We tend to view God differently.
Some of us marvel at God’s mesmerizing mastery. As the gifted artist and brilliant engineer of the cosmos, God orchestrates the making and running of our universe. The spin of the planets, the blunt force of nature and the complexity of human DNA create cycles of increasing awe. Life in the Milky Way Galaxy is indeed quite a miracle.
Others among us warm our hearts in the presence of God’s intimacy. The Spirit of God guides us through our lives’ small twists and turns. We might experience God’s friendship as much while spreading peanut butter on our Tuesday morning toast as while singing hymns in a stone-arched cathedral. God’s companionship during a simple breakfast like this can seem equally miraculous.
Which God do we meet in Genesis?
While opening the first pages of the Bible’s epic story, we witness the unfolding of most everything we know:
- The beginnings of our incomprehensible universe.
- The beginnings of our little planet and all its quirky accessories.
- The beginnings of the first breath and divine dignity of human life.
- The beginnings of our maddening bent toward self-destructive behavior.
- The beginnings of family life—including a tragic early case of domestic violence.
- The beginnings of divine retribution as an entire civilization gets washed away.
- The beginnings of our world of nations, languages, cultures and human industry.
The cosmically-charged universe opens up before our eyes. It’s the majestic God of the Milky Way at his very best.
Yet after 11 chapters of celestial concentration, God’s gaze shifts exclusively towards one strangely obscure little family. God catches up with a man who might as well be making his Tuesday morning breakfast. Starting in chapter 12, the Conductor of the Cosmos walks together with Abraham through an astonishing array of personal experiences:
- Through the pain and panic of personal infertility.
- Through the confusing birth of an unwanted child.
- Through the shenanigans of an indulgent nephew.
- Through the ironically hilarious birth of long anticipated son.
- Through the heart-wrenching near death of his teenage boy.
- Through the hopes and prayers of his son’s courtship and marriage.
- Through the twisted meanderings, tragic missteps and tenuous survival of the next three generations of Abraham’s truly tumultuous family dynasty.
What kind of God have we discovered in Genesis? We’ve found a God who’s both powerfully cosmic and personally close—an ever-present Spirit who’s equally comfortable masterminding the Milky Way as he is watching melty peanut butter drip down our little pinky.
As you read and reflect on this week’s verses from Genesis, I pray you’ll sense God’s power infusing significance into your most mundane experiences.
This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.
- Creation & Fall: Genesis 1:27-31, 3:1-19: The majesty and tragedy of the human race occurs in quick succession in the opening chapters of Genesis. It’s not difficult to notice our dangerous curiosity toward sin and our knee-jerk ability to blame everyone else for our problems.
- Judgment & Division: Genesis 6:5-8, 11:1-9: In order to fulfill the purpose of his original design, God must bring both tragedy (a massive flood) and confusion (language barriers) to his creation. While these acts might cause us to question God’s love, in both cases you’ll notice his deep pain and regret over these necessary decisions.
- Abraham & Isaac: Genesis 12:1-4, 15:1-6, 22:1-18: God makes big promises to Abraham . . . then takes a very long time to fulfill them. What purpose might God have in waiting so long? It’s a question we’ll all need to answer during difficult times in our journey of faith. Abraham’s quick devotion to God’s commands challenges our own tendency to drag our heels through our own personal struggles.
- Jacob: Genesis 28:10-22; 32:22-29: Why would God continue his promises through Jacob? He demonstrated an unsavory bent towards manipulative selfishness—with both God and his own family members. Yet the “Great Nation” promised to Abraham would be forever associated with Jacob’s new name: Israel—the God wrestler. Guess that means God continues to love us even when we keep fighting with him.
- Joseph: Genesis 37:2-11, 41:37-41, 50:14-21: Just when you think the whole family clan has become corrupt beyond repair, along comes a single bright hope: Joseph. Though a rather precocious youth, his life’s severe trials reveal in him a steely resolve to do what’s right. Enjoy watching his life unfold—he’s one of the few Old Testament individuals of truly noble character. He also might remind you of another man who was sold for pieces of silver, endured unthinkable abuse, yet brought forgiveness and salvation to many.
Our author Matthew seems to offer a rather tedious opening to Jesus’ miraculous life. We’re presented a listing of 42 generations of a family tree highlighting a total of 54 names. Couldn’t Matthew come up with something more catchy, like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” . . . or . . . “All children, except one, grow up.”?
