Resisting Culture’s Mold

Scripture Focus: Genesis 30-19-20
19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. 

“Well, it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin. But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick…” — Rich Mullins

Reflection: Resisting Culture’s Mold
By John Tillman

Laban’s daughters both recognize that they have been badly treated. The women describe their marriages as being “sold” like foreigners. (Genesis 31.14-15

Leah, in particular, was dehumanized by her experience. Laban sold her like overstocked inventory that had to be cleared off the shelf to make room for the new. (Genesis 29.25-28

Despite this, Leah continued to believe that fulfilling culture’s expectations of womanhood would bring her love and honor. She even resorted to purchasing sexual attention from Jacob, treating him (and her children) as mere tools in her war with her sister. 

The powerful often stay that way by setting groups that are less powerful against one another. Leah and Rachel are set against one another by their culture and family environment. They allow this cultural pressure to press them into a combative mold.

Our culture is not as “modern” in its morality as it thinks it is. Weaponized sexuality is not new. It is only the methods of weaponization that are new. Not only are women set against one another, but women against unborn children, and minorities against other minorities.

The cultural marriage norms followed by the patriarchs and passed down by Moses were condemned by Jesus as being the result not of God’s will but of men’s hard hearts. (Matthew 19:3-12) By contrast, God tenderly saw Leah was not loved and blessed her with children. (God sees all of those struggling amidst injustice.) God’s blessing was more than pity, but a tangible means to power and influence. (Genesis 29.31-32

Culture works to force us into its mold. God works to help us resist. The patriarchs were not immune to this pressure and neither are we. Just because our culture isn’t pressing us into the mold of polygamy, doesn’t mean that there is no mold or no pressure to conform.

Culture’s pressure comes with a false promise that, if we just submit to the mold, there will be peace. But, we can see from Leah’s example, that is false. Even though God worked within this sinful cultural practice to accomplish good purposes, Leah never received the love or respect she deserved.

Whatever hard-hearted cultural “solutions” we are pressured toward that are not of God, we must resist. Instead of being combative toward one another, we must be compassionate. God sees our struggle. We must never define our marriages, our sexuality, our politics, or anything else by culture’s mold.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.7-8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 30 (Listen – 6:10)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 31 (Listen – 7:47), Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)
Genesis 32 (Listen – 4:40), Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)

Read more about It’s In The Bible
Polygamy was never in the Bible because God approved of it. It was there because the culture approved of it.

Read more about Cringing at Culture or at Christ?
When we don’t understand biblical culture, we tend to assume that our culture is better. This is always the wrong lesson. Always.

God of the Weak and Doubtful

Scripture Focus: Matthew 28.16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

From John: In a world in which people doubt the evidence in front of their eyes, perhaps it is a little easier for us to understand that the disciples doubted even after seeing Jesus. Certainty is elusive in a world in which many conspiratorial voices are attacking the concept of absolute truth. This repost from 2019 reminds us that honest doubt is the first step to faith just as the discomfort of conviction is the first step to the comfort of Christ’s forgiveness and restoration. Do not despair in doubt. Do not despair in conviction. Turn to him. 

You are weak. 
He is strong. 
You may sink. 
His arm is long.
He will raise you up.

Reflection: God of the Weak and Doubtful
By John Tillman

Some of the details that ring the most truthfully from the scriptures regarding the resurrection of Jesus, is how long it took the disciples to fully believe and understand what had happened. They were incredulous. They did not trust their eyes that saw or their hands that touched. They couldn’t believe it. 

We sometimes skim over the many mentions of the disciples’ doubt looking for examples of strong faith to emulate. We should emulate faith. This is the purpose of the great chapter of faith in Hebrews and the descriptions of faithful moments in the lives of many throughout scripture. But we shouldn’t overlook the importance of the presence of doubters among the disciples. 

If God placed examples of faith in the scripture, he also placed doubt in the scriptures. Stories of faith come from doubt. When God shows us a story of the faithful, he points us to where he is calling us. When God shows us his doubtful children, he comes to where we are, puts his reassuring hand on our shoulder, and claims us as his children as well.

