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Sin is crouching at your door.

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[a] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
“Sin is crouching at your door seeking your destroy you!”

This is God speaking to Cain about Sin. In fact it is the first mention of sin in the Bible.

Sin, something seeking to entangled and destroy, but succumbing to it is not inevitable, we have a choice to get drawn in.

When we say “yes” to following Jesus we become ‘Marked People” we are placing our heads above the parapet. We need to walk wisely and humbly in accountable and true relationships to help us step away from the lurking entrapment of sin wanting to take us out of the game.

The image of sin crouching/hiding/lurking at your door reminds me of a ‘Honey trap’, whereby a beautiful girl would lure a guy through a front door only to have a gang of blokes beat him up and steal his money. This idea of sin lurking at the door waiting to hurt and harm is a helpful picture. Indeed the word ‘lurk/hide’ are perhaps ‘better’ words to see sin is subtle and deceptive in its desire to thwart the plans and purposes of God in the lives of his people.

Yet in today’s world we get confused about sin and what it actually is, too often sin is dismissed as a bit of a joke and used to describe “cupcakes or lingerie”, or perhaps used to describe the big stuff like rape or murder.

Much ink has been spilled over trying to define sin, whether it be rebellion against God or the human propensity to mess up.

Yet perhaps it’s best described in the words I saw written on a giant cross at an Easter experience lesson for Year 6 pupils in a local church. Sin was written as an acrostic poem saying: “Shove off, I’m in charge, Now I am going to live my life my way”.

Yet, if we are honest I believe we can know and recognise sinful behaviour… but in other people!

This is the danger we don’t recognise the sin lurking at our door. Nor the consequence to other people’s lives and our own relationship with God.

The challenge is recognising -and responding- to the sin in ourselves.

Holiness and righteousness requires ourselves to abandon perpetual self-justification, pride and stubbornness and everything that prevents us from seeing ourselves as we are rather than how we’d like to think we are.

Such ways of thinking are human defences that wrap ourselves in insulating cotton wool preventing us from the Holy Spirit’s conviction or from demonic condemnation.

We may recite confession liturgy on a Sunday but unless we actually have the courage to be honest with ourselves and God about our lives we are offering nothing more than pseudo repentance, and we become the Pharisee pointing the finger at everyone else.

Instead the challenge is to prayerfully allow God to touch our hearts and minds afresh, to echo the Psalmist when he said:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139.23 & 24).

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His blood cries out…

The image of blood shouting out is a powerful image, blood demanding attention -calling out to be acknowledged!

Indeed a similar picture is given in the book of revelation: “They (the martyrs) called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev.6.8).

Yet this call from the blood of Abel shortly after the birth of sin is responded to, and answered by, the blood of God himself shed upon the cross.

The sin and death birthed from the first Adam were answered by cleansing and eternal life from Christ, that second Adam.

On Friday I was helping at Roots to Routes, our local response to homelessness, and someone came in covered in blood and it provoked a response from everyone, even those who pretended not to care could not help but stare!

If Abel’s blood cries out to a God who hears and heeds it’s screams, what of us do we hear and heed that call? Or have we become desensitised? Are we putting our fingers in our ears and looking the other way? Remember Christ himself attacks the idea of being like the scribe or the pharisee walking past on the other side of the road.

When we turn off the TV to avoid seeing images that upset or offend us,thinking it is not our problem, yet this passage says ‘it is our problem, and we are involved!’, we are our brother or sister’s keeper, we belong to them and they to us.

Christ reminds us that when we feed/shelter/clothe/comfort our brothers and sisters we realise we are ministering to Christ -”in his most distressing disguise” (said Mother Teresa).

Scripture talks of God’s heartbeat of justice, mercy and love so much that if we tore from scripture every mention of these the Bible would be decimated. Yet, too often much of our preaching is about life beyond the grave rather than before.

From my reading of scripture there seem to be two righteous responses to the pain and injustice.

