Author Archives: wwlivingston2015

About wwlivingston2015

I am a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ. Now in my 60's there has been a lot of life lived, questions asked, some answered, many not, with the adventure ongoing. This blog is a place for me to share some thoughts, perhaps even have some conversations. I am married to Barbara soon to be 42 years (5/2015) with five children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren as of 1/2015.

A Thanksgiving Day Reflection

I am in a contemplative mood this morning.  We have been exchanging text greetings with the family and friends. It is a good feeling to love and be loved. It is a grey day outside, cool but not terribly cold, and that often puts me in  a reflective mode.  With my rearranged office (a number of months ago) I can look out my window while working at my desk into the neighbor’s and our backyards through the tree stand to the houses on the other side of the woods.  There is a texture to the clouds that is soft and even comforting in its greyness, with just the barest touch of green left on a few of the bushes and the odd evergreen in the mix of the tree stand running behind the house. I even like the straight lines of the black metal fences framing the lower part of my view.  I am grateful for this house and this space that is mine within it.

Recently I have been much exercised over the public conversation here in the United States of America.  The level of rancor and dismissal of the “other” is seemingly as great as I have ever known in my lifetime.  President Trump (for the next two months anyway) is the lightening rod around which it is all focused.  But he is just a focal point for a much deeper public disconnect and jangling disharmony.  In the last two weeks I have had encounters with people whom I deeply love and just as deeply respect representing both sides of this divide.  On the one side is the belief that President Trump is a raving narcissist who has put our country on the brink of a demagogic disaster.  On the other are those who genuinely believe he has been maligned by “establishment” liberalism and has been an incredible gift to this country. My angst, and it is almost as extreme, is the absolutism of both sides.  Have we lost the ability to listen to the “other” looking for value rather than cause for dismissal.

I have complained that I don’t know where to turn to find truth. And, I am coming to the conclusion that is a cop out on my part.  I have not been willing to invest the time to sort through all the noise to find the consistent notes embedded in that noise. They are there.  Do I care enough to search them out, or have I succumbed to the same spirit of absolutism in the guise of, “I can’t find the truth because everything I hear is so biased.”

As a follower of Jesus Christ I believe I have a relationship with the One Who said, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life.”  If I genuinely believe that then I also believe that truth will resonate with me through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Humility requires me to recognize that I, along with everyone else, see and interpret that truth through the lens of my own experience and predisposed thinking.  That said, humility does not require uncertainty.  It does require holding certainty open handedly.  So that I can say based on what I know this is what I believe and given more data I may change my point of view.  Yet, for now, this is where I stand.

So, where do I stand on this Thanksgiving Day in 2020 as the smells of our little feast permeate the house?  (Little because COVID forced us to forgo a larger family gathering.) I choose to believe and assume positive intent from those with whom I disagree.  I choose to believe that those with whom I agree have experiences and predisposed thinking that influence those beliefs.  I choose to listen to try to understand and find the value in thoughts that run counter to my own.  I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans want good for others.  I am thankful for this country of my birth.  I fully recognize it has a dark side, as do I, but that doesn’t invalidate its good. I will engage the public conversation with the belief that others are searching for truth and longing for it as much as do I.

As I wrote to my family this morning, “Happy Thanksgiving.  May we focus on the wonder of our blessings while working toward Peace on Earth and Good Will towards all.”

The Hundred and Third Time is the Charm

I like stuff made out of wood or leather.  Why?  Both wood and leather show wear and age.  If they are made from good material they become richer with more character as they are handled and used.  And that makes them unique.  I suppose some of this goes back to the cowboy days of my youth.  My saddle wasn’t fancy but it was worn and shaped to my bottom.  There are stories to each of the scratches and marks in the leather.  What might have diminished its value for a potential buyer increased it for me.  It had character and it contained history and memories.  It has been close to a half millennium since I last laid eyes on it but I can still see and smell it when I close my eyes.

I had a walking stick that was invested with memories of hikes in both Europe and around America.  It was just beginning to get that “used” feel when someone stole it from me.  I miss that walking stick.  I bought another one that has potential but there aren’t as many memories soaked into the wood yet from my sweaty palm.  I plan on getting it there, but it will take some time.  That kind of wear and those kinds of memories can’t be rushed.  In some ways they can’t be planned either.  Planning will get one in the vicinity but serendipity creates the best memories.

