Be Your Brother’s Keeper

Topical Scripture: Genesis 4:1–9

An asteroid larger than the tallest building on earth will fly by our planet next month traveling 67,000 miles per hour. Fortunately, scientists say it will miss us by 2.6 million miles.

Are other asteroids a greater threat to us? NASA has been studying Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) since the 1970s. They have found more than 95 percent of the known category of over 15,000 NEOs. But what about the other 5 percent?

We don’t have to look to outer space to find threats to life on earth. Each day’s news brings more reports of disease and disasters. Especially painful are stories of people hurting other people. Worst of all are the personal stories that don’t make the news but scar our souls.

Where have you been hurt by someone lately? Who has attacked you? Lied about you? Hurt you? Stolen from you? Cost you something important? What do you do now?

Meet yourself

As our text begins, Adam and Eve have become the parents of Cain and Abel. Later in the narrative, both bring offerings to God, but Cain’s is refused. Why? And why does the question still matter?

The problem was not that one was grain and the other blood. The key is in the Hebrew word translated “offering” (minhah): a gift offered to a superior as an expression of gratitude for his goodwill (Alan Richardson). The “offering” is to be given in gratitude, not duty; in worship, not work and routine.

And that’s how Abel made his “offering.” The Bible says, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4).

“By faith” means “through faith” or “as a result of faith.” Abel’s offering was superior to Cain’s, for it was offered in faith, not works. In gratitude for God’s grace, not to earn his favor. It is the difference between the person who comes to church because it is Sunday and it’s his habit or duty, and the person who comes to worship to give back to the God who has given everything to him.

We see what our neighbor gives; God sees the heart which gives it. He “looked with favor” on Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s (v. 4). “Favor” means “grace.” God received by grace Abel’s offering of gratitude, but he could not receive Cain’s offering of self-righteous performance and works.

So, Cain’s attempt to justify himself failed. His performance fell short. He felt himself a failure and became “very angry” (v. 5); the Hebrew says that he “burned.” His self-righteous anger was such that sin was “crouching” at his door (v. 7), a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

God warned him: “you must master it” before it’s too late. But he did not. The Bible says that Cain “belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12).

One hurts, and one is hurt. Why? And which are you today?

When you’re Cain

Cain is everyman. We all have an Abel. We all have someone in our lives whom we’ve hurt. Think back to the last time that was true for you. Why did you do it? Why did you repeat that gossip, tell that lie, speak that slander, steal that money or reputation or time, hurt that person?

Remember the sin cycle we exposed last week: Satan starts with your problem or need, questions God’s provision, minimizes God’s punishment, and offers God’s position. So, what’s the problem, the need? What starts the cycle by which we hurt others? Here are the leading candidates. Which is tempting you today?

Revenge. Cain convinced himself that Abel was his problem—if Abel’s offering had not been superior to his own, none of this would have happened. We hurt those who hurt us and feel justified in revenge.

Justice. This is Abel’s fault, and he deserves what he gets. We hurt others, but they deserve it, or so we think.

Reward. Cain wins, Abel loses. We’ll see whose offerings are acceptable, now that there’s only one to give them. We steal to get what we want and justify our action by the belief that they won’t miss it, or that we need it more.

Power. Nietzsche called the “will to power” the basic drive in human nature. Sometimes we hurt people just because we can. Cain was older and presumably stronger than Abel, and he could kill his brother, so he did. The “golden rule” in our fallen world is simple: the one with the gold makes the rules. We don’t even know why we did it. We just wanted to, and we could.

We’re all susceptible. We’re all Cain. When last did you hurt someone for these very reasons? G. K. Chesterton was asked to write an essay under the title, “What’s wrong with the world.” His submission: “Dear sir: In response to your question, ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ I am.”

The first step to stopping a sin like Cain’s is understanding why you’d commit it. The first step to stopping the sin cycle is understanding where you are being tempted to hurt today. Which serpent is whispering in your ear right now?

When you’re Abel

Now let’s reverse things. You’re Abel—you’ve been hurt, and you’re tempted to respond with revenge, justice, reward, or power. You’re ready to perpetuate the sin cycle. What should Cain have done before he killed his brother? What should we do when Cain hurts us? Let’s remember the answer to the sin cycle we discovered last week, and apply it here.

