Sunday, January 27, 2013

Exodus -- Leadership

Exodus 17 and 18 (two of today's readings for Christ Church Amherst) give two excellent examples of leadership:

The first is Moses, Aaron and Hur on the hilltop while the Israelites fight the Amalekites. While Moses lifts his hands (and the staff of God) in prayer the Israelites prevail when he wearies and his arms begin to fall the Amalekites prevail. Aaron and Hur put a rock under Moses to sit and one of them holds up his right arm and the other holds up his left arm and Israel prevails. Leaders, who is holding you up? Leaders need to recognize that they need to build support around themselves -- we cannot do this alone.

The Second example is in 18 when Moses Father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit. Jethro observes that Moses is deciding every little detail of everyone's problems, conflicts and struggles. Jethro suggests to Moses that he appoint other leaders -- over 1000's, 100's and 10's to see to the minor issues and the day to day matters only sending Moses the critical matters (or the really tough questions). This allows Moses to survive and the people to thrive. Principle two is that leadership is also lived out in community. We cannot go it alone and need faithful, focused and competent partners in all that we do.

Leaders make the biggest difference when they build support (especially prayer support) for themselves and train and deploy and supervise others in the work we are called to do.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Genesis -- Joseph

It is one of the questions that I get asked more often than any other: "Why did this happen to me?" There seems to be some inherent sense of entitlement among Christians that somehow God will protect them from worry, pain or difficulties. The stark reality is that difficulties and pain are the context of life -- worry on the other hand is a choice about how we will respond to those difficulties and/or pain.

 Look at the life of Joseph. He is the favored (of 12) son of his father Jacob/Israel. He gets the better portion, he gets the better clothing (that special robe his father gave him) and he gets the favored dreams from God. His brothers, one father but four different mothers, are jealous and want to kill him and leave him dead in the wilderness. He is rescued by the eldest (Reuben acting like the eldest) but it is Judah that comes up with the money making scheme to sell him into slavery. He is sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites (note more relatives in this rather bizarre family system) who in turn sell him into slavery in Egypt.

I am sure that Joseph had his dark moments in the caravan and the early days of slavery. I am sure this continues when  he is wrongfully accused and is imprisoned in Egypt. What if Joseph had looked at his current circumstances and just assumed that now that life has turned difficult and painful that God must have abandoned him? What if Joseph had chosen to worry and be bitter and ask "why did God do this to me?" or even "Why did this happen to me?" I wonder if the story even would be remembered or remembered differently. Joseph chose to trust God NO MATTER WHAT THE CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES and trusted that God would use him to make a difference in the world.

We find, when he sees his brothers again after his rise to power in Egypt that he is a little bitter and works to get a little "pay back". We also find that when it comes to the climax that he is graceful and forgiving and protects and cares for his family. The great quote in Genesis 50 that sums it up so well is "you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.Genesis 50:20)."

If we could just see ourselves as being agents of God's grace no matter what the external circumstances we would find ourselves surrounded by divine appointments at every turn and in every place.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Genesis -- scoundrels

Have you noticed that the characters in Genesis behave in very human ways. They lie, they wheedle, they play out old rivalries we have theft and murder and war and unspeakable depravity . . . in short the people in Genesis are pretty much like the people in our world today. Lost, broken, self centered and struggling to find help and hope in a contrarian world. When I read about Abraham and Issac and Jacob (holy smokes Jacob) I do not see special people with some special beauty or aura around them that makes them acceptable to God. What I see are normal flawed human beings that God chooses and they strive their whole lives to live into what God has called them to be. That pretty much sums up my life as well.

I do (as do you) have an advantage. The patriarchs encountered God but did not have the Holy Spirit within them. As I understand the Old Testament the Holy Spirit visited people (prophetic people mostly) and then left them. This condition required external controls, laws, to keep them in covenant with God. Under the new covenant the Holy Spirit is resident within every Christ follower. That "Holy Spirit within" reality means we are being transformed from the inside out. We are not driven and controlled by external laws and rules instead the directions for our lives and the covenant itself is being led from within our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Genesis: barganing with God

This morning I was reading that odd little story in Genesis 18:22ff where Abraham is negotiating with the "angel of the Lord" for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. I've been in the Middle East and have "haggled" with vendors and merchants in the Bazaars. This conversation between Abraham and the Angel of the Lord feels a lot like that kind of transition. The question for me is who benefits from the conversation? Clearly God already knows what God is going to do. Clearly, even though Abraham seems to get the Angel of the Lord down to 10 righteous people, there are no redeemable qualities left in this dreadful city. So the question remains, who benefits from this haggling?

