Avoiding Bitterness

“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

Unfortunately for Cain, the LORD did not have regard for his offering.   We can probably all appreciate to some extent how that must have felt. No one enjoys the feeling of not being good enough. No one likes to put sweat and tears into some effort only to come up short. We want to receive praise for our efforts and our accomplishments so that we can feel proud of what we have achieved. We want to feel good about ourselves. When things do not go our way, and our efforts come up short, it can be quite frustrating.

Of course, this is what happened with Cain:

“So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:5)

When we get really upset, it is written all across our faces. This was apparently the case with Cain, and his disappointment at falling short and being revealed as insufficient turned to anger inside him. Is this not a temptation that we all face? When we do not get what we want, or when we do our best and no one takes notice, or when those around us seem to tell us by our actions that we are not good enough, are we not tempted to become bitter? When someone else’s life seems to be falling into place while ours seems to be floundering, are we not tempted to become jealous?

In this context, God responds to Cain:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Discouragement, Cynicism, Anger, Bitterness, and Jealousy were no the only options Cain had in response to his personal failures and disappointments. And we all have personal failures and disappointments. When they arise, we can respond in a destructive way that hands the reins over to our negative feelings, or we can take the alternative that God offers. We can rise up in the strength God offers and be master over the sin. We can take the high road. We can resist the bitterness and instead start where we are and resolve to do our best moving forward.

“Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

Something to consider about Cain’s actions is that they certainly did not make his life better. Yes, he was angry. Yes, he may have been jealous of Abel. Maybe he thought that if he could not be happy, he was not going to allow Abel to be happy either. And maybe for a brief moment Cain felt some kind of personal power or satisfaction is lashing out and doing things his own way. But ultimately, the outcome was worse, not better, that what Cain could have expected if he had simply picked himself up and dedicated himself to bringing an acceptable offering to God in the future.

Some have said that my generation was never taught how to deal with disappointment. I think to some extent they may be right. And to some extent this is a problem that all generations face. Things will not go our way. We will be shown to be inadequate when we most want to feel sufficient. Our natural human reaction will be cynicism and bitterness and endless blame. But what we can do, if we accept God’s offer, is pick ourselves up and keep following Him in a way that can make things better, not worse.

Work and Rest

Many people may feel that work is a nothing but a curse that was imposed upon man as a punishment after Adam and Eve sinned and ate the forbidden fruit in the garden.

It is true that man’s work became frustrating and difficult as punishment for what Adam had done, but the concept of work, in and of itself, is not the concept of a curse but of something divine. How do we know this? Scripture repeatedly uses the word “work” to refer to God’s act of creation:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

Work was not the only thing that became more difficult during the fall. Relationships and childbearing were also cursed. Of course, this does not mean that society should refrain from relationships or from childbearing anymore than from work. Rather than seeing these things as curses in and of themselves simply because they are often difficult or frustrating, scripture would have us see them as beautiful opportunities to join with God in creation.

Genesis seems to emphasize the fact that work is divine in the way that it repeats the word “work” multiple times to describe God’s actions, but scripture is equally clear about another important part of life: rest. All throughout scripture, the Sabbath rest is emphasized and reemphasized and is specifically applied to all people.

Many of us who do indeed look at work as a curse have no problem seeing rest as divine. But as with all things, we must of course strive for balance in our lives. The book of Proverbs gives us plenty of warning against resting too much and too often:

“How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest’—Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11)

Some of us want to do nothing but work, and we have to be reminded of our limitations and our need to step back and recuperate and see the bigger picture from time to time. Others of us want to do nothing but rest, and we have to be reminded that while our work here is often cursed with difficulty, it is in reality a sharing in the work of God as He created this world and sent us out with a commission to “fill the earth and subdue it.”

May we all do some work, and get some rest, this week.

The Choice is Yours

In Genesis chapter four, we are told that Cain and Abel both brought a sacrifice to God. But apparently, Cain did not bring God the best that he had to offer:

“The Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”

No one likes to fail, especially when we know we have disappointed God. But God gives Cain an opportunity to make things right. Instead of getting mad about the situation, he can decide to do well in the future rather than continuing to be selfish.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

One thing that really stands out from God’s words to Cain is the emphasis on the fact that Cain has a choice. He can do well and be accepted, or he can be overtaken by sin, but he has a choice in this matter. He has no reason to be angry precisely because he is the one who has chosen to sin in the first place, and he is the one who can choose to pursue a different course in the future.

Many in our day would not have written Genesis this way. Instead, they might have written, “If I cause you to do well, will not you countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, and it will destroy you unless I arbitrarily choose to cause you to beat it.”

