Monday, March 23, 2009


I have a friend named, Carol – a friend of a friend, really, but dear all the same. Roy and I had the pleasure of chatting with Carol and her husband, Gene, at a mutual friend’s wedding reception – just a lovely Christian couple, proud of their only son, J.P. Jason Paul Kent - a vibrant Christian young man, graduate of the Naval Academy, serving God and his country. Have you heard the story? J.P. is the son of Carol Kent, Women of Faith speaker and internationally known author - imagine the shock and despair when J.P. was convicted of first-degree murder. You may be asking yourself, “How could such a GOOD guy do such a bad thing?” Carol tells their gripping story of reckoning and recovery in When I Lay My Isaac Down. In Jason’s situation, his heart and mind focused on protecting the lives of those closest to him, but that meant the death of another. We can ask ourselves how someone who had experienced God’s presence could commit such an act of violence. But in the Beginning, just after the Fall of Humankind, Cain speaks directly to God after his sin – and scoffs at Him. The presence of God is not a guarantee of human goodness – only a promise of the opportunity for forgiveness.

J.P. Kent is now serving a life sentence in Florida, but his heart is eternally serving Christ, ministering to other inmates alongside the Chaplain, and helping his parents with the non-profit organization: Speak Up for Hope (a ministry to the families of incarcerated individuals). Cain, on the other hand, had no such redemptive turnaround….

Gen. 4:8 – “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let's go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

  • Did Adam and his family regularly slaughter animals for clothing/tools/supplies by this time? Had Cain ever killed anything before? We don’t know. But we know two things: 1) He didn’t shed blood for God’s sacrifice – as Abel had done (Gen. 4:4, Cain brought grain); and 2) This was the first human blood spilled in Creation. Sin crouched at Cain’s door (4:7), and when he didn’t master it, it overtook him.

Gen. 4:9 – “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don't know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother's keeper?’”

  • At least when God asked Adam and Eve questions after the Fall (Gen. 3), the first couple answered with honest blame. Not Cain. He’s a lying smarty-pants! No repentance there. I marvel at Cain’s audacity, but how often do I blatantly ignore the first promptings of the Holy Spirit’s conviction?

Gen. 4:10-12 – “The LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth’” (emphasis added).

  • Cain’s curse involved restless wandering in a wasteland – for the remainder of his life – away from the work that defined his life’s purpose. Imagine the modern version – a lifetime of airport layovers with all the restaurants closed. Never home, never satisfied, no hope of rest – ever.

Gen. 4:13-14 – “Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’”

  • Cain’s first concern was separation from the land (food and work/identity) – secondary concern was separation from God’s presence. This is the difference between true repentance and all-purpose sorrow. And in a final moment of hysteria, physical well-being became his most urgent plea. Our true priorities come out in times of crisis.

Gen. 4:15-16 – “But the LORD said to him, ‘Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod,F(Wandering) east of Eden.[1]

  • Okay, don’t ask me where “Nod” is. All we know is, “east of Eden.” Hmmm. Must be all God thought we needed to know about it…Oh, and He also thought it was important that we know it means, “wandering.” God’s curse on Cain was three-fold: 1) life, 2) separation from God, and 3) restless wandering. Yes, life was a part of the curse – because it was a life lived in total separation from God. We have no understanding what that would be like because God’s Spirit is at work in believers on this earth, so He is present in and among us. Hell’s Lake of Fire is a great reason to believe in Jesus Christ, but the better cause is the eternal separation from God – no recourse, no reprieve in judgment. Cain experienced that separation in life on earth and wandered without direction or divine aid. Ugh.

Lord, thank You that any restlessness or wandering I may feel is never an end, but only a warning to draw me back to You. Protect me from the lies of the enemy that would seek to deceive, filling my mind with discouragement and self-loathing. Thank You that Your forgiveness and grace are as close as a prayer, and Your love never rests on my effort or deserving.

