Friday, December 30, 2011

Genesis Chapter 3: The Fall of Man

Genesis Chapter 3 is about the fall of man. Historically this has been taught as man’s punishment for disobedience to God by eating the apple, and some churches say the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was about sex.

Hawgwash! I heard all these stories growing up and as I started this commentary I was excited about learning some new things about it.

It begins with the crafty old serpent. The original Hebrew word for serpent is “nachash” and is best translated as something that signifies to view or observe attentively, divine or use enchantments. It also involves something that is “brass or brazen”, and of course it signifies a “serpent, but of what kind is not determined.” (Clark’s Commenary on the Bible). There is some evidence that the ancient Hebrews considered this serpent to be a crocodile. What is known is that many early civilizations had advanced snake/serpent worship such as Thoth in Egypt, or the god’s of the Phoenicians, as snakes were sacred to most of the Heathen worship of ancient times. Many Jewish scholars and early Christian leaders identified the serpent as Satan. Some state that Satan used the serpent.

Of course there are also many arguments about if this is a historical story or an allegory. The Essential Bible Handbook says, “The writers of Genesis did not produce objective, footnoted, cross referenced documents with specific dates for the people and events they describe. They had a very definite perspective from which they wrote the book, and this perspective is that all reality, and specifically the reality of the community of faith, is grounded in the will and power of God. They wrote a theological history that seeks to preserve the experiences, remembrances, and beliefs of this earliest community.” What is agreed upon by all is that God created the world and everything on it. That it was good. And that man, with free will, broke the relationship with God.

The serpent, whatever it was, was crafty and subtle. First he approaches Eve, when she is alone and perhaps vulnerable, and asks her a simple question, “Has God told you not to eat of any tree in the Garden?” It is an ambiguous question designed to bring about doubt and to get her to question the divine goodness of God. Eve responds that God has said not to eat of the one tree, and even adds “nor shall you touch it or you will die.” This little addition is not what God had said and may show that she was already considering what was to happen.

The serpent sees this vulnerability and seizes upon it and tells her that she would not die, that God simply does not want her to be as wise as God and know good and evil. This question raised doubts as if God is good and righteous you would not die by eating fruit of the tree. He uses this logic to subtly contradict God. Remember, Faith leads to obedience, and doubt leads to disobedience. The seed of doubt was planted.

When Eve looked at the fruit she saw that it was pleasant to the eye (wants of the flesh), good to eat (food for the body), and held wisdom (religion). These are the same three temptations of Christ by the Devil.

What the serpent had said was only a half-truth, as Eve, and later Adam, didn’t die by eating the fruit, but it did not turn out like they had hoped.

So she ate it and then gave some to Adam, who also ate. Their eyes were opened and they felt shame at their nakedness. They tried to hide from God, knowing that they had done wrong, and attempting to hide their nakedness by sewing fig leaves together. Dr. Magee points out that the fig tree is the only tree mentioned that we have today. He says, “This is man today in religion. We go through rituals and churches in an outward form. We become very religious. It is interesting that Christ cursed the fig tree and denounced religion right after that.”

God sought them out; they did not seek out God. This is important because it shows the prevenient Grace of God. He seeks us out even when we run from Him or turn away from Him, and when we finally learn that we cannot live according to the Law, He takes it upon Himself to come to earth, live as a man, and to die, so that the sins of all may be forgiven. Man cannot save himself. Only God can save man. “It is the call of divine love that recovers man from sin and into relationship with God.” (Dr. Magee)

Salvation is God’s search for man, not man’s search for God.

When confronted by God, they do what all human beings do, they sought to blame someone else. Adam first blames Eve and God. “The woman you put here with me.” Eve blames the serpent who deceived her. But the truth is both chose to eat the fruit. They had freewill and they chose to be disobedient to God. John Wesley saw this as their determination to seek happiness “not in God, but in the world.”

God banishes them from the Garden into a world of work and pain, but not, as Wesley points out, a world of eternal torment, which could have been their fate. Again this shows God’s divine mercy and forgiveness.

He even gives them animal skins to wear; this clothing is to protect them and is again an expression of His love for them.

The issue now is that since mankind has the knowledge of good and evil, has freewill to chose, will he chose to be obedient to God, or to himself. Sin has been introduced, and the wages of sin is death.

Final Thoughts: I lean toward this being an allegorical tale that shows how mankind fails to be obedient to God, makes the wrong choices, and how man cannot possibly restore the relationship with a God who is perfect truth and love. A God to which sin is an anathema. This is why God had to design man’s salvation through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. We can blame the devil, but truly all the blame lies in our own hearts, and the choices we make.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My First Sermon

I've been invited to preach at Reagan and Kosse Texas Methodist churches this Sunday. Here is the sermon I've prepared for the occassion and pray that God uses me to say what He wills.

