Thinking Out Loud

December 10, 2012

Worship War Leads to Murder

Yesterday our pastor referenced Genesis chapter 4, and as I considered the story of Cain and Abel, I thought it interesting that the first recorded act of worship in scripture ends in murder. It is easy to get caught up in tertiary interpretations of the text, and I don’t for a minute want to suggest that this ‘meat versus vegetables’ distinction is in any way related to our modern ‘hymns versus choruses’ worship wars; I only want to note in passing that the one of mankind’s darkest moments — that murder should enter the story so early on — was preceded by an act of worship.

Gen 4 (NLT) : 3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.


Hebrews 11 (ESV) : 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

I thought it best to bring in the heavy artillery here to look at what this passage does say, so I consulted several of my print commentaries.

The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible observes: “Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer. Both brothers bring offerings to the Lord suitable to their vocations. There is no indication in the text that one offering is inferior to the other.” (p. 15)

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes: “No reason is given here for the rejection [by the Lord]. And the scripture does not tell us how God indicated his disapproval. It may be that fire fell from heaven and consumed the accepted offering but left the other untouched. Some have thought that Can’s offering was rejected because Cain failed to perform the proper ritual. Others have advanced the idea that the nature of the gifts made the difference — the one being flesh and involving death and bloodshed. (See Heb 9:22) …Because Abel was a man of faith, he came in the right spirit and presented worship that pleased God. We have reason to believe that Abel had some realization of his need for substitutionary atonement. To all appearances both offerings expressed gratitude, thanksgiving and devotion to God. But the man who lacked genuine faith in his heart could not please God even though the material gift was spotless. God did not look upon Cain because He had already looked at him and seen what was in his heart. Abel came to God in the right attitude of heart for worship and in the only way sinful men can approach a Holy God. Cain did not.” (p..9)

The International Bible Commentary states: “We are now introduced to a series of events showing us how quickly the results of The Fall were revealed. As was said in [chapter] 3 [verse] 7, the first effects of sin were seen in the family and it is entirely consistent with this that the first murder is fratricide… No suggestion of previous tension between the brothers is mentioned… [Both sacrifices] were the recognition of Yahweh’s lordship. Both gave of what they had, and so Leupold is certainly correct in saying, ‘Those who see the merit of Abel’s sacrifice in the fact that it was bloody certain do so without the least warrant from the text.’” (pp. 118-119)

The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible continues: “Cain is very angry and his face is downcast. Cain is the first angry and depressed man in the Bible. He should be able, however, to overcome those feelings before they overcome him…” Cain kills Abel in the field… First man fell out of relationship with God. Now he falls out of relationship with his brother. How can Cain love god whom he cannot see, when he cannot love Abel whom he can see?” (p. 15)

Again, I don’t want to get lost in secondary interpretations, but I hope the worship wars in your church never proceed to this level. I hope that what we bring and have to offer to God is brought with right attitudes, right motivation, and according to the standards God has set. Remember, “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

– - – Previously published at Christianity 201 – - -

July 7, 2012

What is Sin?

Let’s begin with an elementary definition. David Peach at the blog Genuine Leather Bible (love that name!) writes:

“Sin is disobedience to God, or not following God’s plan. It is breaking God’s law in some way. Often we define sin as doing something wrong or bad. The only problem with that simplistic definition of sin is that it does not explain who is the one who makes the rules. Many people in the world believe that right and wrong are defined by individual opinions and that there are no absolute rules. However, when we talk about sin, we are talking about God’s definition of right and wrong. A person should understand that their sin is a matter of breaking God’s law, not some man’s opinion.”

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley once wrote:

“Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself”

Duke Taber writes:

“In our society, and especially in Christian circles, there is probably not one word more emotionally charged with negativity than the word sin. But what does sin really mean? What is the biblical definition of sin? It literally means missing the mark. It is a term in the Greek that comes from an archery term meaning to miss the bulls-eye. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ So please allow me to reword it just a bit. ‘All have missed the mark and didn’t get their arrow to hit the perfection of God.’”

West Breedlove writes:  “The meat of this prayer came from a John Piper sermon entitled  The Greatest Thing in the World . After singing How Great Is Our God, I said:

Indeed God is exceedingly great. And the only reason someone has a low view of God is because they have a low view of sin.

Sin is:     

The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.

That is sin!

The infinite, all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist (Rom. 11:36) ––  disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed, and dishonored by everybody in the world. That is the ultimate outrage of the universe.*

And that is why we sing “How Great Thou Art!”

That is why the sweet sound of saving grace is surpassingly sweet –- The exceedingly great God has taken our exceedingly sinful sin and placed it on his Son…

This great God has taken the sins of liars, adulterers and the rest of his enemies, and has placed them on his Son; and there poured out his wrath – Jesus becoming sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God!

Lord, help us to marvel at the miracle of your glorious grace poured out on us at Calvary.”

Finally, to challenge us, here is a thought that is better to read in its full context, but I’ll highlight a section here.  This is from the blog Diaknos by Frank and Steph Rue.

“Yeah, I had heard the line, ‘Have you ever lied before?’ I raised my hand at those events where someone asked that question. Of course. Everyone’s sinned—even in my emaciated definition. So when I read passages like Romans 3:23: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’

Are you getting the point? Do you happen to relate, perhaps?

The problem with this definition of sin is that it’s wrong—completely wrong. Its inadequacy is terrible: calling sin an occasional problem for man is like calling water an occasional ingredient in the ocean.

Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV).

I’ve heard this verse before. But what does it mean? If we take it for its clearest reading, we must recognize that we fail to honor a command (the greatest command) of the Lord, for no one has ever loved God with all of his heart, soul and mind for every moment of every day. At some second, every one of us has violated (and will continue to do so!) this command!

Now it doesn’t matter if we don’t lie, don’t steal, or don’t kill—for truly: all have failed to do this one, seemingly simply command—every one of us, all the time.”

Get into this topic in great detail with this post at Christianity 201.

(For all you ’80s rockers out there, here’s a link to the song Sin Kills by Andy McCarroll and Moral Support.)

February 28, 2012

Why Some Things Matter More Than Others

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

I really wrestled with what to run in this space today, but I decided to simply borrow the piece from Christianity 201, celebrating that blog’s 700th post yesterday, because I think it tells you a little more about who I am and what I believe to be important.


A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. (NLT)

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 700 posts at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3:12-15 –

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (NLT)

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian blogosphere, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while my Christian life and yours is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all in response to what Christ has done for us, we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

“…Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart…”


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