Saturday, September 22, 2007

Beginnings, Pt. 1: "Something Out of Nothing" (Gen 1)


Genesis is a universal, historical, and theological account of God, his creation and man. The new is as old as the Bible, the more things change the more they remain the same, whatever will be has been, and there is nothing new under the sun. People repeat themselves tediously, predictably, and laughably. Chapters 1-11 talk about who God is, what He did, and why he did it.

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you; We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t You just go and get lost.”

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man. After the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this? Let’s say we have a man-making contest.” To which the scientist replied, “Okay, great!”

But, God added, “Now we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.” The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt. God looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go get your own dirt.”

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The world that God created is beautiful, rich, and matchless. It’s a wonderful world, a strange planet, and an earthly paradise. The song, “It's a Small, Small World” expresses this thought:
“It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears.
It's a world of hope, and a world of fears.
There's so much that we share
And it's time we're aware it's a small world after all.”

How did God create the world? What did He supply it with? And why did He give life to man?

God Ordered the World from Chaos to Creation
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day. (Gen 1:1-5)
On day one of creation, God created the light, and God saw that the light was good (1:4) - the word “good” is repeated daily – once for each day, no more, no less (Gen 1:4, 10 , 12, 18, 21 , 25). The world is suited for us, its properties are jarring, and the conditions are right.

Encyclopedia Britannica says that the earth is a terrestrial body whose solid surface, abundant waters, and oxygen-rich atmosphere have combined to create conditions suitable for life…The Earth is a nearly spherical body with an equatorial radius of slightly more than 6,378 kilometers (3,963 miles)…The Earth's magnetic field shields the planet from the most direct effects of the ionized gas that constitutes the solar wind, carving out a cavity known as the magnetosphere.,5716,108974+1,00.html

Earth’s enormous size keeps it from losing its interior heat so that it remains geologically active. Its density provided enough gravity to hold onto a substantial atmosphere and a large ocean. Its distance from the sun, around 93 million miles, keeps the earth at an average temperature with which life can exist - between the freezing and boiling points of water. If it’s too hot, we become barbecue; too cold, we become Popsicles.

The 23.5 degrees tilt of its axis gives earth her seasons. We can go surfing and scuba-diving in the summer, and skiing and skating in the winter, slipping and sliding all the way.

The earth spins around like a top. It is like a huge spaceship rushing through space at about 60,000 miles per hour. (Understanding the Earth 8, Tom Williamson Morristown, NJ/Macmillan Publishers Limited/84).

Without the Creator, everything was chaos: “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep” (v 2). It was without shape or content, distinctiveness or quality, time or space – unshaped, uninhabited and unruly. We call this “chaos” – disorder, discord or disaster.

Without God, the earth is a place of darkness, disarray, decay, death and destruction. But God called creation good after he placed His signature on it. Derek Kidner says, “God knows nothing of either conflict or chance in this: only of the watchful Creator who assigns to everything its value (4a), place (4b) and meaning (5a) (Derek Kidner, Genesis 47, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, IVP).

How did God create the world? He spoke the word and it came into order. He did not invent the world from something – that’s left to man; He created the world out of nothing. Man discovers; God creates. Colossians 1:17 tells us that the Son of God holds all things together, all things were created by him and for him (Col 1:16-17). God the Holy Spirit hovers like a dove over the surface of the deep, searches all things (1 Cor 2:10), and renews the face of the earth (Ps 104:30).

God Ordered the World from Creation to Completion
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day. 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. (Gen 1:26-31)

What was God’s last declaration about his creation after He made man (1:31)? And how was it different from what He said when he made other created beings (1:25)? God said “very good” when He created man. He rested after that. The creation of man was the crowning achievement of God. He was His grand design, His magnum opus, His crowning achievement, a work of love and the object of His affection. The creation of man completed God’s work and aspiration.

Someone once coined the word “The human machine” in reference to man.
The human brain is the most highly developed in the animal kingdom,5716,42389+2+41468,00.html
We have 75 trillion cells of some 200 different types of cells in our body.,5716,42389+2+41468,00.html

Our DNA, fingerprints, and looks are all different from one another.

And on an average day, you eat 3 1/4 pounds of food, perspire 1.43 pints, and drink 2.9 pounds of liquid. You turn in your sleep 25-30 times, move 750 major muscles, breathe 23,040 times, and speak 25,000-30,000 words. Your heart beats 103,689 times, you exercise 7,000,000 brain cells, and your blood travels 168,000,000 miles.

Being made in God's image (1:27) means that man is a spiritual being. Man has a religious nature - he is created for a relationship with God (Rev 4:11). God has given us communicable godly characteristics of love, truth, wisdom, holiness, and justice. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Man is also a relational being - male and female he created them (1:27). God intends us to have a healthy respect for our own bodies, one another, and the opposite sex. Man as male and female are coupled to each other, complementing of each other, and find comfort in each another.

Man is also a responsible being. He is to rule over creation. Man is described as in nature and over nature, continuous with it and discontinuous with it (Derek Kidner, Genesis 50, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, IVP). Man is not like animals, rocks, or trees, but we are not unlike them because we are part of creation, and, definitely, we ought not mistreat any created being.

God Ordered the World from Completion to Commission
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Gen 2:1-3)

God commissioned the seventh day as a sanctified day, a day to rest our bodies and to separate ourselves unto God (2:2-3). Rest does not mean relaxation, inactivity or sleep, but to be still, to cease from toil or strive or work, especially in order to regain one's energy.

It is a holy day, not a holiday or an hour of extra sleep, a day of fun-filled festivity, or a long weekend’s holiday. It is a day consecrated to God, set apart for the worship of the Creator, and observed in the house of the Lord.

Rabbi Sidney Greenberg distinguishes a holy day from a holiday:
On holidays we run away from duties,
On holy days we face up to them.
On holidays we let ourselves go,
On holy days we bring ourselves under control.
On holidays we try to empty our minds,
On holy days we attempt to replenish our spirits.
On holidays we reach out for things we want,
On holy days we reach up for things we need.
One brings a change of scene, the other a change of heart.
One pampers our bodies, the other nourishes and challenges our soul.

A person who is rested is good for another day, the daily grind and the week ahead. He recovers his composure and maintains his edge and benefits his family. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. A weekend of play makes us dread Mondays. Real rest means time for reflecting on God, reviewing your personal life, and renewing our body, mind, soul and spirit.

Conclusion: God made the world for you and me. His creation is not from something, but from nothing; it is not simply creating something, but creating something good. Without God all is chaos, man is incomplete, and life is impossible. Ray Stedman said: God is absolutely necessary for the completeness of life. Without God you cannot understand the world around you. You can't understand yourself or your neighbor or God himself. You will never have any answers without God, but if you have fallen away or excluded God and found misery and heartache and darkness and futility and emptiness and boredom - all the things that are a result of man attempting to live without him, Genesis declares that if you return on the principle of faith in God you will find help, spiritual health, and happiness, in every realm of life.

God’s creation reveals His mighty power at work, His wondrous order of things, and His loving kindness to man. So let us live our lives thankfully, orderly, usefully, creatively, and humbly as a response to His greatness and goodness.

Beginnings, Pt. 2: "The Sky is the Limit" (Gen 2)

In March 1997, Dolly of Scotland made headline news. Who was Dolly? Dolly was a sheep. Scientists from the Roslin Institute in Scotland, who have tried for more than 10 years to clone a sheep from a single adult cell, produced Dolly after 277 failed attempts. Times magazine said Dolly “is a carbon copy, a laboratory counterfeit so exact that she is in essence her mother's identical twin.” (The Age of Cloning” 3/10/97 J. Madeline Nash) The truth is that Dolly is technically more likely her clone’s sister than twin or kid.

Genesis 1 tells us that God created the world out of chaos. Man was incomplete without God, and he is the crown, the climax, and the centerpiece of God's creation. Everything God created was good, but creation was only complete with man. What He saw as “good” before now had become “very good.” (1:31)

In God’s design and by His devise, the sky was the limit for man. The possibilities were boundless, and nothing was beyond his reach. St. Augustine said, “Man wonders over the restless sea, the flowing water and the sight of the sky - and forgets that of all wonders Man himself is the most wonderful.”

How is man “very good”? How is he the center of God’s creation? Why did God lavish on man and reserve for him the best things in life?

Man is a Physical and Spiritual Being
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens-- 5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground-- 7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Gen 2:1-7)

First, you and I are physical and spiritual beings. We are not heavenly creatures. God did not make us from star dust, moon beams, or meteor showers. Man is dust from the ground, soil, or in the “Fiddler on the Roof” expression: “a worthless lump of clay.” At the end of life three things await physical humanity: disease, death, and dust (in that order).

Do you know what else comes out from the ground (2:19)? Animals! So man, in a sense, is comparable to an animal.

There was a Jewish story about a king who tested Elijah the prophet with two questions. The first was: “Why was man created?” Elijah responded: “The only reason that He made man was that he serve Him with all his heart, so that He should take pleasure in him and in the generations that spring from his loins until then end of days.”

“Why did the Almighty create reptiles?” was the second question. Again Elijah said, “When man procreated and his number became great he began to worship the sun and stones and wooden idols. From day to day the sinfulness of man had been mounting so that he deserved death and greatly tried God's patience.