Good Morning.

I am so blessed to be here today and to celebrate this New Year with all of you. For me and my family it has been a wonderful Christmas season. And as to celebrating the New Year, I think Bill Vaughn said it best. He said, “Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s eve, Old age is when you are forced to.” So bless all of you for coming to Church this morning to worship our blessed Savior, especially if you stayed up to celebrate the New Year.
New Year’s celebrations always remind me of our rebirth in Christ, how we are renewed by His grace, and sustained in His love for us. I also often think about those New Year’s Resolutions we so often make this time of year.

You know, things like going on a diet, losing all the weight we gained from Thanksgiving to New Years, getting more exercise, being a better friend, father, mother, grandparent, or son or daughter.

I teach US History to 8th graders and my favorite historical American is Ben Franklin. He said, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.”

As Christians I think we can agree with old Ben Franklin. What can we do to “be at war” with our vices, have peace with our neighbors, and become a better person?

To do this we must hear the word of God and allow it to change our hearts and our minds, so that we might show Christian Action and represent Christ to others. Only through this growth in the Christian life can we overcome our vices, and live a life of peace and joy.
Our founder, John Wesley was concerned for social issues of his day, the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, the needy. The early Methodist groups in England set out to identify the problems in their communities and then to take action to rectify it.

Now some people get a little nervous when we talk about “social justice.” For some it may sound like we are advancing a liberal gospel based on works. They argue that we should simply preach the gospel. That is true, and I wholeheartedly agree!

However, the power of the Gospel transforms lives. James the brother of Jesus, was very concerned about social justice from a Christian perspective. He instructed that we should take care of orphans and widows, and warned that the rich and powerful could take advantage of those less fortunate. James had a social conscious.

God’s word tells us how to live, it speaks truth and we can rest in what it says, everything it affirms is true. James holds the same high view of scripture. He states the word should be implanted into our hearts. The word in our hearts should produce fruit. We should be doers of the word. It should have an effect on our lives.

Jesus’ parable about the sower of seeds reflects this idea. In Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus said, “A farmer went out to sow his seeds. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate them. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop- a hundred, sixty or thrity times what was sown.” We as Christians, must plant the seeds in fertile soil, this comes from Christian Action.

We must hear the word with humility and seek understanding and be willing to change our ways, our habits, to serve God as He wills, not as we would, but as he wants us to. Christian faith should provide change in our lives that brings about new habits in our lives. Habits that serve him and seek justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Now if you are like me, you may be a bit of a hothead. I find anger rises pretty easily with me when I am confronted by unexpected or unwelcomed change, or by social injustices. Can we truly spread the love and grace of Christ when we are angry?

In the Book of James Chapter 1 verse 19, James tells us, “You must understand this my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” We must learn to confront these things with love, grace, patience, and being effective in our community trying to work for change.

Don’t have worthless religion. Some come to Church but make no changes in their hearts, and do nothing with the instruction of the word within them. If we don’t take this out of the walls of the Church, then we are not doing what we have been called by Christ to do. James speaks in the second chapter of those who profess to have faith, but have no works. Remember works come from our Faith, the change in our lives provided by Christ’s sacrfice and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We do works because we are new creations, acting in joy and love to share th grace of God with others. Christian faith produces ACTION. This is shown in the life of our founder John Wesley. He travelled many miles daily preaching and sharing the good news. Now we are not all called to be ministers, but we are all called to represent Christ to the others we meet in our lives. Our family, our friends, coworkers, and those in our community need us to reflect Christ to them.

It is so important that we walk the walk, not just talk the talk. St. Augustine said we should go preach the good ne ws and use words if necessary.

Jesus told us what to do. Normally He taught in parables and stories, but in this instance he told us exactly what each of us are to do in simple, very understandable words. And when God speaks so directly, we-who profess His love and grace, had better listen and take it into our hearts and let it show in our actions towards others.

