Avenues of Grace

Seeking the Lord with Eyes Wide Open

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Missions and Measurement

We arrived home from Poland on Sunday night, and my mind has processed a thousand different emotions and lessons that The Lord taught me while there.  How do you describe the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, the power of God’s Word, or the Spirit that flows through believers of every nation? How can I tell you the peace, the welcome, the feelings of “family” that we experienced with complete strangers or the joy of sharing with those who are considering who Jesus is for the first time?

 

You see, missions is not just about the pretty pictures or the bottom-line of numbers.  God works mightily in so many things on a mission trip, and I want to give as full of an account as I can.  So here goes:

Several years ago, Melaina fixated on a Polish missionary and began praying for her every day for more than a year. This was not our doing. It was The Lord. Only HE could call a 7 year-old to pray like that. We sensed then that we might one day go to Poland.

Fast forward to several weeks ago, and we were $3,600 short of paying for our trip. With so much going on with my family, I had no time to fundraise. The Lord quietly reminded me that HE was sending us to Poland, and He owns the storehouses. I continued to pray and enlisted my prayer warrior friends to pray with me. The Lord provided MORE than we needed for the trip!  Again, only GOD can do that.

We arrived safely and Danny preached the next morning in Olsztynek.  A younger man and woman offered to translate, but after a minute or so, they realized that they couldn’t. A visitor who came in late stood and offered to translate.  It turns out that he was a professional translator AND a pastor. He was in town for the day because his son was placed in the children’s hospital there.  At the end of the sermon, one precious woman came to the front and professed Jesus as Lord.  Just think of the odds of all that coming together at the perfect time…Ya’ll, only God can do that.

So the camp consisted of Polish workers, teams from Arkansas and Florida, and the guests who signed up or who the Polish church members invited. Our theme was the “I Am” statements in the book of John, so all of our lessons walked through those.  The camp was a family camp, so we had a variety of men, women, and children.  Each day followed the same pattern: team devotion, breakfast, worship service, crafts, separate men/women/children Bible studies, and lunch. We then had free time for a couple hours followed by games, whole group Bible study, dinner, and open discussion time.  For those that could stay up late enough, there were games until almost midnight each night.

So now that you know the format, where do I even start in telling you how God is moving?  I could tell you about the man who has battled alcoholism and was saved before coming to camp.  I could tell you how he gave his testimony that if the Bible could help him, he swore he would profess Jesus to everyone he encountered.  This man was baptized at the lake in the camp, and his girlfriend crowned him with a beautiful lei of flowers that she made.

Maybe I should tell you about the women’s group, how open the ladies were to listening to the Bible stories or how they were willing to ask questions and be transparent.  One said, “Last year, my heart was not ready, but this year it is.” Will you pray that she will fully surrender to Jesus?

Maybe I should tell you about another lady who shared the story of her dream while at camp.  In her dream, she went to the store to buy cabbage, but someone stole her wallet. On her way home, she was crying and Jesus appeared to her and gave her a new wallet that was better than anything she had before.  She told us that she believed that she had the dream because she was getting baptized, and she believed that the dream represented the death of her old life and the resurrection of her new life in Jesus. This, she told us, in a room full of women who do not yet believe.

I could tell you about the precious translator who just absolutely won my heart. She has the sweetest spirit about her, and I know that we would be close friends if we lived in the same country.  She said that she has always considered herself “spiritual” but not “religious.”  She has never believed in Jesus, but after translating, she is now interested in what we believe. Will you pray that she understands how very much Jesus loves her?

Would you pray for the precious Polish believers who war with a culture of  religion instead of relationship?  It is so difficult to break from traditions that you’ve held since birth, even when your heart tells you that they’re wrong.  One couple is confronting this now and will have to come to terms with what they believe to be true about God and His Church.  Will you pray for them?