Ask anyone in my family and they will tell you that sometimes my thinking is a bit odd.  Our daughter is visiting from California and wanted to go to the Louisville Slugger IMG_0079Museum.  So we took her earlier this week.  As you leave the tour area they have bins full of the nubs they cut off the end of the bats after they finish working them.  You are welcome to take a few if you like and I grabbed one just for a memento to remember the visit and the time with Barb and Susannah.  My thought is to hold it, roll it around in my hands, and generally handle it until it develops character and holds some memories of the time along the way.  I wonder how long it will take to get smooth and for the color to change from the oils in my skin.  I expect it to take years.  All the initial splinters are gone and I haven’t even had it a week yet.  Pretty good don’t you think?

You’re probably wondering where I am going with this.  Playing with my Louisville Slugger bat nub got me thinking about mastery.  I watch so many programs, seminars and trainings come and go in my professional life.  From my perspective we seldom stay with something long enough to get past the initial ideas or concepts to mine the treasure that can only come from time, use and getting through our sweaty palms and minds the character that comes from handling something over and over again.  It is easier to “get” a concept than it is for the concept to “get” you.  All too often we “get” the idea or thought being presented to us and because we “understand” the idea we think we have it.  I “understand” how to play golf but I am no where near being able to play it with consistency and skill.  Even if I have the ability, which is doubtful, I haven’t invested the time and focus to mastering the fundamentals that would allow for something approaching skill and consistency in the game.

Mastery can either be the foundation for innovation or for being stuck.  Think of the technically great musician who just doesn’t “move” you with their performance.  Then think of a musician like Ed Sheeran who has mastered his craft and uses his mastery to create incredible new sounds and musical concepts.  This is why the professional process world talks about continuous improvement.  The goal of mastery is freedom to innovate.

Mastery requires intentionality and focus over an extended period of time.  I am choosing two or three areas of mastery focus for 2020, looking for innovation and creativity to be released and enjoyed.  How about you?

Assumption of Good Will

Our average fellow-citizen is a sane and healthy man, who believes in decency and has a wholesome mind.  He therefore feels an equal scorn alike for the man of wealth guilty of the mean and base spirit of arrogance toward those who are less well off, and for the man of small means who in his turn either feels or seeks to excite in others the feeling of mean and base envy for those who are better off.  The two feelings, envy and arrogance, are but opposite sides of the same shield, but different developments of the same spirit.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Was Roosevelt correct? Was he correct for his day and his time? Is this possibly an statement that is still valid today? Let’s start with his thesis statement, “Our average fellow-citizen is a sane and healthy man (substitute person here), who believes in decency and has a wholesome mind.” Quite frankly, this is my predominant experience of the people I know and encounter on a daily basis. In the company culture in which I work this is called assuming positive intent. I believe that most people want to do the right thing for others as well as for themselves. I certainly want to do the right thing, that which will create positive contribution for those around me. Are there times when my actions suggest otherwise? Absolutely, right smack dab in the middle of my positive intent is my own self-centeredness and my own limited view of all that is going on around me.

A number of years ago Barbara and I took a parenting course. One of the principles we picked up through that course was to evaluate our childrens’ behavior based on what they were characterized by. In other words, as we responded to their bad behavior we asked ourselves, “Is this normal consistent behavior on their part or does this seem to be more of an exception?” If the answer was they weren’t characterized by that kind of behavior then to discipline them as though it were patterned behavior would inevitably miss the mark and be unfair to them. So when you evaluate my behavior, or that of anyone else it would be wise to apply the same test. Is this person characterized by that behavior or is this an anomaly. Let’s start digging for the deeper reasons behind the behaviors we encounter in people.

“Okay, Bill,” you ask, “so what? Why are you writing about this?” I have expressed before how disturbed I am by the rancor and vitriol going on in the public conversation here in the United States of America. Maybe it is going on all over the world but it seems particularly pronounced in my home country these days. Roosevelt begins by saying, “Our average fellow-citizen…”. I think most of the public screaming matches we see on our news stations and hear on the airwaves are from people making a living by exploiting the fringes beyond our average fellow-citizen.

I hear strong opinions from those around me, but not closed minds that refuse to listen to anything I have to say because their minds are already made up. I see people making huge contributions to those around them. Some of them are “poor” and some are “rich” but I see them working side by side to try and make this world a better place in which to live. I see people wrestling with their latent racism and prejudices trying to overcome them and accept all people at face value. I see people fighting to get past the labels and into genuine encounters of discovery and understanding. Is it flawed? Sure. Do we have a lot of progress still to make? You bet. But in my experience my average fellow-citizen is generally assuming positive intent and reaching toward genuine fellowship with those around them.

Let’s start celebrating those conversations and start rejecting the vitriol and the attempt of those who sell us the news to convince us that we are irreparably separated.

