Archive for Genesis
Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches (Genesis 2:8-10, NLT).
I cannot remember a year when my parents did not have a vegetable garden. Even in their late 80′s, they continue to till the soil, plant and water the seeds, and harvest the crop at the end of summer. As a kid, that was the image that came to mind whenever I heard the word “garden.” My first ministry assignment in St. Louis altered that mental picture. The church I served was across the street from the Missouri Botanical Gardens. One of the perks that came with pastoring that congregation was a key to the employee entrance located opposite our parking lot. Any time I wanted to go for a walk in the garden I simply let myself in. It was a different kind of garden, filled with exotic plants and trees from around the world. It was a sacred space in the midst of the steel and concrete of the city.
The Garden of Eden was certainly perfect, special and unique. The word garden is taken from a root that means “paradise,” referring to “an enclosed place.” In the strictest definition, a garden is a place that is set a part with unique boundaries, protected and distinct from the outside. So we can infer that the Garden of Eden was meant to be something special. The word Eden means “abundance” or “luxury.”
In one sense, all of creation became a garden in the galaxies. Yet in the midst of the goodness and perfection of creation, God planted a garden. It was not the garden of humankind, it was the garden of God; a sacred space where God could freely fellowship with the man and the woman. A holy place where God could demonstrate life as he intended, not unlike the holy of holies in the majestic Temple.
One can hardly begin to imagine such a place of beauty and abundance, where God crafted fellowship with human-kind and relationships between his created ones. I wonder if the language of Genesis can even begin to accurately describe what it was like. The verses read more like a definition than anything else. God placed the man and the woman he created in this garden.
But in the garden he also planted a choice. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. So what was the choice?
I don’t think the choice was between apples and oranges. I think at the core of the choice was the decision to be content to dwell in the image of God or to strive to become God. To make it about fruit is to miss the point of the story. To make it about contentment versus pride and ambition, however, hits pretty close to home, because that’s the stuff our daily decisions are made of.
As you know, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice. But the garden did not change, they changed. Their eyes were opened, they felt shame, and their innocence was lost. Death entered the picture. They were banished from the garden. Life outside the garden is no life. It is exile.
The good news is that in the midst of this tragic turn of events there is grace. God performed the first animal sacrifice and exchanged their humble fig leaves for animal skins. Even though they were evicted from the garden, God still cared for them and came to them. In his mercy God protected them from the tree they did not choose lest they live in their guilt forever. Their eviction was not punishment, it was protection. Neither was the image of God extinguished. Sometimes I think we’re so busy talking about the fall that we miss the grace that God immediately extended.
The first Eden fell, but the spiritual Eden is still with us. The story Adam and Eve, in a sense, is the story of the entire human race and all of creation. And the spirit of the original Eden is with us each time we sense that we were made for more than this; that there is more to life than this. We are trying to find Eden again. There’s a longing that aches and a hope that burns bright that there’s more to life that what we know and experience. We see glimpses of Eden from time to time. We hear it in a song or a story or even a smile. We see it in art and creation. We taste it in a meal shared over meaningful conversation.
All of these things are reminiscent of Eden, reminding us that we are not home, that we have been created for more, and that there’s more to come.
God created life and wants to be close to it. We have been exiled from Eden, yet we know it when we see it. That gives us hope, the hope that God is planting another garden and someday will put us in it.
Last week I Googled a recipe for a chocolate cake, made from scratch. The recipe was surprisingly simple:
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
After these ingredients are blended together, the recipe calls for an additional 1 cup of boiling water to be added to the batter. After combining the ingredients and the water, the batter is to be poured into a greased and lightly floured cake pan, then baked at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.
The thing that struck me was that most of the ingredients in the chocolate cake are not fit for consumption by themselves. Who reaches into the pantry for a big scoop of shortening or a bowl of flour for a snack? No one. Most of the ingredients alone are bitter, but when combined, they make something wonderful.
Now think about your adversity. Those life challenges can be bitter when consumed alone. But God has a marvellous way of bringing them together with “time” and “heat” to create something beautiful. Don’t get lost in the bitterness of the ingredients that accompany adversity. Instead, focus on the product that is produced by the loving hand of a God who is good.
Yesterday I posted the first observation from Joseph’s life regarding how to have a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t” world which was to count your blessings. The second observation is to ask better questions concerning life’s interuptions. When adversity strikes, our first natural line of questioning is along the lines of…
…”How could this have happened to me?”
…”Why did this happen to me?”
…”What did I do to deserve this?”
…”Now what am I going to do?”
…”Where is God in all of this?”
Our attitudes often reflect the questions we ask. A couple of weeks ago I came across a blog post by Michael Hyatt, who suggested seven better questions to ask when facing difficult, uncertain times. Here is my adapted list that I offered last weekend in worship.
