It’s church, people.  It could also be Christian, since Christians and church generally go hand in hand.

And why is that?

Because God designed the church.

So what is it?  And why did He do it?  And what does that mean for a Christian?

It seems that the people who have bad experiences in a church (or, heaven forbid, churches), or who do not know much about it, think that it is unnecessary.

Than why does it exist?  Better yet, why does it thrive?  Why do people risk their lives to meet in secret?  Regardless of the persecution of the church, and Christianity, regardless of how it is misunderstood, people continue to step through its doors, helping hands continue to reach out, and lives continue to change.

To be sure, attending a church doesn’t get you into Heaven.  You have to have reached the understanding that Jesus paved the way and bridged the gap, that He sacrificed so we could go free, and to acknowledge that you are in need of what He did.  So, no, attending a church won’t get me into Heaven, but it is necessary to help me be an effective and faithful Christian.  You can say you are on the soccer team all you want, and even wear the jersey, but if you aren’t going to practice and making it to the games than you are really just someone wearing a bright shirt.

I’ll only take a minute to address that troublesome spin-off which is ‘denominations’.  In my experience, which I admit isn’t terribly a lot, denominations do more for causing division than for supporting doctrine.  There are less mistakes to be made, less people to hurt, when our main focus is on Jesus and not on man-made protocol, or personal opinions about such things as clothes and food.  That being said, I don’t condemn or condone any or all denominations.  The most important thing to be considered is whether or not the Bible is being represented and taught accurately.  If you feel that you are honoring God by wearing skirts or by abstaining from alcohol, honor away; however, that is between you and God.  Not between you and me and God.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

I have heard it said that if we want to love God we have to learn to love what He loves.  Which would be His family, the church.  God loves the church so much, in fact, that He modeled marriage to look like His relationship with the church. (Eph. 5:22-32).  There is no greater expression of love than marriage!  To be sure, the church has had several failures throughout history; even now churches fail to appropriately express what God has asked of them.  The letters to the churches that Paul wrote thousands of years ago are just as applicable to us today.  We need to keep in mind that wherever there are humans there is bound to be failure.  There are bound to be hypocrites in a church because there are bound to be hypocrites everywhere.  We all fall short, but the point is for God to teach us how to love and help one another through it all.

Denominations aside, the Bible doesn’t specifically say, “You must go to church.”  It isn’t part of the 10 Commandments.  The Bible also doesn’t say, “Don’t do drugs.”  But it does say that we are to be imitators of Christ, and nowhere do we see Him advocating for the legalizing of marijuana.  We do, however, see Him going to church.  We see Him establishing communion, which is meant to be taken in a group setting.  I have known people who have thought that smoking weed was completely acceptable in the eyes of God.  Once marijuana was legalized in our state one particular individual wanted to start a small group for potheads.  The point is that we want what we want, and we are going to try and get it even if it conflicts with the Truth.  Nothing is supposed to possess or alter our minds and spirits other than the Holy Spirit.  And only people who are afraid, or angry, or even proud hide from the church.

For those of you that I haven’t lost after that last sentence, let’s hone in on the 10 Commandments for a few minutes.

The early part of the Bible (the first half of the Old Testament, really) focuses a lot on laws and regulations.  You will see the word ‘tabernacle’ and ‘priest’, ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.  There is a lot about punishments, and even more about sacrifices.  All of this was spoken by God to one man; his name was Moses.  Moses relayed this information to his people, the Israelites.  The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and that didn’t mean He loved an Israelite more than a Canaanite, but the Israelites were supposed to be a representation of what His people were supposed to look like (i.e. act like).  Since nobody knows how to do the right thing off the top of their head, it needs to be taught to us, once God delivered the Israelites out of slavery He sat them all down and said, “You saw what I am capable of, and how much I care.  If you obey my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession.” (Genesis 19:4-5).  In essence, God was asking Israel to marry Him.  Marriage is a covenant.  He would be faithful to Israel if she would be faithful to Him.  That’s how marriage works.  The 10 Commandments is the core of the covenant.

For the record, the 10 Commandments did not introduce ‘sin’.  Just because the 10 Commandments are the first ‘rules’ we see written down doesn’t mean that no one had technically sinned up until that point.  All sin has its roots in idolatry, which is putting something in the place of the Creator.  In the instance of Adam and Eve, they wanted to be like God in knowing good and evil.  Once they understand what evil was they were suddenly introduced to a whole new set of choices, and making the wrong choice on purpose is sin.  Adam and Eve knew not to eat from that specific tree, which is what made that choice the first sin.  The awareness they incurred is what established each sin after that, right down to the ones that I commit.  It is my responsibility to communicate with God to make sure that my knowledge of evil isn’t clouding over my knowledge of good and that everything is in its place, so that I’m not committing sins.  I don’t want to sin because I don’t want to take advantage of His amazing gift of grace.  But before there was grace, atonement, there was the Law.

The Law said that a penalty needed to be paid for the sins an individual committed.  Our sins separate us from God- He can’t pretend that we don’t know what we aren’t supposed to know.  In order to be forgiven, and restored to Him, a penalty must be paid.  This is how life works: you do the crime you pay the time, and then are released back into society.  God required innocent animals to be sacrificed as a way of saying, “Sin causes innocent blood to be shed.  I will spare you and receive this animal instead.”   The tabernacle was generally the place where these sacrifices were conducted.  It was the physical place that God could be.  It was His holy place, and when the people looked at it they knew He was there.

The tabernacle is not the same thing as the church.  Once Jesus came as the ultimate price the need for sacrifices was removed.  It was still practiced, as the culture tended to continue living the way they had always lived, which was under the Law.  The New Testament is ripe with conviction about living under the Law, which negates what Jesus did for us.  We no longer have to go to a building and sacrifice animals to be in His presence; His Spirit lives inside of us if we ask Him too.

So what’s the point of church?

The very nature of God’s presence is relational: the Trinity!  The Trinity is God in three persons.  The word ‘person’ is not to be confused with the every day term for a human being, but the philosophical usage which acknowledges that a person is a ‘rational being’.  This Trinity does not mean one God with multiple personalities.  It doesn’t mean that God is a man who had a son named Jesus, and then has a soul, like us, called the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t mean that God was God in Heaven, He came down to earth to be a human and went by the name Jesus, and then after Jesus died He became a Ghost.  The Trinity means that there is one God in three persons.  If this doesn’t make sense than you are on the right track.  If you have decided that you have made sense of the Trinity I can tell you right now that you are wrong.  God is not something to be made sense of.  He made us.  We did not make Him.  It is important to clarify who God really is before we continue on thinking of Him like we think of our own kind.

God moves specifically in a corporate setting.  He designed the worship service so that we could have the fullness of the experience [of His presence].  Attaching yourself to a body of believers is more than just showing up to a service.  Everyone has been given different skills and gifts, and these were meant to operate together for the good of the cause.  1 Corinthians 12 goes through this in great detail.  God established an entire system so that His message could be the most effectively lived out and communicated.  All throughout the New Testament we see the words ‘together’, and ‘fellowship’.  This is on purpose.  The disciples followed Jesus en masse.  After He was resurrected Jesus told the disciples to go and wait for Him together, not to just go back to their own homes and sit by themselves.  What happened when His spirit came upon them was the first church service: and it was amazing!  The entire book of Acts focuses on the growth of the church, and what an impact it made.

One person on their own can do some good, but when people common together with a common goal entire communities, even the world, is impacted.  When left to our own devices we always wind up losing a sense of reality, or urgency.  The entire New Testament stands on the back of the church.  The apostle Paul traveled and underwent extreme persecution and suffering to plant churches.  He knew that he was in a race against time.  If the churches weren’t built up, if people didn’t come together, than the amazing message of Jesus Christ would cease to be truly influential.

Going to church is a part of being a Christian.  It just is.  No, it won’t get you into Heaven.  But are you a Christian, or are you just someone wearing a bright shirt?

I walked away from my faith once.

I told God that everyone was always trying to tell me what to do.  That I only had control over what I believed in.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  I really did say that to Him.  And then I gave some speech about how I was going to exercise what little control I had and say ‘no’.

Of course I was young.

I would have had to be.

Anybody with experience and maturity knows that control and decision-making, the process of disbelief and unbelief, and even believing, look quite a bit different than the scenario I created.

My choice meant that I would not pray.  I would not read my Bible.

This wound up being very hard for me to do.

I found myself feeling very lonely.

I was, am, an introvert by nature.  In those days I feared and avoided people.  As a result, God was my best friend.  He was always there, and I was always talking to Him.

