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  • You are here: Blogs Directory / Education / Eric Rajaniemi's Blog: James 1:22; Romans 1:20 Welcome Guest
    Eric Rajaniemi's Blog: James 1:22; Romans 1:20
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    Tue, Sep 30th - 8:19PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    What is this you have done to me?  Genesis 29:15-30

    "What goes around comes around."  Ever hear that saying?  This saying could be used as a heading for today's post.  The man who forged his seizure of a father's promise by deceit now finds himself the victim of a father-in-law's cunning.  The deceiver is deceived!

    Taken as a whole, the Jacob-Laban accounts provide comic relief to this otherwise somber narrative.  Jacob, the archetype of Samson, rolls away a well stone to impress Rachel in 29:2, 10.  Jacob, the nervous bridegroom, incredibly fails to realize he spends his wedding night with his sister-in-law!  Laban, the master of timely disclosure, reveals only then that the elder daughter must precede the younger in marriage.  Later, Laban who is aggrieved, searches in vain for his stolen household gods while Rachel calmly sits atop them, compounding the indignity by claiming this as being the time when "the way of women" is upon her(31:34-34).

    But in center ring is Laban's deception of Jacob.  Seven years does Isaac's son labor for his uncle, all for the sake of his love for Rachel.  And then seven years more, when the morning after his wedding night comes the surprise.  Quite easily we can feel that Jacob simply is getting what he justly deserves.  He is experiencing firsthand what it means to be cheated.  Poetic justice is being served.  The seeds that Jacob sowed so many years earlier have finally come to harvest.  But where is grace in all of this?  Can we find any glimpse of it here?

    Something new about poor Jacob appears to be different in this text today, beloved.  For the first time in Genesis, Jacob is not self-absorbed, advancing his own agenda.  The reason is his love for Rachel---something that causes Jacob to give Laban seven years of his life; a love that causes Jacob to give another seven years serving Laban even though Laban had deliberately deceived him. 

    Is love the same as grace?  Not necessarily.  But love without conditions, love offered regardless of the cost, love that accepts whatever is necessary to achieve its purposes:  Such love appears to embody grace itself.  And who more unlikely to show such love than Jacob, yet he does.  Laban's deceit does not stop him, nor does having to work seven more years in order to marry Rachel in truth.  He who in the past bargained birthrights, swindled blessings, and attempted to strike deals with God now loves with tenacity.

    Tenacity seems to be a great term to describe how God loves each of us, does it not?  To love with tenacity rings true to the heart of Christ as He traveled on toward Jerusalem and the cross undeterred, the same love from which nothing will be able to separate us.  I like that.

    We can't mistake that Jacob's journey is finished here though.  There is still some of the old schemer left in Jacob.  But even in that area of his life something has changed, and for the better.  After finding out the deceit, Jacob cried out to Laban: "What is this you have done to me?"  He might have directed those words at God, for God had done something with Jacob; and God surely wasn't done yet.

    So, if God's grace can bring change to the likes of Jacob, what of you, what of me?  We might very well ask the same question of God, "What is this you have done to me?" for the grace of God is doing something with us...and God isn't done with any of us yet.

    Father God, sometimes You work in stange ways and through strange persons---but always You work by grace and love.  Please help me to do the same.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Mon, Sep 29th - 6:15PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    If God will..., then the Lord shall be my God.   Genesis 28:18-22

    In times of illness or danger we sometimes try to generate negotiations with God.  If only this too shall pass, promises are made.  By his own admission, Martin Luther's decision to enter religious orders came as the result of a nearby lightning strike while he was walking in a storm.  He linked his cry for help to Saint Anne with a vow to become a monk.  Of course, crying out to "Saint Anne" did not help him at all for she could not assist him in anything.  He ought to have been crying out to God. 

    Today's text portrays negotiations of a different sort.  Awakening from his dream of the ladder and God's promises, Jacob anoints the stone on which he rested and names this place Beth-el: "House of God." But Jacob, who earlier bartered for Esau's birthright with a bowl of soup, sets his sights much higher.

    Before Jacob offers anything by way of faith or trust, he sets the conditions for relationship and covenant.  "If God will be with me, ..."  lots of "ifs" are set forth as preconditions to having God be his God.  Boy, Jacob is sure doing God a huge favor!  He is sweetening the pot for God's favor and THEN vowing to return a tenth of what God gives to him.  Sound like anyone today that you know of?

    Jacob the "soupsalesmen", the deal-maker, is still wheeling and dealing.  Even after the dream, even after the promises, Jacob is not yet ready to turn his life over to God and trust Him.  Jacob will have to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands how God keeps God's end of the bargain.  If you do these things, then you shall be my God.  In reality, it is the exact opposite of this.

    Jacob, the chosen one of God, does not know what to do with that chosenness at this point in time.  He still wants to get all that he can by his own efforts, while God simply wants to give.  Jacob attaches preconditions and prices to relationship and covenant, while God offers grace.

    What of us today?  In what ways is our faith a set of conditions we impose upon God, waiting to see if God is equal to out task?  In the coming Old Testament scriptures the sin of idolatry rises up as a major threat to the covenant relationship.  But what of that idolatry that seeks not to fashion God in our likeness as much as to redefine God as the One who fulfills our wants and desires?  Ahh hah!  The idolatry where we would make God not in our own image but as our own personal benefactor.

    The problem with this sort of idolatry is that it does not allow God's grace to reign in our daily lives.  We cannot try and coerce God into performing for us.  Have we become so used to doing for ourselves that we find it hard to trust God's gracious keeping of our lives?

    For Jacob, the question remains unanswered for now.  This text gives no reply from God to his attempted bargain.  And for us?  The reliance on grace reveals itself every time we turn down the temptation to negotiate God's meeting our desires in place of trusting God's promises to supply our every need.  We cannot bargain for grace:  It can only be offered and received.

    Father God, remind me that You already offer all that I need.  When I would bargain, teach me to trust in You and in grace.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Sun, Sep 28th - 10:07AM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven.   Genesis 28:10-17

    Have you ever heard the warning:  Be careful what you pray for; you just might get it?  Jacob may or may not have used prayer as ably as he had used deception in obtaining Isaac's blessing, but obtain the blessings he most surely did.  Jacob got just what he wanted.

    Or did he?  Perhaps he might have considered his desires more carefully had he known the consequences.  All that he wanted proved to have more strings attached and more fine print involved than he or his mom ever imagined.  The blessing that had required the very best, or worst, of his talents suddenly became his curse.  Everything that was his father's blessing---land, family, herds of animals, domination---ironically became memory.  Jacob had to leave all of the perceived blessings behind to flee for his very life.  His efforts to obtain his father's blessing had transformed into a forced exile.

    So, Jacob flees towards Haran.  Yet it is here in his isolation, when scheming and cunning will be of no use, God confronts Jacob.  The confrontation comes in the form of a dream, at a time when the mind's defenses are down.  The dream is of a ladder with angels ascending and descending.  It is a graphic portrayal of this world's intricate link to the heavenly realm of God.  Jacob may have "pulled the wool over the eyes" of his blind father, but his actions and thoughts cannot escape the attention of God whose angels move freely between earth and heaven. 

    But God does not simply use this dream to reprimand Jacob for his objectionable activities of late, but also uses the dream as a vehicle for assuring him of God's promises.  In addition to the expected repetition of pledges of descendants and land and blessing, the dream brings a fresh word of promise:  "I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land."

    The extraordinary nature of God's promise becomes clear when contrasted with Jacob's current situation.  He is removed from the company of all who loved, and hated, him and yet he is offered the presence of Almighty God.  Jacob, fleeing for his life from a revenge-filled brother, is offered the protective sheltering of God.  Jacob, who carries the blessing but not the possession of land and home, is offered homecoming by God.  This offer from God is directly given to Jacob but it is applicable to us today as well, beloved.  Jesus Christ tells us also, that He will be with us and will keep us wherever we go, and will bring us back to this land.  "This land" for us refers to heaven for that is where our home is and where our homecoming celebration shall be given.  We ought to yearn for that day when it shall come become fact.

    Jacob most certainly will get all that he had schemed and deceived to obtain from his brother and father.  God makes certain that it will not be a matter of seized opportunity but of patient waiting.  Jacob shall not obtain the blessing by any reliance upon personal tricks, or personal talents, but by relying upon the Promise-Maker:  Jacob's God will be a God of grace, just as He is for each of us.  God will be a grace-giver for Esau as well.  Grace will be seen not only in the unlikely choice of Jacob, but in the means by which these promises will come to pass.  God treats us with His grace in exactly the same fashion as He did Jacob.  None of our efforts will bring His Promise any closer to us.  We receive blessing through none of our personal talents or gifts, but only through God's grace.

    When Jacob first awakens the dream has its intended impact upon him.  Jacob acknowledges the Lord to be in this place, a truth he had not recognized when he lay his head down in sleep.  Fear comes with this recognition:  fear perhaps generated not only by encounter with a Holy God but by his realization of his unworthiness.  "This is the gate of heaven," Jacob confesses.  And with this confession begins the series of turning points towards the grace that seeks transformation of his entire life.

    Father God, help me see the links that join this world and Your heavenly realm, the links that join my life and Your presence; and help me live within that joining.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Fri, Sep 26th - 5:59PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Why should I lose both of you in one day?  Genesis 27:41-28:5

    Rebekah laments the conflict between her two sons.  Ironic, isn't it?  She played a large part in this situation and now she laments the consequences of her actions.  Too bad she did not stop and consult with God first. 