The first is reflecting the God of all comfort offering loving kindness and comfort, practical support, binding up the broken-hearted and giving the world a foretaste of heaven.

The second is to protest and fight injustice, as we grasp Christ’s call to be salt combatting decay and provoking thirst for righteousness, light driving back and expelling the darkness, embodied by Christ evicting the embezellors and exploitors from the temple.

As the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”.

The call of Jesus is a call towards transformation, liberation both for ourselves and those around us, for communities and nations.

It takes bravery and courage to hear and heeds Christ’s call. Scary, but worth it. Being a Christian is about following in the footsteps of crucified Jesus, to see “God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven”.

In responding to the call of Christ it may cost us everything, maybe even our lives, our blood may be shed.

Would I die for the one who died for me?

And am I prepared to live for him too?

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What does success look like? -A reflection on Abraham.

When we think of our faith as a life’s journey following Jesus we find one of the biggest questions our society (and indeed the Church) are wrestling with easier to answer.

The big question is “what does success look like”?

For those of who have surrendered our lives to following the call of Christ, the answer is relatively simple (although deeply challenging to put into practice), the answer is “to walk where he leads keeping our eyes fixed on him (Jesus) ‘the author and perfector of our faith’”.

Christ himself described living in pursuit of him as a call to “Picking up our cross and following him -a call to ‘die to self’ walking on a pretty deserted road that is ‘steep and narrow’.

Abram is a good example of a follower of God, who not just heard the call of God but heeded it too.

Not just as a one off action to dine out on for years, but as continuous and habitual obedience, a life lived with the constant response of “yes Lord” with every breath and heart beat.

Abram kept moving, pilgrimaging even, with the frequent call not to settle and be comfortable, but to pioneer to a new place/people. For those of us who have pioneered -often with the scars to prove it- it is so much tougher to pioneer a second, or third time when you know the cost of the journey and the pain of the travelling.

Too often we look for affirmation in other things that the Father’s voice saying “well done good and faithful servant”, such as popularity, fame and numbers.

Abram in Soddam and Gommarah didn’t see much fruit and grow a large Church, indeed God could not find 10 righteous people there and shut the place down. Yet how often do we get our value from the size of the crowd, and how popular we are?

Abram’s greatest step of faith -being prepared to sacrifice Isaac- was done in private but his greatest stumbling failure -sleeping with Hagar and fathering Ishmael- was public knowledge.

Too often many leaders fall because their steps of faith are public and their stumbling is in private resulting in tripping them up and taking them out the game.

When playing sports we ‘mark’ an opposition player seeking to limit their effectiveness and fruitfulness, the same is true spiritually, when we seek to live following Jesus we become marked people and need to tread wisely, carefully and prayerfully as we follow Jesus so as not be led into dead-ends and cul de sacs.

Abram lived “in step with the spirit” not jumping the gun and running ahead or procrastinating lagging behind, not lurching off to the legalistic right or the liberal left but walking with God on his journey of obedience.

Although his life didn’t pull crowds much, his obedience has affected millions.

Although he reached his destination, he was shaped, fashioned and moulded by his journey.

When asked what success looked like a friend said “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self control” -in other words looking like Jesus, as we follow Jesus, indeed we become like those whom we spend time with.

Yet, if I am meant to be following Jesus “in all your ways acknowledge him” why does it so often feel in my life and too often within Christ’s Church as though we are going in the opposite direction?

As the film sister act challenges us: “I will follow him wherever he may go” orl
with the line of a hymn I love “O let me see thy footmarks and in them plant my own, my hope is to follow duly in thy strength alone”.

It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, what is our next step? Is every step we take going where Christ is leading us?

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From Genesis and Beyond…

As we have journeyed through the book of Genesis we have seen God manifest himself in surprising ways, appearing in unlikely places and being encountered in unexpected people.

