Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category


Devotions: Ezekiel 20

January 1, 2016

Therefore say to the Israelites: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Will you defile yourselves the way your ancestors did and lust after their vile images? When you offer your gifts—the sacrifice of your children in the fire—you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. Am I to let you inquire of me, you Israelites? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will not let you inquire of me.'”

~ Ezekiel 20:30-31


I’m reading through the heartbreaking saga of Ezekiel in my devotions, which is a book about Israel being incredibly unfaithful to God and God sending his prophet to entreaty with his people to turn back before it’s too late. Just a couple chapters earlier, God defends his fairness, explains patiently how the sinful people were bringing doom upon their head, and calls them to repent.

Here, it’s almost like God’s at the end of his patience as the elders come to Ezekiel with more questions of God. At first that kind of seems like it makes sense and is honorable — they want to know about God, so why not talk to his prophet? But it’s been a year or so since Ezekiel has been about his mission here and none of the people, including the elders, are listening and responding. They’re still in full-fledged rebellion, and God delivers these strong words to them when they dare to try to question him even as they are doing despicable things such as child sacrifice and worshiping other gods.

It’s arrogant and even a bit blasphemous, and if there’s something I’ve picked up in my reading of Scripture, it’s that God does NOT respond well to arrogant people. It also reminded me a bit of how Job had all of these questions for God in the midst of suffering and God’s answer was to basically state his resume as an all-powerful creator and remind Job that he doesn’t ever have to answer anything to anyone. If he does, that’s his mercy and generosity in action, but at all times does God keep the fullness of his council to himself.


Sermon: The Temptation of Adam

October 20, 2015

The Temptation of Adam
Genesis 3
Big Idea: Adam couldn’t bear temptation, but God could redeem it


When I was a kid, we came into possession of a big hardbound book of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. Now these weren’t the sanitized, G-rated stories, but the really depressing and sometimes gruesome old-school tales. Obviously, reading them warped me for life.

One story in particular always stuck in my mind, which was The Garden of Eden. In it, there is a prince who’s desperate to find the Garden and sad that it’s been lost to humanity for so long. At the beginning of the tale he says, “Oh, why did Eve pluck from the Tree of Knowledge? Why did Adam eat of the forbidden fruit? If it had been I, it would not have happened; sin would never have come into the world.”

Well, the prince is finally taken to the Garden of Eden – which is now hidden underground – by the east wind and left to explore its wonders for a hundred years. The fairy that lives in the Garden tells him to enjoy himself, but there’s one condition: he must resist her calls at night to come to the tree of knowledge and kiss her.

When the night falls, the fairy beckons him and the prince follows her, telling himself that he can go along with it because he’s strong enough to resist temptation when the moment comes. Naturally, he ends up kissing her on that first night and is banished from the garden forever, crying out, “What have I done?”

This fairy tale sticks with me because at some point all of us read the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 and think to ourselves, “If it was me, I wouldn’t have eaten that fruit. I would have been stronger. I would have been able to bear temptation.” The point that Andersen aptly makes is that, no, all of us would have fallen. Adam and Eve were the best of humanity without sin in their heart, and yet when temptation beckoned, they failed the test.

As we begin a two-week look at the temptation of the two Adams – the original Adam and the new Adam of Christ – I want to encourage all of us to study Genesis 3 at least once a year lest we forget the roots of our fallen condition and need for salvation. Let’s open our Bible to Genesis 3 right now.

The allure of temptation were more than they could bear

In Genesis 2:15, you see that God gives Adam two jobs as the caretaker of the garden: he’s to work the garden and keep it – or more accurately in the Hebrew language, to guard it. Guard it from what? Well, we see the answer to that in the very first ominous note of chapter 3: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.” Of course, this not any regular snake, but as Revelation 12:9 puts it, “that ancient serpent called Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”

The sanctuary of the garden is invaded by the God-hating presence of Satan, who is described as crafty, or cunning, or full of guile. Satan almost never prefers to attack God’s people head-on, but to lure them into a false sense of security and then strike from our blind spot. It’s why temptation is so effective: Like the prince in Andersen’s story, we think we will be safe and strong enough to toe the line without falling in. And Satan waits patiently until we’re close enough to nudge into his trap.

