Christianity

The God Who Mourns

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One thing my family and I try to do is have a time of family worship in which we spend some time reading and talking about the Bible, and praying. Normally my kids love this time we spend together, and love hearing about Jesus and what God has to say to us through His Word.

Recently however, my 4 year old daughter didn’t want to have Bible Study. She wanted to play with her older sister. Even though I told her we were going to talk about Jesus, and how it was so important because Jesus loves us, she still wanted no part of our worship time. Even though I told her that the Bible tells us all about God, and how we can love God better, at that moment she had zero interest in hearing what the Bible had to say. (This sounds a lot like some adults I know also.)

After several minutes of me trying to encourage my daughter to join us, she finally got frustrated and blurted out, “I don’t like Jesus! I don’t want Him! I don’t want to know about God!”

Now, I understand that she is 4 years old and she really doesn’t understand what she is saying. I understand that she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that when we read the Bible, and read about Jesus, and when we choose to receive it as truth or reject it…there are eternal consequences. But nevertheless, when she blurted out those words, I was crushed. My feelings were hurt, and my heart agonized hearing such harsh words come from the lips of my little girl.

Her words got me to thinking though. If those words crushed me – If hearing the voice of my little girl reject Jesus and the things of God affect me so powerfully – How much more does it hurt the heart of God when He is rejected?

How it must pain Him when He hears people say they don’t want Him. How it must cause Him to mourn when people reject His Word. How it must grieve the heart of God when He sees people turn away from His Son Jesus, and the salvation that He brings. Sadly, there are times when even those who profess to love Him still choose to reject Him…either with their lips, or with their actions.

Now, this idea of God mourning over the words or the actions of people may strike some as odd. God is sovereign, He has perfect foreknowledge…so, does God really grieve over the actions of men, or how they choose to respond to Him and His love? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Colossians tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (1:15) This means that if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Jesus Himself says this exact thing in John 14:9. Jesus was God in human flesh, and perfectly reveals God and His character and personality to us. This being true, if we want to know how God feels about something, or how He would react to a particular scenario…all we have to do is look to Jesus.

So, how did Jesus respond to being rejected? He wept and He mourned. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 19:41 tells us that when Jesus drew near and saw the city, “…he wept over it.”

I don’t know about you the reader, but as I read these words and think about the heart of God, I am amazed. To think that God loves us so much and longs to bring us to Himself is amazing. To think that God grieves when we choose to reject Him with either our words or our actions, is a powerful thought.

Friends, God loves you. God longs to be with you. We know this because He sent His Son Jesus to tell us so. God loves you and longs to be with you so much, that He sent Jesus to the cross to make it possible. Jesus took upon Himself your sin, and my sin, so that we could be forgiven and no longer separated from Him. There is no questioning the love of God for His people, or His desire to be with us. The only question is…how will you respond to His love?

My prayer is that none of us would foolishly echo the words of my young daughter. She spoke out of youthful ignorance. If you are reading these words, you don’t have that excuse. Jesus loves you, I pray that you will love Him back. Jesus wants you, I pray that you want Him as well. God knows all about you, do you have the desire to know Him? I hope that you do.

Dear reader, don’t grieve the heart of God by rejecting so great a love. Run to Him. Desire more of Him. Learn all you can about Him, learn how to love Him better, and rest in His precious saving grace.

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Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

Coming Soon! Jonah and the Mercy of God

 

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I’m thrilled to be working with Focus Forward Publishing to release my next book, Jonah and the Mercy of God. Tentative release date is early May, so be watching out for it! I’m so excited about this project, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!  More details to follow.
http://www.focusforwardpublishing.com

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True Repentance

Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of the most beautiful prayers of repentance in all of the Bible. The heading just above the beginning of the Psalm tells us that it is “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

David, the greatest king (other than Jesus of course) sinned terribly against the Lord. I’ve written about this event previously, but you can go back and read about it in 2 Samuel 11 if you want to review. David slept with another man’s wife, the wife even of one of his trusted soldiers, Uriah. He made many unsuccessful attempts to cover up his sin, and ultimately ended up having Uriah killed.