At that point God looked upon all creatures He had created in the world and said: ‘Men have life and these creatures have life. Men have souls and these creatures have souls. Men eat and drink and these creatures eat and drink. Therefore, men too are animals and are no better than the reptiles that I have created.’

Immediately thereafter the Almighty's wrath subsided and he withheld his hand from destroying mankind. From this therefore, you can see that God created the reptiles, so that He would have some creatures with which to compare man and shame him unto humility.”

William Jenkyn says with wit, “Our father was Adam, our grandfather dust, our great-grandfather nothing.”

However, we are more than dust and we differ significantly from animals. How are we like and unlike animals (2:7, 19)? By the way, animals possessed the breath of life (Gen 7:15, 22), too, but God Himself breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life (2:7). God has put His spirit and breath in us (Job 34:14-15). Man has a longing for the Creator - in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

As spiritual beings, we long to know our Creator, our origin and our destiny. Animals have no desire to know, worship or serve their Creator. Peanuts’ Snoopy the dog one day looked down to the ground with his head hanging from his doghouse. He then sat up and around, and finally lied flat on his back, thinking to himself: “My life has no purpose...My life has no meaning...And yet I'm happy..I can't figure it out...What am I doing right?”

Man is a Diligent and an Intelligent Being
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." 18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. (Gen 2:15-20)

Was work a punishment for man’s fall? European folk legends describe Eden as a place of milk and honey and free from work. Daniel T. Rogers, a Princeton University historian says that to Europeans “to work was to do something wearisome and painful, scrabbling in the stubborn soil. It was the mark of man entrapped by necessity, and thus men who were not wholly free.” (Los Angeles Times 9/17/92).

A friend of mine in Australia told me that people flock to the beach on the weekends, towing their boats, and no money on earth can persuade them to work.

Man’s distaste for work is articulated by this bumper sticker question I saw: “Is it Friday yet?” Another states: “Born to Sing, Forced to Work.”

No, man has to work (2:8-9, 15). Work is not the outcome of sin; it was not optional. The garden of Eden was paradise, with a lavish garden (2:8), scenic trees (2:9), rippling rivers and streams (2:10), and precious stones (2:12). Man had almost everything, but yet work was a way of life in God's original plan.

A 58-year old woman said this: “A marriage can survive almost anything except the husband staying home all day.” (Live and Learn 137)

Why work? In working, we seek to realize our potential, we learn to relate to others and we repay God by our service.

Man is also an intelligent being. God did not create a robot. Man has the right to choose. Obedience or disobedience is an alternative; however, the latter brings serious consequences. God created a person. By definition, a person has “personality,” a mind of his or her own.

God placed His confidence in man, gave him the freedom to choose, but warned him to favor what is right. So you and I today are expected to ponder over things, prioritize the options, and pick the right choice. Some things are forbidden, some areas are optional, but man’s task is to decide what is fitting and do the right thing.

Moreover, naming animals (v 19) was a difficult task: “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

For example, do you know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator; a turtle and a tortoise; a frog and a toad? I discovered the difference from a child’s book! A crocodile has a long triangle head but an alligator has a flat broad head. The teeth of a crocodile are visible on the outside of the mouth, but only the upper teeth of an alligator are on the outside.

Tortoises usually live on land or in fresh water. They have legs and were known to run against rabbits in children’s books. Turtles, on the other hand, usually live in salt water and have flippers for swimming.

Toads have dry skin and can be found far from water, but frogs have smooth moist skin and live close to water.

Man is an Emotional and a Relational Being
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen 2:21-25)

Before woman was created, things did not look good for man or quite right to him. Naming pairs and pairs of animals (2:18) made him aware of his missing half and it did nothing but doubled his misery and loneliness. Adam needed someone to do things with, to discuss things with, and to decide things with. Adam was busy with work meant for two people, surrounded by species not his type, and engaged in fellowship with God, but not on the same level.

So God gave Eve to Adam in the first marriage on earth (Matt 19:3-6). She was his helper; two was better than one. They were two bodies but one flesh, alike but unlike each other, uncovered but unashamed. Peter Lombard (in 1158) said, “Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his lord, but from his side to be his partner.” Man was the head, woman his spine, the neck, his soul mate. Note that the first ever words out of Adam’s mouth was a love poem to his other half and a romantic pining of how close they were and how alike and unlike they were (v 23).

Adam was the king, Eve was her queen; he was the man, she was his lady; and he is the head, and she was his side. She was his love and he was her life. The word man referred to male and female (1:27). The joint equation, and not one gender alone, was “very good” (1:31) - they were dependent on each other and devoted to each other. They loved, trusted, and supported each other.

A CEO noticed that the gas attendant and his wife were engaged in an animated conversation. The conversation stopped as he paid the attendant. But as he was getting back into the car, he saw the attendant wave and heard him, say, “It was great talking to you.”

As they drove out of the station, the CEO asked his wife if she knew the man. She readily admitted she did. They had gone to high school together and had dated steadily for about a year.

“Boy, were you lucky that I came along,” bragged the CEO. “If you had married him, you'd be the wife of a gas station attendant instead of the wife of a chief executive officer.”

“My dear,” replied his wife, “if I had married him, he'd be the chief executive officer and you'd be the gas station attendant.” (Bits and Pieces, 1/9/92)

The emotional need of man and wife were met in each other, but couples, like everyone else, need to learn how relate to family members, friends, and outsiders. The command to leave one’s parents was meant for us and not Adam and Eve; they were the first man and woman on earth and the first parents!

English poet John Donne said these memorable words: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Conclusion: God has given us a lot, but He asked from us one thing – that we obey Him. God’s providence for man includes healthy fellowship with God, guidelines on positive living, and good relations with others.

Do you appreciate what God has done for you? Do you challenge your mind, discipline your body, and excel in tasks? God did not intend for us to be couch potatoes. It’s been said, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Some of you may turn out to be doctors, engineers, and teachers. Whether in the arts, science or other operations, the Chinese say, “An official emerges from every profession.”

Beginnings, Pt. 3: "The Greatest Danger in the World (Gen 3)

When I was in Chicago for continuing education, my cousin and his wife bought a box of chocolates for snacks. The chocolates were not popular buys like See’s Candies, Hawaiian Mauna Loa or Godiva. They were inexpensive, purchased from a nearby wholesale supermarket. The brand name was not catchy either.

Chocolates are bad for me. They make my throat dry and I literally get sick. Though I declared to my cousin my indifference to chocolates, I could not take my eyes off the box the next few days every time I passed it, especially as they lay neglected on the kitchen.

The more I laid my eyes on the chocolates, the more I was drawn to the smooth texture, exquisite packaging, and direct come-ons. What contested my resistance was the shiny clear plastic box, with almond shavings topping the chocolates, and the wickedly tempting label: “The Elegantly Sinful Sweet Chocolates.”

Finally I caved in! Worse, to my disappointment at my great sacrifice, I discovered they were just ordinary fare, the usual standard chocolates. They were not any tastier, newer, or fancier than others I had eaten.

Genesis 3 introduces the doctrine of original sin, the downfall of man, and God’s divine grace. Man was with God and had a comfortable home. Everything he did was prim and proper and praiseworthy. The bar was, however, raised when he wanted to be like God, not just to be with God. He was promised infinity and beyond, and he began to resent rules and regulations and regimen.

In this passage, we learn of Satan’s tricks, man’s troubles and God’s provision for sinful man. Temptation is not sin. God tempts no one (Jas 1:13), and man does have a way out of temptation (1 Cor 10:13). What strategy does the devil use? Why do our troubles grow when we submit to temptation? And how is God faithful to His children in their transgressions?

Satan Deceives Believers and Sows a Trail of Discontentment
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen 3:1-7)

A salesman circled a building block for a long time before he ran out of patience and, in exasperation, parked his car illegally in a no-parking zone. Fearing he would get a ticket, he left this note just in case a policeman might come along: “I’ve circled this block twenty times. I have an appointment and I must keep it or I will lose my job. Forgive us of our trespasses!”

Upon returning, his worst fears were realized. He found this note on his car: “I’ve circled this block for twenty years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation!”

Satan’s most dangerous tool is deception. The devil is a tempter (1 Thess 3:5), a liar (John 8:44) and an accuser (Rev 12:10). He is crafty (3:1) and he uses words, images and insinuations to entice God’s people. Someone said, “Sin as a caterpillar is dangerous, but sin as a butterfly is a thousand times worse” (Megiddo Message).

Do you know a question is a double-edged sword? A question has the potential to make a person think positively or negatively and make an individual improve or imagine things. The first question in the Bible was a seductive lie, not a quest for truth. It opened a can of worms for Eve.

The first lie of the ancient serpent, also known as the devil, or Satan (Rev 12:9), was in the form of a negative question. God's original command to Adam was put in the positive form, then followed by a negative prohibition: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 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.” (Gen 2:16-17).

However, Eve foolishly added to God’s word: “You must not touch it, or you will die.” (3:2-3) The serpent began, in verse 2, by contradicting God’s word in the form of a question (“Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?”), but Eve changed God's word by adding the word “touch,” and dropping the important word “surely” (“ you must not touch it, or you will die”), and so she played right into Satan’s hand and became an unwitting captive to Satan’s first outright lie: “You will not surely die” (3:4), teasing her: “No way! Absolutely not! Not possible! You will see far and wide, rule heaven and earth, and know truth from error!”

