Archive | August 2017

The Damages of Sin

tears

Sin, by its very nature, causes deeply damaging injuries to our souls, to our lives, and to our relationships.

The Biblical account of Adam and Eve points to several significant injuries they experienced as a result of their sin in the Garden of Eden—injuries that have been passed along to us as well:

Shame!  Immediately after disobeying God, the poison of shame began to eat away at Adam’s and Eve’s souls so that they no longer looked upon their nakedness with innocent joy but with a sense of shame.

Jan Luckingham Fable writes, “Shame is an unrelenting feeling of not being wanted and of being unworthy of being wanted…. Shamed people fear that if others really knew them, they’d be disgusted or hate them.  People who have been shamed also dread being caught in a mistake of any kind…. The shamed person believes, at some level, that she—or he—should not exist, that she is a worthless, defective and empty human being…. Excessive shame is a prison.  It keeps a person caged in feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and even despair.”

Out of shame, Adam and Eve covered themselves up, afraid of being fully seen for who they really were.  We have been doing the same thing in our relationships ever since.

Fear!  Fear was unknown until Adam and Eve disobeyed God, but it quickly began to dominate their souls, driving them to hide from God.

Edgar Wallace writes, “Fear is a tyrant and a despot, more terrible than the rack, more potent than the snake.”  Angela Liddon adds, “It’s crazy how much I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and probably never will happen.  I’ve spent my entire life battling the anxiety monster, and I’ve missed out on so many great opportunities due to debilitating fear.”  Out of fear, Adam and Eve went into hiding.  Likewise, you and I miss out on “so many great opportunities due to debilitating fear.”

Broken relationships!  Adam and Eve were designed to live together in harmony as complementary partners, but as soon as sin entered their hearts the harmony disappeared.  Right away, Adam blamed his actions and his troubles on Eve, and ever since then, we have been blaming one another for everything that goes wrong in our lives.  Genesis 3:16 even traces the oppressive, heartbreaking, injurious relationships between men and women back to Adam’s and Eve’s original sin.

Hurt and Injury!  The sin that breaks relationships, inevitably leads to hurt that we bring upon ourselves and injury we inflict upon others.  Our history books and our newspapers are full of evidence of the hurt and injury caused by sin.  Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend remark, “No matter what someone is struggling with, most likely someone else is being hurt by the sin.  Addictions hurt the family.  Lust hurts the marriage partner.  Irresponsibility hurts many people.  And on and on.  There are no victimless crimes.”

Turmoil!  Sin is not something we do as if in a vacuum.  It kicks back at us, making a mess of our souls, our lives, our relationships.  It results in turmoil in our lives.

  1. Neil Strait states, “Sin does not serve well as a gardener of the soul. It landscapes the contour of the soul until all that is beautiful has been made ugly; until all that is high is made low; until all that is promising is wasted. Then life is like the desert—parched and barren.  It is drained of purpose.  It is bleached of happiness.  Sin, then, is not wise, but wasteful.  It is not a gate, but only a grave.”  No wonder God describes the “curses” that will fill Adam’s and Eve’s lives.

But there is one thing that sin cannot destroy.  It cannot destroy the unstoppable love of God!  So even in Genesis 3’s description of all the horror that sin has brought into the world, we still see evidence of the unstoppable love of God.  Despite their sin, God did not desert them, but walked into the garden and called out to them.  He promised them that He would send an “offspring” of Eve to settle matters with the devil.  And He lovingly clothed them.  Indeed, the word used in Genesis 3:21 to describe God clothing Adam and Eve is a word that is normally used to describe a king clothing an honored subject, or of dressing a priest in sacred vestments.  Despite their sin, God still reached out to them as honored persons.  Indeed, Romans 5:8 stresses, “But God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”  Despite sin, God’s love remains unstoppable!

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Battling Temptation

temptation

One of the reasons we struggle so much with temptation is that temptations are sneaky and deceptive.  Jesus described the devil as “the father of lies,” and he certainly lives up to that description when he tempts us.  I see this dynamic in the Bible’s account of the first sin, and I experience this dynamic whenever I struggle with temptation.  The devil makes promises he cannot deliver on—and which he actually has no interest in fulfilling.