2 Samuel 12 then details an encounter between David and the prophet Nathan in which David is confronted with his sin. This is a fascinating event in the life of David, and if you don’t know the story or haven’t read it in some time, I would recommend you go and read it now. For time sake however, I’m not going to go into great detail here today.

What I do want to talk a bit about today though is David’s response to this confrontation with the prophet Nathan, and David’s response when he is confronted with his sin. That is what we have here in Psalm 51.

David’s sin with Bathsheba and his attempts to cover up his sin are tragic. Sin is tragic. The sad fact of the matter is that all sin is tragic, and the consequences and repercussions of sin are often wide reaching and can be felt for years to come. This is certainly the case with David and his sin. The good news though, is that God doesn’t just leave us in our sin. He confronts us with our sin, he convicts us of our sin, and he gives us the opportunity to repent and turn away from our sin. Once this repentance happens, then God will pour out his grace and mercy upon us and forgive us of our sin.

Psalm 51 is the record of David’s repentance. It is a beautiful prayer of repentance and one that I believe we all would be well served as Christians to look to, and even pray for ourselves on a regular basis. In this Psalm David appeals to God’s character – his mercy and steadfast love – and asks God to blot out his sins. He admits he is a sinner and always has been and his sins weigh heavily upon him. David asks God not to cast him away from His presence, he asks to have the joy of his salvation restored to him. He promises God true worship, and that he would tell all people of the merciful ways of God, and that he would live a life of praise.

As we read through this Psalm, we see clearly that David acknowledges his brokenness over his sin – he truly mourns over his sin. This is an important point I don’t want us to miss. Many times we think of repentance as simply being sorry for sin. I think often times we aren’t so much sorry for our sin, but we are really just sorry that there are consequences for our sin. Ironically, we usually aren’t sorry for our sin, until we are caught in our sin. This isn’t true repentance.

True repentance is brokenness over our sin. True repentance is understanding how serious our sin is. Our sin, all of our sin, is a sin against a Holy God. (Verse 4) Sin is no small matter. David understands this and begs God to forgive him for his transgressions. David is truly broken over his sin.

David also doesn’t try to justify himself, make excuses, or try to blame others. What about us? What is our first response when we are confronted with sin? Usually we respond like our first parents, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, how did they respond when God confronted them with sin? Adam blamed Eve, and even God himself. Eve blamed the snake. No one was willing to fess up and just say, “Yes God, I disobeyed you. Please forgive me.” I wonder how different things would be if they had.

True repentance doesn’t involve us making excuses or trying to justify ourselves. True repentance involves confession. Why make excuses? God knows the truth anyway!

So, Psalm 51 is a beautiful prayer of repentance because it is an honest confession of sin, and a sincere plea for God’s mercy. Our prayers should be no different.

As I read through Psalm 51, I also get a sense of joy. David is a man who knew God very well. He knew God’s character. He knew God was merciful, he knew God was a God of steadfast love. (Verse 1) As David pours out his heart, you get the sense that David knows that he is forgiven. David isn’t going to sit around and dwell on past failures, he is going to take hold of God’s grace, and live his life in response to it.

David says, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Verse 7)

But David isn’t content just to rest in the fact that he is forgiven. David asks God for a pure heart. He wants a heart that is renewed and on fire for God. David asks God for a “clean heart” and a “right Spirit.” (Verse 10) David then promises to tell other sinners about the mercy of God so that they too may come and experience it themselves, for God will receive all who come to him broken and truly repentant over their sin. (Verse 13-15, 17)

This is good news isn’t it? That all of us have the same access to the God of mercy that David did – the God of mercy that was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Everyone reading this right now has the opportunity to come to God, confess our sin, receive forgiveness, have our hearts made pure, and joyfully take hold of the salvation God offers us all through Christ.

Once we experience this, the only logical response is praise God, and to go out and tell others about how merciful our God is. Once receiving this glorious salvation all of our prayers ought to be, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

Can we pray that prayer today? I pray that you can.

