The Bible and Slavery

Bible2I continually see Scripture being attacked on the basis that it either endorses the practice of slavery or that it fails to explicitly denounce the practice of slavery. I’ve seen skeptics, atheists, and even self-proclaimed liberal Christians use this argument as a means to charge the Bible with immorality, irrelevance, and atrocities. A few years ago, I offered a response to such claims in an online discussion forum and thought I would share them here.

Does the Bible Endorse or Fail to Denounce Slavery? 
It is a mistake to assume the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery and if such an assertion is to be made, it deserves careful and critical examination.

First off, the word “slavery” as it occurs throughout the Bible refers to a wide spectrum of servitude from “leasing” ones service where both parties enter into the agreement willingly to situations that far more resembled slavery as we know it in this country. Biblically, the word “slavery” refers to a wide range of stuff from servitude to outright slavery.

I believe there is sufficient evidence that the Bible condemns the latter forms of atrocious slavery. First, consider the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians for refusing to free God’s people from forced, atrocious slavery. Of all the slavery portrayed in the Bible, the Egyptians rule over the Hebrews can certainly be compared to the racial slavery we experienced in our country. In this situation, I think God made it evident He condemned such a heinous act. Extracting the Hebrew people, as lowly as they were seen in the eyes of the Egyptian people, establishing them as God’s chosen ones, and pouring curses out on the Egyptians was as definitive a statement as God could have made. Certainly, any sane person can deduce that God is not in favor of such forms of slavery.

Couple this situation with the following verses:

  • “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).
  • “But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

The word “kidnappers” in the above passage is alternately translated as “man-stealers” or “enslavers” depending on the translation you are using. These verses when juxtaposed with the Hebrew slavery in Egypt clearly reveals that God does not condone or endorse the heinous, forced, and atrocious forms of slavery. Period. In fact, suggesting God endorses such acts does Him and His Word an injustice and reveals a poor working knowledge of Scripture.

Now this brings us to the more mild forms of slavery (where both parties entered into the agreement willingly). In these situations God’s Word speaks into the hearts of both slave and slave-owner. The method God’s Word uses to initiate social reform in this case is to speak into the hearts of individuals. Social change occurs one conversion at a time in the heart of believers. With this is mind, examine the following verses:

  • For the slave master: Ephesians 6:9, “And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”
  • For the slave: 1 Peter 2:19-20, “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”

In the culture of the New Testament, slavery was engrained. So the writers of the New Testament encouraged social reform one heart at a time. When this is taken into account, no form of “Christian slavery” would resemble what comes to our mind when we hear the word slavery. Consider Paul’s interaction with the slave Onesimus.

In the first chapter of Philemon, Paul writes that Onesimus is “no longer a slave, but more than a slave” (v.16). He refers to Onesimus as his “son” (v. 10). In verse 17, Paul encourages Philemon (the master) to receive Onesimus as a partner in Christ just as he would Paul himself. Paul even goes as far as to assume any debts or charges that Onesimus may have built up against Philemon (v. 18)!

Does any of Paul’s words resemble the heinous, atrocious images that we associate as Americans with slavery? Paul is encouraging social reform by appealing to the hearts of both Onesimus and Philemon. In no way is he “endorsing slavery” as skeptics suggest.

When Scripture is examined, the Christian can take confidence that neither God, nor His Word, “endorses” the heinous and atrocious act of slavery or human trafficking. We can stand on God’s Word when we oppose such practices and when we do, we will glorify God in the process.

 

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Look At The Book Labs with John Piper

I use the Logos Bible Software in my daily study time and for the last several days I’ve been using a course of study from John Piper called the “Look at the Book Labs”. Each day, Piper examines a passage of Scripture and you get to follow along as he studies the Word. The cool feature, however, is that each study has a video. Viewers get to see the passage of Scripture in question (in other words, they get to look at the book) while Piper annotates and marks up the passage during his study. All the while, Piper is commentating and guiding viewers through the study. The end results are great.

In my studies, I try to follow a particular pattern:

  • Observation: here is where I ask questions of the text. Who, what, when, why, and where type of questions.
  • Interpretation: In this step, I bring in multiple translations, commentaries, dictionaries and other extra-biblical sources to help me understand words or phrases that aren’t immediately understood.
  • Application: In this step, I ask myself how the passage I am studying applies to my life. Is there a call to action? Is there a change being asked of me? This is where I determine my response to what I’ve read.

