Christianity 201

June 13, 2022

Fashioning Weapons into Agricultural Tools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have another new author to introduce to you, although he has been writing online for a long time. Chuck Larsen is a U.S. pastor, and we discovered him when looking at search results for the phrase “they will beat their swords into ploughshares.” It seemed like a timely search in view of the grassroots desire for gun reform in that country, and I couldn’t help but think of social activist Shane Claiborne, who literally takes guns and fashions them into garden tools.

Chuck’s articles are shorter than some we run here, so there is also a bonus devotional for you as well. Clicking the headers (titles) below will take you to where they first appeared. The first is from 2011, the second is from last week and is part of a series in Genesis. If you’re reading this June 2022, simply visit the blog and read through.

Beat Their Swords Into Ploughshares

God has not only given us His absolute truth to guide our life by, but also has promised us a king who will one day apply that truth across the board for all mankind. This King and judge of all will be recognized by the entire world. He will come! He will establish His Kingdom and we will finally have peace. Micah 4:3-4 is a famous passage. Every soldier that’s ever walked a rice patty or stormed a beach, or pointed a rifle, or pushed a button longs for the fulfillment of this passage. Every mother who lost a son, every wife, every child whose husband or father didn’t return from battle gets goose bumps when they read this.

It says,

“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”

This passage is also found in Isaiah Chapter two. It is inscribed on a stone wall facing the United Nations building in New York. Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa: The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.

Micah 5:2-4 is another famous passage. We often sing about it at Christmas time. It tells us about the Prince of Peace who will end war for all time.

It says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The next time I sing, “O little town of Bethlehem,” I’ll sing it with more meaning. “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

Chuck

“…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Dust Thou Art!

In Genesis 2:7 we see more detail in God’s creation of our first ancestors. It says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Picking up on what Wenham said in his commentary that I quoted earlier, he adds to his comments on verses 5 and 6 and says more, “The writer flashes back to the situation before mankind was created on the sixth day (1:26–28) and describes a typical middle-eastern desert, which requires human effort to irrigate and make it bloom. It was from the clay of such an area that God, the great Potter, moulded the first man and breathed into him the breath of life. Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.”[1]

Referring to the material aspect of man, “clay” or “earth” or more often “the ground,” Adam, the man, and Adamah the ground have an intimate relationship. Mangun says, “The word for man is adam, while ground is adamah, so the verse says that God formed adam from the dust of adamah.”[2] He then points out that other commentators insist that both Akkadian and Egyptian texts depict God forming man from clay like a potter. This is a familiar comparison in the Bible as well. One commentator even argues that this relationship is intentional. “God forming man here is intentionally evoking the image of a potter and clay.” Then he points out “The Hebrew word used three times in Gen 2 for ‘formed’ is the same word that describes the potter and his activity in Isa 29:16.”[3]

I love that verse. The English Standard Version follows the traditional translation and says, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’”? I like the New Living Translation better. It says, “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’’?

It was a common practice for man, in repenting, to cover themselves with dust and ashes. I think the “dust” was symbolic of the acknowledgement of being the clay who has not right to question the potter. It took Job 40 chapters to wrestle with why bad things happen in the world to good people. After he and his friends exhausted all their puny ideas, God confronts them with questions they cannot answer. Job finally gets the point in Job 42:2-6 and says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak.” Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are but dust.


[1] Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. “Genesis.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 62. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

May 21, 2022

A Part of the Genesis Story I’d Missed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The early chapters of Genesis are so foundational, it’s hard for me to believe that as early as chapter four, there’s a scene I had skipped over; that is, until today when our guest writer brought it to my attention.

NLT.Gen.4.14 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!”

15 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.

NLT.Gen.4.23 One day Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me,
a young man who wounded me.

24 If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”

Today we’re introducing you to a writer who goes by Swaying Leaf who blogs at Reflections: Life, Death, Living and Dying. Clicking the header which follows will take you to where this devotional first appeared.

Revenge and Hurt in Genesis

I am reading in Genesis 4:23-24. Then Lamech (who is the great great great great grandson) of Cain said to his wives: “Adam and Zillow (he had 2 wives), hear my voice; wives of Lamech, listens to my speech! (he really wants to be heard).
For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged seven fold, then Lamech seventy-seven fold.

This is interesting because when we look at the origin of the seven fold, it started in Genesis 4:14-15. Cain was being cast out as a fugitive, and he was afraid that people will kill him and he told the Lord about it. The Lord, despite Cain’s murder of his brother promised him it will not happen in verse 15: And the Lord said to him (Cain), Therefore, whoever kills Cain, Vengeance shall be taken on him seven fold. And the Lord set a mark on Cain lest anyone finding him shall kill him.

There are many things in this chapter which I don’t fully understand. As far as I knew, there was only Cain and Abel at that time. Why then did Cain fear people wound kill him. Also, how did he build a city with so little people. These thoughts aside, something stood out clearly. The beginning of vengeance and hurt, and the difference between Man and God.

Remember that Cain murdered Abel and God punished Cain by casting him out. But God in his mercy and kindness and love (this was before the 10 commandments), did not kill Cain. Not only did he not kill Cain, he protected Cain with a mark to prevent others from Killing him.

Cain then dwelled (I assume without the presences of the Lord) and this went on for 5 generations till it reaches Lamech. And what happens after five generations without the Lord. Lamech took the one promise of protection from the Lord, and made it into a vengeful practice of pay back. Lamech admitted to killing someone who wounded him and killing a young man who hurt him. I would assume that hurt is less severe than wounded, or may be non physical). But either way, he killed the people who hurt him. This is how the world have developed: Kill the one who hurt you. Not only that, he took upon God’s word and added it into his own commandment that he shall be avenged seventy-seven fold.

In both Cain and Lamech, they both feared for their lives. Cain killed his brother out of fear of losing favor with God and begged God to protect him. Lamech killed the others for hurting him and commandment his wife’s to avenge him if he is killed. Cain didn’t want to die, Lamech wasn’t as concern about dying as he is about revenge.