Your Relationship With God

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God desires to have a relationship with you. God loves you, and so desires to be in a relationship with you that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for you and to make it possible. (John 3:16, Romans 5:6) I could write pages upon page about the lengths that God went to in order to draw you into a relationship with him, but that isn’t why I’m writing this. My purpose for writing today is that I want to pause and contemplate the unbelievable reality that the God of the universe desires a relationship with you and to think through the implications of that truth.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “Christianity isn’t a religion it’s a relationship.” Normally that statement makes me cringe because I believe it to be too simplistic. That being said, there is an element of truth there that we would be wise to take notice of. Christianity is indeed a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and since it is a relationship there are some things that we need to understand.

Relationships take work. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship understands this. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking of romantic relationships, parent/child relationships, friendships, or work relationships, it takes work. If you want a relationship to work you have to put in time and effort. If this is true of human relationships, why would we think it isn’t also true of our relationship with God?

How often do you talk to God? How often do you take time to listen for what God might be trying to tell you? Do you make time to just be in the presence of God? Do you enjoy being with him? Do you want to get to know him better? What are you doing to try to make this happen? What do you hope to get out of your relationship with God? And here is a big one: Do you love God simply for who he is, or because of what you hope he can give you?

How successful will a marriage be if there is no communication? Not very. If children aren’t listening to their parents, or speaking to them, that relationship is in trouble. How happy would a wife be if her husband never came home? Husbands would be crushed if their wives never wanted to spend time with them. When couples begin dating, they do everything they can to learn what the other person enjoys. The parent is hurt when their child only calls when they need something, and not just so say “I love you.”

It’s not hard to see the parallels that I’m making here. It’s easy to see the correlation between what makes human relationships work and what we ought to be doing to cultivate our relationship with God. If we aren’t spending time in prayer communicating with God, if we aren’t spending time in his presence and listening for him, and learning more about him as we spend time in the Bible, then our relationship with God will suffer. Are your prayers always about what you can get from God instead of simply praising God for who he is? Do you ever simply tell God you love him? Do you thank him for the many blessings he has given you?

The wonderful thing about God is that he takes the initiative in our relationship with him. He made the first move, and even in spite of our failures to do what it is we should be doing, if we have truly entered into a relationship with him, he won’t ever let go of us. He loves us in spite of our many failures. But this isn’t an excuse to try less, it is motivation to try harder to love a God who has loved us so much. Even though we can rest assured that God will never turn his back on us, we are robbing ourselves of so much joy by not seeking him as we should. If you are missing time in prayer or bible study, you are missing more pleasure than you can imagine. If you are neglecting times of worship, both personal and corporate, you are missing one of the greatest blessings the Christian life has to offer and your growth in grace is suffering.

All relationships take work and must be intentional, I think we all know this. We also know that successful healthy relationships are a beautiful thing, and are worth every ounce of effort we put into them. This is infinitely true as it relates to our relationship with God, for there is no greater joy, no greater pleasure, and no more beautiful relationship than this. There is no one more worthy of your love and affection, and certainly no one more worthy of the effort you’ll put in.

You’ll never give God more than he’s already given you.

Blogging Through The Bible: Genesis 3:9-15

When we left off last time in our journey through the Bible, the man and woman have just eaten the fruit. We began to see some of the first consequences of sin: loss of innocence, shame, loss of intimacy. This loss of intimacy manifested itself by the man and woman making loincloths out of fig leaves to hide from each other, but even more importantly in their hiding from God as they heard him in the garden. That takes us to where we are today in verse 9…

God asks the man, “Where are you?”

Obviously, God knows all things, so he didn’t really need to ask this question, or the question that follows for that matter. He knows where man is, he knows what has happened. He asks these questions I believe for a couple of reasons. One, he wanted the man to think about where he was. To contemplate what had happened. It’s sort of like when I see my kids doing wrong, I will ask them, “What are you doing?!?” Obviously I know what they are doing, but I want them to stop and think about what they are doing, and to help them to see that this is not what they should be doing.

It’s the same thing with man. God had commanded man not to eat the fruit, yet he did. He disobeyed God. He did wrong, and he knew it. He hid from God…He was afraid, and rightly so. Disobedience of God has costly consequences, and God had already informed the man and woman what those consequences would be. Death.

