Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Gardens

     God created the heavens, the earth, all life and then mankind.
     Next, He put man into a garden:  "The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads...Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'” (Gen. 3:8-9, 15-17)

     Why in a garden?   Why not in a house?  Why not in a forest?  Why not at the seashore?  Why would God put Adam in a garden? 

 I have several sisters in the Lord who have beautiful gardens.  They lovingly plant and tend their gardens with dedication, knowing they will have beautiful strawberries, melons, lettuce, cucumbers and all sorts of wonderful things to harvest as the season rolls along.  They have to know what to plant when, and they have to keep an eye on what is growing.  They have to water the plants just so, and know how much fertilizer to apply.  They have to deal with deer who want to sample their wares.  They face an endless parade of bugs.
    When I visit their gardens, they have such joy on their faces!  They pull aside large leaves and show me baby fruits and vegetables.  They eagerly talk about what is coming to fruition and when, and what lies ahead.  It's almost like sneaking into a nursery to spy on a sleeping newborn baby.  

God put Adam in a garden to teach him the fruits (pun intended) of obedience.  The garden was an embodiment of God's ordered universe:  everything would grow and produce seed after its own kind.  Adam would tend the garden but it was God Who provided everything that Adam needed:  water from the rivers to water it; the seasons arriving each year with wind, humidity and sun to help it grow; the soil from which Adam himself sprang and from which each seedling would spring as well; and Adam's two strong hands to till the soil.  Every aspect of the process was provided for and when Adam proudly picked the bounty and ate, he could truly thank God for His care over His creation.   
     God asked one thing of Adam:  "tend and keep it."  Adam needed to be dedicated and committed to the garden.  God gave him a task and He knew it would mature Adam's character.   Our character comes when we must work for what we have--we value it more.  If we are given everything, with little to no work on our part, we start acting rather entitled to what we think is rightfully ours.  
     God wanted a mature man walking in His garden, so He gave Adam responsibility.  He loved Adam enough to provide all he needed; He wanted Adam to serve Him out of love and gratitude and demonstrate that by tending the garden.
     But we know what happened.  Adam's disobedience caused him and Eve to be driven out of the garden.  The garden was now off-limits to the sons and daughters of Adam, due to sin.

But wait...let's walk into another garden.  We see a second Adam:  the Son of God, Jesus Christ. God had given Jesus everything he needed:  the power to conduct a ministry that would impact not only his generation but future ones as well.  The Father expresses His pleasure in His Son, who left the courts of heaven to walk in the streets of an exiled humanity:  "This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased."
     God gave Jesus a task: 

     "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:6-8)
      The "bounty" given to the Son by the Father was: 
     "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
(Phil. 2:9-10)
     The Father gave the Son the strength to endure the cross.  The Father loved us so much He was willing to pour all His wrath upon His Son's shoulders, even to the point where Jesus cried out, "Why have You forsaken me?"  

 The Father wanted a redeemed humanity walking in His garden--mature and responsible sons and daughters of Adam, cleansed from sin and obedient to their God. The only way He was able to achieve that was through His Son's death: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:19-20). 
     Remember how God walked with Adam and Eve in the first garden?  Today, He is now walking with those He has redeemed, dwelling in their hearts and empowering them through the Holy Spirit.
     But a Day is coming when He will once again walk with His children, on a restored planet, in a new garden. 
     Now, let us travel to this last garden:  "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." (Rev. 22:1-5)    

The very tree that God feared would be eaten by a disobedient Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life, is now accessible.  Its leaves heal and its fruit of life is abundant.  
     In order for us to return to the garden, and walk with our Father, His Son had to walk in the Garden of Gethsemane.       

     Let us never forget what our restoration cost Jesus and let us till the soil with diligence and obedience, until that Day!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

If He Forgives, Why Can't I Forget?

     If God puts my sins as far as the east is from the west, then why can't I?
     If He forgives my sin, then why can't I?
     If He doesn't remember my sin, then why do I?
     All excellent questions.  I have been pondering this question.  It is a mixed blessing to be sure:  God sets me free of my sin with His love and forgiveness, yet I can remember every detail and shame floods my soul.  I would love to not remember.
     Satan uses my rap sheet of sin to remind me of how bad I have been/still am.  He parades all the sickening details of what I have done and delights in tormenting me in how low I stooped in my pursuit of sin.  He reminds me of the tears I have caused to flow and the hurt I have needlessly bestowed on others.  I cringed when he starts the movie called "This is Your Life."
     On the other hand, God doesn't even remember what I have done.  My slate with Him is completely clean: "'Come now, and let us reason together,' saith the Lord: 'though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'" (Isaiah 1:18)
     Perfect cleansing leads to perfect righteousness in His eyes: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
     He wants to restore fellowship with us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us.  Sin is the wall and Jesus tore down that wall.  We need to confess--that is, acknowledge what we have done.  He already knows, but He needs to hear from us:  "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)
     He hates our sin, yes, but He loves us more: "But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities.  I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:24-5)
     Wow.  We stand in the light of His forgiveness and love, and yet...why can't we forget?  Why must the memories torment us?  Think a minute about the words of Joseph, when after his brothers sold him into slavery, he rose in the court of Pharaoh and was able to save his family from famine: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Gen. 50:20) 
     Listen to the words of Paul, who like Joseph, was misunderstood, cast into prison and reviled: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28)
     So, if we remember our sins, what is the good God tries to bring forth?  What is the beauty He brings from the ashes?  How does the garment of praise feel around our bruised spirit?  How can there possibly be joy for mourning?
     Remembering our sins:

Keeps us humble about ourselves:  It is hard to be self-righteousness when we know we have fallen prey to the same sins.  This was one of the tragedies of the Pharisees:  they were so unaware of their sins--past, present and future--that they had no humility.  They were the very opposite:  arrogant and confident in their own ability to be good, they were, in Jesus' words, "white-washed tombs filled with dead man's bones."

Keeps us from judging others: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  (Matt. 7:1-2)  If we remember our failures, our faults, then we remember our need for mercy and how grateful we are for it.  We like to give out judgement but receive mercy.  Jesus is calling us to give out mercy and not forget that we have stood there ourselves in the shoes of sin.  If we do judge, then let the standard we use be exactly the same one we use for others. 

Keeps us dependent on Him:  Our sins remind us that we are weak, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9)  It's hard to deceive ourselves about how wonderfully strong and sufficient we are when we are reminded of our sins.  At that moment, we are reminded of our need for Him, in every day and in every way. 

     Notice how not forgetting our sins affects ourselves, each others and how we relate to God.  
     Now it is true that Satan will use our sins to condemn us, leading us to be paralyzed with shame.  But, we must use the sword of the Spirit:  His Word.  Jesus rebuked Satan with the Word of God.  Why do we think we can respond any differently?  
     Next time you feel harassed, speak His word against your accuser and stand on the fact that "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) 
     We stand on His forgiveness and grace.  As someone once said, "When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future."     
     We walk in Him with confidence:  "Be still and know that I am God." (Ps. 46:10)

As someone once said, "When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future."


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