God’s Dysfunctional Families

“While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis 4:8

It’s pretty easy to find biblical principles applying to marriage and family life. Ephesians 5-6 highlight sacrificial love, mutual submission, trust, respect and nurture as foundations of a healthy family. These virtues are taught throughout the Scriptures.


Cain Smiting Abel, Sebastiano Ricci

It’s even easier to find stories of dysfunctional families. Consider these in Genesis:

  • Adam and Eve’s firstborn commits fratricide (Genesis 4:8).
  • Sarah’s gives her servant to Abraham to bear a surrogate child (Genesis 16). Sarah then abuses her in jealous anger, while Abraham remains passive.
  • Lot’s daughters seduce him into drunken incest (Genesis 19).
  • Isaac and Rebecca play favorites with their boys, creating a horrible sibling rivalry. (Genesis 25-27)
  • Laban smuggles Leah in as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel. Jacob marries them both, causing a sibling rivalry where the sisters’ compete for children (Genesis 29-30).
  • Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine, the mother of some of his brothers (Genesis 35).
  • Ten of Jacob’s sons sell brother Joseph into slavery, and lie about it to their father for 22 years (Genesis 37).

This isn’t too surprising, considering humanity is alienated from God and one another (Genesis 3). Put a group of selfish sinners in a home, sharing possessions, having different personalities and an unequal distribution of power and you have a recipe for dysfunction.

There’s redemptive potential in dysfunctional families. God wants us to become aware of our sinfulness and our inability to save ourselves. God wants us to believe in the message his son preached, and love one another.

The family is a good place for all of these to happen.

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Political Parties, Corporations, and a Peasant Baby.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

It’s easy to feel insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where news headlines are dominated by political and economic movements, led by people with power and prestige. Don’t be disheartened, for Christmas serves as a constant reminder that these mammoth forces are not the authors of redemptive history.


The Census at Bethlehem, Peter Bruegel II

While the powerful often use the common people for their own purposes, the Christmas story reminds us that God uses them – even without their knowing it – to serve the kingdom of God. God used the oppressive power of Rome, who decreed that insignificant Mary and Joseph be registered in their hometown, to fulfill the prophet’s Micah’s prophecy:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2).

Do not think that, because our well being is often dependent on government policies and corporate practices, God’s purposes are thwarted. God seeks our holiness, not our prosperity.  To that end, God rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.”

The Christmas story gives us hope that God is for the little people. We have great cause to rejoice because presidents, CEO’s and other billionaires of the world follow the sovereign decrees of God, so that we, the little people, might be conformed to the image of that peasant baby who was born in a manger.

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What Happens When God’s Messengers Challenge Authority?

“Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” Exodus 1:8

The story of Moses begins where the story of Joseph ends: in Egypt. There are some interesting parallels between the two:

Both were unlikely candidates to be God’s messenger. Joseph was a slave and a condemned prisoner. Moses was banished royalty.

The Rod of Aaron Devours Other Rods

James Tissot, The Rod of Aaron Devours the Other Rods

Both messengers were heard by the Pharoah…but received in very different ways: Pharaoh believes Joseph’s message of impending disaster, knowing from his dreams that all was not well in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh rejects Moses’ warning, being confident in Egypt’s unrivaled power, wealth and divine favor.

God directly influences both Pharaohs’ receptivity to the message…in different ways. God warns Pharaoh through dreams that disaster is coming, preparing him to hear Joseph’s message. God harden’s Pharoah’s heart, so that he is unable to see the impending disaster, even when the signs are everywhere.

Both messengers eventually receive positions of power and responsibility. Joseph becomes second in command in the Egyptian empire, and is tasked with protecting an entire civilization from destruction. Moses takes on the roles of prophet, priest and king over God’s people, and is tasked with protecting them from self-destruction. 

 Both messages affect the geographical relocation of God’s people. As a result of Joseph’s message, God’s people are relocated to Goshen and offered security. As a result of Moses’ message, God’s people are liberated (or expelled) from Egypt. God leads them to the land promised to Abraham, after a generation of wandering into the wilderness.

So, what happens when God’s messengers challenge authority? It depends on the crisis, the messenger and the authority.

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Who among you has ever attended a hot tub expo…?

…and were tempted to buy one?

Last Saturday I noticed several signs on Route 2. With bright bold red letters they announced a hot tub expo taking place that weekend. Hot tubs were being sold at a sharply reduced price. These small square white signs communicated a sense of urgency, as the sale was a one time opportunity.

