Monday, October 25, 2010


Rain arrived last Saturday in the Pacific Northwest, and it‘s more likely than possible that we‘ll not see much sun until May. I finally cut sales tags off my rain boots and chose an outfit that matched them to wear to church. So in the long, gloomy, rainy days of Northwest fall, winter and spring – how do we stay positive? I hate positive thinking. It‘s a bit like lying to your face. Why should I tell my face to smile when every natural instinct says cry or scream? Even Job said, ―If I change my expression and smile, I still dread all my suffering.‖ (Job 9:27) See? Even good ol‘ Job thought positive thinking was a hoax. When those health and wealth gurus tell me to slap on a smile, I just want to slap theirs off! A permanent smile is just downright creepy – look at the Batman movies…the Joker never loses his smile, but who wants HIS disposition? So what‘s the answer? Do we walk around at the whim of our circumstance-blown emotions? That would be tragic indeed. To feel the true joy for which we were created, our attitudes, ambition and purpose must be centered on a far more stable Truth and Source. The writer of Genesis realized it and revealed it in the story of Joseph…

Gen. 39:1-2 – "Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master." (emphasis added)
  • How could Joseph "prosper" as a slave? Seriously. He had been the favored son of a wealthy nomadic tribal chief. He could have looked at Potiphar's villa and power and been envious. Instead, Joseph focused on the one stable Source of his contentment – Yahweh, the LORD, who was WITH him in Canaan or in Egypt. God's presence became Joseph's prosperity, not the hope of material gain or a manufactured feel-good emotion. God WITH him – WITH you. Emmanuel.
Gen. 39:3-4 – "When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned." (emphasis added)
  • How did Potiphar know Joseph was a follower of Yahweh? Either Joseph spoke of God or he wore something that defined him as a follower of Yahweh. People recognize us as followers of Christ in the same ways – either we tell them, or we give them some outward clue as to our inward condition. But notice that Potiphar realized more than just Joseph's allegiance to the Hebrew God. The master understood that Joseph's success came from Above, that it wasn't just the slave's natural talent that prospered his household. At some crucial point, Joseph found ways to give God the glory for every good gift that came to his master's house.
Gen. 39:5-6 – "From the time [Potiphar] put [Joseph] in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate." (emphasis added)
  • The blessing of God's presence was passed from faithful Joseph to his observant master. Joseph's faith amplified God's faithfulness, making Potiphar the beneficiary of God's blessing. God wasn't faithful BECAUSE Joseph delighted in His presence, but Joseph's delight in God's presence certainly opened the door of God's blessing to Potiphar. Those who know us best quickly recognize a fake smile; but an authentic smile, from a heart content in Christ, is a blessing to the smiler and to the smile-watcher.
Lord, I have been pretty good at faking a smile for most of my life – and I'm tired of it. I see now that I can experience a true and abiding joy, based on the reality of Your presence. You are WITH me, wherever I am, in whatever circumstance I find myself. For that reason alone, my smile never has to lie again.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I'm going to have to monitor my husband's TV watching more closely. Actually, we both really enjoy a show called, Lie to Me. It's about this facial recognition specialist, who uses facial tics and expressions to determine if people are telling the truth. The main character is so proficient at reading faces, he can discern if a person is fearful, disgusted or humiliated. He listens carefully to their answers, determining if they're “deflecting” or avoiding the question. Well, my husband has decided to duplicate this TV show in real life. If I avoid answering his specific question, he says, “You're deflecting!” Hrumph! If I stretch a few details to make a story more interesting, he cries, “You're exaggerating!” What's wrong with embellishment? Well, embellishment is just another word for DECEPTION and it's been used with its cousin, AVOIDANCE, for centuries to manipulate people and circumstances. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had a history of deception…and now, Judah picks up where his ancestors left off.

Gen. 38:1 – “At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah.” (emphasis added)
  • Judah left when his father started mourning for Joseph, unable – or unwilling – to witness the consequences of his sin. Though it had been his idea to sell Joseph into slavery, he took the coward's road of AVOIDANCE and left his brothers to take responsibility for the pain he caused.