[1]Excerpted from Compton's Interactive Bible NIV. Copyright (c) 1994, 1995, 1996 SoftKey Multimedia Inc. All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 16, 2009


Oh, that my daughters were always this sweet to one another! Big sister was just so happy that little sister decided to come home for Spring Break this year, she couldn't contain herself! What is your family ranking? Your birth order? It’s not necessarily the same question, is it? Sibling rivalry is as old as Creation, and today we get to look at its origin. Let’s take my own children for example. Trina, our firstborn, has studio baby pictures beginning at birth, three months, six months, nine months, a year, two years, and three years-old. Like clockwork. Poor Emily, our second born, has a hospital newborn photo, two studio photos taken sometime before she was three years-old, and I think the rest of her studio shots include her sister. You get the picture (pun intended)? Further confessions of a downhill mommy – Trina’s baby book is completed; Emily’s is hit-and-miss after age 2. The perils of the second born. However, before you begin feeling too sorry for little Emily, let me tell you the nickname she earned by age four, “Little General.” Because even though her sister is two years older, Emily could always wrap Trina around her little finger at will. Here’s an example. It’s Christmas time 1991, and the girls are pretending the nativity scene. Emily wants to be Mary, so she tells Trina, “I’ll be Mary; you be Joseph.” Trina defiantly refuses. Emily says, “Okay. You be Joseph, and I’ll be Mary.” Trina, feeling victorious, says, “That’s better!” And off they go, Emily with the Mary blanket securely fastened around her head, Trina marching away with the Joseph staff/mop in hand. A few seconds later, Trina realizes she’s been duped, but Emily reminds her that she’s already agreed. And big sister with the soft heart rolls her eyes, stomps her foot and says, “Next time I get to be Mary!” So who exactly was born to privilege in this family? We’ll get a snapshot of Adam and Eve’s feuding boys, and you can see how to truly judge privilege….

Gen. 4:1-2a – “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.”

  • Notice how Eve spoke of God’s interaction with her in bringing forth her firstborn – so much so that it influenced Cain’s name. Then notice the complete absence of God in the reporting of Abel’s birth. Think about how important a name was. “Cain” meant, “brought forth” or “acquired” because Eve acknowledged that the LORD helped her bring forth a man. Scripture doesn’t tell us what Abel means, but the Hebrew word means, “breath, temporary, meaningless.” How about that for establishing your self-worth at an early age? Or did Adam and Eve simply know somehow that he would live for a short time? Either way, life is different for someone named, “temporary and meaningless.” If you were Cain, wouldn’t you feel privileged?

Gen. 4:2b-5 – “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”

  • I’ve heard lots of sermons and commentary on the offerings and attitudes of these brothers. Had God instructed them on appropriate offerings? Dunno. Did Cain bring second-class grain, while Abel brought his best? Probably (Heb.11:4), but dunno specifics. Scripture DOES tell us clearly, however, that when God corrected Cain, he reacted in anger. That’s what PRIVILEGED spoiled brats do. Yes, it matters what the offering was, but it matters MORE how Cain reacted to God’s correction. And right now, in this moment, it matters MOST how you and I react to God’s correction…

Gen. 4:6-7 – “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

  • God asked Cain to simply make the right choice, and he would be accepted. But PRIVILEGE says, “I want to do what I want to do – and still be accepted.” Then privilege becomes indignant when it’s judged unacceptable. Privilege wants us to treat sin as a pet, a little indiscretion. God tells Cain that sin desires to “HAVE” him, which leads me to believe that every time I choose sin, sin gains more of a hold on me. Flip side: every right choice brings us one step closer to mastering the sin that seeks to “have us.”

Lord, with every breath, I have the choice to do what is right or give sin a stronghold in my life. Privilege seeks to live in my own world, pleasing myself no matter what pleases God. How often do I truly sacrifice my own desires to please You, to seek You, to discover what kind of offering You truly desire from me? If I bring You an offering, and You disapprove, will I be like Cain and stomp off mad? Or will I take the time to listen for the changes You desire? Lord, search me. Show me. The only privilege I desire is Your presence and Your pleasure.

