[Jan 31]--Joseph’s Hope and Ours

Genesis 50:22-26

The last verses of Genesis end on a slightly anti-climactic note, but there is lot of meaning packed into these few words.

At the end of his life, Joseph gave some special instructions to his family. He allowed the Egyptians to preserve his body, but he requested not to be buried there. Joseph had lived for more than eighty years in Egypt. He'd seen his sons born, his grandsons born, and on down to the fifth generation, all within his adopted land. He had spent far more time in Egypt than he ever had in Canaan. He was second-in-command of the most powerful nation in the world. People came from all over the known world to plead favors from him and bow before him.

In spite of all of this, despite how good Egypt had been to him and his family, he never considered Egypt his true home. He gave Hebrew names to his children, and although (as far as we know) he never made it back to visit Canaan, his heart was there. That was the Promised Land, given as a special inheritance to his great grandfather Abraham. Let me remind you, Abraham--the father of all who believe--left Canaan willingly when a famine hit the land, but Joseph had to be dragged out of it in chains. In that culture, you were buried in your homeland. The wonderful epilogue to his story is that the Israelites followed his instructions: Moses had his body carried out of Egypt in the Exodus, and Joshua buried him in Canaan.

I believe Joseph’s attitude towards his adopted country is an excellent example for us. Overall, America has been overwhelmingly good for believers. There have been sporadic outbursts of mild persecution: Official prayer is banned from public schools, some employees are told not to say “Merry Christmas,” Christians are criticized strongly for their opposition to abortion and gay marriage, etc. Occasionally the "culture wars" which have been brewing in the background explode into the headlines (for example, Christian bakers who are sued out of business when they choose not to cater a gay wedding). I’m not saying that America doesn’t have any problems, but to claim that we’re a persecuted minority is to lose perspective. Has anyone knocked on your door at midnight to haul you away to prison because of your faith? Do soldiers interrupt your worship service to arrest people? When that starts to happen, I’ll call it persecution. Believers around the world are wasting away in hell-hole prisons, beaten and tortured daily, and we’re complaining because someone criticizes us? Like I said, perspective is key, and I think we've lost it sometimes. We need to be grateful for how God has blessed us in this nation.

On the other hand, we must never forget that America is not our true homeland. As good as America is towards us, our true citizenship, our homeland, is elsewhere.

Father God, no matter where I go in this world, I won’t find final rest until I find rest in you. Help me to be grateful for your blessings, but not hold onto them longer than I should.

[Jan 30]--Man Supposes and God Disposes

Genesis 50:15-21

One of the longest ongoing debates within the church, at least within the last four hundred years, is God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will. There are verses in the Bible which make it sound as if God is ultimately “behind” everything, leaving out any mention of human decision-making. But there are also verses which emphasize man’s ability to decide for himself whether to follow God or not (every appeal to sinful people to repent implicitly assumes this). The Old Testament especially points out that God is the sovereign Lord over the nations, that he uses leaders almost like puppets to accomplish his will. We’ll get back to this subject at a later time, since this space is too limited to tackle such a huge subject all at once.

This passage, however, gives us points to consider when contemplating how the Lord's sovereignty and man’s free will work together. God planned to save Jacob’s family and several millions of people from starvation by putting Joseph in charge of Egypt. Several years prior to this, the Lord used the sinful decisions of Jacob’s brothers to send him into captivity which would eventually result in Joseph becoming the Prime Minister of the most powerful nation on earth in order to put aside the food necessary to save lives.

On one hand, Joseph attributes his being sent to Egypt ultimately to God. On the other hand, there's absolutely NO indication in scripture that his brothers were somehow “possessed” and did something they didn't desire to do. They gave into their feelings of bitterness and resentment, and they freely chose to sell their own brother into slavery. Humanity is responsible for its sinful choices, and the sovereign Lord uses those choices to fulfill his purposes.

Let's move past the esoteric theological debates and mysteries which we're never going to fully solve. The Bible's a very practical book: Whenever it gives us theological truth, it's doing that in order to bring about a practical change in our thinking and/or our actions. What does this mean for me? It means that YOU are responsible for the choices you make. It also means that the sovereign God can turn something very ugly into something very beautiful. Thomas a Kempis once said that “Man supposes and God disposes,” which means that no matter what we do, no matter how badly we screw things up, we can’t screw up his ultimate purpose. Also it means that while evil people come up with sinful schemes, ultimately he will use them to accomplish his own plans, and they'll accomplish nothing which isn’t sifted through the hand of our loving Father. And it all ends up for his glory and our good. Count on it.

Father, I’m so glad that you’re in charge and I’m not. Help me to trust you.

[Jan 29]--The Praise of Israel

Genesis 49:8-12

Since Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had committed actions which disqualified them from the top spot, the leadership position went to Judah. His name means “praise,” so Jacob was making a little pun in verse 8. His tribe will be the preeminent one above all others, even to the point of them “[bowing] down to [him].”

Let’s skip ahead to parts which might seem mysterious, but shouldn’t be. Verses 11-12 are all symbolic of prosperity and (as a corollary) victory over their enemies. As long as you get that, you get the main point of the imagery there.

Verses 9-10, however, are extremely meaningful to us as modern-day believers. Verse 10 is prophecy that Judah will be the royal tribe, and every legitimate king came from that line. The reason that this is so important, however, is because the ultimate fulfillment of these verses is found in Jesus Christ. The first part of verse 10 says that the tribe of Judah will continue producing kings “until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” In other words, one final King will come, and he will (rightfully) take over the world. All nations will bow down and obey him, either willingly or unwillingly.

As for verse 9, this was the start of Judah as the “lion” tribe. The traditional symbol of Judah was a lion (they had it on their standard), which got its start in this verse. In Revelation, however, our Lord is introduced as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” What Judah (as a tribe) was in part, Jesus is. He is truly the Praise of Israel.

Lord Jesus, I praise you for being the Lion of Judah. The obedience of all nations belongs to you, as well as my own. Help me to bow.

[Jan 28]--Turning Blessing into Cursing

Genesis 49:1-7

One of the patterns which biblical scholars have noticed in Genesis is that of younger brother over older brother. In that culture and time, the older brother got a “double inheritance”: this meant that if a man had two sons, he would split his property three ways, and the oldest would get two-thirds of it. The oldest son was considered a special blessing from the Lord, and thus they tended to get spoiled. In opposition to this way of thinking, consider all of the situations in Genesis in which God turned this paradigm on its head: Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers.

In chapter 49, we see the biggest example of this. The chapter is dedicated to Jacob’s last words, in which he prophesizes over his twelve sons. Actually, he is not so much predicting each son’s future as much as each son's descendants’. Each of his sons became a tribe in Israel, and his prophecies about each tribe became true.

Again, given their culture, Reuben would be expected to get the greatest blessing for his descendants. Unfortunately, he foolishly slept with one of Jacob’s concubines (a supreme act of disrespect), and thus he lost the his place of highest blessing. Next would've been Simeon or Levi, but they'd planned and carried out a mass slaughter of an entire town, murdering hundreds or even thousands of innocent people. Next came Judah, which we'll examine in greater detail tomorrow. In the meantime, I'd like to draw a couple of quick lessons from these first three sons.

First, Reuben made one very sinful and foolish decision, and his descendants suffered for it. We are, each one of us, responsible before the Lord for our own sin, and the Lord offers individual forgiveness to each of us. However, our sinful decisions, even if forgiven before God, can affect us for the rest of our lives, and even negatively affect our descendants. People might accuse Christianity of being easy on sin because we believe in salvation by grace through faith, but if we didn’t have any other reasons to avoid sin, this would be enough.

Second, the stories of the tribes of Simeon and Levi are very instructive in how God can turn even a curse into a blessing if we trust him. Jacob predicted that both Simeon and Levi would be “[scattered] in Jacob and [dispersed] in Israel,” and this came true for both of them, but in very different ways. Simeon was a very small tribe, and never became prominent, and was eventually swallowed up by Judah. Levi, on the other hand, was literally scattered and dispersed all over the Promised Land, and they never actually had one large tract of land to call their own. This was a blessing, however: God chose them out of all of the tribes to be his representatives. Theirs was the tribe out of which all priests would come, and their unique responsibility was to help in the maintenance of the Tabernacle, and eventually the Temple of God itself. As stated several times in the books of Moses, "That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them." What an honor and privilege!

