God’s Presence and the Garden

Genesis 2 8

Text: Gen 2:4 – 3:24

 

Yesterday we began talking about the presence of God, starting with the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We saw that God not only created the earth as a place for us to live, but also as a place for him to be present with us. The heavens and earth are God’s temple.

 

As we move on in Genesis, starting with 2:4 and going to the end of chapter 2, we find another creation account, and its focus is different than the first, paying special attention to humans and what seems to be agriculture. We are introduced to a garden, and people to cultivate and rule over it: Adam (which literally means man or mankind) and Eve (which literally means living or life). The garden also includes two special trees, the tree of life, and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of knowledge could have easily been called the tree of certain death, because God promises they will die if they eat from it. But they can eat from anything else.

 

This garden is a special place. It seems to be a focal point, almost like a holy of holies for God’s cosmic temple. It is sacred space that he shares with his creation. God walks in the garden and is present there with Adam and Eve. Can you imagine just sharing space with God, doing some gardening, and God just walks by, like it was a normal thing? “Oh, hey God.”

 

That kind of closeness and intimacy with God in his presence was how it was for Adam and Eve, until something happened. There’s a talking serpent. This mischievous serpent character convinces Eve that she won’t in fact die if she eats from the tree of knowledge, she’ll just have knowledge like God. This is tricky because it has just enough truth in it. Maybe you would call it a white lie, but still a deception. Eve eats from the tree of knowledge, and Adam follows suit.

 

As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they disobeyed God’s direct command and took matters into their own hands, going down a path to prematurely obtain the knowledge of good and evil. They likely had a childlike innocence about them before, and maybe God would have in time revealed this knowledge of good and evil to them in his way, in his time. Well, now things were going to be different for them. They suddenly realized they had no clothes and hid from God. They were ashamed. God finds out what they did (surely he already knew what they did) and kicks them out of his garden.

 

The consequences were very serious. God has cherubim (winged creatures sort of like a sphinx, not at all like a baby with wings) and a flaming sword guard the entrance so they can’t enter and eat from the tree of life. They are exiled from the garden, they are effectively sentenced to death by no longer having access to the tree of life and God’s presence. They will have to work much harder to grow food to survive, and some other fun consequences.

 

Reading an account like this makes you think a lot. What sorts of things are symbolized by the tree of life, and tree of knowledge? What is a serpent doing there? Are we really talking about fruit? I have no definitive answers to these questions. The beauty of this passage is that it forces you to think more every time you read it, and I believe that is why it is there.

 

The garden account is ripe with symbolism to interpret. While it is an account about real people, it is written in a way that makes it much bigger than that. Adam and Eve can be seen as archetypes for us, meaning the things that are said of them are also true of us. Adam is formed from dust (Gen 3:19), so are we (Ps 103:14). Eve is made from one of Adam’s sides, while we recognize that men and women are each other’s halves in a way. They face temptation and shame, so do we. They do things in defiance against God, and so do we (Rom 3:23), and as a result of that defiance, they exiled themselves from God’s garden, as we frequently exile ourselves from God’s presence when we sin, in a way. Their story is much like ours.

 

This isn’t the most encouraging chapter in the story of God’s presence. It’s one of the lower places we could go in scripture. The reality is that sin and the presence of God are not compatible things. Sin, separation from God, and death are all connected, if not three heads of the same monster. Of course, God knows this, and still wants to be present with us, so there has to be some kind of remedy for sin. Ultimately, we know that remedy to be Christ, but there was a progression to get there.

 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Exodus 40 – how God used a man named Moses to renew his presence among his people.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

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When Temptation Comes

Matthew 4

matthew 4 1

More than we would like to admit, we struggle with temptation.  No matter how great our will or sense of purpose in our life, it always seems to find a way to slither into our lives and rear its ugly head.  Ironically, we are caught most off guard and unaware, not when we are in the midst of a struggle with sin or a desperate time, but when things are at their best.  One minute we are walking close to God, doing his will, connected to His Spirit, loving His word, sharing his Gospel, and the next we are faced with an idea (James 1:13-14).  An awful idea. A wonderfully awful idea that will feed our selfishness, our human condition.