First, be honest about your pain.

Listen to your life. Don’t cover up your hurt, or excuse it, or pretend it didn’t happen. You really were the victim of slander, or gossip, or theft. Identify the person who hurt you, and why he did it. If you won’t admit your pain and your desire for revenge, justice, reward, or power, you’ll react before you can respond. You’ll say or do something which you’ll regret for a long time. Remember that you cannot unring a bell. Be honest about your hurt today.

Second, trust God’s provision.

Know that he knows and cares: “The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground'” (v. 10). Your Father knows that you are hurt, and by whom. You may think that no one knows the injustice you’ve suffered, but One does. He knows when you have been hurt, and by whom, and why. Any father hurts with his children, our Father most of all.

Third, respect God’s punishment.

God acted for Abel: “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (vv. 11–12).

I looked up the subject of divine vengeance this week and discovered ninety-one biblical references. Here’s one example: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

Before Paul quoted this verse, he instructed us, “Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19).

There are certainly times when God uses the legal system to bring about his justice. That’s why we have laws dating back to the Ten Commandments and punishments in place to fit the crime and deter its recurrence. We are to give the person who hurt us over to God and his justice.

Last, give God his position.

Be sure he’s Lord of your heart and life, whether he is Lord of those who have hurt you or not. You are not responsible for them, only for yourself. Don’t let their sin cause you to sin. Don’t let their slander draw you into slander. Be sure you are right with God, and humble before him. Know that there but for the grace of God go you. You may not have done what they did, but you have probably done things they’ve not thought of doing. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All who seek God are saved by God’s grace (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). As you give the one who hurt you over to God, be sure he is on the throne of your heart as well.

And when you cannot do this, ask God to help you. Jesus said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44). If you cannot pray for those who have hurt you, pray for God’s help to pray. And it will be given to you.


Corrie ten Boom’s story is familiar to most of us. Her family was taken by the Nazis. She was forced to watch her sister Betsie’s slow death in a concentration camp. Of all her family, she alone survived the Holocaust.

In The Hiding Place she tells how it all came back one unexpected evening: “It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’

“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often . . . the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself” (The Hiding Place).

Today we have met the first human question in the Bible: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What is your answer? Who is your brother today?

Find the Rainbow in Every Storm

Topical Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17

You and I are fallen people living in a fallen world. Success is not the avoidance of problems but learning how to redeem them. It is not a race run without stumbling, but a race completed by those who get up when they fall down. A famous CEO said on the news recently, “Leadership is solving problems—nothing else.” Faith is not the absence of fear—it is the decision to act when we’re afraid. It is learning to find the rainbow at the end of the storm.

Does a flood have you running for cover today? Are you camped out on an ark, trying to survive? Swimming in a rainstorm that won’t end? Why did this happen to you? How could God be loving and allow this, or even cause it? What do you do now?

We’re not the first to ask our questions, of course. But someone was. Let’s ask him for help today.

Meet Noah

“Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). “Favor” is the Old Testament’s word for “grace,” God’s love for his creation. He wanted to give this “favor” to all of mankind, but they would not accept his mercy. As we will soon see, they rejected every opportunity for salvation.

On the other hand, Noah positioned himself to receive such grace. Note that Noah “found” this favor—he did not earn it. Here’s how he “found” it: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (v. 9). His righteousness did not earn God’s favor, but it put Noah in position to receive what God wanted to give. He was by no means a perfect man—remember his drunkenness in Genesis 9. But he responded to God’s grace, for himself and his family. So can we.

Noah built his Ark for a hundred years in the face of ridicule and rejection: God “did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). Across these hundred years Noah did all he could to warn others. But everyone excepting his own family rejected his message and the grace of God.

And so a Flood obliterated all human life on the planet except for Noah’s family, and every living organism (presumably excepting fish, which are not mentioned). This is the record Genesis has left us.

Did the Flood really happen?