Man told God he was afraid. He knew he was naked, so he hid. God then asked man how did he know he was naked, who told him? “Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you  not to eat from?” (3:11)

Here, man has an opportunity to confess his sin and disobedience. Which I believe is the second reason for these questions God is asking.  I’ve often wondered how things might have been different had man confessed his sin…I suppose we will never know…But we do know how the man responded, and if you’re like me, you see yourself in this story. Instead of acknowledging his sin, the man blamed the woman, and even God himself. “The woman YOU gave to be with me– she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate.” (3:12) Man is essentially saying, “It’s not my fault God! You gave me the woman, if she hadn’t been here, this never would have happened! She ate the fruit first, then I ate it.”

God then turns his attention to the woman, and asks her what she has done. She takes the same approach as the man. Instead of accepting responsibility, she blames the serpent, “He deceived me, and I ate.” (3:13) This was certainly true, but the serpent wasn’t force-feeding her. She ate the fruit because she wanted to. The same was true for the man.

God then turns his attention to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life.” (3:14)

But here is where things get good…

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (3:15)

If we’re unfamiliar with the Bible, this last verse might seem a bit strange or confusing…But, this is actually one of the most important verses in the Scriptures. Genesis 3:15 is the first prophecy of the coming Messiah. We know that to be Jesus Himself. Right after man has sinned and sin and the curse has entered the world, we have a glimmer of hope. The Gospel is being preached to us right here…

There will be hostility between the serpent and the woman, and between her seed (her children) and the seed of the serpent.Yet, God says He (The seed of the woman) will strike the head of the serpent. This is a picture of Satan’s defeat. The defeat of sin. A blow to the head is a death blow. Satan will be crushed by the seed of the woman…We know this ultimately to be through Christ. But we also see a glimpse as to how this would happen…”You (the serpent) will strike his heel.” The seed of the woman would be wounded. Here we have a picture of the cross. We know that Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross…We know that he died there…But we also know that he didn’t stay there. Death couldn’t hold him, and after three days he rose from the dead after satisfying the penalty for sin…Which we’ve already seen from our studies is death. So here in Genesis 3:15 we have a clear reference to Christ, his cross, and how Satan will ultimately be defeated. Amazing!

I had intended to go further, but I find myself in that familiar position of not wanting to stretch this out too long, and knowing that I can’t do the rest of the chapter justice in just a few words…so, keep a watch for the next post. We will pick up in verse 16 next time.

Blogging Through The Bible: Genesis 3:1-8

Today we look at Genesis 3, one of THE pivotal chapters in Scripture. In the first two Chapters we’ve looked at creation. In Chapter 1 we had the “big picture” view, then in Chapter 2 we zoomed in on the Garden of Eden and the creation of man. There has been one constant so far…Everything has been good, or God even went so far as to say “very good.” (1:31) So, creation in it’s original condition is very good. All things are as they should be. There is no pain, there is no death, there is no sin. Even relationships are perfect. (2:25)

Sadly, we will see in our passage today, things did not stay this way.

Genesis 3:1 starts out with the serpent. Now, we aren’t told here that the serpent is Satan, but other areas of Scripture certainly help us to identify the serpent with him. (Revelation 12:9, 20:2, Romans 16:20 also helps make the connection) The picture we get of this serpent certainly shows us that something about this creature is amiss. The bible says that he was the most cunning of all the wild animals. The serpent goes on to ask Eve a question, “Did God really say, “You can’t eat from any tree in the garden?”

How many bad decisions start out with, “Did God really say?” The Word of God is sure, perfect, and good. If the Word of God says it, you can take it to the bank. But this is how Satan operates…he plants a seed of doubt in your mind. “Did God really say?…” He then misquotes God. He asks did God really say you can’t eat from ANY tree in the garden. He wants the woman to feel as if God is somehow depriving her of something good. But we know that isn’t what God said. Of all the trees God planted, there was only one that they were told not to eat of.

The woman responds in verse 2, but as we see, she gets it wrong too. She adds to what God had actually said. She got the first part right, “But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, “You must not eat it…” Well yes, He did, but then she adds, “…or touch it, or you will die.”

