Two Men ~ Two Plans ~ Two Ends

September 30, 2019

By faith Enoch was taken away so he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away.  For prior to his removal he was approved, since he had pleased God.  Hebrews 11:5

This chapter begins by telling the brief stories of two men from different, ancient civilizations.  Abel dates back to the time of Adam and Eve.  Enoch dates back to the time before Noah and the flood.  Each was commended for their faith yet one was brutally murdered while the other was miraculously taken out of this world without having to die.  It’s hard to understand the disparity.  One death was horrific, the other was spared of death completely.  Nowhere does it indicate that Enoch was more righteous than Abel. How did he get off so easily?

It’s a reminder that God’s plans are just God’s plans and cannot be reasoned out by mankind ~ even though we try.  We dissect other’s lives, and our own life, and compare the proportions of their joys and sorrows with our own.  When things are easier for us, we can feel guilty.  Why are things so much harder for people we love?  And when things appear harder for us than what others suffer, guilt is a common bedfellow.  We believe we must have done something wrong to be in this position. (What further reinforces this is when others feel you must have done something wrong, too.)

Back to Enoch and our assumption that he got off easy.  I’m sure it wasn’t a cakewalk for him to walk with God in the midst of pre-flood evil.  The world had fallen into debauchery the likes of which we’ve never seen.  One of the main reasons for this is that man lived many centuries as opposed to 60-70 years.  He had that much more time to feed his wayward appetite.  Think of an elderly person of today.  Unrighteous traits, without Jesus, only intensify with age. 

Many care for their parents and have an extremely difficult time managing unrighteous traits that have only magnified with age.  In the days of the flood, multiply this sowing and reaping phenomenon by 300-400 more years.  The imaginations that conceived evil were so much more debase.  In this time period, whatever evil thing man thought of in his heart, he went and did.  There was no pause, no restraint.  Nothing was off limits.  I try to imagine what it took for Enoch to walk with God and keep himself pure.  The loneliness. The jeering. The persecution.  We’ll never know but perhaps Enoch had it far more difficult than Abel. 

Without understanding any of this fully, I need to remind myself that God just chooses to entrust some people with more pain.  Period.  I may never know why.  It’s certainly not because he loves one person more than another.  And while some pain is experienced as consequences of earlier choices, that’s not always the case.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation.”    

Enoch is in the hall of faith.  So is Abel.  Whether I understand the reasons why is immaterial.  They were God’s possession and He knew all the things we don’t.  Scripture, His inspired and inerrant Word, captures their honor for all to read.  That is enough.

When things are hard, don’t let me forget any of this. Amen

Abel’s Personal Story

September 26, 2019

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith. Hebrews 11:4

What shapes a person’s view of God?  Much of it lies in their history. Abel’s worldview was largely defined by what transpired in the lives of his parents.  I can imagine his childhood.  He heard from his mom and dad (Adam and Eve) what it was like to walk with God in a place called paradise.  He heard the incredible stories of their assignments which had been joyful and wonderfully productive.  He knew the account of his parent’s sin and their expulsion from the garden.  The weight of their losses and their regrets had to have hung over their lives like a shroud.  He lived with the effects of their grief as well as their longings for how things used to be.

How far away did they move from the blocked entrance to the garden?  Perhaps not far.  Maybe they went to the perimeter of Eden often to lament their past choices and remember its former glory. We’re not told but if we read the story with our imagination, we feel the tragedy of their banishment and its ongoing effect on their lives.

I suspect that Abel grew up in an environment where sin was taken seriously as were the sacrifices that were needed to atone for those sins.  His respect and trust in God emerged out of the ashes of his parent’s choices. While he could have harbored a root of bitterness against God for His divine judgement on his parent’s sin, He didn’t.  What God required of him is exactly what Abel provided; the firstborn and healthiest of his flocks.  God was pleased with his offering. 

Cain grew up in the same family.  He heard the same stories.  Yet, what a reminder that children can respond so differently though they come from the same environment.  He chose to have issues with God.  Was there a root of bitterness against God for driving his parents out of the garden?  Did he think the curse was unfair?  Was he angry with his parents for ruining his life and future?  Did his older brother’s respect for God grate against his own misery?  Apparently.  Cain murdered Abel – making him the first martyr for the cause of Christ.

Abel’s faith was commended by God and though his remains, more than 60 centuries old, have long turned to dust, his voice still speaks.  So pleased was God by his sacrifice that he is recounted in this great lineup of faith heroes.  The reason for this is worth every moment I ponder it.  Such a short story. Such a poignant illustration of a God-honoring sacrifice.  Yet how large an impact!

Don’t let me miss what their lives beg to teach.  Amen

What Is Your Bent?

September 25, 2019

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.  Hebrews 11:3

Some people are emotionally driven, others are intellectually driven.  In their extremes, neither prefers the company of the other. One believes that emotional people are too unstable while the other pigeonholes intellectuals as stoic and unfeeling.  In matters of faith, which side has the advantage? Neither.

