Mothers for Prodigals

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tale of Two Gardens-Submission Beats Sin

Garden of Eden - Sin and Rebellion
Creation began in paradise called the Garden of Eden and God saw that everything was good. Only one tree in of the garden of plenty was off-limits. God said so! He commanded Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17). 

Most all of humanity knows about the defiance that followed. So why did Eve eat from the tree and offer some to her husband? Why were they disobedient to the one command of the Lord? Wasn’t there enough of everything to go around and around again and again? 

Some people might say human nature caused the disobedience, but Scripture tells us something different. First of all, in the very beginning, recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, God created man in His likeness, His image, the image of perfection, and He saw all of His creation as good. The Garden of Eden was God’s perfection, until a serpent meandered in. 

Ezekiel 28 tells us that he (the serpent, the devil) was a created being in the garden of God, in Eden. He was an anointed guardian cherub until unrighteousness was found in him (reference the following Scriptures for details of his character—Ezekiel 28:13-19, Isaiah 14:12-17, Luke 10:18, John 8:44, Revelation 12:9). 

In the third chapter of Genesis the serpent is described as more crafty (cunning, devious, tricky, calculating) than any beast of the field which the Lord God created. This serpent represented pride and rebellion. His name is Satan and his desire was (and still is) to be like the Most High God. So he slips into our lives (as he did in the Garden of Eden) to confuse God’s Word and cause sin to look delightful. He is pure evil!

Satan (that meandering serpent) twisted the Word of God with lies and desire. He captivated Eve into disobedience by saying she would be like God and have wisdom, if she ate the fruit of the tree (Genesis 3:4-6). So she ate, gave to her husband, and he ate—they did not resist the temptation. Immediately they realized their sin and hid from the presence of the Lord—the same Presence they enjoyed abiding with earlier in the garden. Promptly they were punished and sent out of the garden. The serpent too was punished yet God declared the first prophecy of the coming Messiah to the serpent. God told the serpent:

“Because you’ve done this, you’re cursed,
    cursed beyond all cattle and wild animals,
Cursed to slink on your belly
    and eat dirt all your life.
I’m declaring war between you and the Woman,
    between your offspring and hers.
He’ll wound your head,
    you’ll wound his heel.”
Genesis 3:14-15 (MSG)

Two thousand years and many prophecies later, Jesus the Messiah came to earth. After His baptism and wilderness encounter with the devil, He visited His hometown where He stated clearly His mission through the reading of the prophets (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-3). He came to earth to preach the good news to the poor, release the captives, open the eyes of the blind, and set the oppressed free. In other words, He came to earth to right the wrong done in the Garden of Eden, to fulfill the prophecy in the third chapter of Genesis. 

Garden of Gethsemane - Submission and Obedience
Jesus knew His purpose and understood what He must do to redeem His people. Sin had been committed in the Garden of Eden, but in the Garden of Gethsemane submission would save. Paradise ended in the first garden because of selfishness. Because of submission eternal paradise would be offered through redemption in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ submission and obedience to the will of His Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane overcame Adam and Eve’s submission to Satan and disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden. Praise God for His victory!

Satan, the ruler of this earth, desires to imprison all people with sin. He especially enjoys binding up those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. If He can distract us, tempt us, create busyness and worry in our lives, or do anything to make us take our eyes off of Christ Jesus, He has been successful. Don’t allow him to get a foothold into your life.

Remember—Jesus conquered death after Calvary. The grave wasn’t His end—He lives forever, eternally the victor over Satan. Through belief in Jesus the Messiah, you too can overcome the power of the devil. Turn your eyes to Jesus and stay focused on Him. Whatever you’re going though, Jesus is present to forgive, strengthen, encourage, and empower you to live for Him. He empowered His disciples and He’ll empower you as well. Believe and receive in His name His own words into your soul!

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:16-20 (NIV)

AMEN! And one day when your life has ended, He will say to you as He said to one of the thieves on the cross beside Him, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Life will then be as God intended it to be in the Garden of Eden.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tale of Two Gardens

Lush foliage adorned the trees in the garden. Patches of color from exotic flowering plants dotted the landscape. Ripe luscious fruit dangled low, waiting to be picked. Serenity shrouded the area with sounds of singing birds, chirping crickets, and cascading waterfalls. A gentle breeze lifted her hair as she strolled upon the thick green grass. The Utopian garden contained everything she and Adam needed. “What an exquisite place to live! Thank you, God,” Eve said. 

