“Catch the Wind”

 

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These are strange days. Do you feel it? Do you feel the uncertainty of this season, the cacophony of voices constantly clashing around us? Do you feel the opinions flying fast and furious, fear tightening its grip, discord having its day?

But deeper than all of that – beneath the surface of frenzy and friction – do you see the hearts longing to know that they are seen and safe, that the future is secure, that someone is for them? Do you see hearts looking for hope?

It can be hard to know the right thing to say or the right actions to take because, in a time when it seems like everyone is choosing sides over something, we are still called to be peacemakers. We are called to act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. We are called to love as we have been loved.

I think this brings one conclusion — we need wisdom greater than our own. We need vision that sees further, deeper, and clearer than our own. We need a love that is wider, deeper, longer, and higher than our emotions or opinions. We need ears to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Over these strange days, our God is still sovereign. His are still the words that are not returned void. His purposes still stand. His heart is still set on kindness that brings repentance. He is still looking for every lost sheep…His love is not wavering, His mercy has not run dry.

We know that His kingdom is unshakeable. We know that our Savior still meets every heart that longs for rescue and calls out to Him. We know that there is love that never fails.

So you and I, we are hope-bearers and we must not be distracted or deterred from this calling.

When we aren’t sure how to proceed, what to say, how to act — this is when we press in to His presence.  We open His Word and let our roots deepen in Truth that endures…we open our hearts in prayer and let Him change us until our lives flourish in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We abide in Him and He abides in us — this Holy Spirit, comforter and teacher, lives within us. And this is what my heart is yearning for, what I know I desperately need – to  walk in step with Him, finding my source of help in His sustaining grace.

In and out of changing times, the victorious light and love of Jesus remain unshaken. Secure in His faithfulness, we are to take this life day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We lean in and we listen for His voice…we wait on the Lord when we are unsure of our next step. We live interruptible lives, open to changing course and trusting that He will lead us when we ask Him to order our steps, to show us His way.

Maybe it won’t always look logical. Maybe it won’t always make sense. But this is faith — walking in the Spirit instead of our own reasoning.

May our part in these strange days be one of remarkable, bold grace. Let it be our part to share peace that surpasses understanding, compassion that reflects our Jesus who gave Himself to bear the pain and sorrow of all people. Let it be our part to hear the cries of the hurting, not turning away, but drawing close in the power of God that works in us to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to proclaim liberty for the captives. Let it be our part to act in fearless and unintimidated obedience when God leads us into action. Let it be our part to share unwavering truth in love. Let it be our part to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to care for those who are forgotten and lonely. Let it be our part to intercede in prayer, knowing that God honors and responds to the prayer of His people. Let it be our part, above all, to never stop sharing the good news of a Savior who gave His life so that we can find forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Let us be brave. Let us be strong in the power of His might.

We have been given the freedom that comes with redemption, the abundant joy of God’s presence, His strength in our weakness — so let it be that our lives are living epistles of His hope. In these strange days, may it be said of us that we have loved like we were first loved…whole-heartedly, holding nothing back, freely giving what has been given to us.

“…that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”-John 3:6-8

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.-Galatians 5:25

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.-2 Cor. 3:17

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.-2 Timothy 1:7

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.-1 John 4:6-19

 

In The Storm

Things look a little different around here these days. There are trees, their leaves now golden-brown, bowed low to the ground along the highway. Ditches are deeper, wider. Cracks and widening gullies have appeared on the edges of the woods near our house. Water lines stain buildings in town. Gaps appear where trees used to stand and, in one spot, an entire row of pines has disappeared.

Hurricane Matthew may be long gone, but the evidence of it still remains. Our land is changed. We have been marked by the storm.

I know I’ve been absent here on the site over the past little while. I’ve been watching and waiting as this storm of contention continues to hover over our entire nation. I’ve been wondering what the long-term affects will look like…I’ve been wondering how our land will change…I’ve been wondering how my life will be altered.

We can’t control the storm or the changes time will reveal…but I’ve been thinking a lot about the landscape of my own heart in a time when wildfires of anger are hot and fierce, ignited by careless words…in a time when hatred and fear are raining down…in a time when the ground beneath us seems to be cracking under the pressure of it all.