You remember hearing about Noah’s Ark when you were a child. Colorful pictures of a wooden boat with a tent-like roof, smiling animals parading two-by-two, an elderly, benevolent grandfather watching over the scene with his family. The stuff of nursery walls and church preschool rooms. A nice children’s story.

Is there a fact behind the fable? A real, universal flood? A real ark? I took seven pages of notes on this subject in preparation for today’s message. To summarize them:

There are fossil deposits around the world which seem to indicate a catastrophic event which caused massive, nearly instantaneous death, probably by flooding. Skeletons have been found in fissures located in hills 140 to 300 feet in height, cemented by calcite which must have been deposited under water.

Two hundred and thirteen different flood traditions have been found in cultures from all over the world. While there are marked differences in the details, all record a universal flood of cataclysmic proportions.

Noah’s Ark has been found to utilize exactly the right proportions for surviving such an event. The seventy thousand individual animals and species on board would comprise no more than 50 percent of the available space, leaving room for people, food, and provisions.

And the Flood was clearly divine in origin and end: “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:7); “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).

If God created and ended the Flood, could he not superintend all that transpired in connection with it? Could he not transport the animals, keep them alive, and restore their habitats when they disembarked? Could he not return the earth to its antediluvian function so as to further his creative purpose for the Flood’s survivors?

Why the Flood?

A second, more difficult issue is raised by the Flood: How could a God of love do this to his creation?

Bill Moyers expresses this perplexing question well: “I would suggest that this is why a lot of people today cannot abide the Bible, or the faith, and they can’t come to terms with a God who would do this. We cannot avoid the question of God here because what God has done, so to speak, is to wipe out everybody in New York City—eight million people, except for the eight people sitting in this circle—because God’s unhappy with them.”

Why would a God who is love (1 John 4:8) send a Flood which would wipe out nearly all of humanity? And why would he include the rest of his creation, animals and life forms which are obviously innocent of sin?

Consider these facts:

One: Humanity was given an opportunity to accept his grace. Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” to the world for the century he spent building the Ark.

Two: Death is inevitable for sinners, whether it comes “naturally” or by divine intervention. God’s word is blunt: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Death comes to all who sin, for “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Three: The Flood is not the only time in the Bible when God was forced to send his judgment against sinners. The children of Israel were instructed to destroy the Canaanite civilizations which inhabited their Promised Land; Sodom and Gomorrah were reduced to ashes as well. If we cannot accept the Flood as divine in origin, we must discount much of the biblical description of God’s wrath and judgment against mankind.

Four: Those who refuse to accept such judgment must obviously reject the doctrine of Hell. And yet the eternal destiny of those who refuse God’s forgiving grace is taught clearly and consistently in Scripture. Critics of the Flood judgment eliminate much of God’s word with their rejection.

Five: The death of “innocent” animals and other life forms killed in the Flood was the necessary result of God’s judgment against humanity. There was no physical way to kill only humans. All other animals would have died eventually, some in just a few days or hours (cf. the insects).

So, what can we learn from this tragedy?

The Flood warns us against sin and its consequences.

For instance, consider Jesus’ warning: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36–41). From Noah to today, we have known that sin leads to death, and that no one is safe from God’s judgment.

God will never end humanity in this way again.

“Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). The Flood has made clear the effects of sin. Its purpose has been accomplished. Now we die individually for our sins, rather than collectively.

While the earth will not be destroyed by flood, it will come to its end one day.

“Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some of you understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:8–10).

We must be ready today.

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11–14).

Those who awoke on the morning of Noah’s Flood did not know that their last day had dawned. When you woke up this morning, you had no such expectations for this day, either. Neither did those who died on 9/11. Neither will those who are living when the Lord returns and the world as we know it ends.

You may go to him today, or he may come for us all. We are one day closer to the end of history than we’ve ever been before. I don’t know that history will end today. But I don’t know that it won’t. And neither do you.


Noah’s Ark can be yours today. Just as Baby Moses was saved in an ark (the word for “basket” in Exodus 2:3 is the same as Noah’s “ark”), so you can be saved in the “ark” of Jesus’ grace. Note that only one door was available to all who entered Noah’s Ark. In the same way, there is only one way into the ark of our salvation: Jesus Christ our Lord (John 14:6).

