Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 2 Jan 18:
1. Genesis 3:1 — “Did God actually say…?” Sin starts with questioning God’s word and trying to alter its obvious meaning in order to accommodate sin. How important is it then to personally know God’s word? Then, how important is it to actually trust God’s word rather than second-guessing it? How important is it to trust enough to obey God’s word even when it doesn’t seem to make sense? Most people hardly know God’s word, and all who know God’s word (though no one knows it well enough) are tempted to doubt it and to rely on their own opinions instead. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus responded with the right application of God’s word which Jesus had memorized – He is our example.
2. Genesis 3:4 — “You will not surely die.” It is not enough to ‘believe in God’, which, as James reminds us, even the demons do – “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19) At least the demons shudder — many today don’t even do that; demon-like faith would be a step up for some. We must not just ‘believe in God’, we must ‘believe God’. The Christian life is about believing God and trusting Him — faith. It is about living by every word that proceeds from His mouth (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). To say that we live by every word that God speaks is the same as saying we trust Him implicitly — we take God at His word. This is the kind of faith that the Bible calls, in one sense, childlike faith (not childish but childlike). We don’t trust in our own understanding, but rather in His perfect wisdom (Proverbs 3:5); we aren’t controlled by our own desires but rather His (2 Corinthians 5:14). Faith is obedient. The Bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please God because we won’t believe Him enough to do what He commands, which will usually be contrary to our desires and to human wisdom. (Hebrews 11:6; Isaiah 55:8) Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 13, of the great triad of Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love – faith: trusting God now; hope: trusting God’s future promise (faith projected forward); love: unity with God and both the source and fruit of genuine faith. The greatest of these is love, and Jesus tells us that love obeys. One of the first steps of faith in a Christian’s life is to prayerfully study God’s word. At first, this might be difficult, but love will make this a passion rather than a difficult task. However, careful study of God’s word must be followed by obedience to God’s word; this is where the heart is tested, and this is where knowledge turns to true understanding. Adam and Eve knew God’s word and, like Jesus did in the desert, responded to Satan’s temptations by reciting God’s word. However, unlike Jesus, Adam and Eve trusted themselves more than they trusted God’s word. They allowed their emotions, passions, and desires to influence their decision-making more than God’s word. The visible, tangible apple in front of them became more real to them than the invisible God that created it. They became practical atheists and dethroned the KING, replacing Him with the idol of self. At the moment of decision, their “Yes” became bigger than their “No”. One seemingly small decision had eternal consequences. As with Adam and Eve, our problem is not usually that we don’t know what God wants, we simply don’t want to do what God wants. Our problem is not the gap between ignorance and knowledge but rather the chasm between knowledge and commitment. Why? Because the reality of who God is isn’t real enough in our lives. At the point of decision (which is continuous), our faith must trust the invisible Eternal more than the visible temporal – “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The first obstacle is self, the “I” in idol. The battle against self is a “daily” struggle.
3. Genesis 3:4, 5 – “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” When we doubt God’s word, we are doubting God Himself, questioning His Sovereignty, Righteousness, Holiness, Perfection, and Love. We are committing cosmic treason, trying to claim the rights of authority for ourselves. Treason against God is a crime deserving of death. The God of Justice must deal with this sin; The God of Grace and Mercy gave his Son to pay that penalty.
4. Genesis 3:6 – “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Again, sin involves trusting our own perceptions over God’s word; it involves preferring what can be seen over what is unseen. Sin places selfish desires over God’s commands. Sin seeks self-gratification over obedience to God. Sin promotes self over God. When we sin, we also promote sin in others. We lead others away from God, whether we realize it or not.
5. Genesis 3:7 – “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Sin destroys relationships because it makes us selfish and untrustworthy. All relationships are built on trust. Real trust can only be found in love which will never take advantage of the other person. Only in selfless, loving relationships can people be safely vulnerable and fully exposed, fully open, truly one. Love and obedience go hand-in-hand. God’s greatest commandment calls us to love Him wholly, and the second greatest commandment is to love others though they are incapable of loving us unselfishly. This means we are called to be vulnerably exposed to others despite the fact that, in imperfect love, they will undoubtedly hurt us. This is why Jesus said that to “come after Him”, we must deny self (be selfless), take up our cross (loving the unloving who will hurt us), and follow Him. This is why Jesus promised that His true disciples would suffer persecution. When we suffer because we lovingly expose ourselves to unloving people that they might see the love of Christ, we fellowship with Jesus.
6. Genesis 3:8 – “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” The guilt we feel from sin causes us to separate, even hide from God. Guilt prevents us from experiencing the fullness of joy that comes from close relationship with God, and this hurts all of our earthly relationships. Key to all of our relationships is having unquestioned faith in forgiveness from God through faith in Jesus Christ who paid for our sins once and for all. With grace through Jesus, we can walk with God confidently, fully exposed, without fear. When we sin again, we don’t have to hide our sins from our loving Father who gave His Son to pay for those sins. We can lay those sins before the Lord, repent of them, and start anew, pressing forward to ever-increasing holiness. As we confidently accept continual forgiveness through Christ, we must then freely give forgiveness to those who will continually sin against us – how could we possibly do otherwise?
7. Genesis 3:9 – “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” God has always called out to the sinner.
8. Genesis 3:12, 13 – “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” People have a tendency to blame God and others for their sins. One of the first steps to getting right with God is being humble enough to take responsibility for your sins, to stop blaming someone else or your circumstances for your sins. Pride makes it hard to be honest with yourself and before God. You cannot fix what you are not willing to be honest about.
9. Genesis 3:15 – “…he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the first proclamation of the Gospel, prophesying Jesus’ victory over Satan. When Jesus was wounded on the Cross, Satan was dealt a mortal blow.
10. Genesis 3:16 – “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” God knew from the beginning that marriage would be a unique struggle between man and woman; marriage is the schoolhouse for Christ-like character development. Marriage is the primary place where people learn how to love selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally. This is the primary place most people are called to deny self, take of their cross (in relationships), and follow Jesus. As our example, Jesus hung on a cross and freely gave His life for those who persecuted Him, and as He died a brutal death, He said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Your spouse will mistreat you, but your “cross” will never compare to the forgiving sacrifice Jesus gave on your behalf, the sacrifice upon which you place your hope. In your domestic struggles, deny yourself and take up your cross as an act of love, first for Jesus and then for others. God knows what you are going through and has given you a great opportunity to both glorify Him and draw nearer to Him. You worship God primarily in your relationships, and your greatest worship is found in your closest relationships.
11. Genesis 3:17 — “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you.” Whoever or whatever on this earth has the most control over you at the moment of decision is your god, or better stated, idol. Your choices that are made outside of the authority and will of God cannot be blessed by God, only cursed. God still loves you, but He will not honor your disobedience, and He will not accept idols in your life. One of the most important things you can do this year, and every year, is continually consider why you do what you do. What is the real motivation behind your actions? Are you truly serving God or serving self (sometimes with great religiosity). Are you motivated by selfless love or fear, pride, greed, or self-righteousness? Is something other than God driving your decisions? Does fear of man have more relevancy in your life that fear of God? Are you trusting in Him, trusting in self, or trusting in others? Do you have a Savior or a Lord and Savior? If you are honest, you will admit that your motives are mixed, and if you are humble, you will earnestly seek the Holy Spirit’s power in your life to purify your motives. Throughout each day, examine your heart and continually pray for greater purity, again, always walking confidently in the grace of God. Don’t stare at or wallow in your constant past mistakes but keep pressing forward in Christ, seeking a closer walk with Him with each step.
12. Genesis 3:19 – “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” At the very beginning of this year, you can put the “prosperity gospel” teachings to rest. Life is guaranteed to be challenging for all, including the faithful Christian. You will work hard, experience many life crises, get sick, and eventually die, no matter how many times God heals you for a time. Times might be hard today, but as you read the Bible, consider what life was like for those you are reading it about. When was it ever easy? In his final recorded prayer for us in John 17, Jesus specifically states that He is not praying for us to be kept from life’s challenges but that we would be protected from the temptations of Satan as we go through them, that we would remain one with Him through life’s challenges. The Bible will teach you this year that, in Jesus, we can have contentment, peace, rest, and joy despite life’s challenges. Read carefully and prayerfully to understand this truth.