He told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the fruit which God had forbidden them to eat, it would open their eyes and make them like God.  But he deceived them.  Their eyes were opened only to the extent that when they looked on each other now they felt a shame which they had not experienced before.  And rather than becoming like God, they lost the joy and intimacy they had experienced with God before their sin.

In my own experience, I find the devil often promising me that if I follow his lead he will make me happy or successful or loved or whatever.  But he has no real interest in me or my happiness or my success or my love life or anything else except for pulling me down the wrong path.

Satan’s strategies remind me of a story Jim DeCamp shared:

“In February of 1991, I attended the memorial service for a soldier killed in action in Desert Storm.  I’ll call him Mike….

“Mike and his driver had become disoriented in the desert, and desperately needed to find friendly lines.  They came upon a truck filled with civilians who pointed north (toward Iraq).  What Mike and his driver did not know was that the people giving directions were Iraqi soldiers dressed in civilian clothes.  Minutes later, Mike and his driver approached a suspicious-looking road block.  His last words were, ‘Let’s get outta Dodge!’

“His driver wheeled their vehicle around, only to meet the truck speeding north toward them.  The hail of bullets miraculously missed the driver, who managed to stay on the road and make it to a French Army hospital.  When they arrived, Mike was dead.

“Mike asked the right thing: Which way should I go?  His problem was that he looked in the wrong place for the answer.  It wasn’t enough that Mike asked a legitimate question, nor that the response was convincing.  The answer he got was a lie, and it cost him—and his family—his life.”

Temptations come at us filled with lies.  One of the things we need to do in our battles with temptation is to pull aside the devil’s lies and focus on the truth.  One key truth to consider is this: The devil has no love for you and no concern for your welfare, but Jesus loves you so much that He gave His very life for you.  Which one do you think will lead you better?  Which one can you trust?

Who we are as Man and Woman

adam and eve

The Christian church has a long history of presenting a low—and unbiblical—view of women.  Martin Luther wrote, “Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.”

What does the Bible actually tell us about women?  To answer that question, let’s start at the beginning of the Bible, with the creation of man and woman.  Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  What this tells us is that it is not men alone or women alone who reveal the “image of God,” but the combination of man and woman.  There is something vital about the person of a woman, and something vital about the person of a man, and something vital about the relationship of the two that reveals the “image of God.”

In Genesis 2:18, when it comes to the creation of woman in particular, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

There are a couple of matters that need to be clarified here:

The word “helper” sounds like God is deciding that a man needs a maid or a cook to take care of him, but such is not at all what this verse declares.  The word translated as “helper” is used almost exclusively in Scripture to describe God as our Helper.  The use of the word in Genesis 2:18 is not meant to look down on woman but to acknowledge that man needs her in his life like he needs God in his life!

The word translated as “suitable for him” literally means “in front of him” or “counterpart of him.”  Woman does not stand below man or above him but in front of him, facing him.  From a biblical perspective, woman is the one who meets man’s match.  Man and woman are meant to go together.

The word translated as “woman” or “female” in Genesis 1:27 is the Hebrew word neqebah.  The literal meaning of the word is “punctured” or “bored through.”  In his book, Fully Alive, Larry Crabb explains, “Neqebah refers to something that has been opened and can now be entered.  Is God wanting us to think of the way He designed a woman’s body?  In sex, the most physically intimate act, the woman presents her body, opened by God, capable of being entered by a man’s body.  The meeting is productive and pleasurable, and blessed by God if the man and woman are in covenant relationship, married, committed to each other for life, and committed to the other’s pleasure more than their own.

“A thought comes to mind: perhaps the physical shape of a woman’s body is a kind of parable, or picture, of the spiritual shape of a woman’s soul.  Could femininity have something to do with a woman who is relationally opened to receive?  Our likeness to God is not physical.  God is a spiritual being, three persons who relate together not physically but personally.  We reflect Him most clearly as we relate together as persons.

“A feminine woman is a woman who relates in a particular way; she is opened to receive others who come to her.  And, pushing the image further, she warmly and pleasurably surrounds those whom she receives.  She invites movement toward her and embraces the movement she receives.” (p. 44)

The openness and welcoming nature Crabb describes are vital aspects of the image of God.  The qualities of a woman enable us to see more clearly the nature of God.