Faith is birthed outside the mind and outside the heart completely.  Faith is the gift of spiritual sight bestowed by the Spirit of God. Unless God opens the spiritual eyes of unbelievers, their minds and their hearts will not naturally believe. The greatest mind cannot generate faith. Neither can the most genuine of hearts. Why? Because ~ The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Cor. 4:4   

But once God gives a person spiritual sight, how is their faith fed?  The good news for those who are intellectually bent is that faith is strengthened through Spirit-driven study. There is enough mental stimulation for a lifetime because the vastness of the mind of God has no beginning and no end.

And the good news for those who are emotionally bent is that faith is strengthened through engagement with the heart of God.  There is enough emotional stimulation for a lifetime because of the depth of the heart of God.  His love is beautifully layered and has no beginning and no end.

But here’s the thing ~ every believer is to become balanced with a well-informed mind and a massive heart of devotion.  Choosing to strengthen one over the other leaves a believer impaired.

Lord, my mind is engaged and I want to have a voracious appetite for learning.  My heart is engaged and I pray that it will always beat wildly in worship.  Amen


Who Showed Us How To Do It?

September 24, 2019

For by it [faith in what is unseen], the people of old received their commendation. Hebrews 11:2

How would you like to be remembered as a person of great faith?  Yet, I believe we idealize what that looks like and never picture our biblical heroes as having the kind of faith that had fragile overtones. We do not picture them begging Yahweh for the strength to trust and move forward. So much is missing in their stories.  We’re told, more often than not, about what they did rather than how they felt.  From one verse to the next, a decade might have passed, and we are not given a peak into what the years were like.

Hannah ~ She is at the temple. She is ridiculed by her family, she is distraught and she is barren.  She brings her broken soul to God and while praying, Eli, the priest, suspects that she is drunk.  She explains her plight and he announces the birth of her coming child.  It is not said that she doubted but how could she not!  All she knew was barrenness and the feelings of having been cursed by God. Yet, by faith, she dug deeply to rise up and immediately sing a version of the Magnificat.

David – He is small, still a boy.  Yet, he is outraged at the blasphemy and taunting coming from the camp of the Philistines.  By faith, he comes forward to challenge Goliath.  What were his thoughts after he volunteered, after some moments passed, as he picked up a series of small stones?  What did he think when he beheld the size of his opponent? Yet, he dug deeply and loaded his slingshot.

Joseph – He loves Mary. He knows her character but is presented with news of her pregnancy.  He knows the law and the expectations of those around him.  Put Mary away!  But he dreams and is told that Mary is pregnant by the Spirit of God.  Who has heard of such a thing!  Yet, He dug deeply to trust God in a way in which no one had trusted Him before.

John the Baptist – He is peculiar. He stands out and is misunderstood. He preaches a message given only to him but then his faith is shaken. He is imprisoned after taking a stand before an unrighteous king. In a weak moment, he sends word to Jesus to ask if He, indeed, is the one he has been waiting for or is Jesus someone else?  Yet, Jesus says that never has there been one like John, possessing a faith that burns and shines.

Jesus – Yes, Jesus had to learn obedience and had to learn to walk by faith too.  His life and ministry, all the way to the cross, meant moment-by-moment strengthening from God.  The night before His arrest, while agonizing in prayer, He asked for another way other than the cross.  God met Jesus in His despair and strengthened him. He dug deeply and offered up Himself.

Jesus said to Thomas ~ “Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet believed.”  That’s for you. That’s for me.  Though he needed visible proof, he dug deeply in response to Jesus’ appearance.  He went on to India to shake the nation with the Gospel. He was martyred for it.  How will the rest of my story be told?

I dig deeply in my places of blindness. Give me grace this day to believe and act upon it outrageously.  Amen

Stepping Back Into Hebrews

September 23, 2019

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1

A little over three months ago, I felt like I should take a break from Hebrews.  I was facing the 11th chapter – the hallmark chapter on faith.  I stopped up short.  This chapter is a heavyweight.

When I stepped away from it, little did I know how intimately I would come to know the first two verses of this chapter.  For the entire summer, I have had Hebrews 11:1-2 on my desktop.  It is stunning the way it is paraphrased in THE MESSAGE.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

This literally took my breath away and each day it’s challenged me to ask myself if this is true in my heart.  No matter what I’m facing, is my faith strong enough to be assured of things I cannot see?  Am I rock solid and confident in my Hope?

Faith is not blind ~ even though it is up against what is unseen.  The reason any child of God can have seeing eyes is because of the worthy foundation supporting the promise.  It is God-Himself.  This assurance is talked about in Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Faith is built on the validity and power of the One who holds up the universe.  He doesn’t hold up just the earth, which in and of itself would qualify Him, but the deep heavens.  Since it is this God who has promised it, who asks me to trust Him, how could my faith ever be misplaced?  His power is uncontested, and He always uses it within the parameters of wisdom and sovereignty.  His Word stands.  He never changes it.  His Truth is always His Truth no matter the time in history and no matter the age and spiritual condition of the one who pursues it.

Let me speak personally.  I have faith in a God who is not taken by surprise by the worst of news.  I have faith in a God who already knows how to make something beautiful out of what has been made ugly by the Fall.  I have faith in a God who redeems all things for His children.  Even more than that, I have faith in a God who restores every single loss ~ if not here, then in the world to come.  I cannot lose what God will not give back in perfection.

There is no Redeemer and no Restorer other than You.  I declare my faith again, out loud, with praise.  Amen