Will you pray for the ones who had serious questions during discussion time? This was an open format for people to be honest and genuinely ask anything they wanted to know without any of us interjecting. As the Polish pastors fielded those questions, it was amazing to see the Lord move and to prompt people to give their testimonies.  One such testimony came from the pastor’s wife, a precious woman with more light in her than I can possibly describe.  She came to Christ through a vision of Him after she was contemplating committing suicide.  Isn’t it incredible how the Lord redeemed her and is using her so mightily? Will you pray for her family?

Shall I tell you about the children? They were everywhere! I absolutely LOVED the family culture.  My daughter didn’t know how to feel about being able to roam freely around camp by herself without worry.  She got to play and be a kid instead of worrying for her safety.  It was wonderful! God grew her faith, too.  She celebrated as He provided for us, and while the beginning of the camp was hard for her, by the end of the week, she managed to befriend two precious Polish twin girls.  It was wonderful to see them play, and I know she will cherish them in her heart.  It also helped her to consider those at her school who might not speak her language.  She got to experience what it felt like to be an “outsider,” and I know that this lesson will stay with her.

On the last day before we got on the plane, we had the opportunity to see Warsaw.  It was both exactly what I expected and none of what I expected. I imagined flocks of tourists and museums to remember the Warsaw Ghetto.  Instead, I saw only a small plaque on the wall of a building and a marker across the sidewalk.  It took me a moment to catch my breath, but then I realized why this was so.  Most buildings had plaques of some sort or another, some from WWII, others from Russian takeover.  In the midst of Old Town, there are remnants of the old fortress wall, and in the center stands a beautiful castle. At the end of the day, we had the chance to tour the castle.  It was incredible with ornate, gilded ceilings, massive murals and tapestries, and centuries old artwork from floor to ceiling in almost every room.  We even saw two original Rembrandts.  What struck me most, however, was the contrast: the palatial glory of the castle in the midst of so many memorials to those who were slain.  Even many of the paintings depicted the rise and fall of empires.  This was my first time seeing things so old, and doing so reminded me that everything in this life will pass away, but the glory of the Lord is forever.  In Him alone can we find safety. In Him alone can we find eternal life.

So how do I “measure” this trip?  It isn’t by the bottom-line question that so many of you will ask: “How many got saved?”  I measure this trip by the seed sown. I would love to tell you that everyone at camp accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that is not what happened. What I can tell you is that they heard the Gospel over and over; I can tell you that God moved mightily; and I can tell you that He isn’t finished.  The campers have spiritual questions now, and those questions are the beginning of seeking Him.  Will you pray with me for the Polish believers to continue to shine their Light in darkness?  Will you pray for the Word to take root in good soil and not be choked out by the culture? Will you pray for Jesus to break down the fortress of each camper’s heart and reveal His Truth to them? Will you pray for the missionaries and church planters to seek the Lord, grow in Him, and stand firm?  Only 200 of 2400 counties have an evangelical presence in Poland.  Will you pray for more people of peace to rise up, plant churches, and see His Gospel transform Poland?

It’s hard to come to a close, but I suppose that’s because I don’t believe this is one.  The trip is only part of the mission, and the mission isn’t over.  Will you join me in prayer?

 

 

 

The War for Authenticity

I grew up in church. I was there every time the doors were open. I loved every part of it until one night at church camp.  I was broken and crying out to the Lord and felt that I needed to speak with a counselor.  While I won’t claim that I was pure in any way for most of my teenage life, I will tell you that, at this point, I was still really young and trying to follow the Lord.  When I met with the counselor, he asked that we go outside to talk. It was dark, and he began to ask me really uncomfortable questions.  As he spoke, my anger raged inside me. Maybe he didn’t intend to make me feel the way he did.  Maybe he thought I was naive enough not to notice where his questions were going. Either way, that was the turning point for me walking away from the church.

