Favor: Abel’s Story

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… Gen. 4:4-5

 

Two brothers. Two offerings. One is accepted. One not.

Why?sheep-300x198

I want to know more. I want to understand how God works and what prompts Him to act. I want a relationship with God where His favor rests on me and flows through me. Maybe there are answers in Abel’s story.

 

And “the LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering.”

How did Abel know he had received God’s favor? How did he recognize it? Did God surround Abel with a whirlwind or raucous thunder, like He did when He answered Job? Did God send fire to consume the offering, like He did for Elijah on Mt. Carmel in front of Baal’s prophets? Did God speak with an audible voice, like at Jesus’ baptism? This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.

God must have shown his favor in a noticeable way – in a way that Cain knew he didn’t get it. Receiving God’s favor mattered and they both knew it.

So then, what about Abel’s offering pleased the LORD?

Abel had to kill an animal – the firstborn – to offer the “fat portions”. He sacrificed. He took some of the yield, some of what would be his future flock… the growth part. It cost Abel something to bring his offering to the LORD. Cain’s grain offering cost him, too, though maybe not as dearly.

But, is there something deeper? After the offerings, the story focuses on the rejected one, Cain. Abel never says a word. He follows Cain to the field and  is apparently killed without much of a fight. Did Abel wonder where God’s favor had gone when his brother’s murderous hand stuck him down?

clouds fields skyscapes

Huh. So God’s favor didn’t keep Abel from harm. In fact, it made him a target for his vengeful and spiteful brother.

Still… why was Abel’s offering accepted and Cain’s so patently rejected? Is there something about the death involved in Abel’s offering? Did it echo the death of the animal God used to make sin-covering skins for Adam and Eve? And is there something in Abel’s offering that points to the Once And For All Sacrifice Jesus would offer nearly 4000 years later on a wooden Roman cross?

The passage is vague and unclear… as if knowing WHY God favored Abel’s offering isn’t as important as knowing THAT He favored it. Peering through the haze of this passage, I can see that God’s favor isn’t earned. It’s bestowed. It’s granted.

And, I can see that gaining God’s favor also brought on persecution and death. Abel was murdered for it. God’s favor didn’t keep “bad things” from happening – just the opposite.

 

So do I still want God’s favor? Do I still want that deep, abiding sense, that I have pleased the LORD?

Yes.

And when “bad things” happen, should I assume I’m out of God’s favor?

No.

Maybe it’s a perspective thing. Maybe losing my life because I belong to Jesus isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Abel died knowing that he had received God’s favor. Cain lived the rest of his days a “restless wanderer”, “out from the LORD’s presence” (Gen. 4:14, 16).

 

I know which option sounds better to me.

 

Photo credits: sheep from gracefox.com; clouds and field from wallpaperhi.com

Redbuds

My redbud tree is blooming.

Redbud 1It does every year at this time. As the days grow longer, the grass greener, the wind warmer, I see magenta-pink little buds dotting the brittle gray branches. And I’m comforted by the rhythm of seasons.

The dramatic seasonal changes in Indiana have taught me much about living and dying … and coming back to life. Spring, especially, reveals that the grave is not the end.

And bare branches blooming have taught me that no matter how bleak the winter, life stirs just below the surface.

Redbud 2 The change in seasons marches with regularity, like a predictable timepiece — not enough to set a watch by, but surely enough to develop a certain level of expectation. And somehow all the players in nature follow the plan — the robins, the grass, the buds — they all follow the score like a finely-tuned orchestra poised to strike the first note.

Somehow, I’ve also come to expect that when I make plans that seem to line up with what God is doing in and around me, they should unfold predictably — like I expect them to. Evidently, God doesn’t have the same expectation.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Is. 40:28)

Until recently, I assumed my plans and dreams were God’s plans and dreams for me — only that God’s were bigger and better (of course) because he has a better perspective. I didn’t think God’s plans for me would include grief and disappointment and darkness. So much winter.

Turns out, God’s plans are completely different than mine. Unsearchable, unquantifiable, unpredictable. Turns out, he’s asking me to know that he is still good even in the middle of night.

Oh redbud tree, teach me to bloom when my bark is stark and stretched from harsh winter freezes. Teach me to respond to the Son even when everything around me is fragile and dormant. And redbud tree, teach me to dance in the music of life rather than become entangled in the cords of death.

You’ve shown me life like that, redbud. You and Jesus. Yes, Jesus has shown me how to live that way, too.

Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Heb. 12:2-3)

Redbud 3

Tucked away for the future

A writer-friend of mine, challenged me to write a poem entitled, “What I would tell my granddaughter” based on things I know to be true. Well, yes, my granddaughter is still years and years away from making an entrance into my life, but still, I’m hopeful she’ll be here one day.

So, here’s where my thoughts landed.

If I should have a granddaughter… 

I would take her out in the morning early so we could catch the sun rising over the horizon shedding its rays of pinks and purples and yellows.

And I would tell her, “Sweetheart, the sun always comes up in the morning; and even if you can’t see it through the clouds or the haze or the tree-shaped shadows, it’s there ready to offer warmth and a start to a new day unwritten.”

Sand

I would take her on walks along a salty shore lined with shells and seaweed and driftwood; and we would pause to let the waves wash over our toes.  The outgoing water would pull the sand from under our feet and we would sink just a bit each time.

And I would tell her, “Baby, the ocean never stops coming and going, one with the other.  And even though it’s painful sometimes, life is filled with hellos and goodbyes, bringing heartache and healing, tears and tenderness, longing and laughter.”

 

I would take her to city parks crawling with children with different colored skin and hair and eyes, speaking languages strange to her ears.

And I would tell her, “Darlin’, a smile needs no translation and the best way to approach an unfamiliar situation is open-handed rather than close-fisted; and people who aren’t like you are often the best people to help you know you.”

 prayer candles

I would take her to houses of worship where Jesus is known and loved and spoken of; places where the Spirit moves freely and mysteriously, where people have “met their maker” and lived to tell about it.

And I would tell her, “Angel, you have a story to tell, a story worth telling.  It started the moment God thought of the very idea of you and placed you in your momma’s belly, and it’s still unfolding to point people around you, who know you and your story, to the God who lives to redeem.

 

I would take her to a mountaintop covered in sweet smelling firs, where the wind speaks to the trees who whisper back, “He’s here.  He sees.” And we would wait, hand in hand, blood warmth pulsing through our entangled fingers, for the moon to rise and take its place among the stars.

And I would sit with her quietly, knowing that some moments are better left unsaid, untainted by words that fail to bring understanding. And we would mull our thoughts in the cool moonlight.

Wrapped

This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.   (Luke 2)

 

I have to find comfort here — in the baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.  The absurdity and simplicity brings peace.  “Peace on earth,” the angels said.  They said he is “Savior,” the Messiah.

But the morning after the shooting of 20 school children and 8 adults in a small Connecticut town, is “peace on earth” really possible?

I’ve read stories of the selfless school principal who entered the line of fire, the brave teachers who locked their students in closets and bathrooms, the terrified children who cried and said, “I don’t want to die, I just want Christmas.”  They have become the unwilling cast of players in this drama we share as a nation.  As the story unfolds, mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, spouses watch with deep sadness and grief.

photo from USAToday on-line

Oh, I can’t imagine the pain those families must be feeling.  A knife-piercing, iron-searing pain that severs life and hope and joy.  The questions swirling, unanswered, would hound me, refusing me rest… or comfort.  I would want to wrap myself in a blanket and just cry.   I would want my husband to wrap his arms around me and just squeeze.

I know what it’s like to have questions hovering in the air.  I know a bit of the pain of unjust and unexplained bleeding… but this… this tragedy… is just so sad.

 

It reminds me of another sad story that occurred at the time of Jesus’ birth.  The gospel of Matthew records a paranoid King Herod who orders the killing of all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger in an attempt to wipe out “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2).  Voices “weeping and great mourning” filled the air that time, too.  In the words of Victor Hugo, “there’s a grief that can’t be spoken, a pain goes on and on” because the emptiness that follows death refuses comfort.

So even though words fail to bring explanation and sense to this tragedy, I do know One who can offer hope. In a world crowded with infomercials and annoying ring-tones, where everything but silent nights and herald angels seems possible, the message of Christmas still needs to echo through.

Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born TO YOU; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  (Luke 2)

 

Oh Jesus, enter our world, our pain, our questions, and bring your saving grace.  We are a mess without you, hopelessly lost.  Wrap us in the cloth of your birth — and your death — so we can know you, and be known by you.  

Thank you for coming to our world, and for staying.  You are all we want for Christmas.