I have six months to reshape my life. I can do this.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bad Guys #3: Cain

Genesis 4:1-16 brings us the account of Cain and Abel, the first sons born to Adam and Eve. Cain, the older son, worked the fields while his younger brother Abel tended the animals.

They both brought a sacrifice or an offering to God. Cain's was some of the fruit of his crop and Abel brought the choice fat pieces from the first of the flock. God looked with favor on Abel's and not so with Cain. Cain got ticked off and pouted. God told him to straighten up and fly right. He then warned Cain that sin was crouching, that sin desired to have him. And God was right.

Cain lured Abel out to the field, attacked him and killed him. Then God found Cain and asked him what he did and where his brother Abel was. Cain remarked that he wasn't his brother's keeper. God said Abel's blood called out to him from the ground and that Cain would be banished from the land and his life wouldn't ever be the same. Cain freaked out in despair and said he would be separated from God and that the land wouldn't support him and that he would just be a wandering good-for-nothing and was mostly worried about someone seeking revenge for Abel upon Cain.

To calm those fears God marked Cain and said nobody would kill him.

This isn't a story about how to please God. It isn't about what makes our offerings pleasing to God. The Bible remains silent on why God chose Abel's offering to bless instead of Cain.

This IS a story about how God communicates to us about our sin. It is a story about our likelihood to sin. It is about how we all carry that dark, secret mark of Cain and how we are all capable of horrible ugliness in God's sight.

Don't ignore God's warning about sin. God provides us with some simple truths: sin is always just beyond us, waiting. In this story sin almost becomes a fourth character. It lurks. It crouches. It desires. It is just there, always. And God simply calls us to do what's right. But Cain ignored God's warning. He lured Abel out and killed him.

Then he had to answer God's questions afterwards about the sin. We'll all have to do the same. Sure, we may not hear the actual voice of God. But in our soul, in our spirit we will have to answer those questions. Where are you? What have you done? What has your sin done to others? When I see God ask Cain questions that he obviously has the answers to, I am reminded about the distance that Cain has allowed to come between him and God. There is no communion. God has to reconnect with Cain. And he asks those questions to point out that Cain was out on his own, away from God.

Where are you? When you commit that same sin over and over and over, where are you? Are you constantly in front of the computer screen? Are you in compromising places? Where are you when you find yourself stumbling?

What has your sin done to those close to you? Contrary to what we may think, our sin effects others. Even if we don't sin against other people, we still sin against God. And if that relationship is out of whack, no other relationship we have can be right.

What have you done? Stop justifying or even denying your sin. Admit it. And apologize for it. And not that horse-crap apology that starts with these three words: "I'm sorry if..."
"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings." What a crock. If that is how you apologize, save the apology because you don't mean it. You are just disguising commentary that says "You seem to have thin skin and I wasn't intending to hurt you with my words and since the words did hurt you, it MUST be your problem and not mine." If I say something that hurts my brother's feelings, there is no IF about it. His feelings are hurt. I have to apologize for it. I can say "I never meant to hurt you. I am sorry." That works. But we have this attitude that we really don't ever do anything wrong. If someone has a problem, it has to be their fault. And that attitude prevails with our relationship with God. We justify or explain or even deny our sin. Be honest. What have you done? Answer that honestly. Own it. Accept it.

And because there was distance between Cain and God, Cain sinned and killed Abel. Cain wouldn't master the jealousy and anger that was rotting his insides to nothing. And in that dark, premeditated moment, he killed his own little brother. And God lays out the punishment. Cain complains but that doesn't change the fact that there are consequences about his sin. Same with us. Our sin carries a price. We must face, at the very least, the spiritual distance from God. And there can be other consequences too. Relationships can be hurt. Ended. Destroyed beyond repair. But remember this, God provides for sinners. He provided the mark of Cain to sort of remind him of the worst act of his life and also to protect him from death. And Cain carried that mark around forever. Always reminded of what he did to Abel. Always shouldering the memory. I don't know if he was guilty. I don't know how Cain had to deal with that thought of taking Abel's life with his own hands. But I know that some of us are walking around carrying that secret mark of sin. We carry an image or a memory of a moment in time where we absolutely blew it. And even though we turn the guilt over to God and humbly accept the punishment or the consequences our sin merits, we will cannot shake the memory. And sometimes that memory leads us back down the same dark path to that same place again and again and again.

