Tag Archives: Worship

Authentic :: Cain and Abel

When I was about 12, I convinced myself that my parents loved my siblings more than they loved me. My sister, I decided, was most like my mom, so logically that meant she liked my sister better than me. My brother,
being the only boy and, in my mind, a make-up for the mistake of having a second girl instead of a boy, was obviously liked better by my dad. Which left me in the middle, stuck in this mind-space and convinced I was
unwanted, unloved, and a mistake.

Now let me be clear. My parents are WONDERFUL people and they NEVER  did anything to feed this belief; it was simply the enemy attacking my insecurities as quickly as I would let him in. And honestly, I let that belief go on for a lot longer than it should have and as a result, it poisoned my relationship with God. I came to believe that God, like I projected on my parents, played favorites. There was nothing particularly special about me, so clearly, I was not a favorite.

And then I started looking at the world around me. Why did some people receive healing and others die of cancer? Why did the Smiths have four children, all taken away to foster care out of an abusive home, while the Joneses were infertile? These questions plagued me, because, it seemed, some people, good people, experienced the pleasure and blessings of God and some people simply did not. And, to me, there was no logic in the how or why, so that must mean that God played favorites, just like I believed my parents did.


Um, no. No, no, no, no, no, no. No!

Just like the enemy played on my skewed perception of myself, he
LOVES to use this argument to poison our relationship with God. But it simply isn’t true. Cain and Abel, well they prove that.

Genesis 4:1-5 begins the chronicle of the very first set of siblings. We don’t get a lot of Cain and Abel’s background; almost none about their
childhood, but it does appear as though one brother is favored over the other. 

Photo by Marcus Wallis on Unsplash

However, it’s been my experience that within the first few minutes of getting to know a person, you can usually decide how you feel about them. At least on some level. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know, but we make judgments about people based on their actions, words, and reactions all the time. It’s human nature. In the beginning, both brothers appear to be following the same natural direction of offering thanks to the God who gave them life, but a second glance reveals something distinct about the two: their motivations are vastly different.

Abel Gives with a Gracious Heart

Verse 3 is the crux: Abel brought the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock (NIV). In other words, he brought the best of the best to lay before the throne of God. If we read Numbers 18:12 we are reminded that the Lord expects us to show our gratitude by giving back all the best of what we have been blessed with. Granted, the laws haven’t actually been set yet, but that’s not really the point. God sees our hearts and knows if our giving is out of gratitude for His love, grace, and mercy, or if it is out of obligation and a misguided notion that doing the right thing will earn us brownie points which we store up to prove our worth when we inevitably screw things up.

Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash

The fact is, we can’t buy our way into God’s grace–that’s the antithesis of grace and all it stands for. Abel epitomizes Psalm 147:10-11

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. 

Abel gains the Lord’s favor, not for being Abel but for having a heart that seeks to delight in the Lord (Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3: 12). But just because the Lord delights in us, doesn’t mean we will always have an easy life. We know how this story ends, and it’s not with Abel being made King of the world. No, injustice seems to triumph as Cain brutally murders his brother and Abel’s blood calls out to the Lord from the ground (Genesis 4:10). As with much of this world, appearances can be deceiving. As it turns out this unfortunate situation is just the beginning of a greater redemption story. Abel’s sacrifice, of his flock and, as it turned out, his life wasn’t a mistake. God doesn’t make those. As hard as it is for us to understand, sometimes the righteous are persecuted and even murdered, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t ‘go well for them’ (Genesis 4: 7). On this side of heaven, we don’t always see the whole picture, but Abel was ultimately rewarded. And, his life and death pointed us directly to Jesus, whose blood still cries out from the Earth to God who uses it to cleans all of us, unworthy sinners though we may be (Hebrews 12: 24).

Cain Gives out of Obligation

In Genesis 4:3 we see Cain’s sacrifice is less than worthy in the added adjective of some compared to Abel’s best. If we take a look at Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12-13 we see that we are commanded to love the Lord with ALL our heart, mind and strength, not SOME. The whole purpose of a sacrifice or offering is to present the best to the Lord, not your leftovers.  A closer look at the situation shows that God is not playing favorites, but drawing near to those who draw near to him. Not so shockingly, this relationship is meant to be reciprocal! So many times we are quick to discount God in our lives, saying that he’s failed us so there is no reason for us to pursue a relationship with him. But that is total crap, if you’ll excuse the crass language. Relationships aren’t built on what you get out of them, but what you put in. Biblical revelation is predicated on the breakdown of this human/God relationship and God’s constant pull to redeem us–so much so that he sent his son, who even though he gave everything we still reject on a regular basis.  

