Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cain & Abel

            As we continue our look at the story of Cain and Abel, something else stands out to me.  What strikes me is the response of Cain to his punishment.  After murdering his brother, God confronts Cain.  And God tells him that, because of what he’s done, he’s cursed from the ground.  He tells Cain that, when he works the ground, it will no longer yield to him its strength.  He will now be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.
            If we’re to understand this punishment, we must remember what Cain did for work.  He was a worker of the ground.  He was a farmer.  And now, because of his sin, the ground would no longer produce for him.  He would have to wander the earth to find sustenance.
            In one sense, this punishment seems very gracious.  After murdering his brother in cold blood, after killing Abel due to jealousy, my initial reaction is that God should have taken his life as well.  And, in his justice, God could have done just that.  However, God allowed him to live and took only Cain’s work.  He took only Cain’s ability to produce food from the ground.
            Yet, Cain didn’t view it in this way.  He didn’t see it as gracious in the least.  In his mind, this was an unbearable consequence.  He was driven from the ground.  And, in his mind, this was the same as being denied God’s blessing. 
            In addition to this, there was another aspect of his guilt that frightened him.  He feared that, as he wandered the earth, he might be put to death by anyone who found him.  However, God again showed his grace to Cain by giving him a mark, and by promising that anyone who killed Cain would have vengeance visited on him sevenfold.
            Yet, considering his sin and the grace that God had given him, Cain’s response is less than satisfying.  It’s less than satisfying because he doesn’t show any remorse for the murder he’d committed.  He regrets only the punishment that he must now bear.  He complains that his punishment is too great.
            As we notice this flaw in Cain’s character, it’s easy for us to look down on him.  However, we typically approach God with the very same attitude.  Even as we recognize our sin, we act as though the punishment of that sin is too great.  We approach God with the attitude that he’s unjust in his judgment.
            We saw in the account of the fall the consequences that fell on Adam and Eve.  Because they’d sinned, they would now suffer until the day of their death.  They were also removed from the garden, that they might not eat from the tree of life and live forever.  As we’re clearly told in Scripture, the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Revelation 21:8).
            Yet, even though these penalties are the result of our sin, even though we deserve them because of our guilt, we also act as if our punishment is too great.  Instead of acknowledging our guilt, instead of acknowledging that we deserve God’s wrath, we accuse him of being too harsh in his judgment.
            For example, as we face hardships in this life, we accuse God of being unfair.  As we face the loss of a loved one, or as we’re confronted with the inevitability of our own death, we insist that God is unloving.  And as we consider the eternal consequence of our sin, as we consider an eternity in hell for those who haven’t received God’s grace, we complain that it’s a cruel sentence.
            As we consider Cain’s punishment, it’s fair to say that he deserved everything he got.  In fact, God could have dealt with him in a way that was even more severe and been perfectly just in doing so.  And the same is true of us.
            God could have destroyed Adam and Eve at the moment of their sin, and would have been right in his judgment.  God could send us all to hell at this very moment and it would be a proper judgment.  God could have issued his sentence, withholding the grace that’s found in Jesus, and it would be perfectly fair.

            Yet, just as we see in the case of Cain, in spite of our sin, in spite of the punishment we deserve, God has given us his grace.  He sent Jesus into the world to bear the penalty of our sin.  And he offers his forgiveness and mercy to all who receive Jesus in faith.  He has offered us something that we do not deserve because of his great love for us, and because he desires our salvation.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Yesterday, we heard the third part of our series on major Bible stories.  We looked specifically at the story of Cain and Abel, and we focused our attention on the gifts that they brought to the Lord.  We asked why God accepted Abel's offering but not Cain's.  And we discussed what this means to us as we bring our offerings to the Lord as a part of our worship.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Fall into Sin

           Our focus this week, as we continue our trek through Scripture, is on the fall of man in Genesis 3.  And what we find here is interesting.  We find that, in his effort to lead us into sin, Satan continues to use the same tactics as he did in the Garden.
            We see at the beginning of this passage that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord had made.  But it also becomes clear to us that this was no ordinary serpent.  It was the devil, who had either possessed a serpent or appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent.
            He began his effort to corrupt these people, made in God’s image, by asking this question of Eve: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  So he began by calling the Word of God into question.  He tried to cause Eve to wonder if this is what God had truly said.
            This is the same tactic he uses against us, which we encounter regularly in the world today.  Did God really say that divorce is wrong?  Did God really say that sex is for a man and a woman in the context of marriage?  Did God really say that Jesus is the only way of salvation?  We’re asked if God really gave the commands, or if he actually made the statements that we read in Scripture.  His aim is to cause us to question God’s Word.  And it’s easy for us to feed into this temptation and do just that.
            In this case, we see that Eve understood God’s command.  She understood what he’d said, as well as the consequence he’d issued if they violated his will.  She answered him, starting in verse 2, saying: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
            Satan then tried another tactic.  He denied the Word of God.  He claimed that the Word of God was false.  Starting in verse 4, he said to her: “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
            He essentially calls God a liar.  He tells Eve that, regardless of what God had declared, she would not die if she disobeyed his Word.  He goes on to suggest that God is withholding a great blessing, which could only be received by violating his will.
            If she disobeyed God, she would be like God.  If she violated his will, she would know both good and evil.  She would possess a knowledge which was being kept from her by the Lord himself.
            Again, Satan works in the same way today.  He tells us that what God has declared is false.  Regardless of what we read in Scripture, we’re told that homosexuality is not sin.  We’re told that God wouldn’t condemn good people to hell simply because they fail to trust in Christ.  And he tells us that we’re missing out on something great by trusting in God’s Word.  We’re missing out on a truth.  We’re missing out on love.  We’re missing out on unity with the rest of humanity.  And we’re told that a blessing will be gained if we violate God’s message.
            We see in Genesis 3 that Eve gave into this temptation, as did Adam.  And we’re also prone to do the same thing.  The tactic of the enemy often proves to be successful in our life as well as in that of others.

