Why on earth is Genesis 38 in the Bible?

There are more than a few curious stories in the Bible. In fact, the Bible kind of starts out with a curious story about there being only two things: nothing and God.

If you can believe that Genesis 1:1 is true, then believing the rest of the Bible should be a piece of cake.

One of the most curious stories in the Bible is found in Genesis 38. This chapter seems to break up the continuity between Genesis 37, our introduction to Joseph and his 12 resentful brothers who sell him into slavery, and Genesis 39 where we see Joseph sold into Egyptian slavery and serve in Potiphar’s house. In the middle is Genesis 38, a chapter about Judah, his sons and his widowed daughter in law.

Let me recap it for you (though I do highly recommend you read it for yourself.) Judah is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He previously proposed that his brothers don’t simply kill their arrogant and annoying little brother Joseph, but that they sell him into slavery so that they could benefit financially from his demise. Judah has three sons that we know of. His first son, Er, married a woman named Tamar. Well, Er is not the greatest guy in the world and is actually struck down by the Lord.

Traditionally, if a man dies and leaves behind a widow with no heirs, which is the case with Tamar, then the brother of the deceased would marry his brother’s widow and have children so that the legacy would be passed down. So, that is what happens. Judah’s second son, Onan, marries Tamar. But, he refuses to have a child with her. He knew that the offspring would not be his and so did not fulfill his husbandly duties, so to speak. This too was wicked in the eyes of the Lord and God struck down Onan as well.

So Judah is down two sons because of this woman. And he was not going to lose another. He tells Tamar to remain a widow in her father’s house and to live out the rest of her days basically.

What happens next sounds like it was taken from the script of the Young and the Restless. Some time later Judah’s own wife dies. He is lonely and sad for a while, but eventually is comforted enough to go about his life. Well Tamar knows of Judah’s condition, dresses as a prostitute and deceivingly tricks Judah (her twice-removed father-in-law) to sleep with her. She is actually impregnated by Judah and eventually bears his children, TWIN boys!

Judah is furious that she became pregnant and believes she has been immoral with another man until he finds out that it was he that has been the immoral one. He says, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”

Tamar eventually has the twins and names them Perez and Zerah. And that is the last we hear of Tamar and her children for a while.

Why is this story important? Why does God choose to interrupt the story of Joseph and his technicolor dream coat to tell us this very odd story about Judah and Tamar?

Why indeed? Let me remind you that the story of Joseph is not about enduring through tough times. The story of Joseph is not remaining faithful to God in the midst of persecution. The story of Joseph is not about having moral fiber even when no one else around you does. Those are all true, and they are definitely part of the story, but they are not the crux of the story. The story is about God’s relentless pursuit of the promises that he made back in Genesis 12 to Abraham and to a greater extent the promise he made to all of us in Genesis 3:15. God promised a serpent-crushing Seed of Abraham that will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth and He will move Heaven and earth to ensure that this will happen.

You see, Judah may have been the fourth born of Jacob, which means he had three older brothers ahead of him in the inheritance and blessing totem pole. He wasn’t even his father’s favorite son. Joseph had that distinction. But the story of Joseph is about God preserving Joseph so that Joseph might preserve his brothers, including Judah. It is imperative that Judah lived through the famine and was able to have children and grandchildren of his own. Genesis 49:10 says “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” This is a prophetic blessing from Jacob to the progeny of Judah. In relation to Genesis 12 and Genesis 3, Judah would be the descendant of the serpent-crushing Seed of Abraham that will also be King.

Now, let me connect the dots for you in case you haven’t yourself. The book of Matthew gives us a genealogy of Jesus tracing his ancestors back through the ages. It starts with Abraham in verse 2 of chapter 1: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron…” and it goes on from there. Perez, the son/grandson of Judah, is a direct ancestor to Jesus, the serpent-crushing King descendant from Abraham’s seed.

Genesis 38 is a reminder that God’s will shall always be done. It is also a reminder that God does not choose anyone based on their own merit. God chose a idolatrous old man to begin a nation in Abraham. And God chose a greedy, brother-selling, prostitute-monger who is both father and grandfather to be the ancestor of King Jesus.

