 1) paints a picture where God is not alone.

What are some possible explanations for this?  A translation error?  Maybe. Many would say God is speaking within the Trinity, a conversation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although that is never spelled out.  Some people have asserted that God is simply using the “Royal We” and talking to himself.

Others believe God is talking to his wife, a hold over from the Canaanite religion.  And still others have pointed out that the name Elohim (which means Children of El) is another ancient idea passed down to the Hebrews, in which God is a little like Zeus, presiding over a divine court.  Truth is?  Nobody really knows.

Regardless of the theological implications, wouldn’t it be kind of cool if God was the Chief Justice of this Supreme Supreme Court?  Making decisions about creation, about how people live together, about right and wrong?  Can you picture them (whoever they are) deliberating and discussing and driven by a desire to do what is right for the sake of the world?

Well now…it may have occurred to you, but God doesn’t NEED a Supreme Supreme Court to do all those things.  God is the source of wisdom, and love, and right and wrong.  God is already our Chief Justice.  That’s why we are a monotheistic religion.  That’s why we declare “In God We Trust”.

If God were being nominated for our Supreme Court, I’d like to think it would be a breezy process, but knowing how complicated things can be we might want to ask him a few billion questions first.

The truth is, God doesn’t need a court.  But we do.  It’s our human attempt to honor our values and each other in a diverse and ever-changing world.  That’s why we try to confirm very human people into these very demanding positions–9 at a time.

How faithfully will they accomplish their task?

You and I may debate and disagree on that,

But only God can Judge.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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LEAVE ME ALONE

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I was leaving church last night, turning onto College Street, when I saw a figure crossing the road.

My car lights cut through the silhouette, revealing it to be a young woman, walking by herself.  She could have been high school or college age.

She kept her head down as she crossed in front of me.  Once she’d crossed, I was able to see what she wore on her back.

In huge letters, on the back of her hoodie, were three words:

LEAVE
ME
ALONE

So many thoughts went through my head:

  • She could have chosen so many messages to wear.  Why would she choose that???
  • Maybe she was a total introvert, and truly just needed her space.
  • Perhaps she was deeply troubled.  Coming from a rough home.  Broken and isolated.
  • How do we share God’s love with someone who wants to be left alone?

She passed on by.  I have no idea who she was.

But I’ll admit it.  It bothered me.

It made me wonder where she got that hoodie from.  Did she put the letters on herself?

No, it turns out there’s a market for that kind of catch phrase.

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I found her hoodie online.  $50.

There were t-shirts, bomber jackets, hoodies, hats, pants, and more, all with that same slogan.

I wish there wasn’t.

It’s one thing for a person to desire solitude. For regenerating, for peace and quiet.  It’s another for a human being to send out a message to the cosmos expressing a desire to not be part of it.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. –Genesis 2:18

I believe this is true.  Men and women were not created into isolation.  We are a people of family, a people who live and love together, even when things are tough.

The fact that there are millions of kids out there wearing these messages of isolation reveals nothing we shouldn’t already know:  Some people have been so burned by being with others, they’d just as soon go it alone.

Hey, maybe she wore it to be cool, or ironic, or trendy.  I don’t know. And I want to respect her privacy if that’s really what she needs…

But I’ve also learned not to automatically believe everything I read.

If I knew that girl…she’d have definitely gotten my attention.

Whether she thinks she wants it,

or not.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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That’s a Deep Subject

S-122-09-6Well, well, well.

I’ve been preaching on the story of Joseph the past few Sundays.

(The one with the fancy coat, not the one with the fancy Son.)

I keep coming back to the moment when Joseph, rejected by his brothers, is thrown into a cistern and left for dead.

Or would have been, had some slave traders not come along.

A cistern is a hand dug well.  This one in particular was dry.

Can you imagine Joseph crying out to his brothers?  Slowly realizing they weren’t joking.

Contemplating his own stuck-ness.

If Joseph is at all like me I’ll bet he tried to attract attention, tried to climb out, maybe threw a temper tantrum or two.

I’ll bet he moved from frustration, to realization, to desperation.

And then, when he finally realized how deep in trouble he was, then, perhaps, he earnestly prayed to God.

One of my favorite Psalms describes such a prayer:

To you, Lord, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:
 “What is gained if I am silenced,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.”
–Psalm 30: 8-10

It’s a sad, but deep truth:  Few of us truly appreciate our purpose in life–to proclaim God’s faithfulness– until we are at risk of losing it.

Fortunately, this wasn’t the end for Joseph.

Call it a “death bed conversion” (I prefer a “deep well revelation”)  –but Joseph’s whole outlook and purpose seems to come into focus only after this cistern experience.

I’m glad for Joseph.  But what about you?

Are you ready to commit to a life of faithfulness, or are you waiting until you hit bottom?

You may find your way to God regardless,

but to get the most out of the life you’ve been given,

Praise God today!

(Don’t wait until you’re six feet under.)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Hey Dustball!

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. –Genesis 2:7

Hey Dustball!

Yeah, I’m talking to you.  According to Genesis, you and I are living, breathing balls of dust.  How does that make you feel?

Maybe you would have preferred God add a little sugar and spice?   Some moonbeams and stars?  Nope.   God just reached down, piled together some dust, and here we are.   That’s what we’re made of.

Funny thing, though.  Have you noticed how hard we work to stay clean?  We wash our hands so we don’t spread germs.  We wash our hair so it won’t get greasy.   We wash our clothes so they don’t smell.  We sweep and mop and Swiffer so there’s not a speck of dust on our floors.

Some of us even own dust busters.

Heck, there’s a robotic vacuum cleaner called the “Dust Ball”!   Isn’t that a little bit ironic?  Supposedly we’re made from dust, and yet we seem to be down right terrified of it.   It makes me wonder — do we live our lives running from our very nature?   Is it possible  God created us to be a little grungy to begin with?

I’m reminded of Pigpen from the Peanut’s comic strips.   Remember him? Now there’s a guy who is comfortable in his own dust.   Even on the rare occasions when he’d clean himself up, it’s like the dust would find him.   It was his natural state.

And it’s ours, too, after all.   Even if you don’t read the creation story literally, our modern-day fascination with cleanliness is only a few hundred years old.   Certainly, we’ve learned about germs and sanitation, and that’s propelled our need to bleach out any stains, but maybe it’s more than that.

Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that the very earth we come from is somehow separate from ourselves.   With every lather, rinse, and repeat we may be trying to distance ourselves from the very dust we’ve sprung up from.  And if indeed that’s what we’re doing, might that create distance between ourselves and the God who created us?

Gardeners know it.  Farmers know it.  There’s something Holy about being connected with the Earth.  A little dust might do you and I some good.

So let’s go barefoot — just like Adam and Eve!  Skip an occasional shower, even.  Let’s plant some flowers.  Get some soil under our fingernails and be happy about it.

After all, Dustball, being connected to the Earth God created…

Is nothing to sneeze at.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch