Take Heart! I have overcome the world.

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 35-36 & 1 Corinthians 1

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

You might wonder why our focus verse for today is from John when the daily readings are in Chronicles and Corinthians. This week is FUEL, a National Youth Camp in which young people from all over the country gather to learn and grow in their faith. And the theme for the camp this week is ‘hupernikao’ … a Greek word that means ‘overwhelmingly conquer’.

Every day this week, except for today, we will pull from the daily readings as well as the daily FUEL themes, to explore this theme of overcoming or conquering.

Today, I want to focus on the big picture a bit. Overcome what? How?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

This verse in John is rich in helping to answer those questions. We might think that Jesus, who is the speaker here, is being kind of a downer if we just look at part of the verse. In this world you will have trouble? Not much of a pep talk, Jesus.

But if you’re anything like me, this is exactly the kind of pep talk you need.

The truth.

A little aside: A pet peeve of mine is people who sell things who won’t admit that their products have flaws. Their company is the best thing ever, producing the best products ever, which will of course give me the best results ever…Every. Single. Time. Am I the only one who would always be more likely to believe someone who is honest about the limitations of their product line or who is able to admit that while there are great options, there are also some weaker products to avoid? Rant over.

Jesus is laying out the truth here. “You’re a human person living in this world? Yup, you’ll have trouble. Pain. Sorrow. Heartache. Difficulty. Expect that too.”

But he doesn’t leave us there. “Yes, life is hard. Really hard sometimes. … BUT … hold on! You can make it because I have overcome all of it!”

Do you know that in other places in Scripture we’re given specific assurances of overcoming the hard stuff Jesus warned us we would face? Here are a couple of examples:

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will provide us the means to overcome temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

And Romans 8:31-39 paints a beautiful and poetic word picture of overcoming a variety of troubles. Spend some time while you read this thinking about what you could use some overcoming in… Are you feeling separated from God’s love? Do you feel pain, even anguish that feels unbearable? Persecuted? Hungry for something but you don’t even know what so you keep going after the wrong thing? Are you in need, bare before Him? Or even feel in danger of slipping out of His grip?

Take heart.

What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 35-36 and 1 Corinthians 1

My Sinful Nature

Romans 4-7

I’m skipping right to the end of chapter seven, to a dilemma that many Christians wrestle with.

Starting in verse 15, Paul says, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Paul really nails what I and so many other Christians struggle with – the question of why do I continue to sin if I have turned my life over to Christ?  Certainly all Christians still sin.  I know my sins, and you know yours.  But why do we continue to repeat certain sins over and over, if we know they are wrong, and we want to change our behavior?  It’s frustrating.  Many new Christians especially think they have left sin behind once they have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, only to be discouraged to discover that their sin nature is alive and well within them, as Paul points out.

I cannot begin to attempt to explain or examine every facet of sin, and why Christians still find themselves caught up in various sins, but I can offer at least one strategy that has worked for me, dealing with a specific sin.  We should all have strategies for overcoming our biggest sin obstacles. 

The following is an excerpt from the marriage book From This Day Forward by Craig and Amy Groeschel.

-“I have a special software installed that, although it allows me to get on the internet when I need to, filters what sites I can get to.  And it sends reports of everything I see to my accountability partners.  Maybe this sounds extreme to you (which doesn’t bother me at all).  Maybe it sounds like a lot of trouble.  It is.   An obvious question might be, “So are you really that weak and vulnerable Craig?  That if nobody was watching, you’d look at things that were immoral or impure?”  I can honestly say the answer is, “No, not really.”  Right now as I’m writing this, and as I’m thinking about these things, I’m in a really good place.  My resolve is strong.  I’m confident in my relationship with Christ, and everything is going really well.  So why bother?  Because if you are honest, you know that not every single moment of your life looks like that.  Sometimes I get tired.  Sometimes my feelings get hurt, or I get angry, or I feel like I’m not getting everything I deserve.  And then, in those fleeting moments of weakness, every door to temptation that I might otherwise try to turn to is completely, thoroughly, securely locked.  Strong Craig of this moment is looking out for weak Craig of those other moments.”

This is great advice.  (By the way, the software he is speaking of is likely called Covenant Eyes, which we use in our house).  When we are strong, we often don’t think about our weaknesses.  But that is the best time to acknowledge them and plan what to do in case they return.  If we can cut off access to committing some of the sins we have struggled with, then do it, if at all possible.

But when we do sin, whether large or small, habitual sin or not, we need not be discouraged to the point of giving up.  Remember that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.  And Paul humbly acknowledged that even he struggled with continuing to commit sins after accepting Christ.   Our sin nature will not be completely shed until, Christ returns, and he delivers us from it.  Until that day, we should be working to sin less and less.  There are certainly strategies we can employ to try to accomplish that, as mentioned already.  But thanks be to God that Christ’s blood covers us, despite our sins. 

-Greg Landry


Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Romans 4-7.

Tomorrow we continue with Romans 8-10.

Heavyweight Battle:  The Brain Versus the Heart

Proverbs 7-9

Proverbs 7 25 NIV sgl

We have already covered the first six chapters of Proverbs and they all center around wisdom.  We are now moving on to chapters 7 through 9, which focus on……..drum roll please…….wisdom.  Wisdom must be really really important.  Proverbs 8:19 says wisdom is better than pure gold and Proverbs 8:35 says those that find wisdom find life and obtain favor from the Lord.  Wisdom is clearly something everyone should have and use, but why do so many people come up short in this area?

Where is wisdom stored?  In the brain.  Wisdom is the ability to process information correctly and that is all done in the brain.  Many people actually have a pretty good brain that correctly tells them the difference between right and wrong, but they do not always follow the right path because of the brain’s nemesis, the heart.  We have many sinful desires in our hearts because we are selfish beings.

There are some people that have evil desires in their heart and their brain is lacking wisdom, so they are going to struggle in life until they search out some wisdom.  They will always do the wrong thing because their brain and heart are in agreement and working together.  They can accomplish a lot together, but none of it is good.

The rest of us are in another group that are wise enough to know something is right or wrong, but struggle to always do what is right because of our heart’s selfish desires.  That is called temptation and we all have it.  When temptation arises, our heart and mind go in to battle.  Our heart has two main tactics in this fight.  First, it may try to get us to ignore what our brain might say about the sin.  Second, it sometimes engages the brain and tries to convince the brain that the sin is ok.  This is called justifying the behavior.  The heart is very strong and can be very persuasive.  In order to do the right thing, the brain must be stronger, which is where wisdom comes into play.

The brain must know the difference between right and wrong to stand any chance of beating the heart (don’t be confused here – we still want the heart to keep beating).  That wisdom is found in the Bible and it needs to be searched out, but that is just the start.  If you want to make sure your brain is strong enough to defeat the heart, you can’t just “know” what is right and wrong, you need to “understand” why it is right or wrong.  Understanding comes with a lot of reading, thinking, learning from others, and praying.

Proverbs 7 tells of a story where a man is seduced by a married woman who was not his wife.  He gave in to the temptation because he lacked enough wisdom to fight it.  He probably knew it was wrong, but he didn’t understand all the consequences.  The lost trust and ruined reputation that he may never get back, the pain he caused his family, sexually transmitted diseases, getting the woman pregnant, a broken nose from the husband when he finds out, and the guilt he will feel because he let God down are just some of the reasons why God tells us not to have sex outside of marriage.  Once you take the time to understand why something is right or wrong, the brain will be much more powerful and most likely will win the fight against the heart.

But wait, it gets even better.  When a brain has enough wisdom and understanding, the brain can convince the heart to change its desires.  The heart can be trained to agree with and follow the brain!  This is the ultimate goal, and this is why wisdom is so important.  James 4:2-3 says that you do not have because you do not ask God.  It goes on to say that you do not receive when you ask because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  Simply put, your heart is not right.  So, it stands to reason that if your brain convinces your heart using Godly wisdom, you will get what you ask for because your desires will line up with God’s desires.  In this case, when the brain and heart are in agreement and working together, they can accomplish a lot together, and it is all good.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+7-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 10-12 as we continue seeking God’s wisdom on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Over and over and over

Monday – Judges 3-5

Judges Devotions (1)

Judges reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day”—the one where Bill Murray, the local weatherman, relives the same day over and over and over. While not a single groundhog makes an appearance in Judges, the book does repeat itself over and over and over. You see, the Israelites are in a downward spiral, stuck in a vicious cycle of sin. In the reading for today, Judges 3-5, we see this cycle play out three times, once under Othniel, again under Ehud, and finally under Deborah. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle using the example of Othniel:

1. SIN – “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (Judges 3:7). The Israelites neglected to kick out all the bad people from the Promised Land, and they often find themselves tempted by the Canaanite’s sinful ways. Their temptation leads to habitual sin, tearing themselves further from God.