If we are saved and call ourselves a Christian, it is not because of anything we did to deserve it. We are idolatrous wanders. We are selfish prostitutes and prostitute-mongers. Yet, God, in His infinite kindness, reaches down from Heaven with sovereign grace, and saves us anyway.

Genesis 38 is a reminder of how depraved and wicked we are, and how completely gracious God is. And how His will for a serpent-crushing Seed of Abraham will be King of kings and Lord of lords. And I, for one, am thankful for that reminder.

My church’s membership covenant

CHURCH COVENANT

  Having been led, as we believe by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and, on the profession of our faith having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we do now in the presence of God , and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.                                                                                                                                                        

* We agree, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality, to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.

* We agree to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations. 

* We also agree to maintain family and personal devotions; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances.

* We also agree to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all backbiting, and the use of intoxicating drinks, illegal drugs and pornography; to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior.

* We further agree to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and Christian courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay. 

* We moreover agree that when we move from this place we will, as soon as possible, unite with another church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

Should a Christian case worker assist in a same sex couple adoption?

I have been thinking about this question ever since the Supreme Court ruling took place this summer allowing for same sex marriage to be legal in all 50 states. If same sex marriage is legal, then obviously the consequences will overflow to the realm of foster care and adoption.

This question is particularly pertinent to my local context because I am heavily involved with our Florida Baptist local children’s home and fostering/adoption program. And even more specifically, I have a few men in my church who work as case managers for a local adoption agency.

The question posed to me this week by one of those men went something like this:

“Is it possible to be a Christian and work as a case manager assisting a homosexual couple who wants to adopt? Or, for that matter, any non-Christian couple who wants to adopt? Florida has a law forbidding discrimination when it comes to couples that want to adopt.”

Here is my response. I pray that it is beneficial and worthy of your consideration:

I have been thinking about that for a while now. I don’t have a good answer yet. I think it is more complex than yes or no. It is in the similar vein of should I do perform marriages for same sex couples or for any non-Christian for that matter.

I think the answer could go something like this: I should not marry a homosexual couple because it is a direct violation against the Word and will of God. A homosexual couple will still be living in sin even after they are married.

However, the same argument can be made against non-Christians who want to get married. Even though they will not be living in sexual sin any longer (assuming they are living together and practicing premarital sex) they will still be sinning against God in every other aspect of their lives (see Romans 14:23 and Hebrews 11:6).

In the same manner, if a homosexual couple adopt a child, they will also be sinning against God, much in the same way a non-Christian couple adopt a child, they will also be sinning against God, even though it is a very good thing to adopt and to get married for that matter, because again, doing anything without faith is a sin.

But I think there is a distinction, and it is an important distinction: God desires for men and women to marry and have families. That has always been the plan and will of God. We see this illustrated in the very first family on earth and the creation mandate given by God to Adam and Eve to fill the earth by being fruitful and multiplying.

Getting married and having children is one of the common graces that all created beings get to enjoy. It is like friendship or good memories. Not just Christians get to enjoy good friends and have the ability to recollect fond memories. Everyone has that gift. I think this is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust.

Therefore, my counsel to myself would be this: I cannot, for any reason, ever, perform a wedding ceremony for a homosexual couple. It is not my right to do so, no matter what the legislation says. There are plenty of other people who can perform a civil ceremony for someone who wants to exercise their state or federal right to marry. I just can’t or won’t do it. There may come a day where I will be fined or imprisoned, but those are the consequences of following Scripture.

To borrow from Luther, unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, or by evident reason — for I can believe neither [legislature nor popular opinion], as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves — I consider myself by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not [compromise], because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

As far as assisting with an adoption as part of your job, that is a tough call. I suppose if you were the one finalizing the adoption, then it would be another story. I don’t want to say this is one of the grey areas of the faith, because God’s Word is always black and white. However, this may be a matter of seriously asking yourself, what does Scripture say I can do? Am I violating my own conscience and/or the word of God?