Acceptance / Approval

Since I made some confessions in my last post I’ll start this one off just the same.  Confession: no, I haven’t spent more time doing research on current social and political events than I have watching TV.  It is not excuse but Barbara and I have discovered “West Wing” and are binge watching our way through its seven seasons.  Wait a minute!  Can I count that as doing political research?  If that is the case then I am doing great.  It’s all in the metrics and how you interpret them.

So, let me use that as an example.  I never watched “West Wing” because of my perception of its liberal bias.  There is a liberal bias to the show but the White House administration had to be one or the other and they have done a pretty decent job showing both sides of the issue, though that seemed to be more prevalent in the earlier seasons than in the latter ones.  Did you notice that I said I didn’t watch it because of my perception of its liberal bias.  I didn’t even give it a chance because of that perception, not because I actually watched the show and was told it had a liberal bias, but because I was told that and never bothered to investigate for myself.

And that is all too often the case with all of us and part of my extreme frustration that prompted this line of blogging to begin with.  We are being told what horrible things President Trump is doing just as we were told about all the horrible things President Obama did from the other side when he was in office.

So, what I have been doing is I found a website (White House) that lists all the executive orders and other artifacts for this administration.  There are over 55 web pages of executive orders and it is going to take some time to get through them all.  But instead of reading what others are saying about all this I want to actually see what is being done, insofar as I can, and form opinions based on that.  We are back to that thing I have been trying to avoid all along, the work it is going to take to get beyond what everyone else wants me to think and to form opinions based on my own review of the facts.

Which brings me to the title of this blog.  One of the things that ideologically driven people lose sight of is that to accept someone is often far different than approving of them and how they behave.  In particular, many evangelical Christians are afraid their acceptance of another will be interpreted as approval of a particular lifestyle or orientation of any kind.  Yet that is one of the most un-Christlike behaviors we can have.  God demonstrated His acceptance of us through Jesus Christ in the context of radical religiosity, governmental brutality, and the sinfulness of us all.  Thank God.  If God needed to approve of everything I think and do I would be up the proverbial creek.

Once again, I need to go (this time to work) but let me conclude this mental meandering with this.  I don’t approve of the petty behavior I see from President Trump.  Just last night I watched a bit of the news where he belittled an opponent calling them stupid.  Name calling is wrong no matter how much appeal it may have to “them” out there.  But I haven’t decided yet whether or not I accept his leadership.  I will let you know as I work through his executive orders, and I will comment on what I see after I have enough of them under my belt to have an informed opinion.

You Said What?

Over the last week I have been corresponding with two friends. One from California and one from Norway.  So, suffice it to say, not heartlanders from the central part of the country.  The conversation has been around their reactions to President Trump and the course of our country under his leadership.  Confession #1: I am not sure I want to spend the time and energy to sort through all the stuff that is flying around out there to try to sift through all the swirl to arrive at a real conclusion about just about anything in the political world.

Confession #2: I feel guilty about that but I also feel overwhelmed.  I talked to a friend several years ago who seemed well read and settled in his opinions about current events.  I asked him how he arrived at his conclusions and he told me that he read everything he could find on a subject from every political perspective and then looked for the common themes that emerged and formed his opinions from that.  Who has the time and energy to do that?  Did I mention that he is not married and doesn’t have children.  I guess that helps.

Confessions #3: I am disturbingly uncomfortable with what is happening in my country, the United States of America, with the radical polarization that seems to be growing.  I cannot watch any of the news channels without becoming disturbed at the vitriolic and condescending language I hear.  I don’t care if it is Fox or MSNBC, the dismissal of any opinion that differs from the view of the news source and the seeming assumption that anyone who views things from the other perspective is a raving idiot is just more than I want to deal with.

So, what am I going to do?  I want to retreat.  I want to just avoid it all and keep on living my life and hope it will all work out.  But we live in a constitutional democratic republic. And if we, the citizens of that country refuse to engage then professional manipulators of the system will.  That is the risk we all incur for the freedom with which we live.  By the way take any one of the words out of constitutional democratic republic and you get a twisted understanding of who we are.

I am choosing to engage the conversation and commit to spending more time reading all perspectives than I do watching television.  Did I really just write that? What if everyone who reads this makes a commitment to spending one minute more each day studying all sides of an issue rather than numbing our brains with television and movies?  After all if you watch a so called news station it is really very little about news as opposed to numbing opinions about any given story.  That is part of the curse with 24 hour cable news stations.  You get 5 minutes of story about what is really happening and then 25 minutes of opinions about those facts.  We wind up letting the talking heads think for us.

