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The modern parody magazine for church folks is The Babylon Bee. If you have already read it, you know what to expect. I would put it somewhere between hilarity and irreverence. If you have not read it, here is a sample of the kind of thing you will find…

The Bible is really long. Luckily for you, we at The Babylon Bee have studied our official company Scofield Reference Bible for the past 80 years in order to distill each of the 66 books down to a bite-sized snippet even you can understand. We reduced every book to a single, memorable line, so you don’t have to read a word of it for yourself. Nice!

Forget about reading through the Bible in a year—now you can read through the Bible in about five minutes!

Genesis – God makes everything and it’s really good for about 3.2 seconds.
Exodus – YAHWEH VS. RA FIGHT NIGHT ONLY ON PAY-PER-VIEW SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!
Leviticus – STOP DOING GROSS STUFF.
Numbers – Israel makes a wrong turn near Mt. Sinai, refuses to ask for directions.
Deuteronomy – I SAID STOP DOING GROSS STUFF GOSH WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.

Joshua – The hotly anticipated product launch of Moses 2.0.
Judges – A riveting documentary on the doctrine of total depravity.
Ruth – The Bachelorette: Hebrew Edition.
1 Samuel – David & Goliath.
2 Samuel – David & Goliath: The direct-to-VHS sequel.
1 Kings – Solomon marries a ton of women and that turns out to be a really bad idea. Who knew!
2 Kings – Israel and Judah go 0-for-2 in a deathmatch against Babylon and Assyria. Shoulda declared Philippians 4:13 over that mess, guys…
1 Chronicles – A sweeping documentary of Israel’s history, like those sprawling 24-VHS sets covering World War 2 your dad probably has.
2 Chronicles – A sweeping documentary of Israel’s history, like those sprawling 24-VHS sets covering World War 2 your dad probably has—PART 2.

Ezra – The Temple gets an Extreme Home Makeover.
Nehemiah – Jerusalem gets an Extreme Home Makeover.
Esther – A brave Jewish woman saves her people. Full of more exciting drama and intrigue than any episode of Game of Thrones, plus way more clothing.

Job – Hebrew country music song.
Psalms – An ancient Hillsong album with sheep metaphors instead of ocean metaphors.
Proverbs – GOD PITIES THE FOOL WHO DON’T FOLLOW HIM.
Ecclesiastes – Everything is meaningless, except everything isn’t really meaningless because God gives everything meaning. Whoa.
Song of Solomon – Go ask your parents.

Isaiah – Make Worship Great Again!
Jeremiah – God has a great plan and a future for you and definitely not any suffering nope not at all.
Lamentations – 😥
Ezekiel – A total Lovecraftian mind-trip with bones and eagles and flaming psychedelic wheels and stuff.
Daniel – Daniel fights his own personal lions who also happen to be actual lions that want to eat him.

Hosea – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Joel – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Amos – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Obadiah – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Jonah – An anthropomorphic asparagus goes on an adventure with some pirates.
Micah – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Nahum – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Habakkuk – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Zephaniah – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Haggai – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Zechariah – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.
Malachi – Minor prophet who’s not Jonah—feel free to skip.

Matthew – Peter does dumb stuff, Jesus is the Messiah.
Mark – Peter does dumb stuff, Jesus is the suffering Servant.
Luke – Peter does dumb stuff, Jesus is the Son of Man.
John – Peter does dumb stuff, Jesus is the Son of God.

Acts – Miracles, shipwrecks, lots of tongues. Basically John MacArthur’s worst nightmare.
Romans – God justifies, man screws stuff up.
1 Corinthians – Stop screwing stuff up, Corinth.
2 Corinthians – CORINTH. I MEAN IT THIS TIME CORINTH.
Galatians – Romans but shorter.
Ephesians – Romans but shorter 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Philippians – You can win sports games through Jesus.
Colossians – Jesus rules all of creation, yes even the weird stuff like platypi.

