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“God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. God spoke to Cain: ‘Why this tantrum? Why this sulking?'”  Genesis 4:5,6

“Their plan was to turn west into Asia province but the Holy Spirit blocked their route. So they went to Mysia and tried to Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there. ….we walked from there to Philippi…..was to be a prayer meeting…we talked with them….As she listened…she believed!”  Acts 16: 6, 8, 12-14

The above two experiences are centuries apart.  One happened reasonably shortly after creation, the other reasonably shortly after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The first involved Cain, one of Adam’s sons and the other, the apostle Paul.  Yet in both cases, the Will of God, thwarted the plans of men, without a significant amount of explanation.  The reactions of the two men were exceedingly different, impacting not only their lives but the lives of those around them.

Let’s start with Cain.  Besides being one of Adam’s sons, we know precious little about Cain at this point in scripture.  The bible tells us that Cain was the older of the two sons.  As one would expect for that time, both made their livings so to speak, “off the land”.  Seemingly, both also intended to honor God; for both decided to bring their offerings before God.  Abel brought produce from his farm and scripture also tells us that Cain brought an offering from his first born animal, choice cuts of meat.  God liked Abel’s offering but did not approve of Cain’s offering.

I want to pause for a moment here, because here’s where I think we, like Cain can stumble.  Scripture does not tell us why God did not approve of Cain’s offering.  We are generations before Moses received very detailed instructions on the mountain concerning proper sacrifices.  I’ve heard many reasons put forth as to why Cain missed the mark.  Seemingly, without that understanding, we seem to feel that Cain was unfairly treated and had every right to get mad.  However, dear Sisters and Brothers, we’re talking about God, the Creator of all things, having perfect Knowledge and a perfect Plan. Is it really His responsibility to, are we His creation, owed an explanation from Him?

Here’s a vital point that I think gets glossed over, too often left out and rarely stressed enough.  The story seems to go, after the disapproval, Cain goes out, gets in a fight with his brother and then kills him; only to have his sin uncovered subsequently by God after that famous utterance by Cain “am I my brother’s keeper?”.  We get the sense that Cain was left all alone in his despair, which then boiled over in his lashing out at the injustice and smiting his brother.  But please, please, please do not overlook the intervening action from God between the offering’s disapproval and the committing of murder.  God saw that Cain was troubled.  Instead of turning His back on Cain, or banishing him right there and then; God came to Cain to try and help him.  God let Cain know that this offering was not a one and you’re done failure.  God advised Cain that he could improve and if he set his sights on improving, on doing well, then Cain would be accepted just like his brother had been.  God also warned Cain that his anger was dangerous in that it could lead to sin, which of course it tragically ended up doing.

Then there is the Apostle Paul.  One gets the sense in reading many of the letters that Paul wrote as well as his actions, detailed in the Book of Acts, that Paul was a determined individual; that in today’s vernacular we’d say he had a “strong personality”.  When Paul felt strongly about something, he did not mince words about saying exactly how he felt.  Similarly, Paul was not afraid to confront those he disagreed with including the likes of Peter, the one who Christ named the rock. Both in the letters and in Acts we learn that there were places that Paul definitely wanted to travel to; Asia for one and desperately in fact, Rome for another.  Paul mentions that he has plans and those plans, several times, get thwarted.  Paul also leaves no doubt as to who he blames for his plans not happening; the Spirit; whether that be the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ, it is a divine Spirit that prevents him. There are times in Paul’s letters where it is easy to read a sense of frustration, exasperation or even desperation at being stopped at that particular time.

Here’s the thing dear Sisters and Brothers; Paul could have become angry, he could have sulked, he could have stopped and said:  “That’s it, no Rome, no more preaching from me!”.  But Paul didn’t do that.  Instead, Paul accepted, however reluctantly so, the blocking from God and moved to where he was led.  In one case, Paul received a message from God in a dream about where to go, although again, it was not where Paul had said he wanted to go; but he went.  And because Paul went, so many knew faith communities were started, Paul received so many blessings traveling the path, God chose for him to travel.

What does that mean for us today? Think of what the world is telling us today; the worldly mantra:  I can be anything, do anything I want as long as I want it bad enough and will work tirelessly to get it.  Look at how many “I”s are in that statement. Maybe there’s some passing nod at God because some would suggest that God is the one that puts the specific “anything” in my heart so I’m okay in my single minded pursuit. Yet make no mistake, our Heavenly Father is the Creator, He has a plan, a perfect plan. My “anything” no matter how much I want it, strive for it, live for it; does not trump His plan.  So let’s say that my “anything”, that I’m striving for is aligned with His plan; is my timing aligned with His timing; is my “anything” for His glory, am I willing to implement my “anything” based on His plan?