My instinct is to find shelter, to avoid the storm as much as I can, to keep change at bay.

But I’m reminded, as I watch the constant flow of painful news stories, that Jesus willingly stepped into our storm. He came into the pain, into the sin-filled world, to bring His peace. He didn’t avoid the chaos, but pursued our hearts in the middle of it. He came into the mess of my mistakes so that I could know His life-giving love.

If I am following Him, I cannot pile sand-bags around my heart to maintain my own safety. If I am committed to loving people like He loves people, I have to be okay with exposure to the gales…and I CAN be, because I know that the Peace-Speaker, the One whom the wind and the rains obey, always holds my soul steady in His hands.

We’re all enduring a storm and, one way or another, we’ll be marked by it. But I don’t want to be marked by fear, apathy, anger, or confusion. I want it to be the Holy Spirit teaching and shaping the landscape of my soul as this season continues.

Instead of hardening toward those I disagree with, I want my heart to soften in compassion. I need to strengthen my resolve to become quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and the first to love. I want to tend even more diligently to these roots so that I am firmly planted in truth, immovable by even the fiercest wind. I want to remain bowed low in prayer. I want a deeper desire to intercede for others who need Him. I want to be more vulnerable, to throw up the windows and open the doors even as the rain pours and the thunder bellows — because I  want to be faithful to go into the world…into the storm…with the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are the children of God, the body of Christ, the citizens of the kingdom of light — so let us live unafraid and undeterred by the schemes of the enemy. Don’t let the cacophony of the storm persuade us to stop singing the song of mercy, grace, and redemption we have been given…it may seem powerful and overwhelming at times, but ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ belongs to our Savior. His voice cuts through the chaos. His truth does not falter. His power and His love do not fail.

Our world will keep changing – but the One who holds its purpose remains steadfast.

He has entrusted us with the call to shine into the darkness, not just to light up our own safe circle…and we can follow where He leads us, knowing that there is no storm strong enough to extinguish the Light of Jesus Christ within us.

Knowing You are with us, we can boldly declare Your name to this world.  Knowing how You love us, we yield to the changes You make in us…conform us to Your image, Jesus, and let our lives glorify the Father.  Remind us, Lord, of who You are…in our hope in You, we can stand firm through every storm that comes into our lives.  

“Death could not hold You,
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names.”

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble…

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – from Romans 12

Together We Follow: Genesis 12: 11-20

fullsizerender-16There have been moments in my life when I feared that my past sin would alter God’s willingness to use me for His purposes. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever worried that your past would change God’s mind about you or render His plans for you null and void?

If you’ve ever felt this way, then I hope that today’s reading will help to reassure you of your place in God’s heart…

As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai’s beauty. When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. “What have you done to me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.

Today we see Abram, the man who surrendered his future to God, in an act of deception. Seeing the power of Pharaoh, he allowed fear to motivate his actions. He allowed this new circumstance to intimidate him. Fearing that the Egyptians would take his life in order to take Sarai into the house of Pharaoh, Abram called her his sister – withholding the full truth of her identity as his wife.

Not trusting that God would protect both he and his wife, Abram chose the wrong path to control the situation himself. His short-sighted decision led to Sarai being taken to the palace – it was God, in His mercy, that protected Sarai and brought her back to Abram’s side.

This was a moment for Abram to understand the faithfulness of God…this was a moment for Abram to see the grace of God.

Instead of ending in catastrophe under the wrath of Pharaoh, this incident leads to Abram and Sarai leaving Egypt to go on with their journey into the future God had promised them. God’s faithfulness did not change when Abram’s focus faltered. His promises did not disappear because Abram chose deceit.

This is grace.

When we don’t deserve it, God comes to rescue us. It’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross. It isn’t our righteousness that prepares us for God’s purpose, but His redemption power in our lives.

If we decide to sin and go on without repentance, without turning from our wrong, then we are the ones to walk away from our place in God’s plan for us…we can, in our continued disobedience, miss out on the abundant life God would intend for us. Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians sorrow without repentance leads to spiritual death…but Godly sorrow that leads to repentance results in salvation.

When we didn’t deserve it, when we didn’t earn it – we received rescue from our sin… and this grace that God has given out of His great love continues to affect every aspect of our lives.