At that point I had been reading my Bible every morning and every evening for years.  Literally.  When I was twelve, I was filled with a sense of spirituality and promised God that I would read my Bible at the start of every day, and at the end of it, until death joined us in Heaven.  I was sitting in the hall at my aunt’s house.  I was a little awed at myself for the commitment I had made, and a little impressed too.  I think I had secretly been wanting to make a promise to God for a while, ever since I heard something, or maybe read something, about how serious and intense it is when we make a promise to God.  Heaven forbid you break a promise to your Creator.  I thought the whole idea was romantic and terrifying.  I was so intimidated and wanted to not be intimidated.  I wanted to be the saint that would make a promise.  And keep it.

I didn’t keep that promise.  In it’s entirety.  On the other hand, I spent the next 15 years in the Word, twice a day, just about every day.  To suddenly not be doing it, on purpose, actually hurt.

I think I was even fiending.

By day three I caved.

I had the emptiness of a few days without my God.

If I really was in control over what I believed, than I was choosing Him.

My spirit had been unable to detach from His.  I needed to speak to Him in the hallways of my school, in the dampness of my basement bedroom.  I had to begin each day with Words of encouragement and end each one with Words of solace.

I hated the choice I had made to walk away from Him.  The only person I was hurting was myself.

I haven’t looked back since.

Thank you, God, SO MUCH, for taking me back.

Okay.  Let’s do this.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’”.

I’m hearing all of the questions and accusations that are flying at me, and I feel like I’m trying to dodge them all like I’m on a middle school playground and a wall of my peers are trying to pelt me with kick balls, except that it actually feels like they are trying to kill me, that they might even want to kill me.  Did anyone else ever feel like that playing dodgeball?  I don’t think it was a very fun game at all…

Let’s hone in on the very first words that God speaks in Chapter 2 verse 16, “You are free…”.

Enter free will.

Technically free will was ingrained in mankind when we were created, but this is where we are seeing it for the first time.  Free will.  What is it?  The dictionary says that it is the ability to act at one’s own discretion.  According to the Bible, we could say that free will is the ability to make choices that may or may not align with God’s will.  We were created in His image, and in our innermost beings we understand what His will is, both by the helping power of the Holy Spirit, and by the guiding light of the scriptures.  We must decide if we want to align ourselves to that, to reach for the outstretched hand of the Spirit or to ignore it, to shine the truth into our lives or cover it up.  Perhaps most beautifully, I heard it said that we cannot make someone love us.  No matter how much we may love them, we cannot make them feel the same way in return.  And what a glorious, amazing, wonderful thing it is when they actually come to love us in a genuine and real way.  There is nothing like it.  If we become so narrow-minded as to say that humankind did not ask to be created, we can only look to when we establish our own families.  We wanted a family because we know that a family can be the greatest thing on earth.  Those babies never asked to be born, but they were/are.  We must also set standards to be kept.  Since the fact of choices is inescapable, we must help our little ones, and ourselves, to make the very best ones, the ones that will be the most beneficial.

Please do not be mistaken.  God did not put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to be a temptation.  Essentially, it is a symbol.  It was a real tree, but Adam and Eve knew that they had free will.  It isn’t about just the tree.  The choice is always there: the thing, or God.  God isn’t a beating-around-the-bush type of being.  He is direct, and He should be.  Free will is a reality, and it needed to be addressed.  He stood more chance of Adam and Eve wandering off and finding some other way to get into trouble than if He hadn’t said, “Life is made up of choices.  I’ve designed it to be beautiful, please choose my way.”  We don’t just cross our fingers and hope that our kids never hear about drugs.  Not at all.  We say, “Drugs are out there.  People will try to make you do them.  It might be fun to start with, but they can get you into a lot of trouble.  They can ruin your life.  Your life can be so easy if you just say no to drugs.  I will do everything in my power to help you, but eventually the choice will be up to you, and I hope you are strong enough to make the best one.”

At least, I hope that’s what we’re saying.

We need to stop being mad at Adam and Eve.  Someone, somewhere in time, would have committed the first sin.  It would have been you.  It would have been me.  We have all given in at some point, even when we knew it wasn’t right.  And not just a society’s-standards wasn’t right, but a deep, in-the-pit-of-our-gut wasn’t right.  We see God knowing what is good, over and over and over.  God knows what is good.  We can enjoy this good by trusting Him and obeying Him.  This isn’t as bad as it sounds.  It’s really not.  This brings us to the second half of the first sentence.

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.”

Obeying God doesn’t mean we can’t do something, it means we can do SO MUCH.  Instead of focusing on one tree it’s not a good idea to eat from, let’s focus on the entire garden that we are free to take part in.  An entire garden!  Who cares about one tree when we have an entire garden?  But we do, don’t we?  Somehow, we always seem to care about the one tree.  I would like to challenge you to stop it.  Just stop it.  When you feel that rising up inside of you, that ‘what if’ and that ‘but but but’, just stop it.  Just say, “Stop it.”  Because the story isn’t over yet.

When we decide that God doesn’t know what is good we must decide what is good on our own, and that actually doesn’t work, because only God knows what is good.  From the beginning He made only what is good.  Not okay, not bad, not average, but good.  It was all ALREADY good.  And then came humankind, with free will.  Would they say, “Yes, this is good.  It is good for me.” Or would they say, “Wait, I want something else.”  The creation of woman is the absolute pique of God’s goodness, and bestowing that on us.  Same as God made man for Himself, He made woman for man.  If Adam were alone there would be no one to share with.  And sharing is a joy.  That’s what this is about, people!  Not taking!  It’s about sharing!

God is eternal, and He was willing to share that with us.  When man decides what is good for himself, he sacrifices that longevity.  In every sense of the word.  Even though God said that if they were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die, it didn’t mean that they would drop dead in an instant.  It meant that they would move into their own autonomy, which would be outside of God’s original plan, which included eternity.  Death, decay, destruction, those were the alternative.  Man didn’t really know that, but they were willing to take the chance.

It seems that we are always willing to take the chance.

I am so thankful that God sent His Son for us.  He didn’t want to give up on an eternity with us.  I cannot even think of a life without my husband, my children, even my dearest friend(s). And if you aren’t married, or don’t have children, you can still close your eyes and think of someone that you could not give up.  You would do anything to keep them in your life.  It hurts and it hurts and it hurts to think of that.  If you aren’t able to picture someone, than you can have God, Elohim.  You really can.  He provided the way for us, because He feels that way about us.  He made us, and He wants us.  We just have to choose if we want Him.  I do, and I choose Him, and there is not a single day that I regret it.  Don’t get me wrong, I am constantly practicing my free will, but I am so grateful for the Son, who made it possible that I can still enjoy fellowship and the prospect of eternity in Heaven with my Creator.

Why do we always act like God is crazy?  We are made in His image.  These feelings that you and I feel, longing, love, connection, friendship, joy… They are all His feelings.  Let’s stop acting like God doesn’t know what it’s like to feel anything.  The pain of Adam and Eve choosing the fruit is the pain of your spouse wanting a divorce, it is the pain of your child saying, “I hate you”, it is the pain of a friend choosing a different friend.  In any age or stage of life, we can always know the heart of God because His heart is in us.  Let’s stop acting like He is some grandiose, egotistical bullying manipulator.  That’s the serpent.  Those feelings exist because of the fallen angel, who actually was grandiose, who was the introduction of egotistical, who has bullied and manipulated all the days since his exile.  Let’s start looking at how things really are.  These aren’t just CGI-inflated, PG-13 rated, imaginative tales.  They are real flesh-and-blood chronicles.  When you take the time to open your mind, to break them down, you can really start to see that, and apply it to your own life.

If you are anything like me, you probably get embarrassed when you think about Adam and Eve being naked, but not just that, they weren’t embarrassed!  They weren’t even trying to hide from each other.  They weren’t trying to play it cool, posted up behind some bushes.  They weren’t even exasperated, like, “Man, I’m still naked?  I’m so tired of being naked!  It’s just so uncomfortable.” They were never like, “Oh my goodness, Adam, I wish you didn’t have to see the way my thighs jiggle all the time.”  Or, “Hey, Eve, you aren’t comparing me to that powerful-looking beast over there, are you?”  The disturbing part is that they could have been hanging out at Starbucks, totally and completely naked, and when they stood up you could have seen the chair marks where you normally can’t see anything, and they would have been acting like nothing was out of sorts.  This is a really important bit of foreshadowing, because later, after sin had entered the world, Adam and Eve were suddenly ashamed to be naked.  This wasn’t the Emperor’s New Clothes here, where they thought they were prancing around in a cute sundress and a comfy pair of shorts and breezy v-neck, only to realize to the horrifying screech of a baboon that they weren’t.  It’s not like a naked dream, the kind where you to come to, and realize you are sitting on a toilet in somebody’s living room and have to act like you actually aren’t, and you begin to sweat and literally panic from trying to figure out how to get up and out of there without blowing your cover.  The scene for Adam and Eve didn’t change and, unfortunately, they didn’t materialize at the house they grew up in and everyone is driving go-karts and Eve suddenly had braces.  What happened was that these people realized they were naked under God’s judgement.  They realized that their good wasn’t actually good at all.  The fruit didn’t open their eyes to goodness and enjoyment after all.  The coveted knowledge that was to make them like God actually caused them to see that they weren’t even like each other, and they didn’t like it.

