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The Stumbling Block Prayer

“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11

Image result for plate of moneyAgain, Jesus reaches back into the Old Testament and produces a heavenly gem for His hearers to reconsider. They would’ve know the Proverbs, studied the wisdom sayings to apply in their everyday life as was their practical purpose. But did they really think about the heart-level meaning of them?

Maybe some did, but Jesus knew what these listening hearts needed. He spoke to the gap in their understanding.

And He quoted from a man named Agur, who was, like Job, a wise man though probably not an Israelite. The full context of the phrase, Give us today our daily bread, is worthy of consideration. Agur prayed:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9

When Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, it is so that we will learn to depend on God once again. In the Garden of Eden, God provided for everything that Adam and Eve needed [1:29]. When sin–the decision to be their own gods–entered the world, they had to begin to provide for themselves, and the ground didn’t cooperate because humans do not have the power of God to control the earth as He does [Genesis 3:17-19].

But He didn’t leave them without sustenance [Genesis 8:22]. God desired to reconcile them to Himself and to be their provider–if only they would trust in Him. And He desires the same for us.

Ironically, so fallen is the sinful nature that even God’s provision can become a stumbling block to the life of faith. As Agur notes, when times are tough we might turn to God or we might turn to self-as-god and steal our needs for ourselves. Yet, when times are plentiful and God provides in abundance, again we get cocky and pat ourselves on the back–Look how good I’ve done for myself. God warned the Israelites that they would face the self-same temptation when they entered the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 6:10-12] and assumed the homes, vineyards and riches of the people they drove out.

Both extremes, poverty and riches, turn our hearts from God. Instead, Agur prayed that God would keep him on the straight and narrow path that leads to life [Matthew 7:13-14].

In the scheme of temptations, Satan doesn’t care which extreme he lures you to accept. So long as he keeps you off the path that leads to life. His only desire is to steal from you, kill you and destroy your eternal life [John 10:10].

Are your prayers filled with requests for abundance or provision of wants rather than basic needs? Ask the Holy Spirit to tune your heart to God’s. Trust Him to provide exactly what you need at exactly the time you need it. In all things, seek the advancement of His kingdom first, then trust God to provide the rest [Matthew 6:33].

KCS

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The Empty Bat Signal

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37

Image result for bat signalJesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.

Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.

Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.

But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.

Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].

In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.

Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.

Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].

The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.

When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].

Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?

KCS

Eternal Regrets

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30

Image result for eye bandagesJesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.

In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.

Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.

So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.

Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.

God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].

You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.

Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.

We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?

KCS

Lip Fruit

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22

Woman With Strawberry on MouthImmediately following Jesus’ proclamation that He would fulfill the Law, He begins citing some of the commandments in question. Do not murder, for example [Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17]. Murder is a crime punishable by human law. But it is, first and foremost, a manifestation of sin prosecuted by God Himself.

But Jesus takes the forbidden fruit–murder–and traces it back to its root–anger. When we allow anger to seed itself in our heart–root, grow and bear fruit–the result is a murderous rage capable of snapping at any moment.

We deceive ourselves when we think that we can control our anger. That it doesn’t control us. And the world offers many cooling-off techniques so that we don’t do something rash when we get upset.

But God’s standard transcends–it rises above what humans think is possible. God calls us to love one another [John 13:34]. He calls us to keep the bitter root from taking root to begin with [Hebrews 12:15]. He calls us to be joyful when people mistreat us and persecute us and lie about us [Matthew 5:10-12]. He calls us to leave revenge in His careful hands [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-19].

We must guard our hearts from anger, because out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks [Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45]. The Sanhedrin–basically the Jewish Supreme Court–deliberated over matters of profanities like calling someone Raca, possibly meaning empty-headed or good-for-nothing. But Jesus says that even just calling someone a fool is the sinful heart fruiting from the lips. Because we’re thinking of self as superior and/or thinking poorly of someone else in frustration.

Our words betray the seed of anger rooting in our heart. Meaning, as we sow so shall we reap. If we sow disgust, bitterness and anger in our heart, then we set our lives up to eventually bear the fruit of murder unless we repent of the seed sins.

Cain was all of those things in turn. Disgusted with his brother. Bitter at God’s approval of his brother’s offering. And angry at the whole pride-wounding situation.

But God told Cain that he could master the sin, he could nip the bitter root in the bud, uproot it and choose to do right [Genesis 4:7]. He didn’t tell him to manage his anger or deal with his frustrations. He didn’t tell him to count to four and take deep breaths. No, Cain needed a heart change–a banish-anger-and-replace-it-with-love-heart-change–just as we all do [Romans 3:23].

Have you examined your lip fruit lately? What does it show is growing in your heart?

KCS

Spiraling Up

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:8-9

Image result for Bible heartPurity of heart. Not exactly easy to accomplish, considering that sin makes, every inclination of the human heart…only evil all the time [Genesis 6:5b]. Precisely why King David acknowledged the need to, hide [God’s] word in [his] heart so that [he] might not sin against [God] [Psalm 119:11] and why God prayed for the steadfastness of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29].