I spent the next several years going through the motions with spiritual highs and lows and times of nothing spiritual at all. My parents did everything possible to pour God’s Word into me, but when I looked at the church, I didn’t see God’s love.  I saw judgment and slander and gossip and anything but the Gospel.  For a brief time, I saw God’s love in a youth minister who I knew I could share my heart with.  He was special– when I looked at him, I knew that he knew that I was living in sin, yet he welcomed me with open arms and continually pointed me to Christ.  And then he was gone.  The church changed leadership, and in what seems like an overnight decision, he was ousted. The one who walked with us, the one who met people out on the streets and asked them to join us, the one who didn’t care about the color of our skin or our background, the one who day in and day out week after week shared the Gospel, was gone.  And that was strike two for me.

Fast forward a few years, and I had just turned seventeen and was living in my own apartment and going to college.  When I finally got the nerve up to attend a church, guess what happened? It was NOT church. It was a Republican rally.  The only time Jesus was mentioned was in the opening prayer.  The preacher (and I use that term VERY loosely here) literally ended the “sermon” of talking about the death penalty by slamming his hand down on the podium and screaming, “and I say let’s kill em’ and kill em’ faster!”

I. Was. Done.

So how on earth did I end up back here? And why on earth do I encourage people to attend the local church? How did I come to love her so much in my adult life when I found no relevance in her in my younger, more pivotal years?

The answer is simple: Jesus.

I remember the moment when I knew I must go back.  I had spent years shoving the Holy Spirit into the recesses of my being and living the way I wanted.  I was empty inside and hurting, but I was also stubborn and wanted to live my own way.  Then one morning it happened: I was in the shower, and I felt this “leaving” within me. I don’t know how else to describe it. I know the Lord never leaves us,  but I believe that He allowed me to feel that so that I would return to Him.  I remember hitting my knees and screaming out loud, “WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?!”

I have never been so scared in my entire life.  It had been years since I spoke with God, yet in that moment, I knew I would never be the same.

You see, God pursues us. He is the Good Shepherd, and He never loses one of His flock. His children hear His voice. There was no person, no sermon, no pastor, no program, no music, no graphic, no show that brought me back to Him.  It was God Himself.

This was my experience as a believer.  This was the Lord calling and my willingness to surrender.  But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t intend for me to walk alone. After years of being away from church, I had a desire to be with people of God.  But how, after my experiences, could I find an authentic church?  Did it really exist?

I share my story with you for two reasons.  I want you to understand that this is not some generic “5 Ways to Become More Relevant as a Church” list.  It is what made me listen after years of turning away.  It is also to encourage you, fellow church members, to BE The Church.  Our worship times are full of “fans” who are not actually followers of Christ, and it is hard for outsiders to differentiate.   We must be active in reaching people instead of sitting comfortably on our pews. We must live what we believe.  We must be authentic in the midst of pride, comfort, busyness, and distraction.

So now to the grit of the matter: How can we, as a church, reach the lost or even the believers who have experienced “church hurt”?