The devil appeals to our physical senses, inner pride and human judgment to snare us. He pounds on our ignorance, vanity and pride. Entertaining him makes us vulnerable, foolish and weak.

Man Disobeys God and Reaps a Whirlwind of Destruction
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 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." 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." 16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." 17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Gen 3:7-19)

Disobedience is like releasing the genie that has no intention to return to the bottle.

A man came to a rabbi and said, “Oh Rabbi, I have done wrong. I have slandered my friend. I have told lies about him. I have spread rumors. But now I am sorry for what I have done and what I have said. I've gone to my friend to tell him how sorry I am and ask his forgiveness. And out of the goodness of his heart, he has forgiven me. But now I have to seek forgiveness from God for breaking His commandments. So I've come to you, my teacher, to ask: How can I be forgiven by God for slandering and gossiping about my friend?”

The rabbi looked thoughtfully at the man, and then he asked, “Do you see that feather pillow over there on my bed? Take that pillow and go into the center of town, into the town square, and cut the pillow open and let all the feathers fly to the wind. That will be your punishment for what you have done, for all the ill words you have spoken.”

The man was quite puzzled by the rabbi's instructions, but he did just as he was told. He took the feathers pillow to the center of town, cut it open, and watched the feathers fly away in the wind. Then he returned to the rabbi and said, “I've done just as you told me. I took the feather pillow to the center of town, cut it opened, and watched the feathers fly to the wind. Now I am forgiven for slandering and gossiping about my friend?”

The rabbi replied, “No, you are not forgiven yet. For you have only fulfilled half your task. First you let the feathers fly to the wind. Now go out and collect every feather that flew away.” (From “The Business Bible” by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, Bits and Pieces 7/12/96)

The greatest danger facing man today is not the threat of AIDS, a nuclear meltdown, a computer glitch, or weapons of mass destruction, but the deceitfulness of sin. The promise of more money, better sex, powerful drugs, or intoxicating power are all damaging lies -- white lies, true lies, and, as some people naively call it, beautiful lies. The fallout from believing Satan’s lies was irreversible and irreparable. The curse man suffered was irrevocable. Sadly, he became the world’s most dangerous animal.

Sin inflicted a four-fold damage upon humanity: separation from God, inner conflict, disconnect from one another, and threat to creation. Adam and Eve thought they would be like God, but they discovered they were so different that their first instinct in the presence of God was to run and hide and disappear from His presence (3:9).

The man and woman also experienced something inside them they had not felt before (3:10): fear, mortification and panic. Inevitably, grief, hatred and anger followed (10). They hid from God, fudged over God’s three questions, and blamed the devil, using the ancient but lame “The devil made me do it” excuse (v 13)

Later, they discovered they no longer liked each other (vv 12-13). Three words described their relationship with each another: shame, blame, and game. They felt ashamed in the other’s company (3:7), then started blaming each other (3:12-13) and finally played the first unfriendly battle of the sexes game – a contest they carried on for the rest of their lives (3:16). They began to see faults, weaknesses and imperfections in each other and were willing to expose them, excuse themselves, and exploit each other. Mark Twain once said, “Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”

Finally, work once considered valuable, reasonable and purposeful was now unrewarding, unsatisfactory, and unfulfilling (3:17-19). They would have to toil for a living. Little, if any, time was left for reflection, recreation, or relationships. Dominion over anything from now on is a memory, a struggle and a joke. They will get no satisfaction till they return to dust!

God Delivers His Children and Imparts a Glimmer of Hope
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:20-24)

Satan thought that man was finished, but God intervened and His mercy triumphed over judgment. Adam and Eve experienced grace and hope in the midst of punishment.

My favorite Walt Disney movie of all time is Pinocchio. Pinocchio was the puppet who was given the gift of life by the blue fairy. The bewildered little wooden boy spoke: “I can move, I can talk, I can walk.” Then he asked the fairy: “Am I a real boy?” The fairy said, “Yes, Pinocchio. I’ve given you life. Prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish, and someday you will be a real boy. You must learn to choose between right and wrong.”

The curious, impulsive and roving wooden boy, however, made the worst friends, visited the wrong places and lied through his nose. In the end, after a series of bad choices and a lot of bad company, Pinocchio recalled his father’s words, relied on his conscience Jiminy Cricket, and recovered to do right. There is a lot to like in Pinocchio’s adventure!

In spite of man’s fallen condition, God gave some measure of self-respect back to man. Eve had a new name, the mother of all the living. They will not experience immediate death but will live to see their children (3:20). God Himself clothed Adam and Eve. An animal was sacrificed to provide the garments - a preview of God's atonement for man’s sin.

The drama of world redemption was also set forth (vv 14-15). Satan would strike her (Eve) offspring’s heel, a strong reference to Satan’s opposition to the descendant of Eve that threatened his stronghold, but the woman's seed will strike a fatal blow to the snakehead - a compelling reference to the death of Jesus Christ (3:14-15).

This promise of a coming Redeemer is the heart of the Bible from now on. William Scroggie calls this “the unfolding drama of redemption.” The early church fathers call Genesis 3:15 “the first preaching of the gospel.” It is the clearest promise of the coming of a Redeemer.

The last compassionate thing God did for man was to expel them from Eden. Charles Ryrie suggests, “Driving Adam and Eve from the garden was both a punishment and an act of mercy, lest they should eat of the tree of life and live forever in a state of death and alienation.”

Conclusion: The greatest danger in the world is sin, and our worst enemy is ourselves. God is good, kind, and merciful. He forgives, redeems and loves lost sinners. Sin and death entered the world through one man, yet death came to all men because all sinned (Rom 5:12-14), but God’s showed his righteousness to sinners through Jesus Christ: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21-23). The first man Adam was a perishable, weak and physical being who returned to dust; but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, conquered death and rose from the grave, He has promised us an imperishable glorious spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44-46).

Have you sought, claimed and applied the righteousness of Christ? Do you count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11)? Are you willing to seek God who is able to help you when you are tempted, when you stumble and when you have sinned?

Beginnings, Pt. 4: "Murder Most Foul" (Gen 4)

There is a beautiful Hebrew legend of how the location of the Jerusalem temple was determined. Two brothers lived side by side on adjoining lands in the past. One was the head of a large family, and the other lived alone. One night, the former lay awake and thought: “My brother lives alone, he has not the companionship of wife and children to cheer his heart as I have. While he sleeps, I will carry some of my sheaves into his field.”

At the same hour, the other brother reasoned: “My brother has a large family, and his necessities are greater than mine. As he sleeps, I will put some of my sheaves on his side of the field.” Thus the two brothers went out, each carrying out his purposes and each laden with sheaves, and met at the dividing line. There they cried and embraced each other. The place they met was the very spot the altar of the Jerusalem temple was placed years later (7,700 Illustrations # 3214, Paul Lee Tan).

Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. The older Cain was a gardener and the younger was a shepherd. And Adam and Eve’s marital conflicts in Eden were taken up by Cain, who was outraged at Abel’s sacrifice. The first sin of man in the garden was disobedience against God, and the second was bloodshed against brother. It’s been said, “Sin never stands still- it always continues to grow.” The sin against God was, inevitably, spilled over to man.

Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, Cain’s was not, and the outcome was jealousy and envy, anger and hatred, foul play and cover up. What did God see in Abel that was missing in Cain? Why was Abel commended as a righteous man? How should we approach God, please and dignify Him?

Sacrifice Your Gifts in Faith
4:1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 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." (Gen 4:1-7)

Cyrus, the founder of the old Persian Empire, once had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, “What will you give me if I release you?” “I will give the half of my wealth,” was his reply.

“And if I release your children?” “Everything I possess.” “And if I release your wife?” “Your Majesty, I will even give of myself.”

Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, “Wasn't Cyrus a handsome man! What impressive soldiers he had! Did you get a view of the big palace, the busy city, and the beautiful streets?”

With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn't notice. I could only keep my eyes on the one who was willing to sacrifice himself for me.” (Adapted from “sacrifice”)

The single evident reason why Abel’s offering was pleasing to God is found in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.”

Abel’s sacrifice was better. He was considered a righteous man, and his deed was highly regarded because it was offered in faith. To sacrifice is to give something pleasant, pleasing and pleasurable completely to God. Abel on his own and decided by himself to offer fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Fat portions do not mean lard! Abel gave the best of his first farm stock. Sacrificing any kind of animal requires skill, work, and strength. When offered in faith, it was a costly, bloody and holy sacrifice.

The younger Abel offered after Cain, but he did not follow in his older brother’s practice, and he had no idea what God said to Cain. Abel offered his gifts in faith, but the absence of faith is unbelief, which was how Cain offered. The word “believe” means “live by” - Cain did not live by what he offered. God expects us to live by what we offer, so He looked with favor on Abel and his offering, and not on Cain and his offering. Picking fruits require little effort, offering first fruits of the soil, and not just some fruits, did not even enter Cain’s mind, and receiving matching yield and getting just desserts for his budget gift made him upset.

Rabbi Simlai tracked the history of the commandments in the Bible and noted that Moses gave 613 commands - 365 yes’ and 248 no’s. King David then reduced them to eleven in Psalms 15, followed by the prophet Isaiah (33:14, 15) who condensed them to six, and later Micah 6:8 asked a question and shortened them to three: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The last of all, Habakkuk summarized them all to one, namely - “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) (7,700 Illustrations # 1495).

