Archives for the month of: July, 2014

brothers keeper 2

This is one of the earliest questions asked. But it was not asked by someone trying to understand his responsibility; it was asked by a man trying to get away with murder…literally.

Gen 4:1-9 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said,”With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

How long after the murder does this conversation take place? Moments? Days? Was Cain on his way home? Surely Adam and Eve will notice the empty chair at the table….Is he working on his story for mom and dad when God interrupts?

As far as we know, Abel is the first person to die, and the first person to go to heaven. God knew exactly where Cain was. God wasn’t looking for information; God wanted Cain to admit the truth. Notice God led with the key question, no warm up or small talk. Was the grave still fresh?

Cain doesn’t give God an answer; he answers God with a question. What does Cain actually believe about God? Does he really think God doesn’t know what he’s done? If he thinks he’s smarter than God, why would he bring a sacrifice in the first place? If God is powerful enough to be worthy of the sacrifice, does he really think he can fool God, or that God owes him acceptance? Why would he bring a sacrifice to a God that he thought wasn’t powerful enough to punish his sin? Does he think God loves him more than he loved Abel? I think it’s clear that Cain considered himself more important and smarter than God or Abel.

All of the laws of God can be summed up in two basic commandments: Love God, Love others. Jesus made it very clear in the parable of the sheep and the goats that how we treat each other absolutely matters to God. God will not tolerate our pride and insolence to him; neither will he excuse our abuse of others. The way we respond to God, the way we handle or repent of our sin, indicates what we believe about him and his power in our world and in our lives.

 

fig leaves

Adam and Eve’s response to their sin was to feel shame and to hide. (Gen 3) Their attempt to hide their shame by dressing themselves in fig leaves would have been amusing, had it not been so pathetic. Most of us are far too sophisticated to use fig leaves, but the results of refusing to be honest about our sin are just as pathetic and temporary as trying make clothes out of leaves. We cover ourselves in a false façade, an image of who we wish we were, or rationalization of why our sin is OK. We hide what we don’t want the world to know or see and then live with the fear that our shame and weakness may be revealed.

God holds them accountable by confronting them with the question “What have you done?” (Gen 3:13)  He wanted them to have eternal life in his presence, but their eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil made them accountable for their choices. Eve’s response was to blame the serpent; Adam blamed Eve; neither took responsibility for their intentional choice to disobey. The Bible is clear. Our response to our sin has to be to deal with it in God’s presence, to agree with God that our behavior is sin, and to ask his forgiveness. Only then is the shame, and the need for fig leaves, removed.

 1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Psalm 103:12   as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

How would the Bible have unfolded differently if Adam and Eve had chosen confession and repentance, rather than hiding behind bushes in their fig leaf outfits? God took the initiative to “cover” their sin, just as he does ours. An animal had to die – a blood sacrifice – to provide them what they needed to put their sin in their past. But the consequences remained. They left Eden, wearing animal skins, never to return. Satan’s influence in their lives cost them the blessings God wanted to share with them, but God continued to watch over them and love them.

I always told my boys, “If you’re in trouble, I better hear it from you before I hear it from someone else.” Only after they were honest with me about their behavior could I can stand with them and guide them as they faced their accusers. Satan is given several descriptive titles in the Bible. One is the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44); another is “The Accuser” (Rev 12:10). Satan lies to us to encourage us to disobey God and then tattles on us endlessly to God. Repentance removes his ability to accuse you to your Father once you and your Father have handled it. Unless we repent and handle our sin with God, we stand alone to face our accuser.

Every one of us has sin. What have you done with yours? What has your sin cost you? God utterly, unconditionally loves you, but he will not tolerate your sin. God’s forgiveness is complete, but we have to be honest with him about our sin. He is not fooled by your fig leaves or curious as to your hiding place. Agree with him about your choices, and allow him to forgive you and redeem your sin so that it can no longer bring you shame. He will cast it away, as far as the east is from the west, and your accuser will not be able to say a word.

blind faith

I like deadlines and punctuality. I like knowing exactly what’s expected of me. I like agendas and I’m more comfortable with schedules that help me meet all the short term goals that will lead me to the finished product. But I worship the God that is way bigger than that.

God’s timing is so different from ours that sometimes it seems to us that he’s not paying attention because we can’t see evidence of a plan. He doesn’t ask us to create a plan; he wants us to follow his. He doesn’t need our input on a timetable or agenda; he already knows it. He tells his children what their next step should be, and he rarely gives them the map that shows the journey all the way to the end. He told Abraham to take his family and move to a place that he would should him. He told the disciples, “Follow Me”. He never actually mentioned where they would be going. He told Rahab to stay inside her house while the walls of Jericho fall around her. He told Moses to go to Egypt and bring all of Pharaoh’s work force back home to the land God promised them. There was no detailed description of exactly how that would work. Daniel saw God’s power inside the lions’s den; Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego saw it inside the furnace. The disciples saw it inside the storm. Gideon saw it during the battle. He never gave them the details of how their story would end or how the battle would play out. The women saw it at Jesus’ tomb. Whether or not we can see the end or suggest a possible happy ending to God doesn’t change his ability to lead us forward in victory. Details are God’s job. All he required is that we obey for the next step, even in blind faith, so that we can trust him for adventures we can’t even imagine. All that separates us from his plan is our courage to take the next step in a direction where we usually don’t know what to expect.

