Genesis 4:1-7 – Temptation

WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE YOUR STORY?  —  Pete Bauer

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 15th, 2015.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Gen 4.

Cain and Abel:  The story of Cain and Abel is a story of two brothers (a younger and an older) in competition.  Cain decides to bring a gift (offering) to the Lord, and Abel, the younger brother, then outdoes Cain’s offering with his fat portions.  The story sets up a situation in which Cain must turn from the temptation to do evil–or fall into “sin” (a word which is mentioned for the first time in Genesis 4:7).  This morning we want to look at this primal story of temptation and to listen to the counsel that God gives to Cain and God’s call to face and overcome temptation.

God is Calling Us to Listen to the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

Why are you so upset? Why has your face fallen?

We Tell Ourselves Stories:  Stories are selective. When we tell stories we focus or attention on certain things and ignore other things.  A story requires a frame of reference–a unifying idea or theme. We tell ourselves stories all the time, about the things that happen to us.  Our stories are different from the stories of people around us.  If both of us saw the same accident on the highway, chances are we would tell different stories, from different points of view, emphasizing different things.

Temptation is always part of a story with a theme–a frame of reference.  God does not say to Cain, “Stop being angry,” but rather, God asks a frame of reference question, “Why are you angry?”  In essence God says to Cain, “What’s the story?  Explain to me what is making you angry.

Stories Grow Feelings:  Cain was telling himself a story about the offering and about God rejecting his offering that made him angry rather than reflective, repentant or concerned.  Rather than coming to God to ask why his offering was disregarded, Cain told himself a particular story that caused him to become angry.   He chose a point of view–he built a story on that point of view– he practiced that story.  Cain’s feelings, his upset and anger, his hostility towards Abel, were the result of the story he was telling himself.

We respond to situations by telling ourselves stories. The temptation to say the things we say and to do the things we do and to feel the ways we feel–grows out of the stories we tell.

  • We tell stories about what we need–what we cannot live without–although other people live without the same things. Our stories convince us that we must have our desires, our own particular “Must Haves.”
  • We tell stories about the meanings of people’s actions and words–stories which focus on ourselves  and what people think of us, what we deserve–often without regard to the story of the one who acted or spoke.  We become filled with hate or fear or desire or competition.
  • We tell stories about ourselves and our own lives and the meaning of what has happened to us.  Our stories put us at the center of the world or make our lives empty and meaningless.

God is Calling Us to Recognize the Effects Our Stories Are Having.

God has already noted that Cain’s face has fallen.  Now he confronts Cain… “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” or, more literally, “If you intend good, bear it aloft”  The Hebrew here is obscure.  God seems to be saying, “If you intend good lift up your face”–or “show me your face.”  This would contrast with the idea that Cain’s face had “fallen” because he was upset. It may be the equivalent of a parent who says, “Look me in the eye,” although it is expressed more gently than that.  God knows that Cain has created his own story and version of events, and that this story is having a toxic effect on Cain.

Our Toxic Stories Cause Withdrawal:  Cain’s face is turned away–cast down.  In a sense, Cain is doing what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3–he is hiding–he is withdrawing.  The more Cain tells his story about how Abel has wronged him, the angrier he feels about the situation, the more he does not want to be in the presence of God, the more his face is turned away.

Our toxic stories affect us in the same way.  We withdrawal from people because we become angry with them.  We do not want to make things right.  We do not want to have peace.  We would rather grumble and rehearse our stories.

OurToxic Stories Delude Us:  One of the really startling aspects of this story is Cain’s response when God disregards his offering. His response is to murder Abel.  That is an over the top response.  If we had never read or heard this story, we would not have anticipated that it would turn out this way.

How did Cain get from a rejected offering (his problem with God) to murdering his brother?  He did it by telling a story that was completely deluded.  Cain’s story centered around the idea that real problem was not his offering but Abel.  Rather than taking responsibility for his own offering, Cain created a story about how Abel had wronged him.

We tell ourselves deluded stories which relieve us of responsibility and justify our hatred, our desire to control, our falsehoods, our greed, lust, wicked speech, and our irresponsibility.

God Is Calling Us to Confront and Rule Over Our Stories.

Cain is clearly given a choice here, and it is a choice that all of us have–a choice of what to do about this toxic story that he is telling himself.  Cain can either give himself to his toxic story, or he can master it.  God warns him that, if he gives himself to his toxic story, “…  then sin is a crouching demon at your door…”  However, God also says, “… but you can master him.

Turn from What Can Become Demonic:  Sin is described, here, as a crouching demon, lying in wait for Cain’s soul.  Understand that sin is not going to take Cain over without his consent.  Rather God is saying something like, If you continue to tell yourself this story and give yourself to this story, it will take control of you.  God is calling Cain to stop listening to this evil story.

This is the nature of the stories we tell ourselves.  We rehearse the wrongs others have done us, the things we deserve, the desires we cannot live without, the fears that we dread, until they feel so much a part of us that our reactions to people and situations feel automatic–not like a choice, but inevitable.  We give ourselves to stories and they take us over.

“Rule Over” Your Story:  But God calls us to choose to stop our toxic, false stories in their tracks.  God tells Cain that there is another possibility–that he can “rule over,” take control of, the sinful story that is feeding him with anger.  When God tells Cain that sin is crouching at the door, but he can rule over it, he is calling Cain to action.  Cain needed to take himself in hand.  He needed to ask himself some hard questions…

  • What am I assuming about what I need or deserve?
  • What have I chosen to believe about Abel, about God?
  • What about this situation am I emphasizing or ignoring?
  • Why am I really angry?

