God’s Presence and the Garden

Genesis 2 8

Text: Gen 2:4 – 3:24

 

Yesterday we began talking about the presence of God, starting with the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We saw that God not only created the earth as a place for us to live, but also as a place for him to be present with us. The heavens and earth are God’s temple.

 

As we move on in Genesis, starting with 2:4 and going to the end of chapter 2, we find another creation account, and its focus is different than the first, paying special attention to humans and what seems to be agriculture. We are introduced to a garden, and people to cultivate and rule over it: Adam (which literally means man or mankind) and Eve (which literally means living or life). The garden also includes two special trees, the tree of life, and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge could have easily been called the tree of certain death, because God promises they will die if they eat from it. But they can eat from anything else.

 

This garden is a special place. It seems to be a focal point, almost like a holy of holies for God’s cosmic temple. It is sacred space that he shares with his creation. God walks in the garden and is present there with Adam and Eve. Can you imagine just sharing space with God, doing some gardening, and God just walks by, like it was a normal thing? “Oh, hey God.”

 

That kind of closeness and intimacy with God in his presence was how it was for Adam and Eve, until something happened. There’s a talking serpent. This mischievous serpent character convinces Eve that she won’t in fact die if she eats from the tree of knowledge, she’ll just have knowledge like God. This is tricky because it has just enough truth in it. Maybe you would call it a white lie, but still a deception. Eve eats from the tree of knowledge, and Adam follows suit.

 

As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s direct command and took matters into their own hands, going down a path to prematurely obtain the knowledge of good and evil. They likely had a childlike innocence about them before, and maybe God would have in time revealed this knowledge of good and evil to them in his way, in his time. Well, now things were going to be different for them. They suddenly realized they had no clothes and hid from God. They were ashamed. God finds out what they did (surely he already knew what they did) and kicks them out of his garden.

 

The consequences were very serious. God has cherubim (winged creatures sort of like a sphinx, not at all like a baby with wings) and a flaming sword guard the entrance so they can’t enter and eat from the tree of life. They are exiled from the garden, they are effectively sentenced to death by no longer having access to the tree of life and God’s presence. They will have to work much harder to grow food to survive, and some other fun consequences.

 

Reading an account like this makes you think a lot. What sorts of things are symbolized by the tree of life, and tree of knowledge? What is a serpent doing there? Are we really talking about fruit? I have no definitive answers to these questions. The beauty of this passage is that it forces you to think more every time you read it, and I believe that is why it is there.

 

The garden account is ripe with symbolism to interpret. While it is an account about real people, it is written in a way that makes it much bigger than that. Adam and Eve can be seen as archetypes for us, meaning the things that are said of them are also true of us. Adam is formed from dust (Gen 3:19), so are we (Ps 103:14). Eve is made from one of Adam’s sides, while we recognize that men and women are each other’s halves in a way. They face temptation and shame, so do we. They do things in defiance against God, and so do we (Rom 3:23), and as a result of that defiance, they exiled themselves from God’s garden, as we frequently exile ourselves from God’s presence when we sin, in a way. Their story is much like ours.

 

This isn’t the most encouraging chapter in the story of God’s presence. It’s one of the lower places we could go in scripture. The reality is that sin and the presence of God are not compatible things. Sin, separation from God, and death are all connected, if not three heads of the same monster. Of course, God knows this, and still wants to be present with us, so there has to be some kind of remedy for sin. Ultimately, we know that remedy to be Christ, but there was a progression to get there.

 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Exodus 40 – how God used a man named Moses to renew his presence among his people.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

Hold Firmly

Hebrews Chapter Four

Hebrews 4_14

There is a belief in the Christian world that some hold to called “once saved, always saved.”  Basically this means that if you come to a saving relationship with God and Christ, then you can never lose your ticket to eternal salvation.  This can be a dangerous perspective because it enables Christians to become complacent with where they are at if they believe they can never lose their salvation.  Worse yet, it can lead people to a life of sin and destruction if they do not take seriously the consequences of sin.  Verse six of Hebrews chapter four discusses this doctrine of once saved, always saved a bit by stating, “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience.”  The author is stating that some who receive the good news/gospel fail to enter rest because of their disobedience.  They initially accepted the promises of the gospel, but they failed to enter because of their disobedience.  In other words, they were once considered saved when they accepted and received the gospel, but they lost it when they disobeyed.  This verse suggests that maybe the doctrine of once saved, always saved is not founded in the Bible.

