The Heart of Cain

Humanity was fresh out to the Garden of Eden. There now stood an angel of the Lord between Adam and Eve and the tree of life. Like any strong-willed humans, they tried to make the best of a terrible situation. They built a house, started a family and had some children. Two boys are named in the story along with a description of their work. “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” (Gen. 4:2)

Then the story takes a few unexplained turns. Cain is described as bringing in some fruits of the soil as an offering, while Abel brought in his firstborn along with the fat portions. There appears to be a difference in attitude between the two boys. One just tried to do the bare minimum in his sacrifice to God while the other offered his best. There is no real comment made in the text to explain any further, but God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and Cain’s he disapproved. This makes Cain very angry, and his face was downcast (Gen. 4:5).

Finally, Cain takes Abel out into the field where he attacks and kills him. Traditionally the weapon of choice was a stone. We are not given that detail, but since Cain and Abel are in a field, Cain most likely used the closest item as his tool of destruction. It might have been a stone or possibly some farming tool. Whatever he used, Abel is dead, and the first story out of the garden is one of the murder of another human being.

Several things catch me about this story. To begin with, I am amazed that God makes no real comment on Abel’s death. He does not assure Adam and Eve that their son is in a better place. God does not explain what just happened, even though it was the first death on the face of the earth. Cain is cursed, and life moves into the future for everyone but Abel.

The second thing I notice is the motive behind this heinous act. A teacher of mine used to say, “Cain was mad at God, but he took it out on Abel.” Apparently, God had given this original family a plan to help them overcome their sin. He instructed them in sacrifices and atonement that is not known universally until the Old Testament law is received through Moses. The story implies that Cain and Abel knew what God desired, and Cain chose to ignore it and look for a shortcut. His quest for a less costly way to give lead him away from God and he now felt the pain of disapproval. His spiritual failure became manifest in the way he treated his brother.

I often wonder if the real source of his anger was self-hatred. He knew the right thing to do and just ignored it. Then he felt the weight of his sin, and it was a dark stain that would not rub off his soul. He felt the remorse and regret that come with poor decisions. Cain had fallen short of God’s plan, and he felt it deep inside his soul, and his reaction was to hurt the people closest to him.

The world is full of people who hurt one another. The response to these tragedies is to offer up a hundred changes to make our world safer. I rarely hear anyone talking about the real root of the issue is a spiritual problem. I believe the hope for our world is not found in anything outside of Jesus. He came to forgive humanity and make our heart right with God while bringing peace that passes understanding.

Mankind can try to make a long list of rules to stop bad behavior, but if we do not acknowledge the spiritual source of this behavior, we will never find a resolution. We are offering a bandage to fix a broken heart. As long as people live with the self-hatred of a fractured relationship with God, they will find ways to destroy their fellow man.

What the world needs now is the same things it required right out of the garden. We need a Savior. One who will remove the stain on our soul and make us right with God. Only then will we view our fellow man with love and grace.

I do not want to oversimplify a complicated situation, but I also do not want to ignore the spiritual aspects of the events in our world. It is way to easy to pick up our own rocks and throw them at Cain and somehow think we are improving our society. The only gateway to a better world is through sharing the message of Jesus Christ.

A Metal Detecting Parable

Friday is usually my day off. Sometimes it gets adjusted for special events, but it is a pretty sure bet that I am not in the office right now. If I am not in the office, you will usually find me in one of a few places. I am either fishing, hunting, metal detecting, shed antler hunting or shopping for supplies to do one of those activities.

I have found local groups for all these adventures on Facebook. There I can see what other people accomplished, and how they did it. In fact, one of the few things I read on Facebook are the articles posted about my hobbies. I have found it to be a wealth of information that makes my fun time activities more enjoyable.

The other day one of my metal detecting friends had a post with two pictures. The first picture was a handful of silver coins, civil war artifacts and a few pieces of jewelry. Get the picture clearly, one handful of good finds that might have a hundred dollars or more worth of value to the right collector.

