Genesis 3:9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

In this passage, God is walking in the cool of the garden. The ancient language has the sense that it’s been a hot day and that there is now a cool breeze blowing. God is calling out this question. The pinnacle of His creation is hiding among the plants of the garden. Adam and Eve are hiding from the Creator of both man and garden.

God calls this question, not because He doesn’t know where Adam is, but because Adam no longer knows who he is. Adam is not just lost among the leaves, but lost now in his sin and wandering in his heart. Before the bite, he was joined to his Creator in a beautiful harmony. His soul communed with God and suffered no separation. Eve’s soul communed with God – no separation. Adam and Eve communed with one another – no separation.

Then, the bite – the sin – and there was instant separation. God was asking, “Where are you?” because Adam no longer knew where he was with God. They no longer understood who they were created to be. Pride, lust, envy, and all the other things that separate us from God and one another had invaded the Garden of Eden that was once the heart and mind of man.

On this first day of 2020, God asks each of us – Where are you? Not an accusation, but an invitation. It’s a sweet invitation from the One who knows exactly where we are and loves us anyway. He doesn’t ask – How did you get here? He doesn’t ask – How will you clean up this mess? He simply asks, “Where are you?” and we are invited, through Christ, to answer – Here I am Lord, seeking Your hand and longing for Your love. What better way to start a new decade than to be found resting peacefully in the arms of our Father.

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Unconditional love is a difficult proposition. I hear the term thrown around all the time. People speak about loving their children unconditionally or loving their spouse unconditionally.

The reality is that unconditional love is very difficult. We are creatures of condition. Parents love children unconditionally, as long as they visit once a week and call very often. Siblings love one another unconditionally, as long as all actions are found agreeable and in alignment with expectations. Spouses love one another unconditionally, as long as the dishwasher is loaded correctly and the trash goes to the curb on time. Friends love unconditionally, as long as the thank you card for the gift arrives within three to five days… (If a gift is given with expectation of a thank you card, then it was not a gift, but a down payment on a thank you card). None of these are examples of unconditional love.

Unconditional love is love without condition. It doesn’t mean we understand. It doesn’t mean we accept. It doesn’t mean we agree. It doesn’t mean we approve. It means we love. We love our child even when the child doesn’t call for weeks on end or visit for months. We love our sibling without expectation. We love our spouse even when the socks miss the hamper. We love our church family and we work to lift up and encourage and we suppress the urge to criticize. The moment we condition love based on another person performing in a way we accept the love is no longer un-conditional.

Recently, I offered this observation to someone – “If you can’t love him enough to be supportive, at least love him enough to be silent.” Christ loved us enough that, while we were yet sinners, He died for us. Our goal is to love others like He loved us. The Bible tells us that God is transforming us into the image of His Son. Spiritually, Christ’s image is an image of unconditional love.

Luke 10:38-42 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” 41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Where we start can be very important to how we finish. The above verses bring reaction of all kinds, ranging from criticism of Martha all the way to siding with Martha and criticizing Mary. Some use these verses as an excuse for not getting busy in the work of the Kingdom. Some point to these verses and say, “Someone has to do the work.”

I believe we miss Jesus’ point. Jesus’ point wasn’t that Martha was working. It wasn’t that Mary was sitting at His feet. Jesus point was that Martha failed to start in the right place before going about her tasks of the day. She was frantic. She was criticizing her sister and causing resentment in her family. She was accusing Jesus of allowing Mary to be lazy. Notice verse 40 – Martha was distracted.

I must admit to being like Martha at times. I believe most must make this admission as well. How often do we allow the tasks of this world to distract us from simply starting our day in Jesus? How often do we wake with many things on our mind, many tasks to complete, many places to be, and never “get around” to praying and hearing His word? Mary started by sitting at Jesus feet and hearing His word. Martha didn’t.

The difference seems clear – Martha started with doing and Mary started with being. Mary prepared her inner being and aligned herself spiritually with Jesus, so she could maximize her effectiveness throughout the day. Martha went to work without preparing her inner being, without spiritually aligning, and without coming to a place of peace.

