Crouching at the door

In Genesis 4, the brothers Cain and Abel brought separate offerings to God. Abel’s offering was pleasing to God, but Cain’s was not. Instead of owning up to his failure, Cain responded in anger, jealousy, and ultimately murderous rage against his brother.

This chapter reveals conversation between Cain and God so it would seem that there was relationship, perhaps even a good relationship so how did we go from relationship with the Almighty God to murdering one’s brother?

  1. Why did Cain provide an offering that wasn’t acceptable?
  2. Why instead of repentance did Cain double-down on sin and go so far as to kill his brother?
  3. Why would Cain think that God wouldn’t see his crime?

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.”

Genesis 4:7

For me the aforementioned verse is a warning that one sin leads to another. Somehow Cain’s priorities became misaligned then he sinned and sinned again.

How can we make sure to avoid the same mistakes as Cain as we give?

  1. Prayer. Lord, reveal to me my own heart and shortcomings. Reveal my selfishness. Shape me to understand that the amount of the gift means nothing when compared to the intent of my heart. May this gift be pleasing to you.
  2. Remembrance and thanksgiving. Meditating on what He has done and what he’s promised. He’s given us so much by loving us first even though we are sinners and then eliminating the penalty of death that we deserve. God gave his only son, Jesus gave his life. Does our gift reflect gratitude for these gifts?
  3. Repentance. For the times when we gave and wanted to feel good about ourselves rather than truly giving to His Kingdom out of sacrifice. For times when we may have given out of self-glorification. We always reap the reward we seek. 2“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:2)
  4. Acknowledgment that we cannot keep anything from God who “sees in secret”. so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)
  5. Foresight. We likely will not be able to comprehend the impacts of our giving until we get to Heaven. Perhaps one day we will come face to face with someone who was hungry, sick, lonely, poor, and unreached and we will have some knowledge that our commitment impacted their eternity. What a beautiful day that will be!

The Fall

Today’s reading: Genesis 3

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’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 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.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

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. 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 (Genesis 3:1-7). 

Does the story of Adam and Eve’s original sin in Genesis 3 sound eerily familiar to you?  According to the old saying – fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me – the pattern of temptation the serpent used on Eve would eventually stop being effective, right?  Wrong.  Every human since Adam and Eve (except Jesus who was fully God and fully human) has been born with a sinful nature.  The tactics Satan used on Eve have been effective throughout history, and they still work on us today –  

  • Satan implied God was selfish and did not want Adam and Eve to share in his knowledge of good and evil.  By getting Eve to doubt God’s goodness, he helped her overlook all God had given her and focus on the one thing she couldn’t have.  Focusing on what we don’t have, but think we are entitled to have, always tempts us to sin.
  • Satan tried to make Eve think that sin was good, pleasant and desirable.  A knowledge of both good and evil seemed harmless to her.  We are too are tempted to choose wrong things because we convince ourselves those things are good, at least for us.  

When Adam and Eve gave into temptation, and concluded their way was better than God’s way, they sinned.  Do you see what happened next?  They became self-conscious and tried to hide from God.  When God confronted them, they responded by trying to excuse and defend their behavior.  Ugh.  This sounds just like me.

A sinful life is not the life to which God has called me.  I must reverse this course. While not easy, I know categorically choosing the opposite of Adam and Eve will yield a different result – I must become convinced God’s way is better than my way, I must stop hiding from God, and I must drop my excuses and defenses.

As we begin 2019, I commit to choosing differently.  Knowing I cannot be successful on my own, I will rely on God’s promise of help.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One Shining Moment

Today’s reading is Genesis 2.

Heaven and earth were completed and God rested on the 7th day, making it holy. Then He went on to create man from the “dust of the earth” by “breathing into his nostrils the breath of life” Genesis 2:7. He put the man in the garden of eden to work it and take care of it. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘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 certainly die’” Genesis 2:17. Then God created “a helper suitable for him” which He fashioned from Adams rib. They were man and woman, created by God, living in perfection. “Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame” Genesis 2:25.

Can you imagine a life without shame? For “one shining moment” everything was perfect and just as God intended it to be. Adam and Eve lived in harmony with creation and in direct communion with God. Nothing separated them. Their purpose was to take care of the garden and each other. And “they felt no shame”. If only things could have remained that way forever!

As defined by Merriam Webster, shame is “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety”. Shame can be a result of sin and often carries with it feelings of worthlessness and failure. When we move from true conviction over wrong doing into shame we get trapped. We become our sin and our thoughts move inward. Shame is not productive and keeps us from being all that God intended us to be.