The whole purpose of a sacrifice or offering is to present the best to the Lord, not your leftovers.

Some Cheese to go with the Whine? 

After his offering is rejected, Cain sulks (Genesis 4:6-7)…like a baby. Despite this attitude, God personally speaks to Cain. He doesn’t ignore his whining as my parents would have done (with good reason—let’s just say I was a world class sulker back in the day. And if I’m truly honest, I’ll admit that I can still throw a world-class pity party on occasion). No, God doesn’t ignore him, he encourages Cain. Even though he already knows what is in Cain’s heart and the path he will choose, God still cares enough about his child to point him down the right path. Which he repeats over and over in scripture: 

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. 

Genesis 4:7

The same command is repeated in Deuteronomy 4:40; 5:16,33; 6:3,18; Jeremiah 7:23; 38:20; 42:6; Ephesians 6:2-3. God makes Cain a promise: do what is right and it will go well for you. I love how simple this command is, and also how true. Now that doesn’t mean that all good people will be wealthy and healthy–that’s the world’s view of ‘go well’. God’s version is much more eccentric, but also more fulfilling. Cain is whining and angry because he’s embarrassed that his little brother ‘won’ the favor of God–which is ultimately the best prize there is. In the end, Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy and vengeance. His heart was hard and cold, but God’s definition of “go well with you” different from the world’s. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but this life is just a blip on the eternity radar and the best things will happen to those who love God with their whole being–even if we don’t experience it until we are in his presence. 

A Redemption Story

The story comes to a close in Genesis 4:13-17 where redemption and grace are always offered by God. Even to Cain, and, it appears he accepted (I hope). Although it’s hard to say given Lamech’s (Cain’s great-great-great-
grandson) declaration in verses 22-24 whether or not Cain changed, he at least taught his sons what it is to sin and be punished for it.

Balancing grace with holiness is tricky business. He commands our obedience as a byproduct of our relationship (John 14:15), but we can’t obey our way out of our sinful natures. One hard truth I’ve come to terms with is that I identify a lot more with Cain than with Abel. I get angry and embarrassed when I fall short of God’s expectations, but instead of heeding the advice of my father to do what is right, I sometimes rebel and do what I think is right–and that is not the same thing. And so I have to find some practical things to master the sin that is constantly crouching at my door. One thing I’ve learned works for me is having someone to hold me accountable. There is nothing quite like having a sister in Christ who knows you well point out that you are believing a lie. Yeah, it hurts, but it also makes me strive to do better. After I get over wanting to kick them in the teeth for pointing it out in the first place (kidding…mostly). 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash2

Worshiping God the Right Way

Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to worship the Lord. No, I don’t mean there are certain kinds of instruments or songs that the Lord appreciates the most. Worshiping well has to do with your motivation. Seriously, check out Jeremiah 7—In this chapter, the people are going to the temple and doing everything right, but their hearts are all wrong! It’s not having the perfect worship set or the best pre-roll and pictures, or even having an order of service that is never flawed. Worship is about having your heart set in the right place every. single. time. Knowing that all you have belongs to Him and He expects you to love him with ALL your heart, soul, and mind.  All the time. 

Worshiping and loving God means obeying his commands. Do what is right, and it will go well with you. We see this from Genesis to Revelation. We don’t obey God because we have to (grace, remember?), we obey because it is a reflection of our deep love for Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-18). We deserve nothing but are given everything–favored by God when we seek His heart with our whole hearts. 

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

 I would wager to guess that many of us go to work each day and spend at least a small (though often it is large) percentage of time complaining about something.

There is no coffee in the pot.

 Someone ate the last donut.

 There is a weird smell.

 My boss…OMG, my boss…

 The children are wild.

 My subordinates are needy.

 I don’t get paid enough.

I could go on for days, because I’ve been there. Stress with a capital STRESS, can cause us to be cranky with a capital CRANK and IE just to add an extra letter in there for emphasis. But what if it’s not our jobs, or the people, or the place or even the money that leads to the feelings and emotions stacking up one on top of the other day after day? What if it’s about perspective?