A precious reminder from Jonathan Leeman

I was reading through a 9Marks Journal entry from 2009 the other day addressing the issue of young or new pastors. I am both of those things. I am in my early 30s and I have been a senior pastor for less than four years.

One of the articles was written by Jonathan Leeman, an elder at Capital Hill Baptist Church in D.C. and the editorial director of 9Marks. I have learned much from Leeman’s writings both on the 9Marks website and in his various published books. But this article is worth it’s weight in gold. It spoke to me personally and convicted me Biblically.

We in the Reformed tradition hold very tightly to truth. We fight for truth. We make every effort to preach the truth. And when people in our churches do not embrace the same truth we preach, or are slow to come around to truth, we can get frustrated, upset and even demean their faith.

I have a very good pastor friend who stops just short of calling every person who is not Reformed a heretic. I think John Wesley would have something to say about that…

Leeman’s reminder is this: love the people in your church who do not believe the same way you do. Love the immature. Love those who are slow to understand. Love them just as Christ loved the church.

I am so glad that Jesus loved me even when I thumbed my nose at him, much less agreed with every point of fine Christian doctrine.

I encourage you to read the article in full. I will give the article address here and I will put a copy below.

Love the Church More than its Health By Jonathan Leeman

This one goes out to the doctrine guys. The guys with ecclesiological opinions. The pastors and elders who think the Bible addresses the practices and structures of the church. Wait a second, I’m talking about myself, and all of us at 9Marks, and maybe you. I thank God for you, and I rejoice to consider myself a co-participant with you in working for Christ’s kingdom. Yet there’s a temptation I have noticed that you and I are susceptible to: we can love our vision of what a church should be more than we love the people who comprise it. We can be like the unmarried man who loves the idea of a wife, but who marries a real woman and finds it harder to love her than the idea of her. Or like the mother who loves her dream of the perfect daughter more than the daughter herself. This is an implicit danger for all of us who have learned much from God-given books and conferences and ministries about “healthy churches.” We start loving the idea of a healthy church more than the church God has placed us in. I remember overhearing a church elder complain about a family who let their unbaptized children receive the Lord’s Supper when the plate of communion crackers was passed down their pew. What struck me was the elder’s tone. It was frustrated and slightly contemptuous, as in, “How could they?! The fools!” But these people were untaught sheep. Of course they don’t know better. And God had given them this elder not to complain about them, but to love them toward a better understanding. At that moment, it felt like this elder loved his vision of the biblical church more than he loved those individuals. How easy it is to respond like this elder.

WHAT I AM NOT SAYING

I am not saying that we should love people and forget all about biblical health, as if the two things are separable. No, that would be to pit God’s love and God’s word against one another. To love someone is to desire his or her good, and only God defines “the good.” To love your church means, in part, to want it to grow toward everything that God defines as good. It’s to want your church to grow in a biblical direction. More simply, if you love your children, you want them to be healthy. So what do I mean by saying we should love the church more than its health?

BACK TO THE GOSPEL

When Christ died for the church, he made it his own. He identified it with himself. He put his name on it. That’s why persecuting the church is persecuting Christ (Acts 9:5), and why sinning against an individual Christian is sinning against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12; cf. 6:15). Individually and corporately, we represent him. Think about what that means. It means that Christ has put his name on immature Christians, and Christians who speak too much at members’ meetings, and Christians who wrongly give their unbaptized children communion, and Christians who love shallow praise songs. Christ has identified himself with Christians whose theology is underdeveloped and imperfect. Christ points to the Christians who wrongly oppose biblical leadership structures and the practice of church discipline and says, “They represent me. Sin against them and you sin against me!” How wide, long, high, and deep Christ’s love is! It covers a multitude of sins and embraces the sinner. Actually, it doesn’t just embrace the sinner. It places the whole weight of Christ’s own identity and glory on the sinner—“my name will rest on them, and my glory will be theirs.” We should always come back to the gospel, shouldn’t we?