13. Genesis 3:20 – “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” God values men and women equally, though He gives them very different roles and responsibilities. Our popular culture challenges these roles, in part, by implying that certain roles and responsibilities are more important than others. The Bible gives certain authorities to men over women, much like the Father has certain authorities over the Son, though the Son is no less God or less important than the Father. The general designs the strategy, but the colonel designs the operations, the captain executes the tactics, and the sergeants put the rounds on the targets – they are all essential to winning the battles that win the war, none of them more worthy of praise than the other. We all have our roles to play. Success is found in fidelity to God in our unique purpose. Nothing good happens on the battlefield when sergeants try to be generals and when generals try to be sergeants.
14. Genesis 3:21 — “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” In His grace and mercy, God shields us from the total impact of our sins.
15. Genesis 3:22 – “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.‘” God places limits on us for our own benefit and for the benefit of others around us. He gives us what is best over what we want. If we got what we wanted, it would ruin us because we don’t want what He wants. God’s answer to your prayers is often “No,” for good reason. Trust Him with “No.” The more what you want is what He wants, the more you will hear “Yes.”
16. Genesis 3:24 – “He drove out the man.” For His perfect purposes, God will often take you where you don’t want to go and will have you experience hardships you don’t want. Again, trust Him. He may drive you out, but He will never abandon you, and He remains in complete control.
17. Genesis 4:1 — “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” God creates life, not us. The lives of the unborn belong to God, not to mothers or fathers.
18. Genesis 4:4-7 – “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’” One of the first, most powerful, and most dangerous sins recorded in the Bible, revisited countless times throughout the remainder of the Bible, is envy. Envy is obviously directed at other people, but ultimately it is directed at God. We are angry because God has given somebody something He hasn’t given us. We are challenging God’s justice and fairness. Resentment creeps in and takes control of us, causing us to sin against God and others. The Bible says that envy destroys us – “rots the bones”. Envy drove Cain to murder. Envy caused the religious leaders of the day to murder Jesus. God calls us to focus on our relationship with Him and to be content with what He has given us rather than to compare our lives with others. Focus on your fidelity to Him, not on your circumstances.
19. Genesis 4:7 – “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” The greatest battle we fight in life is with self, or “the flesh”. We must resist our temptations to sin. The world and the devil are external temptations, but the flesh tempts us from within, making it our greatest threat. Through your Bible readings this year, you will learn how to resist internal temptations.
20. Genesis 4:9 – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Another major theme throughout the Bible is that God holds us accountable of taking care of others around us. We are never permitted to act as if we are not responsible for others. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.
21. Genesis 4:14 – “Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Even evil Cain knew that He was helpless without God’s provision and protection. The height of arrogance is for a person to believe that they are in control of their life.
22. Genesis 4:15 — “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” God Himself protects the sinner. We cannot possibly know what God is doing in the life of an obvious sinner. We are called to judge the actions, not the person. Our job is to seek to help others be reconciled with Jesus, not condemn them, even if we must punish them.
23. Genesis 4:17 – “When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.” When people walk away from God, they glorify themselves over God. They build monuments to themselves rather than God. They want people to recognize them and remember them rather than to recognize and remember God. The Christian doesn’t want any credit, any accolades, or any attention. The Christian’s whole life points to Jesus. Christian, be very wary of the vertical personal pronoun of “I”. Don’t try to share glory with Jesus. You were called to be an ambassador for Jesus, not an ambassador for yourself. Do everything in the name of Jesus, not in your own name.
24. Genesis 4:24 – “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” A godless people become increasingly obsessed with sex and violence, and they grow a distorted view of justice while viewing mercy as weakness.
25. Genesis 4:26 – “At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” The Bible shows a division in society right from the beginning between the lineage of Cain who walked away from God and sought their own power, and the lineage of Seth who called upon God. Everyone places their faith in something. Some will trust earthly power, and some will trust God. Within the political cycle, many will be proclaimed as the hope of the nation; how often did you hear people proclaiming Jesus as the hope for our nation? While everyone is preaching politics, hopefully you will preach the Gospel.
