Think You Know All About Genesis? (A book review)

Whatever you know about Alan Dershowitz, if you’re like me, it’s not from reading his books. So when I came across this one, I was quite intrigued. About the only thing we have in common is we both have benefitted by living in homes who taught us the value of the Bible.

His upbringing in Judaism and his practicing of law tremendously frame his view of God, man, and the Bible. He most definitely has a biblical worldview. Does that mean all biblical worldviewers would agree with his interpretations of Genesis? Pretty sure you know the answer to that question.

My opinion: that should not keep one from reading another’s integrated and exhaustive presentation of their interpretation, in particular if their frame is one you do not have. That explains why I valued this reading. I grew because of Dershowitz’s work. That’s enough for me.

If these nine quotes make you think even a hint differently about Genesis, here’s your sign to choose growth:

A God who can admit that His mind has been changed by mere humans is a truly great teacher. (referencing God and The Flood)

The God who invites Abraham to argue with him about justice is a God who encourages rational discourse. The God who rebuked Job for trying to understand an obvious injustice is a God who promotes unthinking fundamentalism. One of the beauties of the Bible is that even its God speaks in different voices over time.

The entire book of Genesis is about the early development of justice in human society…The Genesis stories all take place before the advent of formal rules of law… Viewing Genesis as a book about the development of justice before the existence of a formalized legal system helps to explain why the narrative is so much about crime, sin, deception, revenge, punishment, and other bad actions.

For all of his trickery, Jacob never tries to deceive God. He bargains with him, even wrestles with him, but he’s always straight with God. The result is that God blesses Jacob with leadership, but makes him understand that the wages of deception are deception.

Like much of the earlier narratives of Genesis, the Joseph story shows us what it was like to live in a world without a legal system – a world in which those with high status could, with impunity, falsely accuse those of lower status. It shows us the need for a system of justice in which all stand equally before the law and those accused of a crime have a fair opportunity to challenge the evidence against them and demonstrate that it was planted, false, or mistaken. It leads inexorably to the later biblical rules against favoring in judgment either the rich or the poor.

The common law of Judaism is that it is not only permissible, it is obligatory to argue even with God about a proposed injustice. Humans can argue with God, but they cannot refuse to obey a direct order from Him. (referencing God and Abraham)

Had the Torah-the great law book-simply begun with a list of rules, the reader would wonder about the basis for the rules. Some of them appear eminently logical, but the others cannot be understood without reference to the experience of the Jewish people.

If the book of Genesis tells the story of the developing legal system-ad hoc rules, common law, statutes, and so on-then Sinai does not represent so dramatic a break with the past. It is a culmination of a process begun in the garden of Eden and continued with Cain, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Dina, Tamar, Joseph, and the other actors in opening narratives of the Bible.

The Bible uses stories of injustice to teach about the need for justice…The story of Genesis will continue until the end of humankind.

God of My 20’s: 2 Things I Would Tell Myself

(Post #10 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Eric Vorhies

The things that the 35-year-old Eric would tell the 20-something Eric would need a TLDR (too long didn’t read) section. Don’t go to college unless you have to, travel before having kids, don’t eat too many gummies (they will lead to cavities), learn more about leadership, manage your time better with routine and discipline, stop eating dessert after every meal, etc. There are specific reasons for each of these, and for the ones that I did not share. BUT the problem is that the 20-something Eric wouldn’t have really heard these nuggets of wisdom. He was too sure of himself. So, I have narrowed it down to two things that I wish I could tell myself when I was 10, 15, 18, 21, 25, 27, even yesterday: choose your treasure wisely and stop seeing the world in a binary way.

The Treasure We Choose

Jesus tells a parable in Mt 13: 44-46 about people finding something valuable and doing whatever it takes to obtain it. Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be. Look…the Bible has a lot to say about treasure. So much so, I think I got lost in the things that I treasured. Now, I didn’t treasure ridiculous things. I like movies, playing frisbee, hanging out with friends, and sleeping in…you know, the normal stuff. Those things are important to me; but when I consider the value that my treasure had, it feels empty.

Before you think I am crazy, let me explain. Friendships are good. Relaxing is good. Exercise is good. What I did wrong is nuanced. I regret making those things the goal in and of themselves. When relaxing or friendship becomes the goal, I subtly shifted from serving God to serving myself. Subsequently, those things are then viewed from a self-serving perspective.