This is Paul’s thunderous message in Romans 1:17.

How was unbelief negatively manifested by Cain - inside, outside, and upside? Verse 5 says Cain was very angry. Cain was not just angry, or angry for just a moment, or angry for the right reason. He was very angry. Inside Cain was an intense, wild, fiery rage that would not die down.

On the outside, Cain had a drop dead face: his face was downcast The NASB said Cain’s countenance fell. Cain did not look good, his jaw had dropped, his face was sour and he could not recover when things did not fall into place.

The upside for Cain was that the Lord tried to talk him out of his rage (vv 6-7), even though it was in vain: “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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.”

In the words of Martin Luther, the famous church reformer: “You cannot stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” (Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines 117)

The foremost reason why Abel’s offering was pleasing to God was because it was offered in faith.

Show Love for Your Brother
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" 10 The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
(Gen 4:8-12)

When Leonardo do Vinci was working on his masterpiece “The Last Supper,” his biggest challenge was to paint the face of Jesus and the twelve apostles. Beginning with the apostles, he painted with joy, ease and interest. But when it came to Judas, mischief, resistance and vindictiveness came upon him. He thought long, hard and ill over Judas’ face, and remembered a guy he disliked, a man he hated and was still angry with.

The painter relished the opportunity to get back at him, decided that the time had come and used his enemy’s face gleefully, freely and triumphantly for the likeness of Judas. Happy with setting the record straight, he finally turned to paint Jesus’ face, but when he attempted to paint the face of Jesus, he failed. He tried a few times, this way and that, but the outcome was a blank. Finally, he gave up, wiped out his enemy’s face from the painting of Judas, and then only did he complete his classic work (Adapted from Kenneth Budd QQ 173).

Cain never had it so good. Derek Kidner commented: “While Eve had been talked into her sin, Cain will not have even God talk him out of it” (Kidner, Genesis 74, IVP). God appeared to Cain, reasoned with him, warned against anger, sin, and obsession, but after God was out of sight, he misled his brother to a field and killed him with his bare hands. Cain was angry, and that anger turned into deadly rage as he spilled his frustrations, unleashed his anger, and blamed his misfortunes on Abel. Abel was, essentially, the first martyr in the Bible. George MacDonald was right: “It is not by driving away our brother that we can be alone with God.” (3,000 quotations on Christian Themes 8, Carroll E. Simcox, Baker Book House 1975)

The Bible used two words together in front of the word Abel to qualify their relationship- “his brother” Abel (4:2, 8) – twice, once each in verse 2 and 8. Further, God hinted three times to Cain the identify of the victim – he is “your brother” Abel (9, 10, 11)? The only instance Cain used the word “brother” was to say sarcastically, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain dropped his brother’s name from the phrase “my brother Abel,” decried his responsibility, and disputed God’s question, His interference, and the designation of brother.

The consequences were swift: Cain would work endlessly (4:12), wander aimlessly, and watch fearfully all his life. Before, Adam toiled painstakingly for bread and butter, but now Cain would work overtime for crumbs. Man would be restless, wayward, and unsuccessful. Finally, they had to look over their shoulders, watch their backs, and fear for nothing.

Why was Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable to God? The single evident reason is from 1 John 3:11-12: “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.”

Cain had no love for his brother. Cain was jealous of his brother’s success, envious of Abel’s position before God, and plotted to obtain, possess, and corner God’s love. Someone said, “The man who blames others for his problems hasn't begun his education. The one who blames himself has begun his education. And the man who blames no one has finished his education.” Cain's tilling fields had now become Abel's killing fields and burial ground. Abel was not Cain’s enemy in life, but now he was Cain’s conscience in death. Cain would become a fugitive; he would plead for God’s protection, run from imaginary enemies and even fear his own shadow.

Strengthen Your Hope in God
16 So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. (Gen 4:16-18)

When God created the donkey and told him: “You will work tireless from sun up to sun down, carrying heavy bags on your back, you'll eat grass, you will not have intelligence and you will live 50 years.” The donkey answered: “I'll be a donkey, but living 50 years is too much, give me only 20 years.” And God gave him 20 years.

God created the dog and told him: “You will look after the men house, you will be his best friend, you will eat whatever they give you and you will live 25 years.” The dog answered: “God, living 25 years is too much, give only 10. God gave him 10 years.”

God created the monkey and told him: “You will jump from branch to branch, you will do silly things, you will be amusing and you will live 20 years.” The monkey answered: “God, living 20 years is too much, give me only 10 years.” And God agreed.

Finally, God created man, and told him: “You will be Man, the only rational being on this earth, you will use your intelligence to control other animals, you will dominate the world and you will live for 20 years.”

The man answered: “God, I'll be man, but living 20 years is not enough, why don't you give me the 30 years that the donkey refused, the 20 years that the dog did not want and the 10 years that the monkey refused.”

And God said, “So be it. You will live 20 years like a man, then enter adulthood and spend 30 years like a donkey, working and carrying the load on his back, then when your children leaves home, you will spend 15 years like a dog, looking after the house and eating whatever is given to you, then you will retire, and spend 10 years like a monkey, jumping from house to house or from children to children, doing silly things to amuse your grandchildren.”

God had banished Cain to a nomadic life, but the lesson was quickly forgotten, and Cain did the opposite and settled down (4:16). Verse 16 records, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Man, as usual, was antagonistic to God, egotistic to others’ detriment, and humanistic to the core.

Man lived the kind of life he wanted, a life without God, opposed to God’s directive. Before too long the temptation of the flesh took over, their hearts were in the wrong places, and Cain’s children retrogressed from monogamy (4:17) to polygamy (4:19).

William Ward Ayer was right: “We are all dangerous folks without God's controlling hand.” (Frank Mead, 12,000 GOD) Cain’s descendants forged a future for themselves by their bare hands, for the better and the worse, for prosperity and perversity, collectively and godlessly – from Lamech the first poet (4:23) to his son Jabal the first builder and herdsman (4:20) and Jabal’s brother Jubal the patron of music and arts (4:21) and half-brother Tubal-Cain who was skilled in craftsmanship and industry (4:22).

Men were occupied with exploring their potential, entertaining themselves, and escaping punishment at all cost (4:23-24). Man’s progress, the history of civilization, and the course of society reached another predictable instance of murder, self-justification, and evasion: “Lamech said to his wives,” Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Man without God has a curiosity for everything, is capable of doing anything and would stop at nothing.

However, the hope of a godly line was found in Seth – a child of hope and promise in place of Abel: “Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD (v 25-26).

Someone said, “Hope is the light that illuminates the darkness.” Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, said, “Hope is the finger of God written upon every brow. Actually, hope is optimism based on God’s promises. The godly line of Seth called on the name of the Lord (24). Seth was the offspring of redemption, the providence of God, and the hope of mankind.

Conclusion: The great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, said: “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” Man, left by himself, lives for himself and leans on the design of his mind, the desires of the flesh and the determination of his hands. Only personal faith, brotherly love and godly hope please God.

How about you? What sacrifices do you bring to God today? How have you approached Him? Begin with brokenness of spirit (Ps 51:17), next reconciliation with others (Matt 5:23-24), then indebtedness to God (Ps 50:23), followed by neighborly conduct (Heb 13;16) and finally, godly living (Rom 12:1).

Do you come to God a broken and contrite heart? Have you reconciled with your brother? Do you thank Him for what He has given to you? Do you do good and share with others (Heb 13:16)? Finally, is your body a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?

Beginnings, Pt. 5: "Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk" (Gen 5)

I asked my good friend Rev. Michael Wu on an internet chat: “I am working on Enoch, do you have anything to say about him to my congregation?” After an awkward pause, these words appeared on my monitor: “Enoch is one of the two youngest board members of our church. Born in LACAC (church). 26 years-old. Enoch means steady - word root related to Amen in Hebrew. Maybe his parents want him to be steady in following Christ. I pray for that definitely.”

Of all the fifteen identified heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, Enoch’s story in Genesis is the shortest text, with the brightest hope, and the least mentioned today. Like others, I had reasons to skip Enoch. Twice in ten years, I had the opportunity to preach this passage, but passed on it because there was so much theology, so little text, and the task so uneasy.

A little Sunday school girl said this about Enoch: “Enoch was a man who learned to walk with God, and they used to take long walks together. One day they walked so far that God said, 'Look, Enoch, it's too far for you to go back; just come on home with me.' So he walked on home with God.”

The phrase “walked with God” refers to the abundant life and blessed fellowship with God, the greatest spiritual experience of our loves. The only other person to do so was Noah (Gen 6:9), Enoch’s great grandson born 69 years after Enoch was taken up. The theological implication of Enoch’s transportation to heaven is monumental: Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, the tree of life was guarded, consequently the repeated pronouncement and epitaph in Genesis 5 “and he died” was the fate of all men. Man’s first real physical death was recorded in the same chapter. Beginning from Adam, through six generations before (5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20) and two after Enoch’s era (5:27, 30), everyone except Enoch died. Not only did he not die, he had no negative review, brightened with a lengthy, steady, and daily relationship with God.

