Monthly Archives: November 2015

State Your Intentions

Standard

Have you ever wondered what it would be like for life to be perfect?  And what exactly would make life perfect?  Adam and Eve knew.  Once upon a time, life was perfect in the Garden of Eden…

“The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.  And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…” – Gen. 2:8-9a

The chapter goes on to describe in greater detail this paradise God created and given to man.  Yet there is something that rivets me in these verses, more than the depiction of the idyllic location:

‘The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….And the Lord God commanded the man, saying “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”’ – Gen. 2:9b, 16

Rainbow Eucalyptus Grove by Todd Maurer

Rainbow Eucalyptus Grove by Todd Maurer

Often, when we sermonize about the Creation Story and the Garden of Eden, we zero in on the forbidden tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We think about the perfect life Adam and Eve had, their sin in disobeying God’s command, and the consequences of the Fall.  But to think of that alone is to miss the heart of God in this passage.

What WERE God’s intentions in the Garden of Eden?

When we consider only the temptation represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, our perspective of God’s intentions can quickly become muddled.  As we read above, every tree that the Lord caused to grow was pleasing and desirable.  Was He simply taunting Adam and Eve with something they were not allowed to have (knowledge of good and evil)?  God displayed His righteous and just nature by following through on the promised consequences for eating from this forbidden tree – but what about His goodness?  And this is where we must recall the fullness of the story: the two trees.  Though we often forget this crucial detail, glossing over it with eyes jaded by repeated exposure to the story, it is the key for understanding the intentions of God in the Garden of Eden:

“The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:9b

The two trees: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Two distinctly different trees, the first offering life and the second offering death.  This is fascinating in light of Genesis 2:16, which permitted Adam and Eve to eat from any tree’s fruit except that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Any other tree, including the tree of life – oh, can you see the implications of that?  Adam and Eve were given unrestricted access to the tree of life – this is the mysterious comingling of free choice and predestination within the framework of His love.  This is the sort of love that brings me to my knees.  Just as when I read in Ephesians about the grace of God (check out Intentional Grace), I am drawn again to the idea of God’s intentionality:

It has always been God’s intention to provide life.

The vastness of His plan, the eternal nature of His intentions, astounds me.  When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they could no longer have unrestricted access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24).  God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden and set angels to “guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).  Now that humans know both good and evil, He has made a Way for us to choose Him: Jesus Christ.  The Lord is good – only good and the only Good – and we must choose Him to have access again to life.  In the first chapters of the first book of Scripture, He reveals His intent to oforange tree of lifefer the tree of life – and He does the same in the last book of Scripture.  Revelation 22 is describing heaven, and this is what will be there:

“In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations….Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” – v. 2, 14

His intentions have never been secret, and all His mysteries are revealed to us through Jesus Christ (check out Ephesians 3:8-12).  Though too often we focus on that which brought death, His focus has always been on that which brings Life.  Before He rolled out the heavens and hung the planets, before He ever created mankind, He was prepared to provide deliberate grace, offering the sweet Life that comes only from Him. He is the Giver of all good things, and every good and perfect gift comes from Him (Jas. 1:17) – deliberately, intentionally, purposefully.  This is love from the very beginning.

 “And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you.” – Isaiah 30:18

hands with flowers

Advertisements

I Suggest You Run

Standard

Every day we have opportunities – opportunities to learn, to grow, to step into destiny, to embrace adventure.  Yet all too often we shrink back, afraid of where opportunity might take us, of not making the “right” choice, or of failure and disappointment.  Life, relationships, choices – I often fear doing the wrong thing.  My greatest fear in this is:  what if I take an opportunity and then it doesn’t work out somewhere down the road?  Does that make it wrong to take the opportunity?  Does that put me at fault because I “should have known better”?

I struggle most with these questions when I feel that God is asking me to take an opportunity and then it doesn’t have the results I expect.  Did I miss God’s voice?  Did I do something wrong?  I imagine you can relate to these questions.

The truth, however, is that God doesn’t ask us to know the beginning from the end – that is His job.

My parents told me something that, at the time, I thought was odd: “You don’t know until you know.”  What they meant is that sometimes you simply have to take the next step without trying to analyze all the steps that will come after.  God asks us to take one step at a time and let Him take care of the future.  The problem with my thinking is that I tend to look for the results I expect But if it isn’t my place to know the beginning from the end, how would I know what the end should look like?  Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work God does from beginning to end.”  We are designed with a yearning to know (and it is good!) that will never be fully satisfied on this side of heaven.  He knows the paradox of our fragile frames and our thirst for the fullness of eternity, and He is tender with us.  He unveils the splendor of our journey step by step so that we can learn to trust in Him and not in ourselves.  Trust would not be trust if there were no question of the path!  (Check out Timeless Trust for more on this subject.)  Someday we will know fully, but now we know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12).

puzzle piecesSometimes life feels like a jumble of puzzle pieces that have no box to tell you how many pieces there are or show you what the picture looks like.  I have two options: I can clumsily attempt to make the pieces fit – or I can simply trust God, the Master Designer, and allow Him to add the pieces and put them together into a masterpiece.

Every time I watch Ever After, I have to appreciate the meddling of Gustav, Danielle’s faithful friend, who sends Danielle’s true love searching for her.  In an excited panic, Danielle yells to her friend in disbelief, ‘“And now he is heading for my house!”’  With a bright grin, Gustav simply replies, ‘“Then I suggest you run.”’  Danielle’s face lights with delight, and she darts across the field to meet her love.  How I wish that were always my response to opportunity!  All too often, though, I hide from situations that I am uncertain of and wish that someone (particularly God) would tell me what the best choice is (i.e. the one that works out most agreeably in accordance with my expectations).

ever after

Potential does nothing unless you take the opportunities that are set before you.