    Sanctuary: a place of worship, a place of refuge.  Cain was the first person to receive sanctuary as refuge.  He received it from God so that he would not become the murdered after murdering his younger brother.  Now Jacob beomcs the seeker of sanctuary so that he will not become the murdered.

    It is Rebekah who sets Jacob on his quest for sanctuary, telling him to flee to her own family's home.  Rebekah seeks sanctuary in her son's quest: refuge from more unwise marital choices by her sons.  Esau's Hittite wives had aggravated his parents immensely(26:35).  Because of Rebekah's lamenting over this situation, Isaac charges Jacob to find a wife from among his mother's nieces.  Even this journey for a wife comes with mixed motives of Jacob's safety from his brother and his parent's desire for domestic peace and quiet.

    The text today provides us with little evidence of grace, and much manipulation.  Esau plots revenge at Isaac's death.  Rebekah rests her hopes for Jacob's eventual return in the failing of Esau's memory. 

    Just as it was with Jacob's deception of Isaac, so now also God is neither involved in their decision-making nor present in their actions.  They just do not learn.  Yet we must realize that somewhere in this tangled web of manipulation God is moving.  Where Esau waits for the optimum time to strike back in revenge, God will use the passage of time to reconcile the brothers.  Where Rebekah counts on forgetfulness to enable Jacob's return, God will rely upon remembrance to pave the way for reunion.  Where Isaac and Rebekah determined Jacob's journey for him, God will journey with him.  Where Jacob seeks sanctuary to hide away, God will confront Jacob within sanctuary so that he may ultimately find himself.

    The expansion of this notion of sanctuary from place of refuge to encounter with the holy---and ourselves---highlights not only Jacob's impending journey but out own today, beloved.  What are some places you might consider sanctuaries?  A church, a desert, a mountain retreat, your home, your parent's home?  Whatever the particular setting, refuge affords us a respite from those things that besiege us each and every day.  But if sanctuary is nothing more than simply an escape, it is not actually sanctuary.  True sanctuary bears with it the experience and presence of power and life greater than our own, it bears Jesus Christ.

    Sanctuary is the place where we find ourselves sanctified:  set apart, called, challenged, graced.  The appearance of sanctuary is not as important as is its function.  It is the place where we encounter God, the place where we encounter our true selves, sometimes for the very first time in our lives.  The gift of sanctuary is the gift of grace since God is the grace-giver.  So we may experience sanctuary in totally unexpected places and unanticipated persons.  Our search for sanctuary's refuge may have to first confront us with who we are so that grace may allow us to see who we may yet be, just as with Jacob here in Genesis.

    Did Jacob's parents understand this when they sent him out?  Nothing in our text indicates that they did, nor does it indicate that Jacob did either.  But that is the wonder of God's grace.  We may not intentionally start out searching for grace but it will find us.  Even if it is with mixed motives, God may still find a way to touch us in ways we cannot imagine.  So it was with Jacob, so it may be with us today.

    Father God, lead me to those places of sanctuary where I may find You; that in coming to You, I may come to myself.  Amen.



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    Thu, Sep 25th - 9:29PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.  Genesis 27:1-38

    If the near-sacrifice of Isaac reveals a little of the mystery of God's ways, then I guess the stories surrounding Jacob raise questions about the fairness and justice of those ways.

    Here is someone that the Bible identifies as a patriarch of the Promise, and he is probably the most ethically objectionable person.  Jacob the opportunist, who took advantage of Esau's hunger and obtained the birthright; Jacob the swindler, who with mom's assistance carries out the deception of his blind father in order to obtain words of blessing meant for Esau.

    Despite all of this God chooses Jacob---Jacob the favored, set apart by God from before birth to rule over his older brother; Jacob the promise-bearer, heir to the vows God made to faithful Abraham and obedient Isaac.  Somehow, obedience and faithfulness seem alien to Jacob as he impersonates his brother and lies to Isaac.  Where is there fairness in God's setting aside the traditional rights of the elder for this deceitful younger?  Where is God's justice in the middle of Jacob's multiple schemes?  Where do we find the grace of God in the twists and turns of this story and its primary character?

    These questions do not find resolution within the boundaries of the story of younger son and mom's deception of Isaac and defrauding of Esau.  Instead, we get to see glimpses of a family turned upon itself.  Isaac, still partial to Esau's "savory food", puts his desire for food before blessing.  So instructed, Esau goes to hunt for food.  Rebekah, still partial to Jacob, connives a scheme to obtain the blessing intended for Esau.  Thus Jacob goes to deceive his father.

    Such a loving family!  Rebekah may have claimed that she was simply fulfilling what God had revealed about the destiny of the twins.  Jacob may have offered that same justification---though being the beneficiary would cast a very long shadow upon his proffered objectivity.  For both of them, Isaac's blessing was less a gift to receive rather than an opportunity to seize.  Getting the blessing was worth any cost, right?  Stealing that blessing proved very dear.

    What of deceived Isaac?  He seems to be a helpless victim:  blind, aged, thinking of his own death.  But wait a minute.  Isaac is equally to blame for Esau's defrauding.  Isaac places satisfying his hunger before blessing his eldest son.  With sight gone, he trusts in the physical senses of touch and smell and taste.  His hearing alerts him to deceit.  A parent would know a child's voice, something heard from the day of birth.  But such doubts fade away in the filling of Isaac's stomach and the smell of the field upon stolen clothes.

    Esau returns from the hunt with his hands full of food for his father; but Isaac's hands hold absolutely nothing for Esau.  Esau receives only tears.  A family of deceivers and deceived.

    Father God, forgive me when I presume the future is mine to make at the expense of others---and of You.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Tue, Sep 23rd - 5:41PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Isaac loved Esau...but Rebekah loved Jacob.  Genesis 25:27-28

    I guess that these things are inevitable.  One parent loves one sibling more than the other.  Some small trait or long-past experience tips a parent's scale ever so slightly toward one child and not the other/s.  In the best of situations that special regard does not need to disrupt relationships within the family unit.  No sides need to be chosen when giving love to all.

     In less favourable circumstances, however, that special regard can sow discord, tension.  That favor toward one can become a club used upon others:  "Why can't you be more like...?"  Members choose sides; family splits; bias makes love a sham.  The birth of Esau and Jacob foretold future struggle between the two siblings.  Now it seems that it shall suck their parents into the windstorm---or do they actually help to create it?  Isaac love Esau.  Rebekah loves Jacob.  What the text seems to leave unspoken is the glaring fact that each parent neglects their other child. 

    Why would a parent do such a thing?  Isaac's reason could be his fondness of wild game, a natural match with Esau's skill in hunting.  We can find no apparant reason as to why Rebekah is more inclined toward her youngest son.  Maybe it is as simple as her seeing her husband dote upon Esau.  Or, she remembered God's statement to her that her youngest son would rule over her eldest son and she decided to cast her lot with God's choice.

    Isaac and Rebekah would be hard-pressed to defend their withholding love from the other child on the basis of such reasoning.  I suspect that would be true of contemporary rationalizations for parents favoring one child over another.  They might help explain the origins of favoritism, but they would not excuse the end results.

    And so the actions of Isaac and Rebekah's love imprints estrangement upon their two sons.  We can not find a single conversation between mother and first-born son.  As for Jacob and Esau, they not only have to live with this dysfunction on a daily basis but they have to deal with the deception practiced by their mother.  In this family, love divides rather than creating or uniting.

    This story hits hard at parents.  Do not exercise partiality in showing your love to your children.  To do so damages more than one person exposed to such actions.  Yet in the midst of this story today's parents can identify with the struggle to maintain love for all of one's children.  This struggle can intensify as they grow older and more independent.  A child may opt to satisfy one parent's desires with their own skills.  But that cannot be excuse for showering love on only that one child.  Genuine love makes room for all siblings in a family at birthing times also keeps room in the family for all through lifetimes.

    But hidden within the text today is the movement of God's own gracious love.  You knew it had to be in there, somewhere.  Those whom we trust to love us unconditionaly will sometimes fail for they are not God.  Those who trust us to love them impartially will sometimes be disappointed.  But we may always trust God's love---a love that, for gracious reasons, raises the younger over the elder; yet a love that embraces both Jacob and Esau.  God's grace holds the mystery of this choice even as grace enables God's loving of both.  And one day that grace will seek reconciliation for two brothers whom love has now divided.

    Father God, help me know Your love, for that is the one thing I share in common with all who live; and in knowing, help me therefore to love.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Mon, Sep 22nd - 8:29PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    If it is to be this way, why do I live?    Genesis 25:19-26

    A sense of new life's stirring inside the womb may generate amazement and mystery and ignite the wonder of parents who, with our current technology, can watch the image of an ultrasound profile head and heart. 

    We surely do not know if Rebekah felt that new life within her with such awe.  The text today only indicates that conception gave rise to struggle, and that struggle was the basis of her protest.  Rebekah may well understand on some level the meaning of what she feels growing inside:  the way of struggle, of contention, of division between siblings. 

    Events only confirm her apprehension.  God declares the severity of division within her body: two nations and two peoples of unequal strength.  But the greatest surprise is God's revelation that the elder child will serve the younger, the exact opposite of  their culture.  The clash within Rebekah is the overturning of tradition, an upheaval of the normal order.  The birthing of both siblings is a prime exhibit of the contention and the struggle that lie ahead.  In this fashion Genesis introduces Esau and Jacob.

    Rebekah's protest can be heard in the compassion of a loving parent who would rather suffer herself than see strife and pain enter the lives of her children.  At this point the text becomes quite vexing, quite puzzling, yet also most challenging.  Clearly, things are going to be this way.  There are no quick or painless solutions provided nor any answers given as to why; no endearing traits for Jacob or evil, wicked qualities of Esau to justify the way it is to be for these two brothers.  Nothing except God's declaration that it is to be so.