Don’t let regret about the past keep you from His promises for today. 

Our past sin? Our sin that has been forgiven? Our sin that has been removed from us, as far as the east is from the west? (Psalm 103:12) Those wrongs may have changed us, may have taught us, may have taken us the long way around our dreams, may have brought the discipline of the Father to us…but those sins no longer define us. His mercy does. His redemption power is stronger than our sin – and so, YES – He will still use you for His glory. YES, He still has a purpose for you. YES, He will be true to His promises.

Our lives become a story not of our sin, not of our losses, but of His grace and victory in us. Our lives become a story of transformation, of a new creation made in us. Our lives become a story of hope – knowing what He has done for Abram, for Sarai, for you and for me…He can do for anyone who will believe.

 

 

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith. I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.-from Philippians 3 

Together We Follow: Genesis 11:1-9

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In today’s reading, we find a group of people who are united in one language and one goal.

On the surface, maybe this unity that we see in the beginning of Genesis 11 doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. It seems that men are working together, getting along as they begin to build a city.

But they have left God out of their plans.

Their goal is to do the opposite of what God has instructed them to do…He told the sons of Noah back in Genesis 9 that they were to multiply and fill the earth. But, somewhere along the way, someone decided that this was not the right course for the future. Someone decided that God did not know what was best for mankind. Someone decided to stop trusting in His purposes for the earth.

So they settle together in the land Shinar, founding a city. They want to make a name for themselves by building a tower that will reach into the heavens…and they want to use this name – believing that it will come with authority – to put a stop to the scattering of the tribes over the earth.

They are building in their own honor, for their own glory, for their own gain, to accomplish their own will.

Did they believe that this tower would show God – their own creator – how powerful they were? Did they wish to show control over their future? Did they wish to reach heaven,  believing that such heights would make them equal with God?

This immediately brings to mind the enemy, satan, who said “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation. On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’

I can see his pride, his desire to become like God, and his sneaky way of undermining the trust in man’s relationship with the Creator. I can see his schemes in the lives of these men who wanted to make a name for themselves, working to leave behind the will of God to, instead, fulfill their own desires.

Yes, they’d been led astray. Like their ancestors before them, they chose to listen to the voice of the enemy instead of to the voice of God. 

And God already knew the destruction that comes with pride. He had already had His heart broken over mankind’s bondage to sin and selfish desire…and the violence and pain that came with it.

So He put a stop to this catastrophe-in-the-making before it could be completed.

It was, I think, a creative (and merciful) solution. Instead of destroying the tower, He changed the status quo…He confused the language of the whole world. Instead of one common tongue, each tribe or family found themselves speaking a unique language.

In this sudden disruption of language, work on the city ceased and the tribes began to disperse.

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As I consider the Tower of Babel and this desire of mankind to build ourselves up, I wonder what we are trying to prove. Is it our own worth that we are attempting to establish? Are we consumed with self-sufficiency, chasing the idea that we are enough in ourselves and not dependent upon God? At its core, is our disobedience a symptom of not trusting God? And at the center of our distrust, do we find the ploy of the enemy to break our communion with God? 

When it comes to my own life, I can see that this is true. I have tried to build my own towers in this life, looking for value and control in the work of my own hands. I didn’t trust that He was enough to fulfill my heart. There have been times when I didn’t obey God because of fear. I didn’t think I was able to do what He’d asked – I didn’t trust that He would provide the ability, the strength, or whatever was necessary for that time. There have been times that I did not understand the step He wanted me to take – and, so, I wouldn’t take it. Pride, too, has stopped me from obedience – which, for me, is another way to say that I trusted in myself instead of in God, so I chose my own way instead of His.

But what I have learned is that His ways are better than mine. I have learned, through taking one step at a time forward with Him, that He is faithful. I have put my trust in Him and found Him steadfast and always, always good.  I have learned that my strength comes in surrender to Him, my confidence in depending totally on Him. I have learned that my actions, words, and perceptions of the world have a direct connection to how I see God…and the ability to fully obey, laying down my life and picking up the cross before me, comes with my trust in Who He is.

