Boot Camp: “What Went Wrong?” (Part Four) – Genesis 2:4-4:26

John Simon Ritchie was born on a spring day in 1957 in Lewisham, England to a middle-aged couple, John and Anne Ritchie. John’s mom was a high-school dropout who left school to join the RAF. His dad was a guardsman at Buckingham Palace and a trombone player on the London Jazz scene. Shortly after Ritchie’s birth, the couple split up and in his early years, little John lived in a small rented flat in east London. As a teen, he became an avid David Bowie fan and a “clothes hound.” He learned to play bass guitar and eventually became the most famous member of the influential punk rock band the “Sex Pistols” where John took the stage name “Sid Vicious.”

During the meteoric rise of the band, Vicious befriended and later lived with manager Nancy Spungen, as the pair entered a destructive codependent relationship based on heavy drug use. Sometime later, Nancy Spungen’s murder was well publicized, as she was found in a pool of blood, stabbed while the couple was staying in New York City’s Hotel Chelsea. Under suspicion of the crime, Vicious was released on bail to continue performing but was later re-arrested after assaulting a man at a nightclub. A judge ordered a psychological evaluation and John forcibly underwent drug rehabilitation on Rikers Island in New York. In celebration of Vicious’ temporary release from prison, his mother hosted a homecoming drug party for him (she had been supplying him with drugs and paraphernalia since he was young). Late that night she assisted him in procuring heroin, and he died in his sleep after overdosing on it.

By all accounts, in less than twenty-two years of life, John Ritchie had seen life. He knew what it was to be rich and what it was to be poor. He knew fame and he knew loneliness and rejection. He lived a short, tumultuous life. I wanted to read you some of his lyrics, to help us hear how his bleeding heart was so very obvious, but couldn’t find any that had words I could be comfortable reading silently, let alone reading out loud in mixed company. I thought it telling that his most purchased song was a takeoff of the Sinatra song: “I did it MY way!” The lyrics are vulgar, woven together with some of the more familiar Sinatra ones.

Why do I mention Sid as we open Genesis 3. The answer is simple, but painful. Sid lived life on his terms. So did Frank Sinatra… so did Adam and Eve – and that is the problem. Many in our day frame life as though “living on my terms” becomes a statement of freedom. The record of the original sin confirms a contrary view.

Life lived by rules formed in rebellion will not lead me where I think it will.

Let me go backward for a moment to set that statement in context… Over the last few weeks, we have been walking carefully through the record of the beginning of the human story, looking at the Biblical Creation account and then searching the text for an explanation of the origin of evil in the world. We have called that pursuit “What Went Wrong?”

• We looked at Genesis 1 and recognized the story told us two things: God created everything and gave it the purpose for its existence, and God LIKED things the way He designed them.

• We followed that in Genesis 2 and found that God designed man, then woman. He assigned them both certain tasks, and then made them MORAL AGENTS with the opportunity to obey Him and commune with Him, or not. We recognized from Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22 of the “Greatest Commandment” that God’s highest moral ethic was love, and true love requires choice. God’s original design allowed the possibility of evil, though God did not create evil.

As we continue our look at “What went wrong?” we should keep reading Genesis 3 to the end. As we do we will note the following truth:

Key Principle: Every facet of life was disastrously infected by the introduction of sin into a world not designed to operate well after the assault.

Understanding what Evil Is

Before we look at the impact of the introduction of evil and sin into the story of humanity (which is the heart of the rest of Genesis 3), we need to stop and emphasize something so that we don’t go astray from the truth. We must address a definition so that we can discern what evil truly IS and what it is NOT.

To that end, let me offer a simple illustration I used at the Youth Conference this past week speaking to the crowd of teens in attendance:

If I place a chair in the middle of the platform, can you seriously make the argument the area beside that chair is the place I created a “not chair” space? That is how many people approach evil. In other words, some people argue about EVIL as if it is something God could have created – but evil IS NOT a thing. It is the absence of something.

Ask any police officer derided for the ticket they just wrote, and he or she will tell you: “You don’t create disobedience by creating a standard.

Let’s say it this way: Evil is mutiny against His designed order and ultimately against God Himself. When any of us disobey God, we engage in evil. Evil is not the presence of something; it is the absence of righteousness, the negative, and the disobedient diversion from the standard. It is the willful absence of submission to God’s perfection. It is the abandonment of holiness (the distinctive quality of God).

We must be clear on this: Evil is NOT a thing created, a substance invented, an entity discovered, or a dark force God surprisingly encountered along the way. Evil is the lack of moral perfection. Therefore, God did not create evil, author evil, or make evil – that is simply the wrong way to think of the concept.

That doesn’t solve everything because there is something God DID that bothers people.

The Lord God of Heaven decreed evil would be included as part of His eternal story. He used the heinous departure from His good desire for His own purposes in the telling of His story. Don’t forget! The point of the story has always been to REVEAL WHO HE IS to the cosmos (in contradistinction to His enemy’s claims about Him). God’s story was constructed for an audience that includes both mankind and the angelic world that preceded man in creation.

Let’s not float in the stars – let‘s get down to the account of how evil entered the human story, and what it affected.

We read in our last lesson the story of 3:1-7 and learned:

• The story began with the serpent and his arrival to the Garden (3:1).

• Satan’s mimicry of a known animal of the field was a trick explained in later portions of the Bible, where his sneaky ploy was unmasked (3:1).

• In costume, Satan used Eve’s misperception of what it means to “die” and used that to twist her thinking (3:2-4).

• Eve was drawn by the appeal of the fruit and rejected God’s analysis that the fruit was poison. She called it “good for food” in her mind, when God said it would, in fact, kill her (3:5)

• After Eve touched the fruit she kept breathing, so she decided to eat it as well (3:6).

• By the end of the account, Adam and Eve had defied God, and suddenly things in the Garden looked “changed” to them (3:7).

It is at that point we resume the story with the devastating results of their mutiny against God.

The backdrop was a beautiful canvas. Remember the words that ended the creation account in Genesis 2:25?

Genesis 3:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

When they were created, man and woman were feeling good. Man was OK with himself. Woman was OK with herself. No billboard advertisements at the edge of the garden made them feel inadequate. They had no marred self-image – no need for better makeup or another exercise machine they would eventually save for a garage sale. The issue wasn’t whether they were beautiful enough or felt important enough – they were happy with who God made them.

Enter the tempter (3:1). Think about the series of events that led to a long row of dominoes falling in an escapade of destruction:

• The man was to guard the garden and failed – exposing his wife to the guile of the tempter and neglecting the protection of the boundaries of God (Genesis 3:1b).

• The woman actively entertained the vital question of God’s authority over her and focused on the one thing God told them to leave alone – deciding the promised poison looked perfectly palatable (Genesis 3:2-3). She failed to trust God’s Word.

• The serpent openly accused God of holding back on what was best for them and they failed to recognize that God was exactly Who He claimed to be (Genesis 3:4-6).

What came from the fall affected every area of life:

They faced the initial LOSS of INNOCENCE – when the text reminds, “their eyes were opened” in Genesis 3:7a.

In 1998, Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen starred in the Hollywood version of a play named “Pleasantville.” In the story, David Wagner (played by Maguire) was a TV loving kid whose mind was stuck in the 1950s. He was addicted to a classic 50’s sitcom show named “Pleasantville,” a story about people living in a simple place where all of its citizens were swell and simple-minded. They knew nothing of violence and life seemed idyllic. Watching the show one evening, David and his obnoxious sister Jennifer (played by Reese Witherspoon) are tossed into the TV world of that town when an eccentric repairman gave them a mysterious magical remote. Dropped into 1950’s Pleasantville, David and Jennifer bring the village out of their 1950s lifestyle of repressed desires and move them into more modern societal values (read: they bring in sexual immorality as a device to set people free) while trying to find their way home. In the beginning of their time in Pleasantville, the whole screen is in “black and white” as a 1950’s show would be. As each person in the movie launches from repression to freer sexuality, he/she becomes color. The town begins to become rich in color. That is the view of the producers of the film. Life that is beautiful is life that has left even the simplest of ethical morays – like sexual expression in the context of marriage bonds.

Isn’t that exactly what Satan promises? “Throw off the rules and you will be free!” Live with your eyes wide open. Don’t be naïve, as if the worst thing that can happen to you is to miss the dirty connotation to the joke just told. From that generation of “freedom thinkers” we saw the value of childhood diminished. Little girls needed to grow up faster.

Let me challenge this way of thinking for a moment. “Worldly wise” when it really means “Sexualized and forced from innocence” is no wisdom at all.

Keep reading what else casting off God’s Word and leadership did:

They faced the DEATH of a positive SELF IMAGE, seen in the phrase “they knew they were naked” in Genesis 3:7b. Suddenly, they found themselves deficient. This was the birth of fashion houses, cosmetic companies, and Gold’s gym. Eve looked at her body and began to evaluate that she wasn’t looking as fine as she did yesterday. She was going to need some accessorizing. Adam noted some mid-section pudginess and started thumbing through magazines for an “ab buster” to keep that “six pack.” Wait a minute! Wasn’t eating the fruit supposed to make them BE LIKE GOD and know everything? What they learned is that without God, life doesn’t look the same!

Not only that, but they faced the first embarrassing blush of SHAME when the text reminds they “covered themselves” in Genesis 3:7b. It wasn’t bad enough they didn’t like what they saw on themselves, but they suddenly felt it wasn’t good enough for anyone else to see either. Shame convinces us we are worthless – because worth was instilled by God and living in disobedience makes us feel like a fraud. Shame makes us feel unlovable to others. It isolates us.

Remember this: One of Satan’s most important ploys is to entice you to isolate yourself.

If he can convince you that you should be ashamed, you will volunteer to live in a prison with an unlocked cell door!

It was only that, they faced a DEBILITATING CHANGE in their relationship with the Creator, feeling, for the first time, the need to “hide themselves” from God in Genesis 3:8-10. Not only did Satan beckon them to isolation, but guilt drove them to run from the only ONE Who was deeply invested in making them truly successful. They could have run up to God weeping and told Him they were wrong…but that isn’t like us. We’d prefer to hide what is wrong and hope He doesn’t know as much as His Word teaches He truly does.

They faced the anguish of all that DESERVED GUILT and exchanged healthy and holy reverence of God for open FEAR to be seen of God in Genesis 3:10. Reverence leads us to worship. Fear leads us to HIDE. One ends in acknowledging how GOOD God is in spite of us, the other leads us to believe we are rejected before we even ask for forgiveness.

The bottom line is that man’s pain came from his deliberate mutiny against His Creator’s right to rule his life – and so does YOURS.

When we decide we know better than God does about our children, our finances, our emotional needs and our sense of fulfillment – we relinquish the benefits of trusting Him to meet our every need. Seeking to gain, we lose out on blessing. Blessing comes from submission, correction and re-connection. The wages of mutiny are a grand dose of shame, discontent, guilt and a host of unforeseen problems and unintended consequences.

Go to Genesis 3:12 and listen to the sound of blame shifting and guilt:

First, hear the sound of BLAME:

Genesis 3:12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

• Man tried to blame the woman for his lack of guardianship and leadership (3:12) – the leader blames the followers!

• The woman blamed the tempter (3:13) – like the shopper blaming the advertiser for MAKING HER BUY the product!

Don’t miss the common thread in the two! Blame is formed by ignoring personal responsibility while victimizing yourself. It is an exercise of making someone else responsible for your response to a situation.

Inside the BLAME can be found the dulcet tones of human RATIONALIZATION: We are prepared to trade long held grand ethics for short term practical benefits.

Dottie and I bought another older vehicle for her use this week. The seller thought they were being kind by leaving off the purchase price of the vehicle so we could claim less if we didn’t want to pay the full sales tax. After all, they said, the tax was paid on the vehicle when it was bought new. Why should the government get another tax revenue on the used price sale? Can you hear how easy it is to rationalize? Can you read the hash tag “#not my tax” as if people who don’t agree with something have a right to lie to cover their disagreement? Remember this: rationalizing is making a plausible excuse that is entirely acceptable to you, but is not actually correct. We do it when our morals call us to sacrifice our account balances. If you want to work to change tax policy, that is a great place to get involved in government. The wrong way to do it is lie about a price to receive the benefit of it. Why? The answer is simple.

God didn’t amend “thou shalt not lie” with words like, “unless thou thinkest thy government already has enough and shouldn’t get more of yours.”

Keep reading in the text:

Genesis 3:14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life;

It is clear that God immediately imposed judgment against the creature. Don’t miss that this is the first time in the Bible that we read about God “cursing” something. What does that mean? In short, God’s curse is the opposite of God’s blessing. It is the turning of the winds of support into the face of the one advancing. Where God guides, He provides. Where God forbids, He allows the elements to harm us in exposure.

Picture God’s blessing as a warm parka in an Alaskan snowstorm. Picture His curse as taking away the waterproof quality of that parka, and allowing the elements to seep, creep and freeze. It isn’t designed to be comfortable. It is designed to be punitive, instructive and corrective – as well as a deterrent to onlookers.

Even greater than what man could understand, the mutiny opened the front in a spiritual WAR.

Look at Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Because of sin, God promised to engage man in a battle between the deceiver and his own future through the provision of the Messianic seed (3:15). Look closely at the verse. God would bring enmity (read: a “knockdown, drag out fight”) between Satan and man. In the process, the seed of the enemy (those convinced to follow him) would battle the seed of the woman that was coming.

Look at the promise, because something is obviously incorrect on the face of the statement.

Women don’t provide “seed” to make a child. That necessary ingredient is placed within them. Only ONE WOMAN would have “seed” placed within without the assistance of the man (perhaps in response to his passivity in the Garden). That woman was the physical mother of the Savior, who bore a child without carnally “knowing” a man.

The bottom line of the passage was this: Satan’s seduction, Eve’s mutiny, Adam’s passivity and stupidity – none of it surprised God. Not one thing. He already had a plan in place to redeem from the moment sin occurred.

The passage is one of judgment, but even in the midst of God’s strong hand there was GOOD NEWS of undeserved grace and unstoppable salvation. Theologians call this passage the first proto-evangelion – the first “Gospel” if you will.

The great news exposed in this promise was this: sin will not rule forever. In fact, even in His judgment of death, God made clear that physical death was not immediate, and the woman would have offspring. That offspring would one day crush the serpent’s head. That good news found fulfillment at Calvary in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The fact is that you were born into a spiritual war. There is a real enemy. There is a real fight – but you were given the armor of Ephesians 6 to stand the ground upon which God has placed you!

God turned His eyes to the woman, and in a famous passage He promised her PHYSICAL PAIN would replace the joy of the reproductive system. A collective groan may now rise from the females of the assembly! The pain of childbirth is not ALL there is to this! He said:

Genesis 3:16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth; in pain you will bring forth children…”

Whereas the woman was designed to find great joy in bearing a child, there would be physical pain in the reproductive cycle, in pregnancy, and in delivery. What should bring JOY now brought pain. What should have been SAFE, now often became unsafe. For centuries, many women left this life while bearing a child. I suspect Adam (if he saw her delivering children) probably never forgot the risks were directly associated with their rebellion.

In addition to PHYSICAL PAIN, there was another change in the woman. She, who was designed to be an assistant to do good, became A HELPER in REBELLION! Woman was made to AID man in his walk with God – and now she would COMPETE with him and help him by supplying her own rebellious spirit to his fully saturated rebellious heart (3:16b).

Look at the phrase:

Genesis 3:16b “…Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

The text suggests that she will want HIS JOB – and struggle with submission. I believe this record of the early penalty was given to remind us more and more of what will happen as the end draws near. What began as man’s passivity and woman’s mutiny will evolve into all kinds of confusion in relationship. What was designed to be TEAMWORK was about to become COMPETITION. She would find her relationship to her husband now to be a struggle for dominance. If physical pain weren’t the needed reminder, emotional struggle would be!
Look at the whole of the STRUGGLE: Because of the lack of guardianship and leadership, God ended His dealings with their rebellion in words to Adam – the work I gave you will now be a struggle. The ground won’t cooperate (3:17b-19).