    We can find a hint of grace.  This hint comes in God's choice of Jacob; without merit, without benefit of the right of the first-born to inherit.  Rebekah couldn't discern any grace from her perspective, she was too close to the situation.  No grace came into her sight, only struggle and conflict.  Why bother?  Why live?

    This same thing holds true for us today.  If we look all about us and we only see cause for resignation and despair, we probably will be resigned and despairing people.  But, if even within the struggles and conflicts we can discern the birthing of grace---however unlikely the place or person---then we may hope.  We may then hope that this world and its ways are not destined to remain the same forever.  Why?  Because of the grace that struggled against tradition and "the way things are" for birth within Rebekah's womb; the same grace with which God stirs this world toward new life.

    Father God, when I am tempted to throw up my hands in defeat, lift up my spirit in hope that I may see Your grace newborn in me and all around me.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Sun, Sep 21st - 9:49PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Isaac took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.  Genesis 24:10-67

    Our text today is quite lengthy, please read it at your leisure.  As you will notice upon reading this passage of scripture Isaac finds respite from all that troubled him before and all that would follow after.  That respite comes in the person and love of Rebekah, whom God chose to be with him as his spouse, his help-meet.

    Genesis 24 relates the story of how Abraham's servant came to find a wife for Isaac.  Two things are outstanding in this entire account:  First is the trust in God's providence to sustain the covenant.  Two times this servant called on God to reveal hesed, "steadfast love," for Abraham by revealing the woman God had "appointed" for Isaac.  Hesed is an important word in Israel's covenant tradition.  It describes the loyalty that binds partners and makes relationship trustworthy.  And so the servant admits that his mission does not rely upon his own keen eye for a suitable wife for Isaac but on God's hesed.  The servant believes that a woman will be provided by God, he simply must find her.

    A second critical component of this story is the action by which the servant will recognize the "appointed":  hospitality.  She will provide water for the stranger and his animals.  In the Middle East culture, hospitality embodies righteousness.  Rebekah, the great-niece of Abraham, demonstates that she is the "appointed" by her acts of hospitality.

    Genesis relates the meeting of Isaac and Rebekah in broad and tender strokes.  Rebekah draws one veil to cover her face while the servant informs Isaac of what has thus transpired.  Then the veil of Sarah's tent closes upon Rebekah and Isaac.  The only further comment is that Isaac loved Rebekah and found comfort in the wake of his mother's death.  We see here the grace of God helping Isaac to overcome the loss of his dear mother. 

    Will love's respite last forever?  No, it will not.  Children eventually will quarrel, parents ultimately will play favorites.  The outcome of their love depends upon their choices.  Just as it does with each of us still today.  But this text insists that we remember that the genesis of love resides in God's providence.  To say that love graces life is as much a statement of theology as emotion.  The providential origin of Isaac's love is made clear in the servant's search for the "appointed."  Covenant is sustained not through simply obtaining a wife but through gracing life with love.

    We should consider our own lives.  Do we experience love's presence as God's providential gift, or as sheer coincidence?  Once we discern love to flow from providence, from God's own hesed for us, then we may rightly cherish the loves with which God graces our lives and find joy in the respite love brings to us.

    Father God, how much You must love me to grace my life with those I love.  Renew my life in all love that comes as a gift from You.  Amen.



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    Sat, Sep 20th - 10:21AM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    See to it that you do not take my son back there.  Genesis 24:1-9

    Recall that old adage, "You can never go home again?"  The implication is that you can never again experience places, and people, belonging to one's memory as they used to be.  Time moves on, it brings change with its passage. 

    Today's text begins with Abraham's directive to his servant to find a wife for his boy, Isaac.  This instruction comes on the heels of Sarah's death, not long after her grieved husband finished piling the burial stones upon her grave in the cave of the field of Machpelah in Canaan.  Perhaps Abraham could see his own days being numbered as he finished this task.  Upon looking into his dear spouse's lifeless face that final time he may have seen their son's face there, the promised child who was still without a wife of his own.

    So Abraham transitions from mourning to preparation in order that the promise may find an heir in yet another generation.  So Abraham orders his trusted servant to go to the old country and to Abraham's kindred and find a wife for his son, Isaac (24:4).  There are imposed conditions on this search; no Canaanite woman, only from Abraham's own people is acceptable.  When the servant raises the very real question that the woman may refuse to return to a sight-unseen groom, Abraham commands a second condition two times.  Isaac may not return to his father's homeland. 

    Why not allow the prospective groom to go and actually participate in finding his future wife?  Abraham's tone gives no allowance for his servant to interpret them into anything else.  Some would say that Isaac's dad was being very controlling.  Perhaps he was simply being very pragmatic. 

    There is another reason as to why Isaac is to be kept from returning to his father's homeland.  He is the child of promise.  Abraham was commanded to leave Haran and would receive some promises.  One was a child, the others had to do with land.  Up to this point Abraham had a child and a burial plot containing his dear wife.  Fulfillment of God's promises would not come until Abraham was dead, he most likely understood this now.  But what would potentially happen if Isaac returned to his father's past?  Would the boy ever return to the promised land?  Or would he choose to stay in Haran?  Abraham did not forget all that he had done in obedience to God, and therefore he dared not put his son into temptation's way.  He placed the same conditions upon Isaac that God had placed upon him so many years previously.

    God's promises present the exact same claim upon our lives and upon our faith.  Each generation's inheritance of those promises happens on journeys into the future, not on returns into the past.  We may find identity and kinship in what lies behind us, but we encounter the living God on the way ahead into our future.

    Abraham made his servant swear that Isaac would never be taken "back there."  What is "back there" for you and me?  It depends on where one hears the siren song that concedes the struggle for what could be in resignation to what has been.  Anywhere promises can be disregarded.  Anhwhere faith's journey might be stilled.  If you live by gracious promises you cannot go "back there."  Not Isaac, not you, not me.  We would end up like Lot's wife, turning back and never being able to journey further.

    Father God, what in my life, what in my longings puts Your promises at risk?  Show me the way forward; show me the way promised.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Fri, Sep 19th - 10:23PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    So Abraham called that place "The Lord will provide."  Genesis 22:9-14

    Young eyes that once peered up to see Moriah's summit in the distance now take in new sights.  They watch a father build an altar, perhaps puzzled over why the elder's hands occassionally shake as they pile stone upon stone.  Those eyes watch as the father lays the firewood across the altar, wood that Isaac himself had carried up this long journey for the still-to-be found lamb for the sacrifice.

    And then Isaac experiences the remaining preparations.  He sees the cords in his father's hand, feels them as they tighten around his wrists, arms, legs, and ankles.  He feels his father take him into his arms and carry him to the altar.  Isaac feels the the jagged ends of wood, the coolness of stone on his back.  At the last, the child's eyes see the knife as it is unsheathed, then poised above to strike.  What thoughts raced through this child's mind in this moment of potential betrayal by his beloved father?

    Grace takes Isaac to the very edge of life.  Isaac awaits grace's providence all the way to the point of his father's drawn blade.  Then deliverance comes in a last-second intervention by God.  An entangled ram, which must have been extremely relieving to Isaac.  How can we possibly imagine that boy's utter relief unless we have stood at that same cliff edge between life and death, with one foot dangling over and the other losing its balance.  Not unless we have had our dearest trust tested to its uttermost limits.

    Grace for Isaac was nothing to be presumed upon nor taken lightly.  Only at the very end does grace hold firm.  God provided; a providing whose coming must have seemed extremely long to Isaac that day on Moriah's heights.

    When we experience God's providence immediately addressing our needs, His grace needs no advocate.  In those times, grace does not even require our trust.  But Isaac's eyes bear witness to the all too familiar delay of grace.  His eyes take in the same sights seen by a cancer patient, whose treatments exact a precious toll on body and spirit without showing any definitive sign of healing.  Isaac's eyes see the the same sights seen by innocents caught in any one of this world's crossfires; where life's routines go on in lethal circumstances, where cries of "how long?" go unanswereed for far too long.  Isaac's eyes see the testimony that we do not yet live in the sovereign realm of God.  His eyes see grace delayed; yet they also witness the coming of grace.  Right when it seems that time and hope have finally been extinguished, grace appears.  The Lord does provide, it's just on His time table and not ours.  On Mount Moriah, those who choose to wait discern that God's grace will come, just not as swiftly as we might wish.

    Father God, help me see Your grace.  When its coming is delayed, when its certainty appears concealed, help me at those times to see through the eyes of Isaac who trusted.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Thu, Sep 18th - 7:50PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!...The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb?"    Genesis 22:1-8

    The Danish theologian Soren Kierkegard made the following observation on this passage:  "The ethical expression for what Abraham did is, that he would murder Isaac; the religious expression is, that he would sacrifice Isaac."

    Have any questions about the fairness or validity of that interpretation?  Just put this passage into the context of your own neighborhood and its children.  A father takes his child up a hillside just outside of town and there draws a knife by which he will end the child's life.  If at that exact moment you should stumble upon the scene and demand to know why he plans to do this insane thing, he pleads obedience to a command from God Almighty! 

    What is your response?  Praise him as a saint for his immense faithfulness; or judge him as demonic for his willingness to end the innocent child of life in the name of God?  Yet this is exactly what is routinely done in our everyday lives in the media. 