This reminds us that when we start losing intimacy with the love and kindness of God, we can turn into very harsh people looking to ‘kill anyone who hurts’. This does not have to be actual physical killing. This includes killing people by demanding that they be perfect, punishing them with words or deeds, not in order to love them to change, but in order that they learn thru pain.

Be careful too because all these can be done using God’s words as well. As you can tell from Lamech, it is easy to take parts of God’s words and justify our harshness on others (and ourselves). But God is not such a God, God is a God who loves, who yearns to be close and who changes people thru Grace. There will be natural laws of consequences when we do wrong, but God is not one who is vengeful and hurt you more and kill you if hurt.

Let us remind ourselves the next time someone hurts us, hold back the fleshy desire to kill them or hurt them more. Let God instead heal your wound, soothe your hurt and protect you. He loves you. You are wanted. You are loved, even when you are hurt, even if you have hurt others. I am wanted, I am loved, Even when I am hurt, even when I have hurt others.

 

 

May 1, 2022

Sin is Waiting for You

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Rebecca Brand is from New Zealand and has blogged for years at RebeccaBrand.org, in addition to speaking nationally and internationally and writing the book, Life’s Greatest Battles. Last year when we shared her writing here, we presented two different blog posts. The one today is connected to three different ones from Genesis (and a larger series from Genesis) which I’m going to link first this time. To read today’s click the large header which follows below.

Preceding articles:

Is Sin Crouching?

Watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. – Gen. 4:7

Our Motives

Yesterday, we talked through how Cain and Abel knew how they were to worship the Father and that ultimately, in our fallen state, God still wants a relationship with us

I also mentioned that the Bible does not say why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, but perhaps it was Cain’s attitude or perhaps his offering wasn’t what God desired from him

If we think of Proverbs 21:27, it says:

The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable / how much more so when brought with evil intent

God always sees our motives and why we offer what we do to Him. This is because He sees our hearts behind everything, and when we give to God and others, we should not worry about how much we need to give up, but instead, joyfully give to God our best in things like time, money, possessions, and talents

How Do We React?

When someone suggests that we have done something wrong, how do we react?

Do we correct the mistake or deny that we need to correct anything?

After Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, God gave Him the chance to right His wrong and try again – God even went one step further and encouraged him to do this! Yet, Cain refused, and the rest of his life is a startling example of what happens to those of us who refuse to admit their mistakes

Friends, the next time someone suggests that we are wrong (especially when it is God) take an honest look at yourself and choose God’s way instead of what Cain did!

Giving Up Footholds

How incredible was it that God tried to make Cain see sense before he not only became the first human to be born but then the one to commit murder?

For Cain to master the sin that was lurking, he would have to give up his jealous anger so that sin would not have had a foothold in his life

Just like Cain, sin is lurking, and we become victims of it if we do not master it. Of course, sin cannot be conquered by our own strength, and therefore, let us turn to God to receive faith for not only ourselves but the faith and strength from others to help support us

Sin is a lifelong battle, but by walking with the Holy Spirit daily, this daily battle will not be over until Christ returns, and so, even though we might not win every battle in our lives, when we are face-to-face with Christ, He will show us exactly how He won the victory

“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.”

Genesis 4:4-7


Second Helping:

This is unrelated, but something I heard in a sermon this morning that seems timely.

“When God wants to sort out the world, as the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount make clear, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the broken, the justice hungry, the peacemakers, the pure-hearted and so on.”
~ NT Wright

March 14, 2022

God Saw That It Was Good; Very Good

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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We’re back again at Practical Theology Today with writer Curt Hinkle, who reminds us that “A theology that doesn’t play out in one’s everyday life is impractical, or of no real use.” You’re especially encouraged to click through today (on the header which immediately follows) to see some pictures which enhance the devotional.

Tov Meod

Growing up on a farm, we had a dairy herd with a mix of registered and non-registered Holstein cows. My dad was on the cutting edge of dairy husbandry, locally and nationally. He served on the local Holstein Association and on local and national levels of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association. I might have mentioned elsewhere that we received monthly computer printouts showing production, cost analysis, and mature potential for each cow, dating back to the mid-1960s.

The Holstein Association provides a classification system similar to academic grading. The herd owner pays a significant fee to have a “classifier” come to the farm to grade each registered cow. Even though a well-developed rubric is used, the process is a bit subjective. The classification categories are Excellent, Very Good, Good, and Fair. Excellent and Very Good classifications garner national attention, leading to a greater value of the cow, beyond just her production history. I noticed on the Holstein Ass’n website that there is a national “honor roll” of cows receiving one of these two classifications, as can be seen here. It’s a big deal! And we are only talking about cows.

Ever wonder how human value is classified/determined? Historically, we have created classification systems that separate out royalty, aristocracy, common people, serfdom, etc. (think Downton Abby). What about God? How does he classify humanity in the grand scheme of things?

Looking at the creation narrative (Genesis 1) we can see that at the completion of each of his creative activities, God saw that it was good (cf 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21). The Hebrew word for “good” is tov. God looked at his creation, calling it tov. We love God’s tov creation, which is one reason we so enjoy nature and national parks so much.

I love looking at images from the Hubble telescope. The Hubble was designed to peer deep into space, into this massive universe that God created. Here are a few fun images…

Scientists estimate the Milky Way — our galaxy — to be 100,000 light-years in diameter and 20,000 light-years thick (keep in mind that a light-year is approximately 6 trillion miles), consisting of a couple billion stars. And there are several billion such galaxies in this universe that God saw as good, tov.

Looking further into the Genesis 1 creation story, we find the description of the creation of humanity…

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Right now I don’t want to focus on the “in our image” portion – that’s a whole other conversation. What’s of importance here is the fact that the narrative repeated three times that God created humans. Something to know about Hebrew poetry: Anything stated is worthy of our attention. If stated twice, then more so. However, anything repeated three times is exponentially more important. We should lean in and take heed. Repeated three times is an indicator that the creation of humans far outweighs the creation of the rest of the universe, as beautiful and grand as it is. We are of great value!

