Friday, July 24, 2009

Genesis, chapter 4

This week ends on a down note as we get the story of Cain & Abel. It is really the final story in the Bible that relates directly to the creation. It is a story of bitterness and jealousy, two emotions that probably came into this world as a result of the Original Sin. They are also emotions that have caused untold pain and suffering for thousands of years. I know they have caused me untold problems personally.

It was such emotions that led to the first murder in this chapter when Cain killed his brother Abel. Both were asked to give a small sacrifice to God. Abel gave the best he could give, while Cain simply gave because he had to. God found Abel’s gift more pleasing because he knew it came from the heart instead of being based in an obligation. How does this relate to us in the present day? It tells us that God wants the best thing possible from all of us.

3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." – Genesis 4:3-7

I often wonder if I am doing what is right when God remains silent as I push through this world. Cain was unable to do what is right, and that is devote himself fully to the Lord. It is part of the nature of being human. We have a choice to follow whatever we believe in. Since Cain was unable to master sin by devoting himself fully to the Lord he had to suffer the consequences.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Genesis, chapter 3

The fall of man. The introduction of sin into the world corrupted mankind forever. I sometimes wonder if it was simply bound to happen since we couldn’t even make it long after the Creation before screwing things up. We were warned though. Adam and Eve were specifically told what not to do, yet they still did it. Like any child that disobeys, there has to be consequences.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." –Genesis 3:8-12

I find it interesting that this original sin immediately led to a second sin. Instead of immediately confessing the truth, Adam denied himself from being in God’s presence and tried to deflect the blame totally on to Eve. He couldn’t even face up to his own mistake, so he blamed someone else for his shortcomings. He should have known better, too, after walking with God for a longer period of time.

There is hope in this, however. This is the ultimate example of God’s love because it set in motion his ultimate plan for salvation. It is a plan that has been thousands of years in the making, but is still being carried out today. It is because of His love that we have hope, yet, like any parent, He must maintain a firm hand of discipline on us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Genesis, chapter 2

Yesterday we created the Universe. That was a fun sentence to write. In fact, you really can’t top it in any way. As we discussed, in six “days” (depending on your definition of a day) God created everything that currently exists today. When you think about that it blows your mind, doesn’t it. All of the vast, intricate systems that we see int eh natural world were painstakingly created by God. In reality, all he had to do was think and it came to pass. Today, in Genesis 2, we will touch on His greatest creation, mankind.

This chapter of the Bible represents the only chapter where mankind exists that we did not have separation from god because of sin. I guess it is in our nature to screw things up from the beginning. It is not like we developed civilization and then fell from grace. It started right at the beginning. Still, there was an idyllic time where mankind lived in perfect harmony with God.

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." – Genesis 2:15-17

God knew that mankind would fall short of the glory, but we were still given a choice as we see here. I think this is more of a representation of what lies ahead rather than a story of what we have lost. It is clear that God wants us to live in harmony with Him in paradise. That is what the Garden of Eden was. Still, by our own choice, we fell out of grace and man was cast out of the garden. God still wants this paradise for us this day, but it comes at a price. We are now born into sin and must be redeemed through the blood of His Son in order to gain this reward. It is not an instant reward, either. We must toil in this hard life and receive it at the end, living in faith that it is there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Genesis, chapter 1

I’d like to say it is good to be back in town, but it means that I have to face a number of challenges which I am not really sure I am ready to face. I am thankful that I did have some time off in order to recharge a bit and feel like I was alive again. It was a welcome respite from everyday life.

In coming back to this, I wanted to begin at the beginning again. For the rest of this week I wanted to touch on the first few chapters of Genesis. The creation story I something that many people learn as children. Most of us know the details. God created the heavens and the earth in seven days. He created man in his own image, etc. In taking a closer look, however, I can see that there is much more to this story. Though it seems like a fantastic story that could be hard to believe, there are elements of it that can make some scientific sense if you dig a little deeper.

In chapter 1, we are presented with the concept that God created everything in just six days, while resting on the seventh. If we take this as a literal translation, that is one busy week! More likely, the “days” are each just different periods of time in which God did His creating. They are called days in order to assign some sort of order tot hem. Indeed, the concept of a true “day” as we know it wasn’t even created until the fourth day.

14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. - Genesis 1:14-19

I don’t think this was ever meant to be a literal depiction of how the Creation actually happened. As with many other areas of the Bible, this is simply a story that tells us what God did, not how He did it. The more important fact to take away from this is that God is the Creator of all things. He has been in control since the very beginning. The first verse of the first chapter of the Bible tells us this. Last week in Alaska I saw some of the natural beauty wrought by His hands and I was in awe once again of His creative power. The way the mountains shaped the land and contrasted with the waters in perfect harmony could only be created by the hand of someone totally in control of the Universe.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Daniel chapter 11 & 12

Today feels like it could be the last normal day of my life. Tomorrow I am leaving on a week-long vacation. Afterward, there will be a large number of changes that will likely take place over the next few weeks and months. I am terrified of it as well. I have lately felt like my life has been on fast forward, and I have felt disconnected from God to the point where I constantly feel alone, waiting my eventual death that is coming faster each day. There is no reason for this fear, either, since God is in full control.

Now imagine being Daniel in these final two chapters. He is given information that not only talked about the rest of his life, but the end of the world as we know it. It is generally accepted that the prophecies given in chapters 11 and 12 relate to the end times when God will set up His kingdom here on earth. WE are even given a promise for those already dead at the time. Why then, does the world doubt this information?

2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge." – Daniel 12:2-4

This shows that everyone, regardless of standing, will be accounted for when the time comes. This is the first specific mention of resurrection in the Old Testament, and it is one that includes everyone. God gives us a direct way to reconcile ourselves to God through the death of His Son, Jesus. Why then, is life still a struggle if our destination is known?

