Putting the Blessing in Dysfunctional

I was reading Genesis 29-31 this week and my commentaries struck on an idea.

First, to summarize, Jacob and his family are a mess. They’re a dysfunctional, jealous, lying, cheating, conniving, bragging, deceitful bunch of misfits that drag other people into their family drama. They’re extended family brings the heat as well with their own brand of deceitful trickery, which only adds to the chaos of Jacob’s life.

But here’s the kicker: God still used them. God’s purposes were still being accomplished even in that moral swamp. Judah would grow to become a leader and the ancestor of kings. Joseph would save his family. The Israelites would teach the world how to live and worship the one true God. And how did it all start? With a big, messy family… that God blessed.

Here’s to your messy family. May God bless you and turn your chaos into riches and your sorrow into joy. May he turn your business into productivity, and your rest into refreshment. May he bless your family’s efforts to reach others in His name.

God uses messy families, even yours, even mine.

Photo Credit: FUNnel Vision – FGTeeV: 300 CUPCAKES CHALLENGE! w Surprise FUNnel Vision Kids Get Messy via YouTube

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Sin Ain’t Fair

I can remember a few times growing up where either my brother or I would make the choice to misbehave. It’s shocking, really, but confession is good for the soul. Anyway, so we would be given the option to straighten up or risk losing the opportunity to participate in the family activity that day, whether it was bowling, mini golf, a movie, or whatever. The problem with having two kids involved is that if one child is unable to go to the activity, the whole family ends up staying home… And that happened a few times. Is that fair? Should the whole family be punished for the actions of one member?

Our justice system, in theory, is designed upon individual responsibility. Whoever does the crime does the time. For the most part, this is absolutely right. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense for a whole family to end up in jail because one member decided to run down the main thoroughfare robbing food trucks wearing nothing but his skivvies.

But is the family free of consequences? Not really. I mean, how many families have you seen broken and suffering because a family member has been convicted and sentenced. How many children wonder where a parent has gone and has trouble understanding their situation? How many children deal with abuse, alcoholism, the effects of drugs, or neglect?

So in Exodus 34, when God’s traits are listed, He is called forgiving, compassionate, blessing families to the thousandth generation. We like that part. We don’t like a little further down where God is described as not acquitting the guilty and punishing to the third and fourth generation. But what does it mean?

It means sin isn’t fair. The consequences of sin aren’t just individual. Western Culture (an academic term which you can probably read as “the way Western Europe, Britain, the US and Canada think”) has bought its own story that if a person makes a mistake it is his and his alone. “You do you,” is a common phrase. This is where we get the idea of relativistic morality, another academic term that roughly translates to “I get to decide what’s right and wrong for me.”

The problem with this type of morality is that it leaves off how our actions affect others. Sure, we generally only see the effects of our actions on ourselves, but that just means we’re horribly nearsighted. An abusive parent has much further reaching consequences than just one child. Addiction slowly wears away at relationships and health, which affects more than the addict. Racism and hatred are more far-reaching in their consequences than heated dinner table arguments. Children pick these things up, figure they’re the way life works, and adopt them into their own lives.

Children of addicts can become addicts themselves. Children of abusers can become abusers themselves. Children exposed to hatred can adopt that hatred themselves. Many don’t, but they have to fight hard to keep away.

Sin is like a virus rather than a punch. A punch affects one person and can heal quickly. A virus infects others and takes time, and often outside help, to recover.

On the other hand, good deeds aren’t fair either… blessings go to the thousandth generation, benefiting those years down the line! The whole system may not be fair, but it’s actually more skewed toward blessings than sin.

What are you handing down to your children? Are you handing down sins or blessings? How are you escaping the pain you might be carrying?

“Oh yeah? Bless you too!”

In the beginning God created… and he spoke… and it was. And he said it was good. (Or in the case of one of our adorable little ones at church, “It was dood.”)