After the completion of humanity, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Very good in Hebrew is tov meod. Only after the creation of humanity did God describe his creation project as very good, tov meod. Apparently, as the pinnacle of his creation, we are exponentially more valuable to God than the rest of creation. Or as someone reminded me 40 years ago…

As a creation of God’s, my worth is a given. There’s nothing I can do to gain more worth or to lose my worth – tov meod news!

September 27, 2021

Deeper Meaning in Being “Created from Dust”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have a new author to introduce to you, with the added bonus of a link to an audio podcast reading of today’s study. Beth Madison describers herself as “Christ-follower, wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, friend, learner, soil scientist, author, teacher, professor, and one who holds hard to Jesus and the promises of His Word given to us.” The reference to “soil scientist” is relevant to today’s article, as is the name of her blog, Soul Scientist.

Clicking the header which follows will take you directly to today’s article on her site.

Dusty

Genesis 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature

podcast link: https://anchor.fm/beth-madison/episodes/Dusty-e17aqcr

I learned today that the term, living creature, has much more to it in the original Hebrew than we see today in English. Such thoughts as that the Hebrews didn’t separate the physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional parts of a person into separate categories. All were one working as one in making up that man of dust formed from the ground.

As a Christian and as a soil scientist, that opens up whole new worlds of thought that I’m just beginning to explore…please stay tuned for more to come on this in the future…please like or comment on this post if you’re interested in knowing more. With these thoughts rolling around in my head and heart, I’m now seeing even more beauty, richness, and wonder in the soil under my feet. Sharing even a taste of that beauty with you is the main purpose of this blog…thank you so much for joining me in this journey. Trips are always better taken with friends! So if you know anyone else who might want to travel with us, please invite them along…

And while we’re talking and walking, let’s go down the road a bit with these thoughts…

Since much of our culture in the Western world is disconnected from agronomy, many don’t have a direct link to soil like Adam did. Less than three percent of the U.S. population is actively involved in agriculture while an alarmingly large of amount of our school-aged children (and daresay, adults) have no idea of where their food comes from before it is on their plates. Keeping this in mind, even if we might not consciously realize it, we could be yearning to connect with that from which we came.

Therefore, I propose that we yearn for intimacy with that from which we were created, like Adam could’ve known after Eden. Could that yearning be a call to greater intimacy with creation as a means of worshipping our Creator? Could that yearning be a call to making daily deliberate choices to make space for knowing more of our Creator and His creation? Could that yearning be a call to more intentional creation care in our daily lives as an offering to our Creator?

If so, when we begin to reconnect with the natural world in pursuit of following God in the daily choices of spiritual disciplines emphasizing intimacy with Him and His creation, we can find joy. This joy can then spur us onwards to greater affection for our God, His creation, and the beauty of both. And as we unearth this beauty, we move closer in communion with Christ and embracing our role as caretakers of all of God’s creation, including the world underneath our feet.

Psalm 103:14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

Dear Father,

Thank You that You remember that I am dust. Thank You that You want me to remember this too, especially on days like today when my dust is bone-dry and in need of Your refreshing. Please keep reminding me that You do restore and rebuild from dust that which I thought was lost.

In the strong Name of Jesus,

Amen.

©2021 Beth Madison, Ph.D. – used by permission

 

July 14, 2021

God Had a Plan in Mind

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our fourth time at Inspire a Fire, but the first time since 2017. They feature a variety of writers and focus on topical devotionals. The writer today is Norma Gail. She is an award winning fiction author, and Bible study leader. Click the header which follows to read this at Inspire a Fire.

Broken Relationships and God’s Plans

Broken relationships hurt. The search for answers feels like grasping at fog. As years pass and circumstances fail to change, the hope of reconciliation fades. God alone can heal a family, but His methods are often different than we would choose.

Joseph Suffered at His Jealous Brothers’ Hands

One of the Bible’s most powerful characters, Joseph, offers a glimpse at how a hopeless family situation was healed. Attacked by jealous older brothers and thrown into a dry cistern, they plotted to kill him. His questions must have circled like vultures, sharp beaks pecking away, leaving painful wounds that pierced his heart. Our most difficult dilemmas and deepest wounds come from those who possess the greatest power to hurt, those we love.

Judah saved Joseph from death but could do nothing to prevent the others from selling him into slavery. What agony he must have experienced as each day carried him further from his life as a favored son. In a foreign land with a strange language and customs, he was tempted and tried, forgotten, and neglected, then suddenly elevated to a position of prominence. Whenever Joseph found a measure of peace and comfort, relationships went bad again, and prison resulted.

Joseph Chose Faithfulness, Not Bitterness

Rather than wallowing in bitterness, Joseph chose to walk closely to the Lord. Scripture repeats the phrases,

“The Lord was with Joseph,” “the Lord gave him success,”

and his masters recognized something special in him. Joseph prospered through faithfulness, despite his circumstances. He was willing to serve others, though he possessed nothing of his former position.

Wherever he went, Joseph honored God in humiliation as he did in prosperity. Whatever his task, he worked as if serving the Lord, and God was faithful in return.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

Joseph’s attitude brought blessing to those around him.

God, Not Man, Controls Our Circumstances

My hurt and anger blind me to the blessings that could result if I trusted God and waited on Him. No one enjoys disrespect, lies, and mistreatment, but seeking to right the wrongs on my own is doomed to fail. God’s time and method are essential.

God could have stopped the situation at any point, protected Joseph from his brothers, and punished their hatred, but He didn’t. My most difficult circumstances grow and mature me if I seek Him. He will change hearts and minds if I trust, pray, and wait for His timing.

When Joseph met his brothers many years later, he forgave. He refused to retaliate in anger. Lord, help me learn the lesson of Joseph and extend grace when relationships go bad. Enable me to say as he did,

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).

[B]less those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28

God heals hurts. The brother’s hearts had changed over the years as they saw the pain their actions brought to their father. What we see as unchangeable is not so to God.

January 25, 2021

The Tree of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Ron McKenzie‘s website Blessed Economist is somewhat unique as he writes from a perspective intersecting the worlds of politics and economics, and the worlds of scripture and faith. He is the author of at least seven books, has another teaching blog Kingdom Watcher (KW), and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. We shared an article by him here in June, 2014 and then I’m not sure what happened after that! Earlier today I reconnected with his online work. May I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows and read this article, which appeared just two days ago, at his site.