This should provide a wakeup call for us!  We need to take the sin in our lives very seriously.  We are to be sanctified and set apart from this world, so let’s act like it!  Let’s not become complacent and degrade the consequences of sin.  God hates sin.  The hardening of our hearts can lead us to sin, and again the author warns us of hardening our hearts in verse seven.  We should take this warning seriously since the author has repeated it three times in chapters three and four.

The concept of rest is repeated a lot in this chapter.  What exactly is the author referring to when he is talking about rest?  Let’s take a look at what this rest is described as in chapters three and four:

  1. Israelites unable to enter God’s rest because of their disobedience and unbelief (3:18-19)
  2. The promises of entering God’s rest still stand (4:1)
  3. We who believe enter the rest (4:3)
  4. God swore that some will not enter his rest (4:3,5)
  5. God rested on the seventh day (4:4)
  6. Remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (4:9)
  7. Whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his works (4:10)
  8. Strive to enter the rest (4:11)

Here’s what I get from all of this.  God offered the Israelites during the exodus a chance to rest, but they were not able to enter God’s rest because they were disobedient.  The author then compares the rest that was offered to the Israelites to the coming Kingdom.  I come to this conclusion because the promises of entering God’s rest still stand.  There is still a chance to enter God’s rest.  However, not everyone will attain that rest, only the people of God.  In fact God swore that not everyone will enter his rest.  If we are disobedient and unbelieving, then we will not enter God’s rest.  However, if we are a people after God’s own heart, then we surely will enter God’s beloved rest in the coming Kingdom.  Hallelujah! Praise God! Amen!  Therefore, continue to strive toward the Kingdom and bring as many people with you as possible because one day you will enter God’s rest in the Kingdom.

Chapter four ends with talk of Jesus being the great high priest.  We truly do have a great high priest in Jesus.  One of the awesome things about Jesus being our high priest is that he is able to sympathize with us.  Jesus was tempted just like we are, but fortunately he did not sin.  He knows what we go through when we are faced with trials and temptations.  He is no stranger to struggle and suffering.  We can seek refuge in our high priest when we face these temptations because he is able to sympathize with us and plead our case to our Heavenly Father, YHWH.  Jesus being tempted is also more great proof against the trinity.  James 1:13 states, “God cannot be tempted with evil.”  If Jesus were God as well, then James and the author of Hebrews would be contradicting one another.  It cannot be possible for the word of God to contradict itself.  Jesus can’t be tempted, and never have been tempted at the same time.  It doesn’t work that way.  It logically does not make sense.  Jesus was indeed tempted like us, and being our high priest, he is able to sympathize and help us.

To close out today’s devotion, I want to point out Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  I hope you have gotten benefit from reading these posts.  However, if you don’t get anything else, I want you to know and fully understand that the word of God is living and active.  We are beyond blessed to have the Bible today.  If it weren’t for God’s supervision, there would be no stinking way that we should have it because of the numerous attempts to rid the world of the Bible.  The Bible has only flourished though.  It is truly a divine miracle that we all have access to a Bible, God’s word.  I want to encourage you to keep up the awesome work in delving into God’s word through these devotions.  You are truly doing a great deed.  Keep up the awesome work, and truly believe in your heart that these words are living and active.

-Kyle McClain

God of Mercy. God of Justice.

