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After Eden

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

During December of 2020 many people kept announcing that “next year will definitely be better.”  I could understand the longing, the hope and desire.  Let’s face it, 2020 was rife with fear, loss, despair, and worry.  I told people around me to be careful romanticizing the turn of a calendar.  Who knew what 2021 would bring – floods, fires, more plagues, death, political uprisings? And it certainly didn’t disappoint.   A short walk through say, the book of James or Jude, reminds us that trials of many kind befall us each and every year.  It’s our response to those trials that set us apart from the world.

So often when we think of “new beginnings” we can think of them as an adventure, something exciting to embark upon.  Probably something God will guide you through to success.  But what if your new beginning is a result of a terrible trial?  A loss?  Will you still seek God and see Him at work in the midst of it all?

If there’s one man whose new beginning exemplified having to start all over, having lost it all, it was Adam.  He had everything you and I could ever want.  A beautiful home, plenty to eat and drink.  No worries except what to name the next animal.  His yoke was light.  He was to be the way maker for all of us.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  Genesis 2:15

And when Adam failed to honor his end of the covenant he did what so many of us do when we fail God – he tried to hide.   Instead of running to God asking for forgiveness He compounded his sins by acting shamefully. But God.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

Millions of Christians and non-believers know the story that took place in the Garden of Eden.  But when we look at God’s actions we see His loving care for humans, His unique creation.  He knew Adam had failed yet notice He didn’t let him go.  He sought Him out with a gentle question.  He could have immediately wiped the slate free of humanity after the betrayal.  Instead, God clothed Adam in new garments and gave him new skills then sent him off on a new beginning.  A chance to be the first step in the long path toward the new Adam – Jesus.

And Adam, by all accounts accepted the results of his sin and moved forward into his new beginning.  A life outside the walls of Eden but one in which God was fully present.  Adam and Eve didn’t step outside the gates, plunk down and give up.  They didn’t choose to live in shame and despair.  No, they knew God.  They knew God still loved them and cared for them. So they took the new direction God gave them and made a new life.  I love the last few lines in Genesis 4 in which Adam and Eve are mentioned:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.  Genesis 4:26

Adam and his family never stopped worshipping God and talking with Him even though they had suffered a great loss.  They brought their first fruits to Him and stayed close to God.  And their work, their new beginning, brought others to God as well.  If not for their commitment to God’s new beginning laid out for them there wouldn’t have been their son Seth.  And Seth led to Noah. Without Noah there wouldn’t have been a righteous man left to continue humanity.  God’s plan at work.  God’s plan working even when it comes out of sin or loss.  It’s our job to keep trusting Him and accepting Him at His word.

I’ll be honest, for most of my life I’ve been an avowed pessimist.  It’s taken a lot of work by our triune God to help me see Him in my trials.  To see how He is working a good, new thing in our lives.  When circumstances go wrong around me my new attitude is that God is in my midst.  He does want all things to work for good.  I may never know how my commitment to Him will affect the Grand Plan.  But I do know He never left Adam and He will never leave you.

Have you been tempted to give up on God after a trial or loss? God is still working in your life. He’s asking you to trust Him. Call on Him today for strength to live in your new beginning.

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New Beginnings

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2

Before Christmas I was listening to an episode of White Horse Inn, a podcast by reformed theologians and pastors.  The episode, titled O’ Holy Night, focused on the beauty and glory of what happened that first Christmas night.  They started by explaining how Mary was, in effect, barren, empty.  God used her barrenness like He did the universe to create something new, something out of nothing.  It was the reason a virgin was selected to show how God is the great Creator.  

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Luke 1:34-35

Each time I hear or read of a connection that weaves through the Bible from the beginning to the middle and to the end I find myself having an “ah, ha moment.”  Barring heading off to theology school and learning about all these connections in a short time span,  I hope to keep hearing about the Grand Story and all its connectedness throughout my days.  It’s like coming upon a complete sand dollar at the beach or a beautiful, out of place flower in an otherwise barren landscape.  You, at first can’t believe your eyes; then you stoop down to look closer.  And then you pop up looking around to tell someone – because it might not be true unless you can verify it.   You want to share the moment, the beauty, the awesomeness of it all.  Meanwhile others pass by seemingly uninterested or unseeing.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop by Nancy Guthrie on biblical theology.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s taking a theme found in the Bible and tracing its path from Creation to Consummation (typically Revelation).  It helps us to see the Grand Story of God and all the tiny threads that create one massive character profile of our Creator.  And how all stories lead us to Jesus.

I decided for this next series to take up the challenge Mrs. Guthrie gave us that weekend.  To start looking at chapters in this thousands-year old story as one through various themes.  And who could resist starting the new year with the theme of New Beginnings?  

We live out our own lives through a long series of new beginnings.  From the creation of our very being to our entry into society and from there taking on new challenges whether school or jobs, a marriage or even a marriage to the church we look toward tomorrow for that new step.  

If we are blessed to live a long life, we will find ourselves with new beginnings in our families and as we reach retirement.  And for some, new beginnings may be what it takes to remove ourselves from addiction, abusive relationships, broken marriages, and even criminal behavior.

In the next few months, we will walk through a number of new beginnings found in the Bible.  Beginnings, like Noah that needed just one small family to see the entire Earth be reborn.  Beginnings like Rahab’s that started out of selfish need and God turned to good.  And beginnings like Jonah who ran as fast as he could from starting new but God, when He selects you for change won’t let go.  And quiet new beginnings like that of Onesimus who sits in the background of the letter by Paul to Philemon.