    The tale of the journey to Mount Moriah is a mysterious one; wild and unruly, yet still an uneasy plodding of one foot after another as the offering at journey's end draws ever closer.  Grace is hard to find at this point, unless one jumps to the tale's end.  Leaping to the end does no justice to the path traveled by Abraham and by Isaac. 

    Isaac usually is the forgotten character in this tale of obedience.  Traditionally attention focuses on Abraham, the person on the stage of faith's most testing time.  But what of Isaac?  What about the boy who is to be acted upon in faith's name?  To find grace in this tale we must find it for Isaac.  Grace can hardly disregard innocence, for innocence relies on grace for safekeeping until the time of majority. 

    Isaac's first word affirms the ties of family.  The text does not indicate that Isaac is aware of the magnitude of issue that circles him on this mount.  He knows only what his father has declared to him that they are to do here.  Isaac trusts his father completely in this matter.

    That trust prevents Isaac from discerning the true significance of the missing lamb.  There is no tone of fear detectable in Isaac's question.  His father's reply, being noncomittal, arouses no fear in Isaac for he trusts his father.  "God will provide."  The boy trusts his father, but does he trust God's providence or Abraham's word?  That can be a difficult distinction to make early on in life.  A child's innocence and faith rely upon the nurture of trusted parents.  Whether those so trusted prove worthy, prove gracious is another matter.  Here, we see that that matter sets Abraham and Isaac upon this journey.

    Through the eyes of the child the trek up the mountain called Moriah begins with trust.  The child relies on the gracious keeping of his parent.  Isaac's trust in his father and God will find either its justification or undoing on Moriah.

    Father God, do I really trust in You?  And just as importantly, do those who trust in me find nurture or jeopardy?  Please help me on my journey.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Wed, Sep 17th - 9:06PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.   Genesis 17:17

    So Sarah laughed to herself.  Genesis 18:12

    Can you picture in your mind this scene:  Ancient Abraham rolling on the ground, doubled over with laughter.  He blurts out something to God about Ishmael still being a viable option for covenanthood.  And Sarah, running behind the tent flap so she won't give away her barely contained laughter, questioning how a couple so far past their prime could possibly have the pleasure required in the creation of a child.  When God asks Abraham what made his wife snicker, she scrambles so fiercely in denial that she would do a child proud who has been caught red-handed with its hand in the cookie jar. 

    Both times God promises the seemingly impossible gift of an heir.  Both times Abraham and Sarah laugh.  And why not, why not laugh at the incredible?

    Let's see, we laugh when cartoons depict gravity pulling on one character who runs off of a cliff but not another.  We laugh at comedians who narrate childhood baseball or football games which involve convoluted scoring paths that usually require hitching rides upon buses, or taxi cabs.  When the limits of our reality are stretched beyond the ordinary bounds of sense and reason we find ourselves laughing.

    And is not that what grace does:  stretching the limits of our reality beyond the ordinary bounds?  Isn't that what a promise of a child is to an elderly couple who might well be on the downside of a diamond anniversary?

    So, let's not point our fingers at Abraham and Sarah.  Would we do any different if we were placed into their shoes?  I think not.  The sheer fact that they laugh makes them very human.  Their laughter is testimony to the fact that something extraordinary has been loosed, something so incredulous that laughter is possibly the most faithful thing they can do at that moment.

    Grace tends to do that.  The moment you learn of a pregnancy or birth, the instant you discover love for another or find yourself loved:  in those times laughter is the most appropriate response; that or tears.  The two responses often tend to flow together.

    God promised grace; Abraham and Sarah laughed.  Perhaps you all can remember when grace has so moved you that you could not hold back a smile or a guffaw or at least a chuckle.  I sure hope so.  We Christians tend to be masters at clinging to the serious nature of theology and faith.  But what is the cost of doing that?  Jesus once ripped those who mistakenly equated looking dismal with being pious (Matthew 6:16).

    God promised grace; Abraham and Sarah laughed.  Did God become offended?  No.  No reprimands were forthcoming.  Fear resulted in her denial of laughter.  Fear may do the same with us today.  We end up denying ourselves the full joy God means to bring to us.  Laughter belongs to celebration, and grace deserves celebration:  whether that of an aged couple for a child still-promised or that of a parent for a child once-prodigal.  The stories may differ, but the same point gets made.  Faith calls us to celebrate God's reality-changing and limit-breaking grace.

    Abraham and Sarah seemingly never got over their laughter for they named their promised child "Laughter," which is the meaning of Isaac in Hebrew.  The child of grace.  The child of laughter. 

    O Father God, help me find joy in Your grace and free me to express that joy.  For You are the God of Abraham and Sarah; and Laughter.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Tue, Sep 16th - 6:20PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    You have given me no offspring.   Genesis 16:1-11

    Beloved, it is one thing to say we will root our lives in the trusting of promises when all falls smoothly and swiftly into place.  It is quite another to maintain trust in those promises when time delays or experience deters their fulfillment.  Promises originating from God's grace come without timetable; frequently they test the limits of our trust, and patience.  Conventional wisdom tends to come into the picture and suggest that we ought not to wait through faith to attain our heart's desires but rather by our own skill and cunning.

    It's ten years since arriving in Canaan, the land of promise, and Abram and Sarai remain childless.  With no apparant heir, land holds no more promise for the future than to serve as a burial ground for both of them.  Land and promise thus lie fallow.

    So instead of waiting upon the trustworthiness of God and His promise, these two fine recipients of the promise decide to take the promise's fulfillment into their own capable hands.  They succumb to the vulgarities of human pragmatism, they choose to walk by sight and not by faith.  "Go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her."  Abram heeds the words of his wife and soon Hagar, the slave-girl, becomes pregnant.

    Not stopping to consider the consequences of such actions returns to cause problems for this couple.  Through history their choice here has continued to cause problems for the rest of us.  Neither Abram nor Sarai considered the odds of Hagar's future contempt.  So the gracious promise of an heir transforms into the jealous threat of a rival.  The failure of trust evolves into the harsh judgment of banishment upon a woman who has been used and now discarded, upon an unborn child who rests blameless in the womb.

    We might think that this is an issue about morality, but its not.  Yes, what these two did was immoral, but the much larger issue has to do with trusting God.  The basic error of this couple was not in engaging sexual relations outside of the marriage bond between them.  The more important thing was that they sold out the uncertainty and faith-dependent nature of the promise for instant fulfillment.  How often do we do such a thing today?  Sarai decides that God must have been mistaken in His promise and opts to exercise self will and not faith.  Abram chooses to not wait on God's promise but to rely upon his own prowess in bed.  Then, when matters turn out differently than anticipated, Sarai chooses judgment over grace in dealing with Hagar. 

    Despite all of the mistakes made by these two individuals, we see God's unyielding commitment to grace.  It first delivers Hagar; the rejected one, the banished one, the one who played no previous role in the covenant promises.  But now this one is blessed of God, as is her son Ishmael, and as will be her countless descendants.  Ishmael, Hebrew for "the God who sees," serves as an incarnate reminder that grace does not overlook the outsider.

    God's commitment to grace also ultimately delivers Abram and Sarai; the proud ones, the judging ones, the ones who abdicated their trust in the promies of covenant.  They remain the blessed of God, as will be their son, as will be their countless descendants.

    In the fact of God's grace encompassing all of these persons comes hope to us.  Like Hagar, we may feel swept up in the torrent of actions of those who hold power over us, or simply caught up in circumstances beyond our immediate control.  But in the midst of the chaos, we are not overlooked nor forgotten by God our Father.  God sees our situation and He acts with grace on our behalf.  Just like Abram and Sarai, we will likely see times of putting aside trust in order to solve things all on our own; only then to discover our horrible ineptitude at figuring out all of the side-effects of our choices.  God still remembers His promise, and God seeks us with grace.  His seeking that calls us back to trusting in Him, to patience, to the One who fulfills the promises of grace in God's good time and in God's good way. 

    Father God, when I am tempted to take matters into my own hands, remind me of the strength and wisdom of Your hands.  Stop me Father from saying, "I've got this one solved, Lord!"  For it is in just such moments that I am most wrong.  Help me Father to act with trust in You.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Mon, Sep 15th - 9:34PM



    WHAT IS A MINISTER?

    For years I have felt that the church as it exists today has something wrong with it organically.  I could not place my finger on it properly for it always seemed to squirm away from my pinning it down.  Ever felt that way?  But over the past 20 years things have slowly coalesced and now have taken on a much more solid form.  I would like to share these thoughts and conclusions with you all.

    The thought that has continually dogged me over time is this:  If the structure of our churches is correct, then why has there been so many pastors who burn out and leave the ministry?  Granted, a certain percentage perhaps were men who never truly were believers in Christ.  But what about the others?  James Dobson did a survey several years ago and found that 1800 pastors leave the ministry each month!  That is astounding.  Why so many?  What causes this to happen?  So I dug into God's Word and did some other reading as well.