Genesis 3:17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground because from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Instead of Paradise, you will move to Thornburg. Nothing will be easy. Simple work will become sweaty toil. And the ultimate judgment for sin is death – and the bringing of the body BACK TO DUST.

Life went on.

If you keep reading, you will see that God wasn’t done with Adam and Eve’s role in the story.

Genesis 3:20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all [the] living. 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

In Genesis 3:15, God showed He had a plan to provide for man long before man ever realized his problems. God set forth a coming VICTOR in the struggle against the enemy (3:15). In the interim, God supplied a temporary covering when man felt naked (3:21). Sadly, both the coming Victor and the short-term covering required the death of an innocent for their sin.

Before the end of the chapter, man was cast from the Garden into the fallen world (Genesis 3:22-24).

The text simply states:

Genesis 3: 22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

In Genesis 3:22, we became “like God” in that we now bore full culpability for our sin, because our defiance cast off the protection of innocence. Most of us experienced this as we grew into adulthood, so that we are now fully responsible for things were weren’t before.

• If you put your shirt on backward at age three – you tried and we give you credit for that. If you put your shirt on backward at twenty-three you are probably trying to say something, make a social commentary or protest. We think you are weird, but we accept that you are young. If you put your shirt on backward at 73, we think about calling your doctor!

• A perfectly understandable lapse of table manners at age two becomes a public point of shame if you don’t catch on by fifty-two.

• We understand when you run down the beach without your pants at age three, but if you do it at forty-three, we are going to collect our children, run to the car and call the police!

In Genesis 3:22b God said: “…and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—

From the beginning, death wasn’t the only option. There was another way for man to remain physically alive by God’s provision – if man ate from the tree of life. If he ate, his cells would regenerate, and his physical death would be pushed back. If he kept eating, the time of his physical death would keep moving back. God could have easily shut the system down, but that wasn’t His choice. He wanted to set up systems and operate within them. For the most part, He still does. There is the occasional breach of the norm – a miracle here or a healing there – but that isn’t the norm of our lives, even those of us who know Him.

If you keep reading, Genesis 3:23 reveals that, “God sent him out from the garden of Eden”.

Look at the link between man and the ground. He CAME from it, and now he would FIGHT with it to sustain himself. Held away from the cell regenerating plant of the Tree of Life, man needed to work the landscape and plant food. Eventually, he and his wife would go back to the ground – ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The chapter ends…

Genesis 3:24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

The end of the story can be felt in the words “drove the man out.” He was pushed to the OUTSIDE of the place of peace and blessing. He faced a hostile landscape with a sense of blame and failure, a newly changed competitive relationship with his wife.

Apart from God, our lives are DRIVEN OUT. We don’t have God ever-guiding, ever-providing. We live without the security of His divine approval.

Every facet of life was disastrously infected by the introduction of sin into a world not designed to operate well after the assault.

Boot Camp: “What Went Wrong?” (Part Three) – Genesis 2:4-4:26

It was a beautiful wedding! Your little sister brought a young man home from college – and he was a football and track star. The two looked very much in love, so it was no surprise when he asked her to be his wife. You were excited because she seemed truly happy – maybe the happiest you had ever seen her!

That was a decade ago…. Over the ten years, none of you recognized that he had been cheating on her in a series of sneaky relationships. One day she picked up his cell phone, read some texts, and it felt as if her world was reduced to a pile of rubble. Confronted, he stormed out of the house muttering something inane about her invading his privacy, but did not even acknowledge her pain over the substance of the texts.

A few months later, this man showed up at your house and sat down on your patio lamenting what he had done. He sobbed and seemed broken over that reality that he lost his wife. Stop. Listen closely to his words…If you aren’t distracted by his tears, you will hear his words. He is broken because he now has to cook his own meals. His heart is heavy over the reality that his life is now made up of laundry, alimony payments, child support, and embarrassment in front of many people in his life. How do you feel? Honestly, you are deeply offended by his tears. You are indignant that your dear sister has been crushed, your family has been burdened and you don’t hear him CARING about the effect his choices had on innocent people. His remorse isn’t about the relationship with his wife. He hurts over the consequences of his sin because they brought HIM discomfort and guilt.

One pastor I know said, “Many people come into my office weeping because of the consequences of sin, but few weep because of the sin itself. They have far more concern about the discomfort they feel in life than they do over the deep offense against the living God they have made in attitudes and choices that show unbelief.

If we are honest, most of us would admit we are often wounded by the consequences of our sinful choices, but are rarely broken over the sin itself.

Much repentance in our life has been more motivated by pain of consequence rather than an overwhelming sense of how greatly we have offended God’s holiness. We act like we sinned against inanimate “principles” when we sinned against a very personal Creator. Let’s talk about how we got to this state…

This is our fourth “dip” into the Scripture in this study of Genesis. For three of them (after the Prologue in 1:1-2:3), we have been searching intently for “What went wrong?” In a world created by a perfect God, we live with pain and problems. We haven’t rushed in our study, because this isn’t that kind of subject you run past. Deep troubles and pains take careful excavation to uncover the foundation.

So far, we discovered two reasons we face trouble:

• First, we noted that because of God’s highest ethic – that of love – man was created with the ability to choose to follow God or NOT. That choice was essential because love cannot be forced (or it is not truly love). As a result, the very design of man left the back door open to the temptation to fall away from God. That wasn’t a flaw in the design; it served the Author to tell His story.

• Second, we carefully uncovered the fact that the enemy exploited the designated purposes for both men and women in the creation narrative in the garden.

Truthfully, these insights lead us toward the moment of sin’s introduction. The present darkness of our world came from an historical past we will uncover today in Genesis 3. As we study the words of the text, look for this truth:

Key Principle: Every facet of life was disastrously infected by the insertion of sin into a world not designed to operate well after that incursion.

It is important to note that while man willfully chose to do wrong, he had no real idea of the extent of the cataclysm that would result from his actions. He was warned, but the warning had no context he could fully grasp. That doesn’t excuse the choice – but it explains one aspect of why the results seemed surprising to him.

Ultimately, he chose to mutiny for two core reasons:

• First, man didn’t truly believe that God’s Word was accurate.

• Second, man didn’t believe God’s will was paramount to his life.

The truth is: most people in our world still think like Adam and Eve. They trade what they truly want for what they want RIGHT NOW. They believe pleasing God is a good thing, unless it gets in the way of pleasing SELF.

Genesis 3 unwinds the perfection of the Garden of Eden in three parts:

• First, Genesis 3:1-7 tells of the conversation between Eve and the serpent.

• Second, Genesis 3:8-21 explains the curse because of sin.

• Third, Genesis 3:22-24 revealed man’s casting from the Garden into the fallen world.

The Conversation with the Serpent (3:1-7)

In this lesson, I want to focus ONLY on the first part of the chapter in Genesis 3:1-7. The conversation between Eve and the serpent is the single passage that describes the temptation process at its core.

Go back to the place where mutiny came into the human story, and death began its long reign in our world… Go back to Genesis 3. It opens with the story of a shadowy figure walking low in the garden:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”

These words begin the twenty-four verses in Genesis 3 that are among the hardest to read in the entire Bible. They aren’t difficult in verbiage, but in even a glancing observation of the passage, this is the story of an explosion and destruction of something beautiful. Genesis 2 ended with two unashamed people tending God’s wondrous garden, taking walks with God in the cool of the day, and living with one another in harmony, without shame or struggle. As Genesis 3 opens, a serpent walks calmly into the garden and will leave nothing behind but total scorched earth when he is done his work. Look at Genesis 3:1 and note his description:

First, he came in the form of the most “crafty” animal in the land.

The text suggests the animal that approached was one known to man as “from the field,” but doesn’t specify if the speech of the animal should denote a “possession” of the animal by God’s enemy, or if some animals in the garden originally had a range of communication larger than they had after the Fall. The FACT the animal spoke didn’t seem to bother Adam or Eve. Perhaps they were still quite unfamiliar with many of the animals beyond a brief encounter where Adam “named” them. On the other hand, animals may have had greater communication skills at Creation than after “the Fall.” I don’t have a “Dr. Doolittle” complex about talking animals, but we just don’t know for sure.

Be open to another thought, if you can. Before sin, the line between the spiritual world and the physical world hadn’t yet been drastically cut. Let me say it this way: It may seem amazing to watch animals at a zoo, but imagine angelic beings wandering around in the beginning at Eden. They may well have been seen as part of the wondrous things God made. The break between material and spiritual may have come at the Fall, not before.

What I can see in the text is this: Adam and Eve perceived the talking serpent as acceptable.

At his introduction in Genesis 3, the serpent leaves us questioning: “Who or what was this ‘crafty animal?’”

Think of it this way: If you were in the Garden, everything you could see was good. The place was filled with wonder and color and all manner of creation to behold – and you were NEW to the place. Some of the creations could fly over your head into the sky. Others walked slowly, lumbering along the earth. Some had high necks and could eat from trees while others walked low to the ground. You saw them all and were excited by each variation.

Along the ground walked a serpent. The term for serpent (Heb: “nachash”) is the name used later for a reptile. Though artists often picture a snake wound around a tree, we don’t really know if that’s what they saw. The word for the serpents was “low to the ground” until the penalty God placed in Genesis 3:14 to slither on the ground. It appears the animal may have begun with short legs originally. Interestingly, the word nachash wasn’t a reference to appearance, but relates to the verb “to hiss,” and is associated with sounds that a reptile makes. That isn’t the only Hebrew term for a snake. The other word referring to reptiles, tannin seems to be used interchangeably (as in Moses and Aaron in Pharaoh’s court in Exodus 7:9-15).

Note carefully this serpent was compared to other animals in the field. It “was more crafty than any beast of the field,” which suggests this animal belonged in the animal kingdom. This doesn’t seem to be a “one off” singular kind of creation, a unique animal.

Take a look at that word “crafty” for a moment. It offers us a hint.

The term “crafty” (Hebrew “aw-room”) which is a common term for “shrewd” or even “discerning” and:

• It is used in Job for those who plot and deceive (Job 5:2, 15:5).

• It is used in Proverbs to denote someone who is difficult to “read” by face, particularly when insulted (their look doesn’t show how they feel – Proverbs 12:16, 23).

Something seems strange about that description on its face. The idea of the term is one who cannot be read easily, but keeps his intentions to himself. Remember: it is characteristic for a reptile to be able to look at peace even when it is about to strike. I suspect that is the true reason the enemy took its form.

How do I know the enemy took the form of this animal? It is very likely this wasn’t simply an inhabitant of the garden, but a mock materialization of the enemy of God in a form that mimicked a known animal. Later Scripture revealed the fallen Lucifer, Satan, as a serpent of deception. Revelation 12 called him the serpent that deceived the world. Revelation 20:2 reminds us Satan is the “serpent of old.” 2 Corinthians 11:3 made clear that Satan was, in fact, “the serpent who deceived Eve by his craftiness.” 2 Timothy 2:13 made clear the deception was physical, literal and historical.

With that in mind, think about the cunning craftiness of the enemy. He doesn’t show you where you are going to end up if you follow him. He attracts you and beckons to your desire, but has no interest in you at all. He wants what he wants from you…rebellion and mutiny and self-serving behavior.

Second, (in keeping with his description) his opening line was crafted to deceive.

Read the words again:

Genesis 3:1b … And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?

It is clear reading the account the serpent had no real question about what God did or didn’t say. This was a misleading question designed to deceive, not gain insight. Consider for a moment what that shows about the difference between God’s interactions with man, and Satan’s interaction:

• God started the story by SHARING with man all that He made. Adam had God’s instruction concerning what would happen if the path of disobedience was followed. God hid nothing and disclosed the end at the beginning. It is not God’s nature to HIDE or OBSCURE His intentions.

• Conversely, note how the enemy of God BLOCKED man from seeing where he wanted things to go in their time together. He essentially “masked” the nature of his desires in the opening line of his appearance before men.

Deception thrives in an environment where no one can easily connect the negative outcomes of succumbing to current temptations.

If you keep reading, you will notice the woman engaged the serpent as if more information was what was needed:

By Genesis 3:2, we have the first words of the woman found in Scripture. Not surprisingly, they were words of helpful explanation:

Genesis 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”

By design, Eve was a helpful person. She was brought into the scene to add what was missing from her husband.

• Adam was made to oversee organization and administration of the garden, to do the practical work of maintaining both the garden and his walk with God, and also to maintain an intimate relationship with Eve.

• For her part, Eve was to deliberately assist him in his labors of life, to love and connect with him and to (eventually) care for the blessings of the womb. HELPING was what she was designed to do. Being helpful was her natural state.

We made the point that although Eve had no way of knowing, additional information couldn’t help in this situation. The serpent wasn’t confused, he was deliberately deceptive. When one desires to manipulate and obfuscate, more information only offers more to twist. It took a moment, but the serpent couldn’t WAIT to stand in direct opposition to God’s word and oppose Him.

Eve left the door open in what she said: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” Some commentators attempt to suggest her reference was inaccurate, but that is not at all certain. Perhaps Adam offered more information to Eve that was not incorporated into the text. Perhaps God told them more in the cool of the Garden afternoon walks. What is clear is this: if Eve thought “death” would be immediate and if she thought it would look like her toppling to the ground clutching her heart, she was wrong.

God used the terminology of “death” to refer to the umbilical cord of free flowing connection between Him and man.

In the Bible, the physical death of the body is a mere symptom of “real” death – the forced separation between God and man because of man’s mutiny against God’s authority. When man walked unquestionably with God, there was no mutiny. As a result, there was unending intimacy and obvious transparency. When man chose sin, a break with God was immediate. That was the primary meaning of death. Yet, that caused a problem. If her perception was immediate physical death, it seemed untrue when she first touched the fruit of the tree. It wasn’t her eating of the fruit that was her first sin – it was the decision to reach for it. Sin is of the heart, not of the hands.

Satan focused Eve on the notion that touching the fruit wouldn’t kill her, as if God wasn’t telling the truth. Watch what he said:

Genesis 3:4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!”

The serpent was subtle until he had Eve’s attention. This serpent clearly hated God. He was angry and on a mission to foment mutiny and pull mankind down into iniquity.

Don’t let the familiar passage cause you to lose focus. In this simple story we can observe one of the enemy’s oldest and dearest tricks. Satan takes our PERCEPTION of something (especially if it is incomplete) and uses it to show how God’s Word about something is at least insufficient of at worst just plain wrong!”

Think of it this way: Eve touched the fruit on the tree (after what Satan said) and perhaps she thought to herself: “See! I am still breathing! It didn’t KILL me. I wonder why eating it will be any different!” One bite and the enemy effectively used deception and her misconception to help her rationalize open rebellion.

Let me offer a simple example:

Maybe you grew up in a Christian home and had family devotions where someone read:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Following that reading, your dear loving grandma taught you “as if” from the Word, “You know, God will never give you more than you can handle!” That misstatement became a “Bible truth” that you placed into your heart. It became a part of your faith. You believed that like you believe that Jesus died for you. After all, God is good and He wouldn’t throw you into troubles beyond your ability, would He? If He were a teacher, He would gauge what you could handle before any assignment, or He wouldn’t be a very good teacher, would He?

Then the car accident happened. Your little child was killed. You sat in a dark corner and angrily told God He lied. “This IS more than I can handle!” It just IS. You told lies, God, if you are even real!” You didn’t notice the Word didn’t promise what Grandma promised in Jesus’ name. You didn’t recognize the passage had to do with “escape hatches” when it came to temptation. Your misconception opened the door for Satan to drive you to open rebellion.