Here’s where the rubber hits the road for me: Many, many times over the years, my wife has sought to share with me her care, her compassion for others, her creativity, her spontaneity, her passion; she has sought to welcome me into this inner world of hers.  But, in my pride, or stubbornness, or self-sufficiency, or obsessive-compulsive-personality-disorder, I have rejected her welcome.  Not only have I hurt her, but I have hurt myself by missing out on opportunities to see more clearly and experience more fully the nature of God.  Men need what women can reveal to us of the fuller understanding of the nature of God!

The word translated as “man” or “male” in Genesis 1:27 is the Hebrew word zakar.  Crabb explains, “Zakar means ‘to leave a mark, to make an impact.’  In ancient Near East culture, the word referred to a king’s assistant, to a man charged with the important privilege of reminding the king of matters that required his royal attention.  Zakar came to mean someone who remembers something important that moves him to do something important….

Arsen, Greek for male, means ‘to lift, to carry.’  It points to the strength needed to move something from one place to another.  Together arsen and zakar suggest the beginning idea that a man reflects God by remembering what is important and moving…with the strength to make an important difference.” (p. 67-68)

A man reveals the likeness of God as he leaves a mark in the lives of others, as he remembers what is important and moves to do something about it, helping to lift and carry others.

It is the combination of man and woman together that allow us to see the nature of God most clearly.

What is our place in the world?

earth

What is our place in the world?

The first two chapters of the Bible present a thought-provoking and soul-provoking perspective on that question.

Genesis 2:7 tells us that “the Lord God formed man [“Adam”] from the dust of the ground….”  There is actually an interesting wordplay taking place in this sentence in the original language: The verse tells us that “the Lord God formed Adam or adam [man or human being] from the dust of the adama [ground].”  It is not just that Adam was made out of the dust of the ground, the very word for “humanity” comes out of the word for “ground.”  Our name, our identity, and the essence of who and what we are is intimately connected to the ground from which we are made.  We are literally “earth creatures” or “beings of the earth.”

In his book, Creation and Fall, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states, “Man’s origin is in a piece of earth.  His bond with the earth belongs to his essential being.  The ‘earth is his mother;’ he comes out of her womb.”

No wonder we speak of “Mother Earth”!

The ethical question we must grapple with is: How should we treat this earth from which we were formed?  (How should we treat our “mother”?)

The answer to that question is addressed in the closing paragraphs of Genesis 1.  After the creation of humanity, Genesis 1:28 says, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The word “subdue” (kabash in Hebrew) is not a soft word.  It can also be translated “enslave” or, in the harshest cases “molest” or “rape.” “But,” as Christopher Brown points out, “here’s the catch: it only means this when the party being subdued is already hostile.  Hence it’s used to speak of military enemies in scripture.  Not to subdue an attacking army would lead to death.  Hence, we subdue the earth because without such subjugation the harshness of nature would yield death for us rather than life.”

This verse recognizes that there is a wildness to this world and to nature that takes wisdom and work from us in order for us to live here safely.  We experience this when we build dams and aqueducts to manage droughts, when we build levees to contain floods, when we domesticate animals, when we cultivate fields, when we fight smog and pollution and the destruction of our ozone layer, even when we weed our gardens.

Another word that comes up in Genesis 1:28 is also of great significance in understanding what is our place in this world and in understanding how we are to treat this earth.  The word “rule” (radah in Hebrew) is a royal word, used to describe the rule of a king.  Psalm 72 was written as a coronation psalm for King Solomon.  Verse 8 uses the same word as Genesis 1:28, declaring, “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  In light of this psalm, Genesis 1:28 calls humanity to rule over the earth as Solomon was to rule over his kingdom.

But think about that.  What does Scripture tell us about how a king is to rule (and, thus, how we are to treat this world)?  Psalm 72:12-14 offers this description: “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.  He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”

If a godly king or leader is to look out for and protect the weak and the afflicted and needy in the land and to rescue them from oppression, are we not, as guardians and stewards of this world, to protect this land from oppression and to look out for whatever aspects of creation are most needy and vulnerable?

Indeed, in words of judgment against Israel’s evil leaders in Ezekiel 34:4, God says, “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”  Sadly, I fear that God may say the same to us about how we have “ruled” the earth.

By God’s design, we are intimately bound to this earth from which we were formed.  Over and over again God declared each aspect of this world to be good.  We have a God-given duty to care well for this world God wisely and lovingly made.