We see him speaking in dreams and visions, being encountered as the three guests who dined with Abram, the Priestly King Melchizedek and as the divine wrestler with Jacob.
Are we prepared to meet with God in places, people and circumstances we do not expect and in ways we were not anticipating?

Genesis is a story of both covenant and curse.
The original blessing of chapters one and two preceding what Augustine called the original sin of chapter three.
Following the judgement of the flood we see a covenant of God’s rainbow mercy, the multicoloured grace that covers our multicoloured iniquity.

We see God fulfil his promise to Abraham and Sarah and the birth of the people of Israel, people that are marked out by the shedding of blood in the rite of circumcision.
And instituting an older and greater priestly order whereby Jesus was able to become for us our great high priest offering a new and greater covenant for us where he shed his blood for us as the lamb that was slain for us, in our place.

The Cross of Christ is laced throughout the book of Genesis:

We see the flashes forward towards the cross of Christ with the Son of Adam that will crush the serpent’s head; the Father being prepared sacrifice his one Son; the ram caught in the thicket that became the substitute offering; the prophetic symbols of the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine with Abraham and Melchizedek and his blessing.

Genesis ends with God fulfilling his promises -despite at times an agonising wait for Abraham and Joseph- the nation of Israel is birthed and saved by Joseph who was God’s rescue plan (for the Gentiles too) a rescue that was also a reconciliation.

Before our story concludes we see the offsprings Joseph commissioned to lead a new life, a new beginning, a fresh start, but this fresh start is in a land far away from their home.

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Hagar the God who sees me.

When I was in a former parish we had a couple of examples where some of the old established members of the congregation were really spiteful to some newer and younger people trying to do new things.

It was horrible especially witnessing what happened next where there was a closing ranks around the perpetrators, defend the indefensible or at least look the other way.

Yet here in this passage we see God running from the respectable crowd of Godfearers to care and comfort the victim (in fact he does this twice!)

This is the call of Christ and it’s a call away from the draw of cronyism to the margins and the hurting and the broken.

Hagar has lived her life feeling like an outsider -she was an egyptian from a different place as the rest of the household, invisible, only valuable for what other people can get out her.

Yet she meets with the God of all compassion, the creator of the universe, and she describes him as “the God who sees me”.

The God who hears every character assassinating back-stabbing conversation, he us the God who stands in solidarity with the bullied and mistreated like Hagar.

The God who sees the busker, beggar and big issue seller we walk past, those that are invisible to us.

The God that sees the tears of sweatshop victims paying the real cost of our decadent consumerist lives. The God who sees the real cost of our so called ‘bargains’ and our unethical choices.
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The God that sees suffering and pain but refuses to turn over the TV channel.

She also encounters God’s generosity and blessing who -despite Abram’s unfaithfulness stepping away from God’s plan- God still promises to bless and be with her son Ishmael.

What of us? Are we people who like God run from our place of comfort to bring comfort to the hurting?

Are we falling into the trap the Church keeps on falling into by cosying up to the powerful and influential (or at least the vocal)?

My favourite T Shirt has a quote from Martin Luther King “our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter” it reminds me of the profound phrase from Edmund Burke “evil prospers when good people do nothing”.

So, a mantra for our journey and a code for our behaviour stems from the book of Micah 6:8 “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God,”.

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God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

s I have already shared I find some parts of the book of Genesis are a struggle to read, yet even though bits are profoundly challenging we are left asking “what is it you want to say to us Lord?” -even if it profoundly discomforts us.

I find this story of Abraham and Isaac particularly hard. Isaac was the long awaited chosen one the son of the promise of God. Yet God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, I cannot imagine the pain and conflict that Abraham must have gone through and how he must have struggled and cried out to God and asked why?

Why God are you asking me to do this?

This surely cannot be your plan?

What of your promise Lord?

Yet, Abraham must have come to that point of surrender to God’s will, I imagine the prayer of Jesus could have come from the lips of Abraham “if it is possible take this cup from me, yet not my will but your be done”.