We will see how the character of God shows up each time – from beginning to middle and end.  How He keeps His promise to never leave us, to never forsake us even when we feel so alone.  And we will see how His will is always done and it is good.

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;" Ephesians 4:22-23

My friend, you might be right on the cusp of a new beginning.  It might look terrifying.  It might look exciting.  You might not even realize it at all until you are in the thick of it.  Some of you are longing for a new beginning.  I can promise you this, God’s plan is at work.   He’s right there watching and guiding.  So as this new year begins let’s say a prayer to the Creator.  To help us hear and see what new things He wants of us.  And what old things He wants cast off.  He has a story to tell with you.  Let’s help Him publish it for all the world to see.

Faith

Night & Day

God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:5

For about six months one year I barely slept.  I had terrible sinus issues and when I laid down they were exacerbated.  What little sleep I got was sitting up and in short bursts.  Eventually, the lack of sleep caught up to me.  I was so irritable and quick to cry.  After a successful surgery I, thankfully, found myself back in blissful dreamland.  That time  showed me how important God’s structure for us truly is.  

When you think about our lives, we have many structures God created for us.  Besides night and day, we have our years mapped out.  For many, our days are also broken up in going to work or school and coming home, hopefully with a bit of rest in between.  We count our days in school until we graduate then we take a brief rest and head off to college or jobs.  Our gardens are planted for Spring and Summer harvests and take a rest while we plan and prepare for Winter.  Each year we mark the end of 365 days and make a plan for something new in the next.  Our birthdays mark a time to evaluate what we’ve accomplished and dream big for the future.  Today, marks Sunday, the first day of the new week.  It also is a day of rest and time to honor God.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: Ecclesiastes 3:1

We’ve heard the saying, “the only thing guaranteed in life is death and  taxes.”  But  that’s not really true.  We know when we lay down our head at night the morning will come.  We know the cold of winter will give way to the beauty of spring.  We know that each day we will get older, not younger.   God’s plan, His structure for us, is like so many of His gifts to us – a comfort.  And it’s a reflection of who He is  —  the  Lord of this marvelous creation that can be counted on to be with us forever and ever. 

 

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

The Best For You

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is best for you,
    who directs you in the way you should go.
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
    your peace would have been like a river,
    your well-being like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:17-18

We’ve all probably heard it from our parents at one time or another.  And if you are a parent you are most likely guilty of saying the same – “I just want the best for you.”  As your child (or you as a child) rolls their eyes.  As humans we seem to have the propensity to want to cut our own path through the jungle and trip over our own mistakes.  We grab random vines thinking it’ll help us swing through our problems or create fabulous opportunities.

It’s one thing to see our parents as fallible human beings that may not truly know what’s best for us but when we apply that same logic to God, we’re in for an Indiana Jones style bumpy and dangerous ride.

And we know that in all things 
God works for the good of those 
who love him, who have been 
called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

God has thoughts beyond our thoughts.  He knows the past and the future and he has big plans for each of us.  And when we lose sight and let go of God, we take a lot of unneeded weed- choked paths.  So much of this behavior seems to come down to a lack of trust that God really does teach us what is best for us – or we think maybe He just doesn’t understand what is best for us.

God sees tomorrow – all of your tomorrows – and he is able to prepare you for whatever is to come.

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principals, #9 Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.

All trusting relationships are built on time spent together, learning each other’s character, experiencing trials and joys and seeing how each person either stands up or lets you down.  Have you assumed that God is going to let you down?  Have you decided that God already has let you down?  And yet, scripture reminds us of the promise that God is always teaching us what is best for us.  Maybe what you were hoping for was not what you needed.  Or maybe God needed you to experience that disappointment so you are tested for a future greater than you can imagine.

When we accept that:

  1. God is God and we are not (PS 46:10)
  2. God’s thoughts and ways are greater than ours (Is 55:9)
  3. And God wants the best for us (Is 48:17; Matt 10:29-31)

We can have a perspective change during our times that might seem hopeless and instead know that God is working for our good.  We just might not know exactly what that “good” is.

My BSGs are starting a new study called, “Everyday Theology.”  Now it might sound silly for a group of devout Christians to read a book that reviews the basics of our faith: scripture, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc.  But each time we open our Bibles and truly approach reading it from a learning point of view we find out something new.  The Bible is a living source of God’s Word which wants to guide us throughout our lives.

I used to be one of those Christians that had a very dusty Bible.  When I did open it, I would close my eyes and then randomly pick a page.  I figured that’s how it worked – God would point me to nothing short of a miracle of words.  But would you ever take the phone book (if any exist these days), open it up and phone a stranger expecting to trust them with whatever advice you were seeking?  It might be great advice but the likelihood that you would take it would be slim.

His Word holds great lessons for us to try and keep us moving in the right direction.  We should pore over it like a treasure map.  It’s a bit complicated because it has so much to accomplish.  But once we start using the map and trusting that it is right, we find ourselves better able to navigate the twists and turns of life.  And isn’t that a great way to start out a new year?

I want to encourage you today to read Psalm 119. It is a perfect example of how God provides order in the midst of chaos. It is the longest chapter in the Bible, composed of 22 stanzas with each stanza containing 8 verses. Each verse starts with the same Hebrew letter — pretty cool. Almost every verse contains one of the following words: instruction, decree, precept, statute, command, judgment, promise, and word. Here is an excerpt:

I have more insight than all my teachers
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the 
elders, for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
Psalm 119:99-102

Join me starting January 11 for my next series! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help create a vision of you! The words we speak and think and pray have a great impact on our life. We will embark on a journey of praying changes into our lives. New Year’s resolutions have nothing on what God can accomplish when we ask for miracles to transform us!