Thursday, August 29, 2013

8/29/13 - First the Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. - John 1:1-4 (NKJV)

Earlier this morning someone reminded me of this scripture

In the beginning was the Word. Before anything else in this universe took shape, before the planets or stars existed, before time itself was set in motion there was the Word. Not just a word - THE Word. The Word of God existed before creation, and the Word was used to create. Without Him (Jesus - the Word) nothing could have been made.

Before I was, there was the Word. That Word spoke my life into existence. That Word formed me, named me, and set me on a path.

And that Word has been given to me. It (He) is my husband, my guide, my very best friend. It (His Words) has been written and preserved throughout time so that I can read it, know it, and speak it now. The power of the Word has been placed on my tongue.

So when I am faced with a trial, a problem, a failure, a disappointment, a speed bump, a curve ball ... you know, those nasty things that life throws at you, the ones you never saw coming ... when I am faced with my own inadequacy, my own shortcomings, my own sin ... when I feel completely incapable, and when things are not at all what I want them to be

... in those moments I cannot forget the Word. He is there to lean on. He exists in the volume of the Book to minister to me. His Truth, uttered from my lips, comes with a power to change my existence. Before I was, there was the Word. In the void, there was the Word. What better way to create a future that glorifies God than to speak His word into the darkness and the void I may see in the present?

If His WORD breathed life and light into all of mankind, surely it can do the same to anything that feels dead right now. If His WORD created everything out of nothing, then surely it can produce something good from the deepest areas of lack.

Yes. I will speak the Word. I will lean on the Word. When all else around me tumbles and churns, I will lean on, hide in, and cover myself with the Word.

First the Word ... then everything else.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Unchanging

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord."

- Isaiah 55: 8 (NKJV)

Last night in Bible Study we were discussing what it takes to be obedient to the voice of God when His direction doesn't make sense.  One of the things that our Pastor reminded us of was that God's ways are not our ways. His thoughts aren't our thoughts. Then she asked the question "Aren't you glad? After all, what would this world look like if God thought and acted like us?" 

Everyone had a good laugh as we sat around and imagined our own silliest and ficklest impulses in the context of an Almighty God who has the power to create and destroy at will.

"I don't know ..." one girl said as an example, "I'm not feeling this shape any more. Let's change the circle."

the first thing that popped into my head, of course, was "Meh ... I'm kind of bored. Let's just not do today." 

Imagine if God decided one day that He didn't want to be bothered willing that day into existence.  Could you imagine the consequences in our lives if all of creation was put on hold, half completed, or finished to the lowest possible standards because God thought and acted like we do?

There are so many times that we get frustrated with God. We want something, and we want it now, and we can't understand why He won't give it to us. Or we ask for direction from Him while simultaneously formulating a plan of our own, and then we get annoyed when His answers don't match up with ours. Or sometimes we see every single event in our lives as a sign from Him that He is speaking to us

But let's face it - when it comes to a disagreement between us and God, we're NEVER in the right. And if we fail to understand what He's saying, that's on us, not on him.

I'll never forget the time someone told me "Sometimes you get weird dreams because you ate something funky. It doesn't mean it came from God."  Sometimes we're anxious because we've been working ourselves up with worry. Sometimes opportunities open in front of us that we are NOT supposed to take. Sometimes He won't answer you with thunder (or with a personal word from the pulpit) ... sometimes He'll just remind you that the answer is something you already know. Sometimes God's path has absolutely nothing to do with the meticulous plan we've created to get ourselves from A to B. Sometimes His ways just don't match up with ours.

His ways aren't our ways. But that's a good thing. At best our ways and thoughts are fickle, short-sighted, limited, and overridden by our ever changing emotions. At worst they are selfish, sinful, and plain old wrong.

But God's ways ... they're always perfect, always consistent, always right, always good.  It's amazing to me to consider how much time I spend trying to change His mind to match up with MY thoughts on an issue.  Why on earth would I want to do that? Why would I want to exchange His glorious, perfect, beautiful, unchanging ways for my own? Isn't it so much better to have a God who is not only wonderfully good, but also absolutely unchanging?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Right Impression

I've been thinking a lot over the past few months about what I want to do differently in 2013.  I'm not talking about areas in which I want to grow - growth is just progress, after all. Rather, I've been evaluating the things in my life that I'd like to change.

