Tag Archives: evil

Mission Failed: The Fall of Man & Woman

to be given on Sunday, February 21, 2016–2nd Sunday of Lent

 

Scriptural connection: Genesis 3:1-11, NLT

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man[a] and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

 

Text references:

  • Study Notes from Genesis in the Life Application Study Bible.
  • Chapter 2 in Christopher J.H. Wright’s The Mission of God’s People,

 

Reflection:

One of the earliest life lessons taught children begins: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Regardless of when or where this saying originated, it reflects how God wants us to live. Unfortunately, evil is all around us. We see it, hear it, and sadly we speak it. Would God’s mission, assigned to us, be successful or even necessary if these three simple principles were maintained?

God created a world designed to meet our needs and all he asked was that we take care of it. That mission seems so simple, but the decisions humanity makes damages our world. From the smallest piece of trash we drop on the earth’s surface to the worst crime against one another, the mission has failed.

Consider the Garden of Eden’s story if the old maxim “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” had been applied. Eve would not have seen the apple nor heard the serpent. She would not have goaded Adam into eating the fruit.

But considering the “what if” of the story will not make a difference. The Bible story summarizes one of the very raw truths about humans—we make mistakes over and over. The literature of the Bible carries us through every type of mistake men and women make generation after generation. We failed God’s mission. We still fail God’s mission and fearfully we will continue to err:

  • We see evil. Consider what we watch on TV, the big screen, our tablets and computers. We see evil portrayed fictionally and in reality, even watching in real time when networks interrupt with breaking news. Evil exists in Christian and non-Christian communities. Evil is visual as images degrade human worth or record horrors of war. Evil is packaged as entertainment or as news. Evil no longer is masked, it is publicized, and sometimes presented as good while greed is interpreted as profits.
  • We hear evil. The words we hear are in casual conversation, possibly overheard in a store, or through the scripts of the entertainment we choose. Evil is expounded in what is said as well in how it is said. Evil is modeled through bigotry, unguarded comments around young people, and screamed as road rage boils over. Language can severe relationships, erode self-images, and even start wars. Sadly language is oral and words spoken cannot be erased. Evil fills our ears and destroys us.
  • We speak evil. What we see and hear all too often causes us to speak evil outwardly, too. Consider how young children brought up in homes where abuse is part of daily life. The words they hear all too often are repeated outside of their homes. We speak what we learn. We tell others what we hear in rumors. We risk sharing negative opinions without knowing the ‘rest of the story.’ Each time we speak out in anger or ignorance we speak evil. What words we share have the potential to create or to reproduce evil in so many ways.

 

Back to the story of Adam and Eve: If Eve had not seen the serpent (Satan), not heard his words, would she have talked Adam into eating the fruit? This is a “what if” question that is no longer important to consider literally, rather it is a question to ask of ourselves. If we do not see or hear evil ideas, do we still speak evil?

In Wright’s text The Mission of God’s People, the failure of the mission is analyzed on four levels: physically, individually, socially, and spiritually:

Human disobedience and rebellion against the Creator God brought disastrous results (Genesis 3-11). Evil and sin weave their way into every aspect of God’s creation and every dimension of human personhood and life on earth. . . . God’s mission is the final destruction of all that is evil from his whole creation. Our mission therefore has to be as comprehensive in scope as the gospel the whole Bible gives us. (p.40-41)

 

Right now, Lent is the season to reflect on our lives as Christians. Are we living a God-centered life that keeps us focused on the mission of loving one another and caring for our world or are we failing the mission?

Granted evil surrounds us and living in a country that allows for each person to define one’s own ideology, it is difficult to live out a mission to share the message of loving one another; but if we do not do our best, what happens? Will evil win or will we see that God wins?

As God’s co-workers, let’s turn the old adage around:

  • See the evil through God’s eyes. Do not look away when evil appears. Look at the news through God’s eyes and offer a prayer for those who offend as well as for those who are victims. Show others through your own actions how to love that will counter evil’s effect.
  • Hear the evil with God’s ears. Using God’s ears, hear the words that can hurt our children, our spouses, our families and our friends. Listen carefully to learn why evil words are spewed out. Identify the source of evil and do whatever you can to relieve that source.
  • Speak the love of God. Whenever possible, use your words to share God’s love. Step in and say “Stop!” when someone is using evil words, hurtful words. Love one another unconditionally. Speak the message to all that you meet in as many ways as you can. The more love we share orally, the more evil we can destroy.

 

Yes, the mission creation created failed when Eve and Adam ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The act of disobedience and rebellion is considered to the “the fall of Man/Woman.”

