If you do well

My brother and I fought like most brothers do. I suppose it’s only natural that brothers should disagree and argue and fight — usually about nothing important. It was usually petty jealousies and slights and perceived unfairness that riled us up. When Jeremy and I would start a war my mom had an interesting way of escalating the conflict. There we were, ramping up another battlefield offensive, when suddenly she would swoop in and offer her war counsel: “Are you angry, Michael? Hit him! Go ahead! You’re mad and you’re not going to take any more! Do it!” You would have needed to be there to see the way she would lean in, eyes open, voice inflected to a fevered pitch. The sudden shock of the reality of our insignificant dispute would come crashing down on me. “But I don’t want to. He’s my brother!”

What usually came to my mind in those moments was a story I had heard many times growing up. It was the story of Cain and Abel, from the fourth chapter of Genesis. Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain worked the ground and Abel kept sheep. They both gave offerings to God. God approved of Abel’s offering, “firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions,” i.e. the best he had. But God did not approve of Cain’s offering. Brotherly rivalry commenced.

You can well imagine Cain being unhappy, which didn’t go unnoticed by God. He said,

“Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

The phrase “do well” means to do what is good or pleasing. God did not approve of Cain’s offering because it was not good or pleasing to him. God did not accept Cain because he brought an offering from a heart that was ultimately selfish. Every word of Cain, every description of his attitude shows that there was only one lord in his life, only one life that he truly cared about. Cain is the ultimate archetype of the looking-out-for-number-one person. When God had no regard for his offering that sent Cain into a spiral of jealousy, bitterness, and anger. “That’s not fair! I deserve approval! I want what I deserve!”

God lovingly confronted him. That’s what God does when we rebel against him. We think him very unfair to point out our error and show up during our bitter revelry. But in reality he is showing us grace unmeasured. “If you do well, will you not be accepted.” He shows us that living according to his ways results in acceptance. Even more, “if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” He shows us that living according to his ways is a way to subdue sin in our lives, to have mastery over it. God in his grace designed us to do well, to do what is good and pleasing to him, as a way to rule over sinful desires. That is a pretty amazing gift.

Receiving that gift requires something rather uncomfortable. It means admitting that our motivations are flawed. It means admitting that there is rebellion in our hearts, the kind of rebellion that breeds jealousy, bitterness, and anger. This rebellion feeds on self-centered thinking and entitlement. These are the things we need to let go of in order to receive the gift of good. In other words, before we can expect to do what is good and pleasing to God we need to practice repentance.

Repentance and belief. Belief in a Savior who always did what was good and right and perfect. Belief in a Savior who lived a perfect life for you and did what you could not do for yourself. A Savior of whom God said,

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

When we were at our lowest, when we had failed to please God by doing well, God came in the flesh. Jesus the Son did well for us. He pleased God perfectly and now that pleasing is credited to us through repentance and belief.

Take the challenge of repentance seriously, friends. Consider the rebellion that still lurks in your heart. And give it up to our God and Savior who offers grace and acceptance in exchange, who enables us to do well, to live lives good and pleasing to Him. In Christ and only in him will God say of us, “I am well pleased.”


In the beginning… God’s word

Another year, another journey in God’s word.

Today I cracked open my new ESV Journaling Bible, given to me for Christmas by my second daughter. My plan, consistent with the last several years, is to read through the Bible using the old M’Cheyne reading plan. So it was Genesis 1 (and Ezra 1, Matthew 1, and Acts 1) for me today. Here are some thoughts from my time in God’s word today.

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

The first thing we read is that God created. Everything. The heavens and the earth. An all-encompassing statement about all that we can observe and the One who brought it into being.

And then we read of the means by which God created.

And God said, … (Genesis 1:3)

At least 10 more times that phrase is repeated in chapter 1. God speaks. His voice is heard, and the result is that the heavens and earth come into view. All that we can observe, all that there is, is brought into being by the word of God.

God’s word is powerful.

Think about it. We speak hundreds and thousands of words each day. But none of them have the ability to bring something out of nothing, to bring order out of chaos. At least not in the way we see God’s word work. His word has the ability to bring light into darkness, to bring life out of nothing, to bring purpose and meaning to what was formless and void.