One day I was praying about it and this is what I found coming out of my own mouth:
“God,” I said, “I want to make people feel special. I want every person that I come in contact with to feel like they matter to me. Let that be my testimony – that I leave people’s days brighter because of your light shining through me.”
 
Now at first that sounds all pretty and poetic. In reality though, it’s been a messy journey full of fits and starts. There were little things that I knew I could do.  I started saying good morning like I meant it, even to strangers. And when I asked someone how they were doing, I stopped and looked them in the face and waited for an answer.  But it wasn’t easy. Personal interaction – that’s not my strong point. I’m good with crowds, not so much with individual people.  None of this has come naturally to me, and it has come with some unexpected consequences.
 
I’ve had, for instance, more absolute strangers ask me out on dates in this past month (5 … seriously) than all of last year (0).  One guy even asked me to marry him … weird.
 
But there have also been moments of personal conviction, situations that I might have normally glossed over as unimportant, except for that gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit that this was something I wanted to do differently.  A few weeks ago, late on a Saturday night, I stopped on my way home for sushi.  It was cold out, and I was tired and cranky. When I stepped up to the counter I placed my order, and then stood there for 15 minutes while the boy behind the counter took two more orders and had a 10 minute conversation with another customer about the brand of shirt he was wearing.  The food had been prepared and was piling up, waiting to be handed out. Meanwhile, we were all standing there watching him chat.  So when he finally came down the line to start bagging the food, and stood there, hopelessly lost and confused, I got plain old annoyed.

I watched him put half of my order in one bag and the other half in another with someone else’s food while he stared at the meal tickets like they were written in a foreign language.  Finally I spoke up “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s right” I said in a not-very-nice tone.  “I’m pretty sure that the soup and the sushi are mine and that bento box belongs to the guy behind me.”  I was using the stern voice that I use when talking to a 5 year old who isn’t paying attention.  The kid behind the counter sullenly put my food in a bag and started to hand it to me when I interrupted and made it worse.  “And I’m planning to eat that here, so if you could give me a spoon and a tray that would be great.” I said, again with a tone of utter distain and annoyance.

And then I watched this kid’s face darken.  He tossed my food on a tray with a spoon and handed it to me without a word. But as I walked away I knew I had seriously screwed up.  I had NOT left this kid with the right impression. I had NOT left him feeling any kind of special. 

As I sat at my table drinking my soup felt that gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit: “You have to apologize to him,” he said. UGGGGHHH! Everything inside me groaned at that one. I was literally squirming in my seat as I battled within myself between doing what was right and what I could get away with. I rationalized (He was being an idiot, he deserved it!), I whined (That is so embarrassing! What am I even going to say?), and I bargained (Maybe instead of apologizing this time I can just learn my lesson and do better next time.) But in the end I couldn’t say no – not to God, not when I was so clearly in the wrong. And just as I had given up the fight and settled it in my spirit that I would find a way to tell him I was sorry, who should come wandering by my table with a mop but the very kid I was dreading having to talk to.

So I stopped him and I told him I was sorry, that I had been rude, that I was a Christian and I wasn’t supposed to treat people that way, and that I wanted him to forgive me.  He was genuinely surprised and grateful. He kept telling me that I didn’t have to say anything, that he was used to people being less than nice. But I didn’t let myself off the hook. I was insistent in my need to let him know I was sorry.

When the whole thing was over and I was walking home I realized just how perfectly God had covered over my mistake. I may have started off as just another nasty customer, but I was sure that this kid would remember me. He will remember that encounter. And my prayer is that together with that memory a seed of God’s truth was planted in his heart that will one day grow and produce a harvest.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Finished!

At long long last the book that I have been working on is finished!

Last night I finished my final proof, hit "publish" and ordered my stock copies.

When I woke up this morning and logged onto amazon there it was - bright and shiny and ready to be discovered!

http://amzn.com/B00BMHKIK2

Go ahead, check it out, I'll wait :)

The fact that it's really and truly done kind of amazes me. I guess after two and a half years of working on something like this, the idea of NOT working on it any more feels a little weird. I find myself wondering what's next, what I will use to fill up the spare hours and long commutes into which I had been cramming my editing, proofing, and re-writing sessions.

And I am still a little awestruck as to how God is planning to use what I'd always considered to be a personal project in such a public way. Somehow the whole thing still doesn't quite feel tangible ...