Gen. 38:2-11 – “There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and lay with her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him. Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, 'Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.' But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also. Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Live as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up.' For he thought, 'He may die too, just like his brothers.' So Tamar went to live in her father's house.” (emphasis added)
  • Stop to consider how many years Judah has lived among the Canaanites. Long enough to marry, have three sons, find a wife for them and then lose two of his sons due to wickedness. Judah has been hiding from his sin – away from Jacob, God's Covenant bearer. And he's doing everything humanly possible to protect himself and his third son. The problem is: we can't AVOID or DECEIVE God. Even at a subconscious level, God works His way into our hearts, nudging us toward Him. Here's what I mean…Judah required his second son to marry Tamar to “fulfill the duty of the brother-in-law.” Historically, this is the first reference to such a requirement. Later, this obligation is added to the Law of Moses, but for now, Judah is openly rebellious against God and deceiving his daughter-in-law. Regardless, God's protective hand is establishing the lineage of Judah…the family tree of Jesus Christ. When we refuse to submit to God, He remains a soft Light on our wrong path.
Gen. 38:12-19 – “After a long time Judah's wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him. When Tamar was told, 'Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,' she took off her widow's clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, 'Come now, let me sleep with you.' 'And what will you give me to sleep with you?' she asked. 'I'll send you a young goat from my flock,' he said. 'Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?' she asked. He said, 'What pledge should I give you?' 'Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,' she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow‟s clothes again.” (emphasis added)
  • Notice Tamar never lied to her father-in-law – but she deceived him. He saw her and assumed she was a prostitute – just as Jacob had seen Joseph's bloodied robe and assumed he was devoured by wild animals. Isn't it just a little bit delicious that Judah, the trickster, gets tricked? DECEPTION need not be a spoken lie – it is the spirit of the concept being communicated. Tamar intended deceit – as Judah had.
Gen. 38:20-23 – “Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there, 'Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?' 'There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here,' they said. So he went back to Judah and said, 'I didn't find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, “There hasn‟t been any shrine prostitute here.”' Then Judah said, 'Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn‟t find her.'”
  • Okay, this is almost comical. Almost. Judah is a sinner trying to scrape together some semblance of integrity – that is, if it doesn't take too much effort. When a little integrity might unmask his sin, Judah reverts to AVOIDANCE because it's comfortable. For many people, when a situation requires too much effort, honor or disclosure, we avoid it, forget it, or pretend it didn't happen. The Lord calls us to do what's right; but when we fail, we should at least make the effort to make it right.
Gen. 38:24-26 – “About three months later Judah was told, 'Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.' Judah said, 'Bring her out and have her burned to death!' As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. 'I am pregnant by the man who owns these,' she said. And she added, 'See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.' Judah recognized them and said, 'She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn‟t give her to my son Shelah.' And he did not sleep with her again.”
  • When Judah was backed into a corner, AVOIDANCE and DECEPTION now impossible, at least he gathered his tattered integrity and covered Tamar with it.
Gen. 38:27-30 – “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, 'This one came out first.' But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, 'So this is how you have broken out!' And he was named Perez(means “breaking out”). Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah(means “scarlet or brightness”).”
  • I find it interesting that the names of Judah's and Tamar's twins seem to embody the opposite of AVOIDANCE and DECEPTION. Perez, the little one who “broke out,” certainly didn't know the meaning of avoidance. Nor could Zerah, the one with the scarlet thread on his wrist, deceive the midwife by his shifty arrival. How great it would be if our children could be free from the weaknesses that plague their parents.
Lord, help me to meet difficult circumstances without hesitation and stand stronger in unshaded truth. I want to be so near to Your all-consuming Light that I can't avoid the truth that surrounds me - no matter how unpleasant, no matter how much effort it requires. Let my integrity and wisdom grow in proportion to my relationship with You.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Life seldom delivers what we expect. The divorce rate is vivid proof. Even our long-anticipated holidays, celebrations and vacations almost never pack the same "punch" we've dreamed of. Why is that? Are our expectations too high or do we live life too low? One of the worst demolitions of our family's expectations was our nearly canceled cruise to Australia/New Zealand. It was Christmas 2008, and Portland experienced its worst snowstorm in thirty years – closing the airport and causing us to miss the first four days of our 14-day cruise. Portland's blast of winter cost us our tour of Australia, and we had to meet the ship in New Zealand (which was beautiful, by the way). We were thankful, of course, but we had so looked forward to seeing Australia, since our interest had been peeked years earlier when our daughter applied to be an exchange student there but was reassigned. Most importantly, however, for weeks and months, we expected a glorious Christmas with our precious parents-of-the-heart, who were to meet us in LA so we could be together on the ship for Christmas. Instead, they spent Christmas on the ship alone, and we sat in the LA airport – a nine hour layover before a 14-hour trans-Pacific flight. Yep, our girls are pictured above with their single present and our pile of carry-on luggage.