1 Thessalonians – Jesus is coming around the mountain when he comes.
2 Thessalonians – A letter full of encouragement and inspiration, like an ancient Max Lucado book.
1 Timothy – Ladies, plz stop talking.
2 Timothy – Paul gives his dying instructions to Timothy, much like Yoda to Luke in Return of the Jedi.
Titus – Basically a first-century vision-casting conference for young pastors.
Philemon – Paul’s passive-aggressive anti-slavery manifesto.

Hebrews – Moses gets straight ethered for 13 chapters.
James – Act more gooder, people.
1 Peter – U gonna suffer fam.
2 Peter – Bro, Paul’s really confusing plz help.
1 John – God is love m’kay?
2 John – Yup, He’s still love.
3 John – HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY IT PEOPLE GOSH.
Jude – Stop being heretics plz, k thx bye.
Revelation – Kirk Cameron fights the Antichrist in order to save Christmas from the new world order. Thanks, Kirk!

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Genesis wants us to know that Isaac survived and he had children. One of them is Jacob. My friend Mike has helped me with a picture of Jacob. This grandchild of Abraham was a conniving, deceitful, momma’s boy. He was a secular, self-made man who believed God helps those who help themselves. Jacob believes in God but is not convinced that God has anything to do with his life.

He goes through the motions as if he has some control. He pretends he is writing his own story. But then one night he falls to sleep and God shows up. Jacob awakes literally and theologically and observes “God is in this place.” He calls this place Bethel. Jacob is no returning prodigal yet God comes to meet him. God is not a distant force; God is involved in this world.

It is worth noting that Jacob has this dream in the middle of nowhere with his head lying on a rock. Later, Moses finds a burning bush. The psalmist will sing “where can I go from his presence?” Disciples will encounter the unexpected presence of God on the road to Emmaus. Saul is met with the presence of the Lord on the road to Damascus. There is no such place as nowhere, it’s all Bethel. The place you least expect will be the place God will show. Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush a fire with God.

Jacob should have been on time out, instead he finds himself in the presence of God. No one is in the presence of God because we deserve it. Jacob is not a candidate for an important role. He has torn his family apart. Yet he is invited to rejoin the family and find his place in a larger story. God is doing something in the world and for the world and wants Jacob to be part of it. Jacob becomes part of God’s plan to bless the world.

Frederick Buechner gives an interesting first person account of blessing in his novel about Jacob, Son of Laughter. “My mother had more than once told me about the day when Abraham gave the blessing to Laughter. She said the camels had all made water at once. Flying birds had hung motionless in the air. Laughter’s face had given off light.” In response to his own blessing he deceitfully received from Isaac, Jacob says, “It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me… The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.”

Before the Genesis story ends we find Jacob in Egypt.  He is here to ask Pharaoh for bread. He hopes Pharaoh will be generous. And yet he is there blessing the Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the world power. He held the control. He made decisions that influenced the world. He has need of nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, has nothing. He certainly has nothing Pharaoh needs. Still he blesses Pharaoh.

The fact is, Jacob knows some things Pharaoh does not. He woke one morning after sleeping on a rock and things were never the same for him again. Jacob has been pulled into a narrative that is world changing. He has become part of a story Pharaoh is not aware of. Jacob knows that God is doing something in the world and for the world.

Ever since the days of his grandma and grandpa, Jacob knows God has been seeking ways to bless the nations. His grandfather, Abraham, once had the opportunity to bless Egypt. Instead, Abraham took the promise into his own hands. Jacob has no such designs, he has nothing. Nothing but this promise of blessing. This blessing, both beautiful and appalling, has taken Jacob to Egypt. And he blesses Pharaoh. Claus Westermann says it like this, “The shepherd from the steppe… performs the gesture of blessing on the powerful and divine one.” This is good news. Even Pharaohs and world powers are in need of this blessing.