But what amazes me most about this whole process is the way in which God orchestrated every single detail along the way. There were long periods of waiting, long periods of silence, but whenever I was in serious need of help or encouragement, it was always there to be found. The things that I could do on my own, in those areas I never got the help I wanted. But when I found myself honestly stuck, unable to move on, without direction, or totally in over my head, I would suddenly hear from someone dear to my heart who would end up providing exactly what I needed.

So this is my official chance to say a public thank you.
Thank you to Pastor Rebekah Gibbs, who encouraged me to write it in the first place. Thank you for pushing, for not forgetting, and for telling other people who I never would have told on my own. It made me accountable to see this thing thorugh.

Thank you to my mom, Marye Stunz Casill, who was honest and encouraging through the whole thing, and who gave me the piece of advice that finally gave me the clarity to write and edit with purpose. (The advice, if you're wondering, was "Strain out the carrots" ... it made so much more sense in context than it does on this page). And who jumped in at the last minute to give me a beautifully written and moving Foreward to start off the book in the perfect context and tone!

A HUGE thank you to Rashada Nunez (or Norman depending on whether I'm paying enough attention to remember that she's been married for almost 5 years and doesn't have the same last name that she did when we went to high school together) - my best friend and personal cheerleader. Not only did she work with me to produce two beautiful cover options for my book, but she was there with  me at every step of the way, celebrating even the tiniest little successes as if they were her own!

And thank you to Pastor Marnie Surillo who heard about the book, requested to read it, tossed aside every objection and fear I had, and gave me the opportunity and the platform to formally teach this message right away! If it hadn't been for your encouragement and vision I don't know if I would have ever actually finished! (the deadline probably helped too!)

And of course I'd be stupid not to give all the glory and all my gratitude to God. This isn't my book. Really it's His. And if it can help even just a few people look at their relationships in a healthier, more Biblical light - well then, I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to be used.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Prodigal Problem pt. 2


The Competitive Brother

So far it appears that this parable is almost an exact opposite of Cain’s story. After all, the brother who failed in this story had the wisdom and the grace to do what Cain did not. However, the parable did not finish with the prodigal son’s return; because while the father was thrilled and overjoyed to have his youngest son return to him, the boy’s brother had a completely different reaction to the news. It is in his words and actions that we can find another example of Cain’s perspective.

“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in” (Luke 15:25-28a).

It is important to note that the brother who found himself trapped by anger in this story was not the one who’d failed, but rather the one who’d succeeded. It brings to light an important truth: that we do not have to fail in order to find ourselves trapped in the same carnal perspective as Cain. As this story will demonstrate for us, the competitive mindset is just as dangerous to those who seem to have done everything right as it is to those who have done everything wrong.

In fact, we can be better, stronger, more talented, more gifted, more dependable, more obedient, more faithful, more successful in every measurable way than anyone around us; but when it comes to being rightly aligned in Biblical brotherhood none of that matters. Any one of us can instantly step out of line with God’s will for our lives if we have developed the wrong attitude towards others. Therefore we must never allow our apparent successes to stop us from examining our own hearts and minds for evidence of this dangerous trap.

In this parable, almost as soon as the older brother was introduced back into the story it became obvious that there was something wrong with his perspective. Jesus said that as he approached the house he heard music and dancing, at which point he called a servant to him to find out what was going on. Now what I find specifically interesting is that calling a servant over implied that he had stopped before he reached the house. He didn’t ask someone who he happened to pass by. He noticed the music and apparently made the choice to wait outside of his own home until he had found an explanation.

I don’t know about you, but that behavior strikes me as incredibly odd. After all, this is the house that he’d grown up in, the house that he was still living in. Why would he wait outside? When I lived with my parents it didn’t mater if there were a dozen unexpected cars outside of my house and a full-fledged BBQ in the back yard, I never once hesitated to walk through the front door. It was my home. I belonged there. A party, even an unexpected party, was always a good thing! It certainly wasn’t something to be suspicious of.

But that’s not the reaction that this son appeared to have. It almost seems as though he was expecting not to like the news before he’d even heard it. The Bible doesn’t tell us what he was thinking, but his actions certainly suggest that he was suspicious, afraid, or at least wary of this unexpected celebration. Otherwise, wouldn’t he have simply walked into the house to find out for himself what was happening?
When the servant told him that his wayward brother had returned and been welcomed back into the family with celebration and rejoicing, this older brother immediately got angry. Again, the amplified translation paints us an incredible portrait of his disposition in that moment:

“But [the elder brother] was angry [with deep-seated wrath] and resolved not to go in” (Luke 15:28a AMP).