It’s an important detail here that Satan targets Eve – not because she’s weaker, somehow, but because it undermines the marital relationship that God established. Remember, Adam and Eve’s marriage is a perfect one up to this point, without any conflict or disagreement. Married people, can you even imagine that? Not one fight, not one snarky comment, not one moment where one rolls their eyes at the other for leaving the toilet seat up.

Note here how Satan lies to Eve with his first question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Satan’s focus here is tearing down the authority and truth of God, and his method is to take the truth and twist it. To her credit, Eve does stand up for God’s truth in her response: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

This is how we respond to the lies of Satan and the world: We accurately relay God’s words, knowing that he will be faithful to keep them. Truth isn’t open to personal interpretation or relativity. It is fixed, it is from a holy source, and it is universal.

But Satan presses on and opens the door to temptation in verse 4: ““You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There it is. There is the lie with just enough truth to swallow without choking. Satan appeals to our wanting to be like God, to have God’s knowledge, and to live our life as we please, not as God pleases. He outright denies that there will be any negative consequences, calling God a liar.

And that allure of temptation, of autonomy from God, tips Eve over the edge and she eats, then gives to Adam who eats as well. This moment in history is its greatest catastrophe, as the beings created in God’s image rip themselves away from him and invite sin to become the new master of humanity. The world is broken and the relationship is shattered. All because that allure of temptation was more than they could bear.

The consequences of temptation were more than they could bear

Have you ever had that type of horrible moment in your life where you made an extremely bad decision and then instantly realized what you had done and what the consequences would be? That feeling of a sinking sensation in your stomach, the wave of despair that crashes over you, and the hopelessness that arrives?

Having been there, I can empathize with the reaction of Adam and Eve starting in verse 7. Yes, their eyes are opened to some of the knowledge that only God had previously, but it is not a wondrous revelation. It’s an awful realization that they broke the only rule God had given them and that they were now awash in sin. Right away, we see three consequences of temptation that were more than they could bear.

First of all, they become aware of their nakedness and craft some leafy outfits to wear. The language here suggests humiliation and shame, that they needed to cover up. Second, when God comes through the garden, they flee and hide from him instead of running out to embrace their creator. I’ve seen plenty of kids – my own and others – do this when they get into trouble, to run away and try to hole up somewhere to ride out the storm. Maybe there’s a legend of an FBI safehouse where kids can get a new identity so they don’t get grounded. I don’t know.

Third, when God accuses them of eating the fruit, they play the blame game instead of assuming responsibility. Adam points a finger at Eve – “she gave me the fruit!” – and here we see that their marriage, their union has been irrevocably damaged as they turn on each other.

It’s a terrible moment that’s about to get worse. Our God is a God of justice, and he cannot abide sin. God pronounces three curses that show the effect of sin: one on the snake, one on Eve, and one on Adam. To the man and woman, pain and suffering was to come into the picture. Giving birth would be agonizing, marriages would be an eternal struggle, working would be difficult, and death would await them both. Then the two people are banished from the garden, and the job of guarding it is passed off to a cherubim with a flaming sword.

We are still trying to bear the consequences of temptation today. Not one of us has a life untouched by suffering, by damaged relationships, by the ever-presence of sin. One of the biggest lies that I ever hear commonly repeated is that “people are basically good.” Let me ask: If we are basically good, why is sin so universal and so prevalent our lives? As Jesus said in Mark 10:18, “No one is good – except God alone.”

Instead of fleeing from God and the truth, instead of pointing fingers at others for our failure, instead of trying to cover and hide our sins, we need to run, walk, or even crawl to the one who is good, because while we cannot bear these consequences, he can.

The redemption of temptation was what God could bear

Make no mistake: This is one of the darkest, most depressing chapters in the entire Bible. It makes for a tough go on a Sunday morning when you come in here looking for encouragement and validation. When we read Genesis 3, we are faced with a mirror to our own failures, our own sins, our own moments in which we’ve surrendered to temptation. As Adam fell, so did we, with all humanity tethered together, sinking fast.

And yet, there is hope. There is hope in this chapter, even amid the pain and the curses and the broken relationships. You see, the redemption of temptation was something God could bear, and even as he was delivering justice, he was also hard at work on a plan to save these beloved children of his.