What of us, is there something we are struggling to surrender? Is there something we might have to echo Jesus’ words too? Is there something costly that we would rather not submit to God?

Yet as Abraham surrenders to God and goes with Isaac there appears possibly a glimmer of Hope when he says “God himself will provide a sacrifice” -although this could also be an echo of Job “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord”.

The altar is prepared and Abraham is faithful to his heartbreaking call when the Angel of the Lord intervenes, the God who steps in and saves at the very last moment. The God who rescues.

Perhaps there is a situation where you may have given up hope, I urge you to remember that God can still intervene however foreboding the situation appears.

Just then there is a ram caught by the horns in a thorn bush that is sacrificed in the place of Isaac, the substitute offering.

In this story we do glimpse something of the future cross of Christ, where God the Father himself gave his one and only son and didn’t step in and rescue him at the last moment, but instead saw him die and rise again.

We see the innocent substitute of the ram, the lamb of God, who died our death in our place. Where God himself provided the one full and sufficient sacrifice to save us from our sins

In this difficult story we see the faithful obedience of Abraham willing to give up everything, absolutely everything, as part of his full, total and complete surrender to God.

Is there any part of my life that is not surrendered to God? A phrase that never ceases to deeply challenge me is “if God is not Lord of all, is he Lord at all?”

Too often I hear people talk of the Christian life, of following Jesus, and it sounds like a hobby rather than an “all in” commitment.

Jesus says that “no one who puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back is worthy of being my disciple” indeed Jesus says “if anyone wants to come and follow me they must forget self and carry their cross and follow me!”

There is no such thing as Christianity lite, decaf following Jesus with an optional lightweight cross.

Jesus himself told a story that in someway echoes this: “there once was a merchant in search of pearls, one day he found one of such fineness that he sold everything he had to buy it”. We know Jesus is that pearl of great price, who calls us to risk it all on him, the one sure and certain hope we have in an unsure and uncertain world.

The martyred missionary Jim Elliott said “he is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.

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Run to or from Temptation? Lessons from Joseph and David.

There is an interesting moment in the story of Joseph when Potiphar’s wife makes a pass at him. He refuses her, she persists and Joseph runs away from her.

Indeed Joseph sees sleeping with her as a betrayal and as a “wicked thing” ().

I wonder if part of our problem we have in our Christian life is we don’t see sin as sin, we don’t think of it as wicked, a betrayal. Yet sin is rarely victimless often hurting not just us but those around us too, often with far reaching consequences.

Joseph runs from his temptation, he doesn’t hang around and engage with it, but flees from it.

When I am tempted by something I know I need to remove myself from that place of temptation. Engaging just keeps me in that place of temptation and increasing my chances of falling into sin.

It doesn’t end well for Joseph, Potiphar’s wife makes trouble for him and is thrown into prison.

Sometimes righteous action can -and often do- result in persecution and trouble. The right thing to do is rarely the easiest path.

Righteousness often causes controversy, it is easier to bend our principles and blend in, going with the flow is so much easier than going against it. Yet, even if it tough and unpopular Jesus himself says “blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake”, as we store up treasures in heaven and look forward to the “well done good and faithful servant!” spoken over us by Christ.

This passage has been contrasted with King David’s sin with Bathsheba. Joseph was doing what he was supposed to be doing an occupying his time wisely, where as David was not where he should be (on the battlefield) doing what he should have been (leading). Indeed he is in prime position to be tempted by sexual sin. He sees someone -Bethsheba- bathing and ends up sleeping with her, then later he ends up murdering her husband.

Too often we run into temptation rather than running from temptation. The more we flirt with sin we risk being burned by it.

When I did a college placement in rehab and they talked about “dry drunks” people who has got clean from alcohol living in places of temptation and risk, not surprisingly “dry drunks” relapsed pretty quickly.

I will close with a verse from Jesus teaching his disciples to pray: “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.

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