The older brother wasn’t just a little annoyed or disappointed. He was positively furious! In fact, he was so angry that he refused to go into his own house. Doesn’t that sound almost exactly like Cain’s reaction to Abel’s successful sacrifice?

Just like Cain, this man’s response to his brother’s acceptance and success was so extreme that it it immediately demonstrated that there was a problem lurking under the surface. And yet, just like Cain, this man’s father refused to let him wallow in the darkness of his own anger:

“Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (Luke 15:28b).

When Cain grew angry God came to speak to him. In this parable, the father also came out of the house to plead with his oldest son. He did not want his child to remain outside. He did not want him to be angry. He wanted peace in his household and love between his boys. He wanted it so badly that Jesus didn’t say he spoke to his son or reasoned with him. He said that the father pleaded.

Consider the incredible power of that statement for a moment. The father of this household stood in authority over his two sons. He had the power to command his son to obey him, and the right to expect his son to treat him with respect. Refusing to enter the house was such a sign of disrespect that it would have been entirely within the father’s rights to punish his oldest son for this behavior.

And yet this father did not command. He didn’t punish. Instead he humbled himself, put aside his authority, and demonstrated love by coming out of the house to meet his son where he was. In fact, he was so desperate to resolve this situation and reconcile his children that he let go of his dignity and literally begged his own son to let go of his anger.

What an incredible example of selfless, merciful, tender-hearted love this father displayed! And yet just like Cain, the older brother in this story was unable to hear his father’s voice or understand his heart.

“So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him’” (Luke 15:29-30).

Notice what this man’s words revealed about the source of his anger. He wasn’t really mad that he’d been treated badly. In fact, there’s no reason to believe that he’d even thought to complain before that very moment. No, he was angry because his failure of a brother was being treated well! Suddenly a competitive perspective clouded his reason and even though he had always been loved and provided for he began to feel cheated. Even his attempts to justify and explain his anger were based entirely on a list of his achievements in comparison with his brother’s failures. His argument was no more than a competitive comparison between himself and his brother.

In this man’s mind his brother had been given something that he had no right or claim to any more. And if the kingdom of God worked under the same competitive system as the world he would have been absolutely right! Let's face it, if past performance was what merited the father’s acceptance and honor then the younger of his two sons had no business being celebrated. After all, he had not only failed, he had failed big time! He had run away, wasted a fortune, lived in sin, and probably dishonored his family name in the process. But none of that was important to the father who loved him so much.

It is worth pointing out that the older son was so disgusted with his brother, so filled with anger that he didn’t even refer to him as “my brother.” Instead he called him “this son of yours.” Those are harsh words to be spoken about a young man with whom he had probably grown up. Much like Cain’s question, these words demonstrated a fundamental rejection of the very ties of brotherhood that bound these two men together. He was separating himself from this brother who had disappointed him so greatly. He wanted nothing to do with him and took no responsibility for the relationship that they shared.

Isn’t that just like us though? When someone does something that hurts, angers, or disappoints us it becomes very easy for us to try to break the ties that have bound us together. When someone betrays our trust our first reaction is often to create distance, to push that person out of our lives. We certainly don’t want to see them embraced and welcomed back as though nothing had happened! After all, what they did to us was wrong, and in our carnality we tend to believe that they should endure some degree of punishment for their failure.

However, under the government of God we can only operate, succeed, and find favor by grace. Grace is what makes us acceptable in the eyes of our God. It is by grace, and not by our works that we find salvation. These are basic tenants of our faith. Yet, while we learn how to personally receive grace in our own lives under any circumstances, we still struggle with accepting and understand the operation of grace in the lives of others. Why is that? Perhaps it is because we are still stuck in a competitive mindset.

After all, competition by its very nature is always a measurement of works. You cannot compete unless a score is being kept, and at the end of the day the winner is the one who has done the best. A competitive mindset always measures one person’s deeds against another’s in order to determine a victor. No wonder godly principles such as mercy, selflessness, humility, and forgiveness are so hard for us to implement on a practical level. They stand in direct conflict with our competitive need to measure ourselves against one another!

But in Christ all of our deeds are measured against one standard: the glory of God. It is a standard that none of us could ever reach by our own efforts. That is why grace is required, because without it we would all fail.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Prodigal Problem part 1


A Father’s Love
Let’s take some time to look at another example in the Bible of a man whose relationship with his brother was damaged by the competitive pitfalls that Cain faced. This time we will be in the New Testament reading the parable of the Prodigal Son.