  1. We have to be relevant in the right ways. While it’s important to contextualize, we have to be careful not to simply advertise.  Every gimmick, every show, every song, and every graphic is important, but these things are ultimately just vehicles for the message.  Millennials have been sold the philosophies of postmodernism and relativism mixed with tremendous undertones of existentialism.  They question the meaning of life and whether or not life even has meaning.  They are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t make sense.  They see suffering and hatred that are incomprehensible, and they are searching for peace. When millennials walk into our churches, if we don’t have substance to support the hype, they will not stay.  They can get great coffee at Starbucks instead.
  2. We have to LOVE people, not adopt “projects”. This might be the hardest part. Discipleship is not us sitting at a table and imparting our knowledge on a group of eager listeners as they highlight their Bibles and become the next Timothy.  (Okay, so maybe it can be for some, but that’s rarely been my experience.) More often than not, discipleship is MESSY. It is first and foremost a friendship.  We are all family in Christ, and we should treat each other as such.  This means sharing our burdens, warring together, praying together, and pointing each other to Christ.  It means receiving a call at 2 a.m. from a friend who has fallen into sin and telling her how much Jesus loves her and that His mercies are new every morning.  It means holding each other accountable in the Word, not condemning each other.  After all, we can’t be someone’s Holy Spirit.  We are all on a journey, and we are all being sanctified daily.  The Lord is the One who works on us. If we could fix each other with our judgments, we wouldn’t need Him.
  3. We have to get over ourselves.  We are obsessed with perfect angles and pithy quotes, but if our lives don’t reflect the Gospel, we are “stale bread” to outsiders. As we disciple each other, let it be that we point each other to what God’s Word says. Anyone can argue with our personal thoughts on a matter, or the latest celebrity preacher’s thoughts on a matter, no matter how eloquent they sound, but they can’t argue with what the Word says.  Let us be a people who abide in the Word so that it flows through our hearts and minds and out of our mouths and into our limbs! As my mom would say, “Let your walk talk what your talk talks.”
  4. We have to love ALL people.  Oh friends, if I could scream one sentence from the rooftop, this would be it.  Yes, ALL people, because God loves all people. Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty of sin for ALL people.  You know… the ones with different skin tones, the ones with different nationalities, the ones with different backgrounds, the ones with illnesses, the ones with different religions, and even the ones with different sexual preferences!  Jesus didn’t say, “Go and share the Gospel with all nations of people who look like you and are already Christian.”  He didn’t say, “Go and sit on a pew with your best friends and form a holy hill that digs into my Word but never practices it.”  What about the woman who sneaks into the back of the church right when it starts and leaves during the offering? How will you reach her? What about the one who smells like he hasn’t had a bath in a week? What about the one who only speaks broken English? What about the one who just got out of prison? What about the one who has a bad reputation?  What about the one who is openly gay but decides to try your church? Friends, oh dear sweet friends,  we have to stop.  We have to see the unseen. We have to walk into church with eyes for the lost just like we walk into the world with eyes for the lost.  We have to do more than wave hello. Anyone in the world (especially in the South) will do that.  We have to be willing to get into people’s lives.  It can be uncomfortable. But each of us has a circle of people that we encounter each day that are totally unique to us.  What if we stopped letting fear stop us? What if we loved ALL people as Christ loves them? What if we shared the Gospel with ALL people, no matter their background?  The Gospel has the power to save! It has the power to transform! We should be a vehicle for sharing it, not a barrier preventing it.
  5. We have to be available.  Enough with limiting our hours to Sunday and Wednesday at specified times. That is NOT authentic.  Would we do that to our family members?  Would we do that to our friends? We don’t throw seed in the ground, water it once, and expect it to continue to grow.  We need each other! God is relational, and He has designed us to be relational as well.  There is no greater blessing than having a group of people to pray for us, encourage us, and continually point us to Christ.  We have many burdens in this world, and when the Body of Christ functions as He desires, the Church becomes a safe haven, a place of refuge and growth that is not limited by time or place.

For me, church is not about a building; it’s about a group of people.  I spent years without that support, and while finding it was difficult, it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  If you don’t have a church, I’m urging you not to give up.  Jesus loves the Church and desires for you to be connected.   If you do have a church, I urge you to take these things into consideration.  We will never win a culture in a fallen world, but through The Church, the Gospel can win a people.

 

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Four Things I Want My Daughter to Know in a World of Feminism

Dear M,

You are getting older, and the world is screaming at you to step into the role of womanhood, even though you are only nine. I can no longer buy you dress shoes without heels, and I had to explain more than I cared to as we walked in the mall and you saw the ceiling-height poster of the scantily clad Victoria’s Secret model with her legs spread open. I watched the horror on your face and the roses pop up in your cheeks as you grappled with why anyone would want to show so much of her body to the world. And while I have to quell your curiosity when you ask me why you can’t search random questions on the internet and look up Google images of whatever pops into your little mind, I know this is only the beginning.