But we adjusted our expectations! The new plan was to meet a cruise-line representative in Auckland, New Zealand. Alas, no one met us, so we adjusted expectations again and boarded the ship the next day. Finally underway, our cruise was wonderful, beautiful, splendid. Just not what we expected…

Gen. 37:12-14 – "Now [Joseph‘s] brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, 'As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.'
'Very well,' he replied.
So he said to him, 'Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.' Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron."
  • Joseph was about seventeen years old when his father, Jacob (Israel), expected him to travel fifty miles from Hebron to Shechem to find his brothers.
Gen. 37:15-18 – "When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, 'What are you looking for?'
He replied, 'I'm looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?'
'They have moved on from here,' the man answered. 'I heard them say, "Let's go to Dothan."' So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him."
  • Joseph was relentless in his search for his brothers – no doubt because he wanted to meet his father‘s expectations.
Gen. 37:19-20 – "'Here comes that dreamer!' they said to each other. 'Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we‘ll see what comes of his dreams.'"
  • Joseph’s brothers' hate had escalated into murderous thoughts – they expected to be rid of him forever.
Gen. 37:21-22 – "When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. 'Let's not take his life,' he said. 'Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him.' Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father."
  • Reuben expected to appease his brothers' hatred and rescue Joseph later – he expected to become a hero in his father's eyes.
Gen. 37:23-24 – "So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing—and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it."
  • Imagine the welcome Joseph expected. He'd searched from Hebron to Shechem to Dothan and finally found his surly brothers. Instead of welcome or appreciation, he received a waterless grave. Was the depth of their hate a surprise to Joseph? Had he expected them to go this far? The shock and betrayal of a family member is a deep wound. Though the author of Genesis later reveals Joseph's emotions during his captivity in Egypt, here there is no mention of Joseph's reaction. Not a single word, thought or prayer. Sometimes there are no words to describe the pain when a situation runs so completely contrary to our expectations.
Gen. 37:25-28 – "As [the brothers] sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, 'What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.' His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt." (emphasis added)
  • Greed changed the brothers’ expectations. Suddenly, Judah was reminded that Joseph was their brother – an attack of conscience spurred by a lucrative opportunity. Their expectations were redefined by sin. We can rationalize an expectation, even make it appear noble – with incredibly ignoble motives. The root of our expectations is a matter of the heart.
Gen. 37:29-32 – "When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, 'The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?' Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, 'We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son‘s robe.'"
  • Where was Reuben when the brothers sold Joseph to the Midianites? Reuben expected to be the hero – saving Joseph and returning the favored son to their father. But because he didn't act on his convictions right away, he Reuben missed the opportunity to do the right thing. Good intentions mingled with high expectations can be nullified by procrastination.
Gen. 37:33-35 – "[Jacob] recognized it and said, 'It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.' Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. 'No,' he said, 'in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.' So his father wept for him."
  • After seeing Joseph's robe smeared with blood Jacob expected Joseph to be dead. All the facts pointed to it, so his sons didn't need to say a word. Jacob created his own expectation without asking questions to clarify the truth. Did he blame himself for sending a boy of seventeen on such a long journey? Did he suspect his sons of foul play? Guilt, fear, anger and a host of other unhealthy emotions can send our expectations spiraling into a dark realm – like the irrevocable grieving Jacob began.
Gen. 37:36 – "Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh‘s officials, the captain of the guard."
  • Well, this is certainly about as far from Joseph’s expectations as he could get. In his dreams, his father and brothers were bowing to him. He was now a servant in a foreign land – away from everyone and everything he knew. The important lesson is this: In this moment, Joseph's life doesn't line up with the expectations God placed in his heart. However, God isn't finished with Joseph! Our lives are so much more than one moment in time, and the expectations God has for us will take a lifetime to realize.