Day after day Adam and Eve walked in the peaceful garden, lounging under trees and gathering nourishment from the fruit of hanging limbs and vines. Everyday they enjoyed their relationship with each other and with God. His presence generated joy and peace. The entire Garden of Eden aesthetically pleased their eyes and God energized their souls. Life overflowed in abundance with peaceful perfection. “What beauty, Lord. Thank you for this tranquil existence,” they repeatedly told their Creator. 

Until one day........

When the serpent meandered into Eve’s beautiful existence, he questioned her on God’s directives about eating from the trees of the garden. He asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 

A bit puzzled, but intrigued, she replied, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

To which the serpent quickly responded, “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Eve’s eyes gawked with delight as desire and power consumed her. She ate with instant gratification and extended her fruit-filled hand to Adam. For a split second, Adam remembered God’s compelling words to him before Eve was created. You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die. Then he immediately realized he hadn’t exactly told Eve the truth as he sunk his teeth into the fruit. The serpent hide his scowl with a hideous smirk.

Right away, staring at each other, Adam and Eve knew something was wrong and the bliss they had enjoyed earlier faded away. Into their souls rushed regret, despair, and heartache as they tried to hide from the presence of the Lord. Covering themselves, they stooped low beneath vegetation as the sound of God’s footsteps drew near. 

“He’s here,” whispered Eve.

“He’s always near, Eve,” said Adam. “Why did we think we could hide from Him?”

“Where are you, Adam?” they heard Him asking.

Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

With quick justice, the Lord pronounced punishment upon the serpent as well as Adam and Eve. Paradise ended for them that day as the serpent was cursed and Adam and Eve were relegated into their human roles of life outside of the garden of Eden. But amidst the discipline, God declared His restoration aloud, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

A return to paradise was declared right there in paradise, yet sin had already entered in and a battle ensued......for generations. Satan (that age-old serpent) repeatedly tempted God’s people throughout the ages causing them to take their eyes off of their Creator God. Patriarchs spoke for God as they continually tried to redirect God’s people into a right relationship with Him. Prophets predicted a coming Savior who would save people from the sins they repeatedly committed. Joy unspeakable and a peace exceeding all human understanding were promised to those who put their faith, hope, and trust in the Lord God Almighty.

One starry night, in the fullness of time, the promised peace and joy descended onto earth in the form of a newborn babe. His mother Mary and father Joseph named Him Jesus as told by an angel before He was conceived. God the Heavenly Father sent Jesus Christ His Son to save a lost and dying world. People from far and wide traveled to the site of this miraculous birth, believing in faith and receiving the gift of salvation, yet not everyone recognized Messiah.

Jesus the Messiah grew up and was baptized into the glory of God to fulfill His mission of restoration and redemption for all people. Following His baptism He encountered a time of testing in the wilderness where the devil (that serpent of old) entered the picture. Three times Satan tested Jesus and three times Jesus cut through his temptations with the Sword of the Spirit (the Word). The devil then left Him in that moment for a more favorable time in the future.

For three years, Jesus traveled many miles proclaiming good news to the poor, setting captives free from bondage, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and making known the Lord’s favor. Crowds of people followed Him wherever He journeyed, many of them believing in the power of His name. He actually fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah, yet not everyone recognized Jesus the Christ. 

Many people followed Jesus until one day........

When Satan entered Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own disciples, he plotted together with Jewish officials as to how he might betray Jesus. Judas watched for the perfect opportunity, with no crowds present, to hand Him over to the proper authorities.  

Meanwhile Passover approached and Jesus and His disciples prepared to celebrate their Jewish tradition with fellowship and a meal. On the night of the festival, Jesus instituted a new covenant with His disciples while also speaking of betrayal, suffering, and denial. They didn’t understand what He was saying and were confused when Judas rushed out of the meeting place before their feast ended. 

Later that same evening when the meal was over, the remaining eleven disciples followed Jesus to the Mount of Olives. He told most of them to sit down at the foot of the mountain while He went off to pray, but He asked Peter, James, and John to walk further with Him. Together they slowly walked into a garden of olive groves. 

