Choices for the New Year

We all make choices. Hebrews 11:4 reminds us of the first family and the very different choices the brothers made. The more complete story is found in Genesis 4:1-16.

At first glance they look similar. They both were hard workers. They both brought sacrifices to God. But God payed heed to one and not the other.

Both brothers had heard the first-hand account of living in the garden, the terrible choice their parents made and the consequences. They also must have been told of the need for a blood sacrifice, which was a picture of a Messiah (Redeemer) who would come. (Hebrews 9:22)

Abel realized his great need and brought the sacrifice God required. It was a picture of the coming Messiah. God paid heed.

Cain thought he could win God’s favor by bringing things he had carefully grown and tended. It was a “look at me” moment. “Look at what I’ve done.” …and when God paid no heed he became angry.

God tries to reason with Cain. He pointed out his sin and encourages him to master it. (repentance) God held out hope to Cain. Cain would have none of it. He goes from being very angry to bringing his brother out in the field with him where he kills him. His actions spoke louder than his sacrifice.

Titus 1:16 gives a perfect explanation. “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.”

Once more God approaches Cain. “Where is your brother Abel?” It was another opportunity to repent. Instead he deflects and lies. “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

God confronts Cain with the truth. He knows what he has done. Cain will be cursed. He will no longer have the ability to produce from the ground. The very thing he was so proud of is taken away. He will become a wanderer.

Cain responds by complaining, not repenting. He was sorry for his situation or punishment, but not his sin. Still, God grants him protection for his earthly life by putting a mark of protection on him. Sadly, Cain was not concerned about his eternal soul, and he “went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Abel lived and died for his faith. He was killed because he was favored by God.

Which brother are we like?

Cain, who proudly thought he was good enough to approach God on his own merits, or Abel who realized his great need and humbly brought the sacrifice that God required.

“For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith. This does not depend on anything you have achieved, it is the free gift of God; and because it is not earned no man can boast about it. “ (Ephesians 2:8-9 Phillips)

For further study: Genesis 4:1-16; Proverbs 21:27; I John 3:12; Hebrews 12:24

Faith in the Creator

I have been teaching art to some children this year. Each week 17 kids ages 5-12 make their way to my basement and create.  We are in the middle of making miniature hot-air balloons so we can imagine traveling from country to country in our journey around the world.

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They have created Giraffes,

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Hippos (and a few seals)

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and Kente cloth from Africa,

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big red barns from Wisconsin.

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Pumpkins and turkeys will give a nod to our Thanksgiving holiday.

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We plan on “visiting” England, Australia, France and Mexico in the coming weeks.

As I get to know each student I am learning to recognize their artwork. They each have their own  individual  style. I am amazed at what they can do with the raw materials I give them.

If you would look in my basement you would see their creations hanging up or laying out to dry.  Some things are tucked away in their portfolios.  There hasn’t been an explosion in my basement that caused these things to appear. You would recognize that someone has been at work.

Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (NASB)

We are asked to believe that God made the world. It was a purposeful act.

None of us were there. There is no way for us to prove it. We have to take Him at His word. Either He is telling the truth or He is a liar. God gives us the account in Genesis 1-2. If we are to walk by faith we must believe it.  I will let God’s words convince you, not mine.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, The one who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26 (NASB)

“All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” John 1:3 (NASB)

“…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse…” Romans 1:19-21 (NASB)

“…even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” Romans 4:17 (NASB)

Spend some time looking around today. Does what you see look like an accident or an explosion?

Next,  go back and read Genesis 1-2. That God created the world is the only credible explanation. If we are to live by faith, believing in creation is the foundation.

Take comfort that His creation is all around us to remind us of who He is and what He is capable of. He has not left us here alone. He has a purpose and a plan. Believe it. Don’t let this world’s trouble tear your eyes from your only hope.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”        Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB)

Faith Crisis

Lake_2952When I was little our family would pile into the car every summer, drive to Minnesota and spend a week at the lake. This was before the day of the internet. We didn’t make reservations, we just drove until we found something that looked interesting.

We never doubted that we would spend a week at the lake. The minute my sisters and I got into the car with our suitcases we were already there.