They wanted to hide.

It seems that no matter how hard we try, we can never hide from the truth.

They tried blaming each other.  They tried blaming God.

I think people tend to imagine God getting very angry, and hurling apples at Adam and Eve.  Heck, hurling the entire orchard.  We tend to feel sorry for Adam and Eve because we know what shame feels like, and that guilt causes us to imagine a scene of violence and horror.  We think that Adam and Eve ran skittering for the gates, with God screaming after them like the Beast screaming after Belle when he finds her in the forbidden West wing: “Get out!  Get out!  Geeeeet ooooouuuuttt!”

I wonder what we would imagine if things hadn’t become so visual in our society.

Would we be able to see what is actually written?

Of course God knows what has happened, but He is kind enough to help these foolish humans through the process.  Adam and Eve have hidden.  Normally, they would be in communion with God.  “Where are you?” God calls out.  He knows where they are, of course, but He is drawing them out.  He asks them what happened.  The spectacular part is that He listens, and He already has a plan.  Before He even says anything to Adam and Eve, God curses the serpent.  He says that the offspring of the woman will crush his head, and from that day on the serpent, the devil, is against the woman.  He is trying to kill every baby, trying to demolish that offspring before it can demolish him.  However, we know what happens: Jesus came as a baby, and through His death He conquers death, and the serpent is defeated.  After Jesus dies on the cross He literally descends into hell and takes back the key to the earth.  But Adam and Eve don’t know that yet, and neither does the serpent.  It is all just beginning for them.  Again.

Everything has changed.

Childbearing was at the center of Adam’s and Eve’s blessings (“be fruitful and multiply”).  After the fall, the betrayal is how I like to put it, childbearing becomes the means of restoring the blessing- bringing about the offspring that will crush the serpent’s head.  Each pang of childbirth is not only a reminder of their foolishness, and how it is always better to choose God’s way, it is also a reminder of the hope to come.

Marriage was the first gift, and it too has changed.  Since man and woman are now used to making their own choices, for their own gain, this will be at odds with the sacrificial design of marriage.  Man and woman will struggle with one another, each one trying to assert their place in the relationship, whereas before they didn’t have to worry about such dynamics.

Before the fall, Adam and Eve were “free to eat”.  After they ate of the fruit, however, eating would no longer be free.  They wanted their own way, which meant that God could no longer divinely provide for them.  They had cursed themselves into providing for themselves all the days of their lives.  And it would not be easy.  The luscious earth that had blossomed under the hand of its Creator would have to be coaxed to fruition under the unskilled hand of the man.

It wasn’t that God took His staff and pointed it at the man and woman, zapping them and laughing as they were electrocuted.  He didn’t grow bigger with heaving clouds boiling behind Him, green mist coming out of His mouth.  He got down on their level.  He made them clothes.  Even in the folly of their own choices He was helping them get established.  He said, “I’m going to make a way.”

And He did.

First things first, Adam and Eve had to get out of the garden.

God couldn’t take the chance of them eating from the tree of life.  If they did they would live forever in their fallen state.  God was not okay with that.  He needed to provide another way; He needed to offer another choice.  There is always a choice.  Verse 23 of chapter 3 says that God ‘sent’ them out of the garden.  In verse 24 it says that He ‘drove’ them out.  Maybe they went peacefully.  Maybe they grabbed onto a tree and refused to let go, and needed to be escorted off the premises.  I wouldn’t want to leave Eden either. and all that it represented.  Either way, it was for their own good.  And to seal the deal, to protect the unreliable humans, the tree was guarded by a high-ranking angel, and a flaming sword to boot.  It was mercy and love at work; tough love, maybe, but I won’t let my son drink poison just because it breaks my heart when he cries.  One day he will understand that poison means death, but until then he is just going to have to take my word for it.

Let’s go back to the beginning, when God knew what was good.  Let’s take His Word for it, too.

 

 

 

 

 

No one is quite sure where the garden of Eden was located.  We could speculate over an area that might be Eden, since the Bible tells us that it was in the ‘east’, and how a river flowed from it and then broke off into four other rivers. It would seem that we could trace these rivers back to a point of origin, but Luther made the tremendous observation that the pathways of said rivers, and all other topography, would have been obliterated by Noah’s flood. As it stands, only two of the rivers can be identified with any type of certainty, and it seems that the exact location of Eden will forever remain a mystery. I think there is a reason for this, although we are not given one in the Scriptures. It seems to me that a physical place on this physical land mass where human beings were in actual, physical communion with God, in perfection, would forever be unreachable.

We are introduced to this secret garden in the second chapter of Genesis. Take a moment to remember that the first chapter of Genesis was given as a guideline to Creation, and the second chapter further expounds on it.

In verse 4 we see, for the first, the name ‘LORD God’. Before this God was known as ‘Elohim’, the God, the Creator, the author of everything from before to forevermore.  Now we are introduced to this concept of LORD, which is YHWH in Hebrew, more familiarly known as Yahweh (the Hebrew language has no vowels), which means “the God Who is with You”.  Together they stand for “The God Who is with you is the true God”.  We don’t see this name designation before mankind was been created, because there was no one to say it to.  This term is used very rarely, and it always reflects a special relationship between God and man.  Immediately after the creation of humans, there is an exclusive and delicious covenant between them and their Maker, between us and ours, who is still the same, LORD God.

There is a lot in these early chapters of Genesis that is off-putting to people.  I would encourage us all to take a step back and evaluate the source of our frustration, and to be aware that if we cannot take seriously, and even literally, these troublesome and conflicting passages than we are setting ourselves up for failure throughout the rest of the Bible.  Even these chapters in Genesis are meant to be taken as they are, and it is our duty to dig deeper, to fill in the gaps, and find out how they apply to the rest of Scripture, and even to our present-day lives.  After all, it IS just the beginning…

I have heard it said that already, in the second chapter of Genesis, the Bible contradicts itself.  I have even heard an entire sermon preached on this assumption, and the point of the sermon was to say that the Bible contradicts itself, so don’t focus on the doctrine of the Bible, instead focus on the need to make people feel loved.  I understand that the strongest point this pastor was trying to make was that Bible-beating doesn’t do any good, and I would agree with that.  However, discrediting the Word of God discredits the need for the Word, which is the need for Christ, Who is love.  Without a faith in the Bible, we will not be able to love the way that we need to.

Instead of taking the passages at face value, which say in Chapter 1 that animals were created before man, and then man was created, and in Chapter 2 that God made the animals and then brought them to the man, who was presumably created first in order to have something brought to him, we go back to what we know about the Bible.  First, it is not a Western document, and chronology to the authors is never really a priority.  Second, English is a translation.  Third, that we need to put on our thinking caps when reading the Bible.

When verse 19 says that God formed the beasts of the earth and then brought them to man, it is merely a reiteration.  The actual tense of the verb ‘formed’ (some translations say ‘had formed’) is pluperfect, which is the past of the past.  We see pluperfect tenses all throughout these beginning chapters, and it’s the same thing as adding ‘had’.  Pluperfect is the same thing as past perfect in modern day English, and it refers to something that occurred earlier than the time being mentioned.  God HAD formed the beast of the earth, and THEN He brought them to man to be named.

I have heard it said that the Creation week could not have been a week at all, because there is no way that man could have named all the animals in an actual 24 hour period (he hadn’t even learned how to talk!) forget about being created himself, and there is no way that his sleep and the creation of Eve could have been squeezed in there.  This is all just grasping at straws.  If God could even create in the beginning, why couldn’t it be in the blink of an eye?  If man was made in His likeness, than He was created with cognitive and even creative capabilities.  It isn’t impossible at all for man to name the animals over the span of a few hours: a dog is a dog is a dog, and a horse is a horse of course, we don’t have to assume that every breed was signified, especially since most of them have been developed over time.  As for Adam being put to sleep, since God was putting Him to sleep it is more than plausable that Adam didn’t have lay there tossing and turning, waiting to drop off, and it probably only took a few minutes to take a rib and fashion the woman.  What is one woman after the Creation of the entire universe?