Jesus was teaching in Matthew 25 versus 34-45, about the judgment of mankind, when God will divide the people. On his right are the righteous, on the left those who are to be cursed due to His divine judgments. He said, “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for as I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison, and visited you? And the King will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

And those on the left? He said, “You are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Like the righteous, they also plead and ask when was He hungry, naked, in prison? Again he answers, “Truly I tell you just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

So, what does this mean for us as Christians? This is Jesus telling us to take Action, to make a new resolution to truly serve him by sharing the grace of the Lord with others. Take a moment to reflect on the past year, the year that was 2011. In Texas we saw horrible drought, wild fires, a bad economy. Take a moment and prayerfully consider the following questions:
1. What have we done to help the hungry in our community and state?
2. Have we welcomed strangers into our Church? Our town, our neighborhoods, and our businesses?
3. Have we helped those in need by visiting the sick, those friends who are homebound, bedridden, or dying? Have we done anything to help those fellow Texans who have suffered so much in the summer wildfires, or from the drought?
4. Can someone look at our lives and tell by how we have lived that we were Christians?
Friends these are heavy questions. As for me, I can tell you that I have done some of these things, but not enough, and definitely not all of them. I pray that people will know me as a Christian man, but have my actions shown this to be true?

Remember, we don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved! We are called to represent Christ on earth to a hurting world, to share the good news that Christ has paid the costs of our sins, that He is Risen and that through Him we may all have eternal life!
So lets become active doers! Let us act on the Gospel. Don’t simply just listen to the word and go about our normal lives. God is calling. Let us make a change. It could be a big one, or even a small one, but seek what God has in mind for you. James Chapter 1: verses 22 to 25 says, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves, and on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act- they will be blessed in their doing.”

So, back to our New Year’s resolutions. Only God knows what fortunes and misfortunes await our communities in the coming year, but the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will provide each of us with everything we need to represent Christ on earth to others. We just have to be willing to step out. Welcome that stranger, feed the hungry, help the poor, visit the homebound, give a smile even when you don’t feel like cheerful, help spread joy. Share God’s grace wherever you go to whomever you meet, as well as you can, for as long as you can.

God Bless you this New Year’s Day and may He bless you throughout the coming year.

Genesis Chapter 2

My wife has agreed to join me in this Bible study. We are using the Message Bible, the NIV study Bible, and the Wesley Study Bible, as well as which is a great website with many other versions of verses, commentaries, and cross references. I also use the Essential Bible Handbook by Abingdon Press out of Nashville, Tenn 2009. I also have many other reference books that I will use from time to time.

The 2nd Chapter of Genesis is about the creation of man in the Garden of Eden and the creation of Eve. It is the second creation story of the Bible and does differ from the first in a few ways. In Chapter One it says that God created men and women and gave them dominion over the earth. This second tale of creation describes the Garden of Eden and the first man and the first woman.

It was a minor revelation to me that Adam was created to look after the earth, to till the soil. I had always believed and been taught that Adam and Eve did not have to work in the Garden, but that is not the case. It was Adam’s role to be the earth’s keeper, which implies work.

Another thing that I had read before, but really didn’t understand was that God created man physically, and then gave him the breath of life (which was the spiritual creation of man). The shaping of man from the dust links man forever to the earth as its caretaker. The breath of God forever linked man’s soul to God.

The name Eden actually translates as “delight.” The garden is described as a place of abundant fruits and animals with two very supernatural trees: The Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. Many different ideas about this have emerged, some believing that the Tree of Life gave immortality and full sustenance to Adam, while the Tree of Knowledge was there so God could experience our obedience to His will.

Adam needed an equal companion to take care of the earth. So God created Eve from Adam’s rib. This forever binds man and woman together as one flesh, one body. It was revealing to me that several commentaries discuss how the original Mosaic writings regarding “helper as his partner” does not imply subordination or inferior rank, but rather another to help cultivate the earth and someone suitable for procreation of the species and marriage. With the creation of Eve, God is no longer a potter, but He rather creates a living work of art out of flesh. Women are definitely works of art to me and I love this reference.

Genesis 2:24 to 25 refers to marriage being defined as a reuniting of two parts of a single whole

So questions and thoughts that we shared after reading and studying this chapter:

1. I will admit that I do not see anything in Genesis that goes against my ideas of God’s creation, whether he did it by evolution, or by actually mixing clay. Perhaps I’ll grow in understanding but as of today, it doesn’t really matter to me how God did it, but that He did it.
2. The crux of the Gay marriage debate amongst Christians goes back to this Chapter of Genesis. Marriage is for procreation of the species and a reuniting of two parts into a single whole. (BTW I’m not stating my own beliefs about this, just pointing out where Christians get their ideas about Marriage from).
3. Tracey wanted to know about the Lilith story and we spent some time in study about Lilith, which was interesting, but neither of us thought it to be very important.
4. It is awesome to be able to pray with my wife, study the Bible, and learn with the one who completes me.