What characterizes a man who is so close to God? Is it attainable, sustainable and practical? What profits those who spend substantial quality time with God?

Add Life to Your Years of Existence
20 Altogether, Jared lived 962 years, and then he died. 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. (Gen 5:20-22)

A London newspaper once offered an attractive cash prize for the best answer to this question: “Which is the shortest trip to London?” Letters poured in, theories sprang up, and readers followed the outcome closely until the sponsors announced the prize-winning answer. The winning entry was this: “The shortest way to London is good company.” (7,700 Illustrations # 3903)

No matter how far the distance and rough the trip, the travel is short and sweet with the right company.

Attending classes under great men like Dallas Willard, Warren Wiersbe, Calvin Miller and Larry Crabb made a great impact and a remarkable change in my life and service. Up till then, I have listened to many good preachers: Haddon Robinson, Charles Swindoll, John Stott, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren, bought their tapes, read their books, and had heard some of them in the seminary chapel, churches, and conferences.

When I was a student at Dallas Seminary in my late 20’s, interaction with the professors was rare, short and formal. Ten years later, when I took classes under Willard, Wiersbe, Miller, and Crabb in a smaller classroom environment of about 10-25 fellow pastors for my Doctor of Ministry degree, I began to actively ask questions, comment on the issue at hand, and interact confidently, spontaneously and hungrily with professors and fellow students. Slowly the quiet, passive bystander in me disappeared. I picked up points here and there, other students shared their ups and downs, and the professors opened up their lives – the highs and lows of family life, kids, and ministry. I grew by leaps and bounds, learned bits and pieces, and things made sense, fell into place and good things happen. I blossomed, thrived and matured faster than I imagined under proper tutelage.

My wife exclaimed: “Wow, I was thinking then, ‘You spent thousands of dollars studying, especially thousands of dollars for that Dallas Willard class, and nothing happened.’ Then suddenly you are putting up internet sermons, teaching at seminary and writing for publication.” Actually, it was $2,248 for the Fuller class with Willard, I checked. $1,600 for the course, and $648 for housing and seclusion at a monastery.

Walking with spiritual giants is dizzying, invigorating and humbling. Walking with God is the road least traveled, but the healthiest activity and the best safeguard in life. Those who walk on this road and travel on this journey do not wear and tear, wax and wane, or waver and doubt.

Enoch’s walk was as light as a stroll, as brisk as a jog, and as long as a marathon. You “walk with,” not “walk around” Him like a stranger, walk behind Him like a child or walk from Him like an enemy. It is not instantaneous, hurried or forced, and it is a reality, not a fantasy; a fact, not a feeling; and an endeavor, not an escape.

Enoch was a normal father, a good parent, and a caring family man. He did not just disappear. He took care of his family’s needs before he was taken up - after his first son was born and his sons and daughters were old enough to take care of one another. Besides, Jesus is the direct descendant of Enoch (Lk 3:37).

Add Lecture in Your Instruction to Others
14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." 16 These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.
(Jude 14-16)

John Wesley, the fiery evangelistic-minded Methodist founder, used to keep young men he had sent out to preach on probation until they can answer these questions. The first question Wesley asked them was, “Has any one been converted?” If the answer was “No,” he would ask, “Do people like it when you witness to them?” And if Wesley was dissatisfied with the answer, he would ask the final question: “Did any one get mad?”

Then Wesley would say to unproven young evangelists: “I don’t think the Lord had called you to preach the gospel. When the Holy Ghost convicts people of sin, they are either converted or they don't like it and get mad.” (Adapted from Moody's Anecdotes, Page 123

Enoch’s view was not attractive then or now, to the saved or unsaved, whether outspoken or reworded. He was a moral crusader, a spiritual prognosticator, a truth serum, and a bearer of bad news. Enoch’s generation had sinned against God in word and deed (v 15). They were corrupted inside and outside (v 16a), and flattered themselves and others (v 16b), but he prophesied against ungodly acts, ungodly way and ungodly sinners.

Enoch was from the godly line seven generations removed from Adam. The seventh generation from ungodly Cain were three brothers – Jabal, Jubal and half-brother Tubal-Cain - who established construction and livestock (Gen 4:20); music and arts (Gen 4:21), craftsmanship and industry (Gen 4:22). In contrast, Enoch served the Lord and prophesied on sin, judgment, and the Lord’s coming.

The nutshell on biblical judgment is this: “The Lord, the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25), is a righteous judge (Ps 7:11, 2 Tim 4:8), and He will judge the world (Ps 98:9, Acts 17:31, Rom 3:6), all men and women (Heb 12:3), the living and the dead (Acts 10:42, 2 Tim 4:1).”

The Bible puts more force behind the word “judge” (v 15) than the word “punish,” as demonstrated by its New Testament occurrences. The New Testament alone has 113 Greek references for the word “judge” but only two occurrences for the word “punish” (kolazo) (Acts 4:21, 2 Peter 2:9). Judgment is divine, universal, impending, just and righteous. Judgment is certain, but punishment is optional - we decide our own punishment.

The Greek word for “convict” (v 15) is even more dramatic. It means telling a fault, rebuking or reproving. It is the proof of evidence, not the fabrication or planting of evidence; uncovered by light and not concealed in secret (John 3:20, Eph 5:11-13); a straightforward, uncontested and swift verdict, not a deadlock jury, a drawn-out trial or a delayed sentencing. clean

Add Longevity to Your Relationship with God
23 Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Gen 5:23)
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. (Heb 11:5)

In the breakthrough book on management “Built to Last,” authors James C. Collins and James I. Porras told an interesting parable – the parable of the black belt. A martial arts student, after working tirelessly many years for a hard-earned black belt, knelt before his teacher who was to confer him a black belt on the day of his graduation. The teacher asked: “Before granting the belt, you must pass one more test. You must answer the question: What is the true meaning of the black belt?” The student said, “The end of my journey. A well-deserved reward for all my hard work.” The master spoke: “You are not ready for the black belt. Return in one year.”

A year later the student returned and knelt again in front of the teacher. “What is the true meaning of the black belt?” asked the teacher. “A symbol of distinction and the highest achievement in our art,” said the student. The teacher again replied, “You are still not ready for the black belt. Return in one year.”

A year later, the wiser student was back and knelt once again in front of the teacher. And again the teacher asked, “What is the true meaning of the black belt?” Finally, the student replied to the master’s satisfaction: “The black belt represents the beginning – the start of a never-ending journey of discipline, work, and the pursuit of an ever-higher standard,” says the student. (Built to Last 199-200, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras. NY: Harper & Collins, 1994)

Someone once said, “The conversion of a sinner takes a moment, but the growth of a saint takes a lifetime.” The Chinese say, “It takes 10 years to plant a tree, but 100 years to plant a man!” Spiritual growth is not a short hop, a fast track or a quick fix.

Enoch began walking with God at the age of 65, and he walked with God for the next 300 years, up to the ripe old age of 365. He wasn’t a spiritual giant instantly, irregularly or grudgingly. It was 300 years of purpose, not by chance. His walk commenced at the young age of sixty five, after his first son, Methuselah, was born. In our time, we would call him a young man, a young adult or a young father.

Dallas Willard once said in a class I took: “The person who says, ‘I don’t have time’ is very close to reproaching God.” God the Creator, the Maker and the Author of Life, has made us for fellowship with Him. Is He your companion for life, confidant in life, and counsel through life?

Giants are made, mentored, and monitored, and God is the biggest, truest, surest spiritual giant. It begins with daily devotions - reading God’s word, conversing with Him, and abiding in Him.

Fellowship with God began with Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall, continued by Enoch and Noah, and extended to you and I, here and now and for all eternity. Are you ready for heaven? John Bunyan said, “When you come to the paradise of God, you shall have white robes given to you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity. There you also you shall serve Him continually with Praise, shouting, and Thanksgiving.” (The Book of Jesus 534, Calvin Miller)

Conclusion: To walk an hour with God is a devotion; to walk a day with God is a discipline; but to walk a lifetime with God is devotion plus discipline plus dependence. Fellowship with God is the biggest thrill in our lives, the highest task of our lives, and the sweetest thing in life. It is for starving sinners, sleeping saints, and spiritual munchkins. You and I have lots of time and plenty of reasons to begin walking with God. Would you take the first step, the next step, and step by step?

Beginnings, Pt. 6: "Stop the World, I Wanna Get Off" (Gen 6)

A friend e-mailed me these insightful pointers on Noah by Don Kryer of Frontline Fellowship that has “Things to Learn from Noah and His Ark” for its subject:
(1) Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. (2) Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something really big. (3) Don’t listen to critics. Do what has to be done. (4) Build on high ground. (5) For safety’s sake, travel in pairs. (6) Two heads are better than one. (7) Speed isn’t always an advantage. The cheetahs were on board, but so were the snails. (8) If you can’t fight or flee -- float. (9) Take care of your animals if they were the last ones on earth. (10) Don’t forget that we’re all in the same boat. (11) When the doo-doo gets really deep, don’t sit there and complain – shovel! (12) Stay below deck during the storm. (13) Remember that the ark was built by amateurs and the Titanic was built by professionals. (14) If you have to start over, have a friend by your side. (15) Remember that the woodpeckers inside are often a bigger threat that the storm outside. (16) No matter how bleak it looks, there’s always a rainbow on the other side. (17) DON’T MISS THE BOAT!!! (Don Kryer, Frontline Fellowship)

The Lord commanded Noah to build an enormous ark, one and a half football field long and nine standard rooms high, on an extra wide house lot. In seven days the animals voluntarily came to Noah (7:15) - seven of every kind of clean animals and a pair of every kind of unclean animals (7:2). After Noah had done his part, the rain poured forty days non-stop (7:12) and the waters rose twenty feet over the mountains (7:20) and flooded the earth for the next 150 days (7:24) before receding the next 150 days (8:3), but Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives did not get off the boat for another two months (8:6, 10, 12).