The creation of woman is probably one of my favorite parts in the Bible.  The Bible doesn’t indicate that Adam was lonely, and longed for a wife.  It merely says that God established that it was not ‘good’ for man to be alone, as He was not alone in the Trinity, and as all living creatures were given their own kind.  We aren’t meant to think that God had an ‘aha’ moment, like He realized He had forgotten something.  Once again, we see our Creator paving the way, showing us that He understands what is good, and that only He can give it to us.  We see that Adam and Eve are unlike the other animals and creatures when Adam first sees his new wife, and he cries out, “Bone of my bone!  Flesh of my flesh!”  It is a beautiful union, and every living being has its own place.

Verse 15 of Genesis 2 tells us that man had been put in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it”.  Verse 8 already established that man had been put in the garden, so what is the emphasis on working it and keeping it?  Although it seems simple enough, I wanted to say a little something about this because it is so special.  Our English translation loses the uniqueness of what has happened with the word ‘put’.  In verse 8 ‘put’ is a simple verb.  God put man in the garden.  However, in verse 15 we see the same ‘put’ that was used in reference to the rest and safety from God putting His people in a secure place, like the Promised Land (Deut. 12:10), and we see a sort of dedication as in Moses putting aside manna to be carried in the ark of the convenant, with which to remember God’s faithfulness (Ex. 16:33-34).  We can establish that man was put in the garden to rest in the safety of God’s presence, where he can fellowship with his Creator.  To ‘work it’ and to ‘keep it’ should actually be read as ‘to worship’ and ‘to obey’.  This becomes clearer in the next verse, when we see the very first command…

Ah, the command.

Which means we have to start talking about the tree.

The tree, the tree, the tree.

And by ‘tree’ I should actually be saying ‘trees’, but we always seem to forget about the first one.  The tree of life.  Instead, we focus on the second one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Let’s all take a moment to catch our breath.  Let’s focus on not getting flustered and up in arms.  Let’s reflect on the amazing week of Creation, and how we were created in God’s likeness.  How He made us to be in communion with Him, and how no other living creatures are like mankind.  That is very amazing.  No matter how much we may like our dogs, they don’t hold a candle to our actual best friends.

 

 

Before the beginning there was God.

This is the first thing to believe, before any of it can be believed afterward.  And everything that comes afterward is what makes it possible to believe the first thing.

And then came the beginning.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

This beginning is not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a time period.  Time has always existed because God has, and time would cease to exist if God ceased to exist.  There was eternity, and then there was the beginning.  Since the ancient Hebrew language is complex and elusive, it has been said that ‘the beginning’ refers to a separate period of time before everything else began, or it has been interpreted that it was the actual beginning and everything happened as it says in English.  In a way, I like the thought of it being the time before time.  It isn’t millions of years, because nothing is happening; it is a prelude to prove a point.  It says that God created the heavens and the earth, but that He was not yet ready to do His work within them.  The pause here seems to say that the heavens and the earth were created, but if He hadn’t done what He did next (made them inhabitable, and full of His creation), there would be no story.

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

When we step outside of everything that this verse could mean, and actually explore what it does mean, we find a lot of purpose, and care, and symbolism.  It wasn’t a time of chaos, of boiling particles and natural disaster.  It was the earth, like it says it was, but it was formless and void, or empty.  We know that the earth is not actually formless, and it certainly isn’t empty, and so we take what the phrase means in Hebrew, and we find that it merely means ‘uninhabitable’.

Intrigued?  Because this is intriguing.

So there sat the earth, prepared in the beginning, and the Spirit of God was there.

The earth is God’s divine blessing.  He took the time to prepare it for us, for humankind, and He safeguarded that gift by a call to obedience.  There is a purpose to how it was pointed out that the earth was formless and void, uninhabitable.  It all could have just started at the beginning of Creation week, but we can also take a moment to really appreciate what the author took time to enunciate: what came first.  A beginning with an end in mind, and from the first verse of the Bible every other verse follows.  They thread through one another and the beauty and complexity is breathtaking.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  There is a Creator, and He is God, Elohim, not just “a god”, but the God, and to Him be the honor and glory and power, for being the Creator, and creating the earth for us, and creating us.  From this phrase we also know that the last things will be like the first things (Isa. 65:17).  The origin of the world was so deliberate.

God set up the universe.  He had not yet made it good.  The first chapter of the Bible repeatedly shows that God knows what is good for humankind, and that He will also provide it.  It was part of the design, since the beginning.

We already know that we cannot read the Bible like a piece of modern, Western literature.  It is an ancient manuscript, and the author of Genesis had a specific purpose for writing the way he/she did.  The first chapter of Genesis establishes the respect that God, who created the universe, is the only God.  He deserves our respect because He created even us.  The first chapter is a set-up for the second chapter, and the second chapter goes in and expands on certain parts of the first chapter.  There aren’t loopholes in Genesis, and there isn’t room for speculation.  The words that were chosen were chosen for a reason, and we must read them as they were meant to be read.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

At this point, a common question is asked: Did this mean that there was light before there was the sun?  Since the Bible says that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the 4th day?  Some say that the correct interpretation of the heavens implies “sun, moon, and stars”.  You don’t have the heavens without the heavenly bodies.  However, those heavenly bodies were ‘formless and void’.  They were not yet useful.  God had to make them good.  This seems like a very valid standpoint.  However, that would leave Creation day number 4 with God not actually creating anything.  Perhaps the most solid belief is that God did indeed create light and darkness without the heavenly bodies.  After all, He is God, and this would not be hard for Him, or even impossible.  It could be that He did not want the sun to be revered too highly.  It could be that He was introducing the fact that He is the light of the world, and when we get to Heaven the glory of His presence will be the only light that we will need to see by (Rev. 21-23).

God calls the light and darkness to their jobs, and He creates the day.  He establishes that there is evening and morning, and He calls it the first day.  Before He does anything else, He establishes time.  He specifically chooses to set up a system that the creatures of the earth will operate by.  Since He made the day before anything else we have no reason to believe that it was a different day than the ones that came later.  Days were not longer at the beginning of the earth.  If it were so than the earth would not spin as it should, and life would not exist, and the entire Creation story would have never been written.  The author wants us to know by the word he uses for ‘day’ that he is talking about a 24 hour period.  And from the day stems the passing of days, the seasons, and the progress of life on this earth.

He calls it good not because it is ‘good’ by default, since He is God and He made it, but because it is beneficial to humanity.

Now, God can continue, because nothing else He intends to put on the earth would survive without the structure of the day.  A simple 24-hour-period, to be the foundation of all of history.  This is why it is all so beautiful.  Don’t think for a minute that God is not deliberate.  He is so deliberate, and it is to show that He is sovereign.

He goes on to make the sky and the clouds on the second day.

On the third day He gathered the waters together so that dry land could appear, and called them ‘earth’ and ‘seas’.  On the Earth he called the vegetation to grow.  This is different from when He said, “Let there be” and then there was.  Here He is assigning the vegetation to grow up out of the earth, and He is assigning the earth to nourish the vegetation.  It starts the way it was meant to perform.  Nothing changed with the passing of time.  It was meant to be a certain way, and it was made that certain way.  And all of those trees and plants were given seeds of their own kind, and we see that even the plants were meant to produce their own kind.  God called all of this good, and this was the third day.

On the fourth day the Hebrew text reads that God says, “Let the lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day and night”.  In keeping with the theme that God has been standing in as the source of light, we see Him now giving that job to actual ‘bodies’: the sun, moon, and the stars.  We see that sun is given to rise and set, and the moon is meant to wax and wane, and with this process the seasons will be established.  The vegetation cannot be fruitful without the process of the seasons, and neither can the animals which were still to come.  The author then says, “And it was so.”  So it was so.  The next verses are purely commentary as they reiterate.  Once again, God saw that this was good, because this would be beneficial.

On the fifth day God filled the waters up with the sea creatures, and He filled the skies with birds.  He assigned them to each other, and He blessed them to be able to multiply and fill the earth with their beauty for all of time.  He called all of this good, and it must have been such a glorious thing to watch the first living creatures roam His wonderful creation, and this was the fifth day.

On day six God created the animals.  The author uses a different ancient word here than the one that was chosen to describe the creation of the vegetation.  Vegetation was produced from the land, but the living creatures were made directly by God.  Life of living being originates from God, and is to be distinguished from the rest of the physical world.  And they were good.