I say all of this because Piper’s studies offer wonderful examples of the first two steps. I really enjoy watching as he guides me through his observation and interpretation. It is very insightful to see what mental processes Piper goes through as he approaches the text. Too often, Christians are tempted to skip observation and interpretation in favor of application, however, Piper’s studies certainly demonstrate how important it is to ask the right questions and take the time to observe and interpret. I am learning from his example.

At the end of each study, Piper also offers additional resources and sermons from his library that apply to the passage in question. I’ve been using his study as a launching point (each one takes 10 to 15 minutes) for my own studies and have tried going deeper into the text. Using these studies, a person can go as deep as they want. Piper’s goal is to teach people how to feed themselves … and I think these labs work wonderfully.

I checked today and these labs are all available on Piper’s website for free at http://www.desiringgod.org/labs. I highly recommend them.

An Argument for Older, Mature Pastors

stanley
Pastor Charles Stanley

A few years ago a young man knocked on my door and invited me to his church. I was a little surprised, because of his young age, to discover he was the lead pastor of his church. I must confess that my initial reaction was negative. I remember thinking to myself that I could never follow a pastor as young as the man standing on my porch. I’ve often thought of that encounter and even repented a bit for my initial reaction. Scripture is rife with stories of God using the young and old alike and I’ve come to learn that, in His sovereignty, God can call and use whoever He sees fit. Perhaps I was a little jealous that such a young man had discovered His calling early in life while I was still struggling to determine my own.

But there are advantages to a pastor who has some years on him as opposed to one who is young. At the top of that list has to be an awareness of one’s dependance upon God. Age has a way of teaching us about our own limitations. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that nothing I’ve accomplished for the Gospel was accomplished in my own merit or in my own strength. I have developed an awareness of my own weakness and sinfulness that makes me appreciate God’s grace all the more. That same awareness should be present in a pastor. In his book, What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All Steve Brown writes the following:

Did you ever think that grace (i.e., God’s unmerited favor) is attracted to sin? That’s what the apostle Paul said: “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). 

Older, more experienced, pastors tend to be more aware of their weaknesses and their sin and because of that awareness grace abounds. A friend recently shared stories about a rehabilitation ministry he is involved with for recovering addicts. Essentially, addicts are placed in a secluded monastery where the grace of Jesus Christ is liberally applied to their wounds. The stories that come out of this ministry are beautiful because their sins are often so great that grace is multiplied. It’s the same for a pastor who is aware of his own sin – grace is multiplied.

Age, mistakes, regret, persecution, trials, and even sin have a tendency to mature a growing Christian. James puts it this way:

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, NASB). 

Granted, even a young pastor can possess the kind of spiritual maturity I am writing about, but young or old, this maturity is an essential quality in a pastor. The expectations we place on our church leaders tend to get things upside down. We want our pastors to be beacons of perfection. We want them to be the most holy, most perfect, and least sinful members of our church; yet when I think about the pastors that have taught me the most I discover they are the ones that know first hand the cost of their own sin and appreciate the grace it took to place them in the pulpit. Should pastors strive to be holy and provide an example for us to follow? Absolutely. But I don’t want a pastor who has simply read about trials – I want one that knows first-hand what I’m going through and can relate to my problems. Heck, if Jesus can relate to our temptations, shouldn’t our pastors?

“15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Our leaders need to remember their sin and remember the grace that conquered it. The Apostle Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament penned these words:

“15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). 

Paul went on to set the standards required of our pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

“3 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Above reproach, a one woman man, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted, gentle, peaceable, not greedy … there’s a reason these qualifications are written in the present tense. I don’t want my pastor to nurture any addictions, or to be angry, or to have a wandering eye … but if he can tell me about a time when his life failed to meet those qualifications and then tell me how Christ intervened in his life with grace … that’s the gospel! That story of redemption is going to resonate with me and give me hope … because I’m a sinner too.

I suppose I’m not arguing for physical maturity as much as I am spiritual maturity. We see pastors fall all the time. Ministries, families, and churches are far too often ripped apart because we’ve put someone in the pulpit that wasn’t spiritually mature and lacked an appreciation for the gravity of their own sin and the grace it took to conquer it. To reference Paul one last time, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 2:9) and unless a person understands that, they have no business in the pulpit.