You see, the word of God is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12] which only God can see [1 Samuel 16:7]. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. So it is only by God’s grace, through our faith in Him that we can be made righteous through Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]. We can be being made pure in heart.

Seeking God in His Word, seeking His purity in our heart, will truly bless us. No greater joy will we know than knowing our Lord.

One fruit of the pure heart is peacemaking. As Christians, we should be so filled with peace that we can speak peace into those around us–even without using our words! And when others know us as as peacable, then they will also know us as God’s own children. What an amazing testimony!

So seeking to purify our hearts through God’s Word will bring us great joy and renew God’s peacemaking image in us, which will, again, bring us more joy. It’s an up-spiral. A positive progression instead of the world’s downward spiraling depression.

Start a new cycle. Reverse the sin feedback loop.

Which way do your emotions spiral? Earthward? Or heavenward?

KCS

Journey of the Torch

“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 4:12-17

Sweden Fire, Finn Candle, Sweden Torch, Hot-log

When Satan didn’t succeed in tempting Jesus, it appears he turned his attentions to attacking Jesus’ cousin, John. Maybe now he could force God’s Son to out Himself as the Messiah. Surely the Savior of the world would storm the prison and miraculously overthrow the government, decimating its army to free one of His beloved human beings.

But it’s still not God’s appointed time.

It was, however, God’s time to send His Son as a light to all nations.

So instead, Jesus moved to Capernaum from which most of His earthly ministry was soon to be based. This is the promised blessing for these two tribal territories whose trade routes connected Israel to the Mediterranean.

Capernaum was a sizable town in the Galilee region. Because of the Assyrian captivity, the people there were of mixed-culture descent–returning Jews and the pagan peoples that moved into the area during the captivity. Influence from all of the Gentile religions greatly diminished Jewish worship in Galilee.

They had become spiritually dark.

But Isaiah had foretold that God would send His Son as a light into this spiritual darkness [Isaiah 9:1-2]. The reason? Because it was always God’s intention to redeem the whole world, not just Israel [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Acts 3:25].

Satan intended to silence John’s message, but God’s purposes prevailed. Jesus took up the torch of John’s message, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near [Matthew 3:2], and stepped into the way prepared by John’s ministry.

A torch that he passed to His disciples. A torch that has passed down through the generations and come to us. God’s light is still for everyone on the planet. His redemption for everyone who has, does and will ever live. The way has been prepared for you and I to take up the message.

Will you embark on the journey of the eternal torch? Making disciples of all nations? Teaching them to obey God’s Word? And baptizing them in the name of the Triune Godhead [Matthew 28:16-20]?

KCS

Commission Confirmed

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.” Matthew 3:13-15

Image result for face out of waterJesus was fully God, but He was also fully man. He had to travel from Galilee to the Jordan the same way everyone did. It was a hot and dusty walk for him just as it was for all the others.

Jesus came to have his physical body baptized in water, but he had no sin to confess. Did the crowds murmur at his lack of confession? Or did they whisper the stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood, trying to understand the truth of him?

John knew full well who Jesus was. He tried to defer to Jesus’ spiritual authority, but Jesus is not so self-important that he can’t be ministered to by a human being. On the contrary, Jesus was blessed by John’s ministry just as John was blessed to minister to him.

The deeper significance of this moment was not lost on Jesus. He is the fulfillment–the completion bringing to reality–of all of the prophecies and the generations of waiting for the woman’s seed who will crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15], the promised inheritance of Abraham, the living law of Moses and the eternal culmination of the line of King David. By faith in the Christ who was to come, each of these were credited with righteousness, that is, they were considered morally right or justified in God’s eyes.

When Jesus was baptized by human hands in an earthly river, his physical body was cleansed like a high priest washing before offering the temple sacrifices [Hebrews 4:14-16]. Spiritually, Jesus was preparing to give himself as the spotless sacrifice–without a sin to confess but bearing all of our sins on the cross–to impart his righteousness to each of us who accept his sacrifice by faith.

John baptized the Son of God Almighty, but that didn’t bring his ministry to an end. He didn’t reach the top in a big showy fanfare and then retire. Instead, Jesus’ baptism reaffirmed John’s commission. Whatever we do to our fellow human being, so we do to our Lord [Matthew 25:40]. Each time John honored his call to baptize repentant sinners, he was ministering to Jesus all over again.

We have also been commissioned to baptize the nations [Matthew 28:19-20]. When we obey our call to make disciples, we minister to–that is, attend to–Jesus.

And John consented. Jesus wasn’t going to override John’s freewill, forcing him to do it Jesus’ way. God always honors our right to choose.

What would you choose if Jesus showed up and asked you to minister to him? The answer is as easy as how you treat the people you see everyday. Because as you do to them, you do to Jesus. Are you faithfully fulfilling your commission?

KCS