Then those damn algorithms come into play.  I have been working in the health care business for the last four plus years.  Algorithms are wonderful things in terms of predictive analytics and helping us understand disease progression and early interventions that can make a real difference.  They are horrible when they figure out what our viewpoint is on Google or Facebook and start feeding us only the stories that reinforce what we have already chosen to believe.  Hey, Google, Facebook, how about using your algorithm to figure out what our viewpoint is and make sure your feed us stories with the opposite perspective at least 25% of the time?  That would shake some things up.

Well, its time for me to get in bed to get ready for another week of work.  But, I am choosing to engage, spend the time and try to arrive at a more objective view of the seeming insanity that is going on around us.

Let me close with this thought from Teddy Roosevelt, “The reason why our future is assured lies in the fact that our people are genuinely skilled in and fitted for self-government and therefore will spurn the leadership of this who seek to excite this ferocious and foolish class antagonism.  The average American knows not only that he himself intends to do what is right, but that his average fellow-countryman has the same intention and the same power to make his intention effective.”

I don’t know if that is still true today, but it can be true for you and for me.  How about it?  Are you wiling to try?  The alternative is pretty bleak.

Point of Contact

I had the privilege of receiving spiritual direction from Father Thomas for several years before moving back to Kentucky from California. He is authentic and gifted in guiding others in their relationship with the Lord.

Upward Call -- Gleanings On The Way

God is always present to us. It is we who are not present to Him.

The Holy Scriptures are a gift of the Holy Spirit by which we can be awakened to Presence (the capital “P” is intentional).

By means of a phrase, image, word, person in the passage, and/or a reaction something generates, we can be awakened to presence. We can become present which always includes, by definition, receiving Presence and offering presence.

Here is a passage that accomplished that goal in my life as the dawn broke through the leafless trees of winter:

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart shall rejoice in Him,
Because we have trusted in His holy name.
22 Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You. (Psalm 33.20-22)

My prayer for you is to…

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Great Expectations

My daughter, Rebecca just posted this. It is not only well thought but well written. It is well worth the read.


Sometimes I think it is easy to expect too much of ourselves, other people, life itself… and perhaps even God. Expectations, in short, are demands. They are the transformations of what we hope for into something that we want. That want becomes need. The things we once hoped for become things that we “need”. We start to think that “need” must be fulfilled in a specific way—a specific way that we come to expect. If the fulfillment does not come via the expected method, then there is no satisfaction but disappointment. This disappointment often turns into a dark spiral of resentment and bitterness. Such a spiral squelches hope.

So, what exactly is the difference between hope and expectation? Perhaps expectation is a sign of needing to be in control, whereas hope is open-ended? Hope is a request versus a demand. A person who is in hope is also…

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It’s Complicated…

Source: It’s Complicated…



All are labels. In the arena of human discourse they are completely counter productive.  We put labels on people to pretend to understand them.  “Oh, you are (pick your label) therefore I know you think this, and that, and so on and so forth.”  Once the label is firmly affixed to a fellow human being all meaningful conversation stops because we “know” who that person is and discovery becomes unnecessary.

I have been so labeled.  I’m sure anyone reading this has been as well.  I remember being very open with someone I was adding to a leadership team for which I had responsibility.  He was asking a lot of questions and as far as I was concerned that was a good thing.  Yet something was nagging at me and I was uncomfortable.  I finally asked him, “Are you asking questions because you genuinely want to understand the context of all that we are engaging, or are you asking questions because you have already made up your mind and you are gathering intelligence for your agenda in the future?”  It turned out to be the latter and as soon as he had a position on the leadership team he went to work undermining what I thought was our common agenda.

Putting a label on someone means we have already made up our minds who they are and what they will say and why.  It’s just too easy and doesn’t require us to actually have an exchange of ideas.  Let’s get rid of the labels.

First, stop using labels on others.  Ask them what they are thinking and why.  I spoke with a friend of mine within a couple of days after the presidential election.  He was very upset. We had a lengthy conversation about what he thought electing Donald Trump as our new president meant and the results he anticipates as a result of that election.  While I don’t agree with his conclusions, after listening to him if I interpreted things the way he is I would be profoundly upset as well.

Secondly, when someone uses a label on you ask them to get specific.  If they accuse you of being a racist ask them to specifically tell you what you said or did that made them think that is true of you.  Be prepared to listen.  It could be a word you used intending one thing that they interpreted differently.  Nine times out of ten I am going to guess that when you ask for specifics most people won’t be able to come up with them.  But if they do really listen to what they have to say.  You may discover a behavior or way that you talk that is being interpreted incorrectly by them and you might actually be able to mature in some way.