Until next time,

God Bless all of you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My study of Genesis Chapter One

I've decided to endeavor into a personal study of the Bible. I will do this by reading the Bible Chapter by Chapter and then all the commentaries I can find on them to better understand the truth, and the lessons we can learn from it. I have no timetable for doing this, and it is a personal journey of faith, but I'm going to post my thoughts and findings here for any to read. I will also include my own thoughts and you may disagree with me, and I hope you will correct me when I'm wrong, or at least be open to debate and prayerful consideration.

Genesis Chapter One begins with the great line, "In the beginning...." This indicates that before existance, before time, before anything, there was God. The Jewish name for how they referred to God was Elohim. This is a plural word, meaning God. Clark's Commentary on the Bible says:

"The original word אלהים Elohim, God, is certainly the plural form of אל El, or אלה Eloah, and has long been supposed, by the most eminently learned and pious men, to imply a plurality of Persons in the Divine nature. As this plurality appears in so many parts of the sacred writings to be confined to three Persons, hence the doctrine of the Trinity, which has formed a part of the creed of all those who have been deemed sound in the faith, from the earliest ages of Christianity. Nor are the Christians singular in receiving this doctrine, and in deriving it from the first words of Divine revelation. An eminent Jewish rabbi, Simeon ben Joachi, in his comment on the sixth section of Leviticus, has these remarkable words: "Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim; there are three degrees, and each degree by itself alone, and yet notwithstanding they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other."

The first chapter of Genesis is truly about the soveriegnty of God and the goodness of His creation. How does God create everything? With a single word. Hebrews taught that words have power and that the Word is part of God. Christians believe the Word made flesh is Jesus Christ.

I really like John Wesley's interpretation of Genesis 1. He says that "This is not a scientific explanation of the creation of the universe, and it makes no claim to answer the "how" of creation. Rather the text is focuesed on the "who" and "what" of creation. As Wesley says Gen 1-2 "gives us a surer, and better, a more satisfying and useful knowledge of the origin of the universe, then all the volumes of philosophers." [Wesley Study bible]. With John Wesley we understand, "there are secrets which cannot be fathomed, nor accounted for" yet "from what we see of heaven and earth, we may infer the eternal power and godhead of the Great Creator."

The story continues as God creates light, day and night, the earth and the seas, the plants and animals and humanity which the Bibles states was created, "in our own image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

So what does this mean? Our physical bodies or our spiritual ones? My own beliefs have always been that we are created in the spiritual image of God, that we are hardwired to seek God, to seek understanding and truth. John Wesley stated that we were created in three ways to be in the image of God. He wrote that we were created in the political, natural, and moral image of God. This spiritual self is where our reason, will, and freedom comes from, but his ideas on the political and moral images of God are thought provoking. He stated that the political image was "man's calling to take care of the earth and the other creatures that inhabit it. Just as God is Ruler over all creation, so himanity is caretaker and "governor" of this world." We are to be the "channel of conveyance" of the blessings of God to our fellow creatures.

The moral image is what lets us know internally when we are out of sync with God's plan for us and his creation. It is man's stubborn disobedience that distorts our reason, will, and freedom, that causes us to "exploit the earth of selfish purposes." The Wesley Study Bible says, "This is why one of Wesley's favorite descriptions of salvation is "the renewal of our souls in the images of God,"recoveromg the calling for which we were created."

Creation was Good because it was perfect in the unfolding of God's will. God is truth, goodness, love, all that is perfection, so his creation was perfect according to His desires.

Now as to historical and scientific accuracy, it must be understood that the stories of the first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses, who in turn heard them as the oral histories of the Hebrew people passed down for many, many generations and using their understanding of the world and their place in it. For instance the "dome" that separted the sky from the seas is written that way because in antiquity it was a common belief that the sky was a dome above the earth. One of the great issues I have with studying the Bible is that it was written by Hebrews using eastern thought processes that are alien to those of us raised to think in the logical, ordered A-B Greco-Roman thought. Eastern thought processes are more A-C-B-A in a circular pattern. I heard it said that if you asked a Jewish Rabbi what the truth of Genesis is, they might answer you with the relationship of man and woman, a covenant arrangement between husband and wife. Meanwhile the Western thoughts range from was the earth created in seven actual days, was man created from dust, or did we evolve according to some divine plan? Maybe one of the reasons so many disagree about Genesis and humanities origins are that we don't understand the Eastern thought processes.

I can honestly say that I don't care how God did it, but I do believe He did it all according to His plan and it was Good.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Hebrews 13:5

I will never leave you, I will never abandon you.

What a promise from God!