Knotty trunks of olive trees with white flowering limbs lined the landscape. Tiny dots of color from blooming flowers grew among the olive garden. Except for the twinkling of stars, darkness shrouded this garden called Gethsemane. Nocturnal animal sounds broke the silence. And Jesus said to His three disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Even as He was filled with affliction, He continued walking further into the Garden of Gethsemane until He fell with His face to the ground and prayed. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

The opportune time had arrived. Once again Satan entered a garden, this time through a man called Judas. Judas, the betrayer, had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” 

Satan hide his scowl with a hideous smirk. The outcome in this garden will be different. How easily it all happened and Jesus didn’t even put up a fight. Finally I’ve struck Him down. Satan had waited so long for this moment; now he only had to wait a little longer. Through the willing hands of the Jewish religious elite and the Roman officials, Jesus fate was set. Nailed to a cross, battered and bloodied, Jesus finally died and Satan reveled in the conquest. 

Until one Sabbath morning........

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He crushed the head of the serpent of old. Jesus’ submission to the will of His Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane overcame Adam and Eve’s submission to Satan in the Garden of Eden. Conquering death, God’s only Son paved a way for all people to enter into His kingdom on earth and in heaven. Jesus the loving Savior triumphed over that selfish serpent Satan. Redemption restored paradise. Praise God for His victory in Christ Jesus!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

God Lives in Your Clouds

The cloud covered the mountain; it was God’s glory.
And God called down to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there.”
Leaving everything behind, Moses walked toward it, alone. 
Mist and light like tiny diamonds fell upon him as he climbed upward.
The dampness wet his beard and hair, the air felt fresh and cool
As tiny patches of blue sky peeked through with warm touches. 

“I’m coming, Lord,” Moses yelled as he trudged the steep mountain. 
Keeping his eyes forward and upward, he climbed. 
He climbed through the haze, the fog, the mist surrounding him. 
Suddenly the denseness of the cloud began to distract him. 
He wasn’t sure which way to go. 
Off to the right hung a cliff—what if he fell? 
Rocks dotted the landscape—what if he stumbled? 
Did danger lurk nearby—what would he do if.....?
Fear shoved him in the chest and temporarily stopped his journey.

He got on his knees and prayed. 
“Come to Me,” he heard Him say. “I am here.”
Moses arose and followed the voice.
Cautiously forward, Moses told himself, keep going forward 
And upward, look upward and trust the Lord God Almighty. 

The Lord patiently waited for Moses.

“You called me, I know You’re here,” Moses said to God.
The silence in the cloud was deafening and doubt wormed its way into his mind.
“God, you are here, right? You called me to come up, right? Where are you, God?” he yelled.

The eerily quiet territory caused Moses to wonder 
Until he entered the glory of the Lord. 

And Moses patiently waited for the Lord. 

Finally the Lord called to Moses on the seventh day.
In the midst of the cloud, the glory of the Lord, the presence of God, 
Moses and God communed.
Love and compassion, grace and mercy soaked Moses’ heart.
Peace exceeding understanding permeated his mind.
He knew, without a shadow of doubt, God existed and cared for His people, for him.
Nothing else mattered but experiencing God.
God was in the clouds, even the stormy ones.
When clouds gathered, God was present
And joy bubbled within the man of God.  (based on Exodus 24)

Do clouds hang over you, dripping with doubt and confusion, fear and pain? Do you allow them to obstruct your view of God? Do you give in to the murky circumstances of your life, expecting only misery? Do you think you’re all alone?

At certain times in my life, I have allowed dark clouds to muddle my mind with doubt and fear. Worry fills in the empty spaces and my stomach churns. Fear tries to reign until I focus on Jesus. Only then does His peace prevail in my heart and mind. 

Moses, like all of us, experienced cloudy days and defeatist emotions. Can you imagine all the negativity he dealt with, the personalities he struggled with, the responsibility he carried, possibly the doubt that entered his mind when he and the Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert. As he trekked up Mount Sinai to God’s cloud of glory, he probably had misgivings and uncertainty about God, but he kept going, not deterred by the surroundings. He positioned his eyes on the Lord God with complete trust. And God didn’t let him down. He was present and Moses experience His presence. God’s promises of provision and protection were laid out and His peace rained down. Glory filled His cloud!

What was Moses’ response when the cloud surrounded the mountain? He heard God’s call, walked upward toward God, and delighted in His presence.