The second picture was a pile on the garage floor of metal junk. This guy had literally dug up more than two five-gallon buckets full of trash. Anyone who has ever participated in this hobby knows the world is full of junk items, soda cans, and zinc pennies. There is far more junk in the ground than good things.

Looking at his two pictures, I immediately thought it was a parable of the Christian life. We now live in a world full of information about God, Jesus, faith, and the Bible. There are people, like me, posting hundreds and thousands of articles on the internet every single day. I have dozens of books in my office that are on my “read next” shelf along with another hundred books on my Amazon wish list. We now have more Christian information that we can digest in a lifetime.

The harsh reality is that much of what we will encounter is junk. Some articles do not apply to us. Some books hold no interest to me or are elementary in nature. And there are some things written that just plain wrong. (I really hope you do not believe everything you read, no matter who is the author).

The adventure of being a Christian in 2018 is like being a treasure hunter. You read and expose yourself to thousands of pieces of information, and your job is to find the few little valuable bits to hold onto that will shape your thinking.

My encouragement to you dear Christian is to keep searching. The only way to find those valuable nuggets is to keep digging. Today I will be out there with my coil to the soil and my shovel in hand. I know I might come home with nothing more than trash, but I might also come back with a valuable piece for my collection. The same is true for you. Keep reading, listening, and talking until something profoundly touches you. Life changing truth is out there; you just have to keep looking.

Three Lies Married People Believe

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and my blog feed was full of advice for couples and thoughts about love. Today everything returned to normal, and relationships again slipped to the back of our mind. Personally, I think today is a better day to address the issues of marriage because today is normal. These are the times where marriages are made better or worse.

Today reminds me of three lies married couples believe that are destroying their marriage.

1. One Big Event Will Make My Marriage Better.
Days like Valentine’s Day can lead us to think that if we just remember special days, everything will be fine. If we make a big deal out of Christmas, their birthday, a holiday or even a vacation then all the other junk will be forgotten. Let me be clear; I have never counseled a couple who said, “They do not treat me special on big days.” What I usually hear, “They do not treat me as special every day.”

It does not matter what you do four times a year. It matters what you do and say every single day. It is a lie to believe otherwise.

2. Our Marriage is More Difficult than Others.
I hear this one quite frequently. I suppose it is because most people are so adept at hiding their flaws. They post only the good stuff on social media, they tell just the good stories to friends, and they smile even when they are dying inside. Let me tell you the truth, every couple I know struggles. Even those people who you think have it all together have conflicts. If you were to pull back the veil on their marriage, you would find all kinds of flaws and failures.

Believing this lie makes it easier to give up. We think our marriage is the only one struggling, so it must be a lost cause. It is a lie to believe that your marriage is any more difficult than the average marriage.

3. My Spouse is the Problem in This Marriage.
Please hear me carefully. I am not saying your spouse does not have issues. They do. But, let’s be honest, so do you. You just think your flaws are minor. You think yours are endearing and understandable. Even if you do not have the same problems as your spouse, I bet you struggle with communication. You hide your feelings and thoughts behind your passive-aggressive behavior. Once again, I have never met a couple where one person was the problem. Sure, you may see one of the people’s faults easier, but I assure you, there are problems on both sides.

If you we think the failures in our marriage are the result of my spouse, then we become passive. We believe, “They need to work on themselves, and I will wait till they get it worked out.” Trust me you have flaws of your own that you can be working on right now.

Valentines Day is a great day to celebrate love and declare to the world that you are in a caring relationship. I hope you celebrated and had an enjoyable evening. I also hope you understand that great marriages are built in the days following the holiday. People with long-lasting, wonderful unions are those who ignore the lies they were told, and they do the work that needs to be done. They labor every day to be the best spouse they can be even in the difficult times.

Today is not a holiday of love, but this is a day when real love gets expressed in everything we do.