Finally, what is my reaction going to be to God implementing His Will in my life?  If, at the moment it is different than what I had planned; so I get angry, go off sulking and do something sinful in response; the results will be disastrous both for me and those around me.  If, on the other hand, through humble, faithful prayer and study, I submit myself to God’s perfect plan, that I may have no idea where it’s leading; then I may reap untold blessings and yes even bounty that I never conceived would come my way.  Let us ask for help through the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ to have the appropriate response.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely accept and declare that You are the Creator of all things, including us and have a perfect plan for all things.  We are so grateful that in Your Mercy and Grace, You have seen fit to provide us with tools, such as Your Word and prayer to allow us to align our will to Your Will.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we stubbornly attempt to impose our will or reject the imposition of Your Will into our life or plan.  Through the Holy Spirit, teach us to be humbly obedient to the path You have chosen for us, knowing that it will be filled with Your love and blessings. That in living a life aligned to Your Plan for us, it will be a life of praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“Give us this day……….” Matthew 6:11

“Who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time……with persecutions….”  Mark 10:30

From the bible I want to consider an aspect of three lives: Ruth, David and Paul.  While we know the end of the story for each of these people, let’s take a moment to step back into their shoes in a time of their struggles.

First, Ruth.  In the bible; Ruth is described as a humble daughter-in-law whose heart was filled with love and service for her mother-in-law.  Ruth’s own husband was killed, but instead of returning home to her own people, she travels back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi so she won’t be all alone.  Now here’s want I want you to consider.  Ruth may have felt a calling to be a wife and mother; she may have even been praying desperately for that to happen.  Yet she had lost her only husband and being a poor foreigner she could only daily go out to fields and pick up the scraps left over from harvesters who might have missed some grain.  Ruth continued to pray.

Second, David.  At one point early on, David had been anointed to be future king of Israel by the prophet Samuel; this was before Goliath and other triumphs David would eventually have.  Yet for a time David finds himself hiding in a cave; afraid for his very life because Saul the current king of Israel is jealous of David and wants him killed.  One can imagine that in that cave, or during his other days on the run, David is praying for God to come, praying concerning being King of Israel.  Yet here he is, eating stale bread and running like a criminal. Yet he continued to pray.

Finally, Paul.  Paul, called by Jesus Christ himself; when Paul was Saul the persecutor of early believers, to become an apostle of Jesus Christ.  A Christian group, a church if you will, not a huge building but a growing gathering of people had started in Rome.  Paul had been the apostle to the gentiles and desperately desired to go to Rome to preach the gospel and serve and shepherd the new flock.  Yet time after time the Spirit had blocked him; led him to go in a different direction.  Finally being persecuted in Jerusalem by the Jews who want to see Paul dead; Paul is arrested.  Will he never get to see his beloved flock in Rome?  Paul continued to pray.

Here’s the thing and part of it is a blessing and part of it makes it tough.  We know the ends of these stories.  The blessing is that we know that God was with them through their entire journey.  We know how He sustained them in times of distress and lifted them up to times of great blessing.  Ruth married Boaz to become the grandmother of David.  King Saul died in battle and David became the great king.  Paul left prison, made it to Rome and ministered there two years with that beloved church.  Here’s the tough part.  We don’t know the end of our story.  We’re smack dab in the middle of it.

And an example of a person in the middle of their story is an author who felt called to write a book.  He prayed and continues to pray over that book.  He did write it and it was published.  Most who have read it call it powerful.  However, in total those who have read it are few.  That author prays about the book and its success, not for fame and fortune but to be able to continue writing as he feels called.  He prays constantly and earnestly.  But here’s the point; like David, Ruth or Paul in the midst of their journey, he prays and the next day, nothing seems changed.  Nothing new has happened with the book; like Ruth, it is time to go out and glean again, like David still in the cave.  And this author wonders; what am I doing wrong?  Maybe I misinterpreted God’s calling.  Perhaps I should choose a different path.  How do I know?  That author is the same one who is writing this message.

Yet, Dear Sisters and Brothers, in my more lucid and faithful moments if anything comes through loud and clear in the stories of those three it is this; God had them and their situations; “God had this”.  God had every sequence planned, ever step needed, every day laid out about how to bring Ruth, David, Paul and we can have faith as well; you and I to where He has called us to be.  Personally for me, I must say I don’t know what His ultimate Will for my book is; maybe it will become well known after I’ve departed to be with Him.  Here’s the thing; God has this.  And His this; the this He has in store for me today; is all I need.

So we’ve been taught to pray; give us this day………which is what matters.  But it is not easy.  We are imperfect.  We want to feel certain by having specific knowledge about the next day, week, month year.  We can find ourselves confused, worried, filled with fear, wondering what are we doing wrong; why is God leading us this way.  And we sin.  Thinking we know better, we take the steps we want to take, that the world says to take and we turn from God and His plan.  Then comes the most loving miraculous “this” of all.  When we have sinned and are deserving of eternal condemnation; God turns to Jesus Christ seeing the scars of nails in His hands and feet; and Jesus Christ says to His Father:  “I got this!”  Instead of seeing our sin, God sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ who sacrificed Himself for our Salvation and we are forgiven.

Dear Sisters and Brothers know, where ever you are today, whatever your circumstances; God is saying to you; I’ve Got This.  Whether it is a valley of darkness or a bright mountain top; God has this.  And rest assured that God’s this is the only this we will ever need.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are filled with praise that in every moment You are with us.  Forgive us when we doubt and fear because of what this world attempts to tell us is truth.  Pour out Your Spirit that we may stay strong in You to resist the temptation to leave the perfect path You have for us that leads to an ever blessed life of closeness and praise to You.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

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