    In the New Testament there are only saints, bishops and deacons (Philippians 1:1).  Bishops, pastors, and elders all refer to the same body of men (Acts 20:17, 28).  In I Timothy 5:17; James 5:14 the oversight of the church is thought of as a body of elders.  But our traditional practice of "calling a pastor" has separated this office from eldership at almost every point.  Under the New Testament pattern given to all of us, laos (people) and kleron (clergy, inheritance) refer to all of God's people; therefore, elders and deacons are part of the "laity/clergy," not separate from or above it.  Most denominational churches have left from this pattern and have distinguished between the pastor and the elders.  Sometimes it is not even done officially, it is unspoken and is evident in practice.  I know one church in which the pastor left and the remaining elders were incapable of taking over the worship services!  Aren't elders supposed to be able to teach the Word?  I thought so.  These did not do that, instead, they hunted around to find an interim "pastor" who was from outside of the congregation.  This man turned out to be most excellent, but the process is faulty by God's standards.  By our following this man-made tradition we have made the "pastor" a full-time employee of the church and the elders remain laymen who function much like a board of directors.  This just doesn't seem to be what the New Testament lays out as the pattern to follow. In this established pattern that man has superimposed upon the worship of the saints, the pastor is the one "called" to preach, he is trained differently than the elders, he is ordained differently, too frequently he comes from outside of the body whereas the elders come from within the body, the pastor can be led to another body of believers while the elders are resident.  Texts that apply to a body of elders are now applied to the "minister" only, the pastor occupies the pulpit while the elders rarely, if ever, can, and the pastor is the one who determines the direction of the worship service.  Where can we find this pattern in the New Testament?  We can't.

    Given the fact that we are confronted with a "polyform ministry of grace," must we not ask ourselves if this shift to the focus on "the ministry" is valid or invalid?  This focus came quickly during the post-apostolic times and forces us to consider if we ought to give that more esteem than the direct apostolic teaching that we read in the Bible.  What do you think?  Man, or God?

    This leads us to consider where preaching is supposed to occur.  In the sanctuary, or out in the streets where the Word of God needs to go?  In the New Testament we see that the apostles preached out in the streets, in the marketplaces, and in the synagogues where the unsaved were.  We do not read of any preaching being done during their house worship meetings, do we?  That is a telling absence in my book. 

    When we separate the "pastor" from the eldership we get the result of the neglect of the entire body of believers.  There is no way for the pastor to give edification to the entire body for there is not enough time to do so.  Ephesians 4:16 can not be fulfilled this way.  Perhaps this is why too many people feel that only pastors and elders can have spiritual gifts.  The truth is that we all have been given spiritual gifts by Christ that are to be used to edify the rest of the saints.

    By placing all of this stress upon one man is it any wonder at all that they suffer from life-fracturing issues like nervous breakdowns, suicide, divorce, family stress, and sexual infidelity? 

    So should the ministry be singular or polyform?  The earliest assemblies knew nothing of a "pulpit," and yet it has become the focal point of every church around.  In the New Testament we are confronted with structured informality.  Here are a few examples of this:

        

    1Co 14:26

    How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

    1Co 14:27

    If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

    1Co 14:28

    But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

    1Co 14:29

    Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

    1Co 14:30

    If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

    1Co 14:31

    For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

    1Co 14:32

    And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

    1Co 14:33

    For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

    1Co 14:34

    Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

    1Co 14:35

    And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    1Co 14:36

    What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

    1Co 14:37

    If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

    1Co 14:38

    But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

    1Co 14:39

    Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

    1Co 14:40

    Let all things be done decently and in order.

    The service obviously contained a mixture of spontaneous flexibility and traditional formality that came from the synagogue.  Congregational participation is suggested by the words in verse 26.

    So why were these types of meetings edifying and good for the early church but are not good for us today?  Is this scripture inspired by God's Spirit, or isn't it?  Perhaps we could argue that this passage is "early revelation" and is then modified by "later revelation?"  But I believe that this reasoning does not hold water for what "later revelation" contradicts I Corinthians 14?  Hebrews is later revelation yet it contains the exact same emphasis found in Corinthians: "exhort one another daily...do not forsake your assembling...but encourae one another."  James is later revelation yet 1:19 is seen as referring to "the free and unstructured worship of early Christian assemblies." 

    So, if we are going to be honest, we are forced to confess that the pulpit-tradition is a tremendous obstacle that blocks us from obedience to the one-another, participatory dimensions of body-life found in the New Testament that we are ordered to emulate.  How can Christian education be considered a profession in light of this?  All of us are ordered to be ready to participate during each worship service.  Why must one be seminary trained?  Error creeps into those institutions too easily and then gets replicated out in the congregations being led by graduates of these institutions.  The apostles were not seminary trained graduates, they were led by the Holy Spirit and that seemed to be sufficient.  Every Christian man should act like a preacher, a priest, and a saint.  There must be more interaction than now exists.  How else can we discover more about each other as we ought to? 

    What about the financial end of this?  Should the pastor be paid by the tithes of the flock, or should he be contributing to God's work just as all others?  Scripture does not prevent, or prohibit, the monetary help of elders by their respective flock.  The elders cannot be using financial help as the motive for serving the flock.  All elders are free to work with their hands as is shown in I Peter 5:2, I Timothy 5:17, Acts 20:34-35; the pastor as one of the elders ought to also work with his hands and pay tithes like all of the other saints.  This is what Paul did as he traveled on his missionary journeys. 

    From what I can conclude, at some point after all of the apostles had died some folk began interpreting scripture where it mentions that some were given to be pastors and got the idea that that meant being the leader of the flock.  Scripture does not define a pastor as such.  Men have done that piece of work for us.  Pastor and elder are interchangeable in the New Testament, there is no distinction made between them. 

    So are you seeing any daylight here?  If congregations would not spend all of that tithing on a pastor's salary and benefits, how much more could they help the poor, the lost, the homeless?  Isn't that what Jesus would be doing?  And in these troubling times that are coming upon us, aren't these groups of people only going to become larger? 

    Ever hear churches that proclaim, "If we can't find it in the Bible, we won't believe it or do it?"  Most are quite hollow proclamations.  Scripture will not support a host of things that regularly go on in our churches, yet the leaders will get extremely agitated and angry if their sacred cows are challenged openly.

    I am simply submitting my current understanding of Scripture to you, the body of Christ.  If I am mistaken, please sharpen my perspective with Scripture.  However, if I have expressed things here that are worthy of further reflection, then I beg you to follow through on the stated implications. Are you willing to produce the goods (from Scripture) to support the status quo, or will you change your thinking and practice in light of God's Word?  I leave it up to you.

    ~Eric



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    Mon, Sep 15th - 12:36PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.   Genesis 12:1-5

    Here we see an instance of God telling someone to do something, and they then went out and did it.  How often do we comply with God today?  My two grandsons point out how difficult it can be for us to comply with God's instructions, let alone with those from our parents or guardians.  My grandsons have a very hard time respecting the property of others.  It can be my personal property, my wife's, their uncle's, or God's.  They have been informed repetitively not to take things that are not theirs.  Ask for permission before grabbing these things.  It is not working very well, yet.  I stopped to ponder yesterday why this is so.  Are they just two really bad kids?  Are they prospective thieves when they mature?  I don't think so.  They probably have not been consistently taught to not do this.  Well, where could they possibly have inherited this trait from?  I cast about a bit for an answer, then I remember the incident in the Garden of Eden with that Tree.  What did God tell Adam and Eve?  You can touch anything in the entire Garden EXCEPT for this Tree.  It wasn't like they had a long list of DO NOT TOUCH, it was simply one item.  And they could not obey in that matter!  So I now understand the long, hard, road ahead for my two grandsons in learning this most basic of rules handed to us by God.

    Back to Abram and his covenant with God.  Without trust, promises are not engaged, and covenants, marital and other, depend upon the trusting of promises given.  That relationship looms very large in the tale of Abram/Abraham.  God's initial call for him to leave his country of birth sets this tone.  Abram's affirmation involved leaving home, kin, country, a familiar and secure life, in order to set out on an unknown journey.  Promises were what carried Abram along on his way, promises of a land grant that was still unseen.  Promises of being a blessing to nations. 

    Would you leave all that is familiar to you if the call came during the time following a parent's death?  How about moving diligently ahead if the destination reveals a land already populated and claimed by others more numerous than you?  Would you continue to trust in those promises as time and again your new neighbors bring new conflicts your way? 

    God did not ask Abram to stick to a series of theological propositions about the nature of deity.  God asks Abram to go.  Go, and God will show him the land promised to be his.  Grace bears extraordinary promise.  The big catch, both then and today, is the greater the promise, the greater the trust.  Abram heard.  Abram trusted.  Abram went.  How about us today?  Do we respond in this fashion?  I wonder.

    In His scripture and community, through worship and spiritual discipline, Christ offers us the exact same promise of gracious relationship.  Do we really hear God's call in that promise, offering to us new life and fresh grace?  Or do we attempt to interpret that call?  In Jesus Christ, you and I receive the pledge of God's own self to us.  The question asked is:  Do you believe what, and whom, God promises?  If we so trust, then we ought to so walk.  "So Abram went."   I ask all of us, "Are we moving to obey God?"  Or are we busy altering what God has told us to do? 

    Father God, You promise more than can possibly be imagined.  Grant me trust enough to follow, even when Your promises go beyond my sight.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Fri, Sep 12th - 12:56PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    From Babel the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.  Genesis 11:1-9

    Babel.  Ever wonder where we got our current word "babble" from?  Right here in Genesis I would think is a prime source.  The sound of this city's name mimics the utter confusion that came upon its inhabitants.  The text today in verse 9 makes such a connection, linking the name of Babel with the Hebrew word balal, meaning "to confuse." 

    Another name from the Semitic babilu, "gate of God," seemingly was within the grasp of the tower-builders on that plain of Shinar.  Their choice of pathway to heaven consisted of brick and bitumen.  As we read, and consider, the text we notice that this gate of God is raised not so much in outreach to deity as it is an assertion of human identity and place:  "Let us make a name for ourselves..."  In other words, pride was on display here.  These people wished to become historically famous, make a name for themselves.