God provides protection and has even made a new covenant with us that Cain was never able to appreciate and experience. God provided a mark to sort of protect Cain's life because of his sin. God provided Jesus for us, not to merely protect us but to save us, to deliver us from our sin. On the cross Jesus took care of our sin problem. Even in the midst of our sin, God communicates his love to us.

Sometimes the hardest person to live with is yourself. The guilt can be such a poison. The anger and the jealousy can destroy you. God wants to deal with that. He is communicating to you and me right now, asking us those age old questions. Where are you? What have you done? What has your sin done to others? Only with Jesus and the cross, we have peace that when we answer those questions honestly, God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all of our sin.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judges 2:10

Judges 2:10 "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel."

After Joshua and Caleb and that generation died, their faith apparently died with them. This generation knew of the Exodus. They knew about the Red Sea, the Big 10, the manna, the water from a rock, the plagues, the fire by night and the cloud by day. They saw firsthand how God brought them across the Jordan. They were there for Jericho. They saw the sun stand still. They saw God defeat an army by raining hail down on them. They saw God deal with Achan at Ai and they saw God deliver this land to their hands. They were there when they renewed the covenant with God. And they kept this all a secret. They never told their kids who God was and what he had done for them.

That generation that followed would go on to do evil in the eyes of God (2:11). Not just your ordinary sin. No, they did evil. There was no compass to guide their morality without God. No standards for living.

They served the Baals (2:11). People will serve and worship something. Even those people who don't believe in a god at all. They will serve some agenda. They will worship something, whether it is political, social or personal. Money, spouses, relationships, materialism, success, power, influence, ego...people will find something to worship.

The next generation had limited options. Without knowledge of God, they could only worship the gods of the people around them. The Baals, the Ashtoreths. And since God is pretty clear about how he feels about idolatry, he acted in anger and allowed them to be stuck in this cycle of conquest, struggle and pain that required judges to deliver them.

How could they not tell their friends and children and grandchildren about who God was or what he had done?

How can we not tell our friends and children and grandchildren about who God is to us or what he has done for us? Are we not confident? Not comfortable? Not consistent? Not competent? Do we want to afford our children the freedom to discover God for themselves? How did that work back in Judges?

How can we NOT tell them? Does God just not matter to us? Do we just not care about who God is and what he has done for us?

God dealt with the people out of his anger and provided judges like Gideon and Samson to deliver them.

God deals with us out of his love and provided Jesus Christ to deliver us. This isn't cyclical either. Once and for all we can be freed from the sin that so easily ties us up.

So tell your friends and family about who God is and what he has done for you. The gospel is not lived. It is shared. Jesus didn't just live a good life. He spoke about God and who God was and what God had done for them.

So tell your kids and friends about your favorite verse and when and why it became the tops for you. Let them know what your favorite spiritual song or hymn is and why it is your fave. Tell them how you met Jesus and made him the Lord and Savior of your life. Talk about God's blessing and how you met your spouse and the birth of your kids and what God has taught you through your relationships.

Tell your kids and friends about your most important God moments - when he took the pain and hurt and disappointment and the confusion and loneliness that makes life ugly and merely through his love and presence made your life beautiful again.

Tell your kids and friends about the significant places where you felt God so closely and clearly and powerfully.

Do not let your faith die with you. Share it. Tell your children and your family and your friends who God is and what he has done for you.

Bad Guys #2: Lot

Have you ever been at a point where you found yourself asking, "How did I get here???"