Ezekiel 17-19

ezekiel

Thursday, March 23

God used the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar to enact His judgment against Israel.  He carried off King Jehoiachin and 10,000 nobles to Babylon and installed Zedekiah to act as his vice regent or king in Jerusalem.  The prophet Jeremiah warned Israel that this was God’s judgment and that the exiles would not return from Babylon until the people repented.  But the people didn’t listen and false prophets gave Israel false hope that Babylon might soon fall.  So Zedekiah broke his treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and made an alliance with Egypt.   This led to a revolt against Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt.   Eventually, Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and King Zedekiah and family were carried back to Babylon where they faced Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath.  Zedekiah had his eyes put out and his sons were executed.  Israel did not repent quickly nor easily, and because of her stubborn disobedience they continued to suffer.

In Ezekiel 17 God chose to use the allegory of an eagle plucking up the top of a cedar and then replanting it to depict His judgment against his people and to remind them of his power to build and His power to destroy.

In Ezekiel 18 God gives a very clear teaching to His people on the nature of sin, righteousness, judgement, repentance and forgiveness.  Each person is responsible for their own actions.  Parents are not held responsible by God for the sins of their children, and children are not held responsible by God for the sins of their parents.  Each person is responsible for their own behavior.  In the same way, you don’t get credit for your parents good behavior if you do bad.  Each person is responsible for their own sin and will be judged accordingly.

There is good news imbedded in Ezekiel 18.  God doesn’t take any pleasure in seeing wicked people die.  God wants to see people who do evil turn away from their evil.  God wants everyone to repent.  If an evil person repents, God will not punish them.  If a righteous person turns evil, they will be punished for their evil behavior.  God is a God of both mercy and justice.  He will punish unrepentant evildoers and he will forgive and restore those who repent of their evil.  This chapter is best summarized in the final three verses:  30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

 

In Ezekiel 19, there is a lament for the end of the Messianic dynasty that came from David.  Since the time of David, his descendants, beginning with Solomon reigned as Kings over Israel.  But that has been brought to an end.  There were no more descendants of David serving as the Lord’s anointed over Israel.  Of course, we have the benefit of hindsight.  We live on this side of the New Testament.  After several hundred years of NOT having a descendent of David as King of Israel, one was finally born in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus.  One day, Jesus will sit upon the throne and rule over not only Israel, but all the earth.  In the meantime, we have a choice, we can turn away from our sins and turn to God, or we can face the judgment.  Jesus Christ is God’s provision for our salvation.  We go to him to get a new heart and a new spirit.

-Jeff Fletcher

Has God Left the Building?

Ezekiel 10-13

Ezekiel 10 4

Tuesday, March 21

 

“Elvis has left the building.”   That’s what they used to say to the throngs of screaming fans after one of Elvis Presley’s concerts back in the day.  They would rush Elvis out the back door into his waiting car or bus and whisk him off to safety.  Hopefully, the fans would calm down after they knew he was no longer there… there would be no more encores for this performance.

In Ezekiel ten- YHWH has left the building.  The building in question was the Temple of Jerusalem.  Since the time of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness when Israel worshipped in the Tabernacle, to the time of Solomon and beyond, when they worshipped YHWH in the Temple of Jerusalem, YHWH was present with His people.  They knew that there, in the holy of holies, the shekhinah glory of God was present with his people.  Yes, there was a veil which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, and only the high priest was permitted to enter into the presence of YHWH once a year to atone for the sins of the people, yet they could always look up to the tabernacle or later Temple atop Mt. Zion and know that God was with them.  But no longer.  Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s glory leaving the Temple.  Because of their extreme disobedience and their worship of idols, God could no longer remain among his people.  It was a time for judgment, and God had to leave.  How sad that must have been for Ezekiel, to watch God leaving.

In Ezekiel eleven, judgment is proclaimed against Israel’s leaders.  “You haven’t obeyed my laws” YHWH complains.  “You’ve conformed to the standards of the nations around you.”

God is gracious, even in the midst of judgment, he promises to bring some of them back from exile and give them back the land which he had given to their forefathers.  God promises to bring about change in their hearts.  vs. 19 “I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”  God still loves His people and offers them hope in the midst of judgment.  Ezekiel shared this vision with the exiles so that they would understand the consequences of their sins.