God delivered Noah and his family because Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (6:8). How does one do that? How are we to remain in God’s favor in an atheistic society, before an antagonistic people, in an abominable world? Noah was a man of inspiration, of perspiration and aspiration. He was a righteous man who attempted to save others and he walked with God.

How are we to be the salt and the light of the world, ambassadors to the world?

Inspire Others by Your Inward World
5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. 9 This is the account of Noah.Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. (Gen 6:5-9)

I asked my wife when I was preparing this message: What is the difference between this world and Noah’s? How are we different and what does the clause “that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” in verse 5 mean?

Doris was surprised by the question. After all, like Noah’s generation, violence, depravity and chaos are the order and norm today. She recovered and said: “That is a good question. I never thought about that. I think the difference is that not only were wickedness and evil present at that time, but love and care were totally missing. Our present world, corrupt as it is, still has some good qualities remaining.”

That sums up Noah’s generation. Not only were immorality and violence present and love and honor absent, but remorse and correction were unlikely, derided and opposed. All negative and no positive or redeeming quality. Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (v 5).

Noah was a righteous man, one of a kind and a candle in the dark. His inward world was an inspiration. He was one of three, along with Job and Daniel, to define and personify the word “righteousness” (Ezek 14:20). Further, he and Job were the only biblical characters known as blameless (v 9) – godly men marked by the integrity of character, the fear of God and the abhorrence of evil (Job 1:1). He was a shining light in the darkness, a shimmering star in the night, a single spark lit and aflame for God.

Championing and upholding integrity, character and uprightness is not easy, especially when the family, the society, and even the world are surrounded, seduced and shaped by evil.

Three centuries ago, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), who single-handedly influenced the Great Awakening, wrote a list of 70 resolutions over two years, in his own words “to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil to the end of my life” (Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity p. 438). He was 19 at that time, exposed to temptation like most youngsters but was mature beyond his years. The revival would occur under this spiritual giant twelve years later. Here are his 10 shortest resolutions:
(1) Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
(2) Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
(3) Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
(4) Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
(5) Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
(6) Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.
(7) Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
(8) Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
(9) Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find to abate my assurance.
(10) Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity (truth).

So, be on your toes. Guard your heart (Prov 4:23), watch your steps (Eccl 5:1), and check for error so that you may not fall from your secure position (2 Pet 3:17).

Perspire in Your Outward Witness
5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others (2 Peter 2:5)

A rich man, who was wasteful, drunk and lecherous, died in a certain town and the entire community mourned his death. When his coffin was lowered the people wailed and cried loudly. In the recollection of the oldest inhabitant of the town no man departed with such sorrow.

The following day another rich man died. He was just the opposite of the first in character and living. He was ascetic and dined on practically nothing but dry bread and turnips. He had been pious all the days of his life and sat all the time studying religious books. Nonetheless, no one except his own family mourned his death. His funeral passed almost unnoticed, and he was laid to rest in the presence of a handful.

A stranger, who happened to be visiting in the town at that time, was filled with wonder, and asked: “Explain to me the riddle of this town's strange behavior. It honors a reckless man, yet ignores a saint!” One of the townsmen replied, “The rich man who was buried yesterday, although he was a lecher and a drunkard, was the leading benefactor of the town. He was easy-going and merry, and loved all the good things in life. Practically everybody in this town profited from him. He'd buy wine from one, chickens from another, geese from a third, and cheese from a fourth. And being kindhearted, he paid well. That's why he is missed and we mourn after him. But what earthly use was the saint to anybody? He lived on bread and turnips and no one ever made a cent on him. Believe me, no one will miss him.”

Like his great grandfather, Enoch (Jude 14-16), Noah walked with God and ministered to men. Noah had an innocent mind, a resolute purpose, but a heart of gold. He perspired to save the lost. Noah was the preacher of righteousness who attempted to save others. Never mind he had seven days (Gen 7:14), or that he had seven family members to save, he preached to all who were willing to hear, not just family members, as if his life depended on it, as if he himself was drowning, and as if he had room on board for them.

Noah didn’t shut the world out, but he couldn’t get them on or invite them up either. Do you know who many people he convinced? None, except his family. He painstakingly relayed God’s message, reasoned with them, but eventually resigned with regrets.

Noah was the salt of the earth, the salvation of the world but, nevertheless, a sword to the unsaved (Heb 11:7). He did all he could though he couldn’t convince them, correct or convert them, but he talked to as many people as possible, tried out as many methods as available, made as much adjustment as he could, and used up all seven days he had. That’s why he was called a preacher of righteousness.

Aspire for an Upward Walk
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Heb 11:7)
20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (Gen 8:20-21)

Several years ago, a pastor friend (Rev. Tang) and an immigrant from Hong Kong related how learning the English language when he was young shaped his spiritual life as an adult. He fondly remembered an English teacher who required him to memorize a short verse by Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864). The pastor could remember the poem after more than 30 years, recited all of the 35 words to me, and then wrote parts of it down on a piece of paper for me. I had kept it since in my photo album. The words were short, but rich and invaluable, especially the first ten words: “I STROVE with none, for none was worth my strife.”

The maverick attitude is true and admirable: nothing is worth our strife. God alone is present through thick and thin, through life’s ebb and flow, for today and tomorrow. Noah walked on earth, rode the storm, and escaped the wrath, all by God’s grace. A Jewish proverb says, “Whosoever walks toward God one cubit, God runs towards him twain (twice).” (3,000 Quotations p. 8).

Noah walked and leaned close to God as God addressed him directly through every chapter of Genesis 6 through 9, revealed to Noah His plans, and directed Noah about the ark, into the ark (Gen 7:1), out of the ark (Gen 8:15).

Amazingly, Noah listened patiently, obeyed consistently, worked speedily and said nothing in all three chapters! A man of God who walks with God is one who fears God, obeys Him, and honors Him. Noah’s fear was not emotional, patchy or crippling, but reverential, godly and rational (Heb 11:7). He obeyed all that God had commanded him (Gen 6:22, 7:5). He remains the only individual in the Bible credited with the line “did all that the Lord commanded” or “did all that God commanded.” Noah would not do anything that would pain, grieve or displease God. As soon as they landed, Noah was distinguished as the first person in the Bible to build an altar to the Lord (Gen 8:20). The altar would symbolize the starting place, the mending fence, and the turning point of one’s relationship with God.

Noah’s story was remarkable. In the end, everything was water, waste, wet and wild. No one outside of God’s refuge survived. In the midst of all this, Noah seized the three greatest spiritual blessing one can have in life: to belong to God, to be with Him, and to believe in Him. God was the leader, Noah the student, but God talked to, interacted with, and confided in Noah like a friend.

God desires His children to be occupied with the presence of God, ordered by the word of God, and offered for the use of God. Believers are to dwell on the things of God, to develop a meaningful relationship with God, and to devote themselves without reservation to Him.

Are you totally given to God, guided by Him and growing in Him? While we rejoice that we will no longer be swept by the flood, will the fire of God consume you on Judgment Day? Will you be left behind on earth or caught up in the air at the Lord’s coming? Will you meet the Lord alone or bring others to Him?

Conclusion: It’s been said: “Any dead fish can float downstream -- it takes a live one to swim against it.” A believer stands out like a sore thumb, stands up as a godly man should, and stands firm in the midst of the corruption of men, the collapse of culture, and the condemnation of the world.

The Bible warns us not to be deceived (Gal 6:7), defiled (Matt 15:18), or depressed by evil (1 Cor 13:6, Ps 37:7). A man reaps what he sows. However, do not delight in evil; rejoice with the truth (1 Cor 13:6), rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:2) and that your name is written in heaven. (Luke 10:20).

Beginnings, Pt. 7: "Man Proposes, God Disposes" (Gen 11)

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.”

I have a tourist magnet sticking to my refrigerator that has a colorful slogan. The first line says, “BE REASONALBE,” and the bottom line: “Do it my way.” We like to do things our way, say it with force, “My way or the highway,” and brush others out of the way. As Frank Sinatra would sing:
“Yes, there were times I wish you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up, and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it…MY WAY!”

The Tower of Babel is about man’s determination to live sufficiently, determinedly and arrogantly without God. People think they are smart in themselves, fine without God and in safe hands. Man thinks that with the advance of new industries, active collaboration and concerted effort, nothing can stop them from reaching the top, literally. However, God reminds us His counsel will stand. Relying on Him guarantees our well-being but excluding Him from our lives means failure.

The word “Come” is prominent in Genesis 11. The first and primitive “Come” (v 3) began the construction, the second and civilized “Come” (v 4) progressed with contention, and the final and sovereign “Come” (v 7) ended in confusion. Why is God opposed to man’s insistence on his own way? What kind of lives do we live without God? How does that bring ruin upon us?