Lord, my expectations are so very tied to the here and the now. I try to dream of what the future may hold, but my idea of the future comes much more quickly than Yours! Teach me to temper my expectations with eternity. Give me the contentment of Your timelessness.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Research has uncovered a serious disease that affects one out of three individuals. It's abbreviation is TMI, but you may know it as, “Too-much-eous Information-eous.” (Okay, just so we're clear – I'm making all this up) The symptoms of Too-much-eous Information-eous (TMI) are easy to recognize. The TMI carrier shares more information than his/her hearers need to know, should know or even want to know. A TMI carrier talks long after his/her listeners have stopped listening. TMI can be contagious, when an otherwise discreet or tactful individual endures repeated exposure to a TMI sufferer. To protect ourselves from this modern epidemic, we have a powerful yet simple weapon at our disposal: a single question posed to anyone you might suspect suffers from TMI. Simply make good eye contact and ask, “If you were to describe yourself as a punctuation mark, what would you be?” If the person answers, “Exclamation point, period, or question mark,” you may safely pursue a healthy conversation. However, if the individual answers, “semi-colon, comma, or (heaven help us) ellipsis – a triple dot at the end of a sentence,” RUN! You have encountered a TMI carrier, and your social graces may be in grave danger! If you believe you may have already been infected with the TMI germ, perform these simple tests at your next social gathering. #1 – If you don't get invited to a social gathering, you are probably a carrier. #2 – If you go to a party, and people's eyes glaze over the moment you begin speaking, you may be a carrier. #3 – If you go to a party, and they ask you to refill the food trays and punch bowl – and you've never met the host/hostess – you may be a carrier. My advice to you, if you have already been infected by the TMI germ…end every story with, “And then I found five dollars.” At least then all your stories will have a happy ending. Our biblical example of a TMI carrier: Joseph, Jacob's eleventh son…

Gen. 37:1-2 – “Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.” (emphasis added)
  • You would hope that by age seventeen, Joseph would have found more creative ways than tattling to solve problems. Granted, some instances require the intervention of an mediator; however, could Joseph's tattling have been avoided with a more tactful attempt at diplomacy? Joseph's runaway tongue shares TMI with others, building walls where a little wisdom might have built bridges. Too often, even adults are guilty of tattling in order to gain support for their “side” of an issue.
Gen. 37:3-4 – “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”
  • It seems Joseph wasn't the only one suffering from TMI. Jacob, too, seemed to share his favoritism too freely. Rather than recognizing the sin of dividing his household, Jacob flaunted his dysfunction by draping Joseph in the richly ornamented proof of his fatherly love. It was TMI and became salt in the wounded hearts of his other sons.
Gen. 37:5-8 – “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, 'Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.' His brothers said to him, 'Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?' And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (emphasis added)
  • Joseph's brothers hated him for two reasons – one was beyond Joseph's control, the other was TMI. Joseph's dream was a subconscious response initiated by God, foretelling a future event that the Lord would indeed bring to pass. However, Joseph's mistake was sharing his spiritual insights with folks who could not/would not/did not appreciate hearing about Joseph's heavenly encounter. We must choose carefully those with whom we share God's work in our lives.
Gen. 37:9-11 – “Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. 'Listen,' he said, 'I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.' When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, 'What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?' His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” (emphasis added)
  • Okay, the first dream-share we can chalk up to an “oops,” for silly young Joseph. But when the kid adds fuel to his brothers' already white-hot flames of hatred, we've just got to shake our heads and say, “Yo, dude! TMI!” Since he included his father in this second explanation, I'm wondering if he thought he might get Jacob's approval…. Oops, miscalculation. I find it interesting that Jacob asks if Joseph's mother and he will come and bow down – Rachel is dead. Jacob chastises Joseph, but Scripture says that Jacob “kept the matter in mind.” Perhaps Jacob knew this impulsive, extravagant son, who has a severe case of TMI, has also been called by God for a special purpose. I find great comfort in that…
Lord, I see the faults in Joseph and Jacob – and many of the Bible characters – and they mirror so many of my own shortcomings. Having battled TMI all my life, it continues to plague me from time to time. Can you still use me, Lord? Even though I say the wrong thing at the wrong time? Even though I tell more than anyone needs to know? I trust Your power and wisdom to be greater than my weakness and flaws. Let it be so, Father. Let it be so.