What will you do when storm clouds gather? I pray you’ll seek the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Then enter into His presence, and receive His peace. 

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

[Jesus Appears to the Disciples] While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Luke 24:36 (NIV)

And now receive God’s blessing, given for you as it was to the Israelites:

“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 

‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:23-27 (NIV)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

For Such a Time as This.....

Mordecai, a man of faith and honor, lived in the land of Persia with his beautiful cousin, Hadassah. After her parents died, he adopted and raised her as his own daughter. A century earlier, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Hebrew people. After years of captivity, King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the displaced Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. But many Jews stayed behind in the cities where they were born. It’s here in the citadel of Susa (in modern day Iran) where we find Mordecai and Hadassah. Even though they never forgot the one true God, they lived like Persians. 

Enter Esther (a Persian name) who actually is the same Jewish girl named Hadassah. Through a series of unbelievable events (you must read the Book of Esther to get all the sordid details), Esther, along with many young ladies, was taken to the palace of Xerxes for a beauty pageant. Earlier King Xerxes commanded and decreed a search for a beautiful new wife after getting rid of his first one, Queen Vashti. The queen had defied his wishes during a drunken celebration and after seeking advice from his council, King Xerxes banished Vashti and searched for a new wife. 

Because of her good looks, Esther passed the first test, making it to the second round. The next phase of the beauty extravaganza put her in line with a number of other young women to be prepared and groomed for an entire year, readying them to be presented to the king as potential wife material. From these girls, King Xerxes would choose the next queen. 

During this year of beautification, Esther regularly met Mordecai at the king’s gate, where he instructed and encouraged her in the ways of becoming a queen. Now Mordecai loyally served in the bureaucracy of the king’s empire while also being a faithful “father” to Esther. He knew the “ins and outs” of the royal palace and taught Esther how to ingratiate herself before the king. And guess what—it all paid off. The king chose Esther to be his wife and queen of Persia, loving her more than all the others. (By the way, the Book of Esther never mentions God by name, but a believing reader can definitely see God’s sovereign hand in all the details.)

King Xerxes now had a new queen named Esther, as well as a new “right-hand man” by the name of Haman. Haman’s promotion by the king came with allegiances to be paid to him by the people of the land. But Mordecai refused to pay homage to anyone but God. Because of Mordecai’s stance, Haman discovered he was a Jew, and it filled him with hatred for the Jews.

Haman went before the king with a decision to kill Mordecai and all Jews. Telling the king about their disobedience to his laws, Haman enticed Xerxes to sign an edict declaring the destruction of the Jews. When Mordecai heard of Haman’s wicked plan, he mourned and wailed loudly and bitterly, as did all Jews. Esther writhed in anguish when she discovered Haman’s murderous plot. 

A relay of words through Hathach, Esther’s attendant, went back and forth from Mordecai to Esther, and he implored her to go before the king and plead for their people (at this time the king did not know Esther was a Jew). Their conversation through Hathach follows:

Esther said, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days.” 

Mordecai replied, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Esther said, “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him. Esther 4:11-17 (NASB)

With courage, Esther went before the king, and through another series of events (you must read the Book of Esther), the Jews were spared and wicked Haman was killed. Through a faithful and prayerful people, God intervened and saved His people, Israel. 

Esther could have chosen to ignore the call to save her people. As Mordecai told her, deliverance would come through someone else and she would perish, if she refused the call to help save herself and her people. But she chose to obey and assist in the deliverance of the Jews. Gaining support through prayer encouraged her and being a part of God’s plan of salvation blessed her.

If you read my post entitled “Called, Disciplined, Anointed, Loved....Remember”, you will recall my confession of delaying for two years God’s call to me to write two books. It was at a writer’s conference that I heard God saying He could use someone else if I chose to continue my disobedience. I have chosen to obey God’s call on my life and faithfully work on His project. Would you pray for me as I stand firm in God’s call and trust Him to equip me with His words? 

What has God called you to do? Have you ignored His voice because of fear? Do you feel as though you are not qualified to work for Him? God equips those He calls; He only requires our faith and trust in Him. He is faithful to us and gives us strength when we pray together. How can I pray for you? Join a conversation below and let me know. Together, like Esther, we can obediently serve our Lord God with courage. Together, as believers in Christ Jesus, we can serve our Savior in this world. 

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NASB)

I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16 (CEB)