            As those who confess faith in the Lord, we must hold faithfully to the Word of God.  We must not cave in to the lies of the enemy.  We must recognize that his desire is only to kill and destroy.  It’s his desire to pull us away from the God who created us and loves us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Yesterday, we continued our new series of messages, looking at major Bible stories.  Our message centered around The Fall into Sin.  We specifically looked at the reason why we experience so many trials and hardships in life.  We found that they're the consequence of sin and that they'll be with us as long as sin is in the world.  But we also received the hope that, one day, sin and its consequences will be no more.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Made in God's Image

            As we continue our look at the first chapter of Genesis, we’ll again focus on the statement, found in verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So we see that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.
            Last week I discussed the fact that this makes man distinct from everything else he’d made.  And this is true.  But what else does this mean, when it says that man was made in God’s image?
            Whenever I ask this question of my confirmation students, they answer by saying that we were made to look like God.  And, initially, this may seem to make sense.  However, we must bear in mind that God is spirit (John 4:24).  So, ultimately, this has nothing to do with our physical appearance.
            Others, when they read this, rightly understand it to mean that we have been made to be like God.  And they take this to mean that we share many of his character traits.  For example, they say that, just as God is a relational being, so too are we.  As God is creative, so too are we.  And, as God is intelligent, so too are we.  However, even though this is true, the fact that we’re made in God’s image means so much more.
            When man was created, God declared that all he’d made was very good (Genesis 1:31).  We see from this that the original condition of man was one of integrity.   Adam and Eve were created to be like God in his righteousness, holiness, and wisdom.  They were without sin so that they had a proper relationship with God.  They knew God and desired the things that he desires.
            However, when Adam and Eve sinned, something changed.  They were suddenly fallen creatures.  And this remains true of us today.  The description of fallen man that we read in Romans 1 and 3, as well as in many other passages, shows that, even though we’re aware of God, our natural tendency is to worship the creature.  We’re no longer righteous and we no longer do good.  And what this tells us is that, by the fall, much of the image of God, possessed by the first man and woman, has been lost.
            Even though this is true, we see in Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 that man continues to bear the image of God to a degree.  We’re told that the one who murders shall have his life taken, because man was made in God’s image.  In speaking of our tendency to both praise God and to curse man, James reminds us that man was made in God’s likeness.  So to what is this referring?
            Even though, in the broader sense, man retains God’s image regarding his intelligence, his relational nature, etc., these passages refer back to his original condition, as well as the condition to which we’ll be restored through faith in Jesus.  Regardless of the fact that we are now sinners and that we’ve largely lost the image of God in which we’re created, this is what God intended for man, and it remains as his desire for us.

            We know this because, in the end, we’ll be transformed into the image of Christ.  As we read in 1 Corinthians 15:49, Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” When Jesus returns, sin will be no more.  The redeemed will be transformed and will once again bear the image of God in its fullness.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Yesterday, I began a new series of messages that will go for some time.  We're looking at the major events of Scripture, starting in Genesis, and how they apply to us.  We started by taking a look at Creation.  We saw that all things were made by God.  And we saw that the creation account is a stark contrast to the viewpoint presented by the world.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Last week, in my absence, Pastor Nate Nash brought the message.  He talked about our New Year holiday, and why it's so important to us.  Click on the link for that audio file.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Set Apart from the Rest

            As we enter into the New Year, I’ll be delivering a series of messages looking at many basic Bible stories and how they apply to us.  I will also focus my blog posts on these stories, that we might give them additional consideration.  Because I’ll be delivering the first of these messages this upcoming Sunday, I’ll have the opportunity to address it in two blog posts.
            The first passage I’ll be looking at is the creation account, found in Genesis 1.  And there are many important truths we can pick out of this chapter.  But the one I want to address here is found in verses 26-27, which say: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
            We learn from these verses that man was created in the image of God.  He was created in God’s likeness.  And this is true of both Adam and Eve.
            One of the things that stand out, as we consider this, is that it sets them apart from everything else God had made.  God had already created the fish and the birds.  He’d already made the creatures that dwell on earth.  But, when it came to man, something was to be different.  He was to be made in God’s image.  He was to be made after God’s likeness.
            We commonly hear today how man is simply one of the animals in the world.  Even though it’s acknowledged that we’re more intelligent than the other animals, we are classed together with them.    We’re considered, in no way, greater or more important than the other species on earth.
            This attitude can sometimes take an extreme form.  It often comes across that man is the problem in the world.  Man is portrayed as the enemy.  Some tell us that the world would be better off if there were less of us and more of the other creatures God has made. 
            This completely contradicts the message of Genesis 1.  Again, none of the fish, birds, or animals were made in God’s image.  This was true only of man.  In fact, God gave man dominion over all he had made.  He appointed Adam and Eve as caretakers of his creation.
            It also contradicts the word of Jesus in Luke 12:7, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” We don’t have equal standing with the birds of the air.  According to Jesus, we are more valuable than they.
            This, of course, doesn’t give man permission to do as he wants.  It doesn’t give him permission to selfishly destroy what God has made.  He’s entrusted us with the care of creation.  But it also tells us how wrong it is to lump man together with everything else.  It’s wrong to simply class him along with the animals.
            Man was made to be like God.  I’ll talk more about what this means in my next post.  But it’s clear that he was created with a quality that isn’t shared by the rest of creation.