Monday, September 21, 2015

Humanity's Fall

My Sunday School lesson for Sept. 20, 2015 …

Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" adult commentary session 3:

FIRST THOUGHTS

When did you lose your innocence?

(I don’t mean virginity, I mean that childhood idea that the world is good, that humanity works together, that bad things don’t happen to good people, etc.)

Of course, nowadays, we're not even allowed to be shamed by our sin. "If it feels good, do it," is our mantra. Our country's Christian moral foundation is seen as stuffy and old-fashioned.

It's easy to say that Eve should have told the serpent to go away, and Adam could have told Eve to drop that fruit and step away.

But think of how difficult it is to resist temptation, and how often we are deceived.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 3:1–4:26

*** The past two weeks we discussed how God created everything to His glory and made man with a purpose.

*** God gave Adam and Eve a beautiful garden that had all of their needs. Their social needs were met, their spiritual needs were met.

*** God had one command, not to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

--- You may have heard the military adage that “No plan never survives first contact with the enemy.” And so it was that the first contact mankind had with Satan’s temptations they failed miserably.

THE SHAM (Gen. 3:1-5)

1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

*** Mankind naturally rebels against order.

*** Fool me once.

---Satan's a tricky one.

(The first two chapters of the Bible are without Satan, and the last two chapters of the Bible are without Satan. In between, we have to deal with him.)

---Though the name “Satan” doesn’t appear here, John identifies the serpent as Satan in Rev. 12:9 and 20:2, and Paul referenced Gen. 3:15 when he wrote “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).

--- Of course, the fact that a talking reptile didn't phase Eve is also a tad confusing.

--- Did Eve stand a chance? After all, before this Satan had already convinced one-third of the angels to join him in rebellion against God. Angels. How is that possible?

*** Satan’s greatest trick is getting us to question God’s Word.

--- God meant what He said, but Satan twisted it and distorted it so much that the woman didn't even realize she was being convinced to doubt God.

--- The serpent asked, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” But that's not what God said. He said they couldn't eat from one certain tree, not any tree.

--- Eve gets it right, mostly, because she also says not to touch any fruit from the tree, which God didn't say. But she knew the consequences, that eating the fruit meant paradise was lost.

*** Satan will flat out lie.

--- Jesus called the Devil “a liar and the father of liars” (John 8:44).

--- The serpent tells Eve that eating the fruit won't lead to death. Instead, it convinces her that God is a petty and insecure tyrant.

--- The serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding the really good stuff.

--- The irony of the serpent’s claim is that Adam and Eve already were in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen 1:26). Rebellion against God’s will would make them less like God, not more like Him.

--- The lie that has seduced humans in every age is that sin has no consequences.

*** Question - Knowing how Satan operates, what are some things people can do to recognize and resist temptation?

THE SHAME (Gen. 3:6-7)

6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

*** Naked and afraid.

--- Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought shame to God’s once perfect creation. They defiled, dirtied and desecrated God’s paradise.

*** The tree was "delightful to look at."

--- Sinful choices often appear very attractive to our eyes.

*** Careful what you wish for.

--- You know those stories where someone wishes for something, and it doesn’t turn out the way they hoped? The Devil is full of these half-truths.

--- The serpent told Eve that they would not die, and they didn't die immediately. But death entered the human condition and they did eventually.

--- He said that their "eyes will be opened," and indeed they were. But they only saw their own guilt. They hadn't acquired Godly wisdom, but worldly wisdom.

Paul, for example, referred to the world’s wisdom as foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20-31). James wrote that wisdom is available to everyone who asks God for it (Jas. 1:5). Similar to Paul, James also distinguished between the wisdom that is from above (God’s wisdom) and the wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3:15). We should seek “the wisdom from above” that is “pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy” (3:17).

These allurements to sin—food, beauty, and worldly wisdom—are always with us, and the Bible repeatedly warns us of them. John wrote of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle” (1 John 2:16). Satan also tempted Jesus with food, with a visually sensational miracle, and with god-like authority (Matt. 4:1-11).

*** That escalated quickly.

--- She took, she ate, she gave, he ate.

--- "Resist the Devil, and he will flee" (James 4:7), but give in and it’s a bullet train to Sinville. They went from perfection to shambles in seconds.

--- After they sinned, instead of seeking God and confessing, Adam and Eve immediately tried to (literally) cover it up. They were shamed by being naked, they hid from God, and Adam blamed God for giving him this woman who would “make” him sin. The woman blames the serpent.

*** Question – Why is so hard to fess up when you sin? Why do people try to hide it?

--- God allows that we are sinners. Arrangements have been made. 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

THE SHAMBLES (Gen. 3:14-19)

14 Then the LORD God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. 15 I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. 16 He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you. 17 And He said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.”