If they have something specific but it is genuinely a misinterpretation ask them if they would like to hear what you really meant, or your thinking behind the word or deed.  You should be able to gauge whether or not they are open to hear you.  If so, have the dialogue and see what you can do to find common ground somewhere.  Even if you respectfully agree to disagree you have created civility and healthy dialogue.  If you can see they aren’t really interested in what you meant, my suggestion is to drop the conversation rather than escalating an emotional non-discovery conversation.  There is an ancient proverb that says, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city.”  If the offense is there nothing you say will have any value to the one offended.  It is best to just walk away from the conversation.

I am going to do all I can to leave my labels behind.  Frankly, I don’t think liberal and conservative mean a whole lot these days.  Liberal about what and what is being conserved anyway.  I want to know what people really think.  What are the circumstances they are dealing with?  What dreams and hopes do they have and what are they afraid will keep them from living  into that hope?  I would invite you to join me and let’s see if we can restore real conversation motivated from real concern and caring into our public conversation once again.


Biblical Reflections: Matthew 1:1-17


img_096356 years ago I had my first encounter with God as an 8 year old choir boy on Christmas eve. Four years later at 12 I began an immature relationship with Him. Four years after that I started preaching at age 16. It seems weird to say it but I have been in this journey of seeking to know Him for over a half century now. Like the story recorded in the Bible and most of the people I know it has had many ups and downs but it is the central story of my life and the one thread that runs through it all. Quickly added to that thread, in relative terms, was my union with Barbara. We married when we were 20 so 43 years of that journey have been with her. In many ways I cannot now separate those journeys. The discovery of Him has been so intertwined with our marriage and family relationship that it would have been a completely different journey in any other context.

Roughly 40 years of that journey were spent in some kind of explicit church leadership. As you know it has led us to travel to over 30 different countries and experiences beyond anything we might have imagined when we started. I just noticed that I shifted to “we” just now. That really is how I view the journey; as a “we” journey rather than a “me” journey. We have seen God’s people in so many forms and cultures.

Along the way I got a seminary degree. With over 40 years of preaching suffice it to say I have spent a great deal of time studying the Bible. That study has been a central part of this journey. I don’t study so much these days, but daily reading of the Bible remains a part of my normal rhythm of life.

I am writing this because my wife and children miss my preaching. That is pretty amazing to me. They had to listen to me for so long. For the most part my grandchildren haven’t had that same experience. I also think about several generations from now when my family remembers old Bill and Barbara. I am writing for you, dear family, and the ones you will bring into this world even generations from now. Any one who wishes is welcome to listen in and if you find any value here so much the better.

I have called this Biblical reflections. I am making no attempt to be scholarly or even preachy, though I may get carried away at points and “wax prolific” that is not my intent. I am just going to read through the Scripture and reflect as I go. I am not going to plan anything out and thus this will be spontaneous. I am an external processor. Sometimes I don’t know what I am thinking until I try to articulate it. That is the way I am going to approach this. I am going to give myself permission to wander around as my thoughts emerge stimulated by God’s word as revealed through the Scripture.

Finally, don’t think of this as a book, though it may turn into that. Think of this as a stimulation of conversation. As you will see as you read my thoughts the essence of spirituality is a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ our brother/Lord/God. It is about a conversation not an arrival. In fact, “arrival” is the death of any relationship. In spiritual terms it is the heart and soul of “religion.” God never intended to establish a religion, in my view, but rather a real conversation in the context of others involved in the same conversation. This is not to say there is no value in religious forms and structured, but that value is relative to how well it serves a living relationship with a living God.

So, the point is nothing would be more fulfilling to me than to have you share whatever thoughts this might stimulate in your own reflections. Again, I think of someone in our family reading this 150 years from now. What would it be like to read my reflections and then see what Rachael thought, or Chris, or Rebecca, or Rudy, or Lacosta or Susannah, or Barbara, or Matt, or Emma, or CTY, or Maddie, or Gabe, or Trin or Luke, or the others to come? Imagine a journal of generations of our family reflecting on their relationship with God through the Scripture. Wouldn’t it be cool if this becomes a journal never finished?

Anyway, here we go.

I am reading from the English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew 1:1

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

The first word in the Canonical record about Jesus Christ is a genealogy. From the outset it is the account of God Who is very man of very man. He is the son of David showing us what a true king should be and the son of Abraham showing us what a true follower of God should be.

