The Fall (Part 3)

flowers orange

Adam chose carefully his answer to God’s “Where are you?” question.  “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  Making no mention of his bite of forbidden fruit, Adam focused instead on the result of his sin, his nakedness.  Adam’s answer was one-step removed from a complete and honest confession to God.

God further questioned Adam concerning his newfound awareness of his nudity.  So, Adam offered his confession, albeit one laced with excuse.  First blaming God for placing Eve in his life, then blaming Eve for offering him the forbidden fruit, Adam’s admission of sin was tainted.

Still, God loved Adam.  God loved Eve as well.  They were God’s children after all.  Although the sinful couple would be banished from the Garden of Eden, God would still care for each of them.

God tailored new clothing for Adam and Eve as their fig leaf outfits were no longer adequate.  In creating their attire, however, death came to the Garden.  An animal became the necessary sacrifice to cover the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that would one day be made by another of God’s children, Jesus.

Paradise, once lost, would return one day to another garden, this one with an empty tomb and a cross in the background.  Satan would deal a death blow to Jesus, but Jesus would have the ultimate victory over Satan and sin.

The Fall (Part 2)

trees with oranges

The physical death that Adam and Eve would now experience was hardly the worst consequence of their sin.  The rebellious couple was faced with the prospect of eternal separation from God.  Their disobedience had caused almost irreparable damage to their once intimate relationship with their Heavenly Father.  Sin and death had come to the garden.  Paradise was ended.

Adam and Eve saw that they were naked as they stood before God and one another.  It wasn’t that they hadn’t noticed this before, but now they felt guilt.  What was meant to be beautiful took on an ugliness all its own.  The couple hurriedly gathered fig leaves and sewed them together in rudimentary attire.  They desperately tried to cover their bodies, soon discovering, however, that no amount of clothing could compensate for the shame they felt.

Adam and Eve heard the familiar sounds of God walking in the garden, so they did what children so often do when they’ve done something wrong – they hid.  Imagine attempting to deceive the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God of Creation.  This informal game of hide-and-seek was doomed from the start.  As Adam and Eve cowered behind the trees of the garden, God called out to them, “Where are you?”

This question must have penetrated Adam and Eve to their very core.  A strange concoction of fear, shame, and uncertainty gripped the couple.  How God’s heart, too, must have been breaking as he called out to his fallen children.  The question, “Where are you?” demanded a response, and Adam could not delay.  Should he be honest and face the consequence of his sin?  Or, should he further attempt to deceive?

The Fall (Part 1)

apple the fall

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).

We were made for eternity.  We always have been.  Our spiritual great-grandparents, Adam and Eve, were never meant to die, but to live forever in the Garden of Eden, their God-ordained Paradise.

Formed from the barely settled soil of Creation, Adam took his shape in the skilled hands of his God.  His frame was carefully constructed, its proportionality determined by his Creator.  Sinews and ligaments connected Adam’s muscular frame, every inch measured to perfection.  His forehead was dimpled, where eyes would be placed, their hues of color unmatched by anything else in all of creation.  Every detail of Adam’s design was considered, from the tiny wrinkles on his brow to the distinguishing prints on the tips of his fingers.

And then, with a mighty exhale of his breath, God breathed life into Adam’s still body. Adam’s heart pounded, and blood pulsed through his arteries and veins.  His senses awakened to the beauty of the Paradise that surrounded him, and his eyes beheld the first faint glimpse of his Maker.  Whispering in his ears were the soft sounds of the Garden, the leaves rustling and the birds singing.  The fragrance of flowers and morning dew enlivened his sense of smell.

Paradise was God’s extravagant gift to man, and Adam had all of eternity to enjoy it.  God even made Adam a partner named Eve, formed from the very flesh of Adam.  Waking from a deep slumber, Adam would behold the beauty and practicality of a helper.  They would live and work together in the Garden forever.

There was but one rule in Eden.  All things were permissible with the exception of the fruit from one tree located in the middle of the Garden.  God forbade it.  Not even the tiniest of nibbles was allowed.  The one thing Adam and Eve could not have, however, was the one thing they came to desire the most.  The fruit was so captivating, so alluring in its simple beauty.  Surely a small taste wouldn’t hurt anything.

Then, supported by the moral authority of a deceiving serpent, Eve took a bite, and with it, she tasted death for the very first time.  It was not that the fruit tasted deadly, but death was the very thing that her sin bore.  She shared the forbidden fruit, along with her sin, with her partner, Adam, and he took a soul-defeating taste.  Immediately, too, his body began to die, slowly, but with all certainty.

Forever (Part 3)

church pews and stained glass

In my teenage years, I became a Pharisee (before I even knew what a Pharisee was) in my ritualistic and overzealous compliance to the laws of God as I understood them.  I was a dotter of i’s and a crosser of t’s when it came to God’s rules for right living.  I devised a scrupulous mental list of spiritual dos and don’ts and was nothing short of obsessive-compulsive in my attempt to adhere to each of them.  I confessed every sin, as I imagined it to have occurred, yet, just as I would confess one sin, another would rear its ugly, condemning head.  I became more frustrated with God, and downright angry at his insistence on perfection and my inability to comply.