2. OPPRESSION – “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathain king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judges 3:8). I think, perhaps, God uses oppression as a tool to bring His people to their knees. His people become so desperate with no other choice but to turn to Him.

3. REPENTANCE – “But when they cried out to the LORD…” (Judges 3:9a) In their newly humbled position, the Israelites cry out to God. They recognize their sin and run from it, towards a God whose arms are always open.

4. DELIVERANCE – “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war” (Judges 3:9b & 10a). God works for His people through His people. He fills people with His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

5. PEACE – “So the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 3:11a). With a newfound trust in God and a godly leader to follow, the Israelites find peace. Unfortunately, after Othniel passes, this peace leads to complacency which leads right back to sin.

As a soon-to-be English teacher, this literary structure of the book of Judges is impressive. As a follower of God, this repetition is alarming. Why do the Israelites keep finding themselves back in a stage of sin? Why am I a repeat offender of the same sins?

Temptation and habit.

First, just like the Israelites were tempted by the corrupt and wicked ways of the Canaanites dwelling in the Promised Land, we, too, are surrounded by temptation. Set healthy boundaries from whatever may be luring you towards sin because the more distance we give between ourselves and temptation, the less likely we are to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites were caught sinning over and over and over—their sin became their habit. Recognize the power of your habits and work diligently to set healthy rhythms that honor God. Ever since I read this quote, I’ve been convicted of the power of my own habits: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures” -F.M. Alexander

Let the boundaries and habits you set lead you away from sin and towards God.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Judges 6-7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.  Reading God’s Word daily is one healthy habit to pursue.  Keep at it!  It has the power to determine your future.

The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry

Luke Chapter Four

Luke 4 43 NIV (1).png

In Luke chapter four, we finally get to see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  However, before we get there, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness by himself with no food.  He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  We are never told the purpose of the Spirit leading Jesus to the wilderness, but I imagine it served as a great time for Jesus to focus in on God all by himself before he began his earthly ministry.

 

While Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, the devil came to tempt Jesus.  Three times the devil tempted Jesus, but he had zero success.  To combat the temptation, Jesus responded each time with scripture (verses 4, 8 and 12).  Scripture offers us a great way to combat temptation, as Jesus demonstrated here.  Psalm 119:11 supports this notion, as it states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

 

Whenever we are confronted with temptation, as we all are, a great way to resist and combat that temptation is by quoting scripture.  Now, this is only possible if you have scripture memorized in the first place.  This is a big reason why it is important to store God’s Word in our hearts.

 

After Jesus withstood the temptation of the devil in the wilderness, Jesus officially began his earthly ministry in his hometown of Nazareth.  He did not have quite the warm welcoming, as the Jews tried to throw him off of a cliff (Luke 4:29).  This was just the beginning of the Jews seeking to end and kill Jesus.  They were constantly taken back by Jesus’ bold claims that he makes.  In the end, the Jews send him to the Roman government to have him killed because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 26:54).  The Jews seldom got along with Jesus because they did not believe that he was the Christ, the Son of God.

 

Luke chapter four ends with Jesus telling us his purpose, as Jesus states, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent,” (Luke 4:43).  Jesus himself stated that his purpose was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  From the very beginning of his ministry, he preached all about the Kingdom.  The message of the kingdom was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, and it should be at the heart of our ministry as well.

 

Kyle McClain

 

Sucked into Sin

Proverbs 29

Proverbs 29 16 NIV

This chapter of proverbs continues the thoughts from the previous one – speaking on the contrasts from the wicked and the righteous. Proverbs 28 and 29 give us wonderful examples, not only of recognizing sinful ways but, of the habits that could sneak into our own lives. Many a good man and woman have been corrupted in time by the allure of sin. Additionally, it is noted in this proverb that those who we surround ourselves with can lead us into sin. We must choose carefully who we associate with and be wary that they do not drag us into sin and away from God.