Two Passages From the Apostle Paul That Shape My Life

I believe all the Bible is full of interesting insights, Godly wisdom and general instructions about living. It teaches us about loving God and our neighbor. It pushes us toward new and uncomfortable ideas. Within its pages, I find peace and encouragement that I can discover nowhere else.

With that said, there are some books and chapters that I am continually drawn too. They connect with me on a deeper level and move me in profound ways. There are within the pages of the Bible lines that speak to me in an extremely personal way.

Here are two passages that have shaped my life and I return to them week after week. I hope they help you as you live and serve the Lord.

1. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. (16) But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (NIV)

There are not many days that go by where I do not feel the weight of my sin. I say the wrong thing, I do the wrong thing, or at the very least I think evil thoughts. I am a sinner, and in my mind, I am one of the worst ever to live. And yet, God offers his salvation to me. No matter how I view myself God sees me as a person worthy of his grace.

The second line also catches me. It is possible that other people see me the same way that I view myself. They may take note of all my sins and shortcomings and label me with ugly names, but God chose me to show the world his unlimited patience. God says that my messed up life is not a bad example for people to avoid, rather a display of the power of God at work.

2. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)

My life is not about completing a task and making a name for myself. My life is serving God in the best way I can and allowing him to use that work for his glory. Each one of us has a role to fill for the kingdom of God. Some plant the seeds of faith in the lives of people. Other people water that seed through their service and their teaching. I might also add that there are people who work the soil and those who add fertilizer. Some individuals instruct farmers on the best practices, and there are those who pull weeds that hurt the plant. Paul’s analogy is not limited to a seed and some water. The process of growth includes several specialized steps to bring about growth.

There are many days I feel like my work never sees completion. Seasons come and go, and I never get the joy of the harvest. That is okay because I am not working for my own success. I give my time for the kingdom of God, and my purpose is to bring him glory.

Some days my faith seems more like a struggle than a walk in the park. I am disappointed in myself and in the work I am doing. Then I am reminded that God is still working on me and possibly using me as an example to people of his grace. God is taking my life and using it in ways I never imagined. Even in tough days, God is still at work in me and through me.

Fully Engaged with Jesus

Yesterday I attended a conference in Kansas City to learn some helpful practices for ministry. Most of these events are great opportunities to expand my thinking and challenge my assumptions in Church leadership. This one exceeded my expectations, and I returned home with a notebook full of comments, ideas, and applications.

One of the pieces of helpful information was found in a ten-minute discussion of Church metrics. What does a Church measure to find out if it is helping people to grow in their walk with Jesus? The speaker explained that their Church measures four primary areas to discover if people are fully engaged with Jesus.

*Attendance – While this is not a ministry measurement, it gives them a baseline from which to work. For example, the shepherd in Luke 15 knew he had 100 sheep total, but only 99 were counted at the end of the day. We need to know how many people we have attended before we can measure their engagement.

1. Serving. What is the percentage of people are serving both inside and outside of the Church? This could include everything from greeters to worship leaders, but also people who help with Meals on Wheels and at the local food pantry. People who are fully engaged with Jesus will be serving.

2. Giving. How many givers does a congregation have in its gatherings? They determined that a regular giver is anyone who gives over four times a year or gives over $3500 total. These people have thought about their donations enough to have a plan or at least a budget. One of the marks of a follower of Jesus is that they are generous with their money through the Church.

3. Inviting. This is the hardest one to measure. His congregation places surveys on each seat with a few questions. One side of the question card says, “Attended for more than a year” and the other side reads, “Attended less than a year.” Underneath it asks questions like this, “have you invited anyone to Church lately? Did those invitations help you actually bring anyone to worship with you? What could we do to help you bring your friends to Church.” Believers should be excited about their faith and work to reach everyone they know.

4. Grouping. The speaker admitted this was not the best word, but it fit his overall format. The fundamental question is, “what percentage of attendees are involved in small groups?” If you are walking with Jesus, you need companions on the journey.