I believe the process is a teaching time for father Abraham. Abraham is just beginning to learn the nature of God, he is just beginning to learn about the relationship and covenant he has entered into with the creator of the universe. He now knows that the desire of God is to be merciful and to be just. If there were any reason not to destroy the city the city would have survived. But, when the last vestige of goodness in the person of Lot and his family (a dubious goodness at that) is removed, the merciful thing is to destroy the city before the wickedness spreads. Abraham is learning to walk with God and is learning God's essential nature.

I also note in Genesis that every decision has consequences. Abraham fathers a child with his wife's maid Hagar and the negative repercussions are being felt to this very day. Lot's daughters get their father drunk and get pregnant by him. One bears the child Moab, whose descendents become an ancient enemy of Israel but also is the place where King David's grandmother (Ruth) comes from. The other is Ammon whose descendents become the Ammonites, an entrenched enemy of ancient Israel. We live in a moral universe. Every choice, every decision, every act or deed has consequences that may well out live our own lives.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Genesis -- some fun questions

I've been asked some interesting questions from those of you who are reading the Bible with us this year. Here are a few of them. . .

1. What's with all the names and genealogy? Remember that Genesis is a written form of an oral family history. All of those names are the ancestral connections within that family. Notice a long list of names generally only appears to connect one critical character in the story (say Noah) to the next critical character in the story (say Abram). It is likely that each of these names originally had a cycle of stories and anecdotes attached to them.

2. Why did people seem to live so much longer -- I mean, seriously, did people actually live to be 900+ years old? There are a variety of answers to this question . . . some more reasonable than others: 1) they counted differently, counting months instead of years thus a 900 year old person (counting months) would be 75 years old. 2) Adam and Eve were created to be "eternal beings" and it took several generations for this to wear off -- this seems unlikely given modern scientific understandings that the human body runs down and wears out at a maximum of 120 -- and disease or other factors get most of us much earlier. 3) There is a spiritual response that suggests that the span of a human life was not limited until God limited it following the Tower of Babel story and other events. I am sure there are other theories, not the least of which is that the ancient world was not as preoccupied with accurate calendar and measurement as we are today.

When I get more interaction and more questions I'll pass them on.

With Genesis 12 we have begun to read the cycle of stories associated with Abram (Abraham) and his wife Sarai (Sarah) and the beginning of the Semitic peoples.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Beginning a New Year: Genesis

My Christ Church community and I are following the "Life Journal" readings for 2013. Life Journal takes us through the entire Bible over the next 365 days. You can find these readings on our web site at: I am not planning to comment every day (like I did last year) but will make periodic observations and will post the Old Testament introductions that I wrote for my Ugandan Pastor friends.

Genesis: takes its name from the Hebrew phrase for “in the beginning.” Genesis is a written form of an oral family history and contains stories from events of more than a thousand (1000) years before Moses. This “Oral Tradition” was preserved as a family history of the descendents of Abraham (chapter 12.)
            Genesis tells of beginning things: the creation of the world, the first acceptable offering, the restart of the world through the flood, and the first person of faith. It begins with creation and ends with the children of Israel beginning their over four hundred (400) year exile in the land of Egypt. The book is in two main sections: Chapters 1 through 11 are about the earliest days from creation to the days following the great flood. These chapters can be outlined as follows:

·                     Genesis 1-2     Creation
·                     Genesis 3         Fall of humanity and consequences
·                     Genesis 4-5     Consequences of the fall
·                     Genesis 6-11   Noah, the Flood, and aftermath

Chapters 12 through 50 are about God’s remarkable act of redemption in choosing Abraham to be the one “through whom all humanity would receive a blessing.” (Genesis 12:3 and 22:18) It follows the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and then Jacob (Israel)’s twelve (12) sons with particular attention to his son Joseph. It can be outlined as follows:
·                     Genesis 12 – 25           Abram (Abraham) and Isaac
·                     Genesis 26 – 27           Isaac (Jacob and Esau early years)
·                     Genesis 28 – 36           Jacob and his wives and children
·                     Genesis 37 – 50           Joseph

            Vital lessons from Genesis include an understanding that the universe came into being as an act of divine will and that God is working this purpose out through human history. This book of “beginnings” shows us the nature of a relationship with God.