    Genesis 10 highlights the results of God's command to fill the earth.  It is interesting to see that this spreading out digressed from divine mandate to human fear.  Were the people tired of movement and change?  Did they decide "no more traveling?"  The Babel version of digging in one's heels to stay put involves the peoples' digging in their tower; their gate of God.  The name of their city offers us no clue as to whether the building of this gate had to do with forging access to God or was it to limit God's approach to them.  For after all, gates swing both ways, and they can be closed and bolted from one side.

    So, once the inception of babble comes upon the people of Babel, does name-making and tower-building cease to exist?  Not by any means, for we human beings are resourceful.  Nationalism and racism arise from the desire to elevate one's own name or cause above all other names and causes.  Too much attention, too much focus, to "making a name for ourselves" reduces the valuing of those who bear other names.  Too much attention to "building us a city" or "building us a church building" neglects the work God intends for the benefit of others and earth's restoration.  See the connection here?  Focusing upon "things" to create to make a name for ourselves replaces the actual work that God intends for us to be doing.  Satan wins, God loses out, as do we. 

    Thus judgment falls once again upon humanity.  These torrents are not of waters but of languages.  A flood of tongues spills out and across the plains of Shinar, scattering its inhabitants over the face of the earth.  Each group of individuals speaking the same tongue gathered together and went to live by themselves. 

    Scattering, this judgment is what the people of Shinar feared all along.  But its grace is what God intended all along.  Scattering: thus filling the entire earth.  God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    It is ironic.  The grace of God, extended to restore human life across the earth, is feared by the people.  The resistance to living by God's providential purposes takes form in seizing control, making a name, erecting a monument to independence.  But God's grace still proves to be irresistable, even though it comes camoflaged in judgment.

    Even today grace holds an element of fear for us.  We experience the fear of grace when we do not understand its purposes, when our arrogance takes first priority in life.  Then, God's grace may create dread of judgment; judgment that would shake us free from our self-absorption, judgment that would shatter our fancy towers of self-importance to ultimately remind us of God's sovereignty.  Then, we might once more experience the grace of relaionship with God and our neighbor.

    Some link Babel with Pentecost when the many tongues came upon the disciples from God's Holy Spirit.  At Pentecost was the inaugeration of the scattering of the gospel, and eventually the apostles, across the entire earth.  So God still scatters us, as with those people upon the Shinar plain, uprooting us from our comfortable "boxes" for the restoration of the earth.  Our scattering today intends to bring "the image of God" to places and persons who are desparately in need of grace's restoration, in dire need of getting a glimpse of God's redemptive grace and purposes.

    Wish to live in isolation?  Good luck!  The people of the Shinar plains wished to remain right where they were living but God had decided otherwise.  The same goes for all of us today.  Scripture teaches us that scattering unleashes God's grace.  It's just that sometimes judgment must come first, and then comes the scattering.  How will you believe?  Still wish to cling to your church's building as the be all and end all?

    Father God, keep my rooting in faith from becoming rootbound!  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Thu, Sep 11th - 12:21PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you.  Genesis 9:8-17

    To all that were within the Ark, God declares a new word:  covenant.  In ancient times, covenant did not necessarily mean an equality of standing between the partners.  Covenant did mean a yoked, a united, and committed relationship.

    What usually dominates our understanding of covenant is the Mosaic covenant.  It tells a story where law figures prominently, where cartoons of legalism strip away its fundamental character of grace.  But according to scripture in Genesis, God established a gracious covenant before the Sinai, one that was clearly visible and broadly applicable.

    This covenant does not come from Noah's hard-fought negotiations or overdue recognition.  No, covenant originates from the heart of God Almighty, and its blessing comes unasked for save for God's intent: "I am establishing My covenant." 

    The utter beauty of this covenant is that it is bestowed upon generations yet to come.  God's grace is bestowed upon those whose choices have not yet revealed what sort of partners they will make; at least they are not revealed to any of us.  God's declaration that ark-borne hearts still carry the inclination of evil does not exempt Noah from that assessment.  Neither does it exempt Noah from the gift of covenant.

    Had God stopped with the human beings upon the ark, we would be impressed with God's mercy in view of past and future evil.  But God expands this circle of covenant to include all of the creatures that were upon the ark.  What grace is revealed in this embracing of all creation!  If we were to miss this implication the first time we read it, it is mentioned four more times! 

    I freely admit that this is puzzling.  What's the point in including animals?  Grace.  Why include humans?  Grace.  The ability to think or reason is not the determining factor for inclusion in this covenant.  God's community is shaped by God's terms, not by ours.  And those terms are grace.

    The Noah covenant forces us to stretch our imaginations.  Every time we stand ready to narrow the circle of God's community or to act in disregard of those whom we define as outside of the circle, this covenant. by the inclusiveness of its grace, should make us stop dead in our tracks.  Somehow, the grace of God saw fit to include me and you with every living creature in covenant.

    Maybe that is why God chose the rainbow to represent this covenant.  Before any of this could be placed upon scrolls or etched in stone tablets, all of God's creatures upon this earth could look up and see a bow in the sky overhead.  A bow that promised sun's hope in the middle of the darkest rainstorm; life's hope from the hand of the covenant maker.

    Father God, remind me of all those with whom I share Your covenant; help me treat them as those You have chosen in grace, just as You have so chosen me.  Amen.

    ~Eric



    Comment (2)

    Wed, Sep 10th - 12:36PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    The inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.  Genesis 8:20-22

    Clean slates, fresh starts.  Ever found yourself wishing for such new beginnings in your life?  I have.  I know that my wife has.  Sometimes this longing can originate from anticipated heights of joy and blessing.  Before an altar a couple speak words of commitment and trust, giving life to the new covenant between them.  They stand free to fashion and form their relationship from that moment on as they so choose.

    Sometimes this longing is struggling to surface from tragedy and remorse.  After great mistakes, we wish for the possibility to "go back", take a "mulligan", or invoke a "do over," to undo regretted wrongs and to redo neglected rights.  We may even find ourselves vowing to be a new person if given a second chance.

    At the heart of this story is God's intent to give creation a clean slate, a fresh start.  Noah was the favored one to carry the hopes of that new beginning, that new genesis.  Noah was righteous and blameless, he confirms the correctness of God's choice by his first act off of the ark:  the offering of sacrifice to God.

    Of course, this story does not end with Noah's sacrifice to God.  Notice the word that God slips into His vow never again to destroy creation by water: "for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth."  God sees the true nature of Noah's righteous and blameless heart.  God correctly identifies the true nature of our human hearts:  evil from our youth.  Even the best and brightest saints of Christ bear this heart defect.

    But beloved, the remarkable element in this divine assessment traces back to God's earlier assessment and plan of action in chapter 5.  There the inclination of the human heart toward evil results in God's judgment.  In chapter 8 that same inclination results in the promise of God's grace:  "Never again!"

    Therein resides the powerful thrust of this story.  That as far as human beings go, as much as things might change; things remain the same.  Forty days and nights of flooding rain with the ensuing months of flood did not change the human heart.  Incredibly, they do change the heart of God from judgment to grace. In the end times divine judgments that shall decimate this world shall not change the heart of mankind, the more things change the more that they remain the same.

    Can you believe that?  God sees the human heart exactly as it truly is and He still chooses grace?  This was true back in Noah's time, and it remains true to this very day in each of our lives.  God rummages around in our hearts, sees us for whom we truly are, and He still chooses to offer us grace.  It really amazes me.

    For those of us who would rather not admit to failings and the existence of evil as a part of our personal identity, this story is discomforting.  For any of us who wuld rather have God repeat the judgment of Genesis 6 upon sin and evil, this story is unsatisfying.  But if you long for a fresh start, a clean slate, an opportunity to do better, then this story is gospel.  It promises renewal, hope of God taking us as we are and still fashioning a new creation through us.  In the end, grace arises not out of who we are but out of who God chooses to be.  Grace comes to us in the form of Jesus Christ, offered once, for all mankind.  Praise be to God!

    Teach me, Father God, to see the grace You hold me in; that I, in turn, might seek the change that grace would bring into my life and the lives of those around me.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Tue, Sep 9th - 12:00PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Noah waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back...Then he waited another seven days.   Genesis 8:6-12

    Noah could very well be acclaimed as the one character who waited.  This waiting is explicit in today's text as he waits to see whether or not the waters have subsided enough to get off of the ark.  But let's consider the waiting required of Noah throughout this story:

    *   waiting during the ark's construction, when the ridicule and abuse of neighbors perhaps was intermingled with just a touch of his own wonderings over whether God would act;

    *   waiting during the rains, when the grief of creation's loss might have worked with a concern over whether the waters would ever stop rising or if the ark would hold;

    *   waiting during the interim when rain stopped falling but the flood waters remained, when the slowness of receding must have worn hard upon all who resided on the ark.

    Noah waited, and waited, for the grief in God's heart to subside, and for life to endure.  And we wait today.  We wait for those things measured by calendars and clocks.  When we are adolescents we wait for the coming of adulthood's imagined freedoms.  As workers we wait for our labor's time to end and relaxation's to begin.  And, most importantly, we wait for matters of the heart.  We wait to find true love and trust in our relationships; and then we wait to see if the relationships will hold true.

    These matters of the heart unfold so slowly.  Waiting is a requirement of faith, whether in another person or in God.  Having faith implies that we will not force the other to act.  Sometimes the act of love or grace does not come all at once, like a flash of lightning.  Sometimes it slowly unfolds like a rosebud opening up to the sun.  So gradual that your eyes cannot discern the movement.  But if we wait, the bud becomes a beautiful bloom.