Lord Jesus, help me to make right choices. And when I don’t, when I foolishly disobey you, help me to trust you to turn curses into blessings.

[Jan 27]--Family Traditions

Genesis 42:1-13

When I mention the word “tradition,” is that a positive or negative word to you? I can probably roughly guess your age by your answer to that question. For those born before the 1950’s, the word "tradition" tends to have a positive connotation. Starting around the 1960’s, however, it took on a negative meaning, as many young people rebelled against what they considered the bad traditions of our past. For me, every time I hear that word, I think of the song from Fiddler On The Roof: "Tradition. .  .TRADITION!"

Biblically, it seems to be a neutral term. It’s simply the passing on of information and “how we do things” to the next generation, which can be either good or bad. As we mentioned before, Abel seems to have inherited his faith from his parents, so that was obviously a good thing.

We have to be careful about what we're passing on, however. I remember several years ago when I studied Genesis seriously for the first time, and the study I used pointed out a pattern in Abraham’s family. In the chapter that introduces him, he lied to Pharaoh about Sarah his wife. He did it again in chapter 20, in fact admitting that this was his practice everywhere he went. In chapter 26, Isaac followed the not-so-wonderful example of his father. Of course, his son Jacob practically had his picture in the dictionary next to the word “con man.” Then Jacob’s sons all lied to their father when they brought him Joseph’s robe, which broke his heart and robbed him of twenty years with his beloved son. Finally, in today’s passage, Joseph kept up the family tradition of lying to your family.

There's bad news and good news here. The sobering fact is that we're all passing on a family tradition to the next generation whether we know it or not. Little eyes are constantly watching us, learning from our example. The question is not whether we're passing on traditions, but what type. Drunkenness, abuse, divorce, or sexual impurity are all legacies we’d rather not leave to our children, but it does happen. The good news, however, is that through Christ we can make a break with our family’s less than stellar traditions, and even start better ones! We don’t have to be bound to a sinful past, either our own or our family’s. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

For your own sake, and for the sake of those around you and coming behind you, let's start a new tradition of doing things God's way.

Thank you Lord, that you make all things new. My past is forgiven, and my future is glorious. Help me to light the way for others who are watching me.

[Jan 26]--What’s In A Name, Part 2

Genesis 32:22-32

We talked before about God’s pattern of changing names, and here’s another good example from which we can learn some things.

Jacob didn't start out well in scripture. His first recorded act was in grabbing his brother’s heel--in fact, that’s what “Jacob” means: “He grabs the heel.” This could be a good connotation or a bad one, depending on the context. “Grabbing the heel” could be figuratively used in the sense of usurpation or deceit, taking something that doesn’t belong to you; Jacob certainly did that when he deceived his father and stole his brother’s blessing. Esau specifically pointed to Jacob’s name as being indicative of his character. On the other hand, it could be used in the best sense of opportunism, creatively making the most of one’s resources. Jacob certainly displayed that when he started working for his uncle Laban.

When God met Jacob, however, the whole course of his life changed. Jacob spent an entire night wrestling a “man,” and although the Lord could've disintegrated him with a thought, he recognized the dogged determination of his “opponent.” As before with Abram, God changed his name and promoted him from “he grabs the heel” to “he struggles with God.” How can this be a good change? Two reasons. First, instead of trusting in his own efforts and resources to get ahead and succeed, his new name assumes that from now on Jacob will “wrestle” his blessing away from the Lord. Second, it’s a blessed name because every true believer struggles with God from time to time--lost people don’t “wrestle” with the Lord in this sense, since they don’t have the intimate relationship with him that we do through Christ. We’ll talk more about struggling with him once we get to the Psalms, but in the meantime, know this: Wrestling with God is not a sign of distrust or lack of faith. Instead, it’s a sign that we know who the source of blessing is, and we’re going to him.

Father God, even in my “struggles” with you, you're always displaying your grace and mercy. Help me to trust you.

[Jan 25]--God’s Plan versus Ours

Genesis 30:1-16

I touched on this topic back on the 19th, but I think it bears another look. As I mentioned before, polygamy was never expressly forbidden in the Old Testament, and several of its heroes practiced it (Abraham, Jacob, David, etc.). But as we can see here (just like in Abraham’s story), not following God’s original pattern caused heartache and strife in the home. The only thing that amazes me in situations like this is that we are actually surprised when we don’t follow God’s plan and things don’t turn out well.

We might be tempted to think that this doesn’t apply so much to us. After all, we don’t practice polygamy in the United States. In fact, with a few exceptions, polygamy is illegal in the West. However, someone introduced a term to me a few years ago, and I think it fits our current situation exactly: serial polygamy. We marry lots of people during our lifetimes, just not to more than one person at a time. Divorce is on the rise, and the traditional norm of lifetime marriage between one man and one woman is far too rare.

Does the home life in this passage seem like a happy one? If you were raised in a home or had a marriage in which step-children were involved, this scene might actually seem familiar. “You’re spending too much time and money on ‘your’ kids and not enough on ‘my’ kids!” “Why were you calling your “ex” again?” Does any home touched by divorce totally escape this kind of strife?

This is not to say that divorce is the end of usefulness in God’s kingdom, and divorce is not the unforgivable sin (we’ll deal with that question later). It does mean that sticking to God’s plan is always the best idea. Not most of the time or almost all of the time: All of the time with no exceptions, God's way is the only way to go. The Lord can forgive any sin that's brought under the blood of Christ, and he can redeem even the worst of situations brought on by the most foolish of choices. But the lingering consequences we face might last for a lifetime.

Father God, none of us follow your plan perfectly. That’s why I need a Savior. Help me to make right choices, and forgive me when I don’t listen to you.

[Jan 24]--God of the Underdog

Genesis 29:31-35

I don’t know about you, but I hated team sports as a kid. I especially hated it when team “captains” were choosing up members of their respective teams, since I always ended up being chosen last.

If you’ve read the stories in Genesis, you might remember the sad case of Leah and Rachel. Jacob fell in love with Rachel at first sight, and he worked seven years to earn the right to marry her. He went through the ceremony after all that waiting, and was tricked into marrying her older sister Leah instead (apparently he was VERY drunk that night or was kept from seeing her face until they were in bed together). He woke up the next morning, and immediately came screaming out of the bedroom. Her own father forced Jacob to stay married to Leah. How do you think this would make the young woman feel?

But our God has a special spot in his heart for underdogs. The Lord over the nations is not too big to be concerned over the broken heart of this new bride. What follows is one of the saddest narratives of all of Scripture. He saw that Leah was unloved by her husband, and he intervened. Again, it is difficult to overstate just how important bearing children was to Middle Eastern women, so he gave her the most valuable thing she could want-Jacob’s firstborn child. This was a wonderful present, but note what she said after the birth: “Surely my husband will love me now.” Sadly enough, this was not to be the case. The Lord kept giving her children, and she kept clinging to the vain hope that giving her husband more children would woo him away from Rachel and towards herself.

Finally--after her fourth child--she seemed to make peace with her situation, since there’s no record of her hope that THIS will be the child that makes her husband actually love her. Instead, she merely said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” The name “Judah” means praise, and of all Jacob’s children, this one will be the most significant. He wasn’t the oldest, but through him would come King David, and ultimately the Savior of the world.

In summary, there are two meaningful lessons from this passage we should pick up. First of all: The losers, the unloved, the so-called insignificant people should take heart that our God is the God of the underdog. He never fails to notice the unnoticed, and he never overlooks the overlooked. Second, we should be wary of the notion that if he just gave us this ONE thing (a new job, a new spouse, lots of money, a better family, etc.) we would finally be happy. Just ask Leah.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that you have a special place in your heart and in your ultimate plan for people that the world would pass by. Like Leah, may I find my satisfaction in only you, in nothing and no one else.

[Jan 23]--Despised His Birthright

Genesis 25:19-34

Several years ago I heard of a man who had stumbled across a very rare (and thus valuable) stamp. It was a misprint from the Post Office, and because of this it was estimated in the article to be worth over $9 million. The Post Office requested to buy it back, but their regulations forbade them from offering him anything more than the price of the stamp (I think around 22 cents), plus perhaps some Post Office paraphernalia such as a an office mug. In the wonderful understatement of the year, the article quoted the man: “Let’s just say I declined their offer.”