God never told Adam or Eve not to touch the fruit. He simply said not to eat it. So, she already is on shaky ground. Whether it is carelessness on her part, or whether Adam has inaccurately communicated God’s Word to her, I don’t know. But we see here that Eve does not have a firm grasp of God’s Word, and ignorance of God’s Word always leads to trouble.

We see from her statement, that even though she hasn’t taken it as far as the serpent did…she still feels somewhat deprived. She can’t even touch the fruit! Or so she believes…She did though get the part right about death.

Again in verse 4 we see the serpent continuing to plant doubt in her mind, “No you will not die..” , says the serpent, “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So, the serpent follows up a lie with a half truth. It is true that once they eat of the fruit, they will be like God. They will know good and they will know evil. But, the serpent says that they won’t die. This is a half truth. They wouldn’t die physically immediately after eating the fruit, but they would die Spiritually. They would be separated from God. Their sin and disobedience would drive a wedge between them and God. And one day, because of this sin and disobedience, they would indeed die physically.

After hearing the Serpent’s words, the woman looked at the tree, and she saw that indeed the tree was good for food, and it was delightful to look at…The Bible also says that it was, “desirable for obtaining wisdom.”

Sin initially is always desirable. It is pleasurable to the eyes, and it promises us more than what we feel like we already possess. Eve wanted to taste the fruit…it looked good. She wanted to be wise, she wanted to be like God in knowing good and evil. Perhaps God just didn’t want her to have that…perhaps God was holding out on her. Perhaps she knew better than God what she needed, and what was best for her.

Does this sound familiar to any pattern of sin you’ve ever experienced in your life?

Here’s the rub. She was already like God. She was created in His image. She already had all she needed. God had provided her and Adam with all that they needed for food. She even already knew about good and evil, if only she had understood. She knew good. She knew God. God is the definition of good. She had never experienced evil, but certainly anything contrary to the good that was in God is evil. God had already told Adam about death…so she understood the consequences of disobedience to God…which is the definition of sin, the root of evil.

Then the woman eats. Not only does she eat, but she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate it.

Here we see another problem. Adam was the one charged with watching over things. Adam was the one given dominion over creation. The woman was to be his helper. Adam was actually the one told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Certainly, it can be inferred that it was his responsibility to pass the message along to his wife.

It would seem that Adam failed on a couple of fronts. First, Eve didn’t accurately know what God had said about the fruit..which caused her to be more susceptible to Satan’s lies. Second, if Adam was with her the entire time, why didn’t he take charge of the situation? Why didn’t he step in and correct her, and say what God actually said. Third, why would he allow her to even entertain these thoughts? Fourth, why would he obey his wife rather than God?

We often blame Eve for being deceived by the serpent, but Scripture actually places the blame on Adam. It was through Adam that the curse of sin entered the world. (Romans 5:12) Adam didn’t sin because he was deceived, actually he sinned with understanding! (1 Timothy 2:14) Eve desired the fruit, but apparently so did Adam! And because of these misplaced desires, the world will never be the same.

Verse 7 tells us that then, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked…”

Genesis 2:25 tells us that Adam and Eve were naked but felt no shame. This as we said speaks to the perfect intimacy they shared with each other, and with God. Because of their sin and disobedience, this is no longer the case. Now they knew they were naked, so they “sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” This intimacy is forever gone as a result of their sin. For the first time they knew shame and they sought to hide their bodies from each other…But it doesn’t stop there.

Verse 8, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden…and they hid themselves among the trees of the garden.”

Not only is their a loss of intimacy between the man and the woman, but also between them and God. Not only does shame exist between themselves, but also between them and God. Where once Adam walked with and spoke with God, now he seeks to hide himself from him. As we said earlier, a wedge has been driven between God and man. The relationship has been broken. Sin has entered the world…

This is the world we find ourselves in. A world infected with sin. A world separated from God. A humanity hiding from God and denying the truths of His Word. In many cases it has even gotten to the point of denying his existence.

If the Bible ended here, what a tragic ending it would be. But praise God this isn’t the end of the story…And praise God there is hope. We will see that next time…I hope you’ll join me!