Ruling over sin and temptation–confronting our stories–is never passive–it never just happens. Ruling over our stories requires that we question ourselves, face the falsehoods and self-justifications in our stories, and lift up our faces to God to ask for repentance,help and forgiveness.

Join Your Story to The Larger Story of Redemption in Jesus:  We all have toxic, sinful, false stories that we live by, that are revealed in the sinful disposition of our hearts, actions and words.

However, God is telling another story–the true story about our lives.  It is the story that tells the truth about who we really are and what we are truly like.  How we were made by God to be joyful, loving, upright  people–to love God.  How we have all been deluded by sin and fallen short of being the holy people God created us to be.  How God sent his Son Jesus to rescue us–to lift our faces to God not in angry confrontation, but in forgiveness and love.

God will not force his story on us, but when we are willing to join ourselves to his story, it changes us.  We become people who are able to be honest about the lies in our stories because we no longer need them to be true–they are no longer our only story.  Instead God has given us a story in which we, forgiven sinners, are now being changed into the likeness of Jesus–redeemed, made new, looking forward to eternal life in the presence of God.

The Prodigal Son

THE TWO SONS — Pete Bauer

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 25, 2015.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Lk15.

This morning we want to look at a very familiar parable about repentance.  The difficulty with the very familiar parts of scripture is that they tend to become flat for us because we feel that we already know what they are about.  Our tendency towards this parable, often referred to as “The Prodigal Son,” is to think that we already know what it is all about–wonderful forgiveness, offered to the extremely rebellious.  Certainly, that is true, however, the parable is actually about two sons, and the call to both of them to repent, and turn from their rebellious lives.

Some of Us Relate to the Father Like The Younger Son.

Younger Brothers Feel Constrained by the Father:  “the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’”   Inheritance, at this time, involved land and animals, divided up after the death of the father. Two-thirds would go to the older son, the rest to the younger.  To ask for the inheritance was to ask the father to sell off land or animals, to take away from his livelihood, and was a way of severing all ties.  It was a cruel, disrespectful, hateful thing to do.  Why did the younger son do such a thing?  He did it because he believed that the father was constraining him, holding him back from life.   Consequently, “After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”  

Some of us are like the younger son.  We feel constrained by God and we long for a life that is exciting.  We tend to be driving by our passions and to feel restless.  God seems to be like a parent who commands us to be quiet and behave.

This is how the younger son felt about his father.  However, what is startling about the story is the Father’s willingness to give the younger son what he asks for.  There is clearly a disconnect between what the younger son believes, and the freedom and generosity with which he is treated.  However, he does not see the generosity and graciousness of the father, and he leaves.

Life Beats Younger Brothers Up:  “When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.  So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.  And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.

It is hardly surprising that the younger son finds himself out of money and in difficulty.  We all know about these kinds of stories–some of us have lived them to one degree or another.  He is led by his passions, without wisdom, unsupported by his father.  He finds himself at the mercy of a bad situation and without anyone willing to help him.

Younger Brothers Expect Slavery:  “Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’

The thoughts of the prodigal son reveal what is in his heart.  He left his father because he felt like a slave–constrained, unable to live.  He wanted  to experience life.   Now, as he returns, he expects to be a slave–treated as one of the hired men.  But when the son returns, he is treated as a highly favored son–not a slave.

This is how some of us relate to God–like the younger son.  We have longings and passions, and interests, but we think of God as a master who wants to own and control us rather than as a father who wants to love us and show us life.

Some of Us Relate to The Father Like the Older Brother.

Older Brothers Are Dutiful and Want Preferment:  “Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.  The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  He became angry

Some of us feel like the older brother.  We are where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, and we find it irritating when the prodigal waltzes in and gets celebrated, despite all.   We wonder when anyone is going to notice our dutifulness.  We feel angry when someone who hasn’t been doing what they should be doing, seems to glide along while we are sweating it out in the field. Our lives should be going better than those who seem to be the eternal screw ups–but our lives often don’t seem to go better.  We expect to be blessed by God more than those who run off and do as they please–and we resent it when the duties and difficulties of life seem to overtake us, while the prodigal does as he or she pleases.

Older Brothers Live Like, and Think of Themselves as, Slaves:  “When he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’

Here is the son who has stayed home with the father–and yet the irony is that he is living like a hired man or a slave.  He expects the very same things as the returning prodigal.  He expects that, through years of service, because he has never disobeyed orders, that he has earned something–maybe a young goat (some small reward–not a fatted calf).  These words reveal what is in the older brother’s heart–he is a slave. The older brother stayed with his father for the same reason the younger son left–he felt like a slave.  His obedience was not love, but slavery. There are many Christians who live a life of duty towards God and yet, to whom, the thought that God loves them, has never occurred.

However the father responds to the older brother as a son.  His response to the older brother (who has just spoken quite disrespectfully to him), is the same kind of response of love and welcome that he has offered the younger brother, “He [the Father] said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.

The Father Wants to Relate to Us as Favored Children.

The Father Is Calling Us to Join the Celebration:But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’

What is it that the father is asking the older brother to do?  He is asking him to come into the house and celebrate.  This celebration is what the Father wants for his children.  God is not looking for slaves–he is looking for sons.  Through this parable, Jesus welcomed both the Tax Collectors and sinners, and the angry Pharisees and Scribes, to receive God’s love.

For those of us who are like the younger son, God is calling us, not in order to constrain and control us, but to show us what life is.  To those who have wandered, following their passions, and who have, in consequence, hurt those around us and been beat up by life, God is calling you–not to enslave you, but to bring you into the family of his people and celebrate over you.  God welcomes the wayward back with honor and celebration.

For those of us who are like the older son, God is calling you out of slavery and into celebration–to believe that everything he has to give is yours already, and that all you have to do is to come into the house and recognize that your father loves you.