*** The world feels the sting.

--- The Bible affirms that all of creation has felt the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, including all animals.

Rom. 8:20-22 - For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

*** God tells the serpent to literally “eat dust.”

--- In verse 15 God provides the first evidence of Jesus and of Satan’s defeat. Verse 15 is called the Protoevangelium, or the first indication in the Bible of God’s plan to send a redeemer.

--- Satan would strike Christ on the heel at the cross. However, because of His death and resurrection, Christ would crush Satan’s head and win the victory over him.

*** Eve's punishment.

--- In addition to physical pain through childbirth, God’s words could refer to the emotional pain associated with challenges like infant mortality, infertility, and child-rearing.

--- God also told Eve that she would desire her husband, and he would rule over her. Desire may relate to the former statement, in which case the meaning would be, “Childbirth will be painful, but you will desire the physical relationship with your husband that results in childbirth.” If, however, desire relates to the statement about dominating, the statement means, “You will desire to dominate your husband, but he will dominate you instead.”

Men have typically filled the role of leadership in the home and in society, and that has been true fairly consistently across cultures and generations. So God’s statement was, in one sense, a statement of fact that has come to pass. It also finds further explication in the New Testament command for wives to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; and 1 Pet. 3:1).

*** Adam's punishment.

--- God cursed the ground, so Adam would have to endure painful labor and hard work to have the basics of food and shelter for his family.

--- Though God judged their sin, He also continued to love and provide for them. He made clothes for them from animal skins, and animals as a sacrifice for sin allowed sinners to be forgiven (before Jesus, of course.)

*** Question - How do we see the consequences of humanity's fall in today's world? In what ways is God's mercy evident?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

All that is wrong with the world came from this one event. It is the reason for all imperfection and death, all problems personal and environmental.

But there is hope! We can be a new creation, and Jesus is the answer.

The way to overcome Satan is described in Revelation 12:11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

God is not cruel. The truth is that God desires for us to have pleasure and fulfillment.

Psalm 37:4 - Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

*** Rebelling against God's authority and His Word leads to disappointment and destruction.

*** Every person not named "Jesus Christ" has followed in the footsteps of Adam and Eve.

*** Sin always leads to judgment, with God holding us accountable.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Made in His image

My Sunday School lesson for Sept. 13, 2015 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Monday was Labor Day, and a survey this summer of workers showed that nearly 90 percent were either “not engaged” with or “actively disengaged” from their jobs. 9 out of 10 workers spend half their lives doing something they’d rather not be doing and in places they’d rather not be.

Why?

Do we just naturally dislike work?

While paradise for many people would seem to be turning off the alarm clock and sleeping in, God’s paradise for us included some labor.

Think about this, though. Retirees are busy at work, but doing stuff they’d rather do, such as play, spend time with family, tend their yards, etc. So maybe the key is that God created us to do work that we feel we are meant to do?

So maybe people just want work that is meaningful — that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 2:4-25

*** Last week we started a 13-week study of the first book in the Bible by describing God's creation of the heavens and the earth.

*** This week we'll look at God's purpose for men and women. We are the central act of creation. Genesis chapter 2 helps to answer the question of how we fit in the world.

*** In God’s perfect creation He gave man abundance and responsibility. As we'll see next week, man would turn to his own ways rather than to the ways of God.

MAN FORMED (Gen. 2:4-7)

4 These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. 5 No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not made it rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. 6 But water would come out of the ground and water the entire surface of the land. 7 Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

*** Let's review.

--- Chapter 2 is a retelling of creation with an emphasis on day 6 and the creation of humanity.

*** You are not insignificant.

--- Have you ever thought, "I feel so small and insignificant"? Or seen people who seem to make a living off of telling everyone how meaningless their lives are?

--- These verses make that idea a lie. We are made with a purpose, by God, in His image, with the ability to reason, to be creative, to have a relationship with Him. We are necessary to this whole world.

*** Contradiction?

--- Why does verse 5 say that "no shrub of the field had yet grown," when God created vegetation on the third day? Because the shrubs and plants are different than those mentioned in chapter 1. Until God made man there was no one to cultivate plants, so they didn't come to be until after verse 7. Similarly, in chapter 3 after the fall, there was no cursed land such as thorns.

*** Water out of the ground.

--- It's unclear what this means, but the likely explanation is that there were natural springs that rose to the surfact to provide water for growing, since there was no rain yet.

--- No need for rain - this was paradise! Every farmer knows sometimes the rains come and sometimes they do not. Before the fall, plants always had just the right amount of water.

*** Dust to dust.

--- Notice man was made from the earth but his breath came from God. This signifies our value from God, more valuable than the rest of creation. When God made us He declared it “very good.”

--- The Hebrew word for man is “adam,” and the Hebrew word for ground is “adamah,” which shows our close connection with the ground. As Paul writes (1 Cor. 15:42-49) we have a natural body in an earthly existence. The new spiritual body comes later.