Yet a little investigative research exposes unexpected intrigue from Jesus’ personal pedigree. Underneath the 54 names, we uncover some rather shocking family secrets. Here’s a few storylines that might catch our attention:
- Abraham: The father of two nations: Ishmael (The Arab Nation) and Isaac (The Jewish Nation). The kids haven’t gotten along since.
- Jacob: One of the most deviously masterful manipulators of people you’d never hope to meet.
- Judah: Yea, he ended well—but in the process stepped in some smelly personal messes.
- Tamar: Judah’s daughter-in-law who pretended to be a prostitute in order to mother his child. See? I told you Judah stepped in some messy stuff.
- Boaz: One of the few shining stars of the whole brood.
- Rahab: She prostituted for a living, but who am I to judge?
- Ruth: Strength and sweetness incarnate. Funny, she was a foreigner—not from the family line. What’s that tell us?
- King David: The most famous from the family tree. Brilliant leader. Brutal family man.
- Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife: Our writer actually goes out of his way to rub our noses in David’s shameful public scandal.
- Rehoboam: Rebellious punk who figured out a way to completely smash-up the good thing his father (Solomon) and grandfather (David) built for him.
- Hezekiah: A very, very good king, yet lost a bit of his moral footing in his later years.
- Manasseh: The son born to Hezekiah in his later years. Acted so wickedly that he was pretty much begging for God to smack him silly. God eventually obliged his unspoken request.
- The rest of them? Basically no-names.
Maybe it’s time we removed our gothic-arched ideals regarding the loftiness of our religious ancestors. Jesus came from a family line riddled with shocking disrespect, slimy deception, and countless acts of stomach-turning debauchery. If Hollywood were to create a true-to-life television series based on Jesus’ family history, I don’t think I’d let my kids watch much of it.
It’s from the muckiness of human history—our history—that Jesus gets his start.
Maybe Matthew’s starting line-up isn’t quite as pedestrian as we first thought. He’s foreshadowing a less-than-subtle clue into the rest of Jesus’ story: no matter how dark our past, how devious our morals or how dire our circumstances; Jesus can get started in our lives, too. Possibly even more shocking? He can also get started in the lives of the other messy folks who happen to be growing on our family tree.
This Christmas I pray we’ll all have the humility and strength to welcome Jesus into the messy places of our lives and families.
This week’s Scripture Readings (Blue links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway.)
- Matthew 1:1-25: Matthew tells the story of Jesus birth from the perspective of Joseph, Jesus’ surrogate father. Notice the durability and determination of Joseph to see this thing through—even though it had to be an undeniably awkward and uncomfortable experience.
- Matthew 2:1-12: Wealthy astrologers embark on a long journey to offer Jesus their extravagant gifts. I find it intriguing that they were overjoyed to meet Jesus, even though he (and his circumstances) didn’t look kingly in any way. Some days Jesus appears rather “ordinary” to me too. Do I still respond to him with extravagant joy?
- Matthew 2:13-18: Here we observe two dramatically different responses to Jesus: The Magi express joy and generosity. Herod becomes paranoid and cruel. It still happens today: get close to Jesus, and your true nature gets revealed. (If you’re feeling like a real go-getter today, you can also read Jeremiah 31–it’s a great chapter of the Bible that Matthew cites in this narrative.)
- Matthew 2:19-23: Joseph finally settles everyone in Nazareth—the municipal equivalent to raising a kid in Detroit. Thus Jesus never fit the “Savior of the World” image everyone wanted. Same with me: some days I struggle to embrace Jesus for who he really is—not who I want or expect him to be.
- Luke 1:1-4: Today’s reading offers a quick, yet essential, confirmation that our writer Luke has prepared for us a highly researched, thoroughly documented account of Jesus’s life. Considering all the whacky miracles we’re about to witness, it’s a good thing we can have confidence in our writer’s systematic investigative methodology.
- Luke 1:5-25: Luke backs up to let us know that John (soon to be known as “John the Baptist”—Jesus’ first public relations agent) is about to open the next chapter of the Old Testament’s story. In this scene, we get a close-up view of how John’s parents received the happy news. Sometimes we have to make big adjustments to adapt to God’s unanticipated change of plans.