 

 

Christianity’s Gift to the World

thinkingI’m currently reading a book by Steve Brown titles What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. Brown’s books are wonderful. Like me, he is a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Doctrinally, I think we are fairly similar. Yet, his writing takes you to new levels of reflection. The first time I read anything by Brown I remember thinking to myself that he was either a heretic or a genius – and it took me a while to figure out which. I’ve settled on genius. Brown writes in a way that is provocative. It’s like he is intentionally picking on the scabs conservative Christians walk around with. What he says makes you angry until you slowly start to realize it’s not Brown that is angering you, but rather God’s Word. And faced with that realization, there is nothing left to do but repent.

Basically, Brown makes me think. I’m sure some people find him annoying – some may have even settled on heretical – but I appreciate him. Here’s a quote from What Was I Thinking? that I currently can’t get out of my mind:

“Our gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our gift to the world is to find where the Holy Spirit is creating beauty, speaking truth, and manifesting goodness—and when we find it, to identify it, enjoy it, affirm it, and get involved in it” (p. 64)

It’s that’s first sentence that has stuck with me … “Our [Christians] gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation.” Too often, that’s the face we present to world around us – anger, judgment, and condemnation. When, in reality, the Church should be an extension of God’s gift to the world – grace, mercy, and salvation through His Son.

Brown makes the further point that because of our anger and disgust with the world around us, Christians often retreat to the Church. We take safe haven in our churches and our Christian subculture because we are convinced that’s where the Holy Spirit is. We do it because it makes us feel safe yet our safety comes at the expense of the culture around us. We create a divide between the sacred and the secular and then refuse to cross it for fear of sacrificing our own righteousness. But it’s important to understand that this divide is man made. From God’s perspective there is no “secular”. The gospel of John makes that clear:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

All things came into being through Him. It’s this fact that gives God the authority to speak into the hearts of every man and into the core of every situation. It’s that fact that gives Jesus the authority to forgive our sins. It’s that fact that gives God the right to determine that salvation must be accomplished according to His plan rather than our own. It’s that fact that is the foundation of grace. And when we retreat in disgust from the world around us and take refuge in our Christian subculture we are failing to take that gift of grace to the very people that need it the most. Jesus understood this. That’s why He hung out with sinners. That’s why He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Even the Great Commission, our marching orders from Christ, instruct us to take His message of grace to the world, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

When Christian present nothing to the world but anger, judgment, and condemnation and then retreat back to the safety of our own Christian subculture, we are forfeiting the one gift we have to give the world. It is imperative that Christians refuse to forfeit our input and voice to the culture we live in. Music, arts, literature, science … all of these things stand to benefit from the input of Christians.

If we want to deliver Christ’s grace to the world, we must be engaged in the world. Jesus once prayed for His disciples, “14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus didn’t pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world; rather, He prayed that they be kept safe from the evil one as they engaged the world for Him. 

Christ’s prayer should be the strategy of the Church. Rather than withdrawing from the world and drawing imaginary lines between the secular and the sacred, we should engage the world. We should deliver Christ’s gospel to the sic and refuse to sacrifice our voice while tending to our own safety.

Genius.

Lessons from Genesis: Prayers of Intercession

sodom-and-gomorrah-painting
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, an 1852 oil on canvas painting done by John Martin

My study this morning included God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The wickedness of these cities had reached such a pinnacle that God’s wrath was imminent, but He used the moment as a tool to reveal His very nature to Abraham. Before destroying the two cities, God visits Abraham and reveals His plans. This visit leads to an incredible exchange between Abraham and God:

23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (Genesis 18:23-32). 

I must admit this passage used to confuse me. I couldn’t quite figure out why God needed Abraham to remind Him of His own just nature. Quite frankly, the thought that Abraham had to negotiate for the lives of the righteous upset me. However, my confusion was born out of misinterpretation; what’s happening in this passage isn’t a negotiation – it’s intercession.

God is just. He knew exactly what He was doing when it came to Sodom and Gomorrah; but by allowing Abraham to intercede on their behalf, he revealed His gracious nature to Abraham. Yes God demands justice for sin, but in doing so He never sacrifices His own grace. God allowed Abraham to intercede for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and by doing so, He allowed Abraham to become a channel though which God’s grace flowed.