Monday, March 02, 2009


I’m not what most people would consider a compassionate person. Our precious daughters learned early in life that when they were sick and throwing up, it was their father who gently dabbed their forehead with a cool cloth and cooed over them while they hung over the porcelain throne. I was all about the mission. Get the bucket by the bed, the 7-up and crackers, change the sheets, etc. Obviously, all of the above is necessary. We simply recognized our giftedness areas early on. So when our family moved to seminary (picture at right), and our third-story apartment was two floors above a ranting, maniacal mother, who threatened each afternoon before naps, “I can’t take it anymore!” – my compassionate response was, “Neither can I, so shut up!” Of course, I didn’t actually say that to the poor, dear woman. (Can you see why I didn’t go into counseling?) The first time she said it, I looked out the window to see if she had a gun or if she might try something desperate. But her children continued their antics, and she kept flipping burgers on the grill, screaming at the top of her lungs. As our months of seminary drug on, the same declaration became this woman’s daily mantra. I realized that she could indeed “take more” – and chose to. But it occurred to me that perhaps her words expressed something deeper. (Those of you with a little compassion are saying, “Duh, Mesu!”) I began chatting with her on occasion and in a short time, she revealed much of the pain carried in the desperate sentence she shouted to the world. You see, that’s what words are – simply vessels that carry messages. As a listener, I must hold the vessel of words up to the Light to see if the messages they carry hold greater meaning than the simple container in which they’re packaged. Oftentimes, God’s messages are so vast that our small 26-letter alphabet has a difficult time carrying His deeper meaning. So it was when the curses were levied…

Gen. 3:14-15 – “So the LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’”
  • The immediate message compels snakes to slither forever. We might even be able to argue that snakes were cursed to aggression toward humans and humans given dominion over them. However, God’s deeper meaning has nothing to do with a snake’s anatomy or how I conquer one with my shovel. The enmity between the woman’s offspring and Satan’s offspring is a picture of the Cross of Christ and foreshadows the crucifixion (Satan striking Christ’s heel, hanging on the Cross) and the Resurrection (Jesus Christ crushing the power of death, which is Satan’s hope to steal God’s children). Even when humankind failed in the beginning, God had already planned our victorious ending.

Gen. 3:16 – “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’”

  • The immediate message says it’s gonna hurt like the dickens to deliver a baby! (And that’s no small message!) The deeper meaning is of great debate, but here’s what the Lord has laid on my heart. When the woman used her influence to draw her husband into sin, God cursed that portion of the male/female relationship. I believe the “Nag Factor” falls under the curse. I’m sure all husbands will agree, but wives stay with me here. And those of you not married, this affects you as well. Women continually want MORE from men. They want more respect, better compensation, more affection, better understanding – for crying out loud, just take out the trash more! More. But from the beginning of time, men have been in positions of influence over women, saying, “I refuse – or I can’t – or I don’t think it’s necessary – to give more.” The curse for a woman runs deeper than pain at the end of nine months. It’s constant discontentment at the discretion of one who has been placed in a position of authority over her from the beginning of time. The only remedy is finding contentment in and through the Spirit of God – married or unmarried.

Gen. 3:17-19 – “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”

  • The immediate message says Adam got in trouble for listening to his wife and not listening to God, so he’s doomed to plucking weeds for the rest of his earthly life – which will end in death because of his sin, by the way. The deeper message says, “Though you’ve chosen death, I still offer you life.” God consistently offers life in all three curses: 1) though the snake would strike his heel, the woman will have offspring; 2) though the woman will have pain and frustration, she will bear children; and 3) though humankind can no longer pluck plump, ripe fruit from trees God provided (Gen. 2:16), they can work the ground for food.

Gen. 3:20 – “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”

  • I don’t know about you, but if I was Adam, her name might have been Mud! But Adam’s compassionate naming of his wife tells me he learned the compassion of God’s judgment. It tells me he was able to receive God’s discipline and God’s grace because the true test of receiving grace is giving grace.

Lord, sometimes I become so discouraged by my own or others’ sins that it’s hard to receive or give grace. I become so focused on the downfall, I miss Your upswing. You are a God of deeper meaning. Even Your judgments go deeper than discipline – to finding the joy and redemption of life. Never let me settle for the immediate messages I see in Your Word. Take me deeper…