By the way, just so I don’t leave the door open let me be clear: God WILL “sign off” on MANY THINGS that are beyond your ability to handle without Him. Your need of God continually opens the door to His gracious supply. People who won’t be pushed won’t grow. People who cannot be broken will not be reconstructed by God’s good hand, period!

Look at the follow up ploy of the enemy:

Genesis 3:5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The opening of the verse is marinated in rebellion. When He said, “For” he was contradicting God’s claim and saying “The REAL REASON is…” Strip that down and all it means, all it CAN mean is this: “You cannot trust God! You cannot trust His Word. You cannot count on His goodness and you should suspect His intentions toward you. All the enemy said was absolutely true – but not about GOD. She should have applied all the suspicion to the serpent, and NONE toward her ever-good Creator.

Look at the promise Satan made: “You will be like God!” If you look back at the description of the fall of Satan, you will identify that was the chief desire HE HAD that led to his own rebellion.

In the poetry of Isaiah 14:13, the prophet recorded of Lucifer’s fall:

Isaiah 14:13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”

Some time before Lucifer made that choice of rebellion to unseat His Creator. He thought he could be like God. He thought God got where He is by some knowledge He acquired – a knowledge that could be duplicated or attained by Satan.

That isn’t what it takes to be GOD. Satan may be cunning, but he’s not omniscient, he’s not omnipotent, and he’s not omnipresent. He’s not immutable and he’s not sovereign. In fact, he’s not like God at all. He is as UNGOD as he possibly could be.

Yet, he knew that promise held an appeal.

Watch closely as Eve gazed at the forbidden. She knew what God said. She rehearsed it. The problem is, the thing she wanted NOW became more important than the thing she wanted MOST. Genesis recorded:

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Look at the careful description of the first human temptation…

Eve “saw” (Hebrew: raw-aw’) it was “good for food” literally says she entertained the notion that the food was edible. But wait, God said it would KILL HER. Nothing is LESS GOOD for food than poison – and that is what God said this was to her. Remember, in temptation, we believe that we know what will be GOOD for us more than the God Who made us.

She observed it was a “delight to the eyes.” The term “delight” (tah-av-aw’) is sometimes translated desire, greed or lust. It is a word for “appetite” and “longing.” It is used in both a positive and negative sense, but always of a strong inner compulsion. Remember, often our desires don’t reveal what is best for us. Because we want it badly, doesn’t mean it will, in the end, be a good thing for us.

Look at the final phrase before she succumbed, where it recorded: “the tree was desirable to make one wise.” Eve reckoned acquisition of the fruit would improve her life beyond the counsel of God. Remember, the beginning of sin occurs when we believe God is not looking out for our best interest, so we have to attend to it ourselves. We sin because we have lost confidence in God’s intentions, and therefore in His Word.

Consider the wise words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his little book “Temptation” where he shared:

In our members there is a slumbering inclination toward desire, which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power, desire seizes mastery of the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is a sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, our love of fame and power, or greed for money…At this moment God is quite unreal to us. [Remember those words.] He loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real. The only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God… The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and will of a man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. …It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God…. Therefore the Bible teaches us in times of temptation in the flesh, there is one command: Flee! Flee fornication. Flee idolatry. Flee youthful lusts. Flee the lusts of the world. There is no resistance to Satan in lust other than flight. Every struggle against lust in one’s own strength is doomed to failure.”

Temptation, then, is focusing on self-interest. It is losing trust in God to fulfill your needs. It is fixating on the promise that something else can satisfy in a way your Creator simply cannot.

Succumbing to temptation killed Paradise. It killed Eve. It killed Adam. Thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story God told us.

Because of Jesus Christ, Paradise will be restored. That truth is our chief comfort in our currently sin-cursed world.

Before I leave the passage, let me close by answering a question that many have posed over the years I have been in ministry. In one form or another, people ask: “Is the Adam and Eve story to be understood literally?” A few years ago at a Youth Conference, I was confronted with this question by a professor in a public university.

In response, let us assume the view of the antagonist for a moment. Let’s assume the record of Adam and Eve are simple stories, not meant to be understood literally.

What would be the harm in such a view? Would our faith be adversely affected by removing this literal sense to the story?

Let me suggest our faith would be dramatically altered by citing the history as a mere fable or moral story. Let me even suggest that virtually every major doctrine of the Christian faith hangs on this story and its veracity!

For instance, if Adam was not a real man, a specific choice to mutiny against God did not enter the world through one man as Paul related to the Roman church in Romans 5:12 states. He wrote:

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

When and how did sin enter world, then? We have no answer. Since the Word’s account, repeated many places in the text, is found to be a myth – our faith offers no answer to the problem of sin, suffering, injustice and wrong.

Consider something more. If Romans 5:12 repeats a moral myth as though it were an event, how do what other parts of Scripture are simply stories that should be taken lightly?

Never take the eternal words of a Sovereign God with a “grain of salt.”

That was the essence of the first temptation: You don’t have to believe the Word of God.

Honestly, if we didn’t have rebel parents in Adam and Eve, how do we know that Satan himself isn’t supposed to be an “avatar of evil” like a “dark force” and not a person?

Chopping parts of the Bible off to make the story palatable to modernity plays directly into the hands of the enemy to remain unseen, doesn’t it?

If Adam wasn’t real, maybe Satan wasn’t real. Maybe sin is a general concept. Maybe Cain didn’t slay Abel. Maybe Jesus’ reference to “the beginning” and “the blood of Abel” was all just a way of teaching moral lessons based on made up details.

Here is the point: once parts of the Bible can be tossed aside, why should we believe anything is literal? Did Jesus come? Was He God in human skin? Did He die on the Cross? Why would He do so if sin wasn’t a specific violation as taught in the Word?

When Jesus referred to these events as history, was He naïve or even intentionally deceiving people?

To deny the literalness of Adam and Eve is to place oneself in opposition to Jesus and the apostle Paul. If one has the audacity to claim he is right and Jesus and Paul are wrong, then Jesus is a sinner, not God, and not the Savior; the apostle Paul is a false prophet; and the Bible is not inspired, inerrant, or trustworthy.

Every facet of life was disastrously infected by the introduction of sin into a world not designed to operate well after the assault.

It all started with a singular temptation: Don’t trust what God says. Don’t believe His Word. He doesn’t know how to care for you…Isn’t it ironic that so many dismiss the story, but claim allegiance to the God Who told the story?

What do YOU believe?

Eve’s problem was food. This wasn’t the last time in the Bible the enemy used this ploy. Go to the desert. Sit with a hungry Jesus surrounded by stone. The enemy said: “If you are the Son of God, make these stones bread.” Jesus wouldn’t do it.

Bread wasn’t wrong. Fulfilling perceived needs enticed by the enemy without seeking that fulfillment from His Father would have shown what Jesus thought was most important. Hunger was second to doing His Father’s will. Temptation is about what we come to believe is most important.

Boot Camp: “What Went Wrong?” (Part Two) – Genesis 2:4-4:26

 Our history books can be filled, not only with stories of great men, but stories of incredible women. For instance:

Marie Curie (Maria Sklodowska) was born in Warsaw, Poland in the second half of the nineteenth century. Even from a very young age she showed vast academic promise, but was not allowed to attend university because she was a young woman – and these were the days when women weren’t to work in such areas. That wasn’t true everywhere, so she relocated. First diving into studies secretly, she eventually moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne in the open in a society that allowed her to pursue her passion. She excelled and earned advanced degrees in both mathematics and physics. Within a short time after she was noticed by the French academy, she met an impressive scientist named Pierre Curie, and the two fell in love and were married. Not a normal husband and wife, they formed a unique partnership in scientific study – each helping the other in projects and experimentation. Over the years of her work, Marie Curie organized disciplines of study and essentially is credited with largely assembling what today is dubbed “atomic physics.” In a paper, she coined the term “radioactivity” as her description of atomic phenomena observed in the collective lab work they did, along with the work of other contemporary scientists. Pierre and Marie discovered together two radioactive elements: polonium (named after Poland) and radium. In 1903, Marie Curie’s work was recognized internationally when she became the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in physics. After Pierre died in 1906, Marie took over his position as a university professor, becoming the first female professor at the Sorbonne. Later, in 1911, Marie was recognized again in a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry. To this day, Curie is the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes. She is one of many incredible historical figures, explorers, artists and brilliant minds that dot the landscape of human history.

What is clear to anyone who has truly studied history is this: women contributed in dramatic ways throughout human history. They still do, and they will until time gives way to eternity. In this lesson, we want to look at the design and purpose of God’s creation of woman.

In our study of Genesis, we found two important (and intentionally densely worded) truths:

• In the prologue of Genesis 1:1-2:3, we learned in the “story of the seven days” that God made everything according to His desire, ascribed each creation its only true purposes, and is (by virtue of creation) the absolute Owner of all of the universe.

• In the first of four stories in the scroll of “What Went Wrong” (2:4-4:26) God made man and placed within the design MORAL AGENCY, thereby opening the possibility of sin and destruction – because it suited Him to tell His story in such a world.

We noted there are three more stories of the “What Went Wrong” scroll.

Last time we looked at the “creation of man.” This time we will examine the “creation of woman.” As we look at the passage, I want you to notice yet another foundational truth that helps explain how “things went wrong.”

As man was designed to be a moral agent, so woman was designed with very specific purpose. Within the statement of her purpose there is more than just a pedantic story of “Adam gets a helper” – as the children’s storybook version suggests. Her purpose was disclosed as part of the story of how things went wrong in the cosmos. If you read the passage carefully, I believe you will see that the woman was created with purpose, and then (as you knit the account into the scroll from which the story was taken) you will see this truth…

Key Principle: The enemy exploited the unique design for man and woman to use their own purposes against them.

Go back to near the beginning of the human story…The fall of angels had already happened, and a rebellion was afoot by the time man was first placed in the garden. The “morning stars” that sang at creation were now divided into two groups – one following God and one in mutiny against God. When God placed man in the garden, He moved forward with a story the entire cosmos could observe. It is the story of Who our Creator truly is.

Genesis 2:18-25 is the primary text that described the creation of woman by God. The passage can be cut into three natural parts:

• The first part supplied the background: it teaches about man before her creation and his needs to set the stage for her introduction into the story.

• The second part offered the “essential substance” of the story: God brought forth the woman.

• The final part included an important note about the basic building block of human society – the formation of the nuclear family.

All of it ties into a larger story of how evil and trouble entered our world.

The First Part: Genesis recorded the following about man and his needs:

Take a moment and examine the background setting in Genesis 2:

Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

From the first part of the record, ironically we learn four essential truths about man, before the woman is on the scene in the garden:

First, man was not only designed for organization, administration, service (work) and guardianship of God’s estate, but also intimate relationship with others (2:18).

Look again at the simple statement:

Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…

It may be hard to tell when you look at the behavior of some men in your life, but men were originally designed to crave relationship and connection. “Alone” was not a description of what was BEST for man.

Consider two important observations that we learn from this simple sentence:

First, the twisting of a God-given desire for companionship, including physical contact, was one of the most effective weapons Satan could invent by twisting it from its natural shape. He isn’t creative; he is an impostor. He steals what God made and warps it to help us mutiny still more. The man’s inherent created desire for connection, when twisted, becomes his inordinate attention to sexual expression and physical relationship. He was made to DESIRE TO CONNECT. In his lost state, that connection of heart is all too willingly traded for self-pleasure.

Second, anyone who counsels those who struggle emotionally and spiritually will easily testify that isolation is another one of the excellent weapons our enemy has formed against us from our design. As the father of deception, he pushes us to isolate ourselves with shame and guilt because we are most vulnerable and susceptible to his direction when isolated. That isolation is, perhaps, the area we need to guard most strongly against. We need to force ourselves to keep relationships solid when we are tempted to retreat. Think of it! There are a plethora of “one another” commands in the Scriptures that suggest that in our fallen state we will not naturally connect and care for one another as we ought without a push from God.

Second, man needed a specific kind of companion (2:18b).

Genesis 2:18 “…God said…“I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

Though animals can bring both comfort and companionship, the true relationship man lacked deep inside was intentionally designed to be something MORE. It included a helper SUITABLE (neh-ghed) for him. The term means “conspicuous” or “obvious” for his needs (2:18b).

Don’t get distracted by the word “helper” (Hebrew: ay’-zer). Clear in the text is the notion that God made for man a woman as a helpmate, someone who would help him fulfill God’s assignment for his life. Yet, we can make a terrible error here. Does “helper” imply that the woman was made strictly as a servant to the man? Not at all!

Helper is not synonymous with assistant, servant, minion, or subordinate.

Indeed, the Hebrew word “helper” is often used for God as a helper of man (cp. Ex. 18:4). The term doesn’t presume lesser value in and of itself, as it may denote in the English. Rather, it focuses on the end result – assistance to the one needing help.

God helps man, but He is not man’s servant – His desire is for the man’s success and so aid is offered.

The term “helper” is unrelated to any claim of worth or value – the idea is entirely separate. To be clear, one cannot argue from this term that woman was simply created to serve man – rather she was created to complement man on his mission before God and help him succeed to that end. Her purpose is obviously tied to his – but not in any way that makes her less valued by God. She offers man much needed assistance without which man would fall short of his Creator’s desire.

Furthermore, the Hebrew word translated “suitable,” kenegdow, carries much more meaning than simply “fit” or “appropriate.” This word also means “opposite or contrasting.” This implies that the two beings were designed to work and fit together perfectly, not just physically, but in all ways.

In many ways, the strengths of each compensated for the weaknesses of the other.

It was “not good” for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), but, together, Adam and Eve became something far stronger and more able than either of them could have been alone. Adam lost a bit of tissue from his side, but he gained so much more!

We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible. To have real conversations with people may seem like such a simple, obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk. – Thomas Moore

There were times in the history of the church (and of the West) where even Jesus followers became sloppy with our Holy Writ and adopted prejudices and attitudes that are not actually defensible from the Word at all. In some instances, we held women back from things like a vote for elected officers, etc. that are well outside of the reasoning of Scripture. You cannot find a place in the Bible where it defends inequality in access to education or personal development. In the Word, there is no question that God made women equally intelligent and quite able to cast a vote with discernment equal to men. Any argument to the contrary seems hostile, not simply to our culture, but to the text of God’s Word.

At the same time, we must face the fact that we live in a highly feminized environment, with some cultural ideals that have been openly developed as HOSTILE to God’s Word. We can easily see that some of the highest values of God’s Word (the inherent dignity of human life, the wondrous and exalted place of motherhood, etc.) stand in direct conflict with some of the loudest voices in our culture. Be careful here.

God called women “suitable helpers” and DID distinguish between the man and the woman in terms of spiritual culpability – but NOT in terms of worth. In the Law, specifically in Numbers 30, a woman was restricted from making a DIRECT VOW before the Lord. That wasn’t because she was undiscerning – it was because she was created FROM MAN, in an indirect creative work of God. Paul made that argument in the 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. That is a difficult to understand argument, and it deserves time (perhaps later) to dissect. At the same time, I would be remiss if I didn’t openly point out that God’s Word is structured around two creations – man and woman – equal in value by different in how they approach and serve God. I have no interest in holding anyone back from serving as they choose – provided it fits inside what the Scripture expressly allows.

A third important truth: man isn’t the first to recognize his needs. (2:19-20).

Look at the end of the short sentence in Genesis 2:20.

Genesis 2:20 “… but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

In the story, God clearly knew the need man had of a companion and helper, but He desired that man feel that need as well. This is one simple example of how God may bring us through a times of LACK to help us understand our own needs – even the ones He is filling (or longing to fill) in our lives. That lack is not a punishment; it is a school (Gen. 2:19). God knows your needs before you do, but may bring you through a series of circumstances simply to help YOU see your needs (2:18-25). Adam needed a helper – God knew it (2:18) but Adam had to discover it (2:20). Only after Adam felt the loneliness, did God take care of it. Perhaps the reason this detail is included is to help us understand something of the nature of the man that needed the assistance of the woman.