After the creepy crawlies and rolly pollies, God takes a different approach, and instead of saying, “Let there be”, He says, “Let us make.”  Not only that, instead of being created “according to its own kind”, they were made “in [God's] image”.  Not only were they like themselves, there were also like their Creator.  What a bold move on the part of the Creator, to imbibe His characteristics upon a Creation.  It seems that He would want to share something with us, and indeed He did…

“And God blessed them…” (Gen. 1:28a).  No sooner did God create His humans than He blessed them.  He simply couldn’t wait to do it.  He tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and this wasn’t said as a command, but as a blessing.  He goes on to give man ‘dominion’ over everything on the face of the earth, and to reproduce and populate the whole earth, and to enjoy every part and piece of His entire creation.  Not only that, but He says that He has provided food for every kind of living being, in the plants that He took time to create earlier, and so nothing about existing and reproducing has to be hard.  Having dominion over the earth isn’t supposed to be work, He has already taken care of it.  Not only was all of this good, but it was very good, and the sixth day was over.

God rested on day 7 as an example to us.  We were created in His likeness, and from then on what He does we also are supposed to replicate.  Resting is a service given by God to be given back to Him, where we take a break from all of the reproducing and having dominion and enjoying all of the vegetation, to be still and remember what He has done.  He has done everything.  And He did it all for us.  Not only are we to perform an empty display, and offer lip service, we are meant to treat this day as HOLY (Gen. 2:3).  We are meant to reflect on how alike we are to God, and to recognize the goodness that surrounds us.  If He is resting, how much more do we need to?  Taking part in this rest is a willingness to be in His likeness, and it shows our faithfulness to Him.  The rest that He took then, and subsequently gave to us, will also be given in the future to those that are faithful (Ps. 95:11, Heb. 3:11).

Thank God for that.

 

 

Is it really necessary to continue learning (or would it be called re-learning) the same lessons throughout life? It has been so frustrating to me, the thought that I must go up and down the same roads over and over again. What is the point of learning them if we must just learn them again?

Then, I think I figured out that we aren’t re-learning the lessons. That isn’t what happens at all. We learn them the first time, or whenever it is that we are actually able to learn them, sometimes it is many more times later. Then we pass through that season of life. What we learned ceases to apply, and so it probably goes to the back of our minds. It’s like studying for a test, or taking a class. We need what we need to learn, and then we forget it when the class is over. Class is done, it’s time to move on to the next one. We learn something different for the next class, and then we must forget that material in order to take the next class. So on and so forth until we have earned our degree, and we don’t really realize that everything we learned before actually helped us for the following classes. We took bits and pieces from each one to help us get to the ultimate goal.

That seems to be how it actually works. Right now, in my life, I am not actually re-learning a lesson. I am merely going through another time where something I learned previously has to come more to the forefront. I am struggling to remember how it goes, and I am feeling betrayed by life. I am even feeling that God isn’t on my side, and that He has forgotten about me. It was then, in the darkness of that lonely mindset, that I came to understand I was not being tried and tested. I was merely living. Life was happening to me. And a lot of life looks the same, over and over, just a bit different. I didn’t have to look inside of myself and dread digging up old skills, exercising muscles that I hadn’t used in a while. I was going to be tired, and sore, but I didn’t have to be bitter. When I realized that it was not being done ‘to’ me, that it was all just happening, I felt strength instead of weariness. I felt that I could do this [again] because I got through the first time, and there wasn’t actually going to be a finish line (that part will come later). It wasn’t actually about me at all. I just needed to hone those skills, tap into those resources, use them, and not take it personally. Perhaps someone else was learning a lesson, and I just so happened to be stuck in the crosshairs.

Maybe we do have to learn lessons over sometimes. But not all the time. Not every time. I probably will do better some times than others. But it helps tremendously to know that I am not being aimed at. It’s not like I’m the only one standing under the cloud. We are all under the sky, and sometimes it rains, and sometimes it is raining over here but not over there, and I am never the only person getting wet, with a little rain cloud following me around. Sometimes I might run through the rain, splashing, and sometimes I might use the proper equipment to stay dry, and sometimes I might pull over to let the storm pass. I think there is a song somewhere about singing in the rain, and I am not much of a singer, but I imagine singing in the rain would probably make someone a much better singer than they would be on a bright and clear day.

Whatever the case (as a dear friend of mine always says), if this is as hard as my life gets, I guess I’ll take it. Maybe not all the time. But at least today.

I love the Bible.

I really do.

Probably my favorite thing about the Bible is the way it depicts God.  It shows Him to be a warrior for His people, coming with a sword, and an army: He does not take injustice lightly.  He will vanquish His people: and I am one of them!  Can you believe what an amazing feeling that is, knowing that I will be vanquished?  It’s enough to let me surrender my battles, to give Him all those little feelings, and the huge ones too, where I think someone has treated me poorly, or something went terribly wrong.  He can decide.  He is the warrior.  He can vanquish me.

He is a roaring lion.  That simple phrase is so incredibly packed.  Lions generally live in prides, with one male being the dominant leader.  He conquers the uprisings, and maintains order.  He is known to circle the periphery of his pride, keeping an eye out for predators, always on the ready to protect, and He NEVER shirks his duty.  Everyone else works together knowing that He will keep everything as it should be, and they need only do their part.  The sound of His voice clears the countryside for miles.  The image of a roaring lion is truly breathtaking.

But what about when the Bible contradicts itself?

Because it does, right?  I mean, everyone knows that.

Aside from the incredible depiction of God as Sovereign, Mighty, and Creative, the Bible is my favorite book for it’s unwavering reliability.  Not surpsisingly, the Book about a perfect God, a sovereign Being, and an all-knowing Creator, contains no organic contradictions.  Any seeming mistakes are purely man-made, and assumed by man, which is not surprising since men are good at making mistakes, and they are good at pretending like they never do; they are even better at thinking that they should be God.  It has to be the Bible’s problem, right?

I don’t know how many times I have heard people say something about the Bible because that is just what everyone else says about the Bible.  There is no interest in getting an actual answer, it just seems right since it is a popular viewpoint, and when someone doesn’t really want to believe something they will say whatever it takes to make them feel good about the decision they have made.

The Bible doesn’t waste time trying to convince people.  “Believe in me because…”  It lays out the facts, it sings God’s praises, it gives the examples, and the rest is up to us.  It is up to us to pursue the evidence; it is up to us to take the plunge.  More often than not people want to be ‘sold’ on something.  They must be begged, cajoled, convinced.  They need the small print, and a lawyer.  They are afraid of being had, so they try to ‘have’ the would-be ‘haver’.  “I don’t want to look like a fool, so I will say that the Bible is foolish.”  But they won’t do the work themselves.  They need it to be done for them, because if God really wanted them to believe in Him so bad, He would come knock on their door, open His briefcase, and say, “I can offer you these plans for this price, and won’t that be nice?”  God isn’t a traveling salesman.  He is a warrior.  He isn’t on trial; He is a roaring lion.  He doesn’t need you to grade His work, and He doesn’t have security problems.

Many people who call themselves Christians have a hard time accepting the Word of God as complete and concise.  They assume that it is merely a rough draft, a loose kind of guide.  However, a belief in the Bible is the foundation of the entire Christian system.  One cannot claim to believe in God but discredit His very words of instruction and encouragement.  Not everyone believes all of the components about the Bible are true, and a lot people choose to read them and interpret as they will.  Understandably, this method leaves the unbelievers to assume that the material of the Bible is inaccurate and absurd.  Not even it’s own supporters will support it entirely.

People develop contradictions when they fail to read the Bible as it was meant to be read.  An ancient text of Middle-Eastern descent cannot be read as a modern, Western piece of literature.  Sequence was not a priority for the writers of the Bible.  That simply isn’t how authors wrote in that time and location.  Most of the Old Testament was written as a song, because it was sung.  It was written as poetry, not as matter-of-fact, and for some reason that really bothers people.  The Hebrew language is complex and intricate and, lo and behold, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew.  Many people/places/things have different words to describe them in the Hebrew language.

A lot of times, especially in the Old Testament, a verse will represent one situation (God created the earth, and He was pleased with it.), and not too many verses later an opposing idea is depicted (God repented of what He had created, and He was saddened by it).  When the history of the Bible is studied, it is easy to see that fifteen hundred years passed between these two passages.  During that time was what Christians refer to as the fall of man.  God could no longer remain satisfied with His work after that, unless a similar change had taken place in Himself.  He would have had to become okay with imperfection.  And God doesn’t change.