Buy Linda Dillow’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/Linda-Dillow/e/B001JS2DXO

While reading Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, by Linda Dillow I’ve been challenged in many ways. Dillow challenges readers to wake up to the many ways in which we worship—or should worship—each and every day of our lives. Often the term ‘worship’ is misused. It is not a synonym for music. Worship is any way we pay reverence or homage to God. Dillow expands this definition by exploring how we as individuals can worship with our lives, our words, our attitudes—and, as in the chapter I most recently read, our work.


I spend a lot of time at work. And now I have two jobs.


My first job is at school—I do a lot of complaining at this job. More than I wish I did, but less than most because while I do get frustrated I do honestly love what I do. Do I believe things could be better? Absolutely. Do I believe it is a demanding profession? You betcha. Am I often disheartened and disillusioned by the thanklessness of the teenagers who I spend hours of my time trying to help just to hear them say: ‘this is stupid’? Of course. But complaining really doesn’t do any good. In fact, all it does it stress me and the people around me out. And who wants that. So why do I do it?


I call it “venting”. That makes it sound better, right?


But what if I train myself to look at my work differently? What if instead of getting frustrated that the teenager still doesn’t have his homework—what if I turn my work into praise?


Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Dillow uses this phrase in her book, but it actually comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, a book of precepts written around 529 CE. This is not a new concept. Work is worship (or prayer); Worship is work. For centuries, Monks have used this concept to help keep balance in the monastery (when it wasn’t corrupted I suppose). The point is, everything you do is worship—and work should not be an exception. So if I can shift my perception and see my work as worship then perhaps I can help bring more joy to not only my life, but the people around me as well.


But how do I do this? On Friday one of my kids came racing down the hall as the final bell rang and into my classroom. He jumped over a couple of desks in a hurry to sit down. I was tired. And frankly not in the mood to deal with rambunctious teenagers. I frowned at him and scolded a little about his lack of propriety, but in retrospect all he was doing was what I had asked–showing energy and that he was trying to get to class on time. I could have fed off that energy and made the class, all of whom were a bit riled up by the act, more energetic and engaging as a result. Instead I was cranky. “Ms Carmichael you seem a bit cranky. You ok?” Another student asked. I responded as you might imagine a cranky teacher might respond. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t allow students to climb on the desks like monkeys or anything, but the attitude I have when I respond to it is what makes or breaks my class and quite frankly distinguishes me as a teacher, which leads me back to bowing my work, something I don’t do nearly as often as I need to. Especially the last 2 years. I’ve had these battles and I need to lay them at the cross each morning when I get up. I am a teacher.


But I can’t do it on my own. Nor should I try. As it happens, I was also reading Francis Chan’s book this week  Forgotten God. I don’t think it was a coincidence that much of what Chan writes applied directly to what I learned from Dillow. Chan points out that James 4:3 tells us that we can ask for wisdom, guidance, direction and the Holy Spirit all day long, but if we ask for the wrong reasons, God’s answer is going to be no. Our reasons have to be to bring him glory, not to bring our self glory or as the verse says to “spend it on our passions.” As a teacher I know that I have the opportunity to touch so many lives each and every day, but I have to understand that “our desire to live should be for the sake and glory of the God who put us on this earth in the first place” (Chan). And I think I too often forget that—which is where I fail most often.

Find out more about Francis Chan at www.Crazylove.org


And so I come to my second job, writing—which is where I really have to be careful not to want to spend all my askings on my own passions. Teaching gives me a daily reminder that there are others out there—writing is not as straight forward. Now that I have published Valerie’s Vow, I know I have readers; my publisher gave me the good news about my book this weekend. It’s selling at the top (tied with another book—A Ripple in the Water by Donna Small) of their books on the site and on Amazon. Even so, it’s not a constant reminder. Currently I working on novel that is not a sequel to Valerie’s Vow, but is written in a very similar style—the working title is Clara’s Chance. While I outlined the story and I know where I want it to go, it still has a life of its own. What I keep reminding myself is that my writing is not just for me. I write because I want to use the talent I have been blessed with to bring glory to God, and if I’m not then I have to stop. Vanity and pride are close beside me as I become a creator of something new. It’s beautiful, but ultimately I have to squash them. Because it can’t be about me.


Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Buy my book here: http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vow-Ashley-M-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B00MV36X32/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410133771&sr=8-1&keywords=valerie%27s+vow or at www.secondwindpublishing.com