Because I know He is for me, I can step out in faith – even when it’s illogical or uncomfortable  – to do whatever it is He might ask of me. Because I know He is love – because I know He loves me, I can follow wherever He leads.

These are on-going lessons…because God keeps calling us to follow into new places, doesn’t He? He keeps transforming us into His image. He keeps teaching us to trust Him, more and more, so that we can do the next thing to which He calls us.

I hope that we build our lives in His honor, for His glory, for His fame.

If we make any name known, Lord, let it be YOURS and not our own. Let it be Your will fulfilled in us, our obedience flowing out of our love for You…fearless to follow because of our trust in You. 

 

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

(Here’s an interpretation of what the tower may have looked like. This is a painting by an unknown Flemish master from 1587.)

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“Genesis does not say what the Tower of Babel looked like, but archaeological ruins provide clues. Ancient ziggurats or pyramids exist all over the world. Ziggurats are stepped, tiered, or terraced pyramids that usually have a shrine on top. Ruins of these exist in almost 30 different countries including Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Peru, and Mexico.”–Bible Science Guy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 9:18-29

We find our first glimpse of ordinary life after the flood in the second portion of Genesis 9.

Noah has been hard at work tending the ground. We’re told that he has planted grapes, cultivating a vineyard. One day, he drinks too much of the wine made from those grapes and he becomes drunk. This intoxication leaves him fully exposed to anyone who enters his tent.

We aren’t told if Noah intends to get drunk. We’re shown the state of his physical actions, but not the state of his heart. What we do know is that he has lost control of himself in this moment, allowing the wine to overtake him…this was sin and it does, of course, show us the danger of allowing wine – or anything that undermines the authority of God in our actions – to take control of us.

But, at this moment, my attention is drawn less to Noah’s mistake and more to the reaction of his sons in this moment of disgrace.

Ham finds his father in this vulnerable position and leaves him there, going outside to tell his brothers exactly what he had seen.

Shem and Japheth take great care to enter the tent without seeing their father’s shame, covering him with a robe.

All three of Noah’s sons had a choice in how to deal with this scene that Ham discovered.

Ham chose to further expose his father to shame. Immediately telling his brothers was not an act of respect, but a move to embarrass Noah. This was not a choice of love, but of derision. This tells us a lot about Ham’s own heart — although we don’t have specifics, there must have been some seed of contention, pride, bitterness, or anger in his heart to see this harvest of cruelty.

Shem and Japheth, however, choose to immediately help their father. They did not find pleasure in catching him in this sinful moment. In total respect, they enter into this place of Noah’s shame and cover him. This act, to me, reflects the heart of the Father who had once covered the exposed shame of their long-ago ancestors in the garden of Eden. Instead of joining Ham in pointing out Noah’s wrong, they met their father in love.

In the resulting curse and blessing on the sons of Noah, we can see how serious God is about the way we treat one another.

Always, we must keep in mind how He has treated us — this is the pattern we are to follow…His heart toward His children is the model for our own hearts.

So far, we have seen justice, yes, and consequences for sin. But His discipline flows from His love…it is meant to draw His people back to Him, to show the way of restoration and redemption. We have seen grace. We have seen mercy. We have seen compassion.

When we look ahead, we see this love in God’s own Son – Jesus comes to us, meets us in the place of our sin and shame, and covers us with His righteousness. He does not leave us helpless, but becomes our rescue. John 3:17 tells us that He does not come into the world to condemn, but to save.

It will never fail to fill me with awe  – while I was still in sin…while I was still under the control of my pride and fear…Jesus died for me.

It’s the same for you – for all of us who has been brought near to God again through the blood of our Savior.

Knowing this, how do we react to others in their sin? How do we choose to respond when someone stumbles?  How do we choose to treat our brothers and sisters – or those who don’t know God – when we see their shame?

Proverbs tell us that we shouldn’t rejoice even when our enemy falls. We should be a people of compassion — knowing the pain and bondage of sin, it is our joy to help others to find the same freedom we have been given. James tells us to turn sinners from the error of their ways if they have wandered from the truth…not to gloat over their sin or to spread word of their failure. Paul says to speak the truth to our brothers and sisters – in love. 