Why only one door? Because only one is needed. Every animal and creature could fit through Noah’s door, just as every human on this planet can come to God through Christ. To come to God through Christ, you need only ask Jesus into your life. If you will confess your sin to him and make him your Lord, he will make you God’s child today.

And if he is, he will never leave you or forsake you. The end of Noah’s story is good news for us all: Every storm ends with a rainbow. Whether you can see it or not. We’ve read the end of the Bible and know its outcome: We win. The sin which led to the Flood is nailed to Jesus’ tree. The wooden Ark led to a wooden cross. The rainbow of God’s mercy extends to the rainbow of Jesus’ love. There’s hope for us all.

A friend sent me a true story titled, “Billy Graham’s New Suit.” In January of 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon given in his honor. He initially hesitated to accept because of his health struggles of recent years, but the civic leaders assured him, “We don’t expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you.” So he did.

After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum. He looked at the crowd and said, “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.

“Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn’t find it. The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’ Einstein nodded appreciatively.

“The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’ Einstein looked at him and said, ‘Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.'”

Dr. Graham continued, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a bit slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. Do you know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I’m going.”

Is there a rainbow at the end of your storm?

God Has a Dream

Topical Scripture: Judges 13:1-7

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Lately, the heavens have been especially eloquent.

In recent days, the moon and Venus have been the brightest objects in the nighttime sky. Though they are millions of miles apart, they seemed to nearly touch each other.

By the end of July, Mars will come closer to Earth than at any time between 2003 and 2035. On Sunday, the night sky will feature (from left to right) Venus, the star Spica, the planet Jupiter, the moon, the planet Saturn, and the planet Mars.

When we look at the sky, we are reminded of the omnipotence of our Creator and the finitude of our lives. And yet, our God loves us so much he considered our eternal lives worth the death of his Son. Even while ruling the entire universe, he still has a “good and acceptable and perfect” will for each of us (Romans 12:2).

Is his goal for your life the same as your goal for your life?

Years ago, I found this wise saying: “If you don’t have a goal, you’ll never reach it.” What’s your empowering life goal? Do you have a defining, catalytic purpose for your present and future? A “north on the compass” which guides your steps?

God has a dream for your life and work, your ministry and responsibilities. He wants you to know his dream and invites you to partner with him in fulfilling it. Let’s learn how.

Expect sin to lead to judgment (Judges 13:1)

The Judges cycle continues: “Again the Israelites did evil the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1 (NIV)).

Who were the Philistines? Why did God use them to bring judgment against his people?

The Philistines were a sea people who migrated to the Mediterranean cost, settling from Joppa to south of the Gaza area. As this Maritime Plain was extremely fruitful, its inhabitants developed into a very significant nation and military power.

They originated on the island of Caphtor (Amos 9:7; Jeremiah 47:4), a location usually identified with Crete. Some scholars identify them as Indo-Europeans. According to Egyptian depictions, they were tall and Hellenic in appearance. They invaded Egypt during the time of Rameses III (1195-64 BC), but were repelled. They eventually came to southwest Canaan, where they settled.

Their chief god was Dagon (Judges 16:23). He was thought to be the father of Baal, the god of weather and rain. Dagon was represented as half-man, half-fish (dag means “fish” in Hebrew). Since the people lived on the coast and prospered by fishing, he was seen as the deity they had to honor in order to prosper.

Because of their expertise with iron works (cf. 1 Samuel 13:19–22), their armies would prove to be Israel’s most consistent and formidable adversary during the period of the Judges and into the reign of David (1 Samuel 17–18). They were still a problem for Uzziah and Hezekiah, three centuries later (2 Chronicles 26:3–7).

For forty years before Samson’s birth, the people suffered under their oppression (v. 1). This was the longest period of foreign occupation in the book of Judges. And it reminds us of the human propensity to return to sin again and again.

Scripture warns us, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Yet we see this pattern again and again in Judges: the people sin and face punishment, then repent.

And we see it in our lives as well. Here’s the reason: according to Jesus, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). That’s why we must turn to God immediately, seeking his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9) and asking him to break the chains of sin that enslave us.