For now, I can protect you, but I know this time is running out, and inevitably you will have to decide for yourself what kind of human you want to be. The world will paint many pictures of womanhood for you, but before you buy into them, here are a few things I want you to know:

1. You are loved…unconditionally, irrevocably, forever. You don’t have to show off your body, compromise your values, or try to be something that you aren’t in order to achieve this love. Before God spoke words and created the world, He knew you. He chose you. He loved you. And He moved Heaven and Earth to save you. When you pursue love, pursue Him.

2. You are unique. There is no category or label that molds perfectly to who you are. In fact, who you are now will be very different from who you are ten years from now. Embrace the gifts that God has given you, and don’t try to fit into someone else’s idea of perfection. Of the seven billion people on earth, there is no one else like you. Embrace who you are, and walk in it with confidence. When you have doubts and insecurities, remember that God doesn’t make mistakes; you are His masterpiece.

3. You should not deny your nature. Being a feminist shouldn’t mean hating men, rejecting all traditional roles for women, or shaving a Nike sign into your nether-regions and posting it on Instagram before marching in Washington. Being a feminist should mean recognizing that all women have value equal to men, yet we are uniquely and beautifully different. I once heard someone say, “I don’t want to be equal because I am not the same. I want to be parallel.” You don’t have to reject traditional roles of womanhood to be powerful. You will be a powerful, strong woman whether you choose to run a company or stay at home with your children. Your power does not lie in your worldly position; it lies in your Kingdom position. You are a daughter of the King of Kings! There are many molds for femininity within the Kingdom of God, from faithful wives to victorious judges. When you look at the world and your role in it, embrace the beautiful qualities that God has designed in you. Your femininity is a gift!

4. You are enough. You don’t need to compare. You don’t need to keep up. You don’t need to document every aspect of your life to prove anything to anyone. You are enough. And when you reach that inevitable point where your feelings of inadequacy threaten to drown you, I need you to remember not just who you are but WHOSE you are. Forget the camera angles and the social media posts. Forget the likes or the friend counts. You belong to Jesus. You are a daughter of the Lord of Hosts. He commands His angels concerning you. When you feel like you aren’t enough, look to Him and you will realize that you never had to be enough…because HE IS.

Sweet M, so much of this world will compete for your heart, but you must be a warrior and keep your focus. God has designed you for this and equipped you to be a powerful, loving, and compassionate young woman. Seek Him with your whole heart, and there is nothing that will be able to stop you. And as always, I will be by your side, proud of the young woman that you are, and cheering on the woman that you will become.

Love,
Mom

The Dragon’s Lair

In one of my favorite haiku, Koboyashi Issa writes: “In this world, we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers.” As I sat in the auditorium learning about the dragon in Revelation, this poem flooded my thoughts. This “dragon” will deceive millions, promising peace and fulfillment only to unveil his true identity when it is too late. And while the prospect of that deception weighs heavily on my heart, what strikes me most is that it is already happening.

Every day, we spend our time gazing at the very “flowers” that Issa spoke of. We need no outward showing of demonic presence in America; we only need our “stuff.” We need to keep up, to portray perfect lives full of materialistic prosperity and fabricated happiness. We can’t simply enjoy a moment; we must document it for our “viewers” on social media. We can’t have a dinner conversation because that would mean checking out of our digital relationships, and we simply can’t miss something on our news feeds. We have baby-faced teenage girls feeling the need to contour their makeup and an average credit card debt that would match a millionaire’s pocket book. We are obsessed with perfection. Don’t believe me? We even photoshop babies. BABIES!

But are we happy?

We run toward these things and miss the God who offers us the peace and fulfillment that we seek. Rather than investing our time in the eternal, we swipe our biological debit cards for momentary satisfaction that leaves us empty and craving more.

So how can we overcome the busyness, the desires, the worry, the wrong choices, and virtually everything that distracts us from the true purpose of our existence?