This is because many in our world deny the concept that human beings have any say in their own actions. On one hand, they teach, we are forced to do wrong by an inherently wicked human nature. On the other hand, God may override this nature and force us to do well, but we have no choice in this matter, either.

Ironically, this teaching is in many ways very similar to the doctrine of contemporary atheistic materialists. These men teach that human beings are simply a product of our genetics and our physical environments. If we do right, we had no choice in the matter. If we do wrong, we had no choice in the matter. Free will is an illusion and we are all just “dancing to our DNA.”

But Genesis paints a different picture. “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Notice, God does not say “you must master sin with no help from me.” He does not even say “you must muster some strength of your own and I will help you with the rest.” God does not tell Cain that he has to beat sin by a power that originates in his own human self. But He does suggest that Cain has a choice in the matter. That choice is the choice to turn it all over to God. To put Him in the highest place. To count any cost as worth it in order to be His.

Will you make the decision to submit yourself to God? If you know what He asks of you, will you do it? The choice is yours. Which means the responsibility is yours. If you do not choose well, you will not have a good excuse to become angry.

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Creation”

Our church is embarking upon a weekly study, with a particular word being the focus of each week.  The second word we devoted our attention to was: “creation.”

We have had several requests to make the scriptures and brief notes from these studies readily available online.  Hopefully this can be a helpful resource.

Genesis 1:1 – in beginning God created
Genesis 1:27 – man created in God’s image
Genesis 2:3 – God rested after He created and made
Genesis 2:4 – in the day that God made earth and heaven
Genesis 2:7 – man formed from dust of ground
Genesis 2:22 – woman made from man’s rib
Genesis 4:51-52 – Ephraim born second
Genesis 5 – genealogy indicates time since creation?
Genesis 6:7 – God sorry He made man and animals
Psalm 51:10 – “Create in me a clean heart”
Psalm 102:18 – a people not yet created will come
Psalm 104:20 – “you send forth your Spirit, and they are created.”
Isaiah 20:46 – “see the One who created all these stars”
Isaiah 43:7 – God creates people for His glory
Isaiah 45:18 – God, as creator, has authority and deserves glory
Isaiah 48:7 – things created now, and not long ago
Isaiah 65:17 – I create a new heavens and new earth
Isaiah 65:18 – I create for rejoicing and gladness
Jeremiah 31:9 – Ephraim referred to as firstborn
Ezekiel 28:11-19 – Origin of the Devil?
Amos 4:13 – God as creator has authority and glory
Malachi 2:10 – God created us all, so we ought to live in harmony
Matthew 1 – genealogy helpful for chronologies
Matthew 1:17 – “14 generations” and the way Jews did genealogies
Matthew 19:4 – Male and Female an important part of creation
Mark 16:15 – preach the gospel to all creation
John 3:3-8 – born again of water and spirit
John 8:58 – “before Abraham was, I am”
John 17:5 – Jesus was there before the kosmos
Romans 1:20 – we learn of God by His creation
Romans 1:22 – professing to be wise, they became fools.
Romans 1:24-25 – worship and serve creature or creator
Romans 5:12, 18-19 – Sin entered when Adam sinned
Romans 6:1-4 – saved people still need to be told not to sin, why?
Romans 8:18-25 – creation itself to be set free?
Romans 8:29 – conformed to image of His Son
Romans 8:37-39 – no created thing can separate us from God
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 – our new bodies will be spiritual
1 Corinthians 3:1 – mere babies in Christ still live carnally
2 Corinthians 5:17 – old has gone, new is here
Galatians 6:15 – being a new creation matters, not circumcision
Ephesians 2:10 – created for good works
Ephesians 4:24 – new self is created by God
Colossians 1:15 – He is the firstborn of all creation
Colossians 1:16-17 – all things created by Jesus, and FOR God
Colossians 3:10 – we are renewed according to the image of Him who created us
1 Timothy 2:13 – Male leadership reflected by creation order
1 Timothy 4:3 – God created food to be gratefully shared
1 Timothy 4:4 – everything God created is good
Hebrews 12:25-29 – created things that can be “shaken” will be removed
1 peter 2:2 – the new creation is a newborn who must grow
2 Peter 3:4 – “all things will go on like they have since creation…”
2 Peter 3:10 – creation to be burned up
Revelation 3:14 – Jesus is beginning (meaning?) of the creation of God
Revelation 4:11 – all things exist because of God’s will
Revelation 5:13 – every created thing blessed God and the Lamb