Something needed to shift. That’s when I realized just because we treasure something doesn’t mean it has value. To find treasures of value, we have to pursue God to discover what He values and treasure those things. When we do, everything else becomes a by-product of that pursuit. For instance, the more I pursue God, the more I understand His grace and His love for people. Therefore, I serve at my church, I lead a small group, I foster kids, I push myself to become a better parent and husband. And all the while, I have found more peace and patience, deeper friendships, stronger relationships, and a faith that comes from God because I have reached the end of my rope so many times that I have nothing else to do except trust in Him.

So, I would tell myself to treasure things that have real value, relentlessly pursue them, and learn how to merge what you are naturally passionate about with that pursuit.

There Are Two Kinds Of People In This World

Yes/no. Black/white. Right/wrong. True/false. Iphone/android. Are there really only two options for everything? I used to think that in very mathematical terms. If I put in the right information into a solid equation, then I can predict the outcome. If it failed, then I had a bad equation or didn’t have the right information. A better understanding of the variables and their relationships was the solution to the world’s problems. The thing is…the world is messy. It’s messy in such a way that it shouldn’t always be seen as a problem to be solved, but rather a tension to be managed.

Can’t find the perfect person to date? The perfect church? Your dream job? Well, that’s because they don’t exist. That’s a problem you can’t solve. So you manage the tension. I have learned this is the most deeply personal and profound way that I could. Here’s the truncated version: We fostered a teenager. It was amazing for 1.5 yrs. After getting guardianship, she developed mental disorders. I became a parent of a child I never thought I would have. In a nutshell, I have quit judging other parents…and people in general.

That’s what having kids does to a person. See a frazzled woman with a stain on her shirt — yeah, she could be just some unhinged woman, but she’s likely just a mom. Some guy sleeping in church…of course he could be bored out of his mind, or maybe he didn’t get any sleep because his 5-year-old climbed in his bed and was repeatedly kicking him throughout the entire night.

The world is messy. People are suffering and hurting. Some of them do not have the tools or capacity to know how to respond. So, rather than turning from the mess and complexity, the 20-something Eric needs to embrace it. But not as a problem to solve, but as a tension to manage. A tension that will never go away. But it can get better. And when it gets worse, that’s okay too, because I can always get better also.

TLDR

I get it. 20-something Eric would not have listened well through this either. So, the bullet points:

  • Treasure the things that God says have value
  • The world’s messiness isn’t something to be solved but a tension to be managed

Hopefully, the words of 40-something Eric will be more like, “always have ice cream with your pie,” or “it’s ok that you bought that tool for that thing that you never actually fixed because your neighbor got a lot of use out of it.” I just pray to God that these two are burned into my character at this point. Otherwise, I will make some easily avoidable mistakes.

Covid-19 Update: I wrote this before the pandemic. I have learned some new things, but I will spare you…except for this one last one: Wisdom is a depreciating asset. I am glad to have re-read this today because it reminded me to look at the season I am in now with a fresh perspective. So, be open to re-learning something that you already knew.

The Curse Will Be Over

Revelation 22:3 was in my @youversion reading plan today. It reads, “and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him.

That first phrase jumped off the page. So I spent much of the day working on lyrics to a song entitled “The Curse Will Be Over.”

Verse 1

Today is the same, same as the rest

Knowing it’s closer than it’s ever been before

My heart knows you’re there preparing the best

To give me the joy of meeting you when I walk through the door

Chorus

The curse will be over

My eyes will behold you

The lamb who was slain, the risen one

O hallelujah

I’ll sing to proclaim your worth

I’ll finally be home

And the curse will be over

Verse 2

The garden was where this curse was begun

The bitten lie pierced my soul, ushered in shame

You said, “I’m not done.” You sent down your son.

I’ve bowed my knees, said please forgive me. I come bearing his name.

Bridge

Over, death and the grave

Over, disease and pain

Over, darkness and shame

Over, temptation and blame

Over, hatred and war

Over, betrayal and hurt

Over, anger and fear

Over, apart from you

Over, it will be over

Sin’s curse will be over

5 Ways to Combat Forced Fear

Yesterday I saw the CBS commercial featuring actors from their shows sending this message: “We’re in this together.” Yes, community is important, always but certainly now.

If you think about that message for a moment, you can be more descriptive by replacing “this” with a specific noun. Like…

  • …We’re in economic uncertainty together
  • …We’re in confusion together
  • …We’re in isolation together
  • …We’re in media overload together
  • …We’re in the drive through together
  • …We’re in the grocery line together
  • …We’re in fear fatigue together

I’ll stop there to chew on that one. This “this” is one of the major things we are in together. 