The first inkling of hope comes in verse 15, where God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

This is the “protoevangelion,” the first gospel, the very first mention of the coming Messiah. God is telling Satan, “You have hurt my people but I will save them. I will send my son to come between you and them, and while you may hurt my son, he will end you.”

Then we see even more hope in how God treats Adam and Eve. In verse 21, God upgrades Adam and Eve’s pathetic fig-leaf fashion to outfits made of fur and leather. This act of clothing them is a mercy and is indicative of God’s nature. For the whole of the Bible, we see that while God dispenses justice, he also freely gives mercy to those he loves. Even as Adam and Eve have turned their backs on him and sinned against him, God still cares for them and looks out for their well-being.

When Napoleon was judging a case in which a man repeated the same offense twice and had to be put to death, the man’s mother came into the court and pleaded mercy for him. “He doesn’t deserve mercy,” Napoleon boomed. The mother looked at him and quietly said, “It would not be mercy if he deserved it.” Napoleon paused, and then let the man go free. Mercy is never deserved or earned, but given.

I would also posit to you that Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden is also – in a weird way – an act of mercy. God says in verse 22, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Here God isn’t threatened by man somehow becoming a rival, but concerned that a fallen, sinful, cursed man would also attain immortality and remain in his fallen state forever. In the garden, there is no redemption, just an awful ongoing existence of hiding from God and dwelling in sin. Outside there might be death, but there is also the promise of redemption and the end to our suffering and struggles.

It is the most glorious, comforting thought of them all that when people sinned, God did not sentence them to die and be cast away from his presence for all time, but instead he looked for mercy and redemption while upholding his righteous standards.

Adam’s story didn’t end with the fall and neither does ours. We have hope. We have the one who could face temptation and succeed where Adam failed. We have a God of love who beckons us to return to his arms even as we are covered with the filth of our sins. We have a Lord who will wash us clean with his own blood.


Acts 5: The good news can’t be silenced

September 2, 2015

obeygodIn my devotions lately I’ve been studying through Acts 5 and in particular the account of the apostles being persecuted for sharing their faith.

The persecution comes from the Jewish high priests, who are understandably threatened by this new message, and they lock up the apostles and later have them beaten. Yet the passage makes it clear that the good news of salvation — the gospel of Jesus — cannot be silenced by human opposition. God sends an angel in verse 19 and tells the apostles to get right back out there in the temple and keep on preaching.

The priests — who have long since fallen away from the true faith of God — are furious at this and accuse the apostles of not obeying the religious leaders of the land. Peter puts them in their place with the well-known “We must obey God rather than man!” and then launches into a mini-sermon proclaiming the power of Christ to forgive sins. It’s important to remember that he’s saying this to the same order of priests that had Jesus killed because of his teaching and assertion of divinity. And while Peter is rebuking them, he’s also calling them to a saving grace in Christ.

What I really love about this passage is two-fold:

  1. That a religious teacher of the law, Gamaliel, stands up for the apostles and warns the priests not to get in their way in the case that the apostles’ message is indeed from God (5:34-39) — “You will only find yourselves fighting against God,” he says.
  2. And right after the disciples are beaten and instructed not to preach anymore, their immediate response in verse 41 is to rejoice in suffering and verse 42 to keep on preachin’ non-stop to anyone who would listen.

Good news shouldn’t be bottled up or kept secret for special moments in certain situations. Good news that pertains to all should be shared gladly, freely, and as loudly as possible. Jeremiah said that when he was being persecuted for sharing God’s word and wanted to be quiet, he couldn’t. The word of God was like fire in his bones and he needed to get it out.

The cool epilogue to this account comes in Acts 6. Acts 6:7 mentions that many of the priests in Jerusalem do end up following Jesus, a testament to the efforts of the apostles and the power of God: “A large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Our culture often is vocal about Christians keeping their faith locked up in their homes and churches, out of sight and out of mind. “Don’t bring that noise out here, don’t be an obnoxious Jesus freak, don’t say anything from the Bible that could possibly offend.” And yet we must, because this is simply too good and too important to hold back. We share because we love — God first and others second.


Trading in the spirit of fear

April 29, 2015

2timI would wager to say that fear is a major force in all of our lives. We fear so much — death, rejection, poverty, mistakes, pain, humiliation, betrayal, the future — that it locks us down into a pattern of worry, of hesitation, and of a narrow routine. Fear can dominate our life’s headlines, with each tragedy (large or small) confirming what we already know. It’s a broken world, we are broken people, and something bad is always on the way.