God had created the Garden of Eden because he loved us so much that he wanted to meet our every need. All He expected was that we take care of His creation—the earth and all that is in it, including flora, fauna, and one another. By taking care of God’s creation, we defend ourselves from evil. As Christians we accept the responsibility to carry out the mission.

Can we change things? We cannot go back and fix evil that has happened since the beginning of time, but we can pick up God’s mission and do all that we can for all we can in as many ways as we can as long as we can. We can see evil through God’s eyes; hear evil through God’s ears, and speak God’s love through our words and our actions out loud in the community in which we live.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We read the scripture, remember the story,

and now stop to reflect, to review, and to renew

the mission you created.

We see the evil surround your earth and the people in it,

and we stop to ask ourselves how have we failed

to keep the mission you created.

We look forward from creation throughout history

and seek guidance from generations of the faithful

struggling to carry out your mission.

Thank you for loving us unconditionally despite failing

to trust your words and your messengers

teaching us how to live your mission today.

Let our efforts to live a love-filled life caring for your creation

demonstrate your unconditional love to others

and keeps the mission alive for generations yet to come.

–Amen

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Prayer-filled Lent #1: Praying for Our World

given on Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stepping into a new role can often cause us to rethink what we are doing in our lives and even whether or not we can possibly fill that role. When my para asked if I would mentor her son in his effort to earn the God and Me Badge for Scouts, I eagerly accepted. What I did not anticipate is that I could learn more from the process than I was able to give. In Psalms 25, the psalmist says:

The Lord is good and does what is right;

He shows the proper path to those who go astray.

He leads the humble in doing right,

Teaching them his way. (v.8-9, NLT)

 

The psalmist tells us that God shows us the proper path, and the acronym P.A.T.H. comes from that experience with the Scout badge. The guidebook offered the idea that PATH was a way to learn how to pray. I found myself using that structure to check my own prayers and to evaluate the prayers I have been writing. (Interestingly, the mentor’s manual shared that PATH was a simplified version of ACHE, representing a much more adult choice of words that I can’t even remember, so I am sticking with PATH.) Therefore, during Lent I am going to focus on PATH as we fill the Christian Lent season with prayers.

Let’s look at this acronym again:

P — Praise: Tell God how awesome he is for always loving us.

A– Apologize: Tell God you are sorry for your mistakes.

T– Thank: Thank God for helping you and all he gives you.

H– Help: Ask God for help making the right decisions

or for answering your worries or problems.

 

The scripture from Matthew gives us the words Jesus taught his disciples in what we commonly refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. The choice of denomination or the choice of a Bible’s translation can change words subtly, but the structure and the meaning really do not change. The translation used today is the New Living Translation and includes the word ‘sin’ rather than the more traditional ‘trespasses’ or what other denominations might chose such as ‘debts/debtors’.

Using the Lord’s Prayer can become a mindless routine if we allow it to lose its meaning. In the study notes from the Life Application Bible, this concern is addressed:

Repeating the same words over and over like a magic incantation is no way to ensure that God will hear your prayer. It’s not wrong to come to God many times with the same requests—Jesus encourages persistent prayer. But he condemns the shallow repetition of words that are not offered with a sincere heart. We can never pray too much if our prayers are honest and sincere. Before you start to pray, make sure you mean what you say. (study notes for Mt. 6:7-8)

 

I admit that I have wondered how much value there is in repeating the same prayer over and over, but I had the thought this past week that when all else fails, the Lord’s Prayer bubbles up and fills in when my mind can’t.

Living in a world that is filled with evil, prayer is a tool all Christians can implement in any situation whether in joy, in fear, in praise, in pain, or for absolutely any reason. We need to make sure we understand that God hears all the thoughts that run through our mind. Sometimes what we are thinking is so un-Christian it is the last thing that we want to share with God; and in Jesus’ instructions, he includes an apology.

Use prayer with intention. In those private moments when our minds begin going over the concerns we have and we begin asking God for help, be intentional. Practice prayer. Realize how many times thoughts go through your mind and you discover there is only one listening and that is God. During Lent, we are going to practice prayer in very intentional manners. Let’s add specific prayers. Keep a prayer journal, even date it and write down a list of people, topics, places, or anything you want God to focus on.

Share the prayers so others may add them to their list. The prayer of one is like a single ray of light, but when more rays of light are added together it becomes a strong beam even more visible. And if the beam of light is shined through a magnifier, the intensity of the light can become a force that lights a fire. Our prayers can be that beam through the magnifier, and God will light the fire to eliminate the problem.