We might smirk at the Post Office offering a man mere pennies (plus that exciting coffee mug!) for a stamp worth millions, but there's a transaction that goes on every day that makes their offer seem like the deal of a lifetime. To illustrate, let’s look at today’s passage. Esau, who was born first, had the “double portion” of any inheritance and would have been the natural choice for the heir to God’s promises. The covenant (with all its attendant blessings) should've been passed down to him.

Jacob, for all his faults, valued these promises more than his brother did, and bought them for a bowl of stew. I sincerely hope that this stew was the best Esau ever tasted, because it cost him dearly. The sad thing is that he didn’t even regret his bad decision: After eating and drinking, he “got up and left.” You show how much you value something by how much it would take for you to sell it, and this obviously showed that Esau “despised his birthright.”

But what does this have to do with us? Well, the book of Hebrews warns us not to be “godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” By despising our “birthrights” as believers, we're following Esau’s bad example. What rights do we have as Christians that we might despise? A close relationship with the Father, the right to come into his throne room in prayer, the right to be his representatives in a fallen world, the right to be part of the Body of Christ, just to name a few. If we don’t take advantage of these rights as God’s children, if we let Satan “buy” them from us, then aren’t we walking right behind Esau?

Father God, I have so many privileges as your child, and every day I squander them. Help me to see these privileges as not to be sold for any price.

[Jan 22]--Oh, That’s Just Typical

Genesis 22:1-19

This passage is one of the most meaningful in scripture for several reasons. It is the highpoint of Abraham’s obedience, and it is highlighted in Hebrews 11:17-19 as an incredible act of faith. According to Hebrews, Abraham’s reasoning process was, “Well, God has told me that I'd have lots of children through Isaac, and he’s told me to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Therefore, I guess he’s going to raise the boy from the dead.” I only wish I had faith like that.

The main reason I want to look at this passage, however, is because it’s a good point to introduce the notion of typology. This is the biblical study of Old Testament stories and images which prefigure something in the New Testament. The word type refers to the Old Testament picture, and the antitype is the fulfillment in the NT. You actually use a form of this word when you say the word typical, meaning that something is exhibiting the essential characteristics of a group: "Jerry's behavior this morning was typical of how he acts on Monday mornings."  In this narrative, Abraham is the type of our Father, who willingly sacrificed his only son. Isaac is a type of Christ up to the point where God stops Abraham, and then the imagery shifts over the ram, who was offered in Isaac’s place.

Types are pretty easy to spot in scripture, and they point us towards Christ. The book of Hebrews states that the entire sacrificial and priesthood system is meant to do this, and several stories illustrate something about Christ or his work. When Jesus was rebuking the Jews, he claimed that "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me." On the other hand, we must use caution when utilizing them.

1) First, any type that isn't specifically backed up by scripture is only our interpretation, not something on which to be dogmatic. Paul said in Galatians that Sarah, Hagar, and their respective children are typical of the law versus the gospel, so that's an inspired use of typology. The story in today’s passage is a beautiful illustration of the Cross, and it certainly looks like God put it in there for that purpose, but there are other narratives which some people have used as types with shaky hermeneutics.

2) Second, types (if legitimate) illustrate, they do not prove. We need to interpret typology by what we already know from the teachings portions of Scripture, not the other way around (just like how we interpret any narratives).

OK, enough dry theology. Let me introduce you to my favorite singer, Michael Card. This is "God will provide a lamb" which beautifully renders this story for us.

Father, your word is so rich. A child can swim in it, and an elephant can drown in it. Help me to interpret it correctly, since it’s how I hear your voice.

[Jan 21]--In Defense of Lot

Genesis 19:1-11

I'm about to do something you have probably never heard another Bible teacher or preacher do: Defend Lot. Every time Lot is mentioned in sermons, the pattern is the same: Lot represents a believer who backslides into worldliness, becoming too closely associated with the world. He parts ways with his uncle Abraham, and slowly gets deeper and deeper into the world system. He starts out by living on the plains, then in the city, then by chapter 19 he is completely compromised. He's apparently on the city council (the rough equivalent of the city gates), is willing to give up his daughters to perverts, is unwilling to let go of the world system, then finally ends up doing unspeakable things with his daughters at the end of the chapter, never again being heard from in Scripture.

Remember what I said about narratives? They only tell us what happened, not what should've happened. If God doesn't specifically speak in the passage, we need to look elsewhere for his thoughts on what Lot was doing. Does God ever mention Lot again? Actually he does. Read 2 Peter 2:6-9. Peter (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) calls Lot “righteous” three times in two verses, and it looks like he calls him “godly” in verse nine. If the Lord--who knows everything inside and out about Lot and everyone else--calls him “righteous” (thrice), then perhaps we should think twice before flat-out condemning him.

Of course, our first instinct is to recoil at the very thought of handing our virgin daughters over to the mob in Sodom, but in that culture, Lot’s behavior is not so outlandish. In that value system, one protected one’s house guests from harm no matter the cost, even that of one’s own flesh and blood. This is not to justify Lot’s offer, but it does put it in some perspective. As for his drunken activity with them later, there’s no justification for that at all.

Yep, he certainly had lots of flaws, ways in which we're certainly not supposed to emulate him.

But that’s not the central issue, is it? In the mind of many sincere Christians, Lot’s first mistake was living with sinners in the first place. In their way of thinking, we're so much in danger of contamination from “the world” that we should avoid it whenever possible and certainly not get into leadership positions within it. But they seem to forget that our God is a missionary God, who sent his only Son into this dark sin-wrecked world, and he calls us to be salt and light here. What needed to take place was not for Lot to withdraw himself from Sodom. What Sodom needed was more people like Lot! If Sodom had just nine more men like Lot, then the city would have been spared.

How can we apply this? Well, think about the modern "Sodoms" in our day, both the literal ones and the more figurative ones, like certain professions. There are cities which have a certain reputation for lawlessness and egregious sin and rebellion. Or think about the professions of actor, or attorney, or salesman. These professions are not innately sinful, but they have certain reputations for one very good reason: Not enough salt and light in them. Salt was not only a spice but a preserving agent. If you leave meat out in the heat for a few days, what do you expect to happen? If you turn off the lights in a room, what do you think'll happen to it? Christians should not be ashamed to be God's representatives in those fields and in those cities. Not to disparage the sacrifices that international missionaries make, but in a very real sense believers who're called into certain professions are missionaries just the same.

We’ll talk about the dangers of worldliness at another time, but for now, let’s give Lot a break for being a righteous man in the midst of such an atmosphere.

Lord, with all his faults, Lot was doing something I sometimes fail to do: live among people who desperately need you. Help me to be the salt and light I need to be.

[Jan 20]--What’s In A Name?

Genesis 17:1-8

Names commonly have special, even prophetic meaning in Scripture. We already looked at Methuselah and the meaning behind his name. Here we come to the point where God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means “exalted father,” while Abraham means “father of nations.” He also changed “Sarai” to “Sarah,” although this doesn’t seem to be quite as drastic a change (both names mean “princess”).

Keep in mind that in that culture (and to a lesser extent this one), naming something or someone meant that you either owned that thing/person or had authority over them. God named all the aspects of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, and this showed his ownership over it. By changing Abram’s name, he shows the same thing.

This a good time to note God’s beautiful pattern of changing names. First he changes someone’s name, then changes that person’s character to reflect the new name. He meets Gideon hiding from the Mideonites inside a well, calls him “mighty warrior” or “hero,” then changes him into what his nickname claimed him to be. When Jesus meets Simon son of Jonah, he immediately nicknames him “Rock” (“Peter”). Of course, throughout Jesus’ ministry, Simon Peter showed himself to be anything but a “rock,” but over time Jesus changed him into what his name represented.

What about us? Do we have a new name? Well, Revelations 2:17 promises us “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it,” sort of like an intimate pet name between lovers. Colossians 3:12 says that God’s new names for us are “beloved,” and “my chosen one,” and “set apart for me” (that’s what “holy one” means). No matter what hateful or hurtful name someone else might have called you, you have a new name in Christ. Now your job (with his help) is to live up to it.

Lord, I thank you for the new name I have in you. Help me to be “set apart for you,” help me to live like one beloved by you. Thank you for choosing me for a special purpose which no one else in the universe can fulfill.

[Jan 19]--God’s People vs. The Gentiles

Genesis 16:1-16

When reading the Bible, it's always a good idea to keep in mind the context of the culture and society in which these people lived. In the Middle Eastern culture of about 2000 B.C., childlessness was considered to be just about the worst thing to happen to a married couple, especially the wife (who usually measured her worth and value by how many children she bore). To have a child (preferably many children) to carry one’s name was estimated to be a greater treasure than all the gold, silver, and material wealth one could accumulate.