1. What if this isn’t the end but rather a new beginning? (Remember, break throughs are always break withs!)
2. What if the answer to my prayer is just over the next hill?
3. What if this is necessary in order for me to be prepared for the next important chapter of my life?
4. What if this is exactly what I need to experience in order to develop my character for a greater opportunity?
5. What if God is speaking to me through a means I would not have chosen for a blessing I cannot see?
6. What does this experience make possible?
7. What will I be telling my children and my grandchildren that I learned that was invaluable in this season of my life?
Those are great questions that will help shape your attitude when you face uncertainty and adversity!
In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith tells the story of a business leader who used an illustration to teach his team a valuable lesson. The leader went to the white board and drew a big, black circle. He asked his team what they saw. To the person, they replied, “A black spot.” “Anything else?” he inquired. ” The black spot was all they saw, nothing else.
“What about all of the white space around the spot?”
The point of the illustration is this: we can become so consumed by the problems that enter our lives that we can miss all of the good that surrounds the problem. Like the business team, we can also fall prey to focusing on our adversity to the degree that it renders us blind to all of the good in life.
When is the last time you did a blessings inventory? How many blessings can you list off the top of your head? Eight or ten? Could you do eight or ten pages of blessings? What about eight or ten legal pads? If we took the time and expended the energy to conduct an exhaustive blessing inventory, I suspect that our list would consume an amount closer to eight or ten legal pads than eight or ten pages. It really puts into perspective that nasty old spot in the center of the white board.
If you’re going to maintain a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t world,” begin with the blessings of God. Don’t begin with your adversity. Your adversity is one thing floating on top of a sea of the good things of God.
My first full time ministry position required me to wear a white shirt and tie each day I was in the office or whenever the church gathered in worship. That wasn’t too big of a deal, other than the fact I had a bad habit: I’d put my pen in my shirt pocket without the lid which would leave a nice, round ink spot at the base of the pocket. I don’t know how many shirts I ruined that way!
Unless you’re unusually neat, you’ve probably ruined a garment with ink, paint, or food. Even with the remarkable breakthroughs we’ve had with detergents and stain fighting agents, many of those garments still bear the shadow of the stain. For all intents and purposes, the garment is ruined. Even if we are the only ones who know of the faint spot, we become reluctant to wear it any more, so we throw it out.
I think many people view their lives that way. Whenever their untarnished lives become soiled, their first response is to feel, “My life is ruined!” But is that really true?
This weekend in worship I concluded my series on the life of Joseph with what I believe to be the most important verse in the story. Joseph’s final word is found in Genesis 50:20, which says, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20, HCSB). I think that statement is more than his summation of his life. I think it was his philosophy of life that sustained him through his years of adversity.
Joseph had some pretty serious stains on his life, but he didn’t quit and he didn’t settle as a victim of fate. He focused on the good and remained hopeful. This week I want to wrap up my posts on Joseph by looking further into his final word. I believe Joseph’s example teaches us how to have a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t world.” Stay tuned!
First, I believe a spoken blessing should instill faith. The person who blesses is able to see the work of God in another person’s life and point it out. He or she observes Christ-likeness and the marks of the image of God and blesses the faith within.
Second, I believe a spoken blessing should add value to a person, affirming their potential and encouraging them to strive to build upon their potential. The blessing should stir up the passions and the gifts of the recipient, helping them to see their purpose for life and affirming their role in the Kingdom of God.
Next, the spoken blessing should affirm character. We give compliments that affirm what we do. But blessings affirm what we are and encourage us to live our lives with godly character.
Finally, the spoken blessing empowers the future by pointing to the God possibilities in life. It assists others by empowering them to rise above what others say can’t be done and to focus on what God says can be done.
What would happen to our families, our friends, and even our co-workers if we spoke blessings instead of cursings? Our tongues are like keys that unlock the potential of God within others. My prayer for you today is that you will identify one person in your life to bless, and that you will give them a gift that is greater than anything money can buy.
Spoken blessings have the power to enhance, enrich, and empower the life of another person.
In the Old Testament, blessings had three characteristics:
(1) They were conveyed from the greater to the lesser, such as a parent to a child or a king to a nation.
(2) The blessing spoke of divine favor that resulted in well being or productivity, such as fertility, good crops, peace, and length of life.
(3) The blessing acknowledged that all power and blessing stems from the creator. All blessings find their source in God’s love.
In the New Testament, the emphasis shifts from the material to the spiritual; from temporal to eternal.
The words we speak over another person’s life can serve as a building block or a stumbling stone that has to be overcome.
If our words have such power, then why don’t we bless others? I think there are at least three reasons. You can probably think of more. The first reason we are reluctant to bless other is simply pride. We live in a day of shameless self promotion. We are far more interested in blessing ourselves than blessing others, even if our self afflicted blessing comes at the expense of others.
