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

Suffering

suffering w: christ

… that I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11, NKJV)

I’ve loved this verse since my college days… “marching orders” for how my friends and I planned to take our campus for Christ. In the midst of studying at the library and dining at the cafeteria, we would gather for worship and all night prayer vigils. We had the fervor of the gospel burning in our hearts — literally, we saw nothing as more important than telling our friends about the life adventure that awaited them if they chose to follow Christ.

The thing is, in my fervent reading, I think I focused on the “power of his resurrection”. I don’t think I dwelt long enough on “the fellowship of his sufferings.” I mean, what does it mean to be “conformed” to the death of Jesus, anyway?

Christians just finished celebrating the Easter holiday. We reflected on the awesome mystery of redemption and atonement accomplished in the cross of Christ. We tried to imagine the despair of the first disciples as they stood by helpless, watching the Son of God undergo a friend’s betrayal, a sham trial, brutal beatings, and Roman crucifixion. And we tried to identify with their hopelessness after they laid him in the tomb and rolled the stone to seal it shut. We can’t really know what it felt like, though. Or can we?

I’ve known something if helplessness and hopelessness these past few weeks.

Benjamin’s recent battle with ulcerative colitis has worn us, wearied us, beaten us down. And even though this suffering doesn’t directly stem from sin on his part, it is a result of living in a world broken because of the fall. The effects of sin surround us. We’re all affected. Each one.

B sickSo as we wade through the mire of disease and unknowing, as we ask the Lord for healing and wait for His response, we find something in common with Jesus and His followers as they experienced His death. A kind of fellowship.

Mystery. Despair. Helpless. Hopeless… but not for long.

Sunday is coming.

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” 

(Matthew 28:6 NIV)

A Touch

I woke up this morning thinking of the Widow of Nain.

Cemetery Statue

As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  Luke 7:12-15

Jesus doesn’t shy away from the wailing and the grieving.  He perceives the hopelessness and breaks in.  Not concerned with propriety, he stops the funeral procession mid-step. He sees what’s  broken and sets it right.

He knows… a mother shouldn’t have to bury her son.

… … …

A little over a week ago, my friend’s son took his own life. Today is his 15th birthday.

And every time I think of my friend, my heart breaks. Somehow the darkness became so dark, her son didn’t see any other options.  For the rest of their lives, my friend, her husband, and their other children will have an indelible blot on their stories… a pain to share that words fail.

So when I think of the widow of Nain and how Jesus touched her, I think, “Sure.  Jesus brought her son back to life.  It’s easy to believe he’s good.  Easy to believe he’s the Son of God.  Easy to follow him after something like that. ”

But my friend’s son… he’s not coming back.  Somehow, the Destroyer got ahold of his mind and convinced him that there are some things that Jesus can’t touch, can’t redeem.  He took the pen and wrote the ending to his story, “There’s no hope. Period.”

Does Jesus still have a touch in the midst this kind of pain?  When questions swarm unanswered, does Jesus still step in and set things right?  Will they ever “be right” again?

I don’t know.  Some things simply lay beyond my understanding — sad things and glorious things.

But, I do know that when questions scream beyond reason, or when I feel like I’m breaking at the seams, the cross stands firm.  The unshakeable act of Jesus Christ dying on a wooden cross to pay for my sin shines true in the darkest night.  He saw this grief.  He saw these tears.  He saw these questions and went to the cross with them in mind.

There are answers at the cross, because there’s love at the cross. Love that reaches beyond the this-is-not-what-we-were-created-for pain of death.  Love for the grieving, and the hopeless, and the lost.

heavens

Have you felt the touch of Jesus at the cross?

 

cemetery statue photo: © Ladykassie | Dreamstime Stock Photos &Stock Free Images

Do bunnies lay eggs?

I’ve always been a little disturbed by the commercialization of Easter.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Easter Bunny w:eggsDying chicken eggs, hiding them, only to hunt for them later in the day?  A big rabbit hopping into my bedroom at night leaving a basket full of candy and toys?

Really?

What is it really about, anyway?

It’s about the brokenness at the cross.  It’s about new life.  It’s about the way God lavished his grace on each of us through Jesus.

If that’s news to you, I’d like to show you a video.  It’s God’s invitation to a relationship with him… extended to you.

So what’d you think?  No bunnies.  No eggs or candy.  Just life the way it’s intended to be. Want some?

 

photo credit: © Frenc | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

video credit:  ©2013 Cru #FallingPlates Used by Permission