If we don’t, we may change our behavior, but we will not and cannot change our nature.

Only Jesus can give us a new heart. Only he can make us a new person. That’s why time with him is our best antidote to temptation. Charles Spurgeon: “We know of no cure for the love of evil in a Christian like abundant intercourse with the Lord Jesus. Dwell much with Him, and it is impossible for you to be at peace with sin.”

Are you dwelling “much with him”?

Expect God to work in surprising ways (Judges 13:2–5)

God wants to deliver his people from themselves and from their enemies. But he works in ways we seldom would anticipate or expect. If we limit his answers to our prayers to what we want him to do, we frustrate his providence and miss his omnipotence.

God’s story of redemption begins with a man named Manoah and his unnamed wife. He was “of the tribe of the Danites,” which had originally been assigned the coastal plain where the Philistines now lived (Joshua 19:40–48). When this territory “was lost to them” (v. 47), they moved to a region further north.

However, some apparently remained behind in their original land. Samson was descended from such a brave family.

Here was the tragedy that made his birth so surprising: His mother “was sterile and remained childless” (Judges 13:2). This was an unspeakable tragedy for a woman of their day. They did not understand the various reasons why a couple may not be able to conceive or know of medical options for such a problem.

So it was for Sarah (Genesis 11:30; 16:1); Rebekah (Genesis 25:21); Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2); and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:31). Many naively and unkindly attributed this painful condition to the judgment of God.

But not God: “The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son'” (Judges 13:3). God knows our individual need and specific problem far better than we do. Our prayer does not provide information he did not know, for “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

God’s dream for this faithful couple was simple: “Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazarite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (vv. 4–6).

What was a Nazarite?

“Nazarite” translates the Hebrew word for “separated” or “dedicated.” Numbers 6 provides the requirements for those who would live in this unusual status: they were to abstain from anything that comes from the grapevine, never shave their hair, and refuse to touch any dead body. By these actions they would be set apart from normal life, both in activity and appearance, to be used completely by the Lord for his purposes.

Such vows were typically temporary in duration, with requirements to be fulfilled when their commitment was completed (Numbers 6:13-20). But Samson was to be “a Nazarite of God from birth until the day of his death” (Judges 13:7). Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) were similarly dedicated to God for their entire lifetimes.

Why were Samson’s parents specifically ordered to eat nothing unclean? The Mosaic law was specific regarding kosher dietary laws. All of Israel was to heed these restrictions. Clearly many did not, for this couple was specifically called to such obedience. They could transgress no command of God’s word concerning their diet and, by extension, their lifestyles. They were to set an example for their son, as we are for our children today.

Note that God’s command to Samson’s mother is clear indication that life begins at conception. If Samson would not become a Nazarite until he was born, why would it matter what his mother ate during her pregnancy? We understand the health benefits of such a diet today, but they had no such conception. This mother was asked to keep a Nazarite diet for the sake of her unborn son, because he “shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb” (v. 5).

Here’s the point for us: God can use people the world has abandoned to fulfill a purpose the world would not imagine. He used a barren woman to conceive a future deliverer of the nation. Her faithful obedience to his word and will led to the birth of one of the most remarkable men in all of Scripture.

Embrace God’s dream as yours

As a result of her obedience, “the woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Maheneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (vv. 24–25). “Samson” means “sun” or “brightness,” a hopeful prediction for their son’s future.

God has a similar dream for you today. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, and there is no overriding purpose to life.

Jackson Pollock’s most famous “drip painting,” titled “No. 5,” sold for $140 million. Mark Rothko’s most famous painting, titled “Orange, Red, Yellow,” sold for $86.9 million. Neither convey objective truth. Both ask you to decide what the paintings mean to you.

By contrast, God claims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Even though they were enslaved in Babylon, with no hope and no future.

God dreamed that Noah would save the human race. He dreamed that the childless Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. He dreamed that the shepherd Moses would give his laws to the world. He dreamed that the young shepherd boy David would be king of his people.

He dreamed that the fishermen Peter, James, and John would lead his global church. He dreamed that the persecuting Saul of Tarsus would take his word across the Empire. He dreamed that the imprisoned John would write his Revelation. And so it was.