Also, it must be noted that Sarai’s proposal wouldn't be as outlandish to ancient readers as it would to us; in fact, she was only suggesting a solution common to that time period. Yes, in her mind it'd be better for her husband to sleep with another woman and produce a child than for her to remain childless.

However, this is a great example of how God’s word and values must stand in judgment of our culture, not the other way around. When Jesus was asked about the propriety of divorce, he directed his listeners right back to the first two chapters of Genesis as our ideal to follow: one man united with one woman for a lifetime. Abram obviously was aware of this original pattern, and as the spiritual leader of the home, when his wife forwarded this idea his next words should've been, “Honey, I love you so much and I understand how hard this is for you, but we're doing things God’s way, not our way.”

Of course, it’s a common male fantasy to have more than one woman in one’s bed, but you certainly don’t find any sanction for it here. It's true that many of the biblical heroes had multiple wives, and you don’t often find the Lord specifically condemning it during the Old Testament time. It's also true, however, that in every instance where polygamy is recorded (not some, not most, but every single time), you have strife in the home. Sticking to God’s original plan for the home is not just moral, it’s wise.

Sadly enough, there are no real heroes in this story, but the closest thing we’ve got to one is Hagar, a female slave who was probably bought while Abram and his family stayed in Egypt. Apparently she had some concept of God, but she would be considered a Gentile, outside of God’s promises and covenant. It's particularly sad when the behavior of the Lord's people doesn’t compare favorably with “Gentiles.” But in this instance, the Lord (who always has a soft spot for underdogs) intervened and showed how he could redeem even the worst of situations. The message here is not that he condones bad choices, but when we turn to him in repentance he can redeem them and turn them into blessings.

Father God, I thank you for an unerring guide to get me past all the mistakes of my culture. Help me to judge my culture by your word, not the other way around. Help me to stick to your plan for the home, because I’m certainly not going to come up with something better.

[Jan 18]--Credited as Righteousness

Genesis 15:1-6

According to Paul, today's passage contains one of the most important verses anywhere in all of Scripture. In fact, he spends almost an entire chapter in Romans as a commentary on verse 6. Let's see the context leading up to it, then let's see how it applies to us.

God promises Abram many heirs, as numerous as the stars in the sky. City dwellers who suffer from light pollution might not appreciate this as much as they should. Speaking as one who's seen a starlit desert sky (not too far from where this promise was made), I can personally testify that this starlight is so bright that one can almost read a newspaper by it.

God makes his promise, Abram believes him, and the Lord “[credits] it to him as righteousness” What does this mean? Imagine your good acts and evil acts are like a ledger or budget page. On one side are your good qualities and actions (which in this illustration would be the income side), while on the other side are your bad qualities and sins (which would be the debit side). That's the way every other religious faith out there sees our relationship with God or Karma or whoever or whatever they believe in: If your "good" side outweighs your "bad" side at the end of your life, you're fine. If your "bad" side outweighs your "good" side, then you're in trouble.

But that's not what the Bible teaches at all. The problem is that our goodness doesn't "make up" for our bad side at all. If you have one wrong thing on the "bad" side, you stand condemned before him. His standard is not "more good than bad": His standard is perfection. His holiness is such that he cannot overlook our sin, no matter how many good deeds we accomplish. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” So how was Abram counted as righteous before God?

The answer is found in today's passage, and it's explained further in the Romans citation above. Abram believed God's promise, and the Lord counted it towards his "account" as righteousness. This means that in spite of all of Abram’s failures (and we’ll see many more in the chapters to come), God puts on the other end of the ledger not Abram’s obedience, but his trust. Since we can't be accepted by him based on our good works, the only way to come into his presence is based on his grace and mercy, brought to fulfillment in Jesus. We simply place our trust in him, and he credits it to our account as righteousness. This is precisely why Paul calls him “the father of all who believe,” and I highly recommend reading all of Romans chapter 4 to get the full context of the importance of this one little verse.

Why does this relate to us? Because, as Paul says, Abram is the father of all who believe, both circumcised (Jew) and uncircumcised (Gentile). By placing our faith in the God of Abraham (as revealed in Jesus Christ), we're the spiritual heirs of Abraham. The righteousness that Abram had, we have. When Abram was looking up at the night sky, one of those stars represented you.

Lord Jesus, I trust you alone for salvation. You alone can make the foulest soul clean, you alone can cover my sin with your precious blood. You are my only hope, but in you I am completely secure. Thank you.

[Jan 17]--Abram’s Failure

Genesis 12:10-20

What did Alistair Begg say about people? Oh, that’s right: “The best of men are men at best.” Right after a grand and glorious passage about Abram leaving behind his old life and following God in complete trust and obedience, within the same chapter we see sin entering and disrupting the life of even the “father of all who believe.” First, we might be asking a simple question: “Uh, Abram, what're you doing in Egypt?” The Promised Land is Canaan, not Egypt. Sure, there was a famine in Canaan, but that’s no obstacle to God’s providence.

Now, to be fair, there's no word in Scripture about the Lord forbidding him to go to Egypt, and we need to be careful about condemning a pillar of the faith without a sure word from the Lord. This is an important principle of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) regarding stories: Narratives only tell us what happened, not necessarily what should've happened. Many times we can tell what should've happened because God expressly commanded someone to do something. If they didn’t do it, then they obviously were disobedient. However, without a clear window into what he thought about what occurred, we should be cautious.

Nevertheless, whether or not Abram was being specifically disobedient to God by going to Egypt, it seems clear that he showed lack of faith (and simple courage) by lying about his relationship with Sarah. The Egyptians in particular considered honesty extremely important, so this was doubly embarrassing to him. They also considered adultery to be very contemptible, so they would've been horrified to discover what almost happened. The main job of a husband is to protect his wife, and like Adam, Abram miserably fails in this regard. How sad it is when pagans behave more honorably than believers! How damaging is our witness when this happens!

Once again, our finger pointing towards Abram points three back at us. Have we ever lied when under pressure? Usually it doesn’t even take a life-threatening situation; threatening our reputation and good name will commonly do the trick.

Lord Jesus, your word is truth, and you are Truth incarnate. When I lie, I confuse people as to who my Father really is. My Enemy has been a liar from the beginning, and he's the Father of lies. Don’t let me listen to his voice in my ears.

[Jan 16]--Covenant

Genesis 12:1-9

After thousands of years of human sinfulness and failure, now we see the Lord beginning to set in motion his promise way back in 3:15. His “solution” of destroying most of humanity in judgment didn’t really work because it didn’t get to the root of the problem: our sinful nature. Punishment alone doesn’t change a rebel into a child of God, so the Lord must do something radically different. Through this one man, namely Abram (aka Abraham), he plans to redeem humanity out of our sorry condition.

You might not be that familiar with the word “covenant,” so here’s a simple definition: it’s a formal and binding agreement between two parties. The closest modern equivalent would be a contract. This passage sets out what is called the “Abrahamic” covenant, but it's missing at least one element. Usually a covenant has obligations on both parties (Party A does this, and Party B does that), but there aren’t any listed here for Abram, except for leaving his country behind. God, on his own initiative, calls Abram out of his old life to a new one of long travels and uncertainty. The Lord then gives some glorious promises, at least four of which can be separated out in this passage. He promises him lots of descendants (“I will make you into a great nation”), a great name, protection (blessings on those who bless you and curses on those who curse you), and finally that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Once again, God’s calling might have sounded crazy when considering what obedience would entail. Abram is called specifically to abandon his country and his father’s family and not only go to a country he's never seen, but not even knowing where he was going. Most of his family, all of his friends, all of his security and the only life he's ever known must be left behind. No wonder he's called “the father of all who believe." He's our spiritual ancestor, and we're his heirs by following in his faith. And by becoming his heirs, we share in his blessing.

Lord, whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go, whoever you want me to serve, the answer’s “Yes.”

[Jan 15]--Stairway to Heaven

Genesis 11:1-9

Unfortunately, punishment alone does not redeem or change the sinful human heart. 8:21 makes it clear that human nature has not changed with the flood, and again people went from bad to worse right after the deluge. Chapter 10 describes how the children of Noah reproduced and repopulated the earth, listing the nations that these children produced.