Events spin a little out of control and before you know it you are in a place that is confusing and unfamiliar and painful. And you seem to remember that not too long ago you were in a better place enjoying life and time with the Father. Then after a series of decisions and a numbing to our sin we find ourselves at this foreign place.

That is the life of Lot. Imagine. He is an old man. He wakes up one day to find out both of his motherless daughters are pregnant. But they live in a cave away from people. The girls have never left him. And no men have appeared. And there was no sign of immaculate conception. No, there are two girls pregnant and only one available sperm donor. Him. He had to face the music: his daughters knew him intimately while he was drunk. He has been deceived. His daughters have violated his trust. They have broken family values and traditions. And somewhere in the fog of his life, he knows that they have done something ugly in the sight of God. But how can he hold that against them? How hypocritical can one old man be?
How did he get here?

Well, he lived in the cave because he wouldn't live in the city of Zoar. He had lived in a city before and the sin and corruption of others cost him so much. Cost him embarrassment. Cost him family. Cost him dearly. So as he fled for his life, he would wander up into the mountains and live in a cave away from the sin and stain and influence of others. He would grab those closest to him and with the strength and will in him, he would protect them for once. He would keep them from what had corrupted their lives. They would get past it in time. God would restore them. He would do his level best to start over away from those poor influences.
How did he get here, running for his life, clinging to what was left of his family?

God was raining sulfur on those godless, vile cities. He knew it was wrong. He knew he shouldn't have been there. And now God had given him a second chance. For whatever reason, God saw fit to spare him and his wife and daughters. So, even amid the hesitation the angels led them by hand outside the city. It was hard to leave. That was his life. Right or wrong, and mostly wrong, that was his life. He knew there was so much that tainted him and his family. So many voices and actions right outside the front door that was just vile. He knew that. He was wrong. He was sorry. But when the moment to leave came, he hesitated. God forgive him, he was comfortable in that life. That sin that he knew was so wrong was so hard to leave behind. In fact the only reason he left was because he knew death was certain for those who stayed. And even then the angels literally had to grab him by the hand and lead him away to safety. When sin climbs on you and wraps you up within it, it is easier and less painful to just stay in it, right? Maybe not. As they ran and fled for something new, that great fresh breath of a second chance, she looked back. Weren't they told not to? Leave, go and don't look back at that place of sin. But total obedience is hard to find again after wandering so far away from it. Besides, how could he blame her. He had his own pillar of salt moment back in the town. But they had gotten past that and were about to make it anew. And then she looked back.
How did he get here, lost without his wife and stuff?

The angels came to Sodom and Gomorrah. They were warning Lot. The city is vile, they kept telling him. Rotten. God is going to destroy it. And just before he went about defending his city, or more accurately his decision to live in it, the door rattled with that knock. Those heathen wanted to "know" these angels. How do I tell them no? How do I still maintain my good name in the city? People know Lot. They know I am not really one of them. They know I have a lot of possessions and land and influence. How can I deny them their sin with these men or angels or whatever they are but still make sure they like me? How do I choose between my God and my sin? He would compromise and offer up the relationships that matter the most: his daughters. They had never been with a man before. He would offer up their purity and their innocence. Protecting our sin, maintaining those lives defined by it, will cost us those relationships that matter the most to us. His daughters would remember that night when he offered their bodies to the raving pack of sin.
How did he get here, forced to reconcile the sin with God?

He had too much stuff. Abram had even more. His people were fighting with Abram. And instead of deal with all of that, Abram suggested taking some land and separating. Abram had done a lot for him. He couldn't ask for a better uncle. And now Lot could choose any place to live. He saw that valley and it was amazing. Beautiful. Sure it was close to those cities and the sin. But he would not live there. He would just move near it. He would pitch his tents near Sodom. But he would never live there.

And that is how he ended up in that cave facing the tragedy of his life. He chose to step near that life of temptation and compromise and sin. He could have gone anywhere. But that place looked so appealing.

And even in the midst of that sin, God sent those angels to deliver him from the death that sin merited.