Incarnate God had to be of one particular ethnicity. It is not the ethnicity that is important, it is not that the Jews are a special people deemed righteous enough for God to become one of them. Rather they are the people through whom God chose to reveal Himself. If there is anything special about them it is that they represent the fallenness of us all as the Old Testament record clearly shows.

The intention had always been that through this people, chosen by God, all peoples should be chosen and His revelation through them is His revelation through and for all peoples. One only has to go back to the call to Abraham (cited here in this very first sentence of the revelation) to see that as true. To revere the Jewish people as special above all other people is to perpetuate the very same error that ultimately led to their judgment and exile.

So, in this first sentence Abraham is mentioned so that we will understand that in being the son of Abraham He is the son of all men.

He is also the son of David. David was the ruler of whom it is said that he was a man after God’s own heart. Again, a very flawed man but one whose life was a pursuit of living out a dynamic relationship with God and leading his people to do the same. Lifetime sincerity in a marvelously flawed container. In David’s story we all have hope because he shows us that God loves the life time of pursuit understanding the flawed character of the pursuer.

Being the son of David, He will show us how true rulership is intended and the true nature of authority and its exercise. Jesus the Son of Abraham reveals to us how to follow God and Jesus the son of David shows us how to represent God to other people. He is Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew 1:2
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

Jacob is the patriarch whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob is the name used in Scripture whenever it is referring to flawed nature of the man, whereas Israel typologically refers to the renamed and re-natured man. It is also interesting to me that Judah is the son mentioned in this genealogy. Typically, in that time the first born son was the one who carried the family birthright. This is a human convention unbinding on God. Judah was the fourth son born to Jacob and Leah, and the one from whom the Jewish people derive their name.

Also, Joseph was the hero son of this generation, yet the story follows through the line of Judah rather than Joseph. From my perspective there is a clear theme already showing in the Gospel accounts that this good news is based on God’s goodness not ours. To be sure, there is real human goodness in people, but at its best it can fickle and inconsistent and at its worst is cruel and completely self-centered. The good news is based on the redemptive power of God rather than fickle goodness of human beings.

Matthew 1:3
And Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram…

There is no effort to hide the humanity of Jesus lineage. And naming a woman, based on my understanding, is highly unusual. There are four women named in this genealogy and we will get to them one by one as they come up. Just the naming of a woman is ground-breaking. But this is not just any woman.

Tamar is the daughter-in-law of Judah. She was not treated with integrity by her father-in-law being promised a son as husband following the death of two other sons who had been married to her. There is no implication in the Biblical record that she had anything to do with their deaths, they simply happened, and with the men as the cause of the death.

When she realized that Judah was not going to keep his end of the bargain with the next son Tamar dressed up as a prostitute, gave herself sexually to her father-in-law and conceived the children named here in the genealogy. (I will have to go back and check to see whether or not Tamar had twins, because if not then that would establish a longer term relationship between Tamar and Judah.)

So naming Tamar includes the lie of Judah, the deception of Tamar, an illicit sexual relationship between father-in-law and daughter-in-law, Judah’s participation in prostitution. Clearly, not the kind of family story one wants to sit around and tell at family reunions. Not only that, but Judah surely had other children and grandchildren, though perhaps no more sons. Yet the lineage is carried on through the children with his daughter-in-law rather than through the more “legitimate” children.

Three verses into the story of Jesus Christ we are already into the complete humanity of the story.

As I am writing this I am thinking about the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox insistence on the purity of Mary as a pre-requisite for her being the mother of Christ. This seems to be opposite of how the story is being told. I suppose one could argue that this opening chapter is setting the context so that Mary’s purity stands in even sharper contrast. On the other hand, then why put it there at all? Why mention Tamar and her thoroughly sinful relationship with Judah, the very Patriarch from which the Jewish people derive their name?

Matthew 1:4 – 6
… and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nashon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, (5) and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, (6) and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,…

We are six verses into the gospel story and we have already encountered incest, now through Rahab a prostitute who was a hero in the story of Israel’s defeat of Jericho who produced a son, Boaz, who is an honorable man of integrity who married a foreign woman, Ruth. Ruth was David’s grandmother and Solomon’s great-grandmother.
David is said to be the man after God’s own heart, was at best only 3/4 Jewish and then fathered Solomon through an adulterous relationship with Uriah’s wife. Solomon may have been the greatest of Israel’s kings and yet his life was filled with wandering from God as well.
As I have already written, the point of all this seems to me to celebrate the wonder of God and the incarnation of Jesus squarely into the human condition with all its wonder, failure, joys and grief. There is no effort on Matthew’s part to clean the story up. If anything he goes out of his way to point out the skeletons in the family closet. That should give us all hope. No matter the level of our family dysfunction (and they all are to some degree) Jesus can relate. This is the foundation of the Gospel story found in just six verses of something as dry and potentially boring as a family genealogy.