Is it possible this account was included to remind men they need to be open to another set of eyes on “what they need?” I suspect that is the case.

Men, listen to this simple truth: You need a better perspective than you can provide yourself. In the home, you need a wife who can tell you what you didn’t see. At work, you need a team mate to make sure you are learning to perceive what is happening around you. We don’t have all the tools in our toolbox because we were made for relationship.

By the way, don’t fuss about lack. Lack can help you learn to see more clearly. A periodic sense of profound weakness can produce a life of intense strength. Constant fullness and elated bliss isn’t healthy. One writer put it this way:

Never have I seen so many young, privileged, people trying so hard to be happy. There are countless articles written about it, blogs named for it, workshops attending to it. Who ever said we’re supposed to be happy all the time, anyway? We’re not. And the pressure to do so might be what’s making us unhappy to begin with. It’s OK if you’re not completely content with your life twenty-four hours a day. Can you imagine what a boring person you’d be if you were? Going through … storms, feeling uninspired, hating the way you look and having guilt over not accomplishing enough are just some of the things that make you interesting, relatable and human. ..This is not to say that people shouldn’t strive to better their positions in life, however it seems like so many of us are no longer content with a regular amount of happy, yet dead-set on being maniacally jubilant, all of the time. -Kelly Rheel (blogger).

Fourth, it is also important to note that man named things to symbolically show his responsibility for them (2:20).

Don’t skip the detail in verse 20:

Genesis 2:20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

Giving a name was more than authoring a dictionary; it was about taking the assigned responsibility over the environment. One cannot manage what one does not distinguish and name. For some people, they can’t eat an animal after they named it. They feel a sense of betrayal.

Adam needed to wade out into his job and take responsibility for what God designed him to accomplish. He needed to take on life and own the work before him. The only way you truly fail at life is if you retreat from participation in your calling. Don’t miss that he was busy FOLLOWING GOD’S DIRECTION before God entrusted a mate to him.

Let me say this: Don’t expect God to take one of His best and most precious creations and drop them into your life BEFORE you are willing to show Him you desire to obey His direction!

The second part of the narrative examines the actual creation story of woman:

We have seen the first part of the story – that man had true needs and God was about to fulfill them. Now comes the FUN PART if you have discovered (as I have) a happy marriage…

First, God deliberately and intentionally designed woman without consultation from man (2:21).

Consider the words of Genesis 2:21:

Genesis 2:21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.

Take a look at the fact that woman was formed while man was in “a deep sleep” (tar-day-maw’) which is a term for “deeply sedated” or even “comatose.” Her “formation” (baw-naw’) was the term for “constructed” and is sometimes used for building, but also used for the term of what happens inside the womb as a baby is formed. It can even be used of God “building up a house” by adding children to the family.

• You may never have considered the difference between how God made man and how He made woman. Remember that Genesis 2 revealed that God “formed Adam out of the dust of the ground.” The Hebrew term “yawtsar” meant “to mold or shape as in a potter shaping clay.” The word is one that denotes the making of a pot by a potter – the shaping of a substance for USEFULNESS.

• In the case of the woman, the term “bawnaw” denoted she was “fashioned” not simply “shaped.” That term was used of a complex structure, such as a temple, palace or perhaps a “work of art” would have been. Most scholars would agree the terminology implied that the woman was meant as both a companion, and an aesthetic work, a design for pleasant appearance.

It may also be worth noting that she was not only designed to be aesthetically pleasing (which became obvious by Adam’s response to her), but to be more aesthetically sensitive – it seems she was designed to CARE about appearance more. Consider this:

Researchers note nearly one of ten men are color blind (actually 8%), but a mere one out of two hundred women share that malady. Some think this implies God built into women a greater capacity to be aesthetically sensitive, though with the Fall it is hard to know for sure.

Now consider how the enemy took advantage of the way God made man and woman.

• In the case of the woman, she could (if led away) become overly concerned with appearance to the point that it distracts her away from helping the man complete the God-given mission. She could get caught up in how she catches his eye, rather than how she helps his heart.

• In the case of man, he could (if led away) become obsessed with her beauty to the detriment of his own mission. He could care more about capturing her affections than following God’s will.

It isn’t difficult to imagine either of those issues, but they are part of the twisting of God’s original design of each. That is part of the reason God took the time to explain the creation of each.

Second, woman was formed out of the tissue of man (2:22).

Keep reading, and the technical side of her creation is exposed.

Genesis 2:22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

The word for “rib” (tsay-law’) is actually a term that can refer to the side of a structure, or the side wall of a terrace. It simply refers to the location from which the tissue was extracted by God, but not necessarily the technical piece of bone itself. In effect, the text simply reveals that man was used as the “starter tissue” to form woman. She was not taken directly from the ground, but was taken from already living tissue that came from man after he was already a living being. That fact will have important implications later in the Bible.

God explained that He used the man’s tissue to form the woman in order to show they were actually parts of the same created being, two halves of a whole. The female was created distinct from the male but both were completed in each other. In that way, the note on “one flesh” makes even greater literal sense. We use the term physically and spiritually, but it essentially means “putting the whole back together.”

There is a sense of completion that happens in the bonding of a good marriage. There is also a severe tearing that occurs in the breakup of a marriage. This isn’t simply a contract or a case of inane familiarity (i.e. “we are used to each other after this many years”). Anyone who lost their spouse to death can tell you it affects you on so many levels, you feel torn in half. It isn’t your imagination; it really is a tearing from one into two.

Third, woman was brought by God to the man (2:22).

Keep reading, and we will get to the relational part – where Adam first saw Eve.

Genesis 2:22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

Fortunately, the scene was a page before sin when the term “awkward” set in. God didn’t let Adam figure out an approach or “pick up” line. Considering his inexperience with females, anyone who ever observed a Jr. High dance will tell you it was good that God didn’t let him actually approach her to meet, or they might still be standing opposite the punch bowl in the garden looking at each other like cows in a field, deathly afraid to speak to each other.

No, this meeting took place when they were still unafraid of each other. The awkwardness didn’t come until the breaking of man’s self-image – and that came at the Fall in Genesis 3.

Fourth, when man awoke, he knew she came from him (2:23).

Genesis 2:23 revealed Adam KNEW where she came from in the beginning (and it wasn’t from Venus!).

Genesis 2:23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”

Here is the absolute first of a long series of “boy-meets-girl” movies. Adam said she is “bone” from me (eh’tsem), which refers to the frame, the limb or the strength of a man. The term (baw-sar) is the term “flesh” and literally means the “meat on the bone” (i.e. muscle, etc.) of her frame. He exclaimed that she was “taken” (law-kakh’) “extracted” from man. This isn’t incidental; it reveals that every part of her was taken from his design and from his tissue, but carefully constructed into a new related form.

Look carefully at the man’s exclamation: “She is from me, and I will name her as something additional to me.” He was called “man” (ish) while he called her “woman” (isha).

Adam’s first reaction, “She is one being with me”, is later strengthened in verse 24 by the phrase “and they will become one flesh.” It is as if he recognized from the beginning the single word that makes marriage successful: the word “ours.”

Look closely at the words “She shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” In them is the Biblical principle of headship, which was developed more in the New Testament. In the Bible, the man held ultimate culpability for the nature and character of the home, and was charged with the responsibility with exercising unique leadership as he followed God’s direction and purpose.

The third part of the narrative included a God breathed note dropped into the narrative about the nuclear family and its formation:

Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

First, a man’s commitment to permanent responsibility was the basis of the family structure.

Because woman was taken from man, brought to man and named by man – man was to take responsibility for the woman BEFORE they became the basic biological components to the foundational social structure – the nuclear family. The terms “father” and “mother” are used, as is a reference to biological reproduction in becoming “one flesh.”

The foundation of any marriage is a commitment to permanence. The man LEAVES home (and establishes his own desire to take self-responsibility, then CLEAVES to his wife. The Hebrew term “dabag” means, “to adhere as in glue.” Remember, this was written long before the glue of a “sticky note.” This was a word of intentional permanent bonding.

Second, a man and woman were made to engage life together without the need to cover who they truly are.

Genesis 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The final words of the text speak clearly of openness and transparency between a man and his wife. Secrets kill a marriage; communication establishes it. Retreat and silence make a marriage shrivel; sharing together deepens the foundation.

We live in a culture where people share a meal reading the words from a screen and caring little for the person with which they are having the meal. Marriage isn’t just about longevity. People can endure torture for a long time – but that isn’t the measure of the experience. Honestly, the breakdown of communication with your spouse IS the breakdown of your marriage. The inability of a couple to love past surface differences and allow each to share without constant fear of judgment is the undoing of a marriage.

Can you see it?

The enemy exploited the unique design for man and woman to use their own purposes against them.

God didn’t build the world on nations. He didn’t build it on political parties or even types of government. God built the basic fabric of our society on a home. He built it on two people – a man and a woman – completing the mission God gave them.

I close with an observation about never underestimating a woman…

A police officer jumps into his squad car and calls the station.
“I have an interesting case here,” he says. “A woman shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.”
“Have you arrested her?” asks the sergeant.
“No, not yet. The floor’s still wet.” (Smile!)

Spotting the Rescue: “Gazing at God” – Revelation 1

There is a fantastic description of a soon coming event in Revelation 1: 7-8, where it says:

BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who [f]is to come, the Almighty.

I am fascinated by the event, but even more fascinated by the description of the Coming Prince. It is something that stirs the hearts of believers of all kinds.

I mention the Coming Prince because you may not be aware of it, but believers are being torn apart, one from another, in our time. Things that draw us together have become far too quiet, while the things that divide us are emphasized over and over, to the detriment of Jesus follower.

Modern disciples must recall that we are not supposed to make unity. The Scripture calls us to “endeavor to KEEP the unity” given by the Spirit at our new birth. Yet, we seem to find this hard to do. Let me illustrate…

Once upon a time a man took a walk and came to a bridge. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he saw a man standing on the rail, obviously about to jump. The man was distraught so he said, “Don’t jump. I can help you.” “How can you help me?” asked the man on the rail. The first man replied with a question of his own: “Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s wonderful. So am I. Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “I’m Protestant.” “That’s great. So am I. What sort of Protestant are you? Are you Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or something else?” “I’m a lifetime Baptist,” said the man on the rail.

“Praise the Lord,” came the reply. “So am I. Let me ask you this. Are you Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” “I’m Northern Baptist.” “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” “I’m Northern Conservative Baptist.” “Well, call Ripley’s. This is amazing. So am I. Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Fundamental or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed?”

The man on the rail thought for a moment and then declared, “My father raised me as a Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed.” “It’s a miracle,” said the first man. “Put ’er there, pal. So am I.” Then he asked, “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Plains Region?” The man on the rail said, “That’s easy. My family has always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region.” “This is a miracle of miracles. I don’t often meet a brother who shares my own heritage.

One final question: Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1855 or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872?” The man on the rail replied instantly, “Since the days of my great-grandfather, we have always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872.” This statement was followed by an awkward pause. Looking up, the first man cried out, “Die, heretic!” And he pushed him off the bridge.

We laugh at that story because it is so close to the truth. If two Christians agree on 79 out of 80 points, they will usually focus on the area where they disagree. We need to remind ourselves of the rallying points of our faith in order to stand together. We need to remember the basis of our unity is not our work, but our Savior.

The truth is that it is possible to FIND Jesus and not FOLLOW Jesus – and that moves from being a PROMISING LIFE to offering a tragically powerless life… because the Christian life IS walking with Jesus, not performing FOR Jesus.

As we look at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, take note of this truth…

Key Principle: We can’t really walk with God if we don’t take the time to gaze at Him – to really SEE Him as He is.

It is possible to get distracted. It is even possible to suddenly become enveloped in the storms and lose our way. Let’s not try to fake it – it happens to Jesus followers all the time.

When Paul wrote to a young church the letter we call “2 Thessalonians” he wrote about three pummeling punches the enemy used in swift combination in order to discourage them any time they appeared to begin to gain ground in the Spirit. The Bible, then, became like the “fight tape recording” of that three punch knockout faithfully preserved so that we might not take the same punches:

• 2 Thessalonians 1 mentioned persecution and affliction deliberately set to ensnare believers just like I find on college campuses and business environments that have grown increasingly HOSTILE to anyone who names Jesus as Savior.

• 2 Thessalonians 2 made clear the enemy was involved in planting the roadside bombs of fake teachings that kept the people of God in confusion. How hard do you have to search the web to find people sharing the Bible God should have written but didn’t – because He wasn’t as “smart” or as “tolerant” as they are?

• 2 Thessalonians 3 revealed the enemy’s age old tactic of discouraging believer’s by helping them to focus on others who claimed to have FOUND Christ, but lived in ways that didn’t FOLLOW Christ.

Relentlessly pounding believers with ominous warnings and the fear of coming trouble, together with constant stirring confusion of false words misdirecting Jesus followers with falsehoods and the sinking discouragement of trying to represent Jesus when loud voices of believers with poor testimonies drown out godly examples – these are three of the classic techniques of our enemy.

Here is the good news: Jesus is greater than the temporary prince of the fallen world. He has not left us without defenses. Redemption has already begun, and it will be complete in His return to the planet. In the meantime, we examine the tapes of past fights to prepare for our own. During our time:

We have God’s Word to reveal to us His direction, correction and encouragement.

But, we have something else we can count on. I believe it is the single greatest secret that helps me in the midst of the storms – and it is what I want to share with you in this lesson from the Word.

We have a lighthouse on the shore that shines through the storms. You’ll miss it if you don’t learn to look for it.

If the swells have overtaken you – our lighthouse can offer you hope, direction and rescue. Our lighthouse is the shining light of our loving, intimate, personal God, and our gaze at Him must be one in desperation – as one who knows he cannot make it to shore without Him.

You heard me correctly. We need to need Him more than we think we need Him now. When desperation wanes, cockiness follows.

When I believe I can pull off the Christian life without Jesus, I show I don’t really understand what the Christian life is at all…

Beloved, I want to remind you of words I have spoken before. They are the “theme music” in the background of all that I preach. I repeat them, over and over, because I need to be reminded of them… Please hear them…

The main point of the Christian life is NOT to tell Jesus you believe what He did long ago – so as to avoid Hell and get to Heaven when you die – it is an intimate walk with Jesus TODAY.

Admittedly, Heaven is a stunning benefit and a deeply encouraging expectation based on the unambiguous promises of the True and Living God – but a new eternal destination not the point (it is a side benefit).

Honestly, Heaven would be a penalty for one who hasn’t learned to love Jesus in this life.

Can I be candid with you about something, now that I am a grandfather twice over? I have heard that not every child LIKES to go to their grandma or grandpa’s house. In some cases, the place seems outdated, stuffy and is full of things they aren’t allowed to touch. Do you know why some children don’t like to go there? The reason is simply because they haven’t learned to LOVE grandma or grandpa. They don’t know how COOL they really are (if people still say the word “cool”). This is the reason my wife and I have become very intentional about making our home a place any kid in their right mind would want to come. (A good idea, right?)

The actual point of the Christian life is to WALK WITH JESUS, to learn to love Him and THEN long to be in Heaven with Him. We aren’t supposed to long for the benefits of the relationship MORE than the relationship itself.

“How can I learn to do that?” You may ask.

I must consciously learn to invite Him to journey through the day, to hold His hand and allow Him to lead through the passage of life. Heaven is an unending version of that reality – but not the beginning of it. We can and should have it today. I want to show you HOW.

By the way, the writer of Hebrews knew this secret.

He wrote that we have a great hall of witnesses that watch us as we live out our faith. The whole time they cheer us on, he noted that we are to be “looking unto Jesus” – not the grandstands, not the cheering crowds – but to the Savior. He is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. He endured the Cross that we might enter the journey of life with Him.

John used the same lighthouse to navigate the storm.