Even in the midst of my sin, God sent Jesus to deliver me from the sin and consequences my sin merited. Lot saw his life spiral away from him simply by starting that string of decisions that lead to compromise and ultimately to sin and death.

The lesson of Lot is to see that each decision that inches us closer to sin is a decision that costs us the most important relationship we have. It causes distance from God and separates us from him. Fortunately for us, the cross will span that gap. Not just once. Over and over and over. No more sulfur showers. Now God's grace pours and falls on us in the form of Jesus Christ.

When I have my Lot moments, I need to sober up and look back to the cross. Focus on moving to that. Don't look back on the sin you are to leave behind. Don't hesitate. Don't compromise. Don't find yourself asking how you got so far away from God. It is never one big step. Rather, a series of smaller ones. We don't storm away from God most of the time. We wander away bit by bit.

Bad Guys #1: Absalom

I went to a youth ministry conference and one of the things shared by one of the speakers had to do with making your stuff accessible to everyone. Of course, the speaker who shared this charges for everything he shares. But he said that after you teach, make it available through an article or a blog entry etc.

So, in that vein, I will do that. I will be posting the thoughts that spurred on the various teachings or sermons that I share with my students. And since I know that they are hardly world-changing thoughts, I won't be charging. How could I put a price on it? I got it free too.

I started a series on Wednesdays about guys from scripture with questionable reputation. I heard someone preach on Absalom recently and I really started thinking. So that is where I started in the series.

Basically, all of our rebellion can come from a place that is at the least empathetic and at the most understandable. However, when those seeds of frustration or anger over some injustice go unchecked it can grow and fester into something horrible and evil in us.

Absalom had a legitimate grief. Amnon had raped and ruined his sister, Tamar. She was King David's daughter and even though he was upset, Amnon was never punished by the King's hand. This grew and festered in Absalom. Absalom was the one who had to deal with this broken life each day as Tamar had moved into his house. She was good for nothing and was disgraced from the rape and then being released by Amnon. Two years went by without seeing any sort of justice, any retribution. Amnon never even had so much as a wrist slap. And every day here was Tamar, crying, broken, wasted. Her beauty had faded, being replaced by shame and pain. And it was in Absalom's face every day for two years.

Finally that rebellious root that can be used for good can easily festered into full blown sinful rebellion. Sometimes rebellion can lead to revolution and reformation. Luther's rebellious view of scripture totally changed the way people worship. MLK2's rebellion lead to positive social change. Early American rebellion lead to revolution which affords us incredible freedom. Not all rebellion is wrong. In fact, there is not one person who cannot empathize with how Absalom had to feel about his sister. But there is where it ends.

Of course Absalom's life takes a turn and he kills Amnon, flees for his safety, returns home and ultimately runs David out of the King's palace for a spell. This son of David would divide the kingdom and turn people away from the king. And his rebellion left him alone, unsupported, arrogant and leaving behind no real influence.

But there is good news just under the surface of this story ranging from 2 Samuel 13-18. In 14:14 we see that "...God does not take away life. Instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from Him." Even in the middle of Absalom's rebellion and sin God's wish was that Absalom be close to him and to his father, David. And to prove that is how God truly feels, He provided Jesus for us today.

Absalom was the son of David who divided people and turned them away from the king.
Jesus is the Son of David who unites people and turns them to the King.

Which son of David are you following today? The one who allows rebellion to divide and hurt or the one who changes rebellion into reformation and changes motives, hearts and lives.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shocking Maps

Yeah, so I totally ripped this off of another site who ripped it off from another site. There is truly nothing new under the sun. I also ripped that sentence off from another site. Hope I am not haunted by those old "dancing skeletons."

I saw these maps and they stunned me. When you look at these maps, you'll see maps of the world with nations adjusted by size to show the world by population, then the world by AIDS virus, then the world by access to physician. They speak for themselves.

Time to pray that the places that need medical help will get it.