In Matthew 4, today’s reading, Jesus is led by the Spirit to the desert.  God, being the great storyteller he is, takes Jesus to the ultimate contrast of Eden, where the groans of nature longing for restoration can be most heard (Rom 8:22).  A setting that is far away from paradise, an allegory of the state of mankind, filled with the different, yet same challenge – temptation. Now, there are theological hairs you can split as you read this message today. Don’t do that. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Jesus’s  triumph begs the question, “How did He overcome temptation?”  Well, He was the Son of God, right? This is true, but an error in our thinking if we think this is the sole reason that Jesus wins the days.  He is the Son of God, but he faced temptation, “just as we are”, and did not sin (Heb 4:15). You might say, “He obviously had a special ability to resist.”  You are right. It is the same special ability we have access to: The Holy Spirit. God may take us to the desert to see what our faith is made of, but He will not give us something we can’t handle, and will actually empower us if we seek Him in that moment (1 Cor 10:13).

But careful. Careful we must be because when we are in the desert it is easy to see what is coming.   We might feel as though we have plunged a dagger into the heart of temptation, but we have not put it to rest.  We must remember, we are human. No matter how willing our spirit is to continue on day after day in the will of God, our flesh is weak (Matt 26:40-43).  We crave food. We seek power. We want to be known. Our eyes, the lamp into our soul (Matt 6:22-24), see a way we can instantly fulfill the desires that will be made complete by God and chases after them in selfish, fleeting moments.  Unfortunately, this often comes on the day we leave our armor at home, catching us off guard, not ready to do spiritual battle.

Deut 8 3Looking to Jesus, how can we be ready to do battle with temptation?  First, he knew the word of God. It is how He responds not only to the temptation, but even when the word of God is seemingly being used against Him.  How can you know the will of God? It is as ironically simple as losing weight: diet and exercise. Consume the right thing, His word, and practice it daily, so you will be spiritual healthy.  Next, do God’s business. Know that temptation can come at any moment, but comes easier when we are idle (Prov 16:27-29). Keep your eyes on God and your hands and feet busy to his work. Like the old adage, “if you’re going through hell, just keep going,”  Jesus faced the temptation, but immediately moves onto His ministry. Temptation IS NOT sin. No guilt required; pick up and move on. Finally, be on guard. Relapse can setback or even kill your spiritual life. Removing unnecessary temptation from our lives is a must.  Even if we are in the word every day, engaging in spiritual disciplines, or deeply involved in a ministry, at the very height of our endeavors, it only takes a moment to go back to sin and fall harder and faster than we ever did (the very nature of relapse). If you can’t hang out with your friends without getting drunk, then don’t hang out with them.  If you can’t be on the internet without looking at inappropriate sites, then don’t get on it. If you can’t use social media without bridling your tongue and speaking in love, then stop. Jesus uses hyperbole to illustrate the practical advice when he states, “it is better to cut your hand off” or “pluck your eye out” (Matt 5:29, 30) than to be lost to sin, and ultimately the kingdom of God.

It is imperative you know there is a way to overcome temptation, no matter how great.  We have access to the Father, power through His Holy Spirit, and our eyes on Jesus Christ not only as our example, but our mediator when we fall short. He speaks to the Father because Jesus knows what it is like, and encourages us to not give in or give up.  Study. Do. Guard. Repeat. Temptation may come, but sin will no longer find a foothold in you.

-Aaron Winner

Lessons from the Wilderness: Jesus

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #4: God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

god's word does.

This week, as we’ve been thinking about our wilderness wanderings, we’ve primarily looked through the lessons from the Old Testament. Today though, we’re going to turn to the New Testament to see an example of a wilderness experience that can teach us a lot about how to make sure this experience makes us and doesn’t break us.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights before he begins his ministry. This is a familiar story that shows the humanity of Jesus and how he can relate to us, but today, I want to focus on where Jesus was tempted. It says in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” In our time thinking about the wilderness, we’ve focused on the types of wilderness experiences we may have and how God’s faithful love can sustain us. As we look at Jesus’ experience, we can see how to survive and thrive in the wilderness.  

The first lesson we can glean from this passage is that sometimes, as is the case with the Israelites and Elijah, we are led into the wilderness by God. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. At this point, Jesus had not begun his ministry, so this time could have been for testing and strengthening Jesus’ faith and dependence on God so that we could learn from it. By asking ourselves during each wilderness experience “What can I learn from this? How can I grow?”, we can better face the times in wilderness with palms held open instead of allowing bitterness to grow in us.

The second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that God’s word is crucial for surviving in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus had to face physical hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He also was probably emotionally drained in this time as well. This may sound like a description of ourselves when we go through times in the wilderness. How often in these times where we are sad, lonely, depressed and drained – how often do we pause in these moments and stop the spiral of depression and wandering by saturating ourselves in God’s word? By looking at Jesus’ example, we can see how we can stop temptations in their tracks by responding with God’s word, more specifically by aligning our actions with God’s word.