Some of us by nature, personality, or any number of reasons tend to live more fearfully. But this is different. This feels like we’re all in fear together whether we want to be or not. Feels forced, on many levels.

We all have natural tendencies in responding to fear. Generally, we are defined as fighters or flighters. I tend to be the former, which explains why I tend to believe much of the fear we are in together is forced.

Regardless of its origination or our response tendency to it, fear does not get an automatic win. It can be overcome when we choose to combat it. You probably are already trying to combat it, subconsciously or thoughtfully. In case you’d like more help, because we’re in this together, here are five ways I’m combating forced fear.

  1. Created a Playlist…just this morning I decided it was time to create a COVID-19 playlist. My list includes songs that address fear directly, bring God into the picture, and focus on the hope of eternity. Pretty sure I’ll be playing it daily.
  2. Exercising Early…many years ago I had to overcome not being a morning person in order to pursue better running training. I’m not in training mode right now. But I’ve put my mind in combat fear mode, meaning setting the alarm on most mornings to get up and exercise first thing. My guess is, if you don’t already do this, when you give it a try you’ll like it.
  3. Increasing Peace Intake…this “this” is to combat that media overload we’re in together. Here’s a challenge to consider: however much time you spend watching, reading, scrolling, engaging in media that produces fear in you, spend at least that same amount of time or more taking in peace. Whatever produces peace in your heart, mind, and spirit needs equal time. Personally I’m barely looking at Twitter, looking at Facebook less, and pretty much looking at headlines only.
  4. Making Others First…this one can be very simple. Something as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in the grocery line, greeting the cashier by name, thanking them for the extra work they are doing, being empathetic with those you’re together with in the grocery aisles (practiced these Wednesday). For something more impactful, ask God to bring to mind someone to bless and how to do it (doing this today).
  5. Reading>Meditating…in particular, biblical characters that endured forced fear. Examples: Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, Mary and Joseph, and certainly Jesus. Many of them were forced to face the fear of death. Read their stories. Meditate on how they combated fear. I’m taking a look at Genesis all this weekend.

How are you dealing with forced fear? Got something else to share? Please do. We’re in forced fear together.

So…What about “Spiritual Distancing”?

Here’s a clear truth from the last few weeks: we’ve learned some new words and phrases. And one of the most repeated I’ve heard is “social distancing.” We introverts know all about that, but this usage doesn’t quite mean the same.

And so it has people talking-even wondering if it’s quite right. See this post from a Facebook friend.

In talking about this with a staff member today along with the choices churches are facing due to “gathering” restrictions, it hit me that we are dealing with another thing for many people; I’ll call it spiritual distancing. For some, this isn’t a new thing. They already keep their distance from spiritual people and conversations. So what about those who are not only being restricted socially but in some sense spiritually?

Multiple answers abound, thanks to the Internet. If you are hungry and resourceful enough, you can find spiritual food to keep you close and healthy rather than distant and wondering. Here are my top two suggestions:

  1. Podcasts…if you haven’t dipped your toe in this ocean, now would be a great time to get wet. Two suggestions: 1) Most well-known pastors/authors have podcasts. Search for them and subscribe. 2) My preference is to search for episode topics rather than follow the same person. For instance, you could search “prayer,” “faith,” “peace from God,” or “overcoming fear.” Search and find voices God can use to overcome spiritual distancing.
  2. Youversion…the best Bible app. I have to be honest. I haven’t tried any others. But there is so much to like about this one. One element that can tremendously impact spiritual distancing is the reading plans. There are loads of options. And maybe the best kept secret about the app is that you can invite friends to read the plan with you and offer conversation between all those reading the plan. That brings spiritual people closer to one another and hopefully closer to God.

My encouragement to you is this. Whatever some one or some thing may create to force distance between you and God, stand up. Resist. Draw close. Feed that hunger. Connect. Avoid spiritual distancing.