*** Question – Does knowing how God created us make you feel significant.

A PLACE TO CALL HOME (Gen. 2:8-9,15)

8 The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. 9 The LORD God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

*** Movin’ on up.

--- Like the Jeffersons, humanity was living in style in the Garden of Eden. God showed His love for man and woman by furnishing a beautiful place to live and all the provisions they needed.

--- The Hebrew term eden refers to “delight” or “enjoyment.”

*** Your safe place.

--- The garden was a sanctuary where God invited humanity to enjoy fellowship and peace with Him.

--- However, faith and obedience were prerequisites for living in this place of special communion with God.

--- Clearly, after all of God’s blessings here, for Adam and Eve to rebel by eating from the forbidden tree was inexcusable.

*** Work is good for the soul.

--- Verse 15 says that man’s purpose in the garden was to work it and to watch over it - even before sin had taken over.

Work was not punishment for sin. Because God created and cares about people, and people need houses to live in, furniture to sit on, food to eat, and clothes to wear, when we work to provide those things we’re participating in God’s plan to provide for His creation as much as Adam was when he tilled the garden.

--- This included being a good steward for the environment. Which makes sense. Farmers and ranchers know more about their animals and their land than anyone, including groups like PETA.

*** Question - How can we honor God through our work? How is being productive an extension of the wise stewardship of God’s creation?

A WARNING ISSUED (Gen. 2:16-17)

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”

*** You had one job.

--- God provided everything Adam needed. All God said to Adam was to avoid this one tree.

--- God's first words to man assumed Adam's ability to choose wisely and take responsibility.

--- God's command gave Adam the opportunity to demonstrate his devotion and obedience to God. God knows what's best for His creation.

--- We'll see next week just how badly Adam failed.

*** Question - Why do you think God put the tree there? If there's no tree, is there any tempation, and would there be any sin?

Every relationship has parameters—do’s and don’ts. Is the prohibition against the tree a warning or a demonstration of love by God? Man’s relationship with God was defined by the fact that God was the Creator and the man was only a creature. Why do people often regard prohibitions in negative terms or as an infringement?

A NEED ADDRESSED (Gen. 2:18)

18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”

*** What could go wrong?

--- Moses did some amazing foreshadowing here. In verse 17 God says, "Don't eat this." In verse 18 he writes, "So along comes a woman." And next week we'll see what happens next!

*** Woman = Whoa, man!

--- So far, God has provided for man's every need - food, fellowship with God and work - but mankind needs social interaction.

--- "Helper" doesn't mean woman was man's servant.

--- Woman was made equal to man and in God's image, equally important in God's purposes.

*** Question - How does God use relationships to enrich our lives? What does our need for relationships reveal about our need for God?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Why are people so curious about their ancestry?

We all have at least once common ancestor, way back in the Garden of Eden.

Something deep inside us yearns to know where we have come from, where we are headed, and why we exist.

God gave us a unique role during creation. God, in fact, placed all the world and its creatures under human stewardship. God expects us to be faithful in carrying out our responsibilities as stewards.

*** Approach your job as if you were created to work it by God.

*** Just as the man was required to obey God in that command, God’s people today are required to obey God’s commands in His Word.

*** Our love and our labor should demonstrate that we desire to honor and serve God above all.

Monday, September 07, 2015

In the beginning

My Sunday School lesson for Sept. 6, 2015 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Fall is a good time for new beginnings. The start of school has already begun, and this weekend college football kicked off.

When we start something new there’s a feeling that everything will be great. God’s given you a chance to make it perfect. Expectations are high. You can start from scratch, life is a tabula rasa, or “blank slate.”

As we study of Genesis we can reflect on the beginnings of the universe. Be amazed how God created something out of nothing.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Last week we wrapped up our study of Revelation, which tells of the end times and a future eternity. For the next three months we will go back to the beginning when all was created.

*** Genesis 1:1-2:3 lays the foundation of our world view about God, human beings, creation, and laws (e.g., to worship no other gods; to keep the Sabbath).

*** The size of God’s creation is hard to fathom.

--- Just our solar system is so large that it takes 248 years for Pluto to make one revolution around the sun. Our sun is only one star in this galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, which consists of about 100 billion stars. Furthermore, the universe consists of billions of galaxies, each one of which has billions of stars.

--- That makes us feel very small, but it also helps us to see how great God is.

*** Something does not come from nothing.

--- The Bible says that the universe did not begin by chance, but by design. To believe that nature—with all its complexity—came into being by chance is against everything we know about design. The universe is the intentional creation of a Designer, and the Bible reveals that Designer as the one true God.

You either believe that God created it, or you don't. Not much middle ground. Of course, I'm not even going to touch on the question of whether it's a literal day or a figurative day and whether the earth is 6,000 years old or 4.5 billion Years old.