Abraham’s intercession for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reflection of Christ’s intercession for those who call Him Savior:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6) 

Just as Abraham interceded on behalf of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus Christ intercedes on my behalf. With his prayers of intercession, Abraham was displaying a particular kind of Christ-likeness that I far too often fail to display. My prayers tend to be selfish, “God bless me!” – when a proper prayer of intercession should read, “God bless them!” 

My goal is pray less selfishly. I want to pray more for others. God knows exactly what He’s doing when it comes to His justice and His grace, but when I pray a prayer of intercession it shapes my heart to resemble the heart of Christ who prayed the most famous of all intercessory prayers …

“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

[View all posts in the Lessons from Genesis Series] 

Knowing Verses Obeying God’s Voice

image from citygatekeepers.org

In Christian circles these days we can get bogged down with the concept of knowing God’s voice when we hear it. I’ve even taught whole classes on discerning God’s voice from that of the enemy and our own subtle thoughts. In retrospect, I’m beginning to realize the problem with most Christians isn’t knowing God’s voice when we hear it, but rather, our problem is heeding His voice when it directs us toward obedience.

When speaking on this subject Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them” (John 10:27, emphasis mine). Even newer Christians who have spent little time in His Word have the ability to discern God’s voice on most subjects. Sitting under the preaching of a decent pastor and attending an occasional Bible study is sure to communicate some things to us concerning God’s voice, right?

For instance, when asked what the greatest of all the commandments were, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Even if we can’t quote this popular passage, most of us at least know it, right? I have to think even non-Christians know this passage. If not this one than we certainly know the portion of 1 John 4:8 that says “God is love.” So when asked the questions, “How should you love God?” or “How should you treat your neighbors?” most of us should be able to discern God’s voice on the matter. Knowing what God wants us to do isn’t the problem …

The problem is we don’t do it. 

When given the opportunity to put God first in our lives we consistently choose ourselves. When given the opportunity to love our neighbors as we love ourselves we make excuses and decline. When God tries to save our marriage we throw our hands up and do what we want to do anyway. When God says don’t have sex with that person or you shouldn’t be looking at that website or please don’t make that choice we boldly declare that we know what’s best and fail over and over and over to be obedient.

This kind of disobedience can be expected out a person who doesn’t know Jesus, but for us Christians it is inexcusable. We choose to disobey God’s voice and then claim ignorance when, in fact, we’re just selfish.

I fear that this kind of disobedience has become the norm in the Western Church rather than the exception. This disconnect between our knowledge and our actions is damaging the testimony of the Church. The non-Christians in our culture see that disconnect and dismiss Christ because of it. Our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ see that disconnect and choose to embrace it rather than change it. James wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and I have to believe that works blossom from obedience to God’s voice.

Christians … it is time we stop just telling the world what we know and start showing them what we believe.

Can Christians be Concerned About the Environment and Climate Change?

greenbible
image from worldmag.com

Christians are often characterized as being unconcerned about the environment, climate change, and global warming. To be fair, I suppose it does appear that way sometimes. However, in truth, it is okay for Christians to concern themselves with matters of the environment. We must remember, that when God placed mankind in the Garden of Eden He gave him one responsibility, to tend to the Garden:

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15, NIV).

Not only was mankind created to take care of the environment, God also gave us a certain amount of dominion over the environment:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule (have dominion) over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26, NIV).

The world and everything in it belongs to the Creator. Genesis 1 teaches us that He created it all to bless us and then gave us dominion over it. He, in effect, loaned it to us. When you loan something to someone, there is a certain expectation implied with that loan; you want them to take care of your possession – the more valuable the item, the more care you expect to be taken with it. For instance, if you loan someone your car for the weekend you are, in effect, giving them dominion over your car for a couple of days, and when you get it back you expect it to be in the same condition as when you loaned it. It’s even better if they bring it back washed and with a full tank of gas!

Christians, we are expected to take care of God’s world. His creation is precious. When our scientists tell us we are damaging it we need to listen and take steps to do better, if such steps exist. I fear that environmentalism has somehow become associated with the political left and those on the right, including the vast majority of the Church, rail against it because they think they are supposed to.

Environmentalism, however, is not a political issue, it is a Biblical one. God gave us dominion over creation and expects us to take care of His world.