Thoughts on the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life was at the centre of the garden of Eden. God was present in the garden. The God Yahweh caused to grow trees that would give humans everything that they needed for life. The Tree of Life was in the middle of the garden because it was the source of wisdom for life. Humans had access to this tree as long as they lived by the wisdom of God.

According to Proverbs, the tree of life is the wisdom of God (Prov 13:12; Prov 11:30).

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her (Prov 3:18).

The tree of life is the centre of the garden, because it was the source of the wisdom of God for life.

Adam and Eve had a choice between two trees. They could choose between knowing good and evil (human wisdom) and wisdom for life (God’s wisdom). Prior to the fall, they had access to the tree of life, ie God’s wisdom. They could hear God speak whenever they listened to him.

Adam and Eve chose to be autonomous and have their own wisdom, rather than continuing to rely on the wisdom of God. Once they chose to rely on their own wisdom, they unwittingly placed themselves under the control of the spiritual powers of evil. This blocked their access to the wisdom of God, because their shame prevented them from staying close to God.

God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, so they would experience the consequence of their choice. It would be in this world, that God would eventually rescue them (see God’s Big Strategy).

Humans were already mortal, before they fell from blessing, but they were able to live long lives (up to a thousand years). They gave them immense opportunity to advance themselves.

When God expressed concern that humans would reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever, the Hebrew word can mean forever, but it can also mean for the full extent of an age/season. God was not concerned about them having eternal life. Rather, he was saying that without his presence and wisdom, they would not be able to live their full lifespan. The consequence of living in a hostile world, vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil would significantly shorten term their lives.

That is what happened. Since then most humans have lived less than one hundred years.

Restoration of the Tree of Life
According to the book of Revelation, the tree of life was not destroyed when the Garden of Eden was lost. It was transferred into Paradise.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7).

I presume that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was not the original one. It would have been a copy of the true tree of life in the spiritual realms. Paradise is the place where the people of God live while waiting for the Parousia. The tree of life is waiting there ready for people who put their trust in Jesus. We will have full access to this tree when the spiritual realms are fully opened to us following the parousia of Jesus.

To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life (Rev 21:6).

In the final vision of Revelation, the source of life is a river flowing from the throne of God.

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the peoples. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him (Rev 3:1-3).

In this vision, the tree of life draws from the river of life and provides healing for the people of the nations. God will be present with his people, so pain and sickness will disappear.

 

 

October 29, 2020

The Exceptionally Long Lifespan of Early Biblical People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Gen.5.3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.

When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. After he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. 10 After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. 11 Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.


NIV.Gen.6.3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

 

This week Clarke Dixon’s church had a time of testimony with different people sharing their spiritual journey. Some of these people I knew somewhat superficially, but I was so encouraged to hear more of their story.

This week’s post from Clarke appeared on his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon eight years ago this month. Click the title below to read at source.

Genesis 5 and The Short Life of a Cricket

by Clarke Dixon

Having recently closed the pool I have lost one of my morning rituals; a rescue operation for crickets and beetles. Most bugs that find their way into the pool drown fairly quickly, just like the mice, chipmunk, and a skunk that went for a swim this year. Beetles and crickets seemed to be able to keep their heads above water, so in the mornings I would skim off the dead bugs (and the occasional animal), and rescue the living. The beetles were numerous and began to get annoying, and at one point I considered spray painting them to see if the same ones kept coming back for a swim each night.

The crickets however, were even more annoying. They would cling to the side of the pool so I would try to splash them off making it possible for me to pick them up in the skimmer and bring them to safety. Problem is, they were tenacious and held onto the side for dear life, then when I did finally get them into the water, then into the skimmer, no sooner would I get them out of the water that they would leap right back in. This would then often result in my scolding them for their foolishness, and no doubt my neighbours wondering if I was losing my mind. I was trying to lengthen the crickets’ lives, they seemed intent on shortening them.

This reminds me of Genesis 5 where we find some people with incredibly long lives, some reaching nearly 1,000 years. Some people get to this point in the Bible and wonder if the Bible isn’t on the level of fairy tales after all. People just don’t live that long and we have trouble imagining that they ever did. A perusal of Bible scholars will yield four possibilities as to why we find these incredibly long lives in Genesis:

1) Several generations are ‘hidden’ within each person listed, the ancients not being as set on historical details as we are today.
2) There was a different way of counting time back then.
3) The ages are a literary embellishments which allow the lesson in theology to trump a lesson in history.
4) They really did live that long.

No matter which option is closest to what you think, we can remember that the book of Genesis exists primarily to teach us theology, that is, it tells us what it tells us to help us know God better. So what do we learn from these long lives? That life is short, of course!

In the Bible, and especially in the early parts, we find a whittling down of life. Adam and Eve were to live forever, but that didn’t work out so well. Then we find these very early people not even making it to a thousand years. It is thought that Moses, who it is also thought to have had a hand in recording Genesis in some way,  wrote these lines:

You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”  For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.  You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3-6 NIV)

We think of these people as living extraordinarily long lives. But from the perspective of the eternal life God wanted to give them,  they didn’t live long at all. It is interesting that in other records from Ancient Near East, there are “kings lists” which record the reign of ten kings, some of whom were said to have reigned for over 60,000 years. If the people who were alive when Genesis was committed to writing were aware of such things in nearby cultures, the Biblical account would have had the affect of reminding them of how short life really was.