The Intelligence of Man is Foolishness to God
11:1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. (Gen 11:1-3)

Some time ago, the Los Angeles Zoo displayed an exhibit designed to inform, amuse and shock visitors. Its slogan was “The world’s most dangerous animal - the only animal capable of destroying the earth, other species, or even its own kind.”

What was this animal? Onlookers were puzzled that the cage had not one but two college students. Why two? For a long time I couldn’t figure out its meaning. Man by himself is a timid and troublesome animal, but with company he is a daring and dangerous animal. One individual is tempted to act badly, two are pressured to act. With a little knowledge, in the wrong environment, and for the lack of guidance, man is a deadly animal.

It’s been said, “Humanity without divinity degenerates into bestiality.” A haunting line from the movie “A Beautiful Mind” echoed the same thing: “Man is as capable of as much atrocity as he has imagination.”

One in every 32 adults in the United States was behind bars or on probation or parole by the end of 2001, according to a government report. (Los Angeles Times, “Adults Punished for Crimes Hits Record,” August 26, 2002)

Before the construction of the tower, primitive men first tested the extent of their knowledge, researched the possibilities of natural properties, fulfilled their potential with great success and pushed their inventions to new heights. They had the resources, the skill and the drive to succeed. Nothing was beyond them, could stop or slow them. They had discovered how to heat raw materials, give them shape, and maximized its use.

The first biblical occurrence of the word “Come” is man’s determined, united, and negative effort to flourish, succeed and prosper without God. From stone they had progressed to bricks, and from mortar they had discovered tar. From now on they were hungry for the next step, the latest discovery and the new frontier.

Sadly, the advance of secular man is his very path to destruction. People make guns, bombs, nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and weapons of mass destruction. We have seen the rise of dictators and madmen such as Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden who love nothing but to cause religious wars, civil wars and World Wars. Radio, TV and newspapers are perfect propaganda tools in their hands.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the world famous inventor of the Atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, fittingly expressed his regret to Harry Truman: “I have blood on my hands.” He likened the then United States and Soviet Union rivalry to “two scorpions in a bottle, capable of killing the other but only at the risk of its own life.” (US News & World Report 8/17/98 “Brotherhood of the Bomb”)

Still, God is not opposed to man’s efficiency or proficiency, but their sufficiency. He is not at odds with creativeness but our cleverness, or against the process of change but our extremity in confidence. Ultimately God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent (1 Cor 1:19, Isa 29:14). Man will discover that with much wisdom comes much sorrow, and increasing knowledge amounts to increasing pain (Eccl 1:18).

The Insubordination to God is Pretentious of Man
4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. (Gen 11:4-6)

The first “Come” was a realization of man’s greatness but the second “Come” launches his vertical assault against God.

There’s an old African story about a boy who went out to see the world. He came to a great lake and saw a strange creature sitting on a tree limb there. This giant creature lay down and gobbled the lake dry. When the water was gone, the creature moaned and screamed for thirst and shouted for more.

The boy next followed the creature into a hut where the creature sets a cauldron over roaring fire. The creature tossed creatures large and small into the boiling water, including two live bulls and a rat. As the creature left for a short while, the boy stole a piece of meat for himself. But when the creature returned to finish the food to the last drop, the creature noticed that someone had stolen some food, and shouted that there’ll never be an end to the creature’s hunger.

Then the boy ran home and told his father: “Now I’ve seen what’s in the world.” (Jory Farr, Press Enterprise 3/26/99)

People are power hungry, celebrity conscious, and utterly shameless.

After a couple of strangers were married on national TV in front of 23 million viewers, USA Today asked on its front page: “Why people will do almost anything to get on TV” (USA Today, Craig Wilson 02-25-2000) A teenager opined, ''Because it would be so cool to be on national TV and have two seconds of fame.''

The tower of Babel was man’s ecumenical stairway to heaven, his giant leap in technology and the world’s first engineering marvel. The people at Babel revealed their unquenchable longings, flexed their collective muscles and craved for godlike glory: “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Man disregarded God's will deliberately, deftly and dangerously. God's original command to man was to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth (Gen 4:12, 9:1), but not only were they putting down roots and building acclaimed cities, they intended to ascend to heavens, immortalize their names, and exclude, rival, and play God, all at once.

The tower was a false sense of security. Man had amassed more talent, created more wealth and brainstormed new ideas. The motive was in the overwhelming desire for immortal life, for an illustrious name and for inseparable, indispensable, and irreversible human ties. This is the classic outcome of spirituality without God, man-made religions, and rejection of absolutes.

However, The Lord saw the evil of this vanity, idiocy and superficiality: “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’” (vv 5-6)

God is not targeting architects, builders and contractors. He is not against extensive construction, but exclusive control; He does not oppose unity, but universality, the conception of a world system and the grandiosity of complete domination.

Man is not the master of the universe. God will show the way to those who would listen. Not long after the episode at Babel, just as Noah did, Abraham will build an altar to God and found the city which has God for its foundations, architect and builder (Heb 11:10).

Incivility to Others is Dangerous to One Another
7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel--because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Gen 11:7-9)

Can people get along with differences in language, land and lineage? (6:5-8)

C. H. Spurgeon said: “Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace.”

Californians who made their new home in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Seattle are often unwelcome and the butt of jokes in their new environment. A joke making its rounds in Seattle was reported in the Los Angeles Times (8/29/97).

A Texan, a Californian and a Seattleite are in a bar, and they ask for a bottle of tequila, a bottle of wine and a bottle of beer. The Texan throws a bottle of tequila into the air and shoots it with a pistol. He explains to the Californian and Seattleite, “Texas has plenty of tequila.” Next, the Californian throws a bottle of wine into the air and shoots it. He explains to the other two, “California has plenty of wine.” Finally, the Seattleite throws a bottle of beer into the air into the air, shoots the Californian and catches the beer bottle. He explains to the shocked and frightened Texan, “We have plenty of Californians, but I have to recycle the bottle.”

Today, the Wycliffe Bible Translators estimates there are about 6,170 languages in the world today. Mexico alone has 241; India 381; Indonesia 669; and Papua New Guinea 849 languages. The African continent alone has 1,918 different languages (Walk Thru the Bible 1/89 10).

In California alone, a study conducted in the new millennium revealed that more than 224 languages are spoken in the state. (Los Angeles Times 11/1/00)

The last “Come” was the reality of man’s lowliness and exposes his shallow understanding of brotherhood.

Do you know why the tower of Babel was incomplete? The builders scattered were not only scattered but, more importantly, they had no urge to merge again, now that they do not look like each other, act like the other and talk to one another. God exposed the hypocrisy, intolerance and guise of man. Their call for structure was a cover for supremacy.

Today, unfortunately, people kill one other over one of three things - the color of their skin, the dialect of their tongue, and the invasion of their space or neighborhood. Someone once said, “Racism is dislike of the unlike.” “Ethnic cleansing” is the abominable term now for one race obliterating the other.

Men’s hatred for one another is unabated from East Europe to East Timor, from right-wing nationalists to new-sprung activists, from minorities in the cities to tribes in each country and to neighbors whose scenic view is blocked by the next door fence or tree.

In America, people could not forget the nightmare race relations that had surfaced through the O. J. Simpson trial, the Rodney King and the Reginald Denny beatings.

Babel, the enemy of God, was the place where it all began. Do you know what city in Revelation is given more coverage for her ill-gotten riches and eventual doom (Rev 18:2-3)? Babylon the Great - the biblical city that survived the threat of Babel dispersion. It is also known as the mother of prostitutes and the abominations of the earth (Rev 17:5). Why was she called such? She feeds on immorality, sorcery and wickedness (Is 47:8-13). Its modern name? Iraq.

Conclusion: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways and thoughts higher than man (Isa 55:9). There is no wisdom, insight or plan that can succeed without the Lord and against the LORD (Prov 21:30). Have you over-relied on your talents, intellect, learning, effort, and skills? Rely not on your personal understanding or counsel from others, but trust Him at all times, for all things, with all your heart. Remember, God’s foolishness is wiser than your wisdom, and His weakness is stronger than your strength (1 Cor 1:25-26).

Abraham, Pt. 1: "Where He Leads, I Will Follow" (Gen 12)

Traveling is a hazard, and I had my share of bloopers and misadventures. One was a landing in Connecticut that never was due to snow. The plane did the next best thing and landed at a small local airport nearest possible to the city, then a bus drove the passengers to their planned destination. The consolation prize was a snow-dotted scenic route through the woods, which was quite a sight to behold for this city boy.

I had no one but myself to blame for the next incident. When I was a continuing student at Chicago’s Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I missed my night flight home to Los Angeles. The airlines clerk told me I could leave on the next flight in the morning. Calling my friend to return for me did not make sense, so I opted to sleep inside the airport, waking up a few times in the night to check my things, only to find plenty of company sleeping next to me!

The last incident was unforgettable – August 14, 2003. My wife and I were going through Customs in Toronto when a power blackout hit the northeast cities of North America, including Toronto and New York. Outside phones were unable to reach Air Canada operators, so we had to join the snaking crowd at the airport to reschedule our next day flight to Los Angeles. Since my cellular phone had no reception at the same time, too, I had to wait an hour for the public phone to notify others of our delay.