GIVE YOURSELF, PASTOR, NOT OF YOURSELF

One theologian helped me understand an important aspect of gospel love by distinguishing between giving of yourself and giving yourself. When I give of myself to you, I give you something that I possess like my wisdom, my joy, my goods, or my strengths generally. Of course, I don’t really risk losing anything in the process, because I gain praise for such giving. Indeed, I can give all that I have, even my body to the flames, and have not love. When I give myself, however, I don’t just give something that I have, I give my whole self. I identify my self with your self. I start giving attention to your very name and reputation because I view them as united to my own. Any glory that I might have becomes yours, and all the glory that you have is the glory that I most enjoy. It’s mine, too! This is how we should love one another within a church, because this is how Christ has loved us. We don’t just embrace one another; we rest the weight of our identities upon one another. We share one another’s glories and sorrows. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). We consider one another better than ourselves, in the same manner that Christ has done with us (Phil. 2:1-11). Indeed, we have taken on the same family name, and so we are now brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:50; Eph. 2:19; etc.). If you insult my brother, you insult me. If you defraud my sister, you defraud me. Nothing’s business in the church. It’s all personal, because the gospel is personal. He died for you, Christian. He died for me. So that we might represent and look like him. (Yes, he remains the final focus of our love for one another, just as his love for us was given so that we might love the Father—the final focus of his love.) If all Christians should love like this, we who are pastors and elders most certainly should. To say that we should love the church more than its health means this: we should love people because they belong to the gospel, not because they have kept the law of a healthy church, even though that law may be good and biblical. It means we should love them because of what Christ has done and declared, not because of what they do. If you love your children, you want them to be healthy. But if you love your children, you love them whether they are healthy or not. Certainly you can rejoice when a brother or sister grows in theological understanding. You rejoice in the greater unity of truth you now share (see 2 John 1). But your gospel love—your “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners” love—should extend no less to the brother who is theologically, ecclesiologically, even morally immature, because such love is based on Christ’s perfection and truth, not the brother’s. Pastor, if your church is filled with weak believers, you should still identify yourself with them as if they were strong. Maybe you feel more “like-minded” (a popular phrase among the Reformed) with the mature brother who shares your theology. Fine. But if that theologically-minded brother asks you to share his contempt for a less theological or mature brother, say to him, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32). Elder, love your flock like sons and daughters. Get into the bleachers of their lives and root for them on the days they make their free throws and on the days they trip running down the court. Own their laughter and their fears as if they belonged to you. Abide with their folly. Don’t feel threatened when they speak disdainfully toward you. Return the curse with a blessing. Remember that extricating sin from the heart is a slow process, and they can’t always help themselves. Be patient like the One who has been patient with you. Or to use a different biblical metaphor, your love for your church should be a “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health” sort of love, even if it’s not a “till death do us part” sort of love. Shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t you be committed to your church like you’re committed to your own body, because that’s how Christ loved you and me?

THIS IS HOW PAUL LOVED

This is how Paul loved the churches. He gave himself, not just of himself. He told the Philippians that they were his “joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). He told the Thessalonians the same thing (1 Thess. 2:16). Pastor, do you regard the recalcitrant and theologically naïve Christians in your church as your joy and crown? Do you identify yourself with them that much? Paul refers to the churches as his “boast” (2 Cor. 1:14; cf. 2 Thess. 1:4). Do you? Paul told the Corinthians that they were his “children” and that he was their “father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14-15). He felt the same way about the Galatians and Timothy and Titus (Gal. 4:19; 1 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4). Elder, have you united your name and reputation to your church like a father does with his son? How often do we hear words of love and longing from Paul! He opens wide his heart, and yearns for the churches to do the same (2 Cor. 6:12-13). He longs to see them and be with them (Rom. 1:11; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thes. 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:4). He “longs for them with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). And he knows that his own distress is for the churches’ comfort and salvation, and his comfort is for their comfort (2 Cor. 1:6). Paul didn’t give of himself to the churches, holding just a little back for himself, like Ananias and Sapphira did. He gave himself. And Paul didn’t love just the mature Christians this way. Read his letters, and you’ll quickly remember how unhealthy many of these churches were! May God’s Spirit increase our love so that we can imitate Paul, as Paul imitates Christ.

Am I the only one who uses Safety Mode on Youtube?