This passage actually is human history in miniature. Sinful men gather together in rebellion against God (in this case, in exact disobedience to 1:28), and try to make a name for themselves. Just for fun, go through vss. 3-4 and count how many times you see some variation of “we” and “us.” It’s obvious what their focus was, and to whom they were attempting to give glory (hint: it’s not God).

So they gather together, and attempt to reach up to God by their own efforts. It’s almost comical at that point how the Most High “comes down” to see what they’re doing. How foolish is it to try to reach the Lord by our own efforts, but that’s the history of human religion in a nutshell. I submit that this is the main message of the Bible: the utter futility of reaching up to God, and the good news of God coming down to us.

On a final note, a point should be made about unity. It seems that conventional wisdom takes it for granted that unity is a good in and of itself. Presidential campaigns are based upon it: “Working together we can achieve anything.” The largest organization in the world, upon which many people pin all their hopes for the human race, is the United Nations. This is not to disparage all attempts to work together, but this story does sound a warning: Unity is not an intrinsic good. Humanity can be united in rebellion against the Lord as well as in submission to him. A lynch mob is “unified.” Germany was almost unanimous in its adulation for “The Leader.” Whenever a political or religious leader calls for “unity,” we must ask him “Unity in what cause?”

But if unity is such a destructive force when it's in the service of a bad cause, how much more powerful is it when we're united in a good one? As the Psalmist put it, "How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!" How beautiful a symphony can be when every musician is 1) following the notes on his sheet, 2) playing in harmony with his fellow musicians around him, and 3) keeping his attention on the Conductor in front of him!

Lord, it's so tempting to follow the crowd. When someone at work is making a dirty joke, it’s so easy to join in the laughter. You aren't looking for people who just blend into the scenery. You're looking for people who will be salt and light. Help me be that one. 

[Jan 14]--Noah’s Failure and Ours

Genesis 9:18-23

My favorite scene of The Simpsons is when Homer Simpson picks up a Bible. He thumbs through it and says, “I hate this book! Everybody’s a sinner in here! Except for this guy!” One of the reasons I believe in the total trustworthiness of God’s word is its brutal honesty about its heroes. Of course, Noah is certainly one of the great examples of faithful obedience in Scripture. Consider for a moment all the reasons he could have come up with NOT to build this huge boat in his backyard. Think of the expense, the ridicule of his family and neighbors, the back-breaking labor, the seemingly endless waiting (about 120 years) for his final vindication. All of this because “God spoke to me.” Can you imagine explaining all of this to your wife?

But as Homer so eloquently put it, everyone’s a sinner in this book with one exception, and Noah isn’t it. It’s a pattern we see over and over in the Bible and throughout history: God blesses us with something, and we channel human creativity into turning it into something sinful. He gives us vineyards, and we use its wine to get drunk. We’re not sure if this passage describes a pattern of alcohol abuse or a one-time deal (I certainly hope the latter). The fact remains, however, that at least in this one instance Noah made a poor choice, and ended up shaming himself before his own sons.

The first lesson we should learn from this is to be careful of making a hero out of any sinner. As Alistair Begg put it, “The best of men are men at best.” We should certainly look to heroes of the faith as good examples to follow when they're being obedient. On the other hand, we must take a realistic attitude towards anyone whom we respect, and we must not be discouraged when they fail to meet God’s standards.

The second lesson we should gain from this is one of hope and encouragement. God dealt graciously and kindly with Noah, and he will certainly do so with us, if we just simply trust him.

Holy Father, you know my failures and my sin, and you love me anyway. Help me to be gracious and compassionate when other people fail in front of me, remembering that you treat me the same way.

[Jan 13]--Did You Forget Something, God?

Genesis 8:1-5

Chapter seven describes the flood which destroyed all humanity (along with everything else) on the face of the planet, ending with a scene of universal destruction and death. According to Scripture, only eight people out of all the human race survived. Chapter eight, however, starts out with a word of hope, even if it’s a slightly strange one. Verse one says that God “remembered” Noah and his family. Does this mean he had forgotten them up until that point: “Now let’s see, what was next on my ‘to do’ list? Oh my gosh, I totally blanked on Noah and his crew!”? Of course not! He who holds the whole of creation together (Colossians 1:17) and who sustains all things with his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3) does not EVER forget anything (with one exception, but we’ll get to that later). When the term “remember” is applied to God in the Old Testament, it simply means that God is physically acting to keep one of his promises. He promised to sustain Noah and his family, and he is now acting on that promise. You’ll see this again in Exodus 2:24.

Another subject that needs raising is that of a universal flood. Many people try to present Noah’s flood as only a local flood, affecting only the people in his region. There are several problems with this, however. Gen. 7:17-23 describes the floods covering the “mountains,” and God’s promise in 9:12-16 makes absolutely NO sense if he is only referring to a local flood (think of all the local floods throughout history). But why would this matter to modern people? Why are they so intent to disparage the idea of a universal flood? 2 Peter 3:3-7 might have a clue. The idea of a God who judges all of humanity and is capable of destroying it because of sin would not be a comfortable one to someone intent on continuing a rebellious and godless lifestyle. Peter says that the same people who scoff at the notion of a universal flood also ridicule the idea of the Second Coming of Christ who will sit in judgment over every person who has ever drawn a breath. The same God who destroyed the entire earth with a flood of water will one day overwhelm it with fire which will reduce it to ashes.

But again, before I point the finger at “godless” people who don’t believe the Bible, what about me? Do I believe that every lost person I meet has an appointment with the Judgment seat of Christ? If so, do I look for opportunities to share the good news with them?

Lord Jesus, please forgive me for my lack of compassion for people around me who are lost. You came to seek and to save that which was lost, and you are not willing that anyone perish but that all should come to repentance. Please give me that heart, Lord.

[Jan 12]--“Private” Sin

Genesis 6:11-22

You're probably familiar with the story of Noah’s flood, so I won’t go into too much detail at this point. However, this narrative does raise a couple of issues.

First, one of biggest changes we need to make in our thinking is how seriously we take sin. One of sin’s most deadly effects is how it dampens our moral sensitivity. The more we indulge, the less serious sin in general seems to us. This passage strongly reminds us that God takes sin a whole lot more seriously than we do. As R. C. Sproul once noted, we have more in common with Adolf Hitler than with Jesus Christ.

One reason why we should hate sin is because our sin doesn’t just affect us; it affects those around us. The animals had not participated in mankind’s sin, but they were killed along with sinful humanity. We can scream and cry that “It’s not fair,” and that argument might have some merit. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. An expectant mother gets addicted to drugs, and the unborn baby suffers as a result. Whatever our feelings about the unfairness of it all, we have to acknowledge that our sinful choices affect our spouses, our children, our parents, and all of our loved ones around us. In this sense, there is no such thing as “private” sin.

In the midst of all this depravity, however, one man stands out from the rest. The lesson we can glean from this is encouraging. Even in the midst of a human race completely given over to rebellion against God, the Lord still had one man who tried (however imperfectly) to obey and follow him. When we look at how humanity seems bound and determined to find new ways to defy him, it’s easy to get discouraged. In every generation, however, God has his people who stand firm and who refuse to follow the crowd. Take heart.

Lord, help me to be the kind of man who goes against the flow, who's different from the lost people around me. I want to be completely given over to you, and I want to follow Noah’s example. Whatever you ask me to do, the answer’s “yes.”

[Jan 11]--Total Depravity

Genesis 6:5-8

One of the silliest arguments I have ever heard against Christians is that we are hopelessly naive about how “the real world works.” We believe in a good God who's sovereign over human history, so we must be simpleminded folk who uncritically believe everything we're told. I’m not sure about all Christians, but to the extent that the accusation has any merit, this means that Christians aren't reading and believing their Bibles. You can accuse biblical Christianity of being many things, but naive belief in the goodness of humanity is not one of them. In its description of human nature, the Bible could hardly be more harsh and brutal in its portrayal.

As you read in today’s passage, after several generations, humanity in general got only worse and worse in a downward spiral of sin. This brings us to another theological term, namely total depravity. First, we need to understand what this term does not mean: It doesn't mean that every person is as bad as he can possibly be. Even for nonbelievers, there's a restraining influence of personal conscience, social mores, parental upbringing, the influence of Scripture on a society, etc., that keeps even a non-Christian from giving into his sinful nature completely. What the term does describe is the fact that sin has touched and tainted every aspect of human existence. People are affected by sin mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially. It infects our family life, our work experience, our marriages, our churches, our government, etc. It does not mean that people are unable to perform any act of goodness; it does mean that every act of goodness we do perform is to some degree tainted by sin. It also means that we are utterly unable to please God by our performance, since his standard is perfection. It also means that apart from God's gracious intervention, we're never going to truly seek God or submit to him. 

