Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 July 2017

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.  Hebrews 11, verses 4.

Yesterday we explored how faith is truth.   Today let’s talk about the first person in the Word who is remembered for believing that.

Read the story of Abel in Genesis 4.   We don’t know much about Abel beyond his birth, his vocation, and his death.   He was the second-born child to Adam and Eve.  Abel was a shepherd, and he loved the Lord.   He proved His love for the Lord by offering the best of his possessions as a sacrifice.

Stop and consider that.   In a time when humanity was only beginning, before communities, before commerce, before money, before crime, and even before most families, Abel saw fit to offer worship to God by sacrificing the best of his flock of sheep (“the fat portions” from “the firstborn”).   He recognized that the only thing he could offer in worship to his creator was all he had.   He gave the best and he gave it from his heart.

Then he gave his life for that.   His brother, Cain, murdered him for it.  In truth, Cain murdered Abel because of Cain’s own sin. Idolatry, greed, rage, and envy took hold in the older brother so much that they consumed him and planted the idea of murder in Cain’s heart.   Whatever his motivation, Cain killed his brother because his brother had done what he, Cain, had not.

Thousands of years later, when we talk about this story, we don’t just talk about Cain:   we talk about “Cain and Abel.”   We use their account as the ultimate story of how sin can divide loved ones.    Cain lived a long life after he murdered his brother.  God put a mark on Cain so that everyone would know who he was and would shy away from him.  We know he became the father of a tribe, the builder of cities, and a ‘great’ man known for his actions.   We don’t know how he died; he may have died as an old man, or even when the flood drowned everything other than the beings on the ark.

Yet it was Abel who we remember.  The writer of Hebrews commends Abel – not Adam, Eve, Cain, or Seth the younger brother Abel never met – as being righteous.   He does so because Abel demonstrated faith in God that God would accept the blood of his sacrifice as fitting.   Indeed, God, who still walked the earth with people even then, regarded Abel’s gift as good while rejecting Cain’s as not.   You and I can identify with Cain, who may have thought he was giving God his best when all he was doing was giving God what he wanted.   Cain gave God leftovers:  Abel gave God his best and his all.

Many billions of people later, do we do any different than Cain?   Do you or I give our very best to God every day?  Most obviously, do we do so in our tithes and offerings?   More to the point, do we give God our best in our work, in how we live with our families, in how we relate to other people?   Do we put God first in our thoughts and ask Him to be involved in everything we think, say, or do?   Abel did and it cost him his life.

Are you prepared to go that far?   Abel was.

For further reading:  Genesis 4:4, 1 John 3:12, Hebrews 12:24.

My Lord, thank You for the story of Abel.   May I be as willing as he was to give my all to you, to dedicate the best in my life only to you.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 February 2016

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ Mark 14, verse 27.

A friend and I were having a Twitter discussion today.   It was about the Gospel and how big churches grow based on money, power, and programs but not the Gospel.   From time to time we discuss matters like this, and today my friend made the point that he didn’t think most people who attend mega-churches are there to hear the Gospel of Jesus.   I contended that, whether they’re there to hear it or not, the Gospel is actually what hollow lives crave. Whether or not they do, or take that message home with them, or even acknowledge it is another matter.

But my friend’s point got me thinking, especially when I consider it within the context of today’s verse. Are we simply sheep who have fallen away?

In one sense, we aren’t.   We’re believers seeking Jesus, following Jesus.   He tasked His very Disciples with that very charge: “come follow me.”   So we do.   When we do, we’re sheep following the Shepherd. He guides us, helps us, keeps us together, teaches and cares for us. Gathering together in His name, whether in small groups or mega-churches, is true fellowship with Him and His church.

Yet in another sense we are the sheep who have fallen away. Every minute of every day, I harbor sins against my Savior. Thoughts, words, actions:   I’m thick with sin and can’t live a minute innocent of it. I’ve come to ignore my shepherd willfully and frequently. I forget His voice; I turn from His commands; I deny His perfection; I spit on His gift to me.   Long ago, Jesus quoted the ancient prophecy of Zechariah by saying “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”   He was predicting what would happen to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed.   In a larger sense, He was also predicting what we, His church, would do to Him on a regular basis both as individuals and as His corporate and worldly church.

I deny Him.   We deny Him.   We are struck by Satan through the problems of this world and the sins we embrace.   It’s an age-old battle in which we fight, one that goes back to Eden.   Anything but God; anyone but God.   Indeed, every one of our sins is a subtle idolatry, a quiet choice to be scattered from instead of gathered to our Lord.   When Jesus predicted that His best friends would all soon fall away from Him, in another sense He was also predicting the same for us.   It doesn’t matter how many times we gather to worship Him, offer Him tithes, sing in the best choir or praise band, or any deed we do for the church. If we fall away from Him in the heart, none of that matters.   Jesus wants us to stand with Him with a whole heart first, before anything else, before anyone else.

We’ve fallen away, my fellow sheep.   My friend’s point is valid even as it is cynical. We daily fall away from Jesus even as, deep inside, our deepest need is for the fulfillment, satisfaction, and love that only He can offer. As today is the beginning of Lent, what will you contemplate about this fact in the forty days to come?

Lord Jesus, I have fallen away from you.   Daily abide with me, forgive me, and renew me that I may learn to live only for You.

Read Mark 14, verses 27-31.