Westermann reminds us blessing has been given to the patriarchs and is passed from fathers to the children. As Isaac received blessing from Abraham and Jacob received blessing from Isaac, so Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. But Genesis wants to be sure we know blessing is not only for family succession. This is not only a clan religion. This blessing is for all people.

Abraham and Sarah eventually have a son and name him Isaac. It is the impossible work of a miraculous God. This reminds us that as much as we might like to, we cannot overlook that part of the Abraham story is on a mountain called Moriah. We cannot overlook this part of the story where God seems to put the promise in jeopardy. As much as I love to read about a climb up a mountain, I wish this climb belonged to someone else’s story. It would be easier to ignore this story and pretend it isn’t there. Another option might be to focus on Abraham’s obedience or God’s grace.

Or we can head up the mountain with Abraham and Isaac and admit this is an emotional story and not try to explain it away. We will still not enjoy the story – but the story will do something to us.

Since we struggle with violence and negative emotion and we love children we want this story to go differently. If we were writing the story, we would write it differently. But this story is the one we are given. We can argue and debate and wrestle it. And when we are finished we may not be able to sleep at night. We may not be able to approach God the same way ever again. But we will not be the same people we were before the story. This journey into the mountain country will change us.

Already, at this early stage in the bible, we are made aware that our text, these words are a dangerous sanctuary. The words that provide direction direct us into dangerous places. We find ourselves in places we cannot survive on our own. We find ourselves in places only God can rescue us. We know that a canonical adventure will be full of both danger and grace.

A Decorated Season

“Bright lights wrap around trees, indoors and out. On some houses, lights start at ground level and climb to the rooftops. On a clear night, it looks as if they are strung across the sky and come down on the other side of the street. The season is decorated with both strings of light from Wal-Mart and the likes of Betelgeuse and Polaris.”

(from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 16)

Among the memories of childhood Christmas, there is one that continues to surprise me. Every Christmas, without fail, we received a pair of pajamas from grandma. The same pajamas every year. Shirt and pants that snapped together at the waist with metal buttons. Pajamas with feet in them. Pajamas decorated with Winnie the Pooh characters.

Looking back, the surprise is not that we received them. The surprise is that we wore them. The bigger surprise is that Dad allowed this to happen.

We loved everything that came with Christmas morning. Rushing downstairs, opening packages, and making our way to grandma’s house. There, we would compare gifts with our cousins. We would stand politely while our aunt’s pinched our cheeks and told us how we had grown. And we would wait for our uncle’s to come in, one by one, to tell us “hope you got everything you wanted this year, because last night I accidentally shot Santa Claus.”

When we were real young, we wondered which of them was most likely to be telling the truth. It wasn’t too many years before we finally figured that out.

The tax code states clearly that in order to maintain exempt status, churches may “not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” This is known as the Johnson Amendment.

Presently, there is a bill underway (H.R. 172) that would allow churches to identify with a political party and to encourage others to support the political party. The stated intention of the bill is “to restore the Free Speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment.”

Before conceding this is a good idea, one should consider the danger of the church identifying with a political party. Alignment with a political party is compromise no matter what government we are talking about. A church that aligns with government ceases to be the church. Before thinking this is a good idea we should consider the ease with which we could divide according to political philosophies. It is dangerous to gather in the name of American politics and convince ourselves if we mention Jesus we are doing the right thing. It might make things easy to mingle with those who are like minded as if we were just another caucus, but we do not gather as democrats or republicans. We gather as the people of God.

As far as free speech, the church has always been a people who say things we are not supposed to say. And we have said these things to people we are not supposed to say them to. We are not inclined to request permission from the state for things we must say. This is true whether or not we are granted the right of free speech.

We already struggle with the way power works and our desire for a piece of it. Even before the proposed repeal, too many of us have been tempted to attach to partisan preferences and join the empire. It is already too easy to think this is where the power lies. It is already too easy to think that working alongside the empire is the best way to get our message out. I am not hopeful that a repeal of the Johnson Amendment benefits the church at all.