Why is this important? Because we need to understand that our situation outside of God's grace is as bad as it could possibly be. We're not just slightly flawed people who need slight course corrections, a little tweaking here and there. We're not just ignorant innocents who just need a good set of rules to point the way. We're not basically good people who're led astray by society. We're rotten sinners who were running away from God--the only source of hope and life--just as fast as our feet could take us.

Another term we need to learn is anthropomorphism. This long word means ascribing human terms to the Lord in order to understand him better. For example, the Bible talks about his “right arm," or something being a "pleasing aroma" to him. Since we know that God is spirit, and spirits don’t have physical body parts, then what do these phrases signify? They're an attempt to explain something about him in human terms we can understand.

This passage is a good example of this. Did the Lord really change his mind about creating humanity? How can an omniscient God change his mind? What new information could be submitted to his knowledge that would cause this? Also we read later that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” So we conclude that although he doesn’t really change his mind, the passage is trying to express just how bad humanity’s situation had become, and how angry he was at how people were acting. He doesn't ever change, but the circumstances on earth do, and his reaction to what is going on will change as the situation warrants.

The point is that the Lord, who's infinitely high and above us, is attempting to reach us. We could never in a million years really understand him, but he attempts to communicate with us in the only way we could grasp. Imagine trying to explain quantum physics to snail darters, and then multiply it by infinity. His first reaction to our sin in chapter three was to seek out sinful humanity, and he's been reaching out to us ever since.

Thank you Father God, for moving heaven and earth to reach out to me and pull me back to yourself. Lord Jesus, my sin is why you were hung on the cross. I desperately need your help in order to hate sin like you do.

[Jan 10]--“Boring” Parts of the Bible

Genesis 5:25-27

Ok, I'm going to go off on one of my biggest pet peeves today. It really grieves me that many Christians don’t take God’s word seriously. They might say with their mouth that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” but do they really believe it? If they believed all Scripture (not some, not most, but all) is all of these things, then do their reading habits reflect that belief? Why do they behave as if a full two-thirds of it isn't important? How many Christians never read all the Bible from cover to cover? How often do they focus on the New Testament to the utter neglect of the Old Testament? Even if they read the Old Testament, they get through the lists of names and places as quickly as possible, because those have no appeal to them personally.

But the “boring” parts are important, if for no other reason than this: They remind us that the Bible is literally true. It doesn’t really matter to a Buddhist if Buddha never physically lived, but things like this do matter to a Bible-believer. The Bible claims to deal with real people who historically lived in the physical places the Bible records. If not, then we should accord the Bible no more authority than Dear Abby. Also this means that the Bible deals with real people like you and me, not some fantasy world of people who don’t have real problems.

Also, if you skip over the “boring” parts, then you might miss important nuggets of truth. Take for example the passage for today’s reading. Methuselah is the longest-living man recorded in history, and his name is a clue as to why. Literally his name is “When he dies it will come.” What in the world is “it”? Well, if you do the math, then Methuselah died in the year of Noah’s flood. Our God, who is “patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” chose to grant the longest lifespan to the man who would be used as the measure of his patience with sinful humanity. The man’s very name itself is a call for sinful people to repent and return to the Lord before it’s too late. Truly he's a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." Do you need any better example of this than how he treats you every day?

Father God, I believe that your word is completely reliable and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that I can be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Help me to see all of your word as infinitely precious, and thank you so much for your grace and mercy that you’ve shown me through your Son.

[Jan 09]--Death and Life

Genesis 5:1-8, 21-24

If you’ve read the book of Genesis before, you probably are familiar with the tragic story of Cain and Abel. Can you imagine what must've been going through the minds of our first parents when they discovered their own son’s body out in the field? That’s the first recorded death in the Bible, but chapter five lists several more. In fact, chapter four has traditionally been called the “sin” chapter, while chapter five has been called the “death” chapter. James says that “sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death,” and this is ALWAYS true. The sun is hot, snow is cold, night follows day, and sin leads to death.

I remember the first time I seriously read Genesis for my personal study, and I was seriously depressed by this chapter. When you think about all we lost in chapter three, then this chapter becomes even more disheartening. “So and so lived for so many years, he had these children, and then he died. Then this other guy lived for so many years, he had these children, and then he died.” We were designed to live forever! Death is a foreign invader, not something natural to us!

But near the end of the chapter, it’s as if God himself has had enough of this. If you believe, as I do, that every word in Scripture is God-breathed, then the short narrative about Enoch has very special meaning. After all this death, God intervenes in the life of Enoch, and there are two very important points to consider:

1) While all the others are simply described as “living” for so many years, Moses (the author of this book) says that Enoch “walked faithfully with God.” There's a huge difference between “living” (a plant’s "alive") and "walking with God."

I once heard a humorous retelling of this story. Every morning Enoch woke up, got dressed,, and walked with God during the day. Day after day, he walked with God. But one day, as Enoch and God were walking together, God said to Enoch, "You know, Enoch, my house is closer than yours right now. Why don't you just come on over to my place?"

2) The end of the narrative about Enoch reminds us of our “blessed hope” when all will be made right and new again. Death does NOT have the final word over us, God does. In fact, our Lord Jesus literally has the final word here. Hold on to that.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that I share in your victory over death and sin. Whether I go to you or you come to me, death doesn't have the last word over me. You do. Your victory is mine. Through your life-giving Spirit, help me to follow Enoch's example, walking with you moment-by-moment, not just going through the motions of "life." 

[Jan 08]--First Hero of the Bible

Genesis 4:1-18

It’s been said that every baby is proof that God hasn’t given up on humanity yet, and that’s certainly true in this chapter. After being driven from the Garden and from God’s presence, Adam “knew” his wife (in the words of the King James Version), and she bore him children. Some people take from Eve’s pronouncement in verse 1 that she hoped that the promise in 3:15 was coming true with Cain’s birth. Unfortunately, whether she hoped for it or not, their firstborn certainly wasn't the child promised. Instead of being the promised “seed” who would crush the Serpent, this boy would prove himself to be a spiritual “child” of the Serpent himself.

Thank God, this was not the only child that our first parents bore! Isn’t it amazing that the same two parents can produce very different children? One of the greatest mysteries is how the same parents, with the same parenting techniques, passing on the same genetics, can produce active faith in one child, and rebellious depravity in the other.

Abel is the first hero of the faith listed in Hebrews 11, but a word must be said in favor of Adam. True, Abel was an obedient believer, and he's the first one listed in Scripture as an example for us to follow. But since he knew the Lord, presumably his parents brought him up in the faith. Adam and Eve may have screwed up royally, but at least they passed on the truth about God to at least one of their children.

The very first “whodunit” murder mystery was solved pretty quickly, and not just because the suspect list was rather short. Cain tried to cover up his fratricide, but of course he couldn’t escape the all-piercing gaze of the Omniscient One. We might point fingers at Cain, but aren’t we just as foolish when we think we can get away with sin? We might not be guilty of physical murder, but are we guilty of hatred of our brother? Jesus makes it clear that the Lord's concerned with our heart attitudes, not just with physical actions.

A final word needs to be said about this chapter. Bible skeptics love to ask goofy questions like “Who was Cain’s wife?” The answer to this question can be lumped under what I call the “Kissing Mary” principle. The Bible never records Jesus kissing his mother. Should we then infer from this that Jesus never kissed his mother in all his 33 years? Of course not! The Bible tells us all that we need in order to know God and obey him, and it expects us to fill in the blanks with common sense. As distasteful as it would be to us, Cain would've had to marry his sister in order to get the human race started, but of course this was later forbidden by the Mosaic law once it was no longer required. The Lord didn't create you with a brain just so you could let it sit inside your head.

But let's not let this distract us from the main point. We need to (figuratively) tattoo this on our forehead: When we think we've gotten away with sin, we've gotten away with absolutely nothing. Cain must've thought that there were no witnesses to his crime, but there was One. And I don't know about you, but I need constant reminders that "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

Thank God, although Abel's spilled blood cried out, there's another type of blood crying out as well. The author of Hebrews invites us to come to God through Jesus Christ, “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood cries out for vengeance and justice, but the blood of our Savior calls for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Aren't you glad?