    Waiting on God's grace can be just like that.  It's not because God is tardy, or forgetful, or reluctant but simply because God's grace does not always march to the timing of our schedules.  So faith calls upon us to wait.  There is some irony in Noah's waiting, did you know?  He sends out the dove a third time, not to bring back proof of its finding land; but to find in its return the hope that the time is right.  His waiting finds fulfillment only by an act of faith.  He cannot know the innumerable reasons as to why the dove does not return:  losing its way, falling prey to predator or sea.  Yet he waits patiently in hope that receives its unseen confirmation through the dove's absence.

    What we each wait for in life cannot always be seen from afar, particularly in matters of the heart, especially in matters of God's grace.  We wait, and we trust it will be revealed to us.  It requires unswerving faith from us. 

    In waiting, Noah waits to see what has become of God's heart.  Will its favor bear him to dry ground, fresh start, and new covenant?  So too, we seek out God's heart today.  Will its grace favor us with a place to send down deep roots, to begin our lives anew in relationship to Him, and will we have a new covenant with Christ?  So we wait, trusting that God's hands still work in our lives.  We wait, trusting that God's heart still holds us in favor and grace.  We wait...trusting...God.

    In the midst of my hectic lifestyle, teach me to wait; to wait in trust, to wait in hope, to wait upon the inclination of your heart Father God.  Amen.

    ~Eric



    Comment (0)

    Mon, Sep 8th - 12:21PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark.         Genesis 8:1-5

    Let's consider how we take our memories for granted in our daily lives, as if those things will always be there for us to summon at our whim:  remembrances of cherished relationships, of special places, of who we are and how we have come to be that way.  Memory possesses the power to give life by calling to mind our experiences with others and with God.

    It is only with a valuing of memory that we can correctly approach the "holy ground" of God's remembrance of Noah and all of the other creatures on that ark.  Genesis reveals God to us in this passage as the One who remembers and in that remembering brings life!  God's remembrance here becomes the means by which the ark comes to rest on solid ground.  When God remembers, things happen!  Wind blows, waters reside, and an entire creation draws a collective deep breath of life from the Creator of all.  God's remembrance delivers grace.

    This saving grace does not always come in the form of chaining up nature's violence.  It might wait for something so simple as a phone call to someone long forgotten.  To be remembered by another, when in the midst of loneliness or depression, can raise up life now just as it did then.  God gifts us with the ability to remember, a gift with which we may grace, and be graced by, the lives of those around us. 

    But when all is said and done, God remains the only One from whom remembrance comes as a life-saving grace.  When the death of loved ones confronts each of us, we draw peace and comfort from our ability to remember experiences shared with those who no longer will journey with us.  Even more, we can trust that God's remembrance will not allow those persons, among whom we will one day be numbered, to be lost; as long as they have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior.  The hope of resurrection is also a hope of God's remembering persons into newness of life eternal.  Revelation 21:4 tells us that the only things to be gone from our experience will be death, pain, sorrow, and tears.  God will remember our lives.  In that remembrance we will come to rest one day upon the mountain of God's grace, delivered to live for eternity.

    Remember me, Father God, when I feel alone and abandoned.  Remember me when I am lost.  And may I remember You, who are always with me, who will always be with me, so that I too may come to rest.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Mon, Sep 8th - 12:21PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark.         Genesis 8:1-5

    Let's consider how we take our memories for granted in our daily lives, as if those things will always be there for us to summon at our whim:  remembrances of cherished relationships, of special places, of who we are and how we have come to be that way.  Memory possesses the power to give life by calling to mind our experiences with others and with God.

    It is only with a valuing of memory that we can correctly approach the "holy ground" of God's remembrance of Noah and all of the other creatures on that ark.  Genesis reveals God to us in this passage as the One who remembers and in that remembering brings life!  God's remembrance here becomes the means by which the ark comes to rest on solid ground.  When God remembers, things happen!  Wind blows, waters reside, and an entire creation draws a collective deep breath of life from the Creator of all.  God's remembrance delivers grace.

    This saving grace does not always come in the form of chaining up nature's violence.  It might wait for something so simple as a phone call to someone long forgotten.  To be remembered by another, when in the midst of loneliness or depression, can raise up life now just as it did then.  God gifts us with the ability to remember, a gift with which we may grace, and be graced by, the lives of those around us. 

    But when all is said and done, God remains the only One from whom remembrance comes as a life-saving grace.  When the death of loved ones confronts each of us, we draw peace and comfort from our ability to remember experiences shared with those who no longer will journey with us.  Even more, we can trust that God's remembrance will not allow those persons, among whom we will one day be numbered, to be lost; as long as they have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior.  The hope of resurrection is also a hope of God's remembering persons into newness of life eternal.  Revelation 21:4 tells us that the only things to be gone from our experience will be death, pain, sorrow, and tears.  God will remember our lives.  In that remembrance we will come to rest one day upon the mountain of God's grace, delivered to live for eternity.

    Remember me, Father God, when I feel alone and abandoned.  Remember me when I am lost.  And may I remember You, who are always with me, who will always be with me, so that I too may come to rest.  Amen.

    ~Eric



    Comment (0)

    Fri, Sep 5th - 6:58PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord...He did all that God commanded him.   Genesis 6:8, 22

    Although grieved at human evil, God does not close His heart to our potential.  Grace opens up the heart of God and makes an opening for human life.  "Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord."  Some versions render this as "found grace."  Before the waters of judgment flow God's favor, or grace, flows.  Grace found Noah. 

    Throughout the entire Bible grace has a way of finding individuals, of granting favor to unexpected persons.  A gift of God's grace later on answers an elderly Hannah's prayer with a child (ISamuel 1:18-20).  The greeting of God's grace eventually puzzles a young woman named Mary with its mystery of Holy conception (Luke 1:28, 35).  But here, in the beginnings of Genesis, the word of God graces an already elderly Noah with the promise of covenant (6:18).  The pattern is firmly set:  God favors; life follows.

    This very same pattern imprints our own spiritual journeys, whether or not we are aware of it.  Every breath we take, every experience of joy, every gift of love:  All of them can be traced back to the decision of God to grace our lives with creation's gifts.  Look again at verse 8:  "Noah found favor/grace in the sight of the Lord."  Now put your name in the place of Noah.  Say it out loud.  If I were to ask you to explain what you meant, what would you personally point to as evidence for such grace?  I know what I would point to in my life.  It would be that He saved me from certain addiction to drugs, alcohol, and voyeurism of all sorts.  He kept me alive from the certain death called for by my sins.  He also graced my life with my wife and our children.  He graced my life with the means to support my family.  He provided me with a job when we moved from Massachusetts to Virginia and I had only one prospect awaiting me at the end of the move.  I trusted in Him for that.  I knew that it would be here waiting for me, whatever it would turn out to be.  He graced my life by introducing me to many fine Christian men and women who have blessed me and my family.  He has graced my life with an appreciation of the natural world around me.

    With the extension of God's grace comes an opportunity for our response.  He leaves us room to accept or ignore His grace.  Noah remained free to believe himself a favored creation of God or to disregard such a gift.  Noah remained free to believe himself favored of God, yet do nothing about it.  It was one of his options.  God did not build the ark, He commanded Noah to build it in faith.  It was up to Noah to do that action of his own free will.

    So, what do we do with worship, fellowship, and nurture?  All of these things make it possible for us to hear of God's favor.  Does it make an impact on our lives, our conduct?  Hhhmmm.

    Noah is depicted as the recipient of God's grace.  Yet no sooner has God spoken this than He gives the command to build.  Grace bears a call to action. Once again the biblical witness remains consistent.   Mark's gospel speaks to us of a man who approaches Jesus Christ our Lord asking what must he do to inherit eternal life.  We see that Jesus loved the man (Mark 10:21), which is surely a sign of favor.  Yet grace brings a call to action; a call to give.

    In Mark's gospel, this man walks away from giving; and thus walks away from grace.  I wonder if he realized what he walked away from?  Noah, on the other hand, builds that ark; and thus builds on grace.  What of you and I?  God, in the person of Christ, speaks the word of grace to us; a favor whose belief awaits our action, a grace whose acceptance becomes extremely real in our response.

    I also notice that Noah did something else.  He did all that God commanded of him.  Can you honestly say that you have done all that God has commanded you to do?  I know that I haven't, to be quite honest.  I allow too many things in this world to distract me, to draw my time and energy away from doing what God wants me to do.  How about you?  Are you married?  Then your time and energy must be divided between your spouse and God.  Children?  There goes some more time and energy there.  All are excellent things, to be sure.  But they still take away available time that could be spent doing those things that God commands us to do.  I understand what the apostle Paul was saying when he wrote, "If you are not married, then do not marry."  If single, all of your energy can be focused in serving God purely. 

    Oh Father, do I see myself as You see me, with eyes perceiving grace and favor?  Do I act as one whose life is loved by the Creator of all around me?  Help me see as You see.  Help me to act accordingly.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Thu, Sep 4th - 9:07PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    The Lord was sorry that He had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved God to the heart.    Genesis 6:6-8

    Did you know that the ability to suffer sets apart the God of the Hebrews from those gods of all of their neighbors?  The Greeks, for example, established that one of the boundaries that defined divinity was that of impassivity, the inability to suffer.  To apply their philosophical perspective on the Hebrew God would make Him untouched by human life and history. 

    Yet Genesis 6:6 describes a very different kind of God.  Human evil grieved this God to His heart.  Can you believe that grief can bring pain to the heart of Almighty God?  Here in this story about Noah people stumble over the concept of a Flood that destroyed the world but they totally overlook an even more momentous, incredible idea:  the idea that a God suffers on account of the ones created in His image.  It grieved Him to His heart.

