Posts Tagged ‘Genesis’

Wilderness Time

In Sunday school someone asked, what was the difference between Jacob and Esau?  Later in the class our Director of Christian Education read something about wilderness being a symbol for dislocation.  We studied Jacob’s dream in Genesis chapter 28.

God seems to work best through those who are willing to endure dislocation.  Esau, a lover of hunting, spent time outside but on his terms.  Esau was unwilling to wait for a marriage match that his parents would bless.  Supposedly he sold his inheritance because he was hungry and wanted food at that moment.  He seems to be a man unwilling to wait, perhaps unwilling to take a risk.

Who would have thought that Esau would be the risk averse brother?  Jacob spent most of his time hanging around with his mother “in the tents.”  The brawny, daring Esau seems the natural choice for a wilderness journey.  Yet by the time God is ready for the sons to begin the adult journey, God finds that Esau has already made all his choices.

Wilderness and dislocation are a crucial part of the overall Biblical story.  The matriarchs and patriarchs of Genesis left home… Moses and the Hebrew people wandered forty years in the desert … Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness.  Wilderness prepares one’s spirit for the wild and unpredictable life spent with the Holy Spirit.  Wilderness is a teacher, the lesson being God’s providence.

What are we learning from today’s experiences?  Are we willing to endure dislocation for the sake of God’s work in the world?  American society values risk-takers, but does not necessarily value patience.  We want answers, results, fulfillment.

The coronavirus pandemic has broken our expectations of quick results.  Are we willing to endure dislocation, waiting and wilderness for the sake of God’s work in the world?  Could God’s healing possibly come to us in ways we do not expect?

Pond in the woods


Stop, Listen, Remember

I love the site Pray As You Go.  Off and on for ten years I’ve enjoyed their presentations of Scripture, reflection, and world music.

A recent episode asked listeners to meditate on Romans 4.3:
For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’  I thought about how simple that sounds.

After all, Abraham’s spiritual practice was pretty simple.  Most of his practice (described in the book of Genesis) consisted of two things:  listening to God, and building altars at places where he heard God’s voice.

Paul doesn’t mention it here, but Hagar also takes on a straightforward spiritual practice.  (She was a woman held in slavery in Abraham’s household.)  In her sadness and subjugation, God speaks to her.  In response, Hagar is the first person in Scripture to give God a name.  She calls God El-Roi (God who listened to me), and the place of the encounter is known thereafter as a place where God was present. (Genesis 16)

Neither Hagar, nor Abraham, nor anyone else in the household, worshiped in an organized or institutional fashion.  They had no temple with priests, choirs, and attendants.  They had no written set of instructions.  All they had were their direct, unmediated interactions with the God of the universe.

I am also amazed at Hagar’s and Abraham’s courage.  Who could listen directly to God and have the courage not only to stick around, but to speak?

I’m not sure about my level of courage right now, but I am learning from Hagar and Abraham.  Stop.  Listen.  Remember.  Repeat.  Amen.

Bench at Lake Susan

Lake Susan at Montreat: a place where many people stop to listen and pray.

Thinking about Lent already…

I started using a new Bible for daily devotions, one that divides the Scriptures according to “timeline,” or when events detailed in Scripture occurred.

To be honest, I was a skeptical about reading this thing.  We don’t have a calendar notifying us that Light was created on April 21, 5 million B.C. — and I get tired of people arguing over that subject.  No matter how we humans got here, I still believe we were created by God to enjoy and glorify him.   (See the Westminster Catechism!)

Yet the Bible was a gift, so I cracked it open.

What I’ve found has surprised me.  Immediately after giving me the stories of the Fall, Cain & Abel, Noah, and the tower of Babel, the book plunged me right into the Book of Job.  Right off the bat, a new year beginning with daily readings about suffering and sin.  I haven’t put Job and Genesis together before, and it has been a welcome challenge.

So I may write some more posts on this come Lent.  Specifically, some posts dealing with the question, “Is God Mean?”  We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll hopefully post something before Lent gets here — it’s on the way!



Today my devotional Bible gave me the story of Noah. It’s interesting reading about the flood when I’m in Montreat, with below-freezing temperatures. I felt sorry for this little plant outside our house.

A few things strike me about this reading.

First, note that no children boarded the ark. The humans & animals only had their mates. Children would have died in the flood (a horrible thought– why do we tell this story so often to kids?) Yet on the ark, there was only the potential of a future generation, only the possibility of new life. A “winter,” if you will.

Second, in Genesis 8:1, the text reads, “God remembered Noah”. I would hope so, after everything that God put Noah and all of creation through! Anyway, that one word — remember — emphasizes that everything we have comes from God’s hand.