Very early in the morning, my prayer is – Lord, help me to be Your servant, Your minister, Your disciple, that I might do what is right and proper before Your eyes. There is much to do, but the most important thing I can ever do is to first be peaceful in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus appeared to Thomas (John 20:27), He said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Starting the day in a place free of distraction, simply being with Jesus and hearing His word is the very most important part of the day. The “doing” will fall into place when the “being” is given priority. Martha is not to be criticized. Mary is not to be praised. Jesus is giving us all a lesson in alignment. Start the day in prayer; let the day flow from there.

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

The Bible is very clear that Satan is the father of lies, the king of deception. The greatest April Fools joke being played on the world today is that Satan is make believe, a made up entity with no power. He is simply a cartoon character, dressed in red, with a toy pitchfork in his hand. He’s a character to be laughed at, dismissed, and really nothing to worry about at all.

Untrue! Untrue! Untrue! His greatest deception is to get us to underestimate him.

We’re in the midst of basketball season. Many great teams have fallen to lesser teams because they underestimated the opponent they faced. They took victory for granted, looking beyond to the next opponent.

Satan wants us to overlook him, dismiss him, and look beyond. He wants us to accept the things we know are wrong. He wants us to overlook immorality, look past greed and manipulation. He wants us to start defining certain sin as “worse” than others. He wants us to believe that hate is OK, as long as it’s directed at a group that is out of political favor at the moment.

But remember what Jesus said (Matthew 7:21-23), “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

What is the will of the Father? That we follow His commandments. What are His commandments? Summed up: Love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Love our neighbor as ourselves. Who is my neighbor? Everyone.

Satan’s greatest April Fools joke is getting us to believe that we’re wise enough to determine the state of our neighbors heart, that we need only observe the parts of God’s Bible we feel good about, and that Satan is a make believe character and heaven is real and hell is not. When he is able to get us to underestimate the extent of his evil here on earth, we can unwittingly become a tool of his deception.

He roams about seeking those spiritually asleep – wake up!! We must wake up before he devours our eternity.

Numbers 23:12-13 So he answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?”13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all; curse them for me from there.”

In the full story found starting in Numbers 22, Balaam is blessing Israel when Balak is asking for the nation of Israel to be cursed. Balaam, after realizing his misstep earlier, is speaking what God is telling him to speak. I was drawn to the words of Balak. Balak is trying to get the answer he wants by asking Balaam to change his viewpoint. He says – “you will see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all.”

Many times, we fail to see all of a person. We fail to see the good when they’ve done wrong. We fail to see the love they’ve demonstrated when we glimpse a moment of hate. We fail to honor their basic human needs when it conflicts with an opinion. We take a viewpoint that is limited. We see the nationality, socio-economic class, or other “outer” characteristics. Like Balak, if we take a certain perspective, it becomes easy to criticize, judge, and even hate others. If we can only get enough people to take our viewpoint, it becomes easier to dismiss those in situations foreign to our own.

God would have us see all of a person. God tells us that we are all created in His image. Viewing those we disagree with from the perspective that, first and foremost, “this person bears the image of the God that I love and adore” makes it impossible to feel anything but love. This doesn’t excuse sin or change the consequences of sin. It simply allows us to come at every issue from a starting place of love. We know that we cannot say we hate our brother and claim to love God.

Changing our view doesn’t change the Holy Spirit’s instruction. Walking “In Spirit”, love will rule our thoughts and guide our actions. The Holy Spirit will give the same instruction no matter what hill we’re on, no matter what valley we’re in, no matter what country we’re traveling, no matter the wilderness wandering we’re enduring. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of Love.

Mark 8:29 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

God is a God of individual answers. There’s no group think in the Kingdom of God. Each of us must decide what we believe. In the verse preceding Mark 8:29, Jesus is told all the different people the “world” was saying He was. Then, He asked a question that resonates to every soul throughout time – Who do you say that I am? He wasn’t just asking the disciples. His voice echoes through the centuries until this very day.

God will not ask if the nation we lived in had laws against abortion. He will only examine our heart to see how we grasped the sanctity of life. He won’t look at the laws on the books regarding sex outside of marriage, but He’ll look to see how we treated our spouse or our girlfriend or boyfriend. He won’t ask how many protests we attended, but will instead look to see how our examples served as a witness to His majesty.