Yet even as part of me shrinks back, there is another part of me that longs to stretch my legs and run freely into opportunity.  As I tackle my final year of college, I have many exciting (read, “terrifyingly exciting”) choices before me, choices that have me at a crossroads in some ways.  As I consider the potential outcomes and ramifications of each decision, my poor mind is spinning in circles.  But the truth is that God started me on this path long ago, whispering His faithful promises over my life and sheltering me in His grace.  It is not my job to BE God and know how everything will work out.  It is my job to TRUST, obey, and simply take the next step that is before me.  I will never know until I know – and only God knows what the fullness of my future looks like.  Though not knowing exactly what lies ahead bothers me, I know that God is good and that He wants me to focus on the opportunities He is giving me now.  After all, opportunity disregarded is nothing but wasted potential — a journey never taken, a life never fully lived.  And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I do not want to look back and see only “potential” in my life.  (Check out Live Wild for more on living adventurously.)

What opportunities have been set before you now?  What step is God asking you to take next, trusting Him with the results?  Perhaps it is time to simply start running and see where God will take you.  The results may not be what you expect, but consider that your expectations may be different that God’s intentions.  This is the essence of God’s working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:11).  Do not allow fear to make yours a life of wistful if-only thoughts and “great potential.”  God always uses all the pieces – nothing is wasted in the puzzle of your life because He already knows the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10) because He is the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8).  All your days were written by Him before one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16), and His intentions toward you are good (Jer. 29:11).  He longs for us to walk boldly with Him in His sure mercies (Is. 55:3), knowing that, ultimately, it is He who sustains us and nothing can snatch us from His hand (Jn. 10:28-30).

And so, my dear friends, I suggest you run.

Love from the Beginning: Intentional Grace

Standard

The book of Ephesians presents a magnificent picture of God’s radical grace.  There is so much content packed into this brief book.  As I read through Scripture, I often like to tackle one chapter at a time.  However, after I read the first three verses of Ephesians, I had to stop.  Have you ever thought about how truly amazing God’s grace is?  Grace is one of the overarching themes of Ephesians, and the first chapter alone is intense enough for one to spend weeks simply pondering its depths (hence I spent ten weeks reading through a six-chapter book).  Take a look at Ephesians 1:6-7:

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace, which He made abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence…” (emphasis mine)

We all know the mad scramble for small reward. ("Pigtails and Parade Candy Scramble" by Meegan Reid)

We all know the mad scramble for small reward. (“Pigtails and Parade Candy Scramble” by Meegan Reid)

Paul, the writer of Ephesians, is famous for his run-on sentences, so this is only the first chunk of a theologically-loaded sentence.  But consider what these verses are saying: God has given us the abundance, the fullness of His grace “in all wisdom and prudence.”   His grace is no accident, and He has no qualms about having sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.  Everything about God’s grace is intentional.  He does not dispense grace as though He were tossing candy in a parade.  He does not fling it at us, requiring us to scramble around for bits of it, some receiving with abundance and others with lack.  Rather, He gives His grace as the perfect gift.  Think of the person who knows you best choosing a gift for you.  This person loves you and knows what the perfect gift is.  This gift is carefully planned, tenderly prepared, and freely given out of simple love.  That is how God gives His grace.  God’s grace is not willy-nilly; it is deliberate.  He planned to offer us this grace, choosing us “before the foundations of the world” (Eph. 1:4), another word for which is “predestined.”  And He offers this grace to each one of us.  There is nothing to which this grace can be compared; it is without equal because its Giver is without equal: the Lord of all creation, the King of heaven.  We have received every spiritual blessing through Christ (Eph. 1:3), being made “holy and without blame before Him in love” (v. 4) and adopted as sons with rights to a full inheritance sealed by the Holy Spirit (v. 5, 11, 13-14) – all because of His glorious grace.

Take a moment to consider:  Your Heavenly Father planned His goodness toward you.  What does this say about His will in regard to you?

golden giftIt is God’s will to show grace, sealing us as His own and drawing us to Himself.  It is His will to be good because His nature is good.  This is why it is His will that none “should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).  This is also why He takes no pleasure in death but instead calls out, “Turn and live!” (Ez. 18:32).  Everything about God’s grace is deliberate, set in place before the foundations of the world were laid and Adam first walked in His presence.  His grace is the most perfect, most thoughtful gift ever given, and He longs for each of us to accept its fullness.  It is only His grace that encompasses past, present, and future and brings us into alignment with Him.

Thus Ephesians presents one of the greatest paradoxes of all time: the comingling of destiny and choice.  Grace is a gift deliberately given that must be deliberately received.  Our choice does not alter the fact that it is offered freely and gladly, nor the fact that it is God’s will for us to choose it.  As Ephesians 1 tells us multiple times, it was His pleasure to give us grace; but more than that, it was the “good pleasure of His will” to do so (v. 5, 9, 11).  This was no whim, no fleeting bout of kindness.  It was not merely a good deed in response to a need.  Rather, this great grace was a deliberate act of His will: it is not only His desire to be good to us – it is part of His very nature. “Good” isn’t just something God does – it’s who He is.  It has always been and always will be His intention to provide grace.  It pleases Him to be good because that is who He is.  It pleased Him to make “known to us the mystery of His will” (Eph. 1:9): His grace, His goodness – nothing hidden, nothing withheld.  He longs for us to live freely and fully in His scandalously kind, utterly glorious gift.  He pursues us with relentless, intentional grace.  We do not deserve His grace, but dare we refuse a Gift He has literally poured His life into?

It is my desire to live unmasked and unashamed in the spacious place of His grace, and I hope that you will join me.  Embrace the good will of the Father toward you, and allow His grace-gift to saturate your life.