The ones who touched with their hands experienced doubt. The ones who saw with their eyes struggled to believe. Even up to the moment of Christ’s ascension into Heaven before their eyes, doubt was among them.

It was these doubtful few with whom Christ placed the responsibility of his most precious and vital mission. It is to this confused assemblage of rebels and failures, that Christ entrusted the Gospel.

Oh you of little faith…
He accepts and encourages you today. You who doubt his care. You who doubt his provision. You who doubt his presence with you. You who doubt that you are loveable, that you are valuable, that you are called, that you are his precious child… He calls. He loves. He holds out his hand, and trusts the gospel, to all of us doubters.

Christ did not allow Peter to sink in the waves when his faith was too weak. He will extend his loving hand to you as well.
He did not turn away the father who struggled to believe. He will not turn you away.

Thank God, that he is the God of the weak and the doubtful.
In doubt hold out your hands.
In weakness cling to him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 29 (Listen – 4:45)
Matthew 28 (Listen – 2:39)

Read more about When Liars Meet The Truth
Whatever situation we find ourselves in or however the world views us, we can be assured that God’s presence is near.


Read more about How He Loves Us
God declares his love because he knows his people have doubts.

When Liars Meet The Truth

Scripture Focus: Genesis 28.16-17

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Reflection: When Liars Meet The Truth
By John Tillman

Rebekah is sometimes overlooked in the story of Jacob and Esau.

Early in her pregnancy, a disturbed Rebekah consulted God, who revealed to her the prophesied destinies of her sons. (Genesis 25.21-26) Perhaps, this is why she subverts the process of inheritance to fulfill what she heard from God. Her dishonest methods are used by God to overturn the cultural traditions. 

After the con, to save Jacob’s life, Rebekah masterfully uses an unrelated family crisis to invent a reason to send Jacob away to Laban. His trip has a cover story, but Jacob is undeniably fleeing for his life.

Perhaps Rebekah learned deception from her brother, Laban, the master con-artist of the Bible. After all, they both pass off one sibling as another. (Genesis 29.21-28)

Jacob’s flight to Laban would save his life, but was also used by God to humble him. Jacob was suffering for his sins through the consequences of his actions. On the run, as an outcast, Jacob is rich on paper, but penniless by practical means. He’s promised the land he is laying on, but possessed only the dust adhered to his clothes and skin. 

With Laban, Jacob would be schooled in what it feels like to be tricked, cheated, and deceived by family. Yet, even on the run, Jacob finds God is with him. The liar meets the truth. As alone as Jacob was, and as outcast and alone as we may feel, “God is in this place” even if we don’t realize it.

Jacob is an example of our position in this world. We are children of the promise now, but we do not hold the promise yet. Jacob’s life shows us that even sinful, insecure, fearful people can be used by God. 

Jacob shows us that God does not always pick the mighty, overly-masculine Esaus of the world. Those considered “less manly” or just “less than” by their culture are still called and used by God. 

Whatever situation we find ourselves in or however the world views us, we can be assured that God’s presence is near. The distance we may feel from God is usually one of our own making. 

When we humble ourselves and come to him, he will show himself to us and enter our lives to make us into a blessing for others. Even those rightly called “Jacob” can be changed to be called “Israel.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 28 (Listen – 3:17)
Matthew 27 (Listen – 8:45)

Read more about The Predicament of Self-Obsession
We are supposed to find ourselves in Jacob’s story—anxious and myopic, insecure in our blessing—but we are not supposed to be content with this.

Read more about Faith of the Flawed
We do not have the time or space to recount all the shortcomings of these very human and flawed “heroes” of faith.

Identity Lost, Identity Gained

Scripture Focus: Genesis 27.34, 38
34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” 

38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

Reflection: Identity Lost, Identity Gained
By John Tillman

The pain of Esau has been often explored. His cry of “Oh, bless me, father,” is one of the most heartbreaking moments in scripture, but Jacob’s greeting to his father, “I am Esau,” is also a moment in the scripture to weep. 

Esau loses his identity to the greed of his brother. Jacob abandons his identity to serve that same greed.

In Jacob’s preparation to fool his father he put on qualities that his father loved, covering his own unloved qualities. The less-favored son masked qualities his father rejected in order to be accepted. His body, his clothing, his smell, his cooking are all deficient, so he disguises them.  Without this disguise—a costume made of his own insecurities—he cannot be equally loved by his father.