Lord, please seek me out quickly when I think I can get away with anything. I thank you so much for the blood that covers my sin and cleanses my soul once and for all.

[Jan 07]--Judgment and Mercy

Genesis 3:8-24

I know that we looked at this passage yesterday, but I couldn’t leave this story on such a negative note. The final word here is not sin or punishment but grace. Our God is the seeking God, the merciful God, and the promising God.

What do we mean by a seeking God? Many in the church-growth movement talk about a “seeker-sensitive” church. There may be some merit to that concept, but it's at best the second half of the story. He seeks us first, because on our own we'd never seek him. Lewis said that to talk about “man’s search for God” is like talking about a mouse’s search for a cat, and this chapter illustrates that perfectly. Ours is the missionary God, not waiting for us to come to him.

He's also the merciful God. Ever try to cover yourself with fig leaves? Would you be comfortable in walking around in nothing but leaves? But instead of mocking them, he graciously covers their nakedness with “garments of skin.”

Finally we have the promising God. I believe that one of the first presentations of the gospel (literally “good news”) is found not in what he said, but in what he did. First, a question: Where did the “garments of skin” come from? I suppose he could've just whipped them up out of thin air, but more likely they came from another source. Most likely they came from an innocent animal, an animal that had nothing to do with our first parents’ sin, but who was slaughtered right in front of them.

What message did this send to them? "When you sin, something has to die. In order for your sin to be truly covered, something has to die in order to cover it. You can try to cover yourselves with the “fig leaves” of self-righteousness or works-salvation, but it won’t work. Only I can cover you, and only when something dies in your place." The author of Hebrews later tells us that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." What was promised first here in pictures and shadows was fulfilled and made flesh when a man named John proclaimed to all the world "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

The other glorious promise is known as the Proto-Evangelium, literally the “First Good News.” It’s located in 3:15, ironically addressed not to humanity but to humanity’s great enemy (but overheard by us). Here are some things to point out:

1) God is the one who initiates this battle between the woman (and her offspring, or “seed”) and the Serpent (and his seed).

2) It is a perpetual battle throughout human history. From this point forward, there is “Seed of the woman” and the “Seed” of the Serpent, and their bloodlines will constantly be in mutual hatred and mortal combat

3) It shows how Satan will wound the “Seed” of the woman (“strike his heel”).

4) However, the Serpent’s head will be “crushed." Both the Seed and the Serpent will be wounded, but the Serpent's will be mortal.

The wonderful news is that through the Lamb of God, we share in this victory. Shortly the God of Peace will crush this Serpent beneath our feet.

Thank you Lord, for your victory over the Evil One. You took the wounds meant for me, and you crushed the Serpent’s head under your feet. Your victory is mine, and it is glorious.

[Jan 06]--Lies and Consequences

Genesis 3:9-24

The scene between God and our first parents would be humorous if it weren’t so tragic. Here are some other consequences of sin. See if some of these things sound familiar:

1) The blame game. What a man Adam is! So quick to face up to his responsibility! He blames both God (“the woman you put here with me”) and of course his beloved wife. As spiritual leaders, one of our main duties is the protection of our wives from spiritual harm, and Adam (literally his name means “The Man”) displays sheer cowardice in this whole exchange. But don’t just point your finger at “the man.” His wife points to the Serpent who “deceived” her. Yes Mother Eve, you might've been lied to, but you chose to believe it because it appealed to you.

2) The curse. Think for a moment about the most beautiful piece of creation you’ve ever seen. Maybe you’ve seen deep canyons, or stark deserts, or sparking rivers. Maybe you’ve seen mountains that literally take your breath away. Maybe you’ve seen forests, thick and teeming with life. When you see how beautiful this world can be, keep this in mind: You’ve never seen this world the way it was designed to be. Nor have I. As awe-inspiring as this world can be, we’ve only seen the sin-wrecked version. It’s like a Mona Lisa that someone mutilated with a knife less than five minutes after the artist completed it.

3) Death. Romans 5:12-21 is very clear that death was another “companion” who walked through the door our first parents opened. We were not designed to die. Like that Mona Lisa, we've been defaced by sin. When the Lord warned them against the fruit in 2:17, he literally told them that “dying you shall die.” You might ask, “Did God fail to deliver on his threat? He didn’t strike them dead that day, did he?" The answer to this question is yes, they did die. They died spiritually the moment they decided to eat the fruit, and as a result of that spiritual death, they would die physically in a few years. Death is a separation: When you die physically, your soul separates from your body, and when you die spiritually, you're separated from God. If The Lord is the source of all life, then how could separation from him be anything but death? If we're separated from the source of heat, how could we be anything but colder?

Now that we’ve looked at the bad news, let’s look at the good news tomorrow.

Father God, rescue me from all forms of the blame game. I'm responsible for my sinful choices, and no one else. Help me avoid Adam’s example: When I sin, may I run not away from you, but towards the only hope I have.

[Jan 05]--Listening To Lies

Genesis 3:1-8

There are times when I wish the Bible ended with chapter 2, but it doesn’t. Theologians and Bible scholars throughout the ages have debated about what would have happened if Adam and Eve hadn’t listened to the Serpent, but that’s counter-factual speculation. Our job isn't to reason out what might've happened, but to deal with life as it is. Here are some things that have not changed, nor will they ever change:

1) Satan has not changed his tactics. Why should he, when it still works? The dead last thing he wants you to believe is that the Lord means what he says and says what he means. Notice again that his lies are always mixed in with some truth: Experiencing sin does (in a sense) give us “understanding” of good and evil, but not in the long term. Sin deceives us and darkens our understanding, and the more we indulge in it the less we truly understand it. This means that the least naive man who ever walked the planet is the One who resisted sin to the uttermost.

2) We always get in trouble when we don’t listen carefully to God’s word. As far as we know, God had never said anything about touching the fruit (2:17).

3) We also get in trouble when we despise God’s goodness and generosity. We tend to take our eyes off of what our Father has given us and focus on what he hasn't given us. How many trees were in the garden? We don’t know, but we do know that of all the beautiful, delicious, life-sustaining trees there were, there was only one that was forbidden. To our sin-influenced eyes, the one thing that’s forbidden is more important than all the things that God has graciously provided for us.

4) Sin always has bad consequences. Someone once told me that sin will always end up taking you further than you want to go and costing you more than you’re willing to pay. We’ll talk more about the universal results of sin tomorrow, but one thing we see today is the immediate introduction of alienation. The husband and wife “realize” that they’re naked, and try to cover themselves. Why? Whom exactly are they trying to hide something from? The only answer is each other. What “parts” do they suddenly have now that they didn’t have ten minutes ago? Or why would they try to run and hide from God? How dumb do you have to be to try to hide from someone who’s omniscient? The answer to all these questions is this: When our first parents invited sin through the door, it brought in as its companions guilt, fear, secrets, and shame. We’ve been hiding from the Lord and each other ever since.

Lord, please forgive me when I listen to the Enemy’s lies. Help me to listen to your word and believe it. Thank you for being so generous and gracious to me, and forgive me for being ungrateful for your incredible blessings.

[Jan 04]--Marriage and Nudity

Genesis 2:19-25

Here are some points we can gather from the story of the first romance:

1) Marriage must be pretty important to God. He created marriage before any other institution, including the church or the government. It's foundational to any society or nation, and moral decay and collapse always start with the undermining of it.

2) Marriage is not a man-made institution, flexible and malleable to the whims of majority rule. Marriage is not defined by the state or by any group of people, but by its Creator.

3) It's not just a contract or a gathering together of two individuals; it's the permanent union of two into one. Adam said his wife is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” and God said they are “one flesh” in vs. 24. C. S. Lewis pointed out that divorce is not the dissolving of a contract so much as it's an amputation of one’s limb. Just like amputation, it might in extreme circumstances be necessary, but it's never desirable and should always be the last resort. Do you begin to see why God hates divorce so much?

Now let’s talk about nudity for a bit. The last verse in the chapter says that the man and his wife were both "naked, and they felt no shame.” This is talking about more than physical nudity. They could be completely open and honest with each other. There was no shame because there was no guilt, no fear, no secrets, and no hidden agenda. This, of course, would change in the very next chapter. This is why (in general) nudity should be restricted to marriage, not because there’s anything wrong with the human body (that would be asceticism), but because sin has entered the picture. The reason we need clothes (and animals don’t) is not just because we need protection from the elements, but because of what happens in chapter 3. But we can't move towards the goal of a perfect marriage without understanding what his original design for it was/is. This is what he created marriage to be, and it was sin which ruined all of it. But as he works in our lives to restore us, that's his goal: Total intimacy, total trust.