26. Proverbs 2:1-5 – There are three conditions (“if”) to obtaining the “knowledge of God”. Do you know what they are, and are you meeting the conditions? Review: “My son, IF you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, IF you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, IF you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” These verses contain the first “If… then” statements in our readings this year, the first conditional blessings from God. You will see conditional blessings throughout the Bible this year – make note of them. Yes, to receive the fullness of God’s blessings, we must do something. Our responsibility starts with receiving and treasuring His word, studying it, applying it, and praying to Him for more and more understanding. Only through reading and applying God’s word can we find the knowledge of God. Key to this year’s Bible study is understanding that you won’t understand what you don’t apply. For example, you can’t understand football simply by reading all the best books on football. You have to play the game, succeed and fail, get bruised and battered, get dirty, etc. Likewise, when the Holy Spirit tells you what you need to do, you must do it to understand it and to eventually win the game.
27. Proverbs 2:6 – “For the Lord gives wisdom.” Another critical theme in the Bible – wisdom comes only from God. Wisdom is knowledge rightly applied. There are many knowledgeable people in the world, but not many wise people in the world. The Holy Spirit must guide you beyond your very limited intellect to do what you cannot understand through your own ability.
28. Proverbs 2:6-22 – Everyone is on one of two paths in life. One path, the path of life, is only known through Jesus Christ; it cannot be found by anyone else. We must deny self and follow Jesus Christ to be on this path; in fact, He is the path, the “way, the truth, and the life”. No one can get to God apart from Him. Jesus said that His path was a very narrow path that few would find. The other path, the path of destruction, is very wide, and the majority take this path. This path is for those who choose not to deny self and follow Jesus.
29. Proverbs 2:10 – “For wisdom will come into your heart.” Wisdom is not a mental issue, it is a heart issue. Wisdom is not achieved intellectually, it is achieved spiritually. Wisdom is knowledge controlled by love and applied with love. God is love. To have wisdom we must become one with the God who is love and obey Him in love.
30. Matthew 2:1 – “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.” Herod was one of the most powerful kings of his day, his ruins still remain visible to this day. But in the time of Herod, Jesus was born, without earthly wealth, without political power, and without grand acclaim. He had no armies and never built anything we can see today. It took incredible faith to believe that in the time of Herod, a small poor Jewish child was the Savior. Would you have believed then? Do you believe today? Do you believe enough to surrender your life to Him? Have you placed your complete trust in Him? Has He become your life’s purpose?
31. Matthew 2:1-7 – “Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him….’ Herod… [assembled] all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him…. Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.” Very few people knew Gods’ word well enough to know that the time of Jesus was at hand – almost everyone completely missed it. However, among the very few who knew that the Messiah had come, even fewer sought Him out to honor Him as King. Some studied God’s words with intent to counter Jesus while others studied the same word in order to worship Him. Even armed with superior knowledge, some still chose to reject Jesus. The same remains true today. Elite Bible knowledge is required, but it isn’t enough. Ultimately, belief is a spiritual matter not an intellectual matter.
32. Matthew 2:13, 20 – “Remain there until I tell you…. Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” God knows what you cannot know and sees what you cannot see. Our natural perceptions are very limited, but the Holy Spirit can give you supernatural perceptions. When you walk in the Spirit, guided by God’s word, He will lead you where you would not know to go and when you would not know to go. He will keep you from the threats you never saw. Joseph was in-tuned to the Spirit’s guidance because He was committed to obedience. He obeyed the word God had given Him, and God gave Him more. If you are walking in disobedience, you are not in position to hear God’s next instruction.
33. Matthew 2:22, 23 – God can use what seem to be bad situations to fulfill His intent and purpose. Sometimes, from our incredibly limited perspective, what looks bad might be God doing a mighty work in our lives for His glory and our blessing.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 2 Jan 18: Consider your motives behind your Bible study: Are you seeking God’s blessings or seeking God Himself, to be closer to Him? Even with Bible study, you can endeavor in a self-centered way or a God-centered way. Seek to study God’s word in a way that places Him at the center, that makes knowing Him and loving Him the only goal, regardless of whatever blessings you might receive. Be like the wise men in the Bible who only sought to Honor the King and found their greatest joy merely in being in His presence. (Matthew 2:1-10)