The last lesson that I want us to focus on today is looking at when this wilderness experience took place. Though Jesus had not begun his ministry yet, in the previous chapter, he had just gotten baptized. All too often, we think that if we have committed our life to God that things will go well, that we’ll never have to experience trials or periods of suffering. But, we can look at Jesus’ life to see that this is simply not that case. Aside from Jesus’ experience on the cross, we can look at the beginning of his ministry as well to see that as these periods will happened to him, they will happen to us.

Jesus survived in the wilderness, and he thrived in the wilderness. I’m not sure what Jesus gained spiritually or emotionally in the wilderness, but I know what I can learn from his experience there. In the wilderness, Jesus was able to overcome temptation and suffering, including not only physical trials – but also spiritual trials – through God’s word. God’s word sustained Jesus and allowed this time to be a springboard into Jesus’ ministry instead of something that would have crippled his ministry. Now, we can look at this story and lessen the impact of what Jesus was able to do because Jesus was the son of God. But, Jesus was capable of growth and change, as seen in Luke 2:52. This is what makes him the perfect mediator for us. So, as we close this lesson today, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus as he readied his disciples for the trials they would face during the days leading up to the crucifixion: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus, we can conquer the world, including all our days of wilderness wanderings.

~ Cayce Fletcher

spurgeon quote

Hold Firmly

Hebrews Chapter Four

Hebrews 4_14

There is a belief in the Christian world that some hold to called “once saved, always saved.”  Basically this means that if you come to a saving relationship with God and Christ, then you can never lose your ticket to eternal salvation.  This can be a dangerous perspective because it enables Christians to become complacent with where they are at if they believe they can never lose their salvation.  Worse yet, it can lead people to a life of sin and destruction if they do not take seriously the consequences of sin.  Verse six of Hebrews chapter four discusses this doctrine of once saved, always saved a bit by stating, “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience.”  The author is stating that some who receive the good news/gospel fail to enter rest because of their disobedience.  They initially accepted the promises of the gospel, but they failed to enter because of their disobedience.  In other words, they were once considered saved when they accepted and received the gospel, but they lost it when they disobeyed.  This verse suggests that maybe the doctrine of once saved, always saved is not founded in the Bible.

This should provide a wakeup call for us!  We need to take the sin in our lives very seriously.  We are to be sanctified and set apart from this world, so let’s act like it!  Let’s not become complacent and degrade the consequences of sin.  God hates sin.  The hardening of our hearts can lead us to sin, and again the author warns us of hardening our hearts in verse seven.  We should take this warning seriously since the author has repeated it three times in chapters three and four.

The concept of rest is repeated a lot in this chapter.  What exactly is the author referring to when he is talking about rest?  Let’s take a look at what this rest is described as in chapters three and four:

  1. Israelites unable to enter God’s rest because of their disobedience and unbelief (3:18-19)
  2. The promises of entering God’s rest still stand (4:1)
  3. We who believe enter the rest (4:3)
  4. God swore that some will not enter his rest (4:3,5)
  5. God rested on the seventh day (4:4)
  6. Remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (4:9)
  7. Whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his works (4:10)
  8. Strive to enter the rest (4:11)

Here’s what I get from all of this.  God offered the Israelites during the exodus a chance to rest, but they were not able to enter God’s rest because they were disobedient.  The author then compares the rest that was offered to the Israelites to the coming Kingdom.  I come to this conclusion because the promises of entering God’s rest still stand.  There is still a chance to enter God’s rest.  However, not everyone will attain that rest, only the people of God.  In fact God swore that not everyone will enter his rest.  If we are disobedient and unbelieving, then we will not enter God’s rest.  However, if we are a people after God’s own heart, then we surely will enter God’s beloved rest in the coming Kingdom.  Hallelujah! Praise God! Amen!  Therefore, continue to strive toward the Kingdom and bring as many people with you as possible because one day you will enter God’s rest in the Kingdom.

Chapter four ends with talk of Jesus being the great high priest.  We truly do have a great high priest in Jesus.  One of the awesome things about Jesus being our high priest is that he is able to sympathize with us.  Jesus was tempted just like we are, but fortunately he did not sin.  He knows what we go through when we are faced with trials and temptations.  He is no stranger to struggle and suffering.  We can seek refuge in our high priest when we face these temptations because he is able to sympathize with us and plead our case to our Heavenly Father, YHWH.  Jesus being tempted is also more great proof against the trinity.  James 1:13 states, “God cannot be tempted with evil.”  If Jesus were God as well, then James and the author of Hebrews would be contradicting one another.  It cannot be possible for the word of God to contradict itself.  Jesus can’t be tempted, and never have been tempted at the same time.  It doesn’t work that way.  It logically does not make sense.  Jesus was indeed tempted like us, and being our high priest, he is able to sympathize and help us.