- Luke 1:26-38: The angel Gabriel keeps up his hectic holiday pace, flying off to let Mary in on his little secret. She responds with a sweet submission to God’s unconventional plan. That’s an astonishingly reaction from a girl who hasn’t yet reached her 15th birthday. Many days I wish I could be as calm and mature as this teenager.
Note: Throughout these accounts both Matthew and Luke place significant focus on the virgin birth of Jesus. During his life, tabloid gossip spread rumors he was an “illegitimate child”. Our authors repeatedly assure us that Jesus wasn’t the result of a teenage love affair—rather, that he enters the world as the miraculous Son of God.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
We like to take pictures. Most of us pull out smart phones to snap cheesy photos of friends and family posing in familiar places. A few others among us possess the artistic patience and essential equipment to skillfully capture stunning images of the beauty all around us.
The Bible displays for us a variety of images. A lot of these pictures are snap shots of silly-grinned humans standing in front of historic events. Other images skillfully capture the creative brilliance of God’s artistry.
Psalm 46 invites us to sit down and flip through Scripture’s impressions of God’s beauty and strength. This particular collection highlights the serenity and power of a river that continuously flows through the story of Scripture. Here’s a brief retrospective of the ever-flowing river of God:
The headwaters of God’s river starts in the lush Garden of Eden (Genesis 2), streams its way through a variety of Psalms (including 1, 36 and 46) gains strength in the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47), significantly increases its volume in Jesus (John 7), eventually gushes into heaven at the end of human history (Revelation 22). The Bible’s river offers us hope—hope that we’ll also experience the abundance of God’s grace, love, joy and healing flowing through our lives.
In our high-demand world and stress-filled circumstances, it’s exceptionally easy to feel dry, restless and fatigued. Today you’re invited to take a short break from the torrent of pressure and put your feet into the imagery of Psalm 46. It’s a reminder that God’s grace and goodness continue to flow, even when the hot, dusty winds of our time seem to dry-out our souls.
My prayer today is that the rushing river of God’s gladness will flow into your life. It’ll likely be the most stunning image you’ll capture all week.
He says, “Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
I deeply admire those who are expertly organized and skillfully systematic. Some days my admiration can even morph into envy. While some among us seamlessly arrange life like a 2011 edition Excel spreadsheet, my approach feels more like a 1937 cubist painting. I think my life has all the right parts, yet I struggle to arrange them in a recognizable format.
Maybe Psalm 29 was written for me—or those like me. This worship song paints an expressive portrait of a planet teetering on the brink of breaking apart. Churning water, rumbling thunder, splintering trees, flashing lightening and shifting soil create the image of a world ready to collapse into complete chaos.
In the midst of the chaos, one thing is constant: God. God can handle the chaos—sometimes he even causes it. From what appears to be an utterly disordered world, God emerges as our only permanent source of personal stability.
So if your world starts twisting and turning, try your best to remember: (vs. 10-11)
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.
May we all find a way to enjoy God’s strength and peace, no matter the chaos in us or around us.
Remember the selection process for teams at school recess? A couple of bigger-than-life sports captains would propel themselves forward to carefully draft teammates one-by-one. If you were one of the supreme athletes of the school, you’d confidently get chosen in the first, or possibly second, round. Most of us landed somewhere in the middle of the pack. A few of us shudder at this memory–still horrified by the elementary nightmare of standing there alone, forced to be drafted onto the squad of a captain who really didn’t want us.
In Psalm 8, our author looks up to consider the greatness of God’s universe. God’s creative genius is magically displayed in any night sky or morning sunrise. Then the thought hits him: God has drafted you and me to be on his team. Clearly our divine captain’s astonishing abilities make our talents look remarkably feeble. Yet, God doesn’t really care. He wants us on his team. The God of the universe doesn’t feel forced to choose us–he’s actually excited to welcome us as one of his teammates.
Use this Psalm in two ways:
- To consider the astonishing power and artistic talent of God (our fall colors provide us a better-than-average reminder.)
- To consider the honor it truly is to play a part as a grandparent, parent, family member, co-worker, neighbor, fellow-church member or teammate-at-large on God’s team of universal all-stars.
It’s my prayer that you’ll feel both awed and honored by this Psalm.
enCompass Church, Roseville