In Luke 15, Jesus began to tell a story about two brothers and their father:

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (Luke 15:11-13).

It is interesting to note that even at the very beginning of this story there are certain similarities to the relationship between Cain and Abel. In this parable Jesus presented us with two brothers, both of whom were living in their father’s household. At the onset of the story they were both in the same place and on equal footing. Just as with Cain and Abel, there was no good or evil brother, just two men working and living together in their father's home.

However, unlike Cain’s story, this one did not start with an act of sacrifice. In fact, rather than attempting to offer something to God, the two brothers in this parable started off receiving an inheritance from their father. I have always found it telling that the younger brother was brazen enough to demand his inheritance while his father was still alive. Could you imagine going to your parents when you were still young, telling them you didn’t want to wait for them to die, and demanding that they give you your portion of their estate right then and there? That takes guts.

Nevertheless, the father not only did what his youngest son asked, he actually portioned out his estate to both of the boys at the same time. He essentially gave them full control and ownership over everything that he had while he was still alive. That is such an incredible revelation to consider! The father has already portioned out his livelihood to his children. And if this is a parable about us, the children of our Heavenly Father, then that means that we don’t have to wait for our inheritance either. The kingdom of God is already ours! But this is a point that we will look into a little later on.

So the story started with the father splitting his estate between his two sons. Almost immediately the younger one left with his share of the inheritance, took a journey, and began to waste what he had been given. Many of us already know what happened next. The young man squandered all of his inheritance and ended up with nothing. In other words, he completely and utterly failed. But again, for the purposes of this discussion we are less interested in the cause of the son’s failure than his response once it was done:

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:20-24).

Just like Cain, the younger son in this story found himself in a place of absolute failure. However, while Cain allowed himself to stew in his own anger and depression, the younger son in this story took positive action. He was sad, he was lowly, he thought that his failure meant that he had lost his place in his household. But he recognized that it was still better to repent and return to his father, even if it meant coming back as a servant, than it would be to remain stuck where he was. So he left the terrible place where he had ended up in order to return to the place where he’d always belonged. He went home.

Similarly, there are times when people find themselves so far outside of the will of God that they can't imagine how they could ever return to the path that He has prepared for them. It is a problem that some Christians struggle with for years. We buy into the lie that our failure is such a disappointment to God that He will never be able to restore us to our former selves. That single lie fills people with so much guilt and shame that it can kept them out of church and hiding away from God for years. But even though we may not be able to see it at the time, in those moments we are really no different than this prodigal son.

He very easily could have made the same choices that we do. He could have looked at all the inheritance he'd wasted, all the love and security he'd been so quick to throw away, all of the shameful acts that he'd committed and said "It's too late. I've done too much. There's no going back." In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he struggled with those very thoughts for a long time before he decided to return home.

Yet, the Bible doesn't tell us how long he struggled before he came to his decision; because the truth is that those days or years of guilt and shame, while terrible to go through, were not the end of his story any more than Cain’s failure was the end of his. One day that wretched, starving, broken boy woke up and remembered the kind of man that his father was. And even though he was still convinced that he could never be restored, he at least understood that he could be forgiven. He remembered the goodness of his father, and it gave him the faith to return.

When he finally made it home, what happened? The father saw him from far away, ran to meet him, embraced him as though he had done no wrong whatsoever, and immediately restored him to his former place in the household!

Just like God in the story of Cain and Abel, this father was completely disinterested in his source or the details of his son’s failure. He didn’t lecture, he didn't punish his son, he didn’t question him or hold his actions against him in any way. He merely accepted his return and restored him to the place he’d lost. Imagine how quickly Cain could have found his restoration if he had stopped brooding, repented, and returned to God.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cain's Question pt 4


The Issue of Separation

There is an inherent conflict between Cain’s perspective and God’s desire for His people. This conflict arises because competition by its very definition requires separation. If we are looking at our brothers and sisters as potential competitors, or if we see ourselves in a race against one another, then that implies that we are operating on an individual level to achieve individual goals and receive an individual prize. But while it is absolutely true that we will each be held accountable for our own choices and our own walk, we are quite mistaken when we assume that God meant us to complete that walk alone.

God has designed His church to function as a Body. There are many members, many roles, and many pieces, but we are actually a single working unit that can only find it’s success and achieve it’s purpose when it is complete, unified and working as one.