The second reason is our spirit of competition. We have a need to be first and best. Everyone wants to be a “winner,” and in true competition there can only be one winner.
The third reason is our drive to duty and performance. We relate to and evaluate others based on a sense of duty rather than devotion. We are more task oriented than relationally oriented because that is how our culture operates. “Do your duty” is the mantra of the west.
To summarize, we don’t bless one another because it’s not natural. Pride, competition, and duty are all very natural behaviors and characteristics. Blessings appeal to a higher level than the natural order of things. It’s supernatural!
Tomorrow I’ll wrap up this week’s series and offer a post that describes the characteristics of the spoken blessing.
Jacob knew the power of the spoken blessing. After all, think of all he did to obtain his father’s blessing! (cf. Genesis 25:27-34; Genesis 27:1-40) When Jacob became aware that his time on earth was coming to a close, he called his family together to bless them. In Genesis 48 he blessed Joseph’s sons, and then in Genesis 49 he blessed each of his 12 sons according to their birth order. The blessings he spoke to his sons are framed by two descriptive verses:
“Then Jacob called together all his sons and said, ‘Gather around me, and I will tell you what will happen to each of you in the days to come’” (Genesis 49:1, NLT)
“These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good bye. He blessed each one with an appropriate message” (Genesis 49:28, NLT).
Blessings are an important part of the Bible. The word is used more than 160x in the first five books of the Bible alone. In the Old Testament, words of blessing were powerful and prophetic. The blessing contained elements that were able to foresee and shape the future; to change situations and alter circumstances.
How powerful are your words?
How responsible are you with your words?
Can you really shape the life of another person with the words that you use?
We have become a society that affixes labels to virtually everyone: conservative, liberal, moderate, fundamentalist, smart, empty suit, athletic, musical, redneck, generous, stingy, fat, or skinny to name a limited few. Once those labels get affixed, they stick remarkably well.
I have come to think of the act of blessing others as “affixing a positive label on a person’s life.” This week I’m posting excerpts from this weekend’s message titled, “The Power of the Spoken Blessing.” I want to invite you to follow along. You might just wind up changing a life in the process!
In his grace, God visited Jacob and restated the dream that He had bestowed upon him decades before. I have to believe that Jacob must have been somewhat overwhelmed with the risk and the challenge that added weight to this revelation. Jacob had a tough life. He grew up in a home filled with sibling rivalry. After he married, his wives didn’t get along and his sons were often rebellious. It was hardly “Little Tent on the Prairie!” But through all of those difficult dynamics God’s purpose and plan remained static.
Like Jacob, we can let life beat the dream right out of us.
Difficulties and adversity will come. Life will happen. But adversity is not the enemy. The enemy is the temptation to simply give up on God’s plan and purpose, or worse still, settle for second best. I want to encourage you today to not quit on what God has already declared over your life. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. You can’t turn back the clock and re-do what has already been done, but you can return to your God given dream and move forward to live in the fulness of his purposes for your life. Don’t be defeated by the desert, and don’t be defined by the desert. Value the voice of God in the dryness and let him lead you to the place where you can fulfill that dream.
Overwhelmed by the famine, Jacob must have been torn as he stood at the crossroads. Should he stay where he was? Or should he uproot his entire family and relocate to Egypt? At this precise moment, God came to him in a vision. One might expect God to give Jacob a new dream, but He didn’t. He simply reminded Jacob of the same dream He had given him before.
In Genesis 46:3-4, God gave Jacob four specific words about his life. The first word was a word of perspective: “I am God.” There’s nothing like the self disclosure of God to put perspective on our adversity! When God weighs in everything else is put into proper perspective. Jacob’s life had become so overwhelmed by so many things he needed perspective to re-order and re-orient his life.
The second word was a word of power: “Do not be afraid.” Gripped by fear, Jacob needed a bit of security. He needed the reminder that God was on his throne and in control. He needed to recall that his life was not spinning our of control at the cruel hand of fate. He needed to have the clear security that God was fully aware of the challenges he was facing and that His power was great enough to overcome any fear he might have.
Next came a word of promise: “I will fulfill…” God reminded Jacob that He still intended to make him a great nation. God’s plans and purposes for Jacob had not changed one bit. God was at work to bring it all into fruition.
The final word was a word of presence: “I will go with you.” Jacob would not be sent to Egypt. Rather, God promised that He would accompany him to Egypt. God’s presence in his life would have provided comfort and stability at the cross roads and would go with him as he followed God’s direction.
If you’re in a “famine,” or standing at a cross roads, remember God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! God desires to come to you and help you gain perspective. His words of power, promise, and presence will help you navigate the turbulence you may be feeling right now and enable you to re-dream the dream. Chances are that you don’t need a new dream. You just need to walk in the dream God has already given to you. Tomorrow I’ll finish this week’s series and post some thoughts about living the dream.