In my youth I hung out with people that did a lot of things that I knew were not good. Drugs, alcohol, and other activities were happening all around me. I hung out with them because I liked being around them but I never let myself fall into their ways. I always thought that made me okay but all it would have taken is one encounter with law enforcement and I would have been found just as guilty as the rest. Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks when I first realized that. God was watching out for me but I was really pushing the boundaries of His grace and I realize that now. In that I am reminded that we are not to put our God to the test. Yet that is exactly what I was doing for years. He truly is merciful and gracious!

One last thought from this passage that actually ties back to what I wrote about for Proverbs 27 concerning anger, check it out if you missed it. Giving full vent to our anger as this proverb points out is bad. Yet I said before that it is good. No, not is good, but may be good and can help. Verse 11 says that a wise man keeps himself under control. Anger released rationally, controlled, is what I spoke of the previous day. This is talking about rage. Rage is uncontrolled, irrational, and violent. There can be no compassion or concern in rage but you can have both while angry. Understanding this is important for our relationships. That is why we have the saying, “Count to ten before speaking.”

In closing, I urge you to be aware of the various ways in which we can get sucked into sin. Be careful to not place yourself into a situation where you become guilty by association. And remember that we were created for relationships. They are vitally important to our God and to our daily existence. Treat them with the care that they deserve.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Don’t Slip to the Default

Proverbs 11

Proverbs 11 3 NASB

Today is another comparison between the righteous and the wicked.  This time most of the comparisons are about outcomes.  Although it may already be clear, there is a relationship between wisdom and righteousness.  There is also a relationship between fools and the wicked.  Because of temptation always trying to lead us astray, fools turn towards wickedness, but it takes seeking wisdom to be righteous.

Verse 3 through 6 say:

The integrity of the upright will guide them,
But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
But righteousness delivers from death.
The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way,
But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.
The righteousness of the upright will deliver them,
But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed

We see that the upright or righteous person will be delivered from death.  The fool or wicked person will be destroyed.  The money, possessions or whatever else they have gained from their crooked ways cannot save them.  We see people who have gained wealth and power from all kinds of things that are not pleasing to God.   We see people that appear to have it made who are not seeking God’s wisdom.  We see righteous people who are seeking God’s wisdom go through struggles.  However, It is made very clear that no matter what people gain from their wicked ways, in the end it will catch up with them and they will be destroyed.  In the end, the righteous ones will be delivered.

Another example from this chapter is verses 24-26

24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

There are people who teach that this is specifically talking about wealth in the current time.  They say that if you give away $10.00, you will get $100.00 in return.  I don’t think that is accurate, and I don’t think it is even a great blessing compared to all the blessings that God does give us.  However, the generous man is the one who is doing what God wants, which makes it a wise decision.  The generous will be blessed.  The miser who withholds everything for himself will be cursed.  I think some of this comes in everyday life.  If someone who is generous and helpful has a problem, often people will help that person.  However, when someone who is greedy and never helps anyone else has a problem, people are unlikely to help that person.

Verses 29 and 30 say:

He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.

The outcome of seeking Godly wisdom and following in God’s righteousness is life for themselves and for the souls they win.  We have to choose daily to seek after wisdom.  If we make no choice, foolishness and ultimately destruction are the default choice.

Andrew Hamilton

Seduced by Temptation

Proverbs 7

Proverbs 7 25 26

The first five verses of this chapter again talk about how important it is to have wisdom.

My son, keep my words
And treasure my commandments within you.
Keep my commandments and live,
And my teaching as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
And call understanding your intimate friend;
That they may keep you from an adulteress,
From the foreigner who flatters with her words

This is re-iterating what a lot of chapter 1 talks about.  It is not enough to just know the commands and teachings.  You must consider them as some of the most important things you know.  Following the commands and having wisdom will allow you to live.  This implies that a lack of wisdom will bring death.  The rest of the chapter details how this can lead to serious harm, and death.

The rest of the chapter can be a literal case of a man being seduced by a woman, or it can be symbolic of any person being tempted and falling to that temptation.  This shows a pattern of falling.  The first step is going to a place where the temptation is found.  This is in verse 8 where it talks about passing near her corner, and then going all the way to her house.  Wisdom would show that we should avoid going around things where we know we will be tempted.