In Psalm 119:133, David prays this prayer: “Establish my footsteps in Your Word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.” Here, I believe, is the answer and my prayer focus for 2017.

When I think of footsteps that are “established,” I imagine hanging from a rock wall with no foothold versus the surety of steps. Established footsteps mean that someone has gone before me, that the steps were designed with purpose and lead somewhere. Established footsteps mean that I can walk confidently, free of worry and sure of my destination. But let’s go a step further in this…

“Establish my footsteps in Your Word” takes on an even more important meaning. It means that I can go deep; I can know God fully and intimately, and that I can be sure of every part of my life because my understanding is not based on the world or even my own emotion; it is based on the ultimate and unalterable Truth of the Living God. How incredible to know that His Spirit allows me to know the deepest truths of the universe, allows me to fellowship with the One who spoke words and created the world, and allows me to know how fully and deeply He loves me. There is no greater assurance than this.

Finally, David prays that no “iniquity have dominion over me.” There are so many things vying for our attention in this world. Some of them are inherently evil while others can be used by satan for evil. We must continually ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal these things that threaten to dethrone Jesus in our lives. So often we focus more on repentance and praying for forgiveness, but David is proactive here. The Spirit gives us everything we need to live holy lives, but we MUST be in communion with Him. How can we be? Through prayer and reading the Word. Only through this can we overcome the fleshly things that war against our spirits and distract us from Christ.

So I urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to connect to the source of your power, your comfort, your peace, and your fulfillment. Spend time in the Word and in prayer, communing with the Lord every day. He has designed you for this, and you must not lose focus.

The shiny things of this world were never meant to bring you peace or happiness; they are but enticements into the dragon’s lair.

The Encampments of Our Hearts

We really are screwed up.

Yes, every single one of us.

We crawl, walk, run, stumble, fall, crawl again, and the cycle continues.  Just when we think we are finally steady, we miss a step.

At the beginning of this year, the Lord impressed this Scripture upon my heart:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24

I started praying this daily, and then one night it happened. I awoke in the middle of the night shaking and sweating as if I was having a nightmare, except the nightmare was real. Somewhere, buried deep in the crevices of my heart, was something that I hadn’t thought of…something that I hadn’t confessed. I awoke with eyes wide open to a chasm in my relationship with God, one that I didn’t even know existed. I literally shook as I prayed for forgiveness and felt the weight lift off of me.

The crazy part? I didn’t even realize that this sin was in my life. Somehow I missed it. Somehow I thought I was okay and was walking (at least to the best of my abilities) in righteousness. Boy was I wrong.

I finished reading the Book of Deuteronomy today, and as I read about the death of Moses, I feel certain he felt the same way. For decades he had spoken with the Lord, walked with Him, seen His Glory, and led His people…but somewhere along the way, even if only for a moment, he forgot. Yes, he FORGOT that it wasn’t about him, that this great deliverance of the Israelites had absolutely nothing to do with him or his righteousness and absolutely EVERYTHING to do with God’s relentless love.

I’m sure it was accidental. I’m sure his intentions were good. I’m sure that he regretted what he said the moment that it slipped from his mouth. But even so, he forfeited his ticket into the Promised Land. He was allowed to see it only from a mountain top before he died.

We are no different. The truth is that as long as we live in this body, we are subject to the inclinations of our flawed hearts, and those inclinations are ones of selfishness, pride, and evil. It is our nature to seek independence, to credit ourselves, and to try to blaze our own paths. It is our nature to want what we want without consideration of consequences. It is our nature to war with the new self that Jesus creates within us. Taking our eyes off of Him for even a moment is all that the enemy needs to trip us and cause us to stumble.