The books of the Bible were written by different authors.   That fact that they say things differently is actually a credit to the Bible.  If everything was too clean it would look like a hoax.  When people get on the witness stand and tell the exact same story, the same way, it is a red flag that they have conspired and concocted.  The Bible is full of the words of God and of good men, as well as the words of Satan and of wicked men.  The phrase, “You shall surely die”, were words spoken by God, where “You shall not die” were words spoken by Satan.  They are contradictory statements, but they are spoken by opposite individuals.  It is important to ask: Who is speaking?  Are they recorded as inspired language, or are they matters of history?  Does the writer endorse, or simply narrate, what has been written?

Each ancient writer chose to arrange their work in their own way.  Some of them were historians, so they elaborated extensively.  A different author could choose to omit or expand to suit his purpose and personality.  They haven’t ‘left anything out’, they merely chose not to use certain information.  If we have to study everything else to learn it, why don’t we also study the Bible?  It is rich with history, and when we start learning the history, the Bible begins to come alive.  Does anyone remember the uncomfortable story of when Jesus sent a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, who then threw themselves off of a cliff?  What an odd and unsavory bit.  How awkward and obnoxious it seems.  If you were to research the location and time period of the story, you would find that the people who lived in that town were pagan, and practiced pig worship.  It is appropriate then to see the demons wanting to go into the pigs, and even more appropriate that the pigs would be destroyed, as Jesus would not spare the demons from torturing a human being only to allow them to be worshiped.  I love learning these things!

It goes without saying that the passing of time was employed differently during the times of the Bible.  If two ancient writers seem to be in disagreement about the time period of a certain event it becomes our responsibility to investigate whether or not they are using the same chronological method.  We don’t get to assume somebody got it wrong somewhere.  Fahrenheit may read 212, and Centigrade reads 100, but we know that they are both saying the same thing.  The Jewish people referred to a year in it’s entirety.  For example,a child born in the last week of an ending year was considered a year old as soon as the new year began, even though only a few days had passed.  (This method is still practiced in certain areas of the East).  The last hour of the day would be seen as the whole day which is why, even though Jesus died on a Friday evening and rose again on a Sunday morning, it is referred to as Him being three days in the tomb (since Friday is considered an entire day, as are Saturday and Sunday).  No discrepancy, only a different method of computation.

I already mentioned that the Hebrew language is difficult and extensive.  Thus, in ancient Arabic, there are 100o different words for the word ‘sword’, 500 for ‘lion’, 200 for ‘serpent’, and so on.  The Hebrew language has at least 50 words to describe a body of water, 12 for ‘darkness’, 23 for ‘wealth’…  Many people had different names (Jacob was also Israel), and a lot of times someone’s name changed after a certain event, and this custom still takes place sometimes in certain cultures.  So when people begin to get excited about how the Bible says that the animals were created before man, but then it says that the animals were created after man, it would be crucial to evaluate the method of how that book was written, and then evaluate the original Hebrew words.  You would find that the contradictory phrase would be verified after the correct explanation of a word.

John Wesley developed a fabulous system for determining if something is ‘of God’.  It consists of four different sources, to be evaulated in order: Scripture, tradition, reason, experience.  It is a fascinating and reliable method.  First and foremost someone must study the Scriptures, and see what they have to say about it.  I once heard a minister preaching on John Wesley’s method, and then use the controversial Creation passage to say that Scripture didn’t say the same thing, so the important thing is not when or how something happened, but that it isn’t important!  Treating people well is what is important.  I agree, treating people well is crucial.  But she approached the Bible as a Western piece of literature, and was able to therefore convince her congregation that since the Scriptures are unstable we shouldn’t be focusing on them, but on how we make other people feel.  This was a sad situation that could have been avoided if she had done what she had been called to do: evaluate the Scriptures.  Instead of defending the handbook of our belief system, she encouraged it to be tossed aside.

There is no denying that the Biblical manuscripts sustained some discrepancies, but these were very much man-made.  Men make mistakes, even scribes.  One ancient figure meaning one thing can look almost identical to a different figure that means something else.   It would have taken an absolute miracle for no copy errors to be made.

Dogmatic prejudice seems to be the largest contributor to the Bible being accused as inaccurate.  Men go on about how the Bible needs to be treated like any other book, but then they treat it as they wouldn’t dare treat another book.  In all fairness, the criticisms are more inconsistent than what they claim to be criticizing.  I think people tend to be hostile towards something they don’t want to believe in, and we will always find a way to disprove something if we want to.

The Bible has awakened intellect inside of us like no other book, and I think that is why God chose, and allowed, to have the Bible recorded in such a way that would encourage us to really learn it.  Jesus Himself spoke in such a way that would test the character and motives of men.  He said, “Unless you eat my flesh, and drink my blood,” because it would be repugnant to someone that was insincere.  Many of His followers chose not to follow Him anymore after He said this, but this was to the benefit of the ministry, since they were choosing not to seek out the meaning of the words.  They were proud and superficial, and could not well serve the Lord.

I have often been skeptical of certain passages in the Bible.  I could go on and on about which ones, and where they are.  Each time that I dug into the troublesome passage and studied it, I grew even more passionate about my beliefs, and fell even more in love with the delicacy and richness it presented me.  I only needed to care about it as much as it claimed to care about me.

The antique Bible has been preserved in such a fashion that far out-weighs any other ancient manuscript.  And that’s saying something.

The Bible is a powerful tool.  Yes, it has been abused, and that is truly heart-breaking.  But when people have chosen to truly follow it and it’s principles we see, all across history, even to this day, revivals, servanthood, miracles, people going to the ends of the earth, feeding of the poor, educating the unreachable, ministering to the dead and dying, fresh water, clean food, life skills, healthy habits…  Compare a society that believes to one that does not.  The result will be staggering.  True following of the Bible cleans the spirit, strengthens the heart, and blesses the person.

 

Life is hard, BUT God is good.

This might be the biggest BUT of all, because life IS hard.  Sometimes we just stop there: Life is hard.  Period.  We need to stop putting periods up.  And, goodness gracious, we really need to stop putting up those exclamation points.  Life is hard for everyone.  We all have hardships.  Sometimes they don’t even begin to compare to the hardships of another, and that’s just the honest and un-beautiful truth.  There are people whose skin is literally peeling off of their bodies because they don’t have enough food, and I still think my life can be hard.  We all lose people, forever, or sometimes for just a little while.  We all lose money, property, the feeling of self-worth…  We all second-guess and double-check.  The instability and uncertainty is hard.

That is a basic fact of life.  It is uncertain.  It just is.  No matter how secure we may feel, no matter what we may possess, or the people we may know, deep down inside we all must admit that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  This can be a truly hopeful thing to stand on, or it can seem like a dreadful curse.  People do some crazy things because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  It doesn’t matter how much life experience we pack into today.  It doesn’t matter how free we seem to think we are.  Tomorrow is a different day.  This can instigate people to live selfish lives, or it can encourage them to be selfless.

This is the part that I like: BUT God is good.

Life is hard, because every day changes, because every moment is a secret, BUT God is good.  That part doesn’t change.  There is ultimate security, stability, and certainty in that statement.  I suppose you have to want to believe it for it to be true.  If you don’t want to believe something, it just won’t resonate for you, no matter how obvious it may seem to someone else.  If you don’t want God to be good, you can make Him look however you want Him to look, and He really will look that way to you.  I have definitely known some hardships in my life, for sure they don’t involve malnutrition, and I still know that God is good.

When we say that life is hard, do you know what God says?  “It’s hard for you, BUT it’s not hard for me.”

Oh my goodness.

That phrase took the breath right out of me.  And it just did it again.  I am a small person in a sea of people.  Life swirls around me, catching on other people’s lives, pushing other people’s lives, being pushed by others too.  I am so weak, and so tired.  Sometimes I am just downright pathetic.  That is the blessed time where I have somewhere to go with my pain and frustration and hurt.  I have somewhere to go and drop off my baggage.  Everyone else can choose to do the same: go to God with that bag full of “This is hard, and this, and this…” and drop it off.  Or continue to schlep it around for the rest of your life, and probably beyond.

God is so ridiculously personable.  Our egotistical minds is what makes Him look otherwise.  He reaches out to us every moment of every day.  When I finally decided to try and see what that looked like I saw beauty, and love, and freshness: in my friendships, in nature, in my home.  It didn’t matter if my home burned down tomorrow.  For sure it would hurt.  For sure it would be HARD.  But this home was given to me, and so will the next one.  No worries.  For real.

I heard a tremendous story about a man.  He lost his wife.  He was overcome with pain.  I can’t begin to fathom what the feeling of losing my spouse would be like.  I have lost people, and I have been afraid of losing people.  None of that compares to what I feel when I think of losing my husband.  It could totally happen.  The more time I spend with him, the more irreplaceable he becomes.  How could anyone spend ten, twenty, thirty years with their spouse, lose them, and move on?  This man did.  He lost his wife, and his life looked like ashes.  This is what he said, clinging to a friend, tears soaking his shirt, “I lost my wife, BUT I will not lose my God.”

