Christianity 201

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.

 

 

 

February 12, 2014

Where Our Story Begins…

I Cor. 13:12

  • For now we see through a glass, darkly… (KJV)
  • We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist… (Message)
  • Now we see only a dim likeness of things… (NIrV)
  • Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror… (NLT)
  • Now it is like looking in a looking-glass which does not make things clear… (Weymouth)

Last night we listened to two very different podcasts, both discussing the question of origins, a topic which has been on many peoples’ minds much because of a debate that took place last week between a young-earth creationist and an evolutionist from the scientific community. The word Genesis means beginnings and the question of “how we got here” has intrigued humans throughout history.

Genesis 3:21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib  he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

The first podcast introduced the idea that Adam was somehow an intersex person. For some of you this may be a new word, but think of the word hermaphrodite  which is less commonly used, and you’ve got the idea. The speaker, a respected pastor teaching a course at a Bible college suggested that God basically removed the femininity from Adam and left him entirely masculine. Bet you never heard that before.

Genesis 4: 17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.

The second podcast has an idea you might have heard, namely that Adam was simply one among many and that this answers the question of how the earth became populated so quickly and how Cain would have built a city and who would live and work in that city. So far as that goes it makes sense, but it raises more theological problems than anthropological problems, the least of which is the introduction of sin and death into the world, especially in the way we understand this taught in Romans.

It can be bewildering to consider all these things, and given all the discussions that have been taking place online in the past 7 or 8 days, it’s possible you’ve found yourself in the middle of one.

So what is our Genesis? Where does the story begin for us if we’re “seeing through a glass darkly” when it comes to the big-picture origins of life?

I love how Mark opens his writing, and it’s significant because Mark is considered the earliest (first written) among the gospels:

  • The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (NIV)
  • The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here (Message)
  • Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. (Living Bible)

We don’t know fully — and will never know — what happened in the days, years or eras that followed God’s proclamation “Let there be light;” but can know the author of creation personally, even if he doesn’t let us in on all his secrets, or help us unravel the vast number of theories that both believers and non-believers have concocted to attempt to explain things.

Here are two verses that should be part of your answer to people ask you (I Peter 3:15) about the origins of life; here’s where our story begins:

John3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world…

Col. 1:16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

April 19, 2013

Six Days Shalt Thou Labor

Exodus 20:9 (NIV)

Six days you shall labor and do all your work

I couldn’t help but notice this passage a few weeks ago. As I read it, I thought about the number of families that are faced with massive household consumer debt, and wondered if perhaps this offers a solution. Even if one of the income earners in a house picked up something on Saturday, that could mean an extra 20% income, provided such jobs were available.

But the note in my NIV Study Bible was somewhat dismissive, saying something to this effect, ‘A shorter work week in an a modern industrialized culture is not in view here.’

Furthermore, we focus on the distraction of the six-day work week here at our peril, because our entire attention in this commandment should be devoted to the practical and spiritual implications of the concept of cessation from labor for the purposes of sabbath rest (i.e. to rest as God rested, to give God worship, etc.).  The Voice Bible says in essence that you’ve got six days to get everything else done, the seventh is a day of rest.

You have six days to do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God…

Still, I believe we skip a possible secondary takeaway from verse nine too easily, especially in western society where ‘long weekends’ and ‘casual Fridays’ push us further and further toward a four day work week.  It’s said that we live in a culture of entitlement, and certainly we feel we are entitled to enjoy a certain degree of comfort and a certain number of consumer goods; so we amass great levels of personal debt to obtain those things.

While we should be pleased if our employer offers us extra work that will help reduce that debt, our labor laws insist that we be paid overtime, which means the employer thinks twice before offering us extra hours. And I do wonder what the agriculturally-based readers of the Decalogue in Moses’ time would think of our modern concept of vacation.

The website Theology of Work Project looks at different areas where the Bible addresses this topic.

John MacArthur notes the erosion of the work ethic in a sermon devoted to this topic that you can either read or listen to online.

When God doesn’t matter anymore, then there is no universal, transcendent standard for behavior. And natural human corruption runs rampant to the degree that any individual person chooses to live. And one of the basic moral virtues that disappears in a culture is work…work. People once worked hard because of the influence of Scripture and because Scripture is a reflection of the will of God. God is the authority and the Bible is the revelation of His will as that authority. Work, you see, is a virtue, work is a moral behavior.

People worked hard because they believed they were accountable to God and they were accountable to the revelation of God in Scripture. They had reverence for biblical authority and they had a basic fear of God. Even those who weren’t particularly evangelical Christians understood the place of God in society, understood the place of Scripture in society that it was the will of God and understood they had a transcendent responsibility before God to behave in a certain way. Now that God doesn’t matter, and the Bible is ridiculed and removed, if not banned from speaking authoritatively on any subject, there is a kind of fearless immorality. And one of the things that’s going to disappear is the virtue of work…the virtue of work. Sinners are happy to think that they answer to no one, but to themselves.