It was as good as done. We weren’t sure about the journey, but the destination was guaranteed.

We understood that we might have to stop two or three times before we had success, but we had faith in our Dad’s ability to find what he had promised.

After driving two or three hours our Dad would stop at a small resort and walk to the office while the rest of us held our breath.

Sometimes the resort was full.

Sometimes it was too much money.

Sometimes our Dad didn’t care for the look of the place once he was closer.

We could tell by how he was walking whether he had success or not. If his head was down and he was walking with a determined gait we knew it was a no. If he was grinning, almost running back to the car we knew he had found the spot.

A couple weeks ago I was reading in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. I turned there specifically because I was struggling. Struggling with weariness, questions, confusion; struggling to believe God had a good plan that He was working out; struggling ____________( You can fill in your own blank).

I know God is faithful, but I needed to be reminded just how faithful.

The first verse got me headed in the right direction.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 NASB)

William MacDonald has this to say about that verse.

“…it is a definition of what faith does for us. It makes things hoped for as real as if we already had them, and it provides unshakable evidence that the unseen, spiritual blessings of Christianity are absolutely certain and real…Faith is confidence in the trustworthiness of God. It is the conviction that what God says is true and that what He promises will come to pass.”

I would encourage you to read the rest of Hebrews 11. Think long and hard about the men and women listed there. Their faith was not in their ability to overcome obstacles, but in God’s ability to walk them through extreme difficulties. Sometimes the results were glorious, other times the immediate results were trouble and even death. Both are examples of faith in a good God.

As a child I had utter faith in my Dad. I never doubted that he would bring about what he promised.

As a child of God I need to have utter faith in the one who made me for His good purpose. He has been faithful in the past. He will be faithful in the future. Although the journey isn’t always easy, I can trust that my destination is sure.

For further study:

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:18 (NASB)

“…it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” Hebrews 6:18-19 (NASB)

“In this confidence let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation – for he is utterly dependable.” Hebrews 10:23 (Phillips)

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 41:11 (NASB)

Grace in the midst of Storms

Wisconsin has had some rough weather in recent weeks. Our dry summer caused many of us to pray for rain. The rain came and then the storms.

We were just sitting down to eat supper when we heard there was a tornado warning. Since it didn’t look that bad we quickly ate. Soon our lights started flickering and went out. When we noticed the rain going sideways outside our window we hurried to the basement.  About 30 minutes later we came up to peek outside. We noticed one tree down and then another.

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We were feeling bad until we started seeing other people’s damage.

My sister and her husband lost the roof to their barn and a huge maple in the front yard. My brother-in-law spent the hours after the storm trying to remove the branches that were covering the road. The sheriff saw and stopped to help.

 

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Another friend had a big tree come down next to their house, knocking the glass out of one of their windows, while another tree took out part of their shed.

One of our neighbors down the road lost 18 big trees.

In our little town there were big trees across the road in several places. Many of the trees took out power lines. We were without electricity for two days. (Small towns aren’t a priority.)

Another friend who lives 30 miles away had the electrical box ripped out of their house while they huddled in their basement. Every tree in their yard was damaged or knocked over. They were without electricity for almost a week.

What surprised me through all of this was how much interaction was going on. We were all talking to our neighbors. We were going out of our way to check on each other. Those with chain saws were walking down the street to see how they could help. Those with big machinery were lifting heavy trees out of the way. Local churches were providing water and hot meals.

We saw grace played out. The first grace was that in all the destruction and close calls, no one was hurt. Some garages, barns and trees were lost, but no loss of life. The second grace was seeing people in action helping one another. We are usually too busy to stop and chat. The storm gave us an opportunity to check in with each other. We tended to the important things and put our regular routines on hold. So while I don’t pray for storms to come, I pray that I can learn from them.

Learn to see my neighbors…to remember to check on my friends…to be thankful for the calm…to see God’s grace in the midst of it all.

 

Don’t Be Unreasonable!

We dread dealing with the unreasonable person, yet more and more we are a people who demand our rights, voice our opinion and complain when things don’t go our way.

Our hearts ache so much from our own issues that sometimes we take it out on the next unfortunate soul who comes across our path.