As he worked through the list, my immediate thought was about the Church I lead. Am I doing a good job of helping people get fully engaged with Jesus? What can our Church do better to help people on this journey?

My second thought was more personal, “How am I doing?” If these are the right areas to measure to better understand a growing faith, then how am I doing as a believer? Am I serving more as I get older? Am I giving more? Am I still inviting people to Church and to follow Jesus? Am I purposely connecting myself to other people?

Am I fully engaged with Jesus as his follower? These may not be the only things worth measuring, but it is a good place to start. And I want to start with me.

Sleeping on Sunday Morning

Yesterday something happened that has only occurred three times in the last five years. On Sunday morning February 11, I slept late in the morning. On Saturday night an ice storm moved into our area, and we decided to cancel our first worship program already. I woke up the next morning and saw no change in the weather with no signs of the city cleaning the streets. I texted with the leaders of the Church, and we decided to cancel all other programs on Sunday. I sent a series of texts and emails along with making sure the information was on the website and Facebook. Then I put my head back on the pillow and went to sleep.

Rarely does a Sunday morning come along that I have the occasion to sleep past the early morning hours. Worship, even on vacation, is a regular part of my weekend. I want to be a worship participant somewhere every weekend. This week the ice canceled our Church gathering, and there was no opportunity to do anything else. A morning like this reminds me of a few ideas that need repeating.

1. Sleeping Allows Me to Experience My Competition. In a world that is rushing from place to place and is always busy, rest is a precious commodity. A minister I know tells preachers that they should sleep late one Sunday a year just to remind themselves what it feels like and why others enjoy it so much.

2. Sleeping One Sunday Makes Me Feel Nothing. Today I feel no closer or further away from the Lord. I do not feel like my growth is stagnate or fading. I honestly feel like nothing has changed. Sure, I missed the fellowship of other believers, but I know I will see them again. It was just one Sunday I missed, and I am completely convinced it will have no ill effects on me.

3. It Would Be Easy to Miss Again. Yesterday I was able to get some extra rest. I don’t feel like my faith diminished in any way. One week seemed to have no consequences, so would it really hurt to miss another?

4. Missing Worship Can Become Regular. One Sunday can give way to two. Two leads to three. You tell yourself nothing has changed with your relationship with God. In fact, you might try to convince yourself that you are better than those hypocrites that go to Church. After all, you are out in the world shining your light while others are hiding out in the Church building. You are blessing your family and your community, and you worship in your own way. Slowly your attendance at Church gatherings gets more sporadic and infrequent.

5. It is Easy for Church and Worship Will Become a Thing of Your Past. One day you wake up, and your faith is gone. It is a long slow slide that leads from one Sunday sleeping late to a position of no faith. It sounds almost unbelievable, but I see it happen nearly every year. When I talk to people about why they no longer attend Church, the response usually becomes something like “I just got out of the habit.”

I hope that yesterday some of you were able to attend worship somewhere. I know that others of you were not able to do it. I hope that you will not let it become a habit. I hope that you will begin making plans to be there next Sunday. An ounce of planning and prevention is worth a hundred blogs and sermons trying to bring you back.

Weekend Reading and more

Here are some of the best articles I have read lately. Enjoy.

Reasons Not To Go To Church

Serving is the Path to Maturity

10 Phrases I’d Like to Hear More Often in the Church

Why Churches Should Excommunicate Longstanding Non-Attenders

Perplexing Passages: Do Exodus 1 and Joshua 2 Permit Christians to Lie? – Interesting question and thought

Michael Kruger And De-Conversion – I find this one fascinating.

The Philadelphia Eagles: A Band of Bible-Believing Brothers Whose Faith is Inspiring Millions

Here is also a video of a commercial that played during the Superbowl. I wonder how many people know these words are from a sermon on a Bible passage. The Gospel truth is powerful for all generations. (I hate that it is a truck commercial, but it is still good stuff)