    Perhaps it would be more comforting to some if the God who brought that Flood was impassive, devoid of emotion.  They would like to believe that God simply lashes out at a completely corrupted creation that is a failure.  Yet Genesis shows us not anger and rage but grief and sorrow.  This is less of an irate judge and more of a bereaved parent who is pained deeply by the actions of a beloved child.  It highlights the type of hurt that parents experience when their children donot live up to their potential. 

    This can be likened to the unstated grief of the father in the parable of the prodigal son.  Or the grief that Jesus felt when He looked over all of Jerusalem and lamented how often He wanted to gather all of them under His wing.  It is heartbreak that we know that we are talking about here.

    That parable and this text in Genesis rebut the theologists who depict God as incapable of suffering or even feeling.  Closeness and vulnerability distinguish the heart of this God.  His pain and grief make the imminent judgment not an easy act of justice but more of a bereaved letting go of what has already died in His eyes.  It pained God deeply to have to destroy His creatures.  We have to remember that.  It was true then, it is still true today.  "For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that none should perish." 

    Holy God, in what ways have I grieved You today?  Have I failed Your high calling in my creation by falling prey to lower callings that pain You by bringing pain to others?  How have I grieved you, Father?  I humbly ask Your forgiveness, cleanse me more deeply with your Word that I may live a more pleasing life for You.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Wed, Sep 3rd - 9:34PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great...and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.   Genesis 6:1-5

    Who among us knows what lurks within the heart?  What will be created through such knowledge? 

    The biblical story of Noah addresses this question.  It most certainly is a colorful story with the rainbow and all of the animals.  It is also a most dreadful story because of the virtual destruction of life on this planet that it records for us.  Most curiously, it is an ongoing story today because of the many attempts to recover remnants of the Ark.

    One reason behind the ongoing recovery efforts is to prove the scriptural story to be true.  There is inherent difficulty in that desire for this story is not about shipbuilding, or how to survive a flood.  This story is primarily about matters of the heart, human and divine.

    To be able to discern matters of the heart is no mean feat.  How many relationships have you had, times when you have openly wondered what is in the other person's heart?  What are they truly feeling deep inside themselves?  How did you attempt to figure out what actually was in that other person's heart?  Did it work, you think?  You see, words may reveal the truth, but words are alwasys open to interpretation.  If you and I talk about a beautiful woman we sure had better define what "beautiful" means, otherwise we may end up talking about two different things.  Likewise, actions may show, but motives may remain hidden, or misinterpreted as well.  It seems that matters of the heart rely heavily upon trust.

    But trust, like hearts, can be broken.  The first four verses of today's scripture text recount for us tales that are more like Greek mythology than Hebrew Scripture.  Stories about "giants" and the intermarriage of women with the "sons of God."  It is most definitely long on wonder and brief on explanation.  Something is out of place though.  The relationship between God and creation seems to be skewed, distorted, by this blurring of the boundaries.  Something looms on the near horizon, a crisis of the heart.  In 6:5 wickedness is the first term given to the condition that exists in the human heart.  Some connection exists between wickedness and the actions described in the earlier verses, but it is unclear.  But the consequences in the human heart are quite obvious:  "every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually." 

    We could very easily shrug this off to being literary exaggeration.  But human evil remains a reality in our world today.  In the inclinations of those who abduct and terrorize, of those who carry out ethnic cleansing, of those who see in skin color the excuse for hate and murder.  The capacity of our hearts for evil remains very intact.

    God is not blind to evil, for He knows the human heart.  What does God see in your heart, or in mine?  Hints of grace, of promise, or resignations to that which cheapens life?  In large degree, matters of faith remain matters of the heart.

    Open the dark corners of my heart, Father God.  Forgive the presence of any evil, renew the dwelling of Your Spirit; restore its capacity for good.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Tue, Sep 2nd - 9:51PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.    Genesis 4:13-16

    A " marked man."  Not something today that any of us would ask to become.  It generally means someone is gunning for you, wanting to take you down.  God marks Cain with the purpose of protecting him from harm.  What was the mark?  Nobody knows. 

    Protect Cain from harm, you ask?  This is the man who murdered his brother!  Premeditated in cold blood!  God cursed him to be a fugitive and a wanderer, but now he is to be protected?  How fortunate that God does not have to face the trials and tribulations of a political campaign for reelection to divinity.  God is way, way, too soft on crime!  He has a history of doing this!  First Cain's parents are let off of the hook for disobedience(no immediate death for disobeying God).  Now their murdering son receives protection in his wanderings east of Eden.  No justice in that!

    How would we today describe God's marking of Cain:  permissive. indulgent, or gracious? 

    Genesis asks alot of our sensibilities, much as the Gospels do in recounting Jesus' ministry.  A dying thief on a cross finds entrance into paradise, while a fine young man who kept all the laws from his youth goes away quite sad.  A woman obtains commendation  for her extravagant pouring of expensive oil rather than selling it to give to the poor.  Jesus fellowships with tax collectors and prostitutes.  Why?  The answer always centers around grace:  God's unconditional favor on those made in His image.

    God marks Cain by grace.  Cain's life should have been forfeit.  Yet God grants him sanctuary.  The reason for this sacnctuary being given does not originate from within Cain:  His responses with God contain no remorse, no confession of transgression.  The reason resides within the heart of Almighty God.

    God marks us with grace.  My life should have gone forfeit many years ago, but God marked me with His grace.  He offered me sanctuary and I accepted.  I would have been a fool not to.  If you say that you are not like Cain, that you do not murder people, that is good.  But we distance ourselves from grace when we think that our need of grace is not as great as others'.  But here is a rather troubling gospel passage, You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.'  But I say unto you that if you are angry with a brother or sister...if you insult a brother or sister...if you say, 'You fool!'"(Matthew 5:21-22).

    Where do you and I fall on that particular spectrum?  Hard words from Jesus our Lord.  The need of grace does not confine itself to just evil acts, as with Cain.  Grace is needed from the daily hardenings of our heart to God, to our neighbors, to our coworkers, to our spouses, and to our own creation in the image of God.  God marks us by grace to save our lives, just as He did with Cain. 

    God's fingerprints remain visible in the dust of human creation.  They imprinted Cain and us with the mark of His grace.  Seeds of blame and help, tragedy and hope, have been sown in the adamah of our existence.  Time will tell what sort of harvest shall be seen.

    Father God, please touch me with Your grace to forgive, to renew, to remind me of Your image, the image that I bear wherever I may go.  Let me see, and help me offer that same marking of grace on everyone that I meet each day of my life.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    Mon, Sep 1st - 5:14PM



    FINDING GRACE WITHIN GENESIS

    Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to Me from the ground.  Genesis 4:8-12

    Some people have felt, in the past, that since all objects are composed of mostly space that sound waves could potentially be absorbed by almost anything.  If we could have developed an instrument that extracted and playedback all of the sound waves absorbed by objects it would have been incredible!  Imagine listening to what a stone from the Acropolis in Athens might have stored up in it?  Sediments from the Grand Canyon might shed some light on early life forms?  Or a chunk of an asteroid might give us a snapshot of what is out there in space beyond our view.

    Naturally, such ideas are still science fiction.  Stones can no more contain sounds than ground can give them a voice.  And yet, Cain lured Abel out to the field and killed him one day.  No glamour in that act according to the murder account found in Genesis.  All that we can see is Cain's anger prior to it and God's warning of sin that lurks at his door.  Suddenly, it is Cain who lurks while God must confront the perpetrator of the latest act of violent sin.

    It is curious, I suppose, that we find God asking where Abel is.  How could He not know what had happened?  God is omnipotent after all.  Did God not "see" the violence as it played out within His creation?  Isn't it strange how sometimes life seems very much like that?  Was God's head turned, or His attention diverted elsewhere, when the rice fields of Cambodia became killing fields and blood ran red?  Where was He?  On vacation?  Is God distracted with ADD when children fall victim to sexual predators of all ages?  Perhaps those who commit such horrendous acts of violence hope, like Cain, that there are no witnesses. 

    Cain offers no honesty at all to God's query, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"  Doesn't that response just make you want to slap his face?  Then the completely unexpected happens to Cain:  One witness speaks up---the blood of the slain son of Adam cries out against the other son of Adam.  From the ground, adamah, Abel's blood cries out to God.  Cain in his anger forgot this rather obvious fact. And that is one of the drawbacks to acting in anger:  we easily forget the obvious.

    Did the author of Genesis write figuratively in this passage of scripture?  At one time in my life I would have said definitely yes!  Now, I am not so sure.  If one stands at Bergen-Belson, Germany where the concentration camp used to be one can see very many grass-covered mounds of earth.  Each one is faced with stone-block walls.  Engraved on one block in each wall is the total number of bodies buried within.  It varies from mound to mound, but thousands upon thousands of bodies were buried there after being put to death by the Nazi's.  I can imagine their blood cries to this day of the abuse, torture, and violence that was perpetrated upon all of them.  Are we our brothers' keepers?  I think God expects us to be.

    Father God, let me not take the ground beneath my feet for granted, neither in my treatment of it nor in my treatment of others upon it.  Obviously Father, the ground itself bears witness to my keeping and grieving of my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

    ~Eric



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    About Me

    Name: Eric Rajaniemi
    ChristiansUnite ID: ejroyal
    Member Since: 2007-09-08
    Location: Bedford, Virginia, United States
    Denomination: Born-again, Church of the Brethren
    About Me: I refrain from any denomination as much as possible since my faith has to do with Jesus Christ and not denominations. My wife and I are charter members of Lake Side Church of the Brethren for they desire to follow the New Testament precepts. We hav... more

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