I share this because we need to be honest with ourselves. We need a right view of where we stand before God. We need a right view of His relentless love and glorious grace. It’s not about our titles, our social media facades, or who the world thinks we are. It’s not about how we’ve walked in the past or what we’ve seen the Lord do.  It’s about RIGHT NOW.  It’s about asking the Lord to show each one of us where we stand before Him and taking the time to LISTEN. It’s about asking Him to search our hearts because sometimes we are so flawed that we can’t even see our own sin until it spews out of our mouths from some ugly place in our hearts that we didn’t even know existed.

A dear friend once told me that we should rejoice when we are under conviction. (I can think of many words to describe conviction, but “rejoice” is certainly not one of them!) Then he asked me: How many times do you think you’ve sinned today? This week? This month? This year?  I shook my head with wide eyes. He replied, “God doesn’t lay all of that on you at once; He gives it to you one piece at a time. So when He brings up sin in your life, you should rejoice because He loves you enough to mold you into the image of His Son.”

So I challenge you to ask, to dig, to search, and to pray. There are many encampments in our hearts, encampments that wage war against the Lord and encampments that wage war against the flesh. Jesus IS the Victor and the Savior, but is He really your LORD?

 

Photo via Visual hunt

Love By Design: Genesis 1-3

You can download today’s reading HERE.

I’m a very visual reader. In fact, I’m so visual that I have to be very careful what I read, or I’ll have nightmares. The first chapter of Genesis is heaven for me.  I close my eyes and imagine the void, the darkness.  I then imagine this Word…the word that is inception, the Word that brings all things into being.  I imagine twenty thousand different ways that creation might have looked as it was happening, and get chill bumps envisioning the voice that caused that creation– the voice of Almighty God, the voice of The Word.

I imagine what the primeval earth must have looked like. I think of the most glorious pictures that I’ve seen of places around the world and wonder what aspects of those gardens are merely remnants of what God designed in Eden.  I think of all the majesty of God’s creation and wonder why He chose to make us in His image?  I wonder what love He must’ve felt when he created Adam and then fashioned Eve from him.  I wonder what His glory would’ve felt like– to walk with Him in the garden, in paradise.

And then I wonder how they fell. How could they have been in the presence of the Almighty, in the midst of a perfect garden, and chose to lose it all?  How could that have happened? How did they not realize that a serpent was talking to them and recognize that serpents don’t talk?! How could they have KNOWN God personally, seen His power firsthand, and chosen to reject it?

And even more than that, I wonder what went through God’s sovereign mind when He made the rule– the one that required death if they ate from the tree, the one that He knew would mean death on the cross for His Son. Did His very heart break even as He rejoiced in creation?

I ponder these things every time I read Genesis, and I can only come up with one answer: LOVE. God did not create us to leave us alone. He didn’t create us and then leave us to figure everything out, and He surely didn’t create us so that He could use us like game pieces. He genuinely, truly, in ways we could never fathom LOVES us. So much so, that even in our creation, He was willing to die for us…not because He couldn’t force us to obey Him but because He wanted us to love Him, too.  To choose Him.

I don’t know why we have so much trouble seeing it.  I don’t know why we are so surrounded by His love and blessings and we’re still making the same mistakes today.  We look at our own “gardens” and shout at God that they aren’t enough–that what He has provided isn’t enough.  Who are WE? And yet He waits, patiently, lovingly, our True Father.

So we go back to the beginning to remind ourselves of the end. Over and over, chapter one repeats the phrase “GOD SAYS” and things become. It’s that simple. “GOD SAYS… the Word of God.  Jesus.  Yes, Jesus, right there in the beginning. He IS the Word that created the world, and He would bring Light to the darkness in the beginning and in the end.

  •  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with   God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  (John 1:1-5)

Our sin separated us from the One who loved us before the foundation of the world…but the story doesn’t stop there. He would send His Son to take our place– to die a horrible death on a cross, be buried, and raise to life again on the third day.  And He alone can offer us salvation and restore our relationship to the Father.  But it’s up to us to respond.  We must surrender our lives and our hearts to Jesus, and He will save us.

It has always been His design…from very the beginning.

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