Unlike this chapter of Genesis 2, we live in an imperfect world full of sin and shame. That sin, when left unconfessed, seperates us from God. Our shame over our sin keeps us hidden in lies of worthlessness about who we think we are. Thankfully, God sent Jesus so many years later to atone for our sin and remove the shame that comes with it. We are sinners saved by grace to live a life of freedom in Christ. Because of this sacrifice on the cross we can live a life without shame. We are defined by a God who created us in His image not by our sin.

My prayer is that shame would never steal you away from God. You are a unique creation made for His purpose. Happy New Year!!

Shelly

In the Beginning – Genesis 1

Happy 2019 Bible Journal Family!

I’m humbled and honored to start our newest journey today through God’s living word.  As we head into 2019 I hope you had some time to reflect on 2018 and how God has moved mountains in your life and others around you.  I also know you faced hard times as well that stretched and challenged your faith. Remember we can look back with thankful hearts for what God has done and forward with confidence that He has great plans for you! What are your spiritual goals for this year?  I pray reading through our daily devotional is one of those additional ways for you to be in the word. Allow time in the bible to nourish your heart, mind, and soul while growing closer in a relationship with our God.

 The first half of the year we plan to start with the Zondervan overview of the Bible, where we take a chapter and focus on a specific topic .  Today, we start in Genesis 1 with a focus on,  In the beginning.  What a great way to start 2019 by going back to the one who created it all. The one who today through Him, will create all things new.  Revelation 21:4-6

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

This first verse is a simple reminder He made it all and He has sovereignty over all things. This statement In the beginning  is a statement that answers the question between skeptics and believers, Is the world a result of divine creation or evolution?  As believers we look at the beginning and know that God was purposeful in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Watch and share this short video about how did it all begin and how it will  never end.  The Story by Spread Truth

Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

In the beginning, God spoke and everything came into existence. In the beginning, of all His beauty created, His masterpiece was us! We were made in His image to reflect Him.  We were physically made to represent Him.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Our lives have a  grand purpose of worshipping, loving, and serving Him while enjoying a life-long growing relationship with Him.  Psalm 139: 14-16 reminds us that all days of our existence are already written in His book.

So as we start 2019 I pray that you can walk in courageous confidence that God who is the creator of it all is always by our side. That our physical existence was perfectly planned. That our spiritual existence changes when we decided to walk by faith and believe in Him. In John 3:3-6 Jesus tells his disciples that we will enter His Kingdom when we are born again of the water and Spirit.  

Lastly, when we think about,  In the beginning, God saw all that He had created and said it was good!  Even after sin entered the world He has never abandoned us. He sent His son to save us.  In the beginning, similar to the start of a new year, God fearfully and wonderfully made us for a purpose. I pray that this new year bring you a joy and peace that all that will happen this year God has planned.  He is with you and longing for you to speak to Him every day and in all moments. 

Genesis 1:31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

Happy New Year!

Year End Wrap-up

As we are preparing and planning for the closure of 2018 and anticipating the arrival of 2019, let us reflect on the events and experiences of the past year.  For many this past year has brought joy: birth of children, new houses, new career paths, marriage, and countless other joys.  The year has also brought sadness and the need for comfort: deaths, loss of finances, loss of relationships, and more.  But in the midst of these journeys in life we have a constant strength that is unwavering which Christ.    Paul states it best in the letter to the Galatians 

Galatians 5: 22-23 (KJV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

God’s love and patience is part of the fruit of the spirit. But we also see that in enduring the harshness of life, God is able to provide comfort to us.

As we enter this New Year, allow this to be our constant prayer:

 Philippians 4:6-7 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

May we enter the New Year with hope and acknowledge the difficulties that will present themselves, but be assured that God will give us peace that will transcend all rational thought and logic.  

I John 4: 18

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 

Thank you for being a blessing to me this past year.  May God continue to work through us for His Glory.  

Happy New Years. 

Share the Good News


Twelve years ago our family began to travel to a beach town in Northern Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. At the time we lived in Southern Arizona so the town of Puerto Penasco was an easy drive. It was on these vacations that we began the search for Sand Dollars and it was always a race to be the first to find one. Now we have a large collection at home. Three years ago I learned that there is actually a legend about the sand dollar. Now that I know what the sand dollar actually represents I have an even deeper appreciation for them. And, and even bigger desire to find more. We are on vacation right now and the beach is abundant with sand dollars. Our first morning out, we found 12 of them!

The sand dollar is a visible way to see God through His creation. The sand dollar is a flat looking burrowing sea urchin. It lives on the floor of shallow sandy waters along the coasts of the ocean. The urchin is washed up on the beach and bleached by the sun.