Finally, I’m interested in the new rules God gives Noah in Genesis 9, and the blessings and curses Noah pronounces on his sons. Somewhere I read that God is always recreating, revising, making provisions for his troublesome children to have a rich and full life. I think we would do well to be open to God’s revisions. Creation is not perfect anymore, but it is good, because God makes it so.

sowing seeds in the desert

Last week I was part of a great tradition.  Presbyterians are pretty serious about being “connectional,” meaning that we make decisions and engage in church work as a part of networks.  In the spirit of being connectional, we ask people who want to be pastors to stand up at a presbytery meeting, and give an account of their walk with Christ.  Those who are beginning a new call must also answer some questions on Scripture, worship and/or theology.  After their petition (to accept a call or to go forward with their seminary education) is approved, people who are connected to them are asked to stand.  I got to stand for two young people who have participated in campus ministry, as well as for a nearby colleague.  It was a proud moment of seeing seeds bear fruit.

A question posed to one of the candidates got me thinking:  “What’s your favorite book of the Bible, why is it your favorite, and can you outline it for us and explain its major themes?”  (If that sounds like a big question, know that they used to be worse!  Back in the day, candidates could be called upon to outline and explain any book of the Bible, not just their favorite.)

Lately I have been captured by Genesis.  It has been in our lectionary (recommended readings for Sunday worship) this summer, and even though we’re doing a sermon series on another topic, I’ve been going back to Genesis in my personal reading.

What I never noticed before is the amount of individual interaction with God.  In the past I’ve read Genesis from a historical or even a family systems theory point of view, looking at the broad scope of what happens to the emerging people of God.

But this time I’m focusing on these encounters between fallible people and a God who has a scary amount of power to shape the future.  And most of these encounters are clothed in deep, wrenching personal struggle.

  • Of course in Genesis we have good old Abraham, who hears the call to go to a new land (12:1), and the disturbing call to sacrifice his own son (22:2).
  • Then there’s Rebekah, a woman, who had a conversation with God.  Her twins in utero kicked her until she was utterly spent.  So she asked God to explain her suffering, and God told her about his plans for these humans in the making. (25:22-23)
  • This week the lectionary tells us about Jacob, who sent his whole family ahead of him on his journey home.  During his night alone (32:24) he wrestles with “a man,” some kind of divine manifestation.
  • And later we’ll have Joseph, who spends time alone in a well (37:24), alone in prison (40:23), and alone weeping when he sees his brother Benjamin (43:30).

These are just a few examples.  What stands out to me this time around, is that none of these people receive a perfect resolution as a result of their struggle.  Jacob is left with a limp, Rebekah is left to deal with two sparring sons, and Abraham must go on raising his son after almost killing him.  Some interpreters say that Joseph, although he saved countless people from starvation, set in motion a chain of events that led his people into slavery.

What happens when we struggle?  We’re so similar to these people from a faraway time and place.  We too struggle alone. We too have sacred moments during which we are deeply connected to God in the midst of our pain, but not given magical powers to bend circumstances to our will.  We too play a part in stories larger than our own, stories that are shaped by the movement of the Spirit.

And we too leave our mark on the story.  The people of Genesis sort of sow seeds in the desert:  they build monuments, they tell their children about God, and they stand out from the other peoples they encounter.  I doubt they would have kept going had it not been for the strength they received from those long nights of prayer and wrestling with God.  They left deep wells of faith as they moved through the dry land.

What seeds will we sow as the result of our struggles? 

Advent Day 14: Party

Advent Day 14

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honour.   (Psalm 8:3-5)

Once I heard about a youth director who never called any teenager by name during youth events.  Instead, she called each of the youth “Image of God.”  Her purpose, from what I heard, was to catch the students’ attention when she had to correct those who were acting innapropriately.  “Image of God,” she thought, would remind them that they were loved and called to a higher standard.

I smiled when I heard that story, remembering my own youth group days.  Who knows if it would have helped for our minister to call each of us “Image of God.”  We were always pumped full of sugar at youth events, especially during Sunday School, when there were sodas and doughnuts in the room each week! 

Today I want to highlight two spiritual disciplines, and an idea to try.  The disciplines are hospitality and self-control.  There is a long tradition in Scripture of welcoming strangers as well as friends, imitating how God welcomes us.  And of course there are plenty of verses in Scripture about controlling what you eat, drink, et cetera.

And here’s the idea.  Next time you are getting together with friends, think “image of God” as you plan what to do.  No, I don’t mean sit around and memorize Bible verses.  What I do mean is, try to throw a quality party.  Have good food, enough chairs, introduce your guests to one another, and have some conversation starters in your back pocket.  If you are short on cash, bring other people in as hosts!  Most people I know who are in their 20s and 30s love a chance to meet new people somewhere besides a bar.  And that’s part of the whole image of God thing:  honoring people’s bodies, developing friendships, and serving others.

In Genesis, we read about how Abraham threw a nice dinner party for some strangers, whom some interpreters regard to be angels (see Genesis 18.)  Who knows what might happen if you threw some “image of God” parties? 

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):