It is because we must act on these things in faith. Part of our fragile human construct is that our faith ebbs and flows throughout our lives. Last year at this time I was at a peak of faith. Then, a great spiritual mentor stepped out of my life on to more important things. Since then, I have been lost and things have gotten progressively worse. The same happened to Daniel, as each vision terrified him more than the last. Still, he knew what he had to do and moved on.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Daniel, chapter 10

What do I write about today? In chapter 10, Daniel receives a comforting vision from an angel, letting him know everything would be alright. I must say this morning that I am jealous of this. I wished God would still work in this way, because I could use the same level of encouragement. I feel like Daniel this morning in that everything is dark and hopeless, yet that is not the case.

Chapter 10 begins with Daniel receiving yet another troubling vision. He was accustomed to them by now, but in this one he didn’t know immediately what it meant. That made the vision even more troubling, as he had to carry this burden around for three weeks without knowing it. The angel that was sent to tell him about the vision, likely Gabriel again, was delayed by the prince of Persia.

12 Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." – Daniel 10:12-14

A time yet to come. Lately, I feel as if all my energies have been consumed about the time yet to come. When you have as much free time during the day as I have, it is hard not to think about the future. This is especially true when the present does not seem to matter much. Though Daniel receives an angelic visitor to calm his spirit here, it is something that seems to be in short supply in the modern world. Does this mean God has abandoned us? No! God knows there will be good times and bad times for each of us. They are written in the Book of Truth that Daniel mentions at the end of this chapter. It is Truth that God is in control, and Truth that His plan will be played out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Daniel, chapter 9

I must apologize again today. I am feeling especially down, worthless, and empty today. I almost didn’t want to get out of bed, but sheer inertia has me moving forward to a potential job interview. Things have not been going well for me emotionally of late, and I feel a number of other areas have suffered as a result. This blog is one of those, as I have struggled to find something to say of note about each chapter. I will try once again today, but I cannot promise I will deliver.

Most of Daniel 9 is a prayer by Daniel for the nation of Israel as a whole. Israel had turned away from God, and as a result, was in exile in Babylon at this point. That Exile would last for 70 years. In this prayer, Daniel pleads for the sake of his nation. It is a beautiful prayer in that he humbly comes before God seeking an answer to the misery that Israel was facing. He also gave this prayer not for himself, but for his nation as a whole.

I am a huge fan of heartfelt prayer such as this. It feels like a very long time since I have been able to have such a conversation with God because I feel so separated from Him. I have even begun to question His very existence despite the evidence presented both in the Bible and in my personal life. This vision shows that God was in complete control of the past, present, and future even in Daniel’s time. Despite my doubts, it is unlikely anything has happened to change that in the last 2,500 years or so.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Daniel, chapter 8

In Daniel 8 we see another prophetic vision of the end times presented to Daniel. This one is more confusing than the one presented in chapter 7. This new vision is one of a Ram basically rampaging around the world, while a goat stops this rampage. The second half of the chapter helps to explain the vision, but it is still something confusing to us even today.

Many of these visions are meant to convey God’s all-encompassing power. Remember, we have not had the glory of Christ at this point. This was still a world that operated on a system of sacrifices to atone for sins. They also worshipped God directly. They did not have Christ acting as an intermediary. Because of that, God worked with them more directly, like through visions such as this, than He does today.

27 I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king's business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding. – Daniel 8:27

To me, this is a very telling verse in this chapter. It had to be a frightening vision if Daniel, a man of God, was terrified and ill from it. This was a man that saw his friends survive the fiery furnace because of God’s direct intervention. He himself survived a night in the lion’s den with God’s intervention. I can’t imagine how terrifying these past two visions were to see firsthand.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Daniel, chapter 7

Chapter 7 of Daniel is another vision of the future very similar to chapter 2. In this vision, Daniel sees signs of four kingdoms that were to come after Babylon. Each kingdom was worse than the last, with the final kingdom being one that took over the entire earth. There is a strong allusion that this fourth and final kingdom is the one to come with the Antichrist, while the others have already come. This particular vision was so troubling that Daniel, someone who was incredibly in tune with God, was extremely troubled by what he saw.

23 "He gave me this explanation: 'The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.

26 " 'But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.'

28 "This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself." – Daniel 7:23-28

I find it interesting that Daniel was troubled by a vision that included God’s ultimate victory. Daniel alludes to Christ’s appearance as the ultimate ruler that would overthrow this kingdom as well. It is a vision of hope again at a time when Israel was ruled in exile far from Jerusalem. It carries over to today when it looks like there is no hope, either.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Daniel, chapter 6

I apologize for not updating the last few days. I got a sudden 3-day job at the last minute and had to take it, but I didn’t have much access to a computer. What I like about getting back into today’s chapter is that it is one of everyone’s favorite childhood Bible stories. Today we are talking about Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

By this point, Darius was the new king of Babylon. He had elevated Daniel to a high status like his predecessor’s, but there were some jealousies from that satraps and prefects that Daniel passed over. These people wanted to see Daniel eliminated. By now, Daniel was not a young man either. My personal study Bible estimates his age to be around 90 at this point. He was hardly a threat to overthrow the king, but nevertheless, the jealousy was there. The satraps planned a trap to snare Daniel and give the king a reason to put Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

15 Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, "Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed."

16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!"

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?"

21 Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king."

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. – Daniel 6:15-23

This move only glorified God. Daniel could easily have been martyred for his faith, but it provided a more powerful message to have him live. This left little question as to who God was. Although the king didn’t get rid of the other gods he believed in, he did recognize that Daniel’s God was incredibly powerful and immortal. This is also a lesson for us that God can rescue us from any trouble.