We all have a sense of the power of words, but sometimes I think our modern minds have tried to over rationalize things. “Sticks and stones” and similar sayings play down the effect words can have. The individualization of America has taught us that we shouldn’t care what other people think… but we still do. (Which is why people say that phrase to begin with, to create a persona of aloof courage, all the while painfully nursing the wound. Much like me getting hurt doing something I wasn’t supposed to when I was younger: “I’m ok. It doesn’t hurt at all. Oh, sure, my leg always looked like that.”)

Ancient magicians in Egypt and Greece had a healthy respect for words. They believed words themselves held power, creative power given to humanity by the gods. We often associate words with magic with spells, incantations, hexes, curses, etc. All of these are words – words that are believed to have the ability to actually impact the physical world. And, albeit in a strange way, they latched onto a truth about the world.

Words do have power. They have the power to heal, hurt, encourage, depress, inspire, or manipulate. Tones have the ability to change the meaning of entire phrases, and can undermine even the kindest of words.

James, the brother of Jesus, took some time out of his day to write a book of wisdom, of practical religion. You know what he spends nearly a whole chapter on? Words. James 3 is a whole treatise on the use of our words. Paul talks about it. Proverbs has many verses on words and how to use them. Our own experience shows us that words can have powerful effects on the people around us. And in all of human experiences there are two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Negative first, since I like ending on a positive note. The curse has been for most of human history feared and taken as the utmost offense. And back in the olden days, they really knew how to curse. Nowadays most cursing involves a simple 4-letter Saxon word and a pronoun (you.) Curses could be long, calling down poor crops, poverty, sickness, pain, and many other undesirable effects. And here is where James says is the problem with Jesus disciples using this. How, he says, are you seriously going to let such an awful thing come out of your mouth? Your mouth is supposed to be a life-giving spring connected to the life-giver Himself, and you’d allow such hateful sewage be sprayed onto another human being, who is also created in the image of God?

On the positive side, think about that image of a spring of water. A spring refreshes, heals, cleanses, and cools. That’s the goal of the blessing. The blessing is a prayer for goodness, health, wealth, gifts, and many good things directed at another human being. There are some wonderful blessings in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. We even see God blessing humanity with fertility, authority, and responsibility. Paul includes a blessing or two in each of his letters to the churches.

If you’ve never considered what the blessing could do, I’m recommending a book. This book is titled The “B” Word. Catchy title, huh? It’s written by Robert Strand, a pastor and writer. In it, he uses Scripture to highlight the benefits and the ins and outs of blessing someone, especially children. See, he has a tradition in his family of blessing every grandchild when they reach the age of 13. The entire family gathers together and each member prays a blessing over the child. The effects of these blessings has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold over the years as these children live into and experience the fullness of the blessings they may not have understood at the time.

So, what’s the point? Well, consider changing your language. Instead of, “[insert word of choice here] you!” Maybe try praying blessings over others. “But, that’s ridiculous,” you say, “that sounds like weakness and extremism!” Maybe, but the man I follow, Jesus, did that very thing while soldiers were beating him and while the crowds jeered and mocked him. Saying a blessing over someone who cuts you off in traffic instead of cursing them seems like a small step in the light of Jesus’ example.

How does your language reflect your walk with Jesus? Do your kids hear blessings from you, or only criticism and curses? Do your children hear you bless others or curse them? What’s one situation this week where you can intentionally make an effort to control your words and use them in Jesus’ name.

How the Coffee-cup stole Christmas!

Despite all our wishing, our hoping, our scheming, one tiny red cup has left Christians screaming. They’ve howled and they’ve hooted, saying “These villains should be booted!” The articles being typed faster than light have left many people regretting their own sense of sight. I’ve seen them and rolled my eyes ever harder, as people point out that Christmas is the martyr.

Now, in some way I get the muss and the fuss, but, really, is this the thing that’ll make a preacher cuss? Consider the state of Christmas this year, the sales and the merchandise already filling the air. The sound of pre-packaged tunes loom ever nearer, while our perspective on the issue never quite gets clearer.