Think for a moment about your own body and how it functions. If a finger were to get chopped off of your hand and separated from your body, you would consider it a tragedy, and with good reason! You entire body would feel the pain of that loss. Blood would be escaping through the wound. You would be prone to infections. And worst of all, your hand would never work properly again. Your body would probably survive, but it would be handicapped and scarred for the rest of your life.

Still, the fate of your body would be nothing in comparison to the fate of your finger. That finger could never crawl off and live a life of its own. Separated from its life source, cut off from the rest of the body, it would quickly shrivel up and die.

The same is true of us as members of the Body of Christ. We are not designed to live our lives alone and unsupported, and when we are not in continuous fellowship with a Body of believers our spiritual lives suffer as a result. This is what makes Cain’s perspective so dangerous. It creates a self-centered view of our lives, rather than a godly, Body-centered perspective. Furthermore, it blinds us to the damage that we do both to the Body and to ourselves when we sacrifice peace and unity for the sake of our personal agendas.

This perspective, caused by a competitive understanding of our relationships, breeds other ungodly attitudes as well. When we look at our lives from a self-centered vantage-point we cannot help but become selfish, proud, unforgiving, and judgmental. These are natural byproducts of the comparison-driven understanding that false competition breeds. In fact, any time that we put ourselves first and prioritize our own self-interest over the interest of the Body as a whole we are stepping out of line with the will and the love of God.

Many of us have been guilty at some point of allowing ourselves to treat our fellow believers in a way that was hurtful and damaging. There are Christians surrounding us every day with the emotional and spiritual scars to prove it! How did we come to the point where we allow ourselves to act that way? It happened when we stepped out of love.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said,“I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

By the time God asked Cain “Where is your brother Abel?” it had already become evident that Cain was operating under a skewed and ungodly perspective. His attitude towards his brother and his motivations in his dealings with him were clearly far removed from the heart of God. If nothing else, his reaction to God’s question was proof of that. First he lied to the Lord and claimed that he didn’t know where Abel was. And as if that weren’t enough, he then went on to ask the all-important question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Now it seems clear that when Cain asked this he meant it to be rhetorical. In fact, he seemed to be offering this question as a sort of a justification of his claim that he didn’t know where Abel was. But what I find interesting is that God never really answered the question. He did not say yes you are, or no you aren’t. In fact, He didn’t address it at all!

But Cain’s question still remains. It is still there, hanging in the air, waiting for an answer. Its relevance has not been lost. Even today it is an essential question for us to understand and answer for ourselves. Because as long as we are unable to answer this question as God would have us answer it, we are susceptible to the same dangers, traps, and pitfalls as Cain.

We cannot forget that the perspective that Cain carried in his heart was a dangerous one. In fact, it was so dangerous that it hurt every single person that came into contact with it. Obviously it led to his brother’s death. But it also destroyed Cain’s own life and the lives of his family. It nearly ended the lineage of his parents. And it caused a curse to fall upon him; one which not only drove him out from among his people, but also destroyed the fruit of his labor:

“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" (Genesis 4:11-12).

Consider for a moment the significance of that curse. Cain was a farmer. The fruit of the ground was his livelihood. He needed the earth to bear fruit in order to survive. And when he brought an offering to God, it was from the fruit of the ground - the product of his success. He started the story looking for a blessing, but by the end he was covered with a curse instead. He began by offering the fruit of the ground to God as a sacrifice, and ended with God telling him that the ground would no longer produce its crops for him. And all of this happened, not because his offering was rejected, because he allowed himself to destroy his relationship with his brother.

What a tragic outcome for a man who started the story in willing service to God. It is a clear example of the destructive power that is unleashed when we, as God’s people, allow division and strife to take root in our relationships. Division killed Abel. It cursed Cain. It scarred and wounded every person that came anywhere near it. No wonder Jesus took it so seriously!

None of us want to experience the terrible and destructive consequences of Cain’s actions in our own lives. And the truth is that God doesn’t want us to suffer that way either. That is why He offered us this example. It is an opportunity for us to learn from another man’s mistakes. He has given us the ability to turn away from Cain’s actions and his choices. We have the opportunity to avoid the deadly mistakes that cost him so much. It is essential, therefore, for each of us to take advantage of what we have been given, to examine our hearts and minds, and to remove every trace of Cain’s perspective from our lives.