For a few moments, will you join me in looking at the first chapter of Revelation?

Look at the first chapter of Revelation, where John gazes Heavenward and gets his instructions to write the book we have today… The opening lines remind us that purpose of the narrative isn’t just to get believers fighting about the meaning of various signs as we approach the troubles of the last days. The narrative teaches us of John’s special GOD GAZING time. He wrote:

1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Don’t miss the opening line: This is the revealing of WHO Jesus is before it is the revealing of what will happen as God closes the human program. Verse one appears to me to be in the order of priority: reveal Jesus and then tell you what Jesus will do. His works follow His character.

Knowing HIM helps you when you can’t understand what He is DOING!

Keep reading:

Revelation 1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,

Did you see Who addressed the letter to the churches?

Like all things, it started with God the Father.

Revelation 1:4 mentions both the Father and the Spirit, so we dare not pass them by without notice. Remember that although God has many titles in Scripture, He has only ONE NAME. It was so precious over the centuries that Jews ceased to speak it aloud. This name YHWH or Jehovah is, in fact, a contraction of several phrases that can be summarized by John’s words in verse four: “The One Who was and Who is and Who is to come.” (In Hebrew: Asher ha-yah v’hoveh v’yavo).

In short, you serve the ever-present, always NOW God.

He is the God of our Fathers, but, if He tarries, that same faithful God will be the God of our sons. He dwells beyond time – for time is something He made for those limited to the few dimensions that make us HUMAN. He is not like us. The end and the beginning are both clear to Him in the same moment.

Read the rest of the letter that John left us and you will see the Father sits upon the throne of Heaven surrounded by the crystal sea. Ezekiel saw Him moving about on a grand apparatus of wheels, flanked by angels and filled with glory.

• When you behold Him, you will know that He is not a created being – but the very context of all creation.

• He is not the One Who does good – rather the very nature of good is defined by His person.

• When you see the train of His robe and the vastness of His presence you will understand – there is no glory that compares to His.

All creation was made by Him and according to His design. Our very purpose is found in His decree.

The writers included God the Spirit.

Verse four made clear that His throne was surrounded by His own Holy Spirit – whose seven titles likely recall Isaiah 11:2.

1. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of the YHWH (The ever-present NOW God).

2. He is the Spirit of Wisdom (hokmah: practical application of truth)

3. He is the Spirit of Understanding (binah: clarity).

4. He is the Spirit of Counsel (etsah: advised strategy)

5. He is the Spirit of Strength (gibborah: empowering courage).

6. He is the Spirit of Knowledge (da’ath: deliberation)

7. He is the Spirit of Reverence (yiraw: sense of supreme awe).

Don’t rush past the details of WHO the Holy Spirit IS, or you will lose a lamp designed to guide you through the storm.

When you are filled with the Holy Spirit of the Living God, you are filled with the One Who is always on time, always up to speed with the facts, always ready to act in righteousness.

When you walk in the Holy Spirit and refuse to feed the insatiable desires of the flesh, you walk in the practical applications of the Word of God. You let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.

When you are filled with confusion and under the smoke of enemy fire, the Holy Spirit will bring crystal-like clarity by the Father’s inexhaustible power.

When you face defeat upon defeat and call upon God for understanding, God’s Holy Spirit will advise you on strategies to blunt the fiery darts of the wicked one.

When you cry out in fear of the things of this world, the Holy Spirit will wrap your weakness in the cable-like strength of Hid might.

When you cannot find a path to follow, the Spirit of Knowledge will show you how to cut through the dense thicket and brush of confusion and stir, and move toward the place of God’s peace.

When you yield your heart to the Spirit of Reverence, you will:

• Fear men less than God,

• Love sin less than a deep yearning for the Master’s smile

• You will keep a sharp eye on the immutable, inexhaustible, irresistible God to get through the storm.

The Father’s power and majesty, coupled with the Spirit’s inner assurance are both light sources to fix our eyes upon. But there is MORE…

The third collaborative author is Jesus.

–The lighthouse includes the One Who called Himself “the Light of the world”.

As I scan verses five through seven, I can begin to recite the greatness of our Savior…

He is the Anointed One, because verse five says:

Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ,

The term “Christos” is a translation of the word for the Meshiach – the Anointed One. Our Savior has been appointed by God to be our King, our Priest, and our Prophet.

His words tell what is to come. His place is standing for us before the Father. His right is to hold the greatest scepter ever touched – the King above all Kings.

He is the Truthful One, because verse five went on to call Him:

Revelation 1:5b “…the faithful witness

You can trust Jesus to talk straight about life, about struggles, about YOU.

He doesn’t dither around with “fortune cookie” like sayings. He isn’t some mystic “Yoda” figure.

You need to know as the FAITHFUL WITNESS, Jesus won’t blow smoke at someone He gave blood to save. Your pain isn’t irrelevant to Him. You aren’t a BOTHER to His schedule. Jesus is the witness before the Father that you can COUNT ON to speak faithfully the truth.

With His own breath, Colossians 1 reminds, man received dignity, identity and purpose.

A short time ago I stood at a Youth Conference and a student asked from the floor a question. He asked if his friend who called himself a “gay Christian” was going to Heaven. My answer apparently bothered most everyone in the room. I replied, “Your friend is mistaken. Christian is an identity. Sexual desire and fulfillment is a behavior. In the Gospels, Jesus taught the disciples that the Pharisees who called a woman “an adulteress” were WRONG. She wasn’t an adulteress – she was a woman created by God and loved by Him. So is your friend. His sexual behavior is something he does – but not who he is. God always separates behavior and identity.

If you buy into the world’s framing of “I am gay” you buy into letting someone’s wrong behavior (that is, their sin) name them. You and I aren’t what we feel, what we want or what we do. That isn’t our identity – it is our behavior.

Jesus refused to call a woman caught in the consequences of her rebellion an “adulteress.” He insisted that she was, in fact, a woman. She was a beloved creation of the Father. Her behavior was NOT her identity, and neither is any one else’s. We must stop buying into the deception that a person should be rightly named by their sin. Identity is neither synonymous with sexual desire nor behavioral failure. What we do is not who we are. Until we separate between identity and behavior we haven’t learned to think like the Savior.

Jesus taught the intrinsic worth and dignity of people. The modern agenda to accept desires as definition opposes the way Jesus looks at people.

You aren’t a pedophile. You aren’t a prostitute. You aren’t a thief. You aren’t a rapist. You are a person – created by a loving Father, and in need of His strong and mighty hand to deliver you from bowing down to your desires as though they were your master. I needed that. Everyone does.

Just as Jesus called the Disciples to see the “woman in sin” was a woman who needed God to fix her brokenness, so any friend who has been swallowed in a lifestyle of impure behavior needs God to fill the space in his heart now taken by the idols of feeling and desire. Jesus words to her were simply: “Knock it off!” (Go and sin no more). He didn’t mean “Get perfect!” but rather “stop doing this thing that God has said is wrong, period.”

Don’t ever forget: Satan knows you by your name, but calls you by your sin. Jesus knows you by your sin, but calls you by your name. Our faith is deeply rooted in God’s love of each of us. That is the heart of the Gospel.

Jesus can represent the Father in all things, because verse five called Him:

Revelation 1:5b “…the firstborn of the dead.”

Don’t get confused. The term “first born” in the text isn’t intended to say the Eternal Son of God was “born first.” The expression isn’t about Jesus being “created” though in the Godhead, He IS the only one Who experienced the process of physical birth!

The word had everything to do with RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES in the time of the Apostles. The FIRST BORN was the one who represented the Father in negotiations and contracts. He was the inheritor of all of his father’s estate. He held a position of greater authority than any other son, any employee, any representative. Jesus is the EXACT REPRESENTATION of the Father (Hebrews 1:4). He is the image stamp. He looks, in every respect, like the Father. He said it this way: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” The term firstborn is a term about the right to fully represent the interests of His Father… and Jesus CAN.

Jesus is the One above every ruler and king, because verse five remarked:

Revelation 1:5b “…and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

There is no rival to Jesus. Every cult, every religion, every revered prophet of men will bow before the Lord of all Creation. Every Prime Minister, every President, every king and queen – all will drop to their knees and bow their faces to the floor in the magnificent throne room of the One God has promised to exalt above all.

He is the One who loved you enough to place His hands willingly down against the wood and evil men drove hard the nails through His flesh. Why? Why would He do that for you and for me? John made it clear…

Revelation 1:5b “…To Him Who loves us”

Jesus didn’t simply honor His Father’s wishes – though He DID do all things pleasing to Him. Jesus turned to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and He told them plainly: “Love one another in the way that I have LOVED you.” (John 13:34ff).

It wasn’t simply DUTY that drove Jesus to the Cross. He loved each one of those bumbling followers of His. They couldn’t listen very well, and they slept through their final prayer meeting with Jesus in Gethsemane, even though they knew He was upset about something. These guys had so many rough edges – they could be US! Yet, Jesus made clear He loved them. John included the whole of the church when he wrote “to Him Who loves us.”

Jesus is the One Who laid down His life for us. John wrote:

Revelation 1:5b “…and released us from our sins by His blood

Think of it! Sin has no hold over you that YOU aren’t giving it.

Acting as a slave to your desires is like living in a jail cell with a door that is unlocked. Jesus unlocked it already.

Before you knew Christ, you were dead in relation to a real connection with God. You could do good things, but you couldn’t do RIGHTEOUS things. You could help people. You could be friendly. You could observe the GOLDEN RULE, pay your taxes and be a faithful spouse. What you couldn’t do, is settle the judicial issue between you and God related to your broken heart. You were born a sinner. It was passed from Adam to you and I by means of our father’s seed. You got more than your nose from him!

Jesus became sin, though He Himself never rebelled against God at all. He did it so that we might have a lamb that was truly spotless of offer up to God and pay for our sin. He took MY place and YOUR place on the Cross.

Jesus didn’t die simply to make us ONE in Heaven, but to bring us together to serve Him NOW! John wrote:

Revelation 1:6 “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Our Savior welded us together. Forget your social status – all followers of Jesus are happy slaves. Forget your wealth – we are to live as those surrendered to the King. Forget your color – God didn’t want a boring world so he gave us many unique features that make us able to reflect His artistry. Forget yourself: We live for the glory of the King.

Don’t forget: Jesus is coming back. He isn’t done.

This old broken planet, gasping for clean air, shedding some of its wondrous beasts in extinction because of terrible greed, incessantly arguing about one opinion after another, spilling innocent blood because of rivalries, jealousies and mistrust… the earth is about to stand silent when the King arrives…

Revelation 1:7 “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

Songwriters Joel Houston, Benjamin Hastings and Michael Fatkin are credited with the lyrics of a song called: “So Will I.” Perhaps their stirring words will help you to deliberately focus on the Presence of God, and take the time to truly gaze upward to SEE HIM. They wrote:

God of creation, there at the start, before the beginning of time with no point of reference – You spoke to the dark and fleshed out the wonder of light. And as You speak a hundred billion galaxies are born. In the vapor of Your breath the planets form. If the stars were made to worship so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made – Every burning star a signal fire of grace. If creation sings Your praises so will I.

God of Your promise, You don’t speak in vain. No syllable empty or void. For once You have spoken, all nature and science follow the sound of Your voice. And as You speak a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath [forming] in pursuit of what You said. If it all reveals Your nature so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You say. Every painted sky a canvas of Your grace. If creation still obeys You so will I, So will I, So will I.

If the stars were made to worship so will I.
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I.
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I.
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I.
If the wind goes where You send it so will I.
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I.
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy, then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times!

God of salvation, You chased down my heart through all of my failure and pride. On a hill You created the light of the world abandoned in darkness to die. And as You speak, a hundred billion failures disappear. Where You lost Your life, so I could find it here.

If You left the grave behind You so will I…

When earth is full of drama, gaze up at the God Who will make all things new. Remember, He started this, and He is going to finish it. Revelation 1:8 makes it clear:

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Think of those words.

• God started it all, and there is no other who will bring it all to an end.

• God is not “behind” – He is always NOW.

• God has no rival to subdue – He is the ALMIGHTY.

Now, let’s make this all very practical.

Philippians 3 was written when Paul was under house arrest in Rome awaiting the “justice” that was bound up in the person of Emperor Nero. Things weren’t looking bright. “Fair” was not on the menu. What did he do?

He said: “I want to know Him. I want to know His power. I want to know His pain. I want Him to change me as I study more and more His face, His life, His character.”

In Acts 7, Stephen found himself surrounded by the disfigured faces of angry men even as He testified to God’s great work in the Jewish people over the centuries. They huddled around him, having removed their covering cloaks so they could hurl stones upon him, Stephen fell to his knees and looked up to gaze at the Savior.

Acts 7:55 “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

Beloved, we will never really walk with God as He desires if we don’t take the time to SEE Him.

There are many who don’t look to their own peril. They get swallowed by life’s problems. They may truly know Jesus, but they will fail to follow Him. Their life will not show that Jesus can transform a life.

Their chance to serve the Savior will slip away, and they will waste it all.

Some waste their life because they believe they are too important to bow.

In U.S. Naval Institute Magazine called “Proceedings” Frank Koch wrote:

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ’We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’” Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.” The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’” “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.” By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ’I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” We changed course. – As told by: Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 153.

When you truly see the Master as He is, you recognize the privilege of being His servant.

Boot Camp: “What Went Wrong?” (Genesis 2:4-4:26, Part One)

Mary met Joe at a Bible study group on campus. After a few dates, they could clearly see the Lord meant for them to spend their lives serving Him together. Joe had the desire to be a businessman that would serve Jesus and create wealth that would fund ministry operated by other friends he saw God calling. Mary wanted to serve Jesus as a housewife with an in-home cottage industry business. She was smart, motivated and dynamic. The short story is they graduated, she with her Bachelor’s degree and he with an Associate’s degree. They got married and she started her business and her family. Joe went back to school to get further education and get his business career started. In the middle of the next year, both of their lives changed. The baby that was forming in Mary was in distress and had to be delivered early. The complications were many, and the baby, little Jolene, was born with a series of severe physical limitations. The couple was stunned. They were prepared to serve God in many ways, but this changed both of their plans. What went wrong? Why would God sideline both of these dear ones and move them to a place of struggle like this?

Tom loved two things in life: his family and fishing. Anyone who knows anything about their family knows this: fishing is more important than perhaps any activity beyond work and worship. Tom and his wife are vibrant in their faith. Their children are active in their children and youth programming at their church. Yet, no one could miss that all of them were very familiar with time on the lake. Every child could worm a hook, net a catch and know the variety of fish caught. They “force adopted” their father’s love. All this was true until the day his son started to pull the boat forward too quickly before his youngest daughter was aware of the move and properly braced herself. She fell backward against the side of the boat and tumbled off into the water as the boat sped away. It was only a matter of seconds before Tom took control, slowed the boat and jumped into the water. The blow to the little girl’s head in the fall and her subsequent toss into the water took her little fragile life from her. Those few minutes changed everything for the family. Tom couldn’t bring himself to look at the boat again, much less go fishing. His son couldn’t forgive himself for the mishap. The family began to fall apart. All sat with their own loss, their own pain, and their own wonder: “What went wrong?”

Why doesn’t God stop these kinds of bad things from happening?

Such “why” stories may be hard to listen to, but they are not difficult to imagine. In preparation of this Bible lesson, I found myself selecting from a long list of stories where the outcome didn’t seem to match the situation. In case after case, it seemed like people were doing good things, only to have a crisis rise in spite of their situation.

When such stories hit our radar, we respond in a number of ways. Some of us just HURT with a “there but by the grace of God go I” kind of mentality. Others seek to find a weakness in the preparation of the people, the medical practices, or someone else to BLAME. We feel an instinctive indignation in the unfair nature of the situation, and we seek to “right it” by drawing from our own mental library of experiences. Here is what we all know inside: You can do everything right and things may not turn out in a way that is either comfortable or desired. Here is where understanding the next part of God’s Word helps us. The truth that saturates the ground of the Genesis 2:4-4:26 is this:

Key Principle: The design of God came with the possibility of trouble – but that was NOT a flaw.