God did not abandon us to our stupor of sin. He redeemed us from it.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. (1 John 4:11)

Let us pray that we will be transformed by the Holy Spirit until we are like Him…let us see others in the fullness of His truth and grace.  Let us love as we have been loved. Let us meet others in their hardest places, in their moments of disgrace, and show the grace that Jesus has shown to us. Let the harvest of our hearts overflow in what the Spirit plants: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control.

Let us keep in step with Your Spirit and Your way, Father.

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Genesis 9:18-29

The sons of Noah who came out of the boat with their father were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham is the father of Canaan.) From these three sons of Noah came all the people who now populate the earth.

After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard.  One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent.  Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked and went outside and told his brothers.  Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked.

When Noah woke up from his stupor, he learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham: “May Canaan be cursed! May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.”

Then Noah said, “May the Lord, the God of Shem, be blessed, and may Canaan be his servant! May God expand the territory of Japheth! May Japheth share the prosperity of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant.”

 Noah lived another 350 years after the great flood.  He lived 950 years, and then he died.

Together We Follow: Genesis 4:2-16

 

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I went on my first run in about a week and a half today, easing back into my morning routine after being sick. Walking the path that I usually take around the neighborhood, I immediately noticed that some changes had come during my absence.

A thread of cool air, an unmistakable touch of autumn, was woven into the morning wind. My neighbor’s bright green grass was dotted with brown leaves. The trees standing at the edge of the woods were all green the last time I ran through — but today, they were spotted with yellow, orange, and red leaves.

The changing leaves have far from taken over – it was, probably, a subtle shift — but one that I noticed because I have been looking at these trees and these yards all summer long. Because I’ve been paying attention all along, I saw the signs of an approaching fall.

There’s a lot that can be taken from today’s reading, but it’s a simple message to my heart today.

God knew Cain. He had always known him. He could see his heart. He knew every motivation, every intention, every feeling. He knew what Cain’s heart had been created to be…and so He could see the signs of change. Maybe He saw jealousy marring the surface of Cain’s soul, bitterness beginning to grow. Perhaps it was anger or insecurity drying out Cain’s joy, his peace. However it looked — God knew Cain, and so He recognized when he was struggling…and He wanted to help him. He wanted an abundant and free life for him. So He gave this first son of Adam a warning and an encouragement.

But Cain didn’t listen.  Instead of subduing sin, he stretched out his hands and let the enemy take control of him, binding him with anger and violence.

 

And I wonder — how many times have I dismissed or ignored the voice of the Holy Spirit? How many times have I not given Him space and time to speak to me? How many times do I choose my own voice…or the voice of someone else…or, worst of all, the voice of the enemy?

Let us see the simple facts here — God knows us. He knows our hearts, what they can be in Him…and He sees every subtle shift, every little change in us as we live.

When He speaks to us — if it is warning, if it is encourage us, if it is to tell us our next step — oh, I pray that we will put aside our pride, our fear, our wish to control, our busy-ness, our anger  (whatever it may be!) to listen. He knows what we need — He knows when it is His living water that we require, His pruning hand, or His gentle healing. He knows when we need discipline. He knows how to help us defeat the schemes of the enemy. He knows when we need comfort. He is our Creator and our Father–His intentions for us are good.

He wants to help us.

We decide whether or not we will let Him.

Lord, soften our hearts. Open our ears. Help us to know Your voice…help us to know when it is You speaking to us. Let us be aware of Your presence and actively listening for Your words. You KNOW us — and You know exactly what we need. We are like Cain – we are marked by Your mercy, Lord. When our just end could have been death, You gave us life. We know that You broke the bondage of sin for us — and it isn’t our past sins that define us, but Your sacrifice. Help us to LIVE in that victory. Help us to remember that we are more than conquerors through Your love – we are no longer slaves to sin, to fear, to shame. Teach us to hear every word that You speak — and to not just hear, but obey, growing to be ever more like You. 

 Genesis 4:2b-16

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground.

When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

 

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

 

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”

The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him.

So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

 

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 3

 Genesis 3

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.

Satan, as we read yesterday, wanted his own glory. He wanted his own authority. He was on earth, exiled from heaven, because of his pride and rebellion…his relationship with God had been destroyed by his own actions.