God’s word is important.

The Bible’s creation account does not tell the tale of cosmic dust and impersonal matter. It does not tell the mythological tale of gods in conflict. All that is comes about by God’s word. The prominence and preeminence of “and God said” should ring out as something important, something of value, something that deserves our attention. He speaks, and we listen. We must listen.

God’s word is good.

At the end of the day, it really matters whether or not something is good. Does it have purpose? Does it have beauty? A thing is good if it functions properly and has appealing aesthetic qualities. A thing is good if it has form and function.

And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10)

God’s word is good because it brought forth good. Light, sky, sea and land, sun and moon, birds and fish, animals and man, all are good. God’s creation is beautiful. It has purpose and meaning. It has harmony. And at the end of the creation account we read God’s own assessment of the works of his word.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

God’s word in my life, and yours

God’s word is powerful, important, and good (among other things). God’s word did not cease at the end of creation. God continued to speak. His words are recorded for us in Scripture. The Bible is the source of his revealed word, his intentions, his purposes and plans, his design for us.

All Scripture is breathed out by God … (2 Timothy 3:16)

One of my prayers for 2018 is that I would experience God’s word in a powerful way, that I would come to know in a deeper way the importance and good of God’s word. And I pray that this will be true for you as well.

And one more thing.

[The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:2-3)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

May you be moved to devour God’s word in 2018. May you be filled with a desire, a hunger to know God more deeply and to see the beauty of His Son Jesus, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and purposes for creation. May you come to see the centrality in your life of the Word made flesh. Your and my only hope for 2018.

Week 12 Bible Readings

New Testament

18 March:  Luke 13:18-14:24

19 March:  Luke 14:25-15:32

20 March:  Luke 16

21 March:  Luke 17

22 March:  Luke 18

23 March:  Luke 19:1-27

24 March:  Luke 19:28-20:8

Old Testament

18 March:  Genesis 49, 50

19 March:  Proverbs 1, 2

20 March:  Proverbs 3, 4, 5

21 March:  Proverbs 6, 7

22 March:  Proverbs 8, 9

23 March:  Proverbs 10, 11, 12

24 March:  Proverbs 13, 14, 15

Week 11 Bible Readings

New Testament

11 March:  Luke 8:22-56

12 March:  Luke 9:1-45

13 March:  Luke 9:46-10:16

14 March:  Luke 10:17-11:13

15 March:  Luke 11:14-54

16 March:  Luke 12:1-34

17 March:  Luke 12:35-13:17

Old Testament

11 March:  Genesis 31, 32

12 March:  Genesis 33, 34, 35

13 March:  Genesis 36, 37, 38

14 March:  Genesis 39, 40

15 March:  Genesis 41, 42

16 March:  Genesis 43, 44, 45

17 March:  Genesis 46, 47, 48

Week 10 Bible Readings

New Testament

4 March:  Luke 2:39-3:20

5 March:  Luke 3:21-4:13

6 March:  Luke 4:14-5:11

7 March:  Luke 5:12-6:11

8 March:  Luke 6:12-49

9 March:  Luke 7:1-39

10 March:  Luke 7:40-8:21

Old Testament

4 March:  Genesis 16, 17

5 March:  Genesis 18, 19

6 March:  Genesis 20, 21, 22

7 March:  Genesis 23, 24

8 March:  Genesis 25, 26

9 March:  Genesis 27, 28

10 March:  Genesis 29, 30

Week 9 Bible Readings

New Testament

26 February:  Mark 14:53-72

27 February:  Mark 15:1-21

28 February:  Mark 15:22-47

29 February:  Mark 16

1 March:  Luke 1:1-38

2 March:  Luke 1:39-80

3 March:  Luke 2:1-38

Old Testament

26 February:  Psalm 146, 147

27 February:  Psalm 148-150

28 February:  Genesis 1-3

29 February:  Genesis 4-6

1 March:  Genesis 7-9

2 March:  Genesis 10-12

3 March:  Genesis 13-15