Life has been broken by sin, but that isn’t the ONLY reason things went wrong. The world is operating under a “patch” after sin entered, but there is MORE to the reason for life trouble than the sin issue. The possibility for trouble began with our very design.

When you ask Jesus followers the “Why?” question, they inevitably turn to Satan’s fall and the subsequent “Fall of Man” passages. That doesn’t answer the whole problem. The underlying question is this: Why would a perfect God design a society that could embrace evil? Sin isn’t the only factor in what went wrong. Part of our understanding of trouble should be found in the equation of our design.

You see, God answered the question about evil and why it exists. It is found in several parts over the earliest chapters of the Bible.

To get to the answer, remember where we have been. The opening prologue of Genesis reminded us of some important truths:

• God created all that is, and He did it for His own purposes. The world is His, and so am I.

• God ascribed intrinsic value to each of us. The value we possess is not based on our ability to accomplish things, but simply because He placed that value upon us. Whether I can do much or little, I am His creation – and that alone makes me valuable. That is true of the elderly, the physically limited and the unborn. If God created it, the intrinsic value is there.

• God assigned purposes to us. They are the true purposes of our existence. Any siren call to change the path of those stated purposes should be identified as the call to mutiny, not a call to freedom.

• God liked what He made when it was as He made it.

The whole first account had only one real actor – He was the Creator. Man had a “walk-on role” in the story, and more explanation was due.

The first “scroll” of life stories found in Genesis 2:4-4:26 can be easily divided into four primary stories:

1) The Creation and assignment of man (2:4-17)
2) The Creation and assignment of woman (2:18-25)
3) The Fall of Mankind and the curses (3)
4) The Beginning of Murder (4)

This is the account of the heavens and earth and what went wrong!

Since God liked things the way they were made, it is obvious something went wrong. The obvious question is this: “What happened?” That is what the four stories reveal…Look for a moment at the first account. Let’s look closely at the first of the four stories of this scroll: man’s creation and purpose (2:4-17).

Fitting the stories together

Take a look at the statement in Genesis 2:4. Some see the statement of Genesis 2:4 as a summary of what went BEFORE in 1:1-2:3. Other scholars believe it sets apart the account of what happened with the creation of man, woman, the garden and the introduction of evil. Genesis 2 recorded:

Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.

There are good reasons why you may maintain either view. What is important is this: there is a clear purpose for the narrative. God wanted to explain what happened to His perfect creation.

The Timing of Man’s Creation

The account opened with a word about timing…

Genesis 2:5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.

Verses five and six set the story back into the narrative of the sixth day in Genesis 1:26-31. The record wasn’t of a new event, but rather a “zoom in” on the details of that day for the purpose of setting up the story of what went wrong.

Apparently, the earth’s continents were set in place (though not as they are now extant post-flood), but the “ground cover crops and vegetation” hadn’t yet grown. That note helps us to understand two things:

• First, that in the beginning, God used dew as His primary watering method for the earth. Rain came later in the story as we shall see.

• Second, the management of the land was directly linked to the purpose of man (more about that later).

The crucial point is that man was created before the rains were operational as the sprinkler system on the earth. God seeded the landscape and set it to incrementally grow by dewfall and internal design (each plant, etc.). God then turned His attention to creating man to manage the earth’s natural order.

The Creation of Man

Read on, and the account explains man’s creation moment:

Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.

Contrary to other explanations of the origin of human life, the Bible claims we are actual “earthlings” in the sense that we literally were formed from the chemicals and minerals of the ground. The link in the Hebrew language is even more obvious: Man (adam) is created from the ground (admah). Man was not eternally a being – he has a beginning point. He was created in the temporal, frail and physical world. He was intentionally formed (he didn’t come to be from another species). At the same time, man was given a very special gift. God breathed into that formed pile of clay and minerals and gave it “life” – using the word for breath “nawfach” – the word for blowing air into a fire to stoke it, and the word “chaim” for life (part of the essence of God Himself). This included sentience, self-awareness, determinative will and moral conscience.

Stop and consider that man was made by the intention of God and with an essential life component that came from God. In this, our faith has taught us a basic primer of the DIGNITY of human life. We are NOT MAMMALS, nor are we an incidental part of the CIRCLE OF LIFE. We are unique and exceptional on the planet. Every attempt to make us part of the animal kingdom by a random “natural selection” multi-millennial change demeans the uniqueness of man and robs him of his exceptional quality.

To speak to the point: What we are teaching in today’s science classes will end up as tomorrow’s nursing home health care and end of life policies.

I am not trying to be some fussy cleric teaching you to resist modernity and the scientific explanation of things, out of some plea to hang on to perceived power over your heart. I am simply making the argument there is a cost for buying into lies that make people no different than the animal kingdom, and those lies will change public health policy. They will demean human life. They will accept the premise that when a life is lost, though it is sad, there is little consequence. It is a natural part of life on our planet.

One of our own young women faced a choice about a treatment for an illness in her body that would have certainly resulted in the loss of her unborn child. If I understood the situation correctly, the doctor seemed to have precious little understanding of why “terminating the pregnancy” was even a problem. “The couple could always have another child later,” the doctor reminded.

When we lose the sense that every life is exceptional because of God’s assigned value, we lose a sense of who we are as humans created in God’s image.

The Placement of Man

As you keep reading, God not only MADE man, He POSITIONED man to be able to give Him an assignment. This was integral to the man’s self-understanding and his sense of accomplishment. The beginning point was the simple note of “where” man was placed – in an environment that required arrangement, management, and care. The text recorded:

Genesis 2:8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.

First, it doesn’t claim the “whole earth” was a garden – only that a garden existed on the earth in that location. Even before the advent of weeds, the work involved in the garden wasn’t some kind of penalty. Man was created with a purpose. He was made to work and accomplish. He was made to work the environment around him and organize it. He was made to care about the things around him – not haplessly use them for momentary purposes. Keep reading:

Genesis 2:9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Some get out of the story at this point. They were fine with the notion of creation, but the sound of a tree of life or of knowledge seems like a bridge too far. My advice: slow down! Look at what the account is attempting to explain. God made the world in a way that it would meet our needs and bring us great pleasure – even by looking at it. The point of the passage was not to offer you a genus of a tree that bore knowledge. The tree didn’t make you have life or knowledge – God did. He ascribed what everything was FOR, and He made clear what would result from eating a fruit. If God said Vitamin D would make your bones and teeth strong, and the fruit of the “tree of life” would regenerate cells in your body – what is the real difference? One sounds plausible and the other fictional simply because you are familiar with the former and have never experienced the latter.

Let me ask you: Can a God Who can fling one quintillion stars into position make a tree to offer a fruit that, when eaten, will regenerate tissue?

If He cannot, then the account is simply false. If He can, then the account may offer a simple account of what God did long ago. What if God made a tree whose fruit could help you grow dramatically the neural pathways of your mind? Would you call that a “tree of knowledge” because of its results?

Remember also, the world that Adam saw was not the same one you are looking at today. Most of us believe the earth began with a single body of land (a pangaean continent). Since the original design, there have been at least two cataclysms – the arrival of sin and its penalties – as well as a reorganization of a massive flood event that has changed places and appearances significantly. If you read the next part and think you can use it for exploration purposes, you have forgotten the cataclysm that separate that world from the one you are in now:

Genesis 2:10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

We don’t know where the places mentioned here are because they aren’t there anymore. The rivers that have their names are not where the originals were. The continents have moved, broken and changed. The fact that Tigris and Euphrates exist NOW in the Persian Gulf at the places mentioned in the text are a simple anachronism. What we should understand is there was a lush garden environment around man sown with a balance of good soil and temperate weather ideal for growing the plants that were already replicating themselves.

One other important factor about this place was that it was a place where God met man in the cool of the day (cp. Genesis 3:8). This little stretch of physical “Paradise” was the place where God came and walked with man and where man gained knowledge of his purpose. It was a sacred place, a HOLY place, a meeting place fit for the King of the Ages to walk with His subjects.

Before we continue with the explanation of man’s assignment, go back and look in the first chapter at what we were already told in the summary statement of the sixth-day creative activities. This will add texture to our understanding:

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The account offers three details:

First, God made man in His own likeness. The term “tselem” that is translated “likeness” is a word for “shadow, shape or form.” What does it mean? It is hard to know the whole depth of the term, but it minimally includes in the context the idea of purposeful labor as satisfying. God liked creating and administrating the world and man was given this “sameness.” Put another way, you are most like your Heavenly Father when you are working to tend an organized and disciplined life. There is satisfaction and pleasure in purposeful labor that leads to some accomplishment. The enemy celebrates leisure and sloth, but little would be gained if we make those our chief ambitions.

Second, God commissioned man to rule over the earth’s created beings. In addition to organization, man was given some control over things in his environment, and that sense of control was meant to be a pleasant feature. This too was something that seems part of the “sameness” men were given by God.

Third, God created two varieties of humankind – male and female. They were created distinctively one from the other with differing design and different purposes.

Go back now to the second chapter:

Genesis 2:15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

In addition to ORGANIZATION and LEADERSHIP (RULING) found in Genesis 1, two new words were introduced into the dialogue in this chapter that describes man’s assigned purpose, the words “cultivate” and “keep” the meeting place Paradise.

The term “cultivate” is from the word “obed” which is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to denote “service” or “labor.” It is used of slaves and their productive labor and even used of worshipers before God. The simple term means WORK. Even in Paradise, work for God in an assigned task is what gave man’s life one of his main senses of purpose.

Economist Todd Buchholz, in his book Rush: Why You Need and Love The Rat Race, sampled 27,000 American workers between 1972 and 2006 and determined that 86% of the people were satisfied with their jobs. He wrote: A life of stasis or murmuring mantras, of staring endlessly at the surf with a pina colada will confound and frustrate your frontal lobe.” He argued that there was no real evidence that in “simpler” times people were happier. They lived shorter and more arduous lives. He further posited that since dopamine is released in response to taking risks, we were designed to try things. He went so far as to state that based on the scientific metrics he studied, it appears that activity and external stimulation, not quiet contemplation, sync us with the world and produce a longer term sense of happiness. Competition and risk produce necessary innovations for progress. That creativity seems to be inborn.

I cannot tell if the details of Buchholz’s findings are reliable, but I can tell you his general conclusion was already stated in Genesis 2. Men were created with the desire to organize, create and master the world around them. Strangely, the desire to do this work in harmony with the Creator is now found in the most unlikely place. This is the basis of PRAYER – working as a servant while requesting supplies from the Owner to keep your world running well.

Next, God added something else:

Genesis 2:16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

In the warning God gave to man, he separated man from all other creation. Here, God treated man as a moral agent, able to decide to follow commands or warned about consequences for not doing so. This act demonstrated that God desired a LOVE RESPONSE from man, even if doing so placed the story of history at risk.

Here is the first answer to the WHY question we looked at earlier.

This is a mere beginning, but it is so foundational, so very important, that I am unwilling to rush past the rich and powerful truths embedded in verse 16 and 17.

Why doesn’t God stop evil from happening?

The first answer (and there will be several others as these chapters unfold) is found in what God said to man about his own CHOICE to follow or to mutiny. We must recognize that as a moral agent, man was inherently given a choice to follow God.

Let me explain…

When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandments of God were two – to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (cp. Mt. 22). He claimed all the Law and Prophets hung on these two commands. In essence, Jesus said the supreme ethic God gave us is the ethic of love. It is the peak of all intellectual and emotional order. It is the organizing principle of all other parts of God’s story of history. It is this love that installs value and worth on each person we encounter. God loves His creation, so it has value. Between us, love is a prime cause that makes us desire to protect another.

The problem is that you simply cannot have love without weaving into the story the freedom of the will to choose to turn away from love. You can force compliance without the will – but that isn’t operating LOVE as the supreme ethic. Your computer can be wired to respond to the command, but it doesn’t LOVE you. It obeys. It is predictable when functioning properly. It is loveless.

Here is the truth: You can only love by choice. Freedom is indispensable to love.

The essence of God’s desire is relationship – with us and between us. Jesus said love drives the story. Therefore, we cannot rightly follow God without both loving God and receiving God’s love.

The problem is that our choice to follow presupposes the choice to reject, to mutiny, and to commit acts of selfish evil.

If God’s chief goal for us is to love both Him and our neighbor, our freedom to choose either to do so or to do the opposite is a necessary component of that command. Love will flow no other way.

Without choice, true love is crushed.

If we demand God put a stop to all evil, we demand Him to stop the premise upon which human history is built. He has planned the story with intricacy to show Who He is, and He has designed a stunningly complex world to make His identity clear. God is love. He chooses to love.

If God blocks all evil and thwarts all choices that don’t honor Him, how can we learn to love? Can His goals for us ever be realized? Is not the Maker the One Who sets the goals and principles of the story? If you want a world in which there is no evil, you are demanding a world in which there is no choice. It would be a coin with only one side. It would be a meaningless contest in which there were joyful winners, but no chance of losing. It isn’t only impossible – it is absurd.

As the absence of light is darkness, so the absence of choice is compulsion.

If God is good, why is there evil?

Ironically, the choice to ask the question is also part of love. We only know it is a problem because we can choose between good and evil. We ask because we are free to ask.

Simply put: with choice, there is love. Sadly, there is also the possibility of evil.

The design of God came with the possibility of trouble – but that was NOT a flaw.

In the coming lessons, we will see the choice to mutiny destroys man and his environment. At the same time, one day, we will also love reign supreme.

Some years ago, Dr. Ravi Zacharias spoke about this. He said:

We think we know so much. The story is told in Near Eastern folklore of this man who lost his horse when the animal ran away. His neighbor heard about the horse and came to him and said, “Oh my, bad luck isn’t it?” The man replied, “What do I know of luck?” A few days later, the horse came back with twenty other wild horses and the neighbor saw them all in the corral. He said to the man, “Oh my! What good luck! The horse has brought many others to you! Our man said, “What do I know of these things?” The man sent his young son out to feed the horses and one of them kicked his son’s leg, breaking the leg. The neighbor heard about the injury and came to the man and said, “Oh my! What bad luck for it appears your son has been injured!” Our man said, “What do I know of these things?” The next day an evil hoard of thugs entered the village taking every available youth to go to their gang army. They spotted the young son but left him behind because his leg was broken. The neighbor came over to say, “What good luck, your son has been saved!” In one little series of episodes, it becomes obvious that we don’t know what lies ahead and what it all means. (I shortened and paraphrased as faithfully as possible his original story).

Dear one, let me plead with you… instead of indicting God because  evil and trouble are in your life, why not wait until you stand before Him one day, face to face, and you will find out the reasons why He did what He did to show the heinousness of evil and see the majesty of His unmatched love?

God made the choice clear: follow the Creator or turn and live to serve self. One He defined as GOOD, the other He said was EVIL. The stakes are life itself. What is YOUR choice?

Boot Camp: “Back to the Beginning” (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

As a grandfather, I have been delighted to rediscover childhood, in some small way, as I watch one infant and one toddler learn the basics of navigating life. Some time back as a dad, I was busy so much of the time, I missed out on things that others see – but I am trying to see with more tender eyes these days. Here is something I have observed that most of you already know, but it helped me to see: Children learn by playing with things. Train tracks that don’t fit together won’t keep the train running. Big blocks on the top of my pile with small ones on the bottom make a collapsed mess. I even recall when I was a child, learning that “Lincoln Logs” make a great looking house (because someone else cut and notched all the wood and I only had to take each ready cut piece from the box). Those house building projects taught me that if I wasn’t careful about how I built, I would end up with a nice house that was missing a door to enter or exit! It would look great, but not one would have been able to use it. That is where childhood imagination kicked in, and I gave my little imaginary home dwellers the power to walk through walls like “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

It is surprising in how many venues children can learn. They soak up everything! Even playing with food can teach children. Moms make airplane landings in the mouth with a spoonful of strained spinach, selling the child that “this is delicious” and children learn what blatant manipulation looks like! Even so, we have to admit that some food is fun to play with. Oatmeal on a highchair tray is itching to become “dried oat art.” Spaghetti with sauce is just begging to become a new artistic swirl imitating paint on the kitchen wall!

