Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Exile Pattern

Happy birthday to anyone but me.

Big Idea: The Exile imagery in the Bible describes when God’s people are cut off from all that is familiar, needing to hold on to God alone.

Happy Birthday to Anyone But Me

I moved to New York City straight out of college. I took a day off for my birthday. How does one celebrate a birthday in the largest city in America not knowing anyone yet?

Getting groceries, the entire store sang Happy Birthday to one of their employees. I closed my eyes and imagined it was to me too. But I knew it wasn’t. I stopped at the post office. Someone yelled across the room “Happy Birthday” to the person next to me in line. That evening as I watched a sitcom on TV, you guessed it. Somebody celebrated a birthday on the show.

My birthday all by myself mocked me.

That sense of strangeness and aloneness is part of the Biblical image of exile. Out of my comfort zone with all the familiar props removed, God whispered, “Trust me. I am still here.”

The Exile Pattern

Adam and Eve experienced exile. They second guessed God, getting banished from their paradise habitat. Later in Genesis, the story of Joseph is all about exile. The trigger idea is associated with the phrase going “down.”

    Down into the cistern (Gen 37:24)

    Down to Egypt (Gen 37:15. 39:1)

    Down into the dungeon (Gen 39:20)

We too use the term down when things don’t go well.

    I’m feeling down.

    He’s down with the flu.

    Our portfolio is down.

Exile Happens

Throughout the Old Testament, exile happens, often because one chooses against God’s way. This was not in Joseph’s case, and God had a special mission to prepare for him. He was sent for a purpose into exile. When God’s people go down into exile, God desires it will drive them to Himself. and to use them.

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ Jeremiah 29:13-14 NASB

The New Testament reminds believers this world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), strangers in exile on this earth (Heb 11:13). The longer we know Jesus, the more this world feels like we don’t belong here. We walk through this strange planet feeling alien, strengthened best when driven to Him. He will see us through our Exile.

As Joseph told his brothers,

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. Genesis 50:20 NLT

God is with us in our exile moments. He wants these uncomfortable experiences to draw us closer to Him, depending on Him more than ever.

Check out this BibleProject video on Exile for more insight.

[The four blogs for October are based on the four primary patterns (also known as themes) in the movements of Genesis presented by the BibleProject. Next month's theme will be about how I have learned to be thankful in the midst of physical health issues.]

Up next: 3 Things I Miss Since I Broke My Foot
Previous post: The Blessing and Curse Pattern


1. Does an experience come to mind when a trial or hurtful event was difficult, but later you could see that God used it for good? If you cannot think of something, in quiet prayer ask God to show you He was at work.

2. What Bible verse or passage comforts you when you feel alone, or separated from all that is familiar, for instance, during the early days of the pandemic?

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Blessing and Curse Pattern

Big Idea: Choosing God’s way brings blessing. Choosing willfully against God’s ways brings baggage and consequences that are the opposite of blessing. 

Blessings from a Beggar

Shopping at West African market
It was hot so I waited in the shade to be picked up after shopping at the West African market. Islam, the predominant religion there requires giving to those in need. Those in need ask. After awhile one gets a little jaded when the next open hand insistently reaches out.

I was alone that day and exhausted. A very old woman shuffled to me with graying, matted eyes. She held out her hand, not sure if I spoke the language. She said in Maninka, "White lady, please, I need money for food."

I sighed at the interruption, and reached into my bag. I was exhausted from the sun and a busy schedule.  I fumbled through my colorful bag over fruit and canned goods till I reached my money. I grabbed a bill. It was about 15 cents US equivalent at the time but more than what’s usually given a beggar. The woman took it, sighed and moved it in and out focus. Then she looked startled!

“Why, white lady, you have given me much! I shall eat rice today!”

She poured out Maninkan blessings on me including one of my favorites, “May God pour out His blessing on you!” My eyes started watering up with tears. I wanted to scoop her in my arms with love like Jesus surely did with the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:48). I blurted back “Bless YOU!” but she was already making her way to a rice stand.

A Blessing

Blessing, what does it mean? It is a common word that we use casually within both the church and in secular society.

As with the Tree of Life, the word is used like bookends from Genesis 1 to Revelation. It carries a developing theme. On the fifth day of creation when the living creatures were created God blessed them. God said to the creatures, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

We tend to think of blessing in terms of plenty. It is indeed tied to abundance. It might be financial, but it might be abundance and goodness of family, spiritual strength and peace and so on. The blessing pattern on the patriarchs of Genesis develops quickly to include responsibility for what God has entrusted to them. They are blessed to be a blessing. They are stewards, a responsible party, for what they are given. We should do likewise!

A Curse

Many might think curses are about voodoo or witchcraft with hexes put on people. Rather God allows people to choose their own way and deal with the consequences. One reads in Exodus 11:10 “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Pharaoh had hardened his own heart already numerous times. The intent of Exodus 11:10 is that God let Pharaoh’s own hard nature take over, causing its own consequences and difficulties. In the New Testament we have the example of Romans 1:28, giving people over to a depraved mind due to similar stubbornness.

Check out this BibleProject video on the Blessing and Curse for more insight.

[The four blogs for October are based on the four primary patterns (also known as themes) in the movements of Genesis presented by the BibleProject.]

Up next: Exile Pattern
Previous post: Tree of Life Pattern


1. How do you usually use the word blessing? Is it a word you use a lot or not very much? Why?

2. Has this blog given you a new insight on blessing and/or curse as a Biblical pattern? Reflect on this passage from Numbers 6:24-26 and thank God for His blessings offered to you.

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26 NIV

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Tree of Life Pattern

Big Idea: Tree imagery throughout the Bible shows people meeting with God, having to make a choice to follow Him or not.