There is one word of caution, however, and it is a word the secular left is sure to disagree with. Christians cannot allow the environment to become their idol. We should care for the world in obedience to and respect for the God who created it. We cannot, however, become so obsessed with the environment that we elevate it to our primary focus in life. Christians should be motivated by respect and obedience when it comes to tending the garden, not fear. Why? Because God’s Word contains an outstanding promise:

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Revelation 21:1, NIV).

The Apostle John’s vision recorded in Revelation saw our earth passing away … ceasing to exist … and new heavens and a new earth taking its place. Climate change, global warming, pollution – these are all issues that (sometimes unknowingly) attest to one Biblical fact – the world is tainted by sin. When Adam sinned, sin entered the world (Romans 5:12). Now, thousands of years removed from that original sin, we live in a world tainted with environmental issues. Because of sin, tending the garden has become far more complicated, just as God told Adam it would:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, NASB). 

Because of God’s grace, we will someday receive new heavens and a new earth – a new Garden. Those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus can rest assured in that promise. But until that day, God’s directions to tend to the earth and have dominion over the environment still stand. We should care about the environment, but we can’t let the fear of this earth expiring (and someday it will) rule us. Our actions must be governed and motivated by respect and obedience to the Father and hope in His promise of a new earth.

Are You Lucky or Blessed?

image from genius.com

On the way home from work the other day, driving through a dense morning fog, I turned left without seeing an oncoming car. The car was coming at me pretty fast and, thanks to the fog, I didn’t see it until it was right on top of me. A collision seemed pretty imminent, but the cars missed each other by only a matter of inches.

That event has caused me to reflect on matters of luck verses matters of blessing.

Immediately after narrowly missing the other car I began praising God and thanking Him for sparing me from the accident. In my past life, I would have reacted differently. Before I was a believer, I would have attributed my good fortune to simple luck. However, I now know better. Proverbs 16:33 provides a solid principle for believers concerning matters of luck:

“The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.”

It’s every decision is from the Lord. From our limited vantage point, it may seem like we’re rolling the dice, but God is in control of the results. I’m not suggesting that God controls every roll of the dice during our game of Monopoly, but it is important for us to remember that the results of our dice roll is a matter of His providence or control. If I roll double snake eyes, it is only because he directly caused it to happen or because he allowed it to happen. Either way, God is in control. All things are a matter of God’s active or passive will.

When we attribute our good fortune to luck, we are failing to recognize God as the source of our blessings. In Christ, however, we know better. When we praise God for our good fortune it reflects a significant change of heart.

This is a pretty easy concept to grasp when we consider our good fortune but it becomes a little more difficult when we consider the bad things that happen to us. When something that seems bad enters our life (a job loss, relationship issues, disease, etc) it is still a matter of God’s providence. He has either caused it to happen or has allowed it to happen.

They key question we need to ask God amid such circumstances is, “Why?

James, the half-brother of Jesus, offers this thought:

“2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). 

When a Christian faces a significant event in life, be it a blessing or a trials, she should understand that God is in control of all things … and this understanding should have a huge impact on our response! When faced with good or bad fortune, we should seek God’s counsel and ask Him how we are to respond and grow and what we are supposed to learn from the situation.

I’ll conclude my thoughts with more from James Chapter 1 as it seems to apply well:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously andwithout reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8). 

 

 

 

Lessons from Genesis: Mastering the Sin in Our Lives

cain-and-abel1So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:3-7, NASB).

Both Cain and Abel made offerings to the Lord, but there was something critically different in those offerings. Of Abel, it is prominently said that his offering was “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Gen 4:4); he brought the best part of his flock as an offering to God. The same can not be said of Cain’s offering. Cain simply brought an offering with no regard or seemingly any consideration of the quality of the offering. When God rejected Cain’s half-hearted offering, Cain became angry and his countenance fell. Cain’s anger and bitterness were of his own making and God tells him so:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:6-7).

Had Cain simply done well and made an offering from the best of his crops all would have been fine. There would have been no cause for his anger and resentment. It was in that moment of Cain’s half-hearted devotion to God that sin took its advantage. According to God, when you’re not doing well sin is crouching at the door. Peter put it this way, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). When we’re neglecting our devotion to God Almighty, we are running the risk of allowing our emotions, bitterness, and circumstances to get the best of us. In Cain’s case, he allowed his sin to blossom into murder. But God tells us there is another way. We can master our sin. How? By doing the right thing to begin with.