Then beyond Genesis 5, we find the average lifespan being whittled down until we get to Joseph who lived for 110 years, as we are told in the final verse of Genesis. Beyond that we get to the time of Moses, again an important time in the bringing forth of the book of Genesis, and the declaration that  “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10

The point of the whittling down of lifespans, from Eve and Adam, through the early generations, down through the rest of Genesis and into the days of Moses, is clear. We are like crickets that refuse to be saved. God’s desire has always been to bless us with life, but we have turned away from His blessings and have chosen death instead. People still do this today. Just like we have a moving away from  the garden of Eden, first with Adam and Eve in chapter 3, then even further with Cain in chapter 4, in Genesis we have a moving away from the blessing of life and the hastening of death, as chapter 5 helps make clear. Besides the ages these early generations, the repetition of their deaths sounds an ominous reminder of the curse of sin. And for the Christian, it serves as a reminder of the depth of God’s grace and His desire to bless us with life:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. . . “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:22,55-57 NIV)

October 27, 2020

What Motivates You Not To Sin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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“We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.” – Jerry Bridges


Yesterday I was scrolling through blog posts here from 2011 and came across the name Clay Gentry whose writing was highlighted three times in total. It was nice to go back to his blog and find it still active; find him still writing. His blog at claygentry.com is called Sharing the Good News of the Lord.

Click the header below to read this online, including contact information there for Clay if you want to reach out to him.

The #1 Reason Not To Sin

What motivates you to not give into temptation? Now, I realize, depending on the situation several different reasons might be cited. For example, an unhappily-married couple facing the temptation of divorce might stay together for the sake of the kids. Or, an employee may not steal because he or she is afraid of getting caught. Or, a teenage couple may abstain from sex because of the fear of pregnancy. These reasons are all well and good, however, there is one fatal flaw they all share… the motivation for not sinning is temporal in nature.

When the kids get older or leave for college, the marriage ends. When the employee figures out how not to get caught, he or she steals. When the teenagers no longer fear pregnancy, they will have sex. In essence, so long as our reasons for not sinning are solely based on our ever-changing circumstances, we will eventually yield to temptation and thus sin.

However, there is another approach to overcoming temptations; a motivation that will keep us from sinning. What is this reason you ask, well consider with me the example of young Joseph from Genesis 39:6b-10. In this reading, we find Joseph as a slave in the house of an Egyptian named Potiphar. But trouble is at hand in the form of Potiphar’s wife.

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Come sleep with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to go to bed with her.” (Genesis 39:6-10 ESV)

Did you notice what motivated Joseph to resist what must have been an intense time of temptation? It was not merely his position or the kindness of his master; but more importantly, it was his relationship with God. Read it again, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” For Joseph, his relationship with God was the #1 reason not to sin. He would do nothing to compromise that relationship.

Consequently, if we want to overcome temptation then we have to see our relationship with our Heavenly Father as the #1 reason not to sin. He has saved us and thus calls for us as His children to live lives of holiness before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). Therefore, may our prayer echo that of the Psalmist, “[Lord] may [we] store up Your words in [our] heart, that [we] might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).


The quotation from Jerry Bridges appeared most recently in this June, 2019 article here, Sinning Against Another, Against Yourself, Against God.


The last time Clay Gentry appeared here was in a 2014 piece on the danger of over-contextualizing which we were only able to use in part. The article is still online; check out The Contextual Meaning of Romans 15:4.

August 29, 2020

The Perplexing Problem of Cain’s Sacrfice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are several views on today’s subject, but this one does a great job of presenting what I would call the “blood” argument with respect to Cain’s agricultural sacrifice.

Today’s thoughts are from Josh Spaulding who writes most of the articles at EternalAnswers.org an online ministry which serves to provide sound, Biblical answers to many of life’s biggest questions. Josh is pastor of Bible Baptist Mission in Washington, Indiana. and author of, “The Reality of Saving Faith.” Their objective at Eternal Answers is that the gospel message is embedded in each article they write.

Josh chose today’s article to share with you, and remember you can click the header which follows to read this — and then browse other articles — at his site.

Alternatively, today’s thoughts in much greater detail are also available as a six-minute video.

Why Wasn’t God Happy with Cain’s Offering?

In the book of Genesis we read the story of Cain and Abel (two of Adam and Eve’s sons). The first thing that we read about them is in regard to their offerings to the LORD.

Genesis 4:3 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.”

So there is clearly something about Abel’s offering that pleased God, and something about Cain’s offering that did not please God. In order to figure this out, we must turn to God’s Word. There are four very important things we must understand in order to interpret this passage correctly.

1: We must understand that all descendants of Adam are sinners (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12). And since Cain and Abel (just like you and me) were descendants of Adam, they fell into that group.

2: We must understand that God is Righteous (Psalm 7:9, Psalm 145:17). He is also Loving and Forgiving (1 John 1:9), but He never lays one attribute aside as He picks up another. He is always righteous. He is never unrighteous.

3: We must understand that the punishment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). This “death” is defined as separation from God. Yes, eventually physical death is also a result, but the eternal separation from God is the worst part of it. This is why the LORD said to Abel in Genesis 4:7 “…and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

4: We must understand that “without shedding of blood is no remission [forgiveness of sin]” (Hebrews 9:22).

Once we understand the four points above, we see why God has put such an emphasis on blood and sacrifice throughout the entire Bible. In order to have fellowship with our Holy God … in order to approach Him … in order to enjoy His favor … in order to be justified … in order to LIVE there must be blood sacrificed.

Although the blood of animals did not take away the sin of men, they pointed to the One who could (and did), the Lord Jesus Christ! And they stood as a reminder for the absolute necessity of a Perfect Substitute (Hebrews 10:1-4).

God has required blood from the beginning. In the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) we read how God shed the first blood for Adam and Eve, when he made coats of skins and clothed them. Those coats of skins were the first picture of how the Lord Jesus, as the Lamb of God, should die for sin, that we might be clothed with the righteousness of God in Him (Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 132:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Throughout the history of man, we read of God’s people shedding blood to temporarily atone for their sin. But without the eternal atonement that the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross, those animal sacrifices would have been meaningless. His blood ETERNALLY atoned for the sins of all who put their faith in Him!

Hebrews 9:12Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

So why was the LORD pleased with Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s?

Because blood was shed with Abel’s. But no blood was shed with Cain’s. And on top of that, Cain’s offering came from the cursed ground (Genesis 3:17)!