God has a dream for you. For every day there is a dream. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how healthy and prosperous you are or aren’t. If God had a dream of greatness for an unborn boy, he has dreams for you.

How can you know it?

First, choose his dream. Decide that you will do what he wants you to do. Decide that his purpose is your best purpose.

C. S. Lewis: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite you is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Second, ask to know his purpose. He will make his dream known to you if you want to know it. But he will give only what you will receive.

Jesus promised us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). However, we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).

Third, listen for his purpose. Your Father will speak to you intuitively, his Spirit with your spirit, if you will listen to his word and world. If you will take time to be still and know he is God (Psalm 46:10). If you will give his Spirit space to speak to your heart.

He will speak to you pragmatically through your circumstances, open and closed doors, opportunities for service which he clearly blesses. He will speak to you rationally, as you read his word and apply its truth to your life. Learn your spiritual gifts and find effective ways to use them. Love God with all your mind (Matthew 22:37), reasoning together with your Creator (Isaiah 1:18).

God wants you to know his dream, more than you may want to know it. When last did you ask God to reveal his dream and will for your life and day, and listen to his response?

Amy Carmichael:

Strength of my heart, I need not fail,

Not mine to fear but to obey;

With such a Leader, who could quail?

Thou art as Thou wert yesterday!

Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,

Fulfill Thy purposes through me.

Will you make her prayer yours today?

How to Kill a Lion

Topical Scripture: Acts 5:1–11

These are actual label instructions on consumer goods:

  • On a Sears hair dryer: Do not use while sleeping.
  • On a bag of Fritos: You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.
  • On some Swanson frozen dinners: Serving suggestion: defrost.
  • On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: Product will be hot after heating.
  • On the package of a Rowenta iron: Do not iron clothes on body.
  • On a Korean kitchen knife: Warning, keep out of children.
  • On an American Airlines package of nuts: Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts.
  • On a Swedish chain saw: Do not attempt to stop the chain with your hands.

Good advice, all.

There should be a warning over the doors of the church as well: “Warning: Christians attacked here.” That’s odd, isn’t it? But the Bible says as much: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

In our series on lessons from Peter’s life and ministry, we come today to one of the most unusual stories in the Bible. From it we learn the answer to the questions, How do we detect Satan’s attacks? What do we do when we do?

What did they do wrong?

“Ananias” means “one to whom Jehovah has been gracious.” “Sapphira” means “beautiful.” Both names proved to be ironic.

Verse one tells us that they “sold a piece of property.” Others have done this to help the poor and been applauded for their generosity. Now these two want that stage for themselves.

However, Ananias, with Sapphira’s full cooperation, “kept back part of the money for himself.” “Kept back” translates a word which means “to embezzle, to defraud”; sometimes in the New Testament it means simply “to steal” (Titus 2:10 NIV). He brings the rest of the proceeds and lays the money at Peter’s feet in a legal act of transfer.

The sin is not in the amount. As Peter makes clear, Ananias could sell anything he liked and give whatever he wished. The sin is in the intent to deceive: to make the church think he has sacrificially given the entire amount when in fact he has not.

But God doesn’t allow the attack to succeed. He always knows our attitudes as well as our actions. He reveals this deception to Peter, who calls Ananias to account for his sin. And in the instant that he hears his deception exposed, Ananias dies.

Then, three hours later, Sapphira comes in. Peter points to the money still at his feet and asks her, “Is this the amount you got for your land?” Her answer in the Greek is emphatic. She, too, lies deliberately; and the moment her sin is exposed she dies as well.

I know this text is harsh. The same God of grace whose power heals the sick and even the demon-possessed in the verses following, here allows or perhaps even causes, the death of these two church members. Perhaps they died of shock; perhaps God caused their deaths directly.

Most of us would see this crime as fairly benign. Those who would stone Stephen to death in two chapters were not punished as severely as this husband and wife. Saul of Tarsus participated in the persecution of multitudes of Christians and was never punished by God.

Why did they die?