If the previous phrase took my breath away, that last one just about knocked me over.

What a glorious, glorious prospect.  We can lose anything, anyone, and at anytime.  BUT we don’t have to lose our God.  Life is hard for us, BUT it’s not hard for Him.  Life is hard, BUT God is good: because we can’t lose Him, because it isn’t hard for Him.

That man could have never dreamed that two years later he would be head over heels in love.  He would be a newly wed again and, get this, a stepfather to TEN children!  That same friend who had held him while he was sobbing after the death of his first wife, saw him sitting on the sofa, completely covered by beautiful step-daughters.  Yes, he lost one woman, and he gained many more.  This man knew that life was hard.  BUT he also knew that God is good.  He experienced the hardship; he experienced the goodness.

You can fill in that blank.  “I lost my ____.”  But don’t put the period there.  Choose something better.  “I lost my ______, BUT I will not lose my God.”

God is good.  Notice Him today.  Thank Him today.  ‘Til the end of your days, and the beginning of the next ones, you won’t regret it.  I know that I haven’t, and this hard life of mine has barely gotten going.

 

 

Dear Ones,

Sometimes I think to myself that you cannot possibly teach me more than you already have.  And then you do…

When I stepped into motherhood I simultaneously packed my baggage and embarked on another journey.  These journeys would run parallel for a time, and eventually intersect.  Along the way I would become whole, and real, and eternally grateful for the chance I got to become a better person so that I could be a healthy parent.

I could have never foreseen the intense of amount of pain that I would go through.  I was ripped up, chewed up, and burned to the bone.  Every day I was learning how to dress and clean the wounds, old and new.  I did this because I knew that if I did not there would be infection.  Infesting.  Poisoning.  And eventually: pollution.  More than anything I did not want to pollute my family.  There were parts of me that I needed to access and carve down, recycle and reuse; there was a bonfire inside of me, all day, every day.

My first prayer for you is that you never think you won’t ever need help.  There is always room, and time, for self-improvement.  Every day we should be working on ourselves, from the inside out, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Do not be a person that is chronically against admitting that they can be wrong, or are perhaps suffering, or even that you may need to change.  These people wind up chronically hurting and using the people in their lives, often even losing them.  The earth is constantly going through seasons.  The planets are continuously orbiting and rotating.  The animals are adjusting themselves according to all of this.  Why wouldn’t we?  There are always opportunities in our lives to step back, look at ourselves, evaluate and assess.  I pray that you can take healthy criticism, but mostly that you can criticize yourself in a healthy way.

As I left myself to become someone else, someone better, someone stronger, someone more beautiful, I discovered the intensity of how much Jesus wanted to come through for me.  He wanted to be the same Jesus who put coins in the mouth of a fish, instead of just pulling them out of His pocket.  He wanted to be the same Jesus who not only redeemed the woman caught in adultery, but also told her to go and sin no more.  The same Jesus Who spent His life doing nothing but good, even while people made fun of Him, and targeted Him, and eventually killed Him. 

He showed me that He knew my pain.  His generosity was met with skepticism time and time again.  His grace was mocked.  His mercy was twisted up and used against Him.  His love was accepted and then discarded by His closest friends, and He was taken advantage of by others who claimed to love Him back.

More importantly than knowing my pain, though, He showed me that there was a purpose for it.  That I was actually not supposed to leave this world unmarred, unstained, and unscarred.  He didn’t.  Even after He was resurrected His scars remained.  I never thought of that as significant before.  I just assumed that of course He would bear the marks of His ordeal.  However, His body had been restored.  It didn’t need to maintain those marks.  The Father allowed them to remain as a testament, as a story, to show the purpose.  This is what happens when we lay down our lives for others, for Jesus: and it is beautiful.  Every scar I bear transforms me that much more into the image of Christ.  They are beautiful on Jesus.  They are beautiful on me.    

I am so thankful for that. 

May these truths be true in your lives, dear ones.

The sweetness of surrender leads to the most empowered freedom possible.  I pray that you come to know this.  That you can embrace responsibility for yourself.  This is a two-fold wonderful process.  First, it means that you can experience injustice, but that you don’t need to justify yourself.  That day will come.  The battle has already been won.  Accepting this releases us from all of the pain, the strain, and the stress that we would otherwise incur.  You will spend your whole life waiting to get something back that cannot be returned to you.  That is the core of forgiveness: acknowledging that whoever has wronged you cannot give back what they have taken, and then moving on.  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”  We must accept Christ’s forgiveness on the grounds that we simply cannot repay Him.  Also, we must extend forgiveness in acknowledgement that we cannot be repaid.

Humility is the practice of not always needing to be right, or heard, or understood.  It is no one else’s job to make you feel better, or right, or beautiful. 

Grace is a tricky thing.  It goes hand in hand with forgiveness, truth, and love.  It is the sister of mercy, and the mother of humility.  But grace is not a free pass.  For anyone.  Including yourself.  The Lord extended His grace to us, and we must then choose to conduct ourselves in a grateful manner.  How tragic to take advantage of Grace!  At the same time, don’t let others trick you, even using the name of Jesus, into not keeping boundaries.  As human beings we are flawed and selfish.  Others will often expect you to fill the holes in their lives that they can, and should, be filling on their own. Maintain boundaries, dear ones.  We must openly acknowledge when someone else is treating us in an unhealthy way.

Sometimes the Lord will ask us to extend grace that we think will be impossible to extend.  This is where you must allow Him to bridge the gap.  He knows the hearts of everyone and sometimes, based on what you do not know, He will require you to pursue someone that you hate the thought of pursuing.  Sometimes He will tell you to take a step back.  Same as Jesus’ love is relentless, so must ours also be.  Ask Him to show you what that looks like.  If someone shows a change of heart, we must be ready to receive them.   

All of this has been monumental in my life.  As I have applied what I have learned I have felt the mountains move inside of me.  I cannot move the mountains inside of anyone else, nor do I want to, but by now I literally know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Remember: we cannot expect someone, anyone, to believe that God is love, that Jesus loves them and all of us, if we are not displaying that love. 

This means that we cannot hold nonbelievers to the same standards that we live by.  This makes absolute sense.  Someone who does not embrace the same life choices will not live the same life choices.  This is not the same thing as saying, “To each their own.”  It is crucial that we maintain our integrity.  But that doesn’t mean that we should only interact with people who have the same values.  Choose your closest friends as people who share the same beliefs, and will help you nurture and protect them.  But show love and respect to anyone and everyone, same as Jesus did.  Every last one of us was created in God’s image.  We have an obligation to represent Christ accurately.  We can learn how to do this by studying the Gospels.

Which brings me to a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  Jesus was the most generous individual.  He donated His entire life to the health and well-being of others.  If we are to be like Him, we must do the same.  Your father and I are always looking for ways to help others: with our time, our resources, our words.  We never say, “We have no money… We are broke…”.  That would be a grievous untruth, and inherently ungrateful.  We have experienced times of financial strain, and times of financial surplus, but we will always have more than most people in the world, and the Lord will always provide.  Trust in Him to fill your needs.  That may not look a certain way, a way that you might want it to, but He can use you in any and all situations.  

Be content.  Be at peace.  Both of these are choices. 

The ultimate way to find fulfillment in this life is to see a need and fill it.  We don’t have to expect to change the world.  Just that one person.  I hope that someone would find you worth it, if you had a need.  So also, I hope that you find others worth it.

I pray wisdom in your relationships.  That you would never be intimidated by peer pressure, and succumb to it.  That you would accept your responsibility, and leave others to accept theirs, and that you would never allow yourself to be manipulated.  This means that I wish you would never be a people-pleaser, allowing yourself to be mistreated to pacify someone else, and that you would never be cold, thinking that someone else is not worth your time.  Don’t give in to the instinct that you must be heard, and that you must be understood.  We can never take back our dealings with others, and may that instigate you to be compassionate and careful.  Don’t say something just to say it, based purely on emotion.  Let your words serve a bigger purpose, and be beneficial to all parties.

I hope that this is how you know me as you grow up.  I was recently reminded that every day that I know Jesus should see me looking more like Him.  I don’t want to become harder, and more set in my ways, the older that I get.  I know now that I do not know everything, or deserve everything.  It is my goal to keep knowing that.  If anything, the older I get the softer I should become, as I will more intimately know the endless possibilities of this world and life. 

I will read this often, dear ones, to be reminded of what I am trying to teach you.  I hope that I can raise you to be honest with me.  To be able to communicate to me if you feel that I am not hearing you, or treating you in a way that is not ministering to you.  I want to be able to love each of you in a way that will reach each of you individually. 