This passage is a clear message that our own works, done as an attempt to justify ourselves, are worthless to our Holy God. Cain worked HARD to prepare his offering. He prepared the seeds. He tilled the ground. He sowed the seeds. He nurtured the plants. He pulled weeds. Finally, he harvested the fruit. Then he gathered it all and brought it to the LORD. SURELY, God would be pleased with his good work. He worked HARD!

But it didn’t please God at all. Cain was relying on his own good works to please God, without the shedding of blood.

Abel realized that there was nothing he could do in order to please God. He understood that there must be blood.

There is, however, one very important thing to understand. The blood of the Perfect Lamb, the Lord Jesus, only justifies (counts righteous) those who have put their faith in Him.

Faith involves taking God at His Word (which always involves repentance of sin) and trusting alone in the finished work (the blood shed by the Perfect Lamb) that HE (not you by your works) accomplished at Calvary, on the cross (Romans 4:5, Romans 11:6, Romans 3:24-25).

Just as the blood of the paschal lamb had to be applied to the lintel and the side posts of the doors (Exodus 12:21-23), the blood of the Lord Jesus must be applied to your heart. And that can only happen by taking God at His Word and trusting alone in Jesus Christ as your Savior. (Click this link to read more about what saving faith is.)

October 4, 2018

Genesis 4: How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Clarke Dixon took a break from writing this week, but we found this 2012 article which had never been published here. This week is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada and it’s not that many weeks away in the U.S…

by Clarke Dixon

Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time to focus on family but it is especially also thought of as a time to come before God with special gratitude for the fall harvest. Being a big fan of family and food this is something I am keen on doing. I was a bit concerned, however, that Thanksgiving would interrupt the flow of our sermon series on Genesis. Not to worry, turns out that Genesis chapter 4 brings together the themes of family and a harvest offering quite nicely. However, Cain kinda threw a spanner into the works with a murder on this first ever Thanksgiving, so I decided I had better entitle this “How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving.”

So where did it all go wrong? Two brothers take the time to celebrate God’s goodness with offerings from their work; grain from Cain and a lamb from Abel. How does a seemingly good thing turn so sour? Some might blame God voicing his favor and disfavor toward the brothers. Had God just kept his thoughts to himself perhaps Abel would have lived to see a second Thanksgiving and beyond. But God didn’t keep his remarks to himself, there must have been something remarkable.

So the question becomes what is so remarkable about Cain’s offering that God had to express his displeasure? Was it that God prefers animal sacrifice to grain offerings? Was it that blood needed to be spilled for it to be a true offering? Was Cain’s offering not up to snuff in being of lesser value, being either not of sufficient amount or of quality? Each of these possibilities have been suggested, but I think the passage speaks to the what the problem is, it lets us in on what God found remarkable.

Let’s look at the passage and I’ll ask you to focus in on the character of Cain for a moment;

3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  7 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.”

8 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.  9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”  13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:3-14 NIV)

So what can we say about Cain? He has anger issues (verse 4), he does not listen or heed instruction (as given in verse 7), He is deceitful (verse 8), He is violent to the point of murder (verse 8), he is apathetic to the concerns of another, especially one he should take responsibility for (verse 9), he is snarky towards One who commands respect (verse 9), and finally he is self-centered in showing no remorse but only concern for his own future (verse 13). In short, his character is just plain pathetic. We might be tempted to assume that the brothers were alike until Cain’s anger was aroused, but we should think rather of Cain’s actions as being rooted in the kind of man he had become.

The problem is not with Cain’s offering, the problem is with Cain. Notice that God does not just look at the offering the brothers are bringing, he looks at the brothers also: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Genesis 4:4b-5a NIV my italics). If Adam and Eve sinned by trying too hard to be like God, then Cain sinned by not trying hard enough. God is love, Cain is filled with hatred. God is gracious, Cain is selfish. God serves, Cain is self-serving. God is honest, Cain is a liar. Though created in the image of the Creator, Cain fails to live up to that image in any way.

What a contrast Cain is to Jesus. The offering at the cross goes far beyond what any other offering ever could. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV). But more than the perfect and supreme offering, Jesus is the one who bears the image of God like no one else. “This is my Son . . . with Him I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17 NIV and elsewhere). We might say that God looked upon Jesus and his offering with favor.

How does God look upon you and your offering this Thanksgiving? We’ve already seen how not to celebrate Thanksgiving; as one with a character that displeases God, a character that will lead to all kinds of behaviors that displease God and make life miserable for others at the same time. Of course we are grateful for the grace of God, and the gift of forgiveness in Christ. But that grace does not stop us from taking a good solid look at our character.

Wherever we may be in our character formation, are we moving in the right direction? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus, or more and more like Cain? I trust that you and I are moving in the right direction with the power of the Holy Spirit. And for that opportunity there can be much thanksgiving.

To be forgiven, and to be growing in Christian maturity, now that’s a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

August 24, 2018

Striving With God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”

But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”

27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”

It’s time for another visit at one of the most interesting websites we’ll ever feature here: Chocolate Book with writer Jackson Ferrell. Each day brings a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day (seriously!) and Jackson and his readers are currently in the Book of Genesis. Some of it’s a bit subjective, but it’s clear he’s interacted with this passage before. Don’t read this here! Click the title below:

Genesis 32 – Grappling With God

Today’s PassageGenesis 32

Take your time machine back to late 2003, track me down on the campus of St. John’s College, and ask me who my favorite Bible character is, and I’ll tell you it’s Jacob. Why, you ask? My sophomore self tells you that it’s because God uses him in spite of his faults. In a book of hot messes, Jacob’s debatably the hot-messiest. But God gives him the name “Israel,” makes him the literal namesake of an entire race, and changes him dramatically over the course of his life. Jacob grows both in humility and courage; he learns to leave behind his swindling and cheating and to face the world honestly instead. Jacob’s story is hope for schmucks.

Now, Switchfoot didn’t create my partiality toward Jacob, but they certainly helped. They released their breakout album The Beautiful Letdown in February 2003, and the closing track “24” both encapsulated much of my college experience and helped me get through it. (College was rough.) But there’s a line from that song, “I wrestled the angel / For more than a name,” which is a reference to Jacob’s experience in this chapter. Here Jacob spends a sleepless night grappling until daybreak with an unidentified man, who gives him the name “Israel.” Like Jacob’s Ladder from Genesis 28, it’s one of the events we tend to think of when we think of Jacob. And, fan of both Switchfoot and Jacob that I was, I latched onto it hard.