In Ezekiel twelve,  God warns that even their ruler would be forced into exile.  They kept hoping that this would happen in the distant future, but God assures them that judgment is coming soon.

In chapter thirteen, God turns his judgment from the leaders to the false prophets.  These people told lies in the name of YHWH.  They said “thus saith the Lord” when God didn’t say it.  God condemns them for leading their people astray.  They “whitewashed” over the truth about God’s coming judgment against sin and substituted their lies about a false peace.  “you encouraged the wicked not to repent”.  He blames the false prophets for the sins of the people, therefore, they will come under God’s harsh judgment.

Israel had a wonderful building in which to worship, they had clear rules to follow, they had leaders to teach them, they had priests to offer sacrifices, they had prophets to bring them words from God- and yet that wasn’t enough.  They were not content to live as God’s holy and separate people and act as a witness to the rest of the nations around them.  Instead, they worshipped the false gods of their neighbors, they ignored God’s laws, their prophets failed to warn them for their sins and assured them of false peace when God was preparing to bring his judgment.  It seems not much has changed.  One would be tempted to see the same kinds of things going on today.  How many buildings today allow idolatry and false gods to be worshipped?  How many people falsely claim to be speaking God’s word when they are instead peddling the words of men?  Some days we might even wonder “has God left the building” when we follow the sinful standards of the world rather than remaining faithful to God’s holy word?  We’d like to think judgment is far away just as they thought then… but perhaps it’s much closer than you might think.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

 

Grieving the Heart of God

Lamentations 1

lamentations 1

Thursday, March 16

 

The book of Lamentations does not make it onto most people’s “Top Bible Books to Read” list. Its title actually comes from the word “lament”, which means “to mourn (a person’s loss or death)” as a verb, and “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow” as a noun. This book is a compilation of Jeremiah’s laments about the destruction of Jerusalem and all the events leading up to it. He emphasizes that all this calamity is a result of Judah’s disobedience.

 

Jeremiah definitely had a good excuse for some serious lamenting. Sometimes we wallow in self-pity parties about silly little things like how the brand-new Chick-fil-A in our town doesn’t have a play place (true story, and very sad for this momma!), but when is the last time we offered up lamentations to grieve about and lament over an injustice in the world?

 

I live in Ohio, near the crossing of two major highways: Interstate 75, which travels from the Canadian border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to deep into Florida, and Interstate 70, which spans the great distance from Utah to Maryland. Because of this intersection, the Dayton area is a major hub for drugs and sex trafficking; in fact, Dayton recently made national news for its record-breaking number of fatal opioid overdoses (which included at least one person I knew personally). When I think of how many lives are ruined or stolen by drug addiction and sex trafficking, I feel angry and mournful. It is cause for lament.

 

There are so many other injustices in the world: babies being murdered in utero every day; murder, violence, abuse, racism, discrimination; the growing porn industry; a failing mental health system; families being ripped apart … I’m sure you could add dozens to my list that are worth lamenting!

 

However, it is not enough to just sit on our bums and lament. God wants us to be active in His work in this world. What happenings today do you think grieve the heart of God? Pray with me that God would instill a sense of unrest in our hearts that drives us to fight against the injustices in the world, and to give us opportunities to help lead people toward freedom and hope in Jesus! While Jeremiah had much reason to lament, he was also a man of action (as we will see again in a few chapters), and we need to be people of action too!

-Rachel Cain

 

(Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8GDFPdaQZQ – this link will take you to the Bible Project – with a video of hand drawings and explanations for every book of the Bible – pretty interesting stuff!)

Selective Listening – or Worse?

Jeremiah 42-43

Jeremiah 42-3 Pray That The Lord May Shoe Us The Way gold

Sunday, March 12

 

I’ve witnessed an oft-recognized-but-rarely-diagnosed illness called “selective listening.” I’ve charted an epidemic of the disease mostly among strong-willed toddlers, but it expands among all ages, genders, and cultures (even to Dads and, dare I admit it, Moms too). This “selective listening” regularly manifests as an inability to hear or acknowledge commands or requests given loudly a few inches away, followed by an ability the next minute to overhear a whispered conversation about dessert behind closed doors three rooms away.