I like predictability, but it is delight that makes life worthwhile. God did not create us to survive and be content; Jesus said he came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). The most memorable, glory filled moments of my life are those that brought the thrill of an adventure or awareness of God’s presence amidst what I thought was mundane. While I might find a neatly stacked set of papers tucked away in my file drawer ahead of a deadline more peaceful, the moments that interrupt my day with laughter or awe or just the briefest glimpse of God’s glory are the best part.

Delight cannot be scheduled. In order to find the delight in our relationship with God or in our day, we have to have the kind of blind faith that will allow us to step out and trust the plan of this God who will not be put in a box. If we insist on a secure path based on common sense, we will may arrive at our goals punctually, and never see the delight or know the adventure that God had planned for us.

May my limited understanding of who God is allow me to have the blind faith to follow where he leads me. May I never sacrifice delight and adventure for predictable and punctual. May my blind faith lead me to have the courage to step past what I can (or can’t!) control and experience the delight and adventure that God has planned for me.

Ps 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of his heart.

master teacher 2

The goal of the best teachers is to move the student to a deeper understanding of the content. When I taught literature, I didn’t just want my students to read all the words of the book; I wanted them to see the truth in that book. When I taught them grammar, I didn’t just want them to memorize rules and pass a test; I wanted their writing and speech to be clear and accurately convey what they were trying to say.

The Bible contains stories of those that God wanted to teach. His methods varied, but his goal was for them to see truth and be able to tell the story of their relationship with him so others would benefit. Abraham, Noah, Joshua and Gideon got tests; Joseph, David, and Daniel got trials. But sometimes God chose to ask a question…and wait for the answer. Many of the questions God asked in the Old Testament are mirrored in the New Testament. These questions required honesty and a refocused perspective that led the person into deeper faith and more confident trust in God’s power and love. Once the question has been asked, everything changes because of the answer; no matter what the answer is. In each case, God was not looking for information. He already knew the answer. He asked the question to help the person stop wandering aimlessly and identify exactly what direction was right so that he could intentionally move forward.

In order to ask a question, you have to have someone’s attention, either face to face, on phone, or on screen. You don’t question a crowd to learn their answer….you question a crowd to get them to agree with you. “Who’s number one?” or “Who’s with me?” are not asked seeking information. They are asked to encourage agreement. The important questions, the life changing ones, are not asked of a group – they are personal.

There are lots of different kinds of questions, and good teachers know how to ask the right kind of question to direct a student’s learning or help him see boundaries or relationships. God uses questions with his children who have wandered off the path, who are out of fellowship with him or who are at a crossroads…to force them to honestly look at their behavior or to get them to turn their path in a new direction.  His goal is to use that accountability to give them new perspective and a fresh start.

God, the master teacher, wants your attention and your spiritual growth. He wants you to be his star student. The questions he asked in the Bible are still the questions he uses to lead us into deeper understanding of ourselves and of him. I encourage you to consider these biblical questions in your quiet time. Seek God’s truth and your understanding as he reveals the answers to you.

Where are you?  What is this you have done?   (What will you do with your sin?)

Where is your brother?  Who is my neighbor? (How do you treat others whom God loves?)

What is in your hand? How many loaves do you have? (Will you trust me with what you have?)

What is your name?  (How have you defined yourself?)

What are you doing here?  (How do you handle adversity?)

What do you want me to do for you? (What are your priorities?)

Who do you say that I am? (What do you believe about God?)

Why are you so afraid? (Do you trust God with your future?)

Do you love me more than these? (What threatens God’s sovereignty in your life?)

 

This country was begun by people who believed in freedom and fresh starts. They were not afraid to sacrifice their comfort for their beliefs, and they were blessed with victories over enemies that sought to deny them the freedom they held precious. They used that freedom and the resulting prosperity to contribute aid and effort to helping other countries battle disease, poverty, ignorance, and starvation. America has made mistakes, but we’ve done enough right that others have been blessed by our hope and hard work. This nation was built by immigrants from all over the world who came here for opportunity they couldn’t find elsewhere.

But that seems to be changing. We now seem to think we deserve our blessings and shouldn’t have to sacrifice for what we want. The most cursory glimpse of the evening news shows that our country is increasingly divided and our system of law is breaking down. We subordinate what is right to what advances our cause. We are more defined by what separates us from each other than what unites us. We are more interested in what protects our power than we are in the truth. We are no longer a help to our allies, nor a deterrent to our enemies.

God told us how to handle decline in our nation.

II Chron 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 

Perhaps part of America’s problem is that too few of us are called by his name or that we’ve become so self-sufficient that we’ve forgotten how to be humble. Perhaps we’re so busy looking at ourselves and the most recent polls that we decide the ends do justify the means, so we no longer recognize sin as wickedness. We entertain ourselves with what is profane and immoral, and wonder why the American culture is no longer thriving.

What does America need to be “healed” of? What have we become that indicates brokenness? How would America look different if God “healed” us?

On this holiday when we celebrate the birth of our nation, I encourage you to pray fervently for America. Pray for your own humility and then pray for humble, godly leaders who will align themselves with what is good, rather than what is expedient or protects their careers. Ask for God’s forgiveness for yourself, and for our nation for all the idols that we’ve allowed to crowd God out of our consciousness. Ask God to help you see sin like he does, and ask him for healing that will restore our relationship with him.