I get ton of e-mails every week. Now, I know you can’t weigh e-mails, but if you could I bet it would be close to a ton (maybe.) A lot of the e-mails have a link to a youtube video. Couple that with Twitter links to youtube videos and there are many potential videos that get reccommened to me every week.

Here’s the problem: there are many times when I click on the link I get this picture:

Screenshot 2014-12-15 at 11.41.06 AM

It reads: This video is unavailable in safety mode.

So whatever video I want to watch, I can’t because my safety features are enabled on my youtube account. This begs the question, am I the only one who uses safety mode on youtube? How is everyone else watching these videos? I have looked on youtube for some sort of filtering system where I can change the settings to block language or sexually graphic videos, but I have not found anything. But the question remains, are the people who I follow on Twitter and whose blogs I subscribe to not enabling safety mode on youtube? Do they disable it whenever there is a video they want to see?

Granted, I’m not sure why these videos are blocked. I don’t know how youtube’s criteria for videos. Nor do I want to be accused of being a youtube Pharisee. I enable safety mode for my own sake and for the sake of my family. I will gladly miss out on a video to protect my own heart and my families viewing habits.

It’s just strange to me. Didn’t know if anyone else had come across this predicament. If you have, let me know.

Prayers and thoughts for the Battle Family

Below is a copy of the e-mail I sent out to our church family regarding the death of Pastor Tripp Battle. Pastor Tripp was killed today by a gunman for reasons we still do not and may never know.
I hope these words will somehow bring glory to God and comfort in a time of need.
Dear Church family,
I have a very important prayer request. I ask that you please pray for the family of Pastor Tripp Battle who was killed by a gunman today outside his church office. Pastor Tripp was the Senior Pastor of Bayshore Baptist Church in Bradenton. He was 31. Pastor Tripp leaves behind a wife, Joy, and two small children, Sophie and Joshua.
Pastor Tripp was killed by a gunman who also killed his wife and another woman. As of 7:00 Thursday night the gunman is still at large.
Pastor Tripp and I were acquaintances via social media and spent a small amount of time together recently at the Florida Baptist Convention meeting in Lakeland. We had planned to meet again sometime soon. I will now have to wait for Heaven to have that meeting.
Please pray for his family and the families of the other victims. The gunman and his wife were the parents of six children who now do not have a mother and whose father is on the run.
What can we learn from this tragedy? Let me suggest three things.
1. The depravity of man.
No one knows what the reason this man might give when he decided to take three lives today. But we can be sure of this, the ultimate cause is sin. The same sin that ruled our pre-Christian bodies. The same sin that Jesus came to earth and died for. The same sin that has caused harm, pain and conflict in this world for thousands of years. We live in a sin-cursed world and this is just another example of sin at its worse.
2. We need to make safety a priority.
Pastor Tripp was shot on church property. He was standing outside the church office. The church house is not immune to the heinousness of sin and its effects.
We, as a church, need to be diligent of our own safety and the safety of our loved ones. From this point forward the church office door will not be left open. If you need to go to the church during office hours, be prepared to knock on the door or call ahead first.
If for some reason you need to go to the church for some sort of project, please lock every door behind you. This includes teachers and custodians.
Also, we need to be more strict of the safety of our children. We will be implementing a more intense safety protocol with the transport of our children to and from junior church and also nursery. Please be patient with us as we work out all the details of how we can best protect the children of our church.
3. God is still Sovereign.
I don’t know how, but Scripture says in Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.” Somehow and some way the tragic death of Pastor Tripp and the other two victims  will bring glory to God. We can be sure of it because we are sure of the validity and truthfulness of Scripture. If the Bible we hold in our hands truly is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, then we must whole-heartily believe that the horrible tragedies of this world will bring glory just as much as the wonderful joys of this world. We may not know this side of Heaven what God has planned to glorify Himself through this, but we can rest assure that He can and He will.
Once again, please say a prayer tonight for Pastor Tripp’s wife Joy, his children Sophie and Joshua, and the congregation of Bayshore Baptist Church.
Remember, I love you and am praying for you!
Pastor Gavin