“A cup,” they exclaim, “has stolen Christmas already!” The response, also clanging, “Don’t you people think this is petty!?”

“Of course, it is not,” one side shouts with a clamor, “Christmas is supposed to be about the Savior.”

“While we don’t disagree,” say the suits and execs, “all that we want is financial success. Your beliefs and your faith mean little to big business, except for the fact that they share the same name: Christmas. We can manufacture emotion with movies, warmth with a drink, with the evidence around you, what more could you think?”

I propose a new thought, although it is old, let’s not think our Lord is out in the cold. If He really is Lord, and Lord over all, then maybe, just maybe, this order’s not so tall: to celebrate the gift we were given that night, and keep Jesus Christ and our family firmly in sight.

So whatever the sellers of packages, boxes and bags may relate as they show us new things that promise to elate, remember the reason we celebrate two whole months starting now, is Jesus the King and not some ridiculous cash cow.

So from one Christmas lover to those feeling the same, I wish you and yours peace and love in His Name. Now as the hands holding your coffee are thawed, may you all go in peace, to love and serve God.

(But seriously, though, if God really is King a blank red cup is very unlikely to disturb his plans or reign. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus this year, instead of trying to shout down advertisers. Simplicity and beauty are wonderful things, especially this time of year. So as the Christmas season comes closer, keep an eye on your thoughts and your attitude. I know I’ll have to.)

Patience

Most of us want an adventurous Christianity. We want a journey that takes us into the wild unknown, to fight back the darkness, helping the broken, healing the hurting, and setting the captives free! We want a Christian walk that is full of excitement, thrills, and marvelous, miraculous victories that prove God is King!

But what is the reality we live? We live routine lives which dull our passions, drench our dreams, and force us to reconsider life’s status as a “grand adventure.” The days come in and out, people pass in and our of our lives, and each days seems much like the last on the dreary journey to the grave.

Even Jesus saw this coming. In Luke 21:34-36, Jesus warned his followers about becoming complacent, about shutting their eyes even for a moment. He warned them that the tedium would set in, and if they let it win, then the surprise would be theirs and not in a good way. So what to do?

My elementary age kids are taking a good, hard look at patience this month in our large group time. Patience is something we have all but written out of our daily lives with social media, 24 hour news cycles, instant dinners, and email. In our race for efficiency, we’ve set a trap for ourselves in slowly eroding patience. We say it’s a virtue, but how many people actually practice it anymore?

Jesus had enough forethought to encourage us to keep up our vigilant, patient wait until his return. He encourages us to patiently, with determination continue building the kingdom here on earth. We should not give up, not close our eyes, and not lose hope. Our God is King, and he requires our patience for his grand design. Life is an adventure, it just doesn’t move as quickly as an action movie.

May you be blessed with patience this week.

Filling Up Empty

I find it sadly ironic that the season (Thanksgiving to Christmas) that is most about fullness is often the emptiest. At Thanksgiving houses are full, bellies are full, mouths are full of conversation and laughter. At Christmas, gift wrapping is full, bellies are full, houses are still full, and mouths are full of song.

And yet, this time of year is known for its rise in cases of depression. This season reminds some of losses felt in the past year. This season feels so empty for so many. And that emptiness is painful.

At the end of our church Christmas play this year, the manger will be empty. When we made that decision, it seemed almost artistic, but then I’ve been coming back to that thought over and over. I think about all the empty things in the story of Jesus. An empty manger, an empty cross, an empty tomb. And yet, in all of that emptiness, there is a mysterious, glorious fullness that goes along with it.

The manger was empty, but a man walked the earth filling it with love. The cross was empty, but a debt had been filled to overflowing. The tomb was empty, but a Presence filled the earth that continues to fill empty hearts.

There’s the age-old question: is the glass half full or half empty? Reading and living in God’s story shows me that the glass is always half-full, because God is continually pouring love, wisdom, peace, and courage into His family.

May you be blessed with the fullness of God’s presence this season. No matter what emptiness you feel, may the God of peace fill up your cup to overflowing.