My college years were an on again, off again spiritual crisis as well, especially the early college years of freshman and sophomore.  I attended a private Christian college, where I was surrounded by classmates who, from my perspective, were living the Christ-like life much more successfully than I was.  How much I despised their joy, as I felt little of what they were feeling.  In my sin-clouded eyes, they were the ones who had it all together, unlike me with my struggles.  Depression and anxiety were my twin foes, who would not leave me alone.

I recognize now that the grace I was searching for in my childhood, adolescence, and young adult years was the very thing that kept me from totally losing my mind.  While I yearned for a watershed moment in my understanding of God’s unconditional acceptance and grace, God supplied me more subtly in the form of encouragement from family members and friends.  These were the precious pearls of the Gospel of Christ. They were the left-over scraps from the Lord’s table of grace.  They sustained me, or at least held me over, until I could fully feast on God’s undeniable goodness.

Today, I’m an adult and the pastor of a small church in a medium-sized city.  My heart hurts for those who have yet to experience in its fullness the grace God offers in Jesus.  I’m especially sensitive to those who live in fear and confusion about what God is truly like.  I guess that’s, at least in part, why I’ve written these words.  I’m amazed at the grace-filled love of God and awestruck at the notion of spending eternity in a relationship with him, and I want everyone to know this reality.

Forever (Part 2)

stained glass colors

I know now that I hated God.  It’s not that I wanted to hate him or would have ever let it show.  Perhaps, hate is too strong of a word.  Still, I was certainly frustrated in my relationship with God.  I found myself in a spiritual conundrum.  I had to love God in order to be a good Christian boy, one whom the older ladies in the church would be proud of and smile at for no apparent reason, but the more I tried to love what I viewed as a judgmental and wrathful God, the more hopeless I became.  I couldn’t force myself to love God as he desired, especially when he so loosely held my eternal destiny in his hands.

Now, it would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was a complete spiritual train wreck.  Each Sunday I dutifully took my place in the church pew seated next to Grandma, evermore craving the afore-mentioned candies from her purse.  I attended weekly Wednesday night classes as required by our pastor and church board, where we learned all about loving our neighbor as ourself, then afterward played “Kill the Guy with the Ball” until someone began to bleed or cry.  I lived the typical life of an adolescent male, albeit one who had deep theological misgivings.

I guess I had sort of a fairy tale, Santa Claus-like brand of theology.  I had no problem believing all the stories of the Bible, even the hard ones in the Old Testament like Jonah spending three days in the belly of a fish and Samson fastening torches to the tails of foxes.  I accepted such stories in child-like faith and wonder.  It was the other stuff I had difficulty with.  I viewed God as just, but struggled with his compassion.  I had no problem thinking of God as fair, but apparently skipped over the parts of the Bible that talked about his mercy.  This is what I mean by my Santa Claus-like theology.  I was certain that God rewarded good deeds and punished bad behavior, and that the good boys and girls would get the gifts of his grace, while the bad kids would receive the proverbial lump of coal, which, in this case, only stoked the Devil’s fiery flames.

(To be continued…)

Forever (Part 1)

church pew

My earliest thoughts around the idea of eternity occurred to me as a child.  Sitting on one of the hard, wooden pews in the small country church I attended, I found myself wrestling with this most challenging of concepts.  I was a religious kid, at least on Sunday mornings, when my family and I would don our Sunday best and travel several miles to our place of worship.  We picked up Grandma on the way, whom I would sit next to during the hour-long service, mostly because she would share with me the candies she had wrapped in the white silk handkerchief discreetly hidden inside her purse.  It was there, beside Grandma, that I would ponder all manner of things pertaining to God, where time and again I would return to my thoughts on eternity.

I’d like to say that my budding theology around this subject led me to a greater sense of awe at the mystery of God.  Then, I would worship him in child-like amazement, having the clearest of understanding that my eternal destiny lie in the presence of my Creator in a wonderful place called Heaven.  My childhood fear, however, was that there was the ever-growing possibility that I might spend eternity, not in Heaven, but in the place of perpetual torment called Hell.

To say that Hell frightened me would be a gross understatement.  The idea of Satan and his demons, a fiery pit, and everlasting pain and suffering terrified me.  Fear was a constant childhood companion, one that would only ease its cruel-hearted harassment once I received my first, sweet taste of God’s infinite love and undeserved mercy.  Still, sitting next to Grandma, I felt hundreds of miles away from any sort of grace that God had to offer.

(To be continued…)

Foul Ball Kindness

baseball 2

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6-7, NIV).

Recently, I attended a minor league baseball game with my family.  We enjoyed the view from our seats, the all-you-can-eat concession stand, and the in-between-innings entertainment.  Early in the game, a player from the opposing team hit a foul ball.  The baseball sailed high into the air before falling into the stands, taking a few unpredictable bounces off nearby seats, and landing in the waiting hands of my son, Aidan.  He was now the proud owner of his very own baseball that had been used by the professionals!  I commented on Aidan’s “luck” at catching a foul ball, and humbly shared the fact that I had never caught a foul ball before.  He was surprised by that, as he held his souvenir baseball tightly in hand.