On the top part of the shell you can see the center is a star. This star represents the Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to the manger when Jesus was born. Around the star is the outline of the Easter lily, which is a sign of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

At the edges of the star are four holes and in the center another hole. These holes remind us of the wounds the Lord suffered on His hands and feet while on the Cross.

On the back side of the sand dollar you will find an outline of the Poinsettia, the Christmas flower.

Finally, when you break open the sand dollar, five “doves” appear. These doves represent the Peace and Joy of Christmas. There are always five doves inside the sand dollar.

Here is a poem by an unknown author about the legend of the Sand Dollar:

The legend of the Sand dollar
That I would like to tell
Of the birth and death of Jesus Christ
Found in this lowly shell.

If you will examine closely,
You’ll see that you find here
Four nail holes and a fifth one
Made by a Roman’s spear.

On one side the Easter Lily,
It’s center is the star
That appeared unto the shepherds
And led them from afar.

The Christmas Poinsettia
Etched on the other side
Reminds us of His Birthday,
Our joyous Christmas tide.

Now break the center open
And here you will release
The five white doves awaiting
To spread good will and peace.

This simple little symbol,
Christ left for you and me.
To help to spread His Message
Through all eternity.

I love the act of finding Sand Dollars even more now that I can attach a meaning of the Love of God to them. I love that God gives us physical reminders of His presence and practical ways we can share Him and His story with others.

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Close Encounters

Now that we have passed Christmas, our thoughts turn toward the new year.  As always, I make a list of things that I want to accomplish in the next year.  “2019 will be different,” I say.  This is the year, that everything will come together.  This year, I will fulfill my life’s calling. But, it doesn’t really work that way.  At least, it hasn’t happened yet in my 48 years.  You see, if I am going to achieve bigger things, if my efforts are going to yield different results than last year, I will have to make some adjustments.  I am learning that my life is built exactly the way that I have built it.  Which creates in me all kinds of questions.  Primary among them is “Lord, how would you have built my life?”

Of course, that is the most dangerous of all questions because it convicts me. I have not yet become who God created me to be.  How do I know?  Because I have not yet learned to be reliant.  In fact, nearly everything I attempted in 2018 was designed to become independent, powerful and full.  This is not the Jesus way.  Jesus chose to remain hungry when presented with food in the desert, while I looked for more food and complained when I didn’t get it.  Jesus chose to remain poor rather than accept all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  But, I turned to bitterness and resentment when my kingdom didn’t grow. 

There is hope.  In fact, we get to celebrate a new year in just a few days.  New years are a wonder ful thing.  They are a new beginning, a new creation.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).  This is it.  Right now, today, is our opportunity to be that new creation.  It is given us, all we have to do is acknowledge it.

As I write the words on this page, the voices in my head get louder.  They ask, “how in the world will you ever do that?” “How can you possibility be that strong?”  “After all these years, do you really think that you can just shut it down and be who you were created to be?”  The honest answer to all of those questions is “No.  I cannot.”  It is this realization, this understanding that gets me closest to who I was created to be.  At the end of my rope, with no hope left and no resources to call upon, I get to encounter Christ.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So, if you want to know what my real goal is for 2019, I will tell you.  I will intentionally seek a true encounter with him.  Everyday.

Angels We Have Heard..in Brooklyn??

In July of 2017, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip doing street ministry with Spread Truth. This was something I had never done before and stretched my comfort zone. Our first day was on parks where you are typically approaching people that are seated, and let’s just say the first guy we approached was about as rude and mean as you could be and I thought to myself..”well…it can’t get any worse than that. It can only get better, so let’s move on and go to the next one!” The rest of the day resulted in some great conversations where the Holy Spirit was at work. Day 2 was a different assignment standing on the sidewalks in the streets of Brooklyn as people passed. To say we were off to a rough start was an understatement. For nearly an hour we could not get anyone to even stop to talk to us as they busily hurried to wherever they were headed. We were very discouraged to say the least, and then came a conversation with Thomas King, a name and an interaction I will never forget.

Thomas, who we later would learn was age 93, was standing by a bench, and we approached him to hopefully tell him the Gospel and change his life..instead…he changed ours. He encouraged us immediately and told us to look at the faces of every person that walked by. He said they were all filled with stress, anxiety, and worry…he said, “What they all need is Jesus!” If they would just remember and lean on the words of Isaiah 26:3, they would not be so troubled. He then told us the words of this verse from memory..