But frankly, the role of Jacob’s wrestling match in my life does nothing to properly contextualize it for us. We find it in the narrative as Jacob is heading home, knowing that he’ll have to face his brother, who previously wanted to kill him. He sends out messengers to let Esau know he’s coming, splits his family and possessions into two parties to increase the odds of a surviving descendant, and sends waves of gifts on ahead as repeated signs of goodwill and contrition. Jacob’s scared. He knows he’s wronged his brother. But now he’s facing it straight.

In the middle of all this, he prays a remarkable prayer. He tells God, “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant” (10). Jacob says, in effect, “I didn’t do this. You did.” He gives God the credit for his prosperity, and moreover, he admits that he and his garbage behavior have done nothing to merit it. This isn’t the same Jacob who scrambled through his early life to take what he can get. He’s growing, and he’s not done growing yet.

Then comes the part where his family crosses the river Jabbok, but Jacob ends up in a wrestling match that lasts all night.

Who is this guy that he’s grappling with? The text identifies him simply as “a man” (24), who refuses to tell Jacob his name (29). The man gives him a few parting gifts that don’t exactly shed light on the question of his identity, either. Jacob gets a blessing, a dislocated hip joint, and a new name. That name, Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל), comes from the words for “God” and “to strive,” and the man explains: “You have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (28). The NASB notes that “Israel” may be taken to mean “he who strives with God” or “God strives;” for all Jacob’s effort, perhaps we’re meant to understand that God has done all the heavy lifting by working in Jacob. And while we might possibly be looking at a pre-incarnate Christophany here, none of this means that the man was necessarily God.

I’m not sure what to say in conclusion. This is another one of those huge passages that I feel I can’t do justice, even at my best. But in a sense, I don’t need to say anything in conclusion, because the story doesn’t actually conclude here. Jacob’s meeting with Esau still looms on the horizon, and tomorrow we’ll see how that goes. If you know already, try not to spoil it for everyone else.

August 10, 2018

God Wants Us To Fan Out, Not Hunker Down

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Genesis.11.1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Six months ago we introduced you to Chicago area Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog: Current Issues from a Biblical Perspective. I read a number of his recent posts before settling on this one for today. (Note this was published mid-July.) Click the title below to read at source.

Not My Name

This week at my church is the incredible, exciting, draining, and yet fulfilling event known as Vacation Bible School. VBS has always been an extra special time around here, and last night was just the beginning of what I am sure will be a fantastic week.

Last night in the Bible lesson we talked briefly about the Tower of Babel. Do you remember that one? It’s in the 11th chapter of Genesis if you would like to read it for yourself. (You probably should.) One of the neat things that I have experienced at just about every VBS that I have ever been a part of is that the truth shared is just as relevant for adults as it is for the kids.

Anyway, back to the Tower of Babel. Actually, the story is more about the people than the actual tower. You see, God has told mankind twice now in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28, 9:1) It’s important for us to understand that God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth is about much more than just simply having babies. It is about obedience to God and making His name great.

The problem with the people of Babel? They chose not to obey God. The settled down instead of spreading across and filling the whole earth, and they tried to make themselves famous instead of God.

The ancient people ignored God’s instructions, clustered together, and tried to make themselves great.

Sadly, not much has changed.

People now, just like people then, have a tendency to ignore God’s clear instructions, cluster together in alike tribes, and make themselves great-often at the expense of others.

So, what do we, who have put our trust in Jesus, do about this? Or how should we respond?

We first start by looking in the mirror.

God’s Old Testament command is echoed in the New Testament when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) God told Adam and Eve to reproduce in order to produce children who would know, obey, and love God. God now tells us to produce disciples who know, obey, and love Jesus.

But the temptation to cluster together and build a name for ourselves is ever-present. Sadly, at times, churches can be so focused on programs and events that they lose sight of what is truly important.

We cannot worry about increasing our church empires, we need to be focused on increasing His Kingdom.

Francis Chan has a pretty matter-of-fact quote “Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.” Ouch.

The Bible is pretty clear that those who follow Jesus are to be lights in this dark and dying world. We need to shine in the dark and we cannot allow the comfort of our familiar tribe to prevent us from doing so.

Tribalism is a dangerous and unproductive thing and it has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

Now, let me be clear, I am not advocating that we stop spending time with the people whom we love and are comfortable with. What I am saying though is, let’s be sure to be active in our love and Good News witness to people who don’t fit inside of our cookie cutter vision.

There are a whole lot of people in this world. Many of them do not look, think, act, smell, sound, or see things the way you do. That is O.K. Our objective is not to make people become just like us. Our goal is to show people how to become like Jesus.

I don’t want to make my name great.

I want to make His name great.

November 20, 2017

The Canaanite Curse

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Genesis 9.24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!
    The lowest of slaves
    will he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
    May Canaan be the slave of Shem.


Deut. 20.16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

Today we pay a return visit with Peter Enns whose writing is always thought-provoking. Click the title below to read at source.

Looks Like the Canaanites Got a Raw Deal

God’s command to exterminate the Canaanites (along with everything else that breathes) remains one of the more gruesome stories in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 20:16-20).

This story presents readers with a real—not imagined—moral and theological dilemma, but my point isn’t to get into all that here. [You can read more here and also in The Bible Tells Me Sowhere I take a whole chapter laying out the issues.]

Here I just want to say that this command wasn’t an afterthought. As the Israelites tell the story, the Canaanites were doomed from the start for something that happened nearly at the beginning of human history—Noah and the great Flood.

This flood killed every living creature; only Noah and his family were saved in a big boat, along with enough animals (1) to repopulate the earth later and (2) to sacrifice to appease God.

After the waters subsided and everyone de-arked, Noah planted the first vineyard, made wine, and got drunk. Like a state college freshman, he collapsed naked inside his tent in a drunken coma.