Matthew 1:7-11
And Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abihah the father of Asaph, (8) and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, (9) and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jothan the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, (10) and Hezzekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

For most of our journey in the Lord we have been deeply committed to the notion of generational transfer. Early in our marriage we started to recognize the reality of spiritual genetics as well as physiological genetics. With that in mind we were intentional about what family characteristics we wanted to try and stop in our generation and which ones we wanted to enhance and see move forward. It will take several generations to find out whether or not we have been successful.
Along the way, we have come to abandon a form of religious social determinism. What I mean by that is the notion that if you do everything correct as parents all will be well with your children and if your children grow to have troubled lives it is because you failed them as a parent. We have seen a great deal of psychological damage done in families as a result of this kind of thinking.
While I am absolutely convinced that the quality of our parenting matters greatly to our children, there are so many other factors that play into the equation, not the least of which is the choices of each individual human being in how they will respond to the circumstances and challenges of life. I have seen people raised in horrible circumstances and great neglect grow into power contributing adults. Conversely, I have seen those who seemed to have the best parenting and privileges life can offer grow into disturbed, dissatisfied and destructive adults.
The message to parents, do the very best you can with your children. It makes a massive difference. But don’t give yourself too much credit if they turn out well and don’t dive into despair and personal blame if they do not. After all God, the perfect parent, watched as his kids in the perfect environment, Eden, made choices that led to destruction and pain for many.
Why did I write all this from this passage in Scripture. Because if you were to look up each of the names mentioned in this genealogy you would find that some of the most righteous kings had some of the most unrighteous and destructive children. What’s more, and even more surprising to me, is that some of the worst kings had some of the most righteous children. And to further the point of the genealogy God is showing us that the perfection and glory of Jesus Christ is set squarely in the context of humanity in all its wonder, shame, glory, depravity and reality. He is very man of very man while being very God of very God as the creed declares.

Matthew 1:12 – 17
12 And after the deportation to Babylon:

The Babylonian captivity, in my view, is the beginning of Judaism as religion. Why do I make that kind of distinction? God never intended to establish a religion but rather a relationship with His creation and specifically with humankind. Religion is a human construct that attempts to put things in a form through which a relationship is mediated. I am going to write some things now that will put me on thin ice with a certain kind of thinking. Remember as you read this that I am writing so that you can see into the way I think about God and our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Religion views all that we know about God as prescriptive as opposed to descriptive. Let me use an example from my work these days. We are working to define some particular tools we need to accomplish certain business objectives. Since we are in an exploratory phase in this process not much is certain. Just that is a lens on our relationship with God, in reality the wisest among us, the most spiritually advance among us is still in an exploratory stage. As soon as one ceases to be in exploration then that person will start defining their understanding at that particular moment in their journey. From that point on the goal becomes protecting and justifying that definition. As we have tried to provide guidelines for the leaders who are working on the tools we have given them descriptions of what they are to provide from their understanding of the work they are doing.

We started calling them templates. This created a sense in the ones developing the tools that they needed to give us answers that fit precisely into the pattern of our templates. Just this week I suggested that we stop calling them templates, but rather guidelines. Templates determine the form, guidelines provide guidance for thinking and leave room for thinking outside those particular forms. Religion as a template for how to related to God leads toward a legalistic adherence to human understanding of how to relate to God. If we related to Scripture as definitive and prescriptive in its intent then we get that kind of religious approach to our relationship with God.

On the contrary, if we view the Scripture as descriptive and filled with guidelines for our relationship with Him then it provides parameters and pathways to guide our relationship with the Infinite One allowing for as much creativity as He desires in that relationship. Religion tends to be made up of rules and regulations as primary, whereas real relationship requires rules but is not constrained by them. The rules only serve as guidelines or rails on which the relationship runs well.

Coming back to our verse above and the phrase, “After the deportation to Babylon…” The Israelites rightly understood that they were the chosen people of God but were way off the mark of what that meant. We will save that discussion for another time. They took their identity as God’s chosen people and interpreted that to mean that He would guard them at all costs even in the face of their own apostasy. In other words they were like spoiled children who knew they should behave well but didn’t believe there would really be any consequences as a result of their bad behavior.