When I think about food, here is what I learned: You can’t build anything on a “Jello” foundation! It seems firm, but it really isn’t! Between the slimy nature of it and its unreliable stability when placed under pressure, I have concluded that no secure buildings will ever have “Jello” foundations.

I guess the bottom line of building is this: everything stable must be fixed to a firm foundation.

I have been observing all around me people who seem to be living lives built on metaphoric “Jello.” Some are kind couples who love each other until they fight and cannot stay married – then it’s over. Their vows were obviously cast in a Jello mold. Others express belief in certain life principles until those same ideals cost them too much money.

For instance, I was talking the other day to a ministry leader distraught because two senior citizens in his congregation who expressed they knew and loved Jesus were found to be living together outside of marriage because their pension and retirement would be cut if they actually married again. They apparently believed in integrity, unless it was to a corporation or unless it would cost significant income with their retirement – in which case such integrity was simply too costly. I call that a jello foundation.

If you think about it, Jesus taught that stable foundations are essential and available. In His opening message recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus made the point in the close of that rousing message on “becoming a disciple” that:

Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.

His point was that storms will certainly come in life, and deliberate actions taken because of attentiveness to His Word were what would provide a secure, immovable foundation to get a follower through the storm.

Don’t skip past the two steps involved in a secure foundation.

The first step is KNOWING the Word of Jesus. Without an understanding of what the Lord said, He argued that we face the world without security. I want to make that very plain, because Jesus did. The world is filled with storms, and it simply isn’t a safe place in its fallen state. Because I have God’s Word, I can know both the Designer and the design. Because God explained what happened in the Fall of man, I can understand why things fall apart in a world built by a good God. Knowing is the first necessary step.

The second step is BEHAVING in each of the operations of life (i.e. relationships and responsibilities) in deliberate response to the Words of Jesus. It isn’t just about what we KNOW, it is about what we CHANGE because of what we know. I know how to eat right, but my waist line often reflects knowledge without behavior. That is what Jesus meant when He said:

Matthew 7:26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

In these lessons, I want to follow the truth all the way back to the foundation given by God.

These lessons aren’t designed to be steeped in academics, but rather a renewal of stabilizing principles from the text of God’s Word.

I want to be sure our foundation and behaviors are a deliberate response to the truths Jesus made clear. Consider the words from “The Message” Paraphrase of Proverbs 22:3:

A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.”

Doesn’t that have the echo of the same idea “and great was the fall of that house” as Jesus reminded?

As you open your Bible to the very first page in Genesis 1, I want you to consider the truth upon which the entire Word of God rests…

Key Principle: A strong foundation for life is set upon two powerful underpinnings: knowing the truth and living based on the truth.

Let’s ask some simple questions to the text at the beginning. What are the foundational truths that can root me deeply and bring stability? What truths enable me to be a dependable person deeply rooted in a stability the world around me cannot understand?

Foundations are usually the beginning of any work. They are not ONLY there, but some important ones are found at the beginning of God’s Word.

As we look at the opening page of the Bible, remember that many of us believe that Genesis was put into its final Hebrew form as a “prologue’ and ten scrolls that each began with the phrase “alle toledot” or “This is the story of” (cp. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9, etc). The older King James designation was “These are the generations of” and the newer translations – “this is the account of – “. In any case, the idea is the same. There is an introduction followed by what appear to me to be ten stories or accounts that are critical to my understanding of the world. Some of the accounts are quite short and pointed, but others are an entire mini-series set for prime time television.

Today I want to look more carefully at the opening introduction to the Bible, and make sure we know how the story began, and what God gave us in the record of the ‘first pour’ of the foundation of His Word. With that is mind, look at the opening words of the Word, a primer of history revealed to Moses at Sinai. Expect this message to address “simple things” because it is foundational. Begin with the Bible’s opening:

The Prologue: The Story of the Seven Days

In the intimate prologue of God’s recorded creation event, there are three details that carry the story.

First, there is the “WHO.” One cannot escape the beginning general note about the intentional Creation of the physical world by God Himself.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning” forces us to conclude any word of something before what we see now is entirely speculative and beyond the story God has explained to us about the cosmic origins. The starting place in the story of man and his world was God’s creation. The beginning was in God. For this reason, wisdom begins with knowing Him. We will never be wise chasing design without acknowledging the Designer.

Second, the ownership of all things is rooted in their making. God made us. He deliberately and purposefully crafted our world and our persons. Therefore, because He was our origin, He alone can ultimately determine my purpose and my destiny. There is an emphatic assertion from the opening line that no one competes as the owner of the planet. This is my Father’s world. Let there be no mistake. No council can overrule Him on why things are the way they are, or dismiss that His record is clear and concise.

Let’s say it this way: The opening line of the Bible offers this simple and straightforward word, that truth is found in the One Who created. Every other choice to explain origin, no matter how sophisticated in appearance, is a dressed up form of rebellion against God, and against the grain of how it all really happened.

God offered man (later in the story) opportunities to innovate with created things in order to improve conditions of our lives on the planet, but creation of something from nothing is beyond the purview of the created. God creates. God owns. In God’s explanation are the knowable facts of our origins.

A culture which cannot accept the opening line of the Bible is one rooted in rebellion. It can form models and even operate great technological advances – but ultimately the truth is found in the opening line that stares back and exclaims: “I am God, I created, it is all Mine.” This is not a fact we can “come half way” and “explain away” for popular acceptance. Either there is a Designer and therefore an Owner, or there is not. The Bible falls clearly on one side of that argument. It is the foundation of morality, mission and mankind’s destiny.

Second, there is a brief mention of the “HOW.” The fact that Creation was done in specific stages and sequences.

Genesis 1:2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

In the record there was a time when the organization of the world was not as we see it today. God could have created with absolutely finished villages and street cars and a world full of developed and modern people – but that is not the record. Creation occurred in an intentional and developmental way. He described creation’s steps. What were they?

It began with matter created but not in its final organized design as we know it. Note the terms ‘earth was formless and void” or the Hebrew “תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ” (tohu v’ bohu). The words mean literally “chaos or confusion” (in the sense of disordered) and “empty of meaning” (in the sense of devoid of recognizable purpose).

The Bible clearly stated that God put matter together, but didn’t immediately assign its order and purpose – that was a second stage. Don’t miss that. The creation entitled the Creator to assign purpose.

God created everything with a purpose and God alone can assign that purpose. Your body was created by Him, and its limitations and its proper uses are determined by Him. Biology is not bigotry – it is control. That is why the world rejects the very science they vaunt when it expresses controls on their desires.

Another important facet of creation that is made clear here is apart from God’s assignments, things devolve into chaos. Whether we are referring to the boundaries God placed on separation of species or of social constructs – the world was designed to function under assigned rules. Defy gravity and you will pay a price. Re-write biology and family function and you will as well.

Freedom doesn’t come from throwing off design. Each initial sense of freedom will eventually show the Pandora’s box of trouble it unleashes when accessed.

Suzie was shy and couldn’t speak to men. She was 27 and had a successful career. She wanted a husband and children to match her dreams. The problem was that her shyness caused her to freeze in social situations. She couldn’t talk, and she couldn’t show her shiny personality that was hidden. Someone told her that alcohol would help her “loosen up” and the bottle would offer confidence that she didn’t feel inside. She decided to dive in. What she didn’t know was the party girl she became solved ONE problem, but unleashed a series of other problems that she couldn’t control. The unintended consequences destroyed the dreams they were supposed to fulfill. I don’t have to describe how. It is a well known story that most all of us have seen in life.

Third, (beyond the “Who” and “how” of Creation) there is the revelation of “WHAT.” Moses reminded us what God designed and how His design fits together.

Look closely at the rest of the verses in chapter one. Note the following:

First, notice the words that mark the “days” in the first chapter:

• Verse 5: “first day.”
• Verse 8: “second day.”
• Verse 13: “third day.”
• Verse 19: “fourth day.”
• Verse 23: “fifth day.”
• Verse 31: “sixth day.”

Next, note how each new day began. In verse three God said: “Let there be light.” God inspected it in verse four and named the light and darkness in verse five. In verse six God said: “Let there be separations – land from sea and in verse seven he separated atmosphere from the vacuum of space above, forming an envelope around the earth. He named the separations in verse eight. Each day began the same way – with the SPEECH of God. That is a point that is repeated and should be carefully considered.

Genesis 1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Genesis 1:6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the [expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

Genesis 1:9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 There was evening and there was morning, a third day.

Genesis 1:14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

Genesis 1:20 Then God said, “Let the waters [teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

Genesis 1:24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The point is clear: God is the initiator and communicator, and what caused each part of Creation was logical, rational and deliberate thought. He is not hapless not haphazard. He is purposeful and intentional about what He does.

Many in our day seem to think that God is powerful enough to create with intention and purpose, but somehow unable to publish and maintain an accurate and careful record of what He did. They will argue that “Moses made the Creation story” as if God could place one quintillion stars in the Heavens but failed the supreme challenge of passing information to a secretary to write down the Holy Writ.

Third, notice God’s control in the world. When God spoke – what He commanded was EXACTLY what took place. Look at the words “It was so.” The world was created to LISTEN to God’s voice. After the Fall, we have gotten SO used to the mistaken idea that God’s Words aren’t really as significant as the words of our peers and the feelings of our heart about things. Do you recall that Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “As in Heaven, so on earth” as an expression of how WE should think about God’s commands?

Take a moment and look at what the text claims He created:

• Light and darkness – long before heavenly bodies gave them. He can create the effect before the cause.

• Land from sea – the very shape of the continents is in His hands.

• Atmosphere from the vacuum of space – after generations of technology to simply travel into space, it is worth recalling God made both and keeps the atmospheric envelope around the earth. No amount of human ingenuity could possible pull that off.

• God planted the garden of the world with each species and kind of plant. He parked in the heavens planets, stars, sun and galaxy. He tossed into the sea scores of creatures, designed with unique features and adaptability – because the Fall of mankind was coming and things were about to get marred. When the seas were teeming with life, He turned His kind attention to the mud and earth, and built His own zoo.

• Every creature on the earth came from His hand. Every fish in the sea reflects an incalculable complexity and houses within its organs the image stamp of a Creator.

Now, stop and look at God’s evaluation of what He created.

Make note in your Bible in 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:25, 1:31 – “It was GOOD.” God was satisfied with His design, and had no one to please beside Himself.
We need to remember that when God makes something, He knows what He wants and why. That truth is important!

Every shred of Biblical evidence available in the revealed truth of the Living God makes clear this truth: You are not a mistake. You are not surplus DNA on the planet. You are a formed child with a specific purpose by a Creative God. Simple songs of old reveal that in the Psalms:

Psalm 119:73 “Your hands made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.”

Psalm 139:14 “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”

Look at the end of the prologue (Genesis 1:1 to 2:3), because God’s evaluation is crystal clear:

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. 2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

God was satisfied. There was no need for more or less. He could set aside the creative work and enjoy the fruit of that labor. He created what He created the way He chose to create it, for His own purposes.

Now, consider that those simple truths are the foundational basis of surrender to Him and they are the very points at the heart of our rebellious contention against Him.

If God created all and God purposed all – my life ISN’T about ascribing purpose to things or “making” them valuable – it is about finding my purpose in HIM.

If He is the absolute ruler and owner, and I am His – made by Him for the purpose He made me – ANY other proposed purpose is a false one. Every time I ignore or reject His Word, I am in rebellion… plain and simple.

If the world was designed by God to follow God– our futile attempts to pull off life without attention to His Word will bring collapse in the storm. That was Jesus’ simple teaching in Matthew 7. Storms will crush the stability of your home, and pummel your life.

Yet, that is not what the world says…

Our world celebrates rebels. Look up the word REBEL online. We name sports cars, sports teams, powerful trucks, slick motorbikes and advanced cameras after the idea. In our modern world, rebel evokes untamed exploration, clever innovation, engaging excitement and risky edginess. God’s Word expresses it differently!

According to God:

• Rebellion caused every emotional and relational pain you have ever experienced. Rebellion is the fruit of feeding on selfishness.

• It isn’t exciting, unless you count excitement as violent destruction.

• It isn’t edgy – unless you count slipping from a high place and plummeting below.

• It isn’t exploration – it is violation. It is not simply “going where no one has gone before” but rather “trespassing where entrance has been forbidden.”

We must acknowledge the glorification of rebellion as a means to gain a sense of freedom is one of the greatest hoaxes of our day, sponsored by the Deceiver himself.

When I rebel, I will pay. Sadly, often someone who is innocent in my rebellion also pays. It may not happen today, but God says it will happen. I cannot ignore my need for a Savior and a covering!

When you recognize your rebellion, remember: God didn’t leave us to fix the problem on our own!

R. G. Lee, that great Baptist preacher once wrote:

There never was another Who caused all creation to be ransacked in pursuit of words appropriate to convey to human hearts and minds His glorious pre-eminence.

There never was another Who was a human child and also a divine Son; Who was wounded by Satan and Who, at the same time crushed Satan; Who was appointed the Savior of men, yet was crucified by men; Who was Judge of men; yet was led as a felon from one tribunal to another.

There never was another Who died and was buried and yet lived; Who saved others and Himself could not save; Who had no sin in Him, yet all sin on Him; Who was the King of Glory, yet wore no crown but a crown of thorns; Who, in the glory He had with God before the world was, had the angelic hails of heaven and yet, on earth, gave Himself to the murderous nails of men!

There never was another Who was the Prince of life, yet died on Calvary; Who was as old as His heavenly Father and ages older than His earthly mother.

There never was another Who was the victim of a Roman cross and victor at a Jewish grave.

There never was another Who poured all seas, all lakes, all rivers out of the crystal chalices of eternity, yet on a cross said with a mouth hot like a parched desert that cries for rain, ‘I thirst’”.

All of this was written to describe the Lord Jesus Christ. God has given Him a name far above every name. We speak today of the Righteous, Risen, Reigning Christ!”

If you don’t know Him, you need Him. If you do, you need to listen to Him. Why?

A strong foundation for life is set upon two powerful underpinnings: knowing the truth and living based on the truth.

Don’t forget: His very NAME is “Truth”. Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.”

Growing in God’s Love: “Love’s Foundation” – Ruth 4

Like most healthy and reasonably “normal” children, I didn’t really follow politics, but there were some names I overheard and learned in my early life. One of those unmistakable family names was “Kennedy.” I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most Americans of that time thought we would likely have decades of the Kennedy family in the news and perhaps even in the White House…

John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) the Senator from Massachusetts, in his Washington, D.C. office, February 27, 1959. (AP Photo)

I was only two years old when President John F. Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Later, when I was seven years old, President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California, after winning the California Democratic primary for the upcoming Presidential election. With both gone, most eyes turned to yet another Kennedy brother – Ted. Just a year after the loss of Robert Kennedy, a single-vehicle car accident on Chappaquiddick Island brought his journey to the White House to an end. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s admitted negligence in driving resulted in the death of his 28-year-old companion, Mary Jo Kopechne. According to Kennedy’s own testimony, he accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge, swam free and left the scene. He pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury” and was given a two-month suspended jail sentence. I believe it is safe to say that scandal haunted the rest of his political career. Some in the media murmured about the family being “cursed.” Others waited to see what the next generation would bring.