I am tired of being afraid. I know that one of my weaknesses is timidity and fear, as I spend too much time scared that I will mess up my life, hurt my family somehow, or die before I raise my kids to adulthood.

What’s amazing to me is that God knows that fear is a potent result of sin, and He goes out of His way to encourage us past this fear and give us real hope to replace it. When Jesus came to Jairus’ house to minister to his daughter who just died, Jesus issues to commands to this grieving, scared father: “Don’t be afraid; only believe.” (Mark 5:36). As he raises the 12-year-old girl from the dead, he illustrates that we can trade in that potent fear for something new: faith in the one greater than anything we might fear.

It’s easy to stop being afraid when you have someone with you who can help you through it and even demolish the thing you’re scared of, right? But what do we do now that Jesus has returned to heaven?

Fortunately, we have something just as good — or someONE just as good — as Jesus at our side. Believers are gifted with the Holy Spirit who is always present and always willing to live up to its name as a Helper.

That’s why I’ve always loved 2 Timothy 1:7, which echoes Mark 5:36 when it tells us that we’re trading in something old, broken, and hurtful (our fear) for something wonderful and victorious (the Spirit).

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-control.”

We get three in exchange for one, I say that’s a good deal!

It’s a good reminder that as the redeemed, we are no longer alone in our life’s journey, but are filled with the Holy Spirit who isn’t there to make us quake and worry. Instead, God highlights three benefits of being Spirit-led: We have the power of God with us, we are conduits of God’s love, and we have the means to gain control over the sinful nature that used to enslave us.

It’s important to note that this verse comes within the context of a passage discussing how we may testify to the world about the gospel. I like how in verse 14, God reminds us to “guard the good deposit in you” — a reminder that He has sealed us in salvation and that we do not have any reason to ever fear being taken away from Him ever again.

In accepting the gift of grace, I’ve traded up from fear to boldness. I just need to remember that more often.


The Lord’s discipline

February 10, 2015

disciplineThe other night in youth group we were spending quiet time simply reading and studying the Word.  I was flipping through Hebrews when chapter 12 caught my eye — particularly the passage called “God’s discipline.”

The author begins by quoting Proverbs 3, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

And then he follows that by saying that the suffering we experience can indeed be part of our discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? …God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

I’ve got to say that this passage is one of what I internally dub a “profoundly uncomfortable teaching” that we come up against here and there in the Bible.  It’s one that you kind of wish God didn’t convey to us, because it’s challenging, tough, and doesn’t coddle us with happy feelings.  I mean, I don’t want to be punished, I don’t want to be rebuked, and I don’t want to have to endure suffering!  Who does?  And here God is not only saying that his children will be disciplined, but that it’s for a specific purpose.

I’ll admit that my mind immediately took the word “discipline” and paired it with “punishment,” although upon successive readings I don’t think that’s the case.  Some discipline can involve punishment for bad behavior, but not all discipline is punishment.  In fact, the act of discipline is to shape and mold a person to obey and conform to a certain standard.

In other words, discipline makes us disciples.

This passage flies against prosperity gospel teachings and other feel-good notions of the gospel to grasp a fundamental truth of being a Christian: We will suffer, and through that suffering we will understand more what Jesus went through and become better people.  It is part of our training, just how a runner will have to push through the burn and dominate his or her body to perform even better.

And once I got past my immediate reaction of a fear of suffering and pain, I read the encouragement that exists here.  First, it makes a strong and repeated case that discipline means that we belong to God as God’s sons and daughters.  We are not abstract strangers that he is smiting for evil pleasure; we are his children that he is training to be the best that they can possibly be.

As a father, I can understand that.  My children outright resent my discipline, because that correction doesn’t let them continue doing the bad or selfish act they wanted to do.  I see that anger and frustration in their faces when I sit them down to talk, and I hear it when I listen to what they have to say in defense of why one kid pushed another kid into a wall for taking his toy.  But the discipline I perform on them is not out of anger or dislike, but out of love.  I want them to grow up to be wonderful people, full of faith, compassion, love, and selfless giving.  And that attitude is not going to come naturally, but must be trained for constantly.  They may resent me for it now, but one day I pray that they will thank me that I cared enough to do it.