Christ Carrying the Cross, Hans Holbein the Younger

Sometimes God would speak to His Old testament prophets by drawing their attention to something ordinary, like a pottery working with clay. This ordinary sign reminded me of a situation that I witnessed twenty years ago, but still speaks divine truth to me.

I knew someone who purchased a hot tub, and it became a painful embarrassment to him. He lived on a fixed income, yet he purchased a hot tub he discovered at a clearance sale. To him this was a welcome, and affordable blessing for his family to enjoy after a stressful week.

Until he opened the electric bill.

When he purchased this luxury item, he only considered the benefits of relaxing with friends and family, but he underestimated the long term costs. I have a lasting memory of that empty hot tub sitting adjacent to a redwood deck, an embarrassing reminder of an unwise decision. So it is with a profession of faith that welcomes the benefits of the cross, but doesn’t fully consider the cost of taking it up and following Jesus:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Like the hot tub, a hasty profession of faith serves only as an empty embarrassment of a hasty decision.

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New Sermon Series: Joseph’s Secret to Success

“The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered…” (Genesis 39:2)

A successful career. A successful church. A successful life. Who doesn’t want success?

Joseph (in the book of Genesis) was successful. He became second in command of the most powerful empire in the world, and saved an entire civilization from certain destruction. However, these are not why he should be considered a success. In fact, one could argue that Joseph did not pursue success at all – he only pursued God.

Joseph is Ambushed, The Brick Testament

Furthermore, his road to success was one of great suffering and sorrow.

In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” If you really want to understand Joseph, look at his suffering. As we read through the stories of Joseph, we can see how his suffering shaped him to be used for God’s glory.

This Sunday we will begin a 7-part sermon series where we will look at Joseph’s unique path to success, and redefine for us what it means to be successful.

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Who Needs (the Gridiron) God?

If football is a religion, as some have argued, then here is what a skeptic might sound like:

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine that football teams pray after games. Lots of people get excited about this religion, and I respect their right to do so, but it’s not for me.

When friends invite me to a game, I respectfully decline. I don’t feel like getting up on a Sunday morning, driving to a stadium and sitting with strangers for 3 hours. I can see maybe going on Thanksgiving Day, but not every week.


Notre Dame’s Word of Life “Touchdown Jesus” Mural

I saw a signup sheet in the break room for a football pool. I couldn’t help but notice that you had to pay to join. Everything has a price on it, even religion. And besides, I don’t think I can commit myself to 17 weeks.

I feel stupid when people at lunch start talking about football. Everyone takes for granted that I know who Cam Newton is, or why people hate Dan Snyder. Not everyone is a football scholar, you know. Dumb it down for me and maybe I’ll pay some attention to your religion.

The guy in the cubicle next to me is a religious fanatic. He is always reading something on NFL.com, even when he should be working. I get a little suspicious when he starts talking to me about “the big game” – I wonder if he is trying to convert me.

People are always wearing football jerseys on Friday. I believe religion is a private matter, not something you have to wear on your sleeve. They don’t realize that they might turn people off or offend someone.

Football can be controversial, just like politics. I don’t like the trash talking, and the arguing. These people can get really nasty.

My family watched football when I was growing up, but when I went to college I got out of the habit. Maybe someday, when my kids are out of the house and I retire, I’ll start watching football games again. I may even become a fan.

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Does it Matter Where We Shop?

“The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.” James 5:4

Ten years ago I joined a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA), and members were given the opportunity to meet the farmers growing the produce. I’ll never forget what one of them said: “Whenever you save money on food, you are probably costing someone somewhere.”


Ruth Gleaning, James Tissot

I had never considered this before, which is sad considering the biblical teachings calling for justice for the poor and oppressed. This goes beyond giving to the poor – God takes an interest in our business transactions, because they impact those providing the goods and services we purchase. How often do we consider the wages, living conditions and local economies of those growing beans for our morning coffee and cacao for our candy bars? Are they paid a fair price for their work?

Biblical faith requires us to think about such things before we buy:

  • In Amos chapter 8, God contemns Israel’s dishonest trading practices, for cheating and exploiting the poor by “skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales” (vv. 4-7).
  • God prohibits “taking advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy” (Deuteronomy 24:14), but requires employers to pay “his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the Lord and it becomes sin in you” (Deuteronomy 24:15).

The fair trade movement supports farmers and artisans who are socially and economically marginalized, by ensuring prompt and fair payment for workers and producers who may go without food, shelter, clothing or dignity, because of their poverty. Learn more about fair trade principles and become a fair trade shopper whenever possible.

Financial stewardship is not just about how we spend our money (Luke 12:13-21). We should also prayerfully consider where we spend it.

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