 

Have you ever demonstrated selective listening? Or, even worse, have you listened and heard clearly, but deliberately chose to go the other direction? Often, selective listening becomes so selective that it leads to disobedience – we only let ourselves hear or believe that which aligns with our desires, and then we follow our desires even if they lead us away from God’s truth.

 

In this passage, the people went to Jeremiah for some advice. What should they do – should they stay in Judah or go to Egypt? Jeremiah consulted with God, who revealed to him that the people should stay in Judah. Jeremiah told the people about his revelation from God, but did they listen to this very advice (for which they had asked, mind you)? NO! They decided to head to Egypt and took Jeremiah with them. (We’ll explore the repercussions of this action over the next few days!)

 

I’m reminded of many Bible characters who had “selective listening” – or shall I say, outright disobedience – of which one of the most prominent examples was Jonah. God told him to go to Nineveh, but Jonah boarded a ship in the exact opposite direction! He soon learned that he could not hide from God, though! (You can get that whole story in the Old Testament book of Jonah).

 

Pray with me about any areas of our lives that we need to be more open to listening to God and obeying him, even if it is contrary to what we want to do. Ask God to change our hearts to make us desire to listen to Him and obey His will. May we be people who DO the word of God, not just HEAR it (James 1:22).

-Rachel Cain

 

Rachel Cain is a follower of Jesus, wife to Dan, and stay-at-home homeschooling mommy to three precious Blessings. She enjoys reading (children’s books by day and non-fiction by night), eating ice cream, hiking, and writing devotionals about what God has been teaching her. 

 

(Photo Credit: http://images.knowing-jesus.com/i/jeremiah-42-3-pray-that-the-lord-may-shoe-us-the-way-gold)

Examples of Obedience

Jeremiah 35-37

jer-35-13-ww-unsplash-9x

Friday, March 10

The reoccurring theme I noticed from all of today’s chapters was obedience.

In chapter 35 we see the example of obedience from the Rekabites.  They had some unusual commands to follow, but they followed them anyways!  They weren’t allowed to drink wine, build houses, sow a seed or plant vineyards. (35:6-7)  At first I didn’t really recognize the significance of this, I mean, what’s the big deal if you don’t have to work fields right?  But then I started wondering, how are they living in those times without working and still surviving?  These commands they were told to obey were not easy to follow in that age!  Yet they still obeyed.  Because of this, God rewarded their family tree.  (35:19)

In Jeremiah 36 we see the bad example of obedience.  As I was reading how the king completely disrespected God’s message, it reminded me of being in elementary school when one person did something wrong and the entire class just went: “Oooooooooohhhhh…..” with our mouths hanging open.  I was just waiting with wide eyes and an open mouth as I read about the scroll being burned up.  As to be expected, God was not a fan of this disobedience.  36:31 says, “I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them and those living in Jerusalem and the people of Judah every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.”  Everyone is an example, some are just an example of what NOT to do!

Jeremiah left us with a great example of obedience in chapter 37.  He ended up being thrown in prison for obeying God’s commands!  But this did not stop him from speaking the truth God told him to speak.  Even though it would’ve been a lot easier to just tell the king what he wanted to hear, Jeremiah chose to obey God.  He knew that his reward would come later.

“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” -Jeremiah 17:10 (I know it’s not this week’s passage but it’s still in this book!)

Our obedience to God will be rewarded, the Bible tells us that all the time!  It also tells us that disobedience will lead to disaster.  Are you willing to follow the example the Rekabites and Jeremiah gave, obeying God’s commands even when they aren’t easy and can make you suffer for a little while, so that you can be rewarded later?  Or do you follow the bad example from the king of disobedience because it’s easier to do and hear?  Look to our examples from Jeremiah!

-Sarah Blanchard

(Photo Credit: http://www.alittleperspective.com/jeremiah-35-and-22/)