Early next morning, the departure schedule at the airport announced that the flight was canceled again, and when we got through to the operator to reschedule our flight after an hour’s wait, she said the flight was on again and told us to go to the ticketing counter. After an hour’s wait at the counter, we were told by the receptionist that the flight was off again; so we returned to the phone operator after another hour of waiting and managed to reschedule a successful flight home the next day.

About 1,800 years before the birth of Jesus Christ - after the chaos at Babel but before there were Jews - a seventy-five year old man by the former name of Abram received a call from God to settle in a new land, to build a great nation and to be a personal blessing to all the families of the earth. The promise to the Father of Nations is clear: the settlement into the Promised Land, the beginnings of the Jewish people and the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Abram’s father, Terah, had initiated the long 1,000-mile trek from Ur of the Chaldeans, located near the Euphrates River about 190 miles southeast of present-day Baghdad, to Canaan (Gen 11:31), but died in Haran, 400 miles away from the destination. (Los Angeles Times 4/16/03 “Ancient Ur Still Standing as Another Regime Topples”)

After Terah died, the Lord said to Abram: “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:1-3)

So, the raw Abram, along with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, made the journey to Canaan. Upon arrival in Canaan, when a famine severely tested him, Abram followed his own instincts into Egypt and almost paid a heavy price if not for God’s intervention.

What does God require of those who follow Him? How can we avoid the dangers of falling behind, losing track or turning aside?

Trust in the Lord and Stride out Confidently
12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. (Gen 12:1-6)

The week heading into the celebration of our wedding anniversary in the new millenium was a hectic, stressful and miserable one for my wife and me. We had put our Monterey Park house for sale a month before that and were excited that a buyer had made us an offer the second day of our open house, with the closing escrow a week after our anniversary. At the same time, we had made an offer for a house, offering the seller the full price he wanted, and he duly accepted the next day. Our plan was to complete the sale of our house first, live in an apartment no longer than a month - to be on the safe side, and roll over the money we received from selling our old house into the new one to close escrow.

On the day of our wedding anniversary, our agent called us, telling us that the new house seller had reneged on the deal. My agent had discovered that the man was unable to sell the house because he had debts totaling $390,000 from two loans and had five bank liens on his house. Suing him would make no sense since his creditors had not recovered a penny from him for a long time and it would just tie us up in court. Further, winning would make us another name on his long list of unpaid creditors.

We ended up with packed boxes in the garage of our rented apartment for the next five months with no house to move into and no end to the waiting, until we found a newer home in a better location and a coveted neighborhood.

God’s call to Abram was a call to trust and obey Him. Abram followed one step at a time, one day at a time, one place at a time, doing one thing and completing one task at a time. Note that Abram did not know in what direction they were heading, at what location they were stopping and for how long they were staying until he got there. The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.” (v 1) In fact, he did not know what was lurking ahead, how far was the distance and how long was the trip; he only knew “who” was leading, “who” he was following and why -- that was enough for him.

Hebrews 11:8-10 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Abram forsook everything, demonstrating his trust in God and leaving the old setting for the new. He left Haran, a wealthy, busy and established community for an unknown way of life, parting with close relatives, familiar surroundings and accustomed ways. His trust in God was sorely tested in Canaan. The Canaanites were a loose company of tribes who occupied and terrorized the land, including the cities of Gaza and Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 10:15). Their hostility towards Shem’s descendants, of which Abram was one, was understandable. Noah had cursed his son Ham, the ancestor of the Canaanites, to be a slave to his brother Shem (Gen 9:25-26).

Abram’s travels, therefore, in enemy territory were never easy, enjoyable or effortless. He was in a state of outright fear, constant vigilance, but quiet trust. As D. L. Moody says, “Trust in yourself and you are doomed to disappointment; trust in your friends, and they will die and leave you; but trust in God, and you will never be confounded in time or eternity.”

Testify to Other and Secure Your Markers
7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. (Gen 12:7-8)

One of the lost treasures of the Christian church is the home thanksgiving meeting, a gathering I eagerly awaited when I was a young believer. A home thanksgiving meeting was an occasional home fellowship whereby the hosts invited their friends, relatives and church members to share in the blessings of a special event, usually over the birth of a child, the purchase of a new home or the celebration of a wedding anniversary. The host family would borrow 30-40 chairs from their neighbors, friends or church for the happy occasion.

A designated song-leader would begin the meeting by leading everyone present in joyous singing, followed by the host’s testimony about how God had blessed the family and a short message by the pastor or a church elder on the importance of thanksgiving in a believer’s life. The best part of the gathering was the last part of the program, where lots of food and refreshments were served!

Testifying to others is to tell others who we were before accepting Christ, what Christ has done for us and how our character and challenges are different from before.

Like my church, churches today should set aside a few Sundays in the year for members to share their salvation and thanksgiving testimony. I do for my church, to rippling effect, for occasions such as Mother’s day, Father’s Day, Graduation Day and Thanksgiving Sunday. The atmosphere, I have discovered, is usually electric, the effect upon the speaker and congregation is powerful and the benefit to the church is immeasurable.

The watershed of Abram’s sojourn in Canaan was his consistent testimony to others by erecting altars wherever he went.

Abram built an altar in Shechem (12:7), another between Bethel and Ai (12:8), and other places such as Hebron (Gen 13:18) and Mount Moriah (Gen 22:9). Noah (Gen 8:20) and Isaac (Gen 26:25) both built an altar in their lifetime and Jacob two (Gen 33:20, 35:7), but Abram erected as many altars as all three of them did together.

Altars were meaningful, important and sensible to Abram because they were personal worship markers, public witness markers and practical whereabouts markers.

Worship was a big part of Abram’s life -- in his first travel and up to the last major account of his life (Gen 22:9). Abram called on the name of the Lord (Gen 12:8; 13:4).

The altars were also public witness markers, which were an eyesore to the inhabitants of the land. Abram ascribed an altar to the name of the Lord (12:7) and called on His name without pretense, hesitation or fear (12:7). The inscriptions, words and the location were loud, unmistakable and pointed to the Canaanites.

Finally, the altars were practical whereabouts indicators for the next generation. Abram’s grandson Jacob would return from Haran and build an altar at Shechem (Gen 33:18-20), the same place where Abram had built the first altar (12:6-7). Jacob even settled there for a while after his anxious reunion with his brother Esau until he had to move.

Tell the Truth and Set an Example
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” 14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. 17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. (Gen 12:10-20)

Bella D. Paulo, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, studied 147 people between 18-71 - 77 undergraduates and 70 community members - to track the course of lying, who people lie to and how often they do. The subjects were asked to keep a diary of all falsehood told over a week.

Paulo found that 10% of lies were exaggerations and 60% were outright deception. The lies were mostly subtle, often of lies of omission. Most people lie once or twice a day and also in 20% of social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes. In one week alone, 30% of speakers deceive in one-on-one interaction. Married couples lie to each other in 10% of their exchanges, dating couples 33% and college students lie twice a day, which is twice that of an average person, and in one of two conversations with their mothers!
(Psychology Today 5-6/97).

Lying is addictive. In another report, Paulo explained that while 1 in 7 instances of lying was discovered, more than 70% of liars surveyed said they would tell their lies again. (Psychology Today 9-10/96)

Abram’s sister act – “she is my sister”- occurred twice in his lifetime (Gen 12:13, 20:2). Technically, Sarai was Abram’s wife and sister, but from a different mother (Gen 20:12). Sarai was Abram’s wife by marriage and his sister only in name. He was legally inaccurate and morally wrong. As an old proverb notes, “Half a fact is a whole falsehood.”

Abram, the father of faith, succumbed to deception because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time with a wrong motive. Abram chose the easy way out (12:10) when his first big test came. When a famine struck, he panicked, fled Canaan and took shelter in Egypt.

How do we know Abram was in the wrong place? When all was said and done, after a harrowing near disastrous experience, Abram ended up where he began and returned to the original place of worship (Gen 13:1-4). Later, Abram had many problems as a result of taking an Egyptian concubine, Hagar, who was probably one of the servants Pharaoh gave to Abram (12:16).

Were Abram’s actions motivated by love for his wife? Did Abram love his wife? Probably yes, but not as much as he loved his own neck (12:13). The words of Abram to his wife revealed his motive: “Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you (12:13).

Abram also had a wrong perception of the natives of the land. He thought they were savages, barbarians and animals, but was he right? The truth is that the godless Pharaoh acted more honorably than the God-fearing Abram! Even the killer Egyptians were not all that bad. They loved their king (12:15) and kept their word, while Abram quietly kept all the gifts (12:16).

In the end Abram was made speechless when he was bombarded by three separate questions, a what-question, a why-didn’t-you question and a why-did-you question: “What have you done to me?” “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?” and “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife?” (12:18-19)

Conclusion: God saves us, leads us and blesses us so that we may bless others by what we do, what we say and how we live for Him. Often life’s hardships, our imaginary fears and needless worries hinder us from reaching our potential; however, we fail the test not because God is unable or willing to help us, but because we help ourselves too much and hinder ourselves too naively. Is your self-centeredness, self-complacency and self-contradiction preventing Him from blessing you and making you a blessing to others? Have you passed the true test of our sincerity, virtue and faith and demonstrated willingness to trust and obey Him even when troubles come, people threaten and circumstances change?