God’s Word says if do well our countenance will be lifted up. This advice is amazing in its simplicity. If we want to guard against our sinful inclinations we should focus our lives and order our lived around the God who gave us life. This is the simple kind of advice that can apply to our spiritual walks in countless ways:

  • Is your prayer life suffering? Pray more.
  • Not spending enough time in the Word? Open your Bible more. 
  • Neglecting fellowship with other believers? Go to Church more regularly. 
  • Sin getting the best of you? Devote your life to God and live your life well according to His instructions.

It seems so simple yet we tend to disregard it. We moan and groan when our spiritual lives aren’t where we want them to be, but we don’t examine our lives to see if we are living as we should. All Cain had to do was repent and devote his life to God. He could of had a change of heart and brought an acceptable offering to God, but he chose instead to allow his anger and resentment to grow and blossom.

God’s Word tells us how a person devoted to God should live their life. If we do well, our countenance will be lifted up. We are not helpless in the face of our sin. We can live our lives proactively, according to God’s Word, and master the sins our enemy puts in our path.

We should live like Abel … not like Cain.

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Lessons from Genesis: Noah's Obedience and God's Instructions

image from wikipedia

As I was teaching from the Book of Genesis yesterday, I was struck by something that at first seemed odd to me. In Genesis chapter 6 God didn’t just tell Noah to build a boat; rather, God gave specific instructions on how the boat was to be built:

“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and outside.  This is how you are to make it: The ark will be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. You are to make a roof, finishing the sides of the ark to within 18 inches of the roof. You are to put a door in the side of the ark. Make it with lower, middle, and upper decks.” (Genesis 6:14-16, HCSB)

It seems odd that God would give Noah such specific instructions. Would it have really made a difference if the boat had been 451 feet long or if the sides were finished to within 17 inches of the roof? Certainly, the ark had to meet a certain function; God was preparing to it to hold a specific number of animals along with Noah and his family, but surely He could have worked that miracle even if the boat’s dimensions were a little off, right? It seems those specific instructions had more to do with Noah than with the ark.

Noah is described as being righteous, blameless, and walking with God (Gen 6:9); not perfect, not sinless, but blameless. Of all the people on the earth, Noah was the one guy who took his walk with God seriously. In fact, he took his walk with God so seriously that he began building a boat decades before it started raining – that’s radical obedience! Personally, I prefer to see evidence of God working in my life before I move! I want to know I’m not making a mistake. If God wants me to build a boat I demand at least some sprinkles of rain. But not Noah … Noah just went to work.

I can’t help but imagine the impact Noah’s obedience must of had on his three sons; Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Not only did they see their father go about building a boat, but they saw him agonizing over the exact dimensions and smallest of details, “Do it over son, that board is an inch too long! It’s got to meet God’s instructions exactly!” 

I believe I’m starting to figure out why God spared Noah and his family.

God gave Noah specific instructions on how to build a boat and Noah obeyed. Noah’s obedience was a direct result from, and evidence of, his close walk with God. God has left us with specific instructions as well. His Word spells out how we should be living our life. His Word specifically tells us what a life of repentance looks like and how it should impact believers. Yet, we don’t follow Noah’s example. Instead, we justify our disobedience. When we do find someone who takes obedience seriously we write them off as a fanatic and accuse them of legalism!

Noah was a fanatic and everyone around him surely thought he was a legalist. I can hear them now, “Come on Noah, did God literally mean the boat needed to be 450 feet long?” And I can hear Noah’s response, “Yeah. He did. And I’m going to obey.”

In his obedience, Noah showed his family and the whole, defiant world that he took his relationship with God seriously. He showed them that he didn’t just believe in word, but also in deed. James told us to “prove ourselves doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22). Noah was a doer … and too often today, we’re just hearers.

God has given us specific instructions in His Word. If we want to get to heaven, it must be through His Son (John 14:6). We must repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). His Word goes to great lengths to show us what a life of repentance looks like and how our lives should be shaped in response to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We all would do well to take His Word seriously. When we make changes in our lives because of the instructions we find in God’s Word we are showing the world that we truly believe in the God of the Bible. They may think we’re fanatics or legalists, but by golly they at least know we’re serious.

Noah measured his boat carefully … just as we should measure our lives by the Word of God.

Other posts in this series: Lessons from Genesis