His youngest son, Ham, went into the tent, saw him his father lying there naked, and went out to tell his brothers, Shem and Japheth. Rather than gawking, the two brothers walked backwards into the tent and covered their father with a garment.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on here, but, apparently, the two brothers handled the situation correctly whereas Ham didn’t. So, when Noah woke up, he did what any normal father would do with when faced with the same dilemma—he cursed Ham’s descendants forever.

Three guesses who Ham’s descendants are (and the first two don’t count): the Canaanites.

It strikes me that the very first words out of Noah’s mouth after he woke up weren’t, “What a night! What was I thinking!? I’ll never do that again!”

Not even, “Ham! Get in here! How dare you look upon my nakedness?!”

Instead he said,

“Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

Not, “Cursed be Ham,” or “Cursed be Ham and all his descendants,” but “Cursed be the line of one of Ham’s sons—Canaan.”

Ham has four sons, yet only Canaan and his entire bloodline are doomed—which seems a bit extreme, given the fact that he himself hadn’t done anything.

Plus, two of Noah’s other sons are Cush and Mizraim, the ancestors of the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery. So how about cursing their bloodlines?

But no. Only this one son of Ham has his descendants consigned to a perpetual subhuman legacy of enslavement to the descendants of his brothers—namely the descendants of Shem, from which come the Israelites.

It looks like whoever wrote this story has a bone to pick with the Canaanites.

If we read this in another ancient book, we’d call it propaganda—a story to justify, not explain, hatred of the Canaanites. At least that’s what it looks like.

Israel’s later sworn enemies, the Canaanites, are set up as failures from the beginning, and no treatment—not even extermination—is too harsh for these people whose ancestor’s father saw his father drunk and naked.

This isn’t going to end well for the Canaanites.

 

October 14, 2016

Searching for the Better Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

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

…continue reading the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4

Today we pay a return visit to Neal Pollard who is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. Click the title below to read at Preacher Pollard’s Blog.

Better Living 

We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. Several years ago, our boys played basketball in a league hosted by a huge community church in the Denver area.  Their church’s campus includes a K-12 school, two restaurants, a gymnasium half the size of our church building, a coffee shop, and a hundred social program. Other groups would make their claim as “better” or “best” based on their numeric size, the number of programs they have, or how socially active they are.

Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, which does not boast of our achievements or compare ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12).  Genesis 4 is not just about two kinds of worship, but also about two ways of living life. Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses introduces him in Genesis. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls Cain’s works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 Jo. 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). Let’s make a few brief observations from Genesis four and see if we can find the elements which make for a better way of living today.

  • BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY AGE (1-2).  By birth order, Cain came first. He was the first person to be born in the natural order of childbirth. He was the very first newborn to be held in his mama’s arms. She didn’t realize that her cooing, sweet infant was a future murderer, and she was proud of him. She called him “a man child with the help of the Lord.” This depicts such a bright, optimistic future, and by contrast Scripture says, “Again, she gave birth to his brother, Abel” (2). Abel began in his brother’s shadow, first known to us as “his (Cain’s) brother.”
  • BETTER LIVING IS NOT DETERMINED BY OCCUPATION (2). When we look at these brothers, what they did for a living was not the determiner of the quality of their lives. While what they did had an indirect bearing on the events of this account, the fact of their occupation was spiritually neutral—Cain farmed and Abel tended sheep. One can reap blessings from tilling the ground (Heb. 6:7), but they may have to fight thorns, thistles, and weeds doing it (Gen. 3:18-19). Tending sheep may be done by slaves (Luke 17:17), kings (1 Sam. 17:34), or apostles (John 21:17). God’s pleasure or displeasure was not connected to either’s occupation.
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY WORSHIP (3-4). Moses says both brought an offering to the Lord. He also says God responded to bother offerings, accepting one and rejecting the other. That very notion is foreign to many people in our society today, even those in religion. Many make worship nothing more than taste, preference, and personal inclination. But, Moses shows us (1) Not all worship is equal: God had regard for Abel’s, but not Cain’s. The words “had respect to” signify in Hebrew to look at something with a very serious glance. God tells us how He wants worship done, in attitude and action; (2) The worshipper and the worship rise and fall together: God had regard for Abel AND his offering and did not for Cain AND his offering. That’s a sober reminder for me that my personal relationship with God is hindered or helped based on the way I worship God. Can I offer God vain and ignorant worship, and have God reject it but accept me? We are not earning God’s favor by getting worship right. At the same time, are we tempting God and hoping we stay in His favor while disobeying His commands for worship? People have tried to make this an “either-or” proposition, that Cain and Abel’s offering was either about getting the worship right or was about the nature of the person offering the worship. In other words, is it sincerity or obedience, our both sincerity and obedience? To thoughtfully ask the question is to answer it!
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ATTITUDE (5-7). Cain reacts to having himself and his worship rejected by God by burning with anger and his face taking on an ugly look. He sounds like a small child in the throes of a tantrum or a teenager huffing and sulking in anger. God warns Cain of the recipe for disaster he was making through his attitude. He told Cain that his tempestuous attitude was an invitation for sin to pounce on him, but He told him he could master it! You can have a positive attitude without prosperity, education, or earthly success, but you cannot have a positive attitude without mastering self.
  • BETTER LIVING IS DETERMINED BY ACTION (8-16). Improper worship and attitude preceded and precipitated improper action. The first time “sin” is used (Gen. 4:7), God was looking ahead with perfect foresight to what Cain would do to his brother. He does the unthinkable, killing his own brother (cf. 1 Jo. 3:11-15). His deeds and ways were a recipe for disaster: He is rebuked by God, punished by God, and separated from God. Sin promises a good time and fulfillment, but it’s not true.

It’s been said that the lineage of Cain gave us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers and poetry, but not one who walked with God! Thanks to his legacy, a descendant repeats his violent ways (Gen. 4:23). Abel seems to leave no physical lineage, but he still speaks after death. His was a life of faith, generosity, good works, righteousness, and obedience. We get to choose the kind of life we want to pursue. If we choose well, we will be satisfied, others will be blessed, and God will be pleased.

 

 

 

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