We are masters at blaming those in leadership, those who sit across the aisle, those with a different view or conviction than ours. We blame anyone but ourselves. “Freedom of speech!” we proclaim loudly, but only wish it for those who agree with our way of thinking.

Yet, as Christians we are called to be reasonable. (Not doormats, but reasonable.)

Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” That verse implies they had something to be unreasonable about. We tend to excuse unreasonableness when we have a “good reason”. The trouble is we always have a good reason, but Paul doesn’t include a qualifier. Not just our friends and those we love. “Everyone”, even those we disagree with.

This verse is sandwiched between; “rejoice in the Lord always” and “do not be anxious about anything.” (vs. 4 & 6) The words always and anything don’t allow for exceptions either. How is this kind of life even possible?

If God is our life, like we claim, storms won’t shift our eyes off of Him. We rejoice that He is with us in the storm. We rejoice that this life isn’t all there is. We rejoice that this “momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) is just that; momentary in the time table of eternity.

We won’t be anxious knowing that our God sees, hears and knows our difficulty. That to worry about what might happen shows a lack of faith in the one we have put our trust in. To know that whatever happens, good or bad, He is there with us. We will brave the storm together. We will learn more of His faithfulness through it.

And so as His redeemed children we rejoice, we put anxiety aside, we learn to be reasonable. In our own strength impossible. But our God makes all the difference. If He can raise Christ from the dead he can transform us as well.

 

 

Forgotten Grace

The grace of God is all around us. We have grown blind to it. We take it for granted or forget completely what God has done for us. Recently, while at a family gathering, God reminded me of His grace.

My cousin, Dennis, told me of a time when we were children. One summer his family came for a week-long visit. His dad planned to help my dad build a basement so he could expand our four room house.

Someone drove the older children in to town to swim. Dennis, being the only boy, went to the boys’ changing room alone while my sisters and his sisters went through the girl’s side. He changed quickly, raced out the door and jumped straight into the pool. Too late he realized it was over his head. He hadn’t learn to swim yet and he sank down below the surface of the water. No one saw him.

While struggling he saw the ladder that went below the water line. He grabbed it, worked his way up and dragged himself out of the pool. It was amazing he didn’t drown. He went back to the changing room, having had enough of “swimming”.

No one saw, no one helped. But I believe God was watching that day. God saw a little boy full of life jump into danger. God helped him make it over to the ladder and get out. He showed him grace.

My sister, Nancy, told us of a time she was with our Dad while he fished. There were long reeds near the shore of the lake that disguised where the water began. At one point my Dad saw that Nancy was missing. He happened to look down to see her hair floating on the water in the midst of the reeds. He grabbed her hair and pulled her out. God was watching that day too. He saw a little girl wander into water that was over her head. God caused my Dad to look around for her before it was too late. He showed her grace.

My cousin realized too late the danger he was in, but his eyes saw the ladder and he had faith enough to reach out and grab the only thing that could save him.

My sister realized too late that under the grass was water, not solid ground. She had sense enough to not fight against the strong arm of my Dad who pulled her to safety.

But there is a greater danger than drowning and physical death. We are all weighed down by the sin that will drown us. God sees and God has provided a way out of certain eternal death.

John 3:16 reminds us… “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves, but grace is freely offered.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” Ephesians 2:8

Physical life, though precious, is but a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. God is extending grace to each of us. Don’t fight against His good hand. Don’t close your eyes to His offer of salvation. His Son has died so we could have life.  Just as it would have been certain death for my cousin to turn away from the ladder, it means certain death for us to turn away from Christ, our only hope.

How will you respond? Will you ignore the ladder? Will you fight against the strong arm?

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

 

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded sick and sore.

Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity love and pow’r.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms.

In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome. God’s free bounty glorify;

True belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh.

Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of fitness fondly dream.

All the fitness He requireth is to find your need of Him.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden, Lost and ruined by the fall.

If you tarry till you’re better; You will never come at all.

(by Joseph Hart 1759)

I should have included this song in my last post.  When my voice returns I will try and record an audio version to be added here.  There is a modern/new tune, but I prefer the old one.