Wednesday, October 9, 2013


At this time last year, I was writing through Genesis with the children's minister at our church for the Sunday School curriculum. We started "In the beginning" and worked our way chronologically through the first several events and families of the Old Testament, wrestling through even the more difficult stories and subject matter, though we omitted the sexual violation that occurs throughout (you don't realize how much subject matter in the Bible is, in many ways, "inappropriate," even scandalous, until you dive in cover-to-cover without skipping the messy parts).

In our writing, we endeavored to put the Biblical language into more of a narrative form, taking the sometimes stiff timeline of people and events and creating a more recognizable story with language accessible to first through fifth graders.

Our hope was that the children, listening to the storyteller on Sunday mornings, would begin to really visualize these people and events, which otherwise tend to feel confusing and distant and irrelevant. We believed that if we remained true to the chronology, simply presenting the stories as faithfully as possible, the children would begin to make connections between the stories and also between themselves and the characters and events of the Bible. We prayed that as they watched God call, invite, provide for, and protect the characters in these stories, they would come to recognize Him in their own lives.

We dreamed that the children would begin to see the relentless love of God--perhaps more obvious in Jesus's life told in the New Testament--in these crazy Old Testament stories, too. After all, it's all one story: the same story from before the foundation of the world to the fullness of time and into eternity. God's love, God's plan, does not change from creation to revelation.

What I didn't anticipate was how much this process would transform my own life. By living within these stories as I wrote, by having to examine more carefully what the characters' motivations were, by searching for reasons why God would ask or command or discipline in certain ways, by looking for the kindness and compassion of God even in circumstances that appeared difficult or cruel, I found myself convicted of the same short-sightedness that those, at times, imbecilic-seeming Israelites experienced.

In turn, I found myself undeniably changed.

When I dove into the story of the Tower of Babel, my childhood understanding was challenged. I had always learned that the people built the tower in order to reach heaven by their own might and skill and so make a name for themselves. Vain glory, I thought. A motivation rooted in pride. However, when I read the text more carefully, I saw this: "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:4). The primary motivation for building the tower was not simply pride or ambition but a desire to not be scattered.

In reality, the people were driven by a desire to remain, to stay, to maintain the status quo. They built a city and a tower so they could continue to enjoy the safety, comfort and security of their togetherness. They believed that together, in a great city marked by a great tower that could be seen for miles, they could take care of themselves. With the tower to guide them, they would be able to find their way home no matter how far they traveled. And the great name they'd build for themselves with their great tower would surely dissuade any who would consider attack. This was their plan to ensure they would not be scattered.

The only problem was that, from the beginning, God had been commanding his people to scatter, to fill the earth. This was his command to Adam and Eve. This was his command to Noah and his sons. Fill the whole earth.

Ultimately, the flaw in the construction of the Tower of Babel was a faith in each other that superseded their willingness to rely on and obey God. It was a different form of pride.

I sat at my desk in our office at home, writing this story for the kids, and I recognized in myself this same desire for stasis, a craving for the comfortable and familiar, a loyalty to the premise of not being scattered.

There had been times over the years when Josh had wondered aloud if we should consider relocation for job opportunities. Every time, without hesitation, my response had been an adamant "No." No way, no how. We could never leave. We were safe and comfortable in the mountains.

I had built a tower of permanence, finding security in our beautiful home, the kids' wonderful school, a church that truly sees the goodness of God, a community of people who love us sincerely. Even before my family had arrived, I was convinced we shouldn't, couldn't uproot our little family from our idyllic life in Evergreen. Above all, I wanted to remain.

Just 21 verses later, I found myself absorbed in the story of Abram (later Abraham), the father of Israel, who was called away from his home and family of seventy-five years into God's plan. I wrote the story like this:

"Once upon a time, a man named Abram lived with his wife, Sarai, and his parents and his brothers and their families in a land called Haran, near Canaan. Abram and Sarai did not have any children for Sarai was barren, but they lived comfortably and happily with their family for many years, sharing meals and holidays and work as families do.

One day, the Lord came to Abram and said, “Abram, I want you to leave this land. Leave your relatives and your dad’s house and go to the land I will show you, and I will make a whole nation from you. I will bless you and make your name famous, and you will be a blessing, a gift. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse the one who curses you. And in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

So Abram did what the Lord said. When he was seventy-five years old, Abram left his home in Haran with Sarai and his nephew, Lot, and all of their possessions and servants to make the great journey to Canaan, a place he had never seen. They would be strangers there, like pilgrims, foreigners. But Abram left everything that was familiar and comfortable to obey God, because he believed God’s promises."

I could just as easily have written, "Once upon a time, a woman named Shaundra lived with her husband, Josh, and her parents and her sisters and their families in a land called Evergreen, near Denver...they lived comfortably and happily with their family for many years, sharing meals and holidays and work as families do..."

I wrote this story on November 1st, 2012, months before Josh lost his job and we learned we would be leaving Colorado. As I wrote, though, I felt a perceptible shift. Somehow, in the mysterious way He has, God began to prepare my heart for change, to soften my resolve that life in Evergreen, surrounded by family and friends, was the only possible path for the rest of our lives. I recognized and related to Abram's cozy set-up, but I also saw God's call for him to leave as one rooted in a desire to bless not just Abram but the whole world through him. I didn't think anything would come of it, but that day, a conviction was born that staying put in the familiar for the sake of comfort, security, or even family, should not be my primary goal.

So when I answered my cell phone in the car that cool Monday morning in March after dropping the kids off at school, and Josh told me he was packing up his office and would be home in a couple hours because the company had laid off most of its staff, my resolve was no longer to stay but to follow. My hope was not to rely on ourselves but to rely on God's provision. My mind was no longer wrapped in fear but in faith that whatever was happening was happening for our good and not for our demise, for blessing and not for harm.

I'm not suggesting that God's plan for us in Texas is as grandiose as His plan for Abraham, but the stories, you see, had changed me.

"So Shaundra did what the Lord said. When she was thirty-five years old, Shaundra left her home in Evergreen with Josh and her children, Benjamin and Abigail, and [some] of their possessions to make the great journey to Missouri City, Texas, a place she had never seen [before the job hunt]. They would be strangers there, like pilgrims, foreigners. But Shaundra left everything that was familiar and comfortable to obey God, because she believed God's promises."

It sounds dramatic, even melodramatic. Or cliche. Isn't that how the Bible reads sometimes? Yeah, yeah, so the dumb people built a tower. Obviously that wasn't going to work. So Abram left his family in Haran. Big deal.

Until you find that you are the one building cities and towers of security, that you are the one asked to leave. Then you need to know what kind of God you're following. The stories come alive, and you see that they are so much more than a crazy old text. So you look for the thread of goodness. You see past what looks like arbitrary discipline to the heart of God.  Can you believe His promises? Can you trust His plans?

Abram's story continues like this:

"Abram and his group arrived in the land of Canaan and stopped at the oak of Moreh. Here, the Lord said to Abram, “I will give this land to your descendants.” So Abram built an altar to the Lord there, giving thanks.

They continued their journey further into Canaan to the mountain between Bethel and Ai. Here Abram pitched his tent, setting up camp, and he built another altar. They hadn’t arrived at their new home yet, but they worshipped God, calling upon the name of the Lord.

Abram and his group traveled on, trusting God to provide their new home."

Well, I'm writing from my couch in Texas. We've been scattered, called as strangers to an unfamiliar place. We've pitched our proverbial tent in this two-bedroom apartment while we wait for what's to come. We haven't arrived at our new home yet, but we are giving thanks.

So we sojourn on in our day-to-day, trusting God to provide our new future. Because we can.

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