Perhaps you were moved, as many Americans were, while watching television on the day of President Kennedy’s burial by the salute of little “John-John.” He became the hope for the Kennedy clan’s future. That is until he perished in a plane crash. Our nation again stood shocked around television sets in the summer of 1999 when John Kennedy, Jr. at the age of thirty-eight, crashed into the waters off the coast of Massachusetts. His wife and sister both died in the crash as well.

The sense of a curse deepened in the press. Yet, the truth seemed simpler than some plot or curse. Investigators concluded Kennedy was a qualified pilot but only according to VFR (visual flight regulations). He was not qualified to fly by instruments (IFR–instrument flight regulations). As he flew along the Atlantic Coast, he encountered a blinding fog. Only an IFR trained pilot would have been properly prepared to navigate through the confusing haze.

Immediately after the accidental crash, some pilots explained the disorienting nature of flying without any visual reference points. As strange as it seems, a pilot can lose all sense of direction relative to the ground. Without a view of the horizon, some lights in the distance or another reference point, a pilot can’t reliably perceive what direction he or she is heading. Some have come out of such fog banks flying perpendicular to the ground of even upside down from the earth! There is only one way to safely fly in such conditions, and that is for the pilot to keep his eye fixed on the instruments in the cockpit. The plane electronically provides an artificial horizon marker and makes clear the height, airspeed, and attitude (ascent or descent). The instruments tell the pilot the truth when they can’t see it with their eyes. The toughest part, according to many seasoned pilots, is learning to have unquestioned faith in the instruments – particularly when you feel something different from what they indicate.

Think about the faith it takes to fly on instrument flight regulations. Could you overcome your feelings and trust the panel in front of you?

Now, look at the situations in your life. Sometimes the way forward is clear. The alarm clock says, “Get up!” You hit the button, jump out of bed and head to the shower. It isn’t a mystery; you need to get ready for work. How you feel isn’t all that relevant, since you know the bills will roll in either way. That seems simple enough – but that isn’t all there is to daily life.

A plane lands in thick fog today at Heathrow Airport. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 22, 2011. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Maybe the circumstances you are passing through aren’t all that clear. Maybe you sympathize with the pilot in the fog bank because it feels like that is where you are living right now. Maybe circumstances don’t look particularly good, and God doesn’t seem particularly close… or even fair right now. This wasn’t in the brochure. You don’t know how to trust without being able to see… If you understand that feeling, then you understand my friend Naomi, and you can pick out the struggle she went through long ago. If you feel unprepared, remember that is the very reason stories like this one are in the Bible – to train you to keep focused on the instruments (in this case the promises and Person of God) when flying in the fog.

In the Book of Ruth, Naomi had a crisis of trust. God loved her, but she couldn’t see it. For a long time, it felt like He didn’t love her, didn’t want to tenderly care for her, and didn’t make anything clear. As you open Ruth 4, listen to the truth she learned from her “fog bank” experience…

Key Principle: Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances.

Naomi learned a spiritual version of flying by “instrument flight regulations.” She had to stay focused on God’s character and not her circumstances – and that took training.

Because you may have been away from the story for a while, let’s recall what the Book is all about.

In chapter one, Naomi was given by God two sons, but they were both sickly. She was given a husband, but he died. She was given by God a farm, but a famine drove her from living there for a time. Widowed and broken, she set her face to return from Moab back to Bethlehem. Against her initial wishes, one of her daughters-in-law, a Moabite girl named Ruth, came with her. Naomi arrived back to her old family farm with a companion, but utterly overtaken by bitterness toward God.

In chapter two, we find Naomi begin to soften a bit. Ruth asked to go and glean in the fields among the leftovers, and God directed her to a relative of the family who was kind and generous named Boaz. His care for Ruth and for Naomi’s situation revived hope in Naomi, and allowed her to see that God wasn’t cruelly stripping her of everything – He was repositioning her.

By the third chapter, Boaz showed love to the family and promised that he would see their needs through to the end… We feel like good things are coming, but they don’t happen until the last chapter.

Throughout the story, we learn that we need to live patiently before God.

We need to face the fact that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if leaving us there will position our life where He can best use us. We learn that He can set the stage by removing people dear to us and by removing situations that are both comfortable and familiar. He supplies people to help us, and He opens doors for us – but He does it to fit His plan and His timing.

As we close the story of Naomi’s life, we need to consider how walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not our view of circumstances. I have in mind an ironic truth: The greatest joy of this life is that our greatest joy isn’t found in this life. Because of that, we can’t see purpose here. It is only found in finally viewing the story from Heaven’s perspective. To that end, look at the last chapter, which we can divide into three simple parts:

• First, there is the story of the redemption of the family of Elimelech, the deceased husband of Naomi (4:1-12).

• Second, there is the marriage and childbearing of Ruth that brings about the celebration of Naomi (4:13-17a).

• Third, there is a narrator’s note on the reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22).

Ruth was promised by Boaz in chapter three that he would be willing to help Naomi raise up the name of her dead husband and restore their farm and standing in the community. How did he do it?

Redeeming the family and name of Elimelech (4:1-12)

The text records the redemption of the family at the ancient courtroom found in the gate of the city of Bethlehem. Watch as Boaz makes good on his promise:

Boaz organized the gathering (4:1-2)

Ruth 4:1 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.

There they sat, Boaz and eleven men gathered by him to discuss the matter of the loss of the name of Elimelech and the need to redeem his property. The Law had few restrictions on women of the era in terms of their ability to buy, sell or grow a business or run a farm. Proverbs 31 illustrates the fact that a good woman performed many business functions. Don’t get hung up on the fact that she stayed at home, for that is where people operated their businesses – both men and women. The chief issue was this: a woman couldn’t operate her home business pursuits without a male heir whose name was listed among the tribes of Israel. This allowed the property to be identified by tribe and family and held the land in trust according to God’s prescribed order. Elimelech died leaving no male heir. The relatives could redeem his name by marriage and “takeover” of assets and liabilities, but the order in which they could apply to the court was based on a specific lineage order. Boaz wanted to see Naomi and Ruth cared for, and the farm redeemed – but he knew he wasn’t first in the line to redeem the family – someone else was before him. The text continued:

Ruth 4:3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.” 7 Now, this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”

The court witnessed three issues that day.

First, the land and property of Elimelech were, in effect, purchased by Boaz.

He was taking on all debts and responsibilities for the property. Boaz removed his sandal and put on the sandal of Elimelech, openly beginning a journey to “walk in his shoes” as a metaphor for taking over in his place.

The idea of redemption in the Bible is simple: it is a purchase. When Boaz redeemed the property of Elimelech, he was making crops raised on that property saleable under Elimelech’s name. He was reviving the position of one who had been removed from the rolls because of his death. Real estate hung in limbo for a time because of no permanent tribal record of a living heir. The property was in jeopardy when the next Jubilee year would reset the records of property. Boaz pledged his fortune to cover all the markers on the land.

Christians use the term redemption in a related way as we look in the Christian Scriptures. The idea comes, in part, from the Law and stories like this one in Ruth. We find the term used in places like Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus where he wrote:

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us ...

Don’t get lost in all the words. Paul made the point that God blessed us with all kinds of rich spiritual blessings which will reach completion when we are in His presence in Heaven (1:3). He intentionally chose us long before we were here – with the end purpose of bringing us to holiness (1:4). Out of love God purposefully adopted us (1:5-6). How did He do it?

He did it by redeeming us. The term translated “redemption” is “apolýtrōsis” and literally means “to buy back, to re-purchase something once owned but later lost.”

The Bible teaches that man was created by God and was His personal property. In rebellion, mankind turned from God as a child that ran away. When God “found” us (an analogy with limits, to be sure), we were enslaved. He had to buy us back. Fortunately for us, God had what was required in the form of the sacrifice of His Perfect Son. The blood that paid for our sin, should we decide to accept it, is effective to cleanse us. It also provides the full re-purchase price to put us into the family of God as adopted children. We who follow Jesus are His twice over: once by creation and the second by redeemed purchase.

Second, the name of Elimelech was overtaken by Boaz.

All children of the union of Boaz and Ruth were legally named after Elimelech, and the property remained in his name under his proxy, Boaz. To redeem the name, Boaz lost the right to transfer his own name to others. He gave up his place so that others would have the proper attachment to their rightful father.

Throughout the Bible, the idea of “giving a name” was to take responsibility for and to act on behalf of and in the character of another. Think about these two meanings for a moment:

In some Bible stories, a person gave a name to another to show they were (in some way) taking responsibility for them. Adam did this with the animals, to show he recognized his responsibility to care for them. He named Eve to show he understood his responsibility to her as well. In the Ruth narrative, Boaz took the responsibilities of the dead man Elimelech from chapter one.

Think about this: When I pray “in the name of Jesus,” I am consciously recognizing that He is the One Who can DO the things I ask. He is the One with the responsibility to act where I cannot.

In other Bible stories, the giving of a name is about ascribing character. Many are the stories where understanding the name of the people is key to recognizing the whole story. In Ruth, her name is derived from “Re-ut” – the term for “friendship.” Who can miss that she is the example of the concept? Like Jacob, whose name meant “trickster,” and scores of others, their name helped their story along.

Again, I remember that when I pray “in the name of Jesus” I am to bring petitions that match His character. I dare not ask for something He would not ask. I offer a request because I know, in the end, the granting of it will bring honor to my Savior.

Third, a marriage was announced.

Boaz announced his intention to marry Ruth in hopes of bearing children to re-stock the household of Elimelech with boys. These would carry the name of one who formerly was lost from the tribal records because of death and loss of all of his name-bearing sons. The people were excited, and their blessings reflect they understood what the priority of the marriage was for Boaz. They exclaimed:

Ruth 4:11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

Between Rachel, Leah, with Bilhah and Zilpah (their maids) the twelve sons of Judah were born. According to Numbers 26:20-21, the house of Perez was a very sizeable clan. All in all, they were exclaiming, may your house be full to overflowing – the best way to both become people of wealth and of fame!

It shouldn’t escape any Jesus follower that the completion of the redemption happened with the wedding of the two. That same truth applies to our own re-purchase by Jesus! We await the coming of the groom as the “bride of Christ!” It is for this reason, we are to be preparing ourselves, by walking distinctly from the world around us.

That is the first of the three stories of the passage, that is, the court proceedings that redeemed the family. The other two parts of the passage are the results of that story. Notice the first outcome was the fruitfulness of the family…

The marriage and childbearing of Ruth (4:13-17a)

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!”

Did you happen to notice that most of the focus of the account was not on the baby, nor on the baby’s parents – but on Naomi, the matriarch of the redeemed and restored family? Naomi suffered loss and became bitter. Now God showed her a small touch of His love and a slight glance at the beginning of His purpose. She didn’t live long enough to see it all, but she began to get a glimpse of this truth: the death of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion were not the end of her family’s story – they set up the special way God chose to use them.

The reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22)

The last story unfolds the true underlying purpose of the whole story. This was a legal document of lineage for a king that sat on the throne of Jerusalem. Little “nobody Naomi” and her unloved and forgotten family were awarded a critical role in the plan of God! The writer ended the story with these words:

Ruth 4:17b “…So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez [s]was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.

Can we not see that our life is bigger than we know? Can we not understand what the Lord told us concerning the plan? Proverbs 16:9 echoes through history: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” God is at work behind the staging of your life, before your life, beneath the fabric of your life. He forgets no one. He misses nothing…

In a way, your life is in His hands. Your role in the world is His to write into the scroll. In another way, you have much that you can and should do. You must learn to fly by instruments because the fog will roll in. Even though you won’t choose the fog that one day will surround your life, how you see where you are in the midst of the fog is your choice. You can prepare to learn to fly without sight.

A young student in China decided to play a trick on his elderly teacher one day. He caught a small bird and cupped it in his hands behind his back. He then approached his master with a plan in mind. He would ask the wise man what he had in his hand. If he answered correctly, he would then ask the teacher if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said, “Alive,” he would crush the bird. If he answered, “Dead,” he would release the bird. Upon approaching the teacher, the young student said, “Old man, what do I have in my hand?” The man responded, “A bird, my son.” “Is he dead or alive, old man?” the boy asked with a grin. The old sage thought for a moment and then he replied, “The answer to that question, my son, is in your hands… It’s in your hands.”

Here is the truth from Naomi’s life: No matter what you think about your circumstances – God is at work in, through, and around you. She thought God left her family, but she found out that only by famine would she move to Moab. Only in Moab would she find Ruth, and only through Ruth would the story of her family be redeemed.

• The loss of her husband wasn’t a fluke – it made her leave Moab and go home to start the king’s lineage.

• The loss of her sons wasn’t happenstance – they set the stage for a redeemer.

“Wait!” you might say, “I have made so many bad choices! I am not like Naomi at all!” That is nonsense. Her sons married forbidden women. A Moabitess shouldn’t have been in the gown of an Israelite wedding. You must understand: No matter how much you think your bad decisions have blocked God’s love, as long as you are breathing, God is at work in your life. Your bad choices didn’t put you too far from God’s ability to work in your life.

You simply MUST learn to fly by the instrument panel etched on His face. You have to trust His character and not the foggy mess of your circumstances.

When you learn to fly by instruments, you place your faith in His ability and begin trusting a mind greater than your own. That is part of the surrender process. You begin by plotting the course to the destination by allowing God to lead you – since you know He knows what you cannot know. In short, flying by instruments includes beginning my journey with the end in mind.

The first thing we learn to do in our journey is to think through our destination, because it has much to do with how we get where we are going. When we know where we are headed, the point of the journey becomes clearer. What we take with us and why we value it becomes clearer.

Let’s say it this way: My first task in learning to trust God and not my circumstances MUST be to clarify in my mind where I’m headed.

Philippians 3:20 reminds me: “You are a citizen of Heaven!” How does that affect my view of Washington’s woes and the mountains of problems of this life? I must keep in mind that what looks like a reversal and defeat of the Lord’s plan isn’t that at all.

I must also learn that my Father may chart a course through a storm I cannot see in, but He is not unsure of where I am going and how to get me there. The way for Israel to get to the Promised Land was THROUGH the harsh desert and hot sands. The way for you to get to the land of His promise may take you for a time through that same sand pit. For a while, you may smell the camels. God hasn’t left; He is leading where you cannot see. Remember, Israel wasn’t ready to fight for the land without attacks from desert people that taught them warfare. Some of your problems are to teach you and prepare you to use the defenses God has set up for you. You cannot “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6) alongside the likes of the Apostle Paul and his fellows, without some fight club training and a few bruises.

If I second-guess His way, I’ll grab the wheel and begin living by feeling! If I waste time fighting His every directional change and keep “putting in my two cents” every time He inputs instructions for my directions, I keep arguing the foolish point that I can do this as well as He does. He has told me to “Trust in HIM with all my heart and NOT lean on my own understanding.” He has explained that I must “in all my ways acknowledge Him, and He will make my paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). He knows the best way for me to get where He is leading. I simply don’t.

The excursion may be long, but I know I’m going to arrive if I trust Him to get me there. No matter what I see or cannot see right now, knowing He is leading me opens the door to freedom and optimism, because “He Who began a good work in me will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 1:6).

If I am willing to let the instruments take over, there is a great opportunity. Think of it this way: The beauty is they start wherever I am. The instruments don’t tell me there is no way to get there from where I am. If I grab the controls and pull things off course, I have a reset – a renewed trust – where they will again take over. It is possible that I may willfully disobey and pull away in mistrust, but I have a Savior who reassures me that doesn’t put me beyond His grasp. That is why He has told us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

• If it is true that He can grab the controls and lead me home, then it is also true that my future has more power over me than my past. The journey is all about what lies ahead.

• All the nonsense detours, all the silly wrong turns, all the accidental forays away from the destination mean little to the journey once the instruments take control.

• Stop acting like you can’t turn over the controls when you can’t see anyway! You can have a start fresh.

Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances… Love’s foundation is trust. The problem is you have to choose to trust what He knows over what you think you see.