God of My 20’s: Understanding Connectivity

(Post #9 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Rick Howell

I felt the call of God into the ministry at the ripe young age of 17. While I obediently began to make decisions consistent with this understanding of God’s direction for my life, I thought it was the dumbest thing God could do. I was active in a small Baptist Church that only had two staff members: a pastor and a choir director. I knew I couldn’t sing; therefore, my calling must be to be a pastor. The problem with this, from my perspective, was that there was very little that I saw my pastor do that I thought I would either be good at or enjoy. Nevertheless, to the best of my understanding I proceeded forward. After getting married, my new bride and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to begin my pastoral preparation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was 22 years old. Through the course of the next five years, God used a variety of circumstances to guide my journey to places I did not even know existed when Debbie and I packed the U-Haul and headed north. At a certain point in my ministerial formation, I experienced a crisis of self and faith that, I would learn one day, was complicated by my misunderstandings of myself, God, and our relationship. Fortunately, for me, Southern had an arrangement with a local counselor with whom I began to meet. This counseling relationship became a vital tool of the Holy Spirit to begin to attend to some very unhealthy dimensions of my relationship with God and with myself. This exploration of self and God was at times very painful, but also life giving. I began to experience a deepening intimacy with God that would have not been possible if I had maintained my previous perspectives. Ever so gradually, I began to wonder if my particular God-given gifts and talents were intended for a ministry of pastoral counseling rather than the pastorate. As my calling began to be clarified and focused, God’s idea originally communicated eight years earlier became much less dumb. Isn’t it interesting how that transformation occurred?

My relationship with myself and God continues to grow and become, now 32 years later. I have come to understand that God is not nearly as concerned about my productivity as my connectivity. Staying grounded to myself enhances my willingness to be connected to God as I am clearly aware of my longing for God. Staying grounded to God, being reminded of God’s deep desire to hang out with me, enables me to be honest in my self-assessment thereby improving my relationship with myself. From time to time, I experience unhealthy remnants of my immature understanding of myself and God. I get caught up in impressing God with my activity or achievement. While these vestiges continue to disrupt my journey, I am committed to my own healing. God is patient, kind, and clear as I encounter these setbacks. God’s calm voice keeps calling me back. “Be still and know that I am God.”

At the same time and as a result of God’s calling on my life, I have had the privilege of serving God by walking alongside of people who are loved by God, for whom God desperately desires healing and wholeness. Through the years I have discovered that I am not unique, as it is common for folks to need a safe relationship with whom they can explore themselves, God, and their relationship. Perhaps this familiar human journey is what The Holy Scriptures is referring to when we are told to “Work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.” Relationships (with self, God, and others) are like bottles of Ketchup. It doesn’t matter how full they look from the outside; it takes a lot of work to get anything out of them.

God of My 20’s: From Going Fast to Resting

(Post #8 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Aaron Pilant

To put it plainly, I’m slower.  This reality came crashing down upon me several months ago.  My 17-year old son came home from school, and he couldn’t stop talking about this basketball game with his friends.  He kept saying how amazing he was, and how he did all these moves that made his opponents look bad.  So, in an effort to connect with my son, I decided to show this young whipper snapper a thing or two on the basketball court.  It all started off good, but shortly I realized how slow I had become.  I used to be able to dribble effortlessly.  I used to be able to move so quickly.  I used to be able to jump so high.  Now, I am just slow.  Being slow can sound bad, but it can be good.

Twenty feels like such a long time ago.  My twenties started by me asking my future wife to marry me.  I was later married that year.  A few years later, we purchased our first home.  Shortly after moving in, my wife became pregnant.  We welcomed my son later that year.  I was working as a part-time youth pastor in a small church.  I was living the dream.  I graduated from a Christian college with a degree in church ministry.  I was married to a beautiful woman.  I had a beautiful baby boy.  I had just started a career path that I felt was my calling and future.  Truth be told, I was living the dream.  I was a passionate Christian.  I had my struggles like anyone, but I was walking with God daily and serving Him in a field that I knew He wanted me in.  We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were happy.  I worked so hard with that youth ministry.  We loved our “kids,” and they loved us.

In my mid-twenties, we moved our little family to Missouri to serve as a youth pastor at a larger church.  We loved youth ministry.  We loved serving God.  It was great!  The youth ministry grew so quickly and large that it baffled me.

In my late twenties, God radically changed the direction of my life.  After several years of praying and talking with several people, I stepped down from the youth pastor position and became a Police Officer.  Yeah, I know.  Crazy, right?   We went where we felt God was pulling us.  Shortly after becoming an Officer, we became pregnant with our daughter.

That was my twenties in a nutshell. So how is my relationship with God different now than it was then?  That really is a tough question.  When I was in my twenties, I had so much passion and energy for God.  I was going to set the world ablaze with the message of His Son.  I spent so much time studying the Bible.  I just couldn’t get enough.