To close out today’s devotion, I want to point out Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  I hope you have gotten benefit from reading these posts.  However, if you don’t get anything else, I want you to know and fully understand that the word of God is living and active.  We are beyond blessed to have the Bible today.  If it weren’t for God’s supervision, there would be no stinking way that we should have it because of the numerous attempts to rid the world of the Bible.  The Bible has only flourished though.  It is truly a divine miracle that we all have access to a Bible, God’s word.  I want to encourage you to keep up the awesome work in delving into God’s word through these devotions.  You are truly doing a great deed.  Keep up the awesome work, and truly believe in your heart that these words are living and active.

-Kyle McClain

Who is the Son of God?

 

Luke 22

luke 22_46

Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it.  And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution.  He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.

But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb.  And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin.  Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes.  Communion services are a great reminder of this promise.  At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant.  Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.

I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail.  And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,”  Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping.  I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?

Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal!  And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.

Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands.  Beware of what you expect from the Son of God.  Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!

-Marcia Railton

 

 

God’s Greatest Gift: The Relatable Messiah

Luke 4

Luke 4 Picture

 

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human… 1 Timothy 2:5

 

This week we have gotten a taste of God’s amazing grace in our lives. This can be best seen through his only begotten son, the Christ Jesus. Luke chapter 4 begins with Jesus being tempted by Satan while led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days (Luke 4:1). In Luke 4:13, it is made clear that Jesus does not succumb to these temptations. He then travels back to Galilee and begins his ministry.

 

In Luke chapter 1, we discussed how God could have chosen anyone to give birth to Jesus, yet he chose Mary. In a similar idea, God could have created anything to be our king, yet he chose a human. Isn’t that mind-boggling? God gave us a savior that we could actually relate to.

 

All of us have been tempted, and we know how consuming it is. There is so much power to me in being able to read Luke chapter 4 and know that our Messiah knows what it feels like to be tempted. It empowers me to never give up and to keep pushing forward. Jesus is able to be a powerful example and driving force for us because he is one of us!

 

So, as you read today, do not be afraid. Do not feel alone. God gave us a mediator that gives us access to his throne room that has felt the same feelings that you do! Wow, what a mighty God we serve. We are so blessed.

 

-Leslie Jones

 

 

 

Don’t give in to Temptation! – Prov. 5

Proverbs-5.21.png

Hello, Everyone! I hope your week has gone well; can you believe it is Friday already?!

Today’s passage is Proverbs, chapter 5. This chapter is about one topic, and this topic is a piece of wisdom in itself. Again, thank you for joining us today, and I encourage you to go ahead a read this chapter on your own as well.

Proverbs 5, is full of warnings; warnings against disobeying, warnings about temptation, warnings about not realizing the good of what you have already been given.

The beginning of chapter five, tells us to listen and heed the wisdom being given. Verses 1-3 “My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” This specific example speaks about giving in to adultery, however, it can be applied to any temptation we have. At any point in your life, someone might not have your best interest in mind, and they are only seeking to please themselves, and they might drag them down with you if you let them. This is later depicted in verses 11-14: “At the end of your life, you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors. And I was soon in serious trouble in the assembly of God’s people.” The person who gave in to their temptation later realize their mistake, and they regret that they did not listen to what many were trying to tell them.

The end of this chapter reads, “Why, my son be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline, they will die, led astray by their own great folly.” Proverbs 5:20-23

While these verses specifically talk about adultery, it can be applied to many other temptations in our lives. Why would we envy something someone else has when we have our own house, or our own life, our own family, our own job? God gives us what we need, and sometimes what we want, especially if both align with his will for us. Our God is an awesome God, who loves us so much, that he sent his only son to die for us, that we might live with him, forever. He knows our every need, he knows our every desire, and he likes to give gifts to those who are faithful.

We should not give in to temptations set in front of us because God can and does give us so much more. We should listen to the wisdom our elders, parents, friends, and peers give us because so often God has placed them in our lives to be a part of our journey.

Thank you for reading today, and I hope you have a great rest of your day and a great weekend. Don’t forget to memorize the verse this week, Proverbs 3:5-6. & Check in with us tomorrow for the last post this week.

~ Jana Swanson