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

Not only did this emotional pep talk fire us up like a coach before a big game to remind us that people needed what we had and we had to go back out there and push through the rejection, challenges, and disappointments we had experienced and tell them about what they truly needed….which was Jesus, but it was also a great reminder that fear, anxiety, and stress all come from selfish thoughts and concerns about ourselves. 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” When we are focused on Him and his perfect love for us given on the cross and we know His love shown in this way means we will spend eternity in Heaven with Him and that is all that really matters, we will be in “perfect peace” as Isaiah 26:3 says.

It’s hard to describe our feelings as Thomas captured our hearts and minds with his words of wisdom. Sadly though, Thomas told us than many younger than him, including his church, did not listen. He told us he was recently recognized by his church for his years of membership there, but they would not give him the opportunity to speak when he asked. This saddened me because not only did it disappoint Thomas, but his words had so much impact on us that we did not want him to stop speaking and others would be missing out on his wisdom. Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”  How many times do we miss out on the opportunity to learn from our elders by not asking them or not listening to them and discounting their credibility which should be gained, not lost, with age?

Hebrews 13:2 reads, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” I don’t know if Thomas was an angel, but I do know that his words cut sharp like a knife at exactly the right time when we needed it and reminded us that what we were doing was not about us and we needed to re-direct our fear to focus on Jesus and His perfect love which every person who walked by needed. As we head into 2019, we hope and pray that it will bring us many blessings, but it will undoubtedly also will bring us challenges. Let’s commit to being prepared to face those trials because our minds will be fixed on Him and His perfect love, and we will trust in Him which will give us “perfect peace.” We have faith He will give us exactly what we need when we need it..just like He gave us Thomas King.

The gift that keeps on giving

Chances are, most of us received at least one material gift from a friend or loved one in the last few weeks. We also most likely gave a gift to a friend or loved one. Chances are also high that giving and/or receiving a gift brought us joy. We might have spent considerable time picking out just the perfect gift for someone in hopes of bringing that person great joy. We have reason to be thankful for the gifts we give AND receive.

During the season of Advent, we are given time to reflect on the spiritual gifts of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. These gifts from heaven help us focus and prepare for Christmas. Some of my personal favorites are the following:

Hope: Jeremiah 29: 11 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Love: 1 Corinthians 13 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. …. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Joy: Luke 2:10 1And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Peace: John 14:27 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

A few additional gifts during the season we can be thankful for include the gift of family, friends, and time. Time to reconnect. Time to reflect on the year. Time to refresh. Downtime away from the usual daily grind. God gives us time during Advent to help us prepare but also to refocus on the many gifts he gives us. May we use these gifts wisely! (Note to self: use the gift of time over the holidays.)

As we celebrate these days of Christmas, we are all well aware of the greatest gift, the gift that keeps on giving: Jesus’ birth. Luke 2: 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn……1“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
[d]

Faith, hope, love, peace, joy, time….all words to help us reconnect during the Christmas season. Isaiah 9: 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  May this wonderful gift keep on giving to each of you in 2019. Merry Christmas!

A Thrill of Hope

This time of year, between the Christmas parties and school programs, the traditions and time with family and friends, there’s also a lot of real life stuff. And it’s not always tinsel and twinkling lights. The most wonderful time of year can amplify the hurts of some and leave people feeling less than jolly, especially in comparison to others with all the cheer and mistletoe. 

To the momma that buried her son this year – God sees you. 

To the dad dividing holiday time with his kids after the divorce this year – God sees you. 

To the woman in the middle of cancer treatments – God sees you. 

To the man that lost his job and can’t pay the mortgage this month – God sees you. 

We are all surrounded by people with hurts – some much more visible than others. Or you may be someone with an extraordinary hurt this season, ready for the new year to come and to get back into a routine.  

This line from O Holy Night keeps coming to my mind, convicting me and challenging me.

Am I truly thrilled and celebrating the birth of Jesus?  Or do I allow the challenges of the day dim the Light of the world in my life? Do I look at my hurts, worries, stress, and allow them to be overcome with a thrill of hope? Am I rejoicing along with the weary world? Am I helping others rejoice amidst their weariness?  

1 Peter 3:15 tells us:

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 

Is it evident to others that I have the hope of Christ in my life? Do I have my testimony ready to share when asked about the hope I have? 

I don’t have the answers or solutions to all of the real life situations right now – but I do know that we can put our hope in the Lord. Because of Jesus, we have eternal life. And that truly IS thrilling! Jesus’ arrival thrilled a weary Mary and Joseph, it thrilled the weary shepherds, and it thrills a weary world! This Christmas, let the thrill of Jesus and the hope He brings, allow us to rejoice through the weariness and hurts.  Not because those things aren’t real and don’t hurt – they are real and the pain is real… but we can rejoice because God sent us Jesus – and He has overcome the world!