However, that was a false understanding and the Babylonian deportation was a massive spanking or discipline from God for His chosen people. Following that deportation the Israelites wanted to make sure they never got in trouble again. So, they tried to understand what they had done to get them there in the first place. They chose the thought that they had broken God’s rules rather than broken their relationship with Him. If you read carefully through the prophets in the Old Testament you will see the pattern that God was constantly calling His people back to a relationship with Him. But the Israelites chose to focus on the rules. Think about it, if rules are the issues and you don’t want to get in trouble again, then the best thing to do is make sure you have all the rules in place and understood and not to break them. This is the heart of religion. This is precisely what Jesus came to abolish, not the rules themselves but the thought that obeying the rules could ever replace a real relationship with God.

…Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Amor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father Eliud, 15 and Elud the father of Eleazar, and Elazar the father of Matthan, and Matthew the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

This brings us to the end of the genealogy. All of this humanity ending up with a human being named Jesus who was born to a woman named Mary who was married to a man named Joseph. This is the Christ that the rest of this book is going to attempt to explain to us.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

I should add here, if I haven’t already, that I am writing my thoughts as they come after typing a passage without referring to any other sources. That is not because there is not tremendous values in those other sources, but rather because I have spent a life time in study of the Scripture though I would not call myself a scholar but rather a passionate student, and I want to let that investment come out of my heart, mind and soul as it will.

That said, verse 17 divides the story we are about to enter into four broad chapters in history. The first is the chapter of God’s relationship with all humankind and earth leading up to the time when he chose a particular man, Abraham. Some one had to be chosen, some family had to be chosen, some ethnicity had to be chosen. That family had to come from some nation and from all of that a baby was born, Jesus Christ.

I will probably hit upon this particular theme over and over again. I’m not sure but I wouldn’t be surprised. God had to chose someone through whom He would enter into His creation. That doesn’t make the person or people chosen special in any sense other than representing all of creation. If that people are chosen because they themselves are special then it underscores the story of all religion, that is there are “special” people who can touch God rather than there is a special God that touches all people. In my view the point of starting this account of Jesus Christ with this genealogy is precisely to make this point.

Broad chapter two is the chapter from Abraham to David, which is all about the formation of that people we just talked about. This story is told in the first nine books of the Bible; Genesis through 2 Samuel. It is the story of the expansion of Abraham’s family into a clan and ultimately into a nation. It is the story that gives us the foundations of the law code. It is a story filled with human heroism and human frailty, even human evil. The culmination of the chosen person is a chosen nation. Again, chosen as a channel of God’s love, mercy and redemption.

Broad chapter three tells the story of the kingdom of Israel, its high point reflected in the life of a very fallen man, David. David underscores the point I am making here. The Bible tells us that he was a man after God’s own heart. In other words he was the kind of person God holds up as an example for all of us. I have often wondered about that because David is so far from being an exemplary moral example. He was gifted, brave, a worshipper, seemingly naive in his younger days. He sure had mixed motives. He took on the giant Goliath and killed him but made sure of the reward before doing so. He was an extortionist (see the story about Abigail and her husband), a con man and deceiver (see the story about faking insanity so that he could live in another country while running away from his king), an adulterer and murderer.

So what was it about this guy that God liked so much? Oh, if only we could get this life would be so much more filled with joy and peace for us all. God puts David up as an example for us all because of David’s passionate relationship with God. It is filled with ups and downs, successes and dramatic failures but it was the central pursuit of David’s life. That is what God wants from all of us. Moral performance is important because it describes a life lived that produces more life rather than hurt for others and oneself. But moral performance is at best a tricky walk for all of us. It was never intended to be the standard, pursuit of God is. If you want an example of the kind of person God wants you to be study the life of David.

As it was with David so it was with the kingdom. I’ll never forget when Barbara and I did our scripture immersion some years ago. We cancelled everything on our schedule until we read through the Bible from beginning to end. By the time we got to the end of the Old Testament we were so glad to get to the gospels because the story of Israel the nation was bi-polar, up and down, filled with more villains than heroes. What is the point? People are messed up. God loves those messed up people and wants them to live in relationship with Him knowing how messed up they are.

Which leads us to broad chapter four, the time from the Babylonian captivity to Christ. This is the period when the people chosen to be the conduit of relationship with God to the rest of humanity form a religious mindset while being punished by captivity in Babylon. Then they return to their home country and bury themselves deeper into religion. Why? They were trying to stay out of trouble by “being good.” But that is not the way to stay out of trouble. The best way to stay out of trouble is to hang around with someone who trouble wants to stay away from. The story of this period is that the people of God chose religious behavior over relationship with the living God and the record says the word of the Lord was rare in the land.

All that is about to change in the most fantastic way possible with the birth of the Christ.