Sin is the outward demonstration of the evil within the heart. Sin is evil in action. All sin springs from the same seed… it’s a lack of reverence for God. The Bible doesn’t have a “Top 10 List” when it comes to sin. All sin separates us from God, but that separation started with the seed of evil and disobedience in our heart. As Jesus said, when we think it, we’ve committed it (Matthew 5:28).

When I grew up, there was a local show on TV called Kiddie Kollege. Schools sent teams. Questions were asked and the team conferred and came up with an answer. Three heads were better than one.

When we stand before God, there won’t be a team. He will only look upon our hearts to see how we answered the only question that ever mattered – who do I say Jesus is? Who do you say Jesus is?

I had someone ask why God didn’t simply send a supernatural answer to today’s issues. My answer? He has – Jesus. Now, you must decide as an individual, based on Faith in Jesus, what your answer is to the issues facing our world. No Kiddie Kollege moment – this is an individual test. Love will always root out evil, as long as we allow.

John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

Jesus didn’t concern himself with politics and worldly things. He knew where He came from and He knew where He was going. He knew why He was here and what His purpose was. He left us all with a purpose known as The Great Commission. He has gone ahead and, even now, is preparing a place for His followers.

Lest we think that Jesus was sealed in a bubble and never really faced the negativity that we face today, remember that the Romans were cruelly dominating the area, religious leaders were completely corrupt, women were property, children could be sold, taxes were high and the tax collectors dishonest, poverty as rampant, disease was common, slavery was legal, and the list goes on. Jesus was not part of the popular groups: Pharisees, Sadducees, or the Essenes. He could have gotten caught up in the negativity of His world. He could have railed against everything happening in that moment. His energy could have been wasted on what really didn’t matter.

Instead, Jesus chose to stay focused on the Kingdom and the Kingdom cause. He chose to remain focused on compassion, love, forgiveness, humility, and salvation. He chose to walk in poverty and live a very spartan life. He chose to speak truth. Make no mistake that He chose. He lived in no bubble. The pressure to conform to society was on Him just as it is on us.

We too must make a choice to focus on the Kingdom. Once saved, we are no longer of this world, but we are still in the world. We choose where to focus our energy. We must choose to love those we disagree with and pray for those who hate us. We must stop trying to save the world because we know the world will not be saved. We are not Republicans or Democrats, conservative or liberal, rich or poor… we are Christians – Christ’s followers. When tempted to feel anger or hatred toward another, remember how Christ responded to the nails being pounded into His flesh. Mimic His words and love the one trying to pierce your peace.

Instead, let us choose to live life positively. Let’s show people the love of Jesus and the promise of the Kingdom. Judgement is reserved for God. We are a witness that Jesus overcame the world and we’ll someday be with Him. Our goal, our mission, is to provide as many as will hear with detailed directions on how to arrive in Christ’s Kingdom at the end. No more drinking from the poison pitcher of this world… let’s choose instead to share the Living Water provided by Jesus Christ.

Exodus 23:29-30 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land.

We’re a people of instant gratification. Information is instant, sermons must be short, church must last exactly one hour, texts are preferred over phone calls, and heaven forbid that we go and visit someone to lift their spirit. We expect gourmet miracles, a rich buffet of life, and incredible spiritual creations, but have fast-food faith. In other words, we want the best, while we invest less and less.

God doesn’t work that way. Yes, there are instant miracles in the Bible. More often though, miracles happen over a period of months and years. Consider the Israelites. Abraham was promised the land of Canaan. For 400 years, his descendants stayed in Egypt. For 40 years, they wandered in the desert. Yet, God gives the land over little by little. Why? Because they were not ready for the full miracle! God is gracious in that He sees what they are ready to handle. He sees their ability to receive the blessing.

God sees us in the same way. He prepares us. We’re jumpy and demanding, asking God what’s taking so long, wondering if He’s forgotten us, asking first for this and then for that, and we’re blown like a flag in a hurricane. Some complain. Some grow discouraged. Some try to speed God along through nagging or “helping” Him. Yet, He sees that we’re not ready to receive His blessings. We’re not ready to receive the miracles.