And later

Somebody made the suggestion that originally man was a gardener and the curse turned him into a farmer. Originally man was a flower arranger, and the curse turned him into a plow horse. The Fall did not introduce work, it changed its nature. And as the nature of work that is the punishment, but not work itself. Work neither began nor ceased with the Fall, it just took a different shape. It went from being a righteous blessing solely to being a righteous blessing with a curse on top.

And so, man seeks to restore the glory of work with the sweat of his brow, and all of his ingenuity he goes after this cursed earth, using the wonderful creative gifts that he’s been given because he’s in the image of God to abstract out of the richness of this planet everything that he can possibly extract, to provide value to his life, to provide meaning to his life, to provide provision for his life and those in his family, to provide for the needs of others and most importantly to bring dignity upon himself as one made in the image of God who demonstrates God-like creativity…

…In Psalm 104 we read, “He made the moon for the seasons, the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.” God has ordained that men work originally six days a week here. You go to work in the morning and you finish in the evening. Work is designed by God to redeem the curse in a measure. You look at the civilized world, you look at the world that has flourished, you look at the western world in particular, and now, of course, many ascending nations in Asia and other parts of the world, and you see the magnificence that is extracted out of the creation by work. Go to Africa, and you see parched lands, starving people, murderous tribal warfare…people don’t work. It’s a tragic reality.

Work was always God’s design for us to be able to draw out all that is in this creation for the demonstration of our nobility being created in the image of God and for the glory of God and for the benefit of all man. It can be redeemed. It must be redeemed and that’s why we work. You know how that works. You redeem your yard every week. And if you went away for six months and came back, you would find out what the curse would do…just no water for six months, that will do it. Or just open all the windows and doors in your house and leave for six months and come back and see what’s inside. See what lives there. It’s a battle and we all understand that battle. We extract goodness out of His creation. That was Adam’s job and now we have to fight against the curse to extract that goodness. We are called to that work because it is noble and because it is God-glorifying.

This is a sermon/article rich with commentary on this topic, and I encourage you to click the above link to get into more of it.

I offer this today not to try to bring back the six-day work week, but rather to allow us to reconsider our attitude and our approach to the five-day work we do.


The Reformation Study Bible offers a theology of work:

God’s purposes in ordaining work

That people should be self-supporting Ge 3:19 See also Ps 128:2; 1Th 4:12

That people should find self-fulfilment Ecc 2:24 See also Pr 14:23; Ecc 3:22; Ecc 5:19

That people should serve others Eph 4:28 See also Pr 31:15; 1Th 2:9; 1Ti 5:8

That people should glorify God Col 3:17 See also 1Co 10:31; Eph 6:5-8 pp Col 3:22-24

Consequences of viewing work as God’s ordinance

Work is seen as a moral duty Tit 3:14 See also Pr 6:6; Ecc 9:10; 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:7-12

Any legitimate work may be seen as God’s calling Ge 2:15 See also Ex 31:1-6; Ex 35:30-35; Ps 78:70-71; Mt 13:55 pp Mk 6:3; Ro 13:6; 1Co 7:17,20-24

Work is seen as a stewardship from God himself Col 3:23-24 See also Mt 25:14-30 pp Lk 19:12-27; Eph 6:5-8

August 29, 2011

Why Did God Make Poisonous Snakes?

When your blog is called Christianity 201, you have the freedom to delve into all kinds of “deeper” questions, but today’s is, I have to admit, a little different than what normally appears in this space.  Still, before you can answer even a child’s question like, “Why did God create mosquitoes?” you have to at least do some serious consideration about creation, including what you believe about the earth in a pre-fall condition [Adam’s fall, not pre-autumn!] versus its state in a post-fall condition. 

Rick Oliver has a PhD from the University of California and is a bit of an expert on rattlesnake venom.  In the article you’re about to link to, he poses questions about the nature of snakes, which seem to be ‘born to kill.’

Other aspects of snake design don’t have any obvious use in the original creation. They seem clearly designed for this cursed world. So we can probably rule out mutations or changes in habitat.

  • Did God add these features to snakes at the Curse?
  • Did God design the original snakes with these features, knowing that Adam would sin and that snakes would soon need them in a fallen world?
  • Did God place these designs in the original snakes’ genes, but they were not expressed until after the Curse as snakes had offspring and spread over the earth (mediated design)?
  • Did these designs arise in other ways, which we have not yet considered but are consistent with Scripture? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Some believers don’t like to be drawn into the creation-science debate, considering it peripheral to serious Bible study. However, I think it’s necessary — without being a science expert — to have a ‘take’ on this issue; I see at as part of our mandate to “always be ready to give an answer [or account]” for what we believe.  I Peter 3:15

So click this link with me, and spend a few minutes seeing where your theology meets up with spiders, mosquitoes and snakes.

[Thanks to the blog, Strengthened by Grace for highlighting this topic.]