OUT OF NOTHING (Gen. 1:1-2)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

*** In the beginning.

--- God already existed.

In Psalm 90:2, the psalmist wrote to God, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” Jesus affirmed the existence of the Trinity before the world began (John 17:5 – “Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed.”).

--- Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." It literally says, "In the beginning Elohim, Elohim created the heaven and the earth." That's the Hebrew word from two root words: El, which means strength and unlimited power. And the last part of is allah, which means to keep a promise. Elohim is also a plural noun. I believe that right here on the threshold of the Bible we see an indication of the nature of God, as shown in the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All three were present in creation (see John 1:3 – “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.”). (Love Worth Finding)

*** Cosmic Play-Doh.

--- Verse 2 says the earth was formless and empty, and God shaped it all.

A lot of people seem desperate to find an explanation for the origin of life that doesn’t involve God.

*** Question - Why do you think people have such a problem with the idea that God created all of this? To what lengths have people gone in order to prove that these words aren’t true?

BY HIS WORD (Gen. 1:3-5)

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 He called the darkness “night.” Evening came and then morning: the first day.

*** (Like sand through the hourglass …) These are the days of our lives.

The first verse of the Bible establishes that God created everything; the remainder of Genesis 1 describes how He created everything.

The pattern of each day is similar: an announcement (“God said”); a command (“let there be”); a report (“and it was so”); an evaluation (“it was good”); and a chronological framework (e.g., “the first day”).

Not only did God create all the universe out of nothing, He did so with purpose.

Day 1 - Light.
Day 2 - Sky/Water
Day 3 - Land/Vegetation
Day 4 - Stars
Day 5 - Sea creatures and birds
Day 6 - Animals and humans

Note the pattern: In addition to being divided into six days, the first three days relate to the second three days. On the first day God created light, and on the fourth day God decreed that the sources of light would govern the nights, days, and seasons. On the second day God separated the waters above the earth and on the earth, and on the fifth day God filled the waters above (clouds) with birds and the waters below with fish. On the third day God separated the land from the water and placed vegetation on the land, and on the sixth day God filled the land with animals, including humans.

IN HIS IMAGE (Gen. 1:26-31)

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
29 God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, 30 for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.

*** With great power comes great responsibility.

--- Man is made in God’s own image, not referring to physical resemblance but that He has given us abilities possessed by no other part of creation. We reason, we have a moral conscience, creativity. We are capable of having a relationship with God.

When I observe the behavior of my children, I recognize myself in them. They are my image. When God looks at us, He sees that He has put part of Himself in us.

--- God puts mankind in charge of His creation, complete with instruction and provision. Mankind was to manage and use God's creation and to take care of it.

*** Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

--- Perhaps God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is the only command humanity has ever consistently obeyed; we have filled the earth!

--- There’s a lot of talk about gender confusion in today’s culture. On Facebook you can choose from 50 different sexual orientations. But God’s design is clear. He created humanity with two separate, different genders.

*** Question - WHY did He create us?

When you make something, you have a reason for making it. The Old Testament speaks of man bringing the world under his dominion. It speaks of being created to show forth God's glory (Isaiah 43:7). It speaks of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.

FOR HIS GLORY (Gen. 2:1-3)

1 So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. 2 By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.

*** God completes His work.

--- The work of creation was finished, but God immediately began working to draw people to Himself.

*** God blessed the Sabbath and declared it Holy.

--- He created a pattern He wants us follow - work, then rest - so much that it became the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8).

Question - Why is it important to have a regular “Sabbath” day? How do you get refreshed and reconnect with God when you observe times of rest?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The things made by men are not perfect. They break. They have defects.

God does not create bad products. The creation story declares five times that the various components of the universe were created to be good (1:10,12,18,21,25). After the creation of humans, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (1:31).

Everything in creation was created at the spoken word of God. Every ocean shore, seashell, and flower. Every sunrise and sunset. Every mountaintop. Every bird. Every insect. And yes, every person. All of it has been created at the word of God alone. We are not a coincidence or an accident.

We don’t know all the specifics, and that’s just fine.

The Love Worth Finding daily devotional Monday had a great statement about how we can never know all about God and His ways:

“You can take a bucket down to the ocean and dip out a bucket full of water. Everything in that bucket is ocean, but not all the ocean is in the bucket.” And with our bucket-size minds, we are never going to know all there is about God. I’m not. You’re not. Nobody is. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

*** There is one explanation for the origin of the universe: God created it.

*** As His creation, our purpose is to bring glory to the Creator.

*** Be a good steward of God’s creation.

(Note: I largely use Lifeway's Explore the Bible teaching guide for my lessons, and sometimes use other sources such as Love Worth Finding and Grace to You ministries.)