So He works, little by little, driving out our fears, our doubts, building the skills we’ll need to handle what is to come, and surrounding us with the people to support us. He drives out the old habits, identifies sin that is dividing our focus, and removes our “other gods”. Little by little, He works, while we increase in Reverence, Obedience, Self-Control, and Endurance. He is making us a ROSE in His garden, ready to receive the beauty of His spirit, in order to bless others.

Little by little… Fast food faith will never deliver gourmet miracles. We must be willing to wait until we’ve become the rose God is growing. The rose does not grow impatient, but waits for due season. We can learn much from the rose.

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

Anyone who’s ever done building of any kind will tell you that it’s critical to establish a firm foundation or the building will have problems. In early times, a cornerstone was established. It was the largest, best squared, and most level stone because all the other stones were positioned based on the corner stone. All the building, to the very pinnacle of the roof, rested and anchored on this cornerstone. Get it wrong and the whole building turned out wrong.

Isaiah 28:16 says – Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. God gave us an anchor in Jesus. He promised this hundreds of years before Jesus came. Acts 4:11 calls Jesus the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ When we believe, our core will not be disturbed.

Satan is interested in small shifts. If he can get us to make small shifts in our foundation, he knows that our very soul will eventually collapse. If he can get us to shift our moral stance on the value of human life, the sanctity of marriage, the dignity and respectability of all human beings, the worship of possessions, the value we place on our family, and where we focus our time, he knows this shift in our moral foundation is enough that we will eventually fall into everything the world suggests.

Depending on the suggestion of the world to provide an anchor for our soul is like tying our boat to a piece of driftwood adrift on an angry sea. We’ll drift wherever the world is drifting, tossed about at each waves mercy, waking every morning not knowing where the boat has drifted, and never knowing when we might run aground or hit underwater hazards.

When Jesus was confronted with evil, He stood on the rock of scripture. When challenged by those who demanded He follow the “world view”, He quoted scripture. He knew that His foundation was to be found in the unchanging truth of God.

We cannot change the sea, but we can choose our anchor. We cannot calm the waves, but we can choose our shelter. We cannot control the currents, but we can choose whether we follow the drift. Satan is into small shifts. In those, he can get us out of square, cause our soul to lean, and eventually pull us down into confusion and despair.

A few years ago, NASA crashed a satellite into Mars. Everyone was shocked. It was later determined that an engineer used a metric measurement in the computer program which was only slightly less than an inch. Over millions of miles on the way to Mars, this small change caused the satellite to be miles closer than mission control thought. The satellite hit the planet instead of going into orbit miles above it. A small change made a big $280 million difference.

The world says, “Set yourself free, trust in me.” God says, “Trust Me, I will set you free.” Adrift or Anchored – everyday we choose. Never underestimate the impact of a small shift. 

Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Stumbling is part of the Christian experience. Some stumble more, some less, but all stumble. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:15 – For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. Has anyone other than me experienced what Paul is writing here? Has anyone other than me done something and later not understood why it was done?

As Christians, we’re to be quick to listen, full of forgiveness and understanding, slow to speak and slow to get angry. We long for forgiveness and understanding when we have stumbled, but are often slow to forgive and not very understanding when our brother or sister stumbles.

In our walk, we will stumble… we will do that which we hate… we will have times when our word doesn’t align with who we’ll one day be in Christ. We’re human. (The interesting thing is that others we encounter along our path are human too. The Bible says that there are none perfect.) When we stumble, how will we use this to improve our witness? What will we learn? When we see our brother stumble, what can we help him learn? Will we look on and cluck our tongue or will we reach out and help him up? Will he learn love or judgement from our reaction?

Witness is a journey. This means there will be times we stumble. This means we will encounter brothers and sisters who have stumbled. A pedestal of pride is the jumping off place for destruction (Proverbs 16:18). God calls on us to forgive even as He has forgiven us. How has He forgiven us? Frequently, completely, undeservedly, mercifully, gracefully, unconditionally, and the list goes on. How are we to forgive our brother? The same way. How do we hope to be forgiven by others? Just as God forgave us.

Our choice when the strong stumble: Look on or lift up. Witness is a journey, not a pedestal.