Intentional prayer can also be strong by shining the positives through a prism creating a rainbow of beauty. The intentional prayers for the good in the world catch God’s attention also, and he can spread the good in like the glory of the rainbow.

Today, let us intentionally pray for the world! The news brings to our attention problems that are so horrific that as Christians we are torn as to what we can possibly do. The worst of the worst is news of the Coptic Christians who were beheaded. What can we do? We pray.

We pray for the peace of those who died because of their faith. We pray for the pain of their families. We pray for the world that knows the evil is spreading. We pray for the communities facing these horrors within their own city limits, their country’s borders, and even the region.

We pray. We pray intentionally. We pray together. We pray for understanding and for peace. We pray for the world leaders who have to make tough decisions. We pray for the men and women who are going to have to face the violence in any effort to stop evil.

During the week ahead, intentionally add prayers for the world in your own prayers. Prayers for the world may be to stop the evil we are witnessing in the Mid-East, but the prayers for our world need to go beyond that one issue. The list covers so much:

  • World leaders and global peace
  • Environmental issues—loss of natural resources above and below ground
  • Climate changes, esp. due to factory emissions, cars left to drizzle
  • Careless use of genetic engineering
  • Unsafe water, esp. in extremely poor, third world countries
  • Other . . .

 

How can we be more intentional with our prayers? Our lives are so full as it is, adding in more prayer time may seem impossible. Being intentional about what we pray means being intentional with the practice of prayer. While we are filling Lent with intentional prayer, we can learn how to add in ways to improve our prayer life. Today, how do we find more time to pray?

In an article on the United Methodist Church website, an article by Joe Lovino from December 22, 2014, creates a list of suggestions to find more prayer time:

  • Make prayer a priority
  • Make an appointment with God
  • Find a sacred place (to pray)
  • Turn off the television
  • Pray with a group
  • Pray as a family
  • Keep your Bible and prayer journal
  • Keep the conversation going all day (remember prayer is conversation with God)
  • Pray your calendar
  • Use resource such as the Upper Room or other devotionals such as those on line
  • Experiment with different methods
  • Enjoy it
  • Keep going

 

As in all lists of suggestions, some may not work for you; but the important thing is to use just ways that do work for you. Study the list, write out the concerns for the world that you can include in your prayers, and then do it—pray intentionally.

Closing prayer for the world:

Dear Heavenly Father,

(Praise)      You have provided us a world

that meets our every need.

You gave us the opportunity to live

freely in our own way.

(Apology)  Yet we ignore our responsibility

as caretakers of nature’s wealth.

We fail to live as responsible neighbors

not loving them as we want to be loved.

(Thanks)    Thank you for loving us despite

our repeated failures.

Thank you for continuing to listen

to our selfish prayers.

(Help)        Please patiently hear our prayers

as we continue to grow in faith.

Talk with us as we struggle to hear you

and to recognize your answers.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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God’s Gifts: The Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control

given on 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2012

Scripture:  Galatians 5:16-26                  the CEB

     16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

     22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires.

     25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. 26 Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.

 

         Have you ever received one of those holiday baskets of fruit?  In the middle of December, someone would giveus a basket of fruit.  My mental image is always the little red basket wrapped up in red or green cellophane, gathered at the top with a bow tied on.  The basket would take a place of honor, usually on the dining room table, untouched—at least for a few days or maybe even a week or more.

At first a basket of fruit was just a ho-hum type of gift.  There were no toys in it, no candy, just fruit.  It was easy to ignore it sitting on the table because it was not something on my wish list.  And it did look pretty sitting on the table.  Oddly, even Mom and Dad did not open it and begin eating the grapefruit or the bananas or the apples.  For those first few days, the basket took a place of honor, sitting on the table almost like part of the Christmas decorations.

Gift giving is such a tangible way of sharing love between one and another.  God’s gift of his son was tangible, too.  Jesus was born, grew up, and ministered to the world so that we might receive the ultimate gift of eternal life.  No doubt eternal life is a gift that keeps on giving, but sometimes it seems so far out of reach that we fail to accept the gift and treasure it.  God’s gift is often pushed away and sent to the table just to look at rather than open and use.

God’s fruit basket was also delivered that first Christmas.  Remember that God is in three parts:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The fruit basket is delivered to each and every one of God’s children through the Holy Spirit.  The fruit basket provides us the immediate result of loving God by loving one another.  It is unwrapped the minute we accept God’s grace, believe in Jesus, and join in the Christian family.