Second, the discipline mentioned in this passage has a very specific purpose for our lives.  We will share in God’s holiness and will produce a harvest of peace and righteousness.  When I think of the type of person that I wish I could be for all of my faults, it would be to be like the men and women of faith that I’ve admired — the ones who do desire holiness, who do project peace, and who do prize doing what is right.

It may be the hardest prayer to pray in saying, “Dear Lord, please discipline me.  Please help me to thank you for the hardships and rebukes that I will encounter.   Please help me not to resent you, but to hold fast to these verses and the hope that lies within.”


The Christmas Story: Why did Elizabeth go into seclusion when she became pregnant?

December 16, 2014

elizabethEvery so often when I’m reading the Bible, I come across a verse or a detail that is really puzzling to me and sends me into a bit of a research mode so that I can understand the proper context and meaning behind it.  It’s important to remember that while we read the Bible from a 21st century viewpoint, it wasn’t written with our culture and modern mindset.  What readers back then would naturally understand sometimes escapes us and prompts study to understand it.

Last Sunday we were listening to the story of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and came across this strange verse in Luke 1:24:

After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.

What I couldn’t answer was, why did she go into seclusion?  It seems like the opposite thing you’d want to do if you were the subject of a miracle baby (as both Elizabeth and Zechariah were “well along in years” and “an old man,” respectively). 

Maybe she was ashamed of being pregnant as an elderly lady or worried that the townsfolk would think she was cheating on Zech, but that seems contrary to her praise to God in the very next verse, saying that the pregnancy has taken away the public shame from this once-barren lady (this also echoes the same sentiment of Rachel in Genesis 30:23).

Other thoughts that come to my mind is that Elizabeth was taking it easy, since pregnancies are hard and probably more so for an older lady, or that Elizabeth was worried that the pregnancy might end in miscarriage and was waiting until she knew one way or the other to reveal her state to the community.

In looking around for other thoughts on this passage, I found some that echoed what I was thinking as well as the following:

  • One writer says that “seclusion” wasn’t isolation, but a time of preparation for the upcoming birth.
  • This author disagrees and says that seclusion was hiding entirely.
  • She was using the time to pray (verse 25) and to be with the Lord, and not be distracted by the community.
  • She was waiting to spring the big baby bump reveal on the community with God’s miraculous work.
  • She is waiting to see if her unborn son would indeed be filled with the Holy Spirit, which happened in verse 41 when Mary arrives to visit and John senses Jesus.  She is also waiting to see if God would fulfill his promise to Zechariah and her (verse 44).

It could, of course, been a combination of any of these factors, but the time in spiritual preparation as well as the difficulties of this particular pregnancy make the most sense to me.

Of course, this detail is insignificant against the larger teachings of this passage, especially how Elizabeth thought that her barrenness was a punishment and shameful, but God had planned and used that to show his glory and great work.


Confidence in Prayer

December 2, 2014

Praying-Hands-over-BibleMy devotion reading today took me through the end of 1 John, where I read these arresting words in 5:14-15:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.”

This is such a great summation of why the Christian prayer is so effective and unique, but also how it should be performed that I wanted to comment on it.

First of all, prayers from God’s children do not go unheard.  We do not need to be like my children, who ask me the same question a hundred times just to make sure that I’m listening (although I admire their persistence in getting an answer!).  John says that we can indeed have confidence that God hears our prayer.

But there’s a big clause there that needs to be noticed, understood, and implemented into our prayer life: “if we ask anything according to his will.”  This radically adjusts prayer from being a selfish litany of our wants — a one-way wish list — to a responsive, submissive conversation with the Almighty.  We should desire, first and foremost, God’s will for our lives and pray according to that.  We are the tree that bends to God’s trunk instead of demanding that God shape himself to our life.

Jesus illustrated the proper way to pray before his death when he asks, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  He had a request to avoid the pain that was coming, but his ultimate desire was for God’s will to be done.  And God heard and responded to that prayer.

To pray with confidence, we need to pray in submission to God’s will.  We are invited to bring our concerns and problems to the Father, but we are not in a position to make demands of him or ask him to change his will.  When we stop trying to force God to capitulate to our demands and begin seeking his will in all things, God shows us how prayer is answered — and answered boldly.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,697 other followers