God, our father, is not limited like Isaac. He has no cultural traditions that treat the first-born as more worthy than the rest. He has no infirmity that keeps him from seeing through our sinful disguises, straight to our deceitful hearts. He has no limited supply of possessions that must be divided between his children, making one superior to the other. But most of all, God has no favoritism or bias that would cause him to treat any of his children inequitably.

Our God is free of these maladies. God’s hands and voice are strong and ready to bless us if only we will come to him as we are. Let us drop the stolen garments of false righteousness. Let us remove the fakery that covers our true identity. Let us, when asked who we are, say “sinner” instead of “righteous.”

For we too have an elder brother. We need not trick him out of his birthright for he lays it down for us. We need not steal his clothing of righteousness, for he places it on our shoulders. We need not cover our deficiencies, for he lovingly makes us acceptable. We need not grift our inheritance, for he gifts it to us.

God, our father, is greater and more loving than Isaac and our elder brother, Jesus, rather than seeking our death, goes to death for us.

God, our father, longs to bless us with every spiritual blessing. No one who comes to him will need cry, “Do you have only one blessing, my father?” We need only cry “Abba” and he lovingly speaks our name and calls us close.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 27 (Listen – 6:25)
Matthew 26 (Listen – 10:01)

Read more about Distrust of God and Fraud
Esau sins by giving up something of eternal significance for temporal satisfaction. Jacob sins by resorting to deceit and theft to gain what had already been promised by God.

Read more about A Way Back for Strivers—Guided Prayer
We, like Jacob, are born swindlers
Grasping for more than we deserve

Blessings of the Dispossessed

Scripture Focus: Genesis 26.26-31
26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” 
28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.” 
30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.

Matthew 25.34-40
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Reflection: Blessings of the Dispossessed
By John Tillman

Despite Abraham’s treaty with Abimelek, (Genesis 21.21-34) Isaac has difficulties with Abimelek’s government and people. 

Isaac is unfairly treated; he is forced by violence to move on; he is even relocated by government order. The closest (but still imperfect) modern parallel is the treatment of indigenous populations. 

Native Americans, and other indigenous communities, uniquely know what Isaac’s experience was like. All across the world, indigenous people faced powerful governments that continually violated treaties and moved native peoples off of the land they had been living on.

Rich Mullins wrote about this in, The Howling, a song of lament and faith.

“Cause I can see a people dispossessed 
Broken and brave in the face of so much fear 
Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation 
Whose treaties were as good as litter 
Along the trail of their tears” 
— Rich Mullins, The Howling 

Non-Western Christians all across the world today also know this type of persecution and suffering. In many places, Christian communities face violence or relocation, either from militia groups or under the authority of their governments. 

Even in his suffering, Isaac blessed the land that he would one day inherit by digging wells that would water the land long after Isaac moved on. Eventually, Abimelek came to Isaac because he recognized God’s blessing on him and Isaac was able to confront Abimelek regarding his mistreatment and gain redress.

Actions of faithfulness and engaging with the difficult work of peacemaking will bring blessings to those around us. Avoiding violence and speaking for the truth will demonstrate that God is with us even if we must suffer for it.

We have been promised by Jesus that we will have trouble in this world. The level and severity of that “trouble” will vary. We may be targeted. We may be slandered. We may be “moved on” from places we feel we belong. Perhaps we will see partial justice in earthly kingdoms. Indeed, we are commanded to work to this end. But we also know that justice will only be completed in the coming Kingdom.

We are, in a sense, passive sojourners, like Isaac. We make our way the best we can in a land not yet submitted to God’s kingdom that we know is coming.

May we sojourn humbly in faith. May we enact justice and peace. May kings come to us, recognizing a source of God’s blessings.

Music: Rich Mullins, The Howling (Live performance) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. — Psalm 67.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 26 (Listen – 4:31)
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
What we say and how we say it matters because…Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts.

Read more about Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
Abraham, by God’s command, prayed for Abimelek, blessed him, and lived under Abimelek’s rule, making a treaty with him.