Then, verse 9 says that this is being done in the darkness, or when we don’t think people can see us.  In most cases, if we are going to sin, it is going to be when people are not watching, or at least people that we know would be bothered by what we are doing.  Again, if we are wise, we will surround ourselves with people who will help us avoid temptation and stay away from those who draw us in to sin.

Then, when we are close to temptation, the sin can look very appealing, and it appears that we won’t get caught – so it is okay.  Verses 17-21 are showing this when talking about the couch and bed being adorned, and when it talks about the husband being gone for a long period of time.

With all of this, the man being talked about in this passage falls into temptation and sins.  He does not know this will cost him his life according to verse 23.  This is not saying that falling into temptation once and sinning means death, but when we fall into a temptation and are not wise enough to run from that in the future, we are going to fall into that same temptation again and again.  Then, we will escalate the sin, and get sucked into it until it is a lifestyle.

Wisdom, specifically Godly wisdom, is critical to both avoiding unnecessary problems in this life and in having eternal life in the kingdom.  This can only be accomplished by treasuring scriptures and a relationship with God.

Andrew Hamilton

Judy’s Candy Bar Story

Proverbs 5

Proverbs 5 23 NIV

Solomon begins Proverbs 5 again reminding us to seek out God’s wisdom. We must not only hear the wisdom offered, but we must absorb that wisdom and apply it to our lives, so that we can make wise and moral decisions.  Then your “lips may preserve knowledge”.  In other words, the things we say will be full of knowledge and insight.  Solomon knows that we need God’s wisdom to help us make wise choices, because we are constantly facing temptations.

Solomon continues the chapter talking about our temptations, using the example of an adulterous woman.  He says, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” (Proverbs 5:3) Simply put, this means that this immoral woman may come to you with sweet, flattering words.  She will look and sound very tempting.  She will tell you whatever it takes to lure you into believing that sexually sinning with her will bring you nothing but joy and happiness.

However, the next few verses go on to say, “But in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.  She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.”  (Proverbs 5:4-6)  In verse 3 it seemed as though the woman was offering bliss, but we find out in these verses that she actually will lead us to suffering and death.  You notice it says “her steps lead straight to the grave”.  We are all moving on a path.  Each day we make countless decisions that are leading us down a path.  We need to be using the wisdom God has provided to us in the Bible to make sure we are making choices leading us on the right path.

In verse eight Solomon goes on to offer this advice, “Keep to a path far from her (the adulteress), do not go near the door of her house.”  The message here is stay as far away from temptation as possible.  Do not put yourself in situations that will tempt you to sin.

The story of Judy’s chocolate bar is the perfect illustration of the stay-as-far-away-from-temptation-as-possible principle.  Judy loves chocolate.  In fact, Judy loves chocolate too much, so she decides to not eat chocolate for a month.  One day, after deciding to give up chocolate for a month, Judy is at the grocery store buying food for dinner.  While at the store, Judy decides to just go down the aisle where the chocolate is.  She is not going to buy any, she just wants to look at it.  As she gets closer to the chocolate she notices that it is on sale.  Judy decides to purchase just one bar of chocolate.  She will not eat it now, but it is on such a good sale, she wants to take advantage of the bargain and buy it for later.  When she gets home from the store, she keeps thinking of the chocolate bar that is now sitting in her cupboard. Judy believes that just getting to smell the chocolate will be very satisfying and help her to stop craving the chocolate, so she unwraps the chocolate bar and takes a large whiff of the delicious chocolate.  It smells incredible.  Judy sets a small piece of the chocolate on her tongue, not to eat it, but just to take a little lick.  You guessed it, soon the chocolate is gone!  Judy devours the entire bar.  The question is, when would it have been easiest for Judy to refrain from eating the chocolate? Would it have been easier to not eat the chocolate when it was sitting in the wrapper in the cupboard, or when it was sitting on Judy’s tongue?  What if Judy had never gone down the chocolate aisle at the store, but had instead just gone to the fresh produce section?

We need to constantly pursue wisdom, so that we can make God-pleasing choices.  We must be vigilant so that we do not believe any of the world’s lies. And finally, when we have identified what our stumbling blocks are, we must stay far away and avoid those temptations.

Jill McClain

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