And he was not content to leave things as they were in the Garden of Eden. He was out to gain power over God’s creation. He was out to destroy the relationship between God and man.

After all, why should they hold onto what he could no longer have?

So he approached Eve – not in his own form, which would have most likely sent her running before he could say a word – but in the skin of a snake, a familiar creature to her. Adam and Eve had dominion over the animals…there was no creature that was a threat to them. It was part of their garden-tending duties to look out for all of God’s creation…and in his shrewd decision-making, satan knew that Eve would be comfortable around an animal.

He didn’t start the conversation with a dramatic speech, he didn’t begin with a condemnation of God’s character…he just asked a simple question, using a partial truth. And Eve entertained his thoughts. She considered his words. She didn’t throw down the idea of disobedience as soon as it came to her – instead she held it, looked at it, kept it.

I’m sure that there are many perspectives on this moment of time, but for me this interaction boils down to a few facts  – Eve listened to the voice of the snake. She chose to trust in the enemy instead of trusting in God. And, in the end, she doubted God’s intentions for her. She doubted His goodness and she doubted that what He had already given was enough for her.

So she took the fruit and she ate it, believing that God was holding something back from her…believing that there was more for her…believing that she needed to be more than she already was.

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At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.

 Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

“Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

 Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Instead of becoming more – instead of feeling like God Himself – Adam and Eve felt less. They lost their secure footing with each other, with God. Their disobedience took their innocence and left them with guilt, with shame. God had once looked at them and declared that they were ‘very good’ — but they no longer felt that this was true. They immediately felt the need to cover up, to shield everything that was bare and vulnerable.

Do you think that the cool of the evening, when it seems the Lord would come walk with Adam and Eve, had been their favorite time of day? Do you think that, for the man and woman, the beauty of the garden paled in comparison to the glory of its Maker? Do you think that they would run to Him, eager for His smile and His presence?

I do. I believe that their hearts longed for the time spent walking and talking with Him. I believe they would hear His footsteps and rush to their Father with arms open wide.

But not this time.

This time, they heard His footsteps and felt something entirely unfamiliar — fear. This time, they did not run freely to His side. This time, they felt anxiety churn in their bellies and they did something that had never before crossed their minds…they hid from Him.

And, oh, He already knew – but He knew the man and woman needed to acknowledge their disobedience. This question – where are you? – feels like the broken-hearted question of a parent to their child who has run away – I am still here. I want you here with me – why did you go away? Why do you hide from the One who loves you?

I was afraid, Adam said, and this was true — but it wasn’t just about the fact that they were naked. They knew that His holiness, the beautiful light that they had always longed for, would now plainly reveal what had gone wrong in their hearts.

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Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live. And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust,  and to dust you will return.” 

Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

The consequences of sin made the world a different place for Adam and Eve – the work that had only been joy and fulfillment became difficult and frustrating. The relationship between man and woman that had only been a peaceful unity became a struggle of will, discordant desires. The blessing of fruitfulness – the wonder that would come with childbirth – would now bring pain with it. The earth itself became a hardship. Death becomes a reality for Adam’s future.

And yet…YET (I like this yet!)…God was still there. He did not abandon them because of their disobedience. His love did not cease with their sin. In His light, their wrong was clearly seen — but it was there, in that honest moment, that He could begin to heal their brokenness.

They’d tried to cover their shame. With their own hands, they’d tried to fix the problem they’d created…but the fig leaves were inadequate. Their solution was not good enough to cover the effects of their sin…

but God didn’t leave them there, insufficiently clothed and exposed to the new threats of the world.

Instead, He took the skins of an animal and clothed them. In His compassion for them, a sacrifice was made. He replaced their obvious shame with His mercy.

 Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!”  So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Yes, sin had come into the world and ended life as they knew it. But the sin was not stronger than God’s sovereignty or His love…so the story of mankind does not end here. The Author and Finisher of our faith had more in store for us than Adam and Eve could ever have imagined. Promises have now been made and groundwork has been laid for our future.

The serpent – satan himself – is assured that Eve’s offspring will one day crush him. A sacrifice – the first, but certainly not the last – is made to cover the sin of man. We see the Tree of Life hidden from mankind, even as God is already setting the course for another way to give His people the gift of eternal life with Him.

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