Under the Mango Tree

People in Africa clustered in tree shade
Some of my best thinking and prayer times take place under a tree. Near seminary graduation I felt uncertain about what my future would look like. Headed alone to West Africa to work, I had a lot of questions and concerns. I sat in the shade of a tree, leaning on tree bark contemplating and praying about my future. It was a calming, encouraging moment.

Most villages in Guinea, West Africa have a large town tree. Trees are invaluable in the hot, arid land. Buying and selling takes place in its shade. Village fathers gather at the spreading roots of the tree discussing issues and transactions. After I finished shopping at the outdoor market I would wait for my return ride under a tree making small talk with others waiting too. 

Fast forward to my current life. When looking for a retirement home, I wanted a living room view of trees instead of a subdivision fence. I now fold laundry watching the birds and squirrels play in the trees rather than neighbors on their deck.

The Tree of Life Pattern

In Genesis 2 and Revelation 22 Tree of Life verses are like a set of book ends. Between them God’s plan unfolds to reach out to mankind bringing eternal life to those who respond. That first tree of life reference shows the failure of man to trust God. The last tree of life reference in Revelation shows a new heaven for those who are now a new creation in Christ.

Why study how the tree imagery creates a pattern in the Bible?  In ancient literature imagery and metaphors signal an idea. In our modern era think of Star Wars, when you see the light sabers come out you know it is about more than a light saber. It is about "the Force."

Tracing trees through the Bible is more about what happens by these trees. It shows a meeting which results in testing followed by blessing or a curse. The first pattern starts in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are tempted at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The testing was not about the fruit, it was about the choice; trusting God at His Word, or not following Him by choosing our own way.

Abraham, Friend of God

Abraham, the “friend of God,” illustrates the tree imagery exceptionally. Multiple times God meets him under a tree and Abraham responds in contemplative, frank conversations, and most importantly, faith. Many of these events are noted on a high place. Similarly the wood for holy worship in the tabernacle and temple were in a high place. Misguided worship in rebellious times was on the high places, and then in the New Testament, redemption through Jesus on a tree, the cross, also on a high place. Jesus who sacrificed Himself on the tree, becomes the vine and we are the branches. He is the buried seed that died and sprang forth to new life.

Under the cool shade of a beautiful tree, like the first Adam and Eve, we have the choice. To trust Him, or to doubt Him and follow our own stubborn instincts.

The BibleProject video on the Biblical theme/pattern of the Tree of Life.

[The four blogs for October will be based on the four primary patterns (also known as themes) in the movements of Genesis presented by the BibleProject.]

Up next: Blessing and Curse Pattern
Previous post: The Holy Spirit Pattern



1. Do you have a favorite tree in your life? Why is it a favorite? Or have you had special memories of a tree, such as a first kiss, family time at Christmas, a place of shelter…

2. Why might a tree be a good place to think about God? What kind of decisions might be made at a place of meeting God? Perhaps your place is wood – wood in a fireplace, or a wooden rocker. Take a moment to think about decisions you have made in contemplation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Holy Spirit Pattern

Big Idea: God’s Spirit, a divine energy invisible like the wind, is revealed from Genesis to Revelation. 

I Heard His Last Breath

I was at a West African hospital with missionaries who had just been in a rollover car accident. As a missionary nurse I collaborated with local doctors and nurses. I found myself by candlelight in the simple hospital room consulting with Dr. Bah, the chief of medicine at the West African town of Kissidougou.

Wrecked car in Africa
I worried about Stephan who was unconscious with bandages wrapping his head. His wife and two little kids were waiting at home. It was unthinkable that God would let this faithful man die. I had seen God miraculously intervene many times and prayed for mercy.

About 2 AM I checked Stephan’s lungs again which had been filling with fluid. He took a deep breath, and then I heard a rattling sound. Then nothing. Dr. Bah came in and examined him. In silence he looked sadly at me, shook his head and left the room.

The Holy Spirit Pattern

From the very beginning of Genesis the Spirit of God shows up.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1;1-2 NLT

Word patterns reoccur throughout the entire Bible. Many of these patterns, also called themes, begin in Genesis, and continue significantly through the entire Bible. One of the first patterns to show up is the Holy Spirit.

The Hebrew Word for Spirit

The Hebrew word from the original language translated spirit, ruakh, is also translated in other contexts as wind, or breath.  It shows an invisible energy from God Almighty. The breath of God. See the Holy Spirit move in the wind. We do not see it but we see its effects (John 3). This energy helps create the world. The Holy Spirit works with the Father and the Son at creation. The Bible states, “Let US create” (Genesis 1:26). The noun for God is plural; not multiple god’s, but God revealed in three persons.

The Spirit that Animates Every Being

This powerful presence of Spirit animates every human being from age to age. God's sustaining breath is not just in believers in God, but all humans and even in every creature. In Noah’s account, the Spirit of God is in the animals too (Genesis 17:15). God is everywhere and God’s power is at work in everything. (see Colossians 1:15-17 Acts 17:28. Romans 11;36. 1 Cor. 29:11-12)

I was never more startled at the animation of breath till I heard my friend Stephan’s last one.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6

Check out this BibleProject video on the Holy Spirit for more insight.


[The four blogs in October are based on the four primary patterns (also known as themes) in the movements of Genesis presented by the BibleProject.]

Up next: Tree of Life Pattern
Previous post: Links throughout Scripture


1. Have you ever reflected on life seeing a creature breathe, such as an animal, a newborn, or someone near death? Did you ever think of where it comes from or goes? Did you see God in it?

2. The Holy Spirit is the energy that gives all people, even all creatures life. What does that tell you about God? What about those who breathe but don’t realize it is God?