When I tuck you in at night I pray that you will become people of strong character.  This is not a catch-all type of prayer.  It takes great courage to believe in something in this world.  It is so easy to become careless and complacent.  It is much easier to shrug your shoulders and decide you will do what everyone else is doing, or only what you want to do.  Be warned that you can still have a successful and happy life, even if you are not holding onto convictions.  But you will not have joy, and you will not have peace, and eventually you will not even realize that you are missing these things, and you will accept that living half of the life you could be living is okay.  This is not how we were meant to go along.  We were meant to live in favor with God and man.

There is nothing wrong with having personal convictions.  People will try to make you think this.  We don’t need to validate others, or be validated in return.  It is good to listen to others, and it is always right to be respectful, and we must never judge others.  But we must also be able to say, “I disagree.  I have an opinion, and it is different than yours.”  Or even, “Don’t sell out on yourself, or on God.”  I say again, it takes great courage to believe in something in this world.  It takes strong character not to make excuses for the people we are close to. 

There are always answers.  I have spent a long time studying the Bible, and getting to know Jesus.  I pray that I spend every day doing so.  Before you let someone try and shame you into turning from your beliefs, before you find the wrong answers in the wrong places, please hear me: there are always answers.  The Bible is always right.  I have invested my life, my heart and soul, in pursuit of the evidence, and the evidence is overwhelming.  Pursue the evidence.

Why do I say pursue the evidence?  Because your heart and soul and mind will not always alignInstead of re-writing your life every time this happens, take is as it comes and cling to the truth.  Everything around us is constantly changing.  With millions of people on the planet, how could it not?  We are just one person, constantly interacting with others just as insecure as we are; it is foolishness to think that things must look a certain way, or that we must feel a certain way.  It is then that we must cling to the truth all the harder, and go back to the evidence.

Never base your life on your feelings.  It leads to desperation, and then to selfishness.  Feelings change constantly, because our stimuli is constantly changing.  Don’t hold tight to those feelings, as if they must be protected because they are yours.  Accept that our feelings are not always reality, regardless of how real they feel inside of us.  There is great release in being able to feel something and then say, “I do not accept that for my life.” 

The most hurtful people I have known are those who demanded to be treated a certain way, who sought to be heard first and agreed with, who deigned to prove points in their relationships, and who tried to rewrite natural laws to better accommodate themselves. 

Seek to be strong; seek to be healthy.

That was the greatest journey I ever embarked on.  To be a strong, healthy person because I realized that I was going to be setting the tone for your lives.  We only get one life.  We only get one chance.

What are you choosing to do with yours?

There is always a choice.  We don’t get free passes.  Excuses don’t cover us: our age, our stage, our phase, our right… Instead of focusing on others, on what they are or aren’t doing, focus on you.  Invest in you.

Always, LOVE.

 

 

 

 

 

“…In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

This is the greatest news I have ever read; the most hopeful message I have ever heard.

It is here that Jesus acknowledges the different life we will all lead: different than the one He intended for each and every one of us.  That life is troublesome.  That people are troublemakers.  That situations, and feelings, are troubling.  To all of that, He says, “I know.”  He once experienced the beauty of the perfection that He had originally designed.  He then experienced mankind’s design, and how trouble had become part of that

He acknowledges the upset of order.  The finality of the statement shows that this is how it has to be right now.  If He were to remove the trouble He would removing the troublemakers, and then it would all be over.  No more chances: for anyone to respond to Him; for anyone to do anything good; for anyone to do anything selfless.  In His grace, even in His mercy, He doesn’t want that.  Neither should we.  All day, every day, is a second chance…for everyone, everywhere.

 What an encourager the Lord is.  The best part about this passage is that He begins verse 33 before the part about ‘trouble’.  He starts by saying, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace…” 

 All throughout His Word our Heavenly Father is encouraging us.  Verses that talk about undying love, unprecedented protection, and ultimate freedom.  He wants us to be optimistic.  He is.  He wants us to be light of heart.  Sure, He knows that this world went wrong.  He sent His Son to redeem it.  He was, and still is, willing to be a part of it, even the pain.  Anyone who rejects God and His enormous goodness on loosely based accusations of injustice, invalidity, you-name-it, have nowhere to go with that pain, their pain.

He extended an offer of adoption to me, and I accepted, and regardless of how someone may treat me, or what butterfly effect I am caught up in, I can always take heart.  There are so many orphans out there, choosing to be orphans… I choose not to be one of them.

 He doesn’t tell me that He will take away my pain.  That He will make it so I never experience pain again.  We both know that is impossible.  There is no point in trying to fight something that is everything.  Stubbornness will get me nowhere.  He tells me to come to Him with my burdens, and I am happy to do so.  He tells me that He will always help me bear the weight.  I cannot pass up an offer like that.  I look all around me, and see and feel the world surrounding me, and I know that I could not possibly bear it on my own.  He tells me that I can have joy in everything, and I have finally discovered what that truly means.  It doesn’t mean that everything will be ‘a good time’.  While enjoyment is not possible in everything, joy certainly is.  The pain I have felt drives me to the feet of my Savior with a passion and intensity that takes my breath away, and there is nothing more wonderful than needing Him.  Without that pain I would not seek Him, I would not be desperate for Him to remove the weight of it before it crushes me down and I suffocate underneath it, heavy and alone.  When I feel the pressure of my emotions, the straining of my soul, I begin the race; a race against myself and everyone else.  I will always cross the finish line, and even if I don’t cross it in this life I know I will cross it in the next, because He promises that the war is already won.  It is only my job to persevere, because it is promised that I cannot lose.  And from every time that I do cross the finish line, and the tears stop flowing because there is a little less need for them, I absolutely know this to be true, and I am so joyful.  I am so hopeful for that final finish line.   

 As necessary as the trouble is, it is just as necessary to counter it with Hope and Endurance.  Don’t forget to tell your face!  I heard that explained in the most accurate way possible: sometimes Christians communicate with the right words but, unfortunately, they give off a negative vibe that speaks much louder.  The excitement of Victory doesn’t shine in their eyes, and the joy of Hope doesn’t resonate with a smile.  Those expressions should come with knowing the Lord.

Don’t forget to tell your face!

Don’t forget to tell your fellow believers’ faces!

I plagiarize here, but this person wrote it best: Are you willing to let someone critique your vibe so you can be the best you?  And if it’s hard to have your vibe critiqued, it’s got to be that much more challenging to have someone critique our faces…

The simple fact is that believing in Jesus IS hope! It is hard for me to be hopeful.  I tend towards skepticism.  I become overwhelmed by negativity when I see the magnitude of it around me.  I have felt that it is impossible to function in this [troublesome] world.  That my beautiful Christianity must be guarded from the ugliness of everything else. 

 But then I learned that I had bought into a lie.

You see: He has overcome the world.

 The battle is already won.

We linger because the Lord is merciful.  I knew that I needed to be taking my energy of paranoia and investing it in a much better way.

 I needed to accept that my troubles were not a personal vendetta against me; that they weren’t the very hand of God, or His blind eye.  They were merely the result of troubling people, a broken system, and my own bad choices.

 I needed to take God at His Word and begin each day by laying those troubles at His feet, and exchanging them for a burden of hope.  I find that this one is much easier to carry.  Who wouldn’t rather carry the same weight of incense, as opposed to the same weight of …something that smells the opposite?  You get my drift.  Some people really have no idea how very badly they smell.

But what does Hope look like?

To me, it meant accepting that maybe politicians were dictating serious decisions about my life, and my freedom, but that they didn’t dictate my day to day.  I learned that I could pay taxes while undeserving parties received that money, or that I could always follow the rules while people all around me break every last one them, endangering themselves and others, never being held accountable, but such things needn’t determine the quality of my life.  My husband could lose his job time and time again, and we could even lose our house, but it wasn’t going to be forever.  Nothing is forever. 

He has overcome the world!

I don’t need to raise my children thinking that they must be segregated.  Indeed, I must be raising them equipped to be amongst their peers, at all ages and stages of life.  I don’t want them to think that they are too precious, too angelic, to go out into this world, and that this world is polluted by heathens, instead of simply other human beings that are people just like them, all originating from the same place, and hopefully going to the same place in the end.  They need to be able to hear swear words, take a punch, look strangers in the eye…and say, “Jesus loves you.”  It is called the armor of God for a reason.  If Jesus Christ bore scars, marks on His physical body from being banged up in this troublesome world, than we should be blessed enough to also receive our wounds.

And receive them with Grace.

And counter with Hope. 

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