As soon as we open God’s gift of grace and that of his Son, we also open the gift of the Holy Spirit’s fruits.  Just like the fruit baskets that are given out over Christmas, the Holy Spirit’s fruits are life sustaining and enriching.  The fruit basket represents all the vitamins and tastes and textures from all regions of the earth.  The Holy Spirit’s fruit can do the same thing and it is never completely consumed.

The scripture from Galatians lists the fruit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are the character qualities that stand out among those we know are filled with the Holy Spirit.  These qualities make all the difference in the world between those who believe and those who do not.

Interestingly this fruit keeps us healthy in the midst of a world that seems to thrive on evil.  The list in Galatians 5:20, written in A.D. 49-50, is a list that mirrors the evil we continue to see yet today, 2,000 years later.  Sometimes it feels as though the world is spinning out of control and there is no way to stop the insanity.

But there is.  Remember that God’s gift of his son was his way of transforming the Jewish faith into one that was simpler, love-filled, and available to everyone—not just those who were identified as the ‘chosen’ ones, those of the Tribes of Israel.  Just three years of Jesus’ ministry truly did transform the world.

God’s love was unwrapped, used, and then crucified so that we might receive eternal life.  The Holy Spirit’s basket of fruit was given when we accepted Christ and chose to follow God’s New Covenant.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot be destroyed unless we fail to open it and use it.

Take the cellophane off the basket and see what it offers.  Mary Slaughter has done this and created a study book, Following Jesus, where she defines the fruit:

  • Love—the ability to unconditionally accept and love others, even when you may not feel like it.
  • Joy—a deep, inner gladness gained from an intimate relationship with Christ; often found in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  • Peace—an inner harmony and sense of well-being because we know God has accepted us; even during conflict or distress because we trust that God has everything in control.
  • Patience—ability to exercise restraint and calmly persevere in waiting on God; accepting consequences, endures the wrong of others, bears injuries and suffering while refusing to retaliate.
  • Kindness—treating others with openness, sensitivity, and love; Christ-like way of treating others with compassion, mercy, friendliness, and loyalty.
  • Goodness—able to know right from wrong, to do good to others, and to expose evil and injustice; work for social justice (must work hand-in-hand with kindness).
  • Faithfulness—unshakable loyalty to God; displayed by being trustworthy, reliable, and responsible, carrying out commitments to God and others.
  • Gentleness—demonstrating consideration and thoughtfulness; requires openness, humility, and a teachable spirit.
  • Self-control:  taking responsibility for one’s self and exercising discipline to avoid sin; resulting in a lifestyle appealing to God and bringing the support and power of the Holy Spirit to prevent and/or overcome excesses.

Wow!  Opening the fruit basket provided by the Holy Spirit is amazing, but I guarantee that each one of us who has known the life-sustaining qualities these fruits provide us already knows that.

When one looks back over this list of fruits, there are names of people in our lives who have exemplified them.  Apply a mental test and see just how many of these character qualities describe people you admire.  Compare them to others you have met who fail to exhibit these qualities.  Do you see who is Christian and who is not?

Now, take the mental test one step farther:  Which of these character traits describe you?  Have others complimented you for any of them?  Do you struggle with any of the traits?  How do you think these fruits have enhanced your life?

God through the Holy Spirit has given you a fruit basket.  You must open it or it will rot and go to waste.  You must take steps to keep it fresh and replenished or your life will feel empty.  This is one Christmas gift that requires opening on a daily basis.

Opening such an invaluable gift will sustain you, but it will also make it possible for God’s grace to expand even further.  Opening up the Holy Spirit’s fruit and using them will result in our giving God’s love to others.  It will make a difference in this world.

Others will see what a difference God makes.  It will provide grace to those who need God in their lives.  It will reflect what a difference Jesus makes in our lives so others can see God in us.  And, in time, we will transform the world by loving one another because we have opened up God’s gift given by the Holy Spirit.

Dear God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the gifts you have given us.  They are gifts that transform lives.  The gift of your Son continues to give love to us.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is so personal and fills our world with fruit that overflows our basket and leaks out onto others.

Thank you for those around us who have shown us how to use the gifts each and every day.  The quality of these gifts are reflected in all that we do.  As we continue to unwrap your gifts, may others find their gifts, too.

Thank you, God, for those who teach us about your gifts.  Help us to learn more in an effort to guide others in opening their own gifts.  Use us this holiday season to deliver the gifts and make sure they are opened so others may be transformed, too.  –Amen.

Scripture:  9-10 What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you? We do what we can, praying away, night and day, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when your faith falters.

     11-13 May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.  –I Thessalonians 3:9-13. the MSG

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