Why so severe a penalty for these? If this was the proper consequence of their sin, why is it not the result of such deception today?

Ananias and Sapphira were punished for their deception with death, for one reason above all others: theirs was a cancer which would have crippled or destroyed the Christian movement. Their deception would not have stayed secret for long. Those who bought their land would likely make the sale price public or available, and the sale itself was a matter of public record. The church would eventually know that two of its honored donors had lied about their gift and motives.

As a result, the public witness of the church would have been impugned in the larger community. The credibility and integrity of the apostles and their leadership in this process of benevolence would have been undermined or destroyed. And such deception, left unpunished, would have encouraged the same sin in the hearts of others.

If they could deceive the Spirit, he is not truly Lord. Soon reverence for God and trust within the family of faith would be lost, and their community would be fractured.

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was nothing less than a ploy of Satan to attack the unity and heart of the church (v. 3). Left unchecked, this cancer would have spread throughout the body of Christ. As it was, the punishment Ananias and Sapphira faced led to the opposite result from that intended by the enemy: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (v. 11).

How did Peter know?

One other question is common with regard to this story: how did Peter know of their sin? It is of course possible that he had access to the public records regarding their sale, though nothing about such knowledge is suggested in the text. The answer is found in one of the most significant statements about the Holy Spirit to be found in all the Scriptures.

In speaking to Ananias, Peter exposed the plot of Satan as a lie “to the Holy Spirit” (v. 3). Then he concluded, “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later he asked Sapphira, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). When we deceive the Holy Spirit, we deceive God, for he is the “Spirit of the Lord.” Here is proof of the absolute divinity of the Holy Spirit. He is God the Spirit, equal part of the Triune Lord.

And it seems clear from the text that this Holy Spirit revealed the sin of Ananias and Sapphira to Peter. He made the apostle a spiritual oncologist, revealing to him the cancer before it could spread further. In so doing, he made clear to all that he sees every heart and motive and will stop at nothing to keep God’s people pure. The “great fear” which seized the whole church was not a fear of Peter’s omniscience, but of God’s.

What does this story mean to us?

Let’s consider four life lessons from this significant story.

One: We should expect temptation.

Ananias and Sapphira have become leaders in the church. As such, they have even larger targets on their back. Satan wants to destroy the witness of every follower of Jesus, including every one of us today.

If Ananias and Sapphira had refused the temptation of the enemy, their story would have been very different. Scripture teaches: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submit, then you can resist and you will win.

Satan will not leave us alone. He will attack us until he wins or we win. The time to turn to God is now.

Two: Sin kills.

Every sin grieves the Lord and leads eventually to death (Romans 6:23). God’s warning to Eve in the Garden (Genesis 2:17) still applies to every sin and transgression.

Sometimes the consequences of our sin are less obvious at first than they were for Ananias and Sapphira, but they are no less real. The truism is nonetheless true: sin will always take is further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we wanted to pay.

Three: Every sin is known to God.

Our omniscient Father knows every motive, every thought, every word of gossip or slander uttered in confidence, every transgression. We must “keep short accounts” with God, spending time often in confession and cleansing. The Holy Spirit can use us to the degree that we are holy. Then he will work through us as he did through the Jerusalem church, to the glory of God.

Four: The time to repent is now.

Peter gave Ananias and Sapphira opportunity to confess their sin, but each refused. They did not understand the urgency of the moment and the priority of repentance.

Their story teaches us to respond very differently. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your life that displeases him and confess all that comes to your thoughts. Now claim his forgiving grace and step forward in his peace.


Travis Kauffman was jogging in Colorado recently when he was attacked by a mountain lion. At that point, according to experts, he did everything right.

He did not try to run away. That triggers the animal’s predatory instinct. Instead, when the animal pounced on him and grabbed his wrist in its jaws, he fought back.

He hit it in the head with a rock, then managed to get his foot on the mountain lion’s neck. He held it there until the animal suffocated. At that point, he ran three miles for help. Someone gave him a ride to the hospital, where he received twenty-eight stitches to his cheek, nose, and wrist.

As we noted earlier, Satan is a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Here’s what to do: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (v. 9).

What lion is attacking you today?