Why did God create the universe?
Isaiah 43:7
– for His glory
Colossians 1:16-17 – for Himself
Isaiah 65:18 – for rejoicing and gladness
Ephesians 2:10 – for good works
1 Timothy 4:3 – for grateful sharing
Revelation 4:11 – because of His will

Did God use evolution?
Science has not demonstrated macroevolution, because there is no viable means for adding new, meaningful information to the genome.
Gen 1:27 – Man is made in God’s image, not through unguided, chance processes.
Genesis 2:7, 22 – describes process and does not mention common ancestry and gradual change.
These verses are used as basis of Biblical doctrines throughout the New Testament.
Romans 5:12, 18-19 – Sin of Adam
Matthew 19:4 – Male and Femaleness and marriage
1 Timothy 2:13 – Male leadership reflected by creation order and because Eve was deceived

Literal 24 hour days?
Compare Genesis 1:5 to Genesis 2:4 interlinear (Hebrews word depends on context)
Genesis 1 – Notice, there was no sun by which to judge a day.
Genesis 2:3, God rested on seventh day, Jews also. We worship every seven days.
The Hebrew word itself is ambiguous, but the context of “evening and morning” lends credence to 24 hours being a natural reading, and why posit another period of time? What agenda does that advance?

How long ago was the creation?
Genesis 5
– genealogy/ Matthew 1, focus on verse 17 (in the thousands of years since Adam)

Is Jesus created?
Colossians 1:15
– look at context and at Greek
Genesis 4:51-52 and Jeremiah 31:9 – firstborn indicates preeminence
Revelation 3:14 – look at Greek
Romans 1:24-25 – distinction between creation and creator, as highlighted by placing Jesus in the beginning, before heaven and earth, and before the kosmos – John 17:5
John 8:58
– before Abraham, “I am”
Mark 16:15 – preach gospel to all creation (preach it to Jesus?)
Romans 8:37-39 – no created thing can separate us from Christ
Revelation 5:13 – all created things bless God and Lamb

Will creation be destroyed or renewed?
Isaiah 65:17
– new heavens and new earth
Romans 8:18-25 – creation to be set free? Similar to how Christians will – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 the natural becomes spiritual
2 Peter 3:4, 10 – last time it was a flood, this time it will be fire
Hebrews 12:25-29 – created things that can be “shaken” will be removed

Is Satan created?
Ezekiel 28:11-19
– Origin of the Devil?
1 Timothy 4:4 – everything God created is good

Did God create evil?
1 Timothy 4:4
– everything God created is good

What does it mean for a saved person to be a new creation?  Why do they still sin?
2 Corinthians 5:17
– old has gone, new is here
Romans 6:1-4 – yet they still need to be told not to sin, why?
John 3:3-8 – born again of water and spirit
1 Corinthians 3:1 – mere babies in Christ still live carnally
1 Peter 2:2 – the new creation is a newborn who must grow

Can science explain creation without God?
When scientists try, their answers increasingly converge on God but just insist on using another name.
You have a being that is: eternal… immaterial… present everywhere and constantly, powerfully active… filled with meaningful information… containing a fundamental consciousness… etc.
Stephen Hawking say that the universe can and will create itself from NOTHING! – Romans 1:22

This World is Not Good

The account of creation in the book of Genesis is about the beginning of something good. After each day of creation, God sees that what He has made is good. At the end of the sixth day, God sees that His creation is “very good.”

Yet even though there is still so much that is wonderful and beautiful and inspiring in this world, it is no longer good the way it was. The third chapter of Genesis tells us what happened. It gives an account of man’s first sins. They were motivated in part by Satan’s lies (3:4-5). They resulted in difficulties in human relationships (3:16), difficulties in work (3:17-19), and separation from God (3:23-24).

Romans 8:22-23 says “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

This whole word has been subjected to futility. Satan’s lies are everywhere. Our relationships are strained or even broken. A part of us wants to dream big dreams, but the weeds choke them out. We try to make progress and we don’t.

The Bible acknowledges the not-goodness of this world in its present state, and we can, too. We do not have to pretend that everything is okay. Everything is not okay. Life is frustrating. It is painful. People hurt each other. It is “not good.” Even for the Christians whose lives seem to be going fairly well, there is a longing for something more than this world can give. Maybe that is why Paul was anxious for the day when he could go to heaven.

I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:23-24).

Yet Paul does realize that there is a reason why he is here.

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” (Philippians 1:25-26)

We, too, can trust God to use our lives, though our relationships and our work continue to be corrupted by life’s difficulties. We can trust God to welcome us into a better place some day.

As 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

 What a day that will be.