This applies to emotional “nudity” as well: Be careful of “exposing” yourself to people who aren't trustworthy; remember that we live in a fallen world with fallen people.

On a more positive note, I'd be remiss in failing to mention that when Paul (under the inspiration of the Spirit) was looking for picture of our relationship with Christ, he repeatedly pointed to marriage (we're the “bride” of Christ). The Lord Jesus is the One whom we can completely trust, without any guilt, fear, secrets, or shame. He's as close as our heartbeat, as close as the breath on our lips, or at least he'd like to be.

Lord Jesus, thank you for claiming me as your own. Help me to be completely open and trusting with you. In my own marriage, help me to be the husband you want me to be, and keep me sexually pure with the one person you desire me to be “one flesh” with.

[Jan 03]--Racism and Sexism

Genesis 1:26-27

Biblical Christianity has gotten a bad reputation over the years, and partly because of the misdeeds of Jesus’ followers. We’ve been accused of harboring racism and justifying slavery, and unfortunately there's some basis to it. There've been plenty of Christians who've preached from the pulpit (at least in the 19th century) that slavery is condoned and even blessed by God, and--even though it's not considered socially acceptable--you can still find Christians today who claim that A) they believe the Bible word-for-word and also that B) people of a different skin color are somehow inferior in God’s eyes.

It would be very hard to express just how important today's passage is to human history in counteracting these notions. To just scratch the surface, let me ask some very simple questions:

If you believe that the Lord created all of humanity (both sexes) in his own image,

1) How can you believe in racial superiority?
2) How can you be a sexist (believing that one sex is innately superior)?
3) How can you believe that abortion is approved by God?
4) How can you believe that anyone’s worth or value is determined by their ability to contribute to society?

It's no coincidence that every single major positive reform movement over the last two centuries was led by Christians inspired by these verses: the abolition of slavery, the abolition of child labor, legal equality for women, the civil rights movement, etc. It's also no coincidence that as Western civilization moves away from a belief in the Bible (including these verses), it'll also lose sight of the preciousness of human life. Note the rise of euthanasia and partial-birth abortion.

But this also raises questions for me as a socially conservative Christian. I'd never vote for a pro-abortion politician, but how do I treat my neighbor down the street who’s in need? How about the guy who just cut me off on the freeway? What about the girl in a skimpy dress on TV? How about that child who just stepped on my last nerve? Do I treat them as created in God’s image?

Lord Jesus, please forgive me for not treating every person I meet as an image-bearer who's infinitely valuable, a soul for whom you died. Help me to see them as I should see them, either as a sibling in Christ or as a sheep without a shepherd. Either way, they're precious to you and should be precious to me.

[Jan 02]--Two More Fallacies Avoided

Genesis 1:2-10

As stated before, if you thoroughly examine (and believe) the first three chapters of Genesis, then you can avoid just about every bad idea out there in philosophy, worldview, and religion. In these verses we see refuted the fallacies of asceticism and dualism.

Asceticism is defined by Webster’s as “practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline.” Here again we have a lie that has a measure of truth to it. We are supposed to not let our bodily appetites run our lives, and Paul said he “[struck his] body and [made] it [his] slave." But this can easily be taken too far. Think of monks and priests who abuse their bodies and deny their needs in order supposedly to get close to God. Behind that practice lies the belief that the physical universe is some how “bad” or at best a hindrance to our walk with the Lord. God, however, likes physical matter. The pattern starts with these verses and goes throughout the rest of the chapter: The Lord creates something and pronounces it “good.” All of creation is good, and that includes our physical bodies. This might not be too popular among Americans, but it's been a common error throughout history.

Another false idea is dualism. This is common in many religions around the world, especially in Eastern ones. This is the idea that all the universe is made up of equal, opposite, and warring forces. The “Light” and the “Darkness” are continually battling each other, and both are equally powerful, and (here’s a depressing thought) they never really will finish the conflict. Think of the “Force” in Star Wars, which has a "light" side and a "dark" side. As opposed to this, we have a God who both created “light” and separated it from the darkness. The apostle John tells us that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." History is the record of the conflict between Satan and God, but this isn't a battle between equal forces. Also it does have an end: Read the book of Revelation. You might not think you’re a dualist, but if you ever let yourself slip into depression over how evil seems to be winning the fight and how God’s people are on the defensive, then you might be flirting with this error. The Lord God is sovereign (in charge), and the first word and the last word in history is his.

Lord, I praise you because you have created a beautiful world and I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Help me appreciate and be grateful for the simple pleasures you’ve showered upon me, without taking my eyes off you. You are sovereign God. Help me see the battle with the eyes of faith, knowing that the gates of hell will not prevail against your church.

[Jan 01]--First Things First

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. --Genesis 1:1

Ah, a new year! Full of new possibilities and new resolutions (most of which will be broken within a week or two, if you're like me). But before we head into this new year, let's make a new commitment that really matters.

I know that I'm really dating myself, but I remember these things called "checkbooks." For anyone reading this under the age of 20, those were little books in which you kept track of your checking account. You wrote down all your deductions and additions to the money in your account, and thus kept track of how much you had in there at any time. The part I hated was balancing it: Where you had to add all the pluses and minuses on each page and thus came up with a sum which theoretically told you how much was in it. I invariably missed something on a page, discovered that I'd missed it after several minutes or even hours of tedious work, and had to start over again.

My favorite author outside the Bible itself, C. S. Lewis, compared life to that. He said “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”

Do you want to make real progress in your life this year? Here's Lewis again: “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

I'll confess right up front that I'm a talk-show junkie. One of my favorite hosts in Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew who spent 18 years going thru the first five books of the Bible, known to Jews as the Torah. he says that today's verse is the most important one in all of Scripture. While I might not agree that it's the most important one, I'd agree wholeheartedly that it's the most foundational one (for the same reason he holds). The first verse of the Bible tells us that there is one God and that he created everything. If he didn't, if all this is just an accidental collision of atoms, then we're not accountable to anyone. But if he did create everything, including us, then we're accountable to him. He has the innate right to hold certain expectations of us. If we get that wrong, everything else will be wrong. If you want to change your life, it starts with thinking right, with thinking rightly about things. Imagine life as a great river. What happens at the head of the river makes a huge difference. If someone pollutes the river at the head, then everything down the river will be polluted as well.

That's why I think that we need to focus on Genesis, especially the first three chapters. Everything else we believe--or should believe--flows down from this. It’s been my firm belief for a long time that there are absolutely no major erroneous belief in philosophy or worldview which can't be corrected by a thorough reading of the first three chapters of Genesis. If you get these chapters right, then the rest of the Bible (and life itself) will make much more sense, and you’ll avoid a host of common fallacies.

Here are some points we can glean from just these first words of the Bible:

1) In the beginning This is not merely referring to the beginning of the physical universe but of time itself. There never was a time when he was not. God is eternal.

2) God He is the center of everything. Humanity is extremely important, but we are not the measure of all things. There is one primary Actor in this book, and it's not any human being.

3) created the heavens and the earth. Think about the power displayed by our Creator in this one phrase! He speaks worlds and stars into existence.

Now that we’ve looked at what the verse says, let’s briefly examine two common errors which this one verse can correct.

Humanism, simply put, is the belief that man is the measure of all things. Like all lies from Satan, this is based upon a sliver of truth, namely that humanity is extremely important. But the only glory we have is reflected glory. The moon is a great analogy here: It has no innate light of its own, and its only light is from the sun. Even better, it's brighter or darker (to us) based on how much its surface straight-on reflects the sun (think of the phases). The reason why we’re so important is because our Creator has declared us so, and because we're made in his image.

Many religions also fall into the error of pantheism, coming from pan (meaning “all/everything”) and theos (“God”). It is the belief that God is all and all is God. The tree is God, the rock is God, I am God, you are God. As Lewis pointed out, this is hopelessly behind the times. There was a time in which there existed nothing but God, but that ended with his first recorded words of creation: “Let there be. . .”

I praise you Father, for you are the eternal Creator of everything seen and unseen. You are the center of the universe, and help me to remember that you're God and I’m not. I thank you that you've appointed me to reflect your glory in a way that no one else and nothing else in the universe can.