One thing I lacked, though, was the ability to slow down and truly listen to God.  I thought being busy, “going fast” constantly was the right thing to do.  I had never learned how to slow down and truly rest in God.  Truth be told, I would still be that way if I had the energy.  When I was in my mid 30’s, I began to realize that I couldn’t keep up with the pace I set for myself with everything.  I had to learn to rest.  I had to slow down.

Some good friends began to challenge me to think about my life and, more importantly, my relationship with God in a radically different way.  I had grown up in a pretty legalistic religious setting.  I had broken away from most of that thinking except for working myself to death.  I felt that was the only way to please God, to burn as hard and as long as you can.  At the end of the day, this was destroying my relationship with God.

Thankfully, my 40’s have started differently.  I am more at ease with myself and a slower pace.  I am more comfortable looking at life like a marathon rather than a sprint.  I’m learning more and more how to rest in God.  I am growing more at ease with boundaries.  I am okay with saying no.  I am slower, but slowing down has been good.  It has given me a chance to take in the beauty of God and a relationship with Him based in His grace rather than my pace.

Vulnerability

One effort, and it is for me, to achieve better and deeper this year is to listen to more podcasts. I don’t tend to follow every episode of a podcast; therein lies my effort. Rather than just tune in for every episode dropped, I have to search for episodes that speak to what I’m looking to receive, areas of growth I need to pay attention to.

My friend Mark cohosts a podcast called The Next Man Up. His target audience is fathers. Since I’m not his target, I tend not to tune in to every episode. Reality is, though, most of the content is for men in general; so regardless of your stage of life as a man, you get something from each episode.

For example, I just listened to Episode #91. The subject is vulnerability, which men stink at. I’m not the worst at it, but I’m not the best either. But I know this, if a podcast episode has the name Brene Brown in the show notes, I’m probably going listen. I haven’t regretted doing so yet.

Guys, I’m not going to rehash the episode’s content. Odds are pretty high you need to get better in this area also. Click on the link. It’s a good use of thirty minutes today.

52: A Better & Deeper Birthday

Got a call this morning asking if I felt wiser. Took me a moment, but I figured out that was their way of saying, “I know you had a birthday yesterday.”

I don’t know about wiser, but I can say yesterday (#52) was an illustration that I am certainly better at acknowledging my birthday as I age.

Last decade my “go to” celebration was traveling to run a race: ’11, Snickers Marathon; ’13, Tuscaloosa Half; ’17, Little Rock 10k; ’18, Mississippi 50k; ’19, Rhode Island Marathon. No race or traveling this year. Just let it flowed.

Instead of running elsewhere, I enjoyed a midday run sporting my birthday gift to myself: 


Roll Tide!

Other treats of the day involved free food: a chocolate cupcake that appeared on my desk, then a Firehouse sub and a Chick-fil-a shake courtesy of their mobile apps (you should get them if you don’t have them).

But the best gift given to me was from an unexpected source. Through sign language in a movie, God gave me clarity about a project that has been shelved for a couple of years. And it came out of nowhere. I wasn’t looking for it. But it was quite clear and brought peace. Makes sense that God gave me the best gift of the day.

If this is an indicator of what’s in store on birthdays the rest of this decade, I’m in. Better and Deeper! Let’s Go!

3 Embraces for Healthy Fear

College Student: “I’m a little scared about this.”

Me: “Well, that probably means God is going to have a better chance to do what he wants.”

These two lines were from a conversation yesterday in my office. This student is stepping out to do something new, on her own. Admitting her fear but not reluctant to be obedient, she illustrated what healthy fear does. Healthy fear embraces rather than coils, hides, runs, or any other flight responses. If you’re facing a fear with unhealthy tendencies, see if any of these mindsets help:

  1. Embrace Being Uncomfortable…think Daniel in the lion’s den. Satan wants you to believe you’ve made the wrong choice, you can’t count on God, you’re not ready, and any number of other lies. Whatever den door your obedience to God has led you to enter, choose to embrace that discomfort and watch how God shuts lion’s mouths.
  2. Embrace Moving Forward without all the Answers…think Noah first day on the job. Doubt wants you to believe it’s not possible, you’ll never finish, you’re not smart enough, and any number of other unknowns. Whatever task your faith in God has led you to begin, choose to embrace what you know and watch how God completes an ark.
  3. Embrace Relying on God…think Esther walking up to the throne. Insecurity wants you to believe you are all alone, you lack courage, you will crumble, and any number of other nightmares. Whatever sacrifice your confidence in God has led you to offer, choose to embrace the vision of God’s best and watch how God honors the reliant.

How will you embrace fear in order for God to get what he wants?