Later in the evening, Aidan approached me and told me that he wanted me to have the baseball he had caught at the game.  I knew how special it was to him and was amazed at the sacrifice he was willing to make.  I allowed Aidan to keep his baseball, but I still hold tightly to the memory we share of the game.

Kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit spoken of by the Apostle Paul.  Kindness is demonstrated when we put the best interests of others ahead of our own.  Of course, we have the ultimate example of kindness shown to us in Jesus.  He was willing to exchange our sins for his grace.

I won’t soon forget Aidan’s kindness in offering me his baseball.  I’ll always remember the kindness of Jesus in giving me eternal life.

Broken

communion broken

Holy Communion is one of the sacraments, or “sacred acts” of the Christian Church.  For those who aren’t familiar with this practice, it is a time set aside to remember the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples just hours before he would die on a cross.  The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, as it is sometimes called, is celebrated by Christians throughout the world.

During Communion, the elements of bread and grape juice are served with the reminder of Jesus’ words to “…‘do this in remembrance of me’ ” (Luke 22:19, NIV).  As the bread is broken, we recall that Jesus’ body was broken on the cross as he died to take away our sins.  As the juice is shared, we are reminded that Jesus’ blood was shed for us at Calvary.

This past Sunday, I had the privilege to serve Holy Communion at the church I serve.  This is always a special time for me spiritually.  I connect with God and my congregants, in a unique and meaningful way.  On this particular Sunday, I was reminded again of the significance of Communion.  As I took the circular loaf of bread to tear into two pieces, there was a split-second moment in which the loaf appeared to me to be in the shape of a heart.  And, as I tore the bread apart, I was reminded, not just of Jesus’ body being broken for my sins, but that God the Father’s heart had to have been broken over the death of his only Son.

For me, this was a different way of looking at and thinking about the sacrifice God made to erase my sins, that God would allow his child to suffer so that I, his child, would not have to, to give him up to death so that I could have life.

This is what Communion means to me, that God’s heart was torn into pieces as Jesus’ body was broken for me and for you.  His blood was shed to take away all of our sins.  We are forgiven.  Remember that.

Dismiss the Doubters

wildflowers yellow sunlit

“(Jesus) went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’).  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around…” (Mark 5:39-42, NIV).

Great things are accomplished by faith.  Sometimes, however, we must dismiss the doubters.

Jesus was approached with the news, first that the synagogue ruler Jairus’ young daughter was sick, then that she had died.  It had all come about so quickly, and Jesus, it would seem, was simply too slow to respond.

“…‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’ ” (Mark 5:35, NIV) the family and friends of Jairus asked.

But, Jesus told Jairus, “ ‘…Just believe’ ” (Mark 5:36, NIV).

When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house, a crowd had already gathered there.  These mourners were inconsolable and grief-stricken.  Then, when Jesus told them that the little girl was only sleeping, their cries of grief turned into rumbles of laughter.  “What a foolish thing for Jesus to say!” they thought.

As Jesus entered the room of Jairus’ daughter, only the girl’s parents and Jesus’ disciples were invited.  The others – the doubters and disbelievers, those who had mocked Jesus and laughed at his words – had already been put out of the house.  Their doubt would not be allowed to interfere with the miracle that was about to take place.  Soon, the little girl would be healed.

There are several lessons to be learned from this story, but here’s one angle.  At times, we too, must dismiss the doubters.  Otherwise, their second-guessing, their cynicism, and their skepticism will not allow us the room to do what is needed.  Our ambition and our dreams will be undermined by the nay-sayers if we allow them to stick around.

So, just who are the doubters in your life?  Who are the whiners, the wailers, and the laughers that you need to put aside?  I’m not saying that you need to make a complete break from them, although sometimes that can be the case.  But maybe they do need to be put out of ear-shot.  Don’t let the doubters deter your dreams.  And don’t let the foolish sway your faith.  Just believe!

Reunion

number 92

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).

 This past weekend I returned to my hometown of Ellsworth, Kansas for its 150th birthday celebration.  There was a parade, games for the kids, music, a rodeo, and so much more.  But the highlight of my weekend was getting to take part in an informal 25-year class reunion – shout out here to Ellsworth High Class of ’92!

I must admit that I was a little nervous to meet up with my former classmates, many of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty years or more.  I was never the most popular kid in school and now I was less fit with less hair and even less confidence.  But, as I approached the place where my classmates were meeting, they began to cheer and welcomed me with handshakes and open arms.  We talked at length about our experiences, our kids, our joys, and, within just a few minutes of arriving, I felt like I had never left this group of classmates, this group of friends.

Later, I thought about the kindness of my classmates and the joy we shared in being together once again.  I wondered what bond had held us together after all the years of being apart.  Finally, I figured it out – we had experienced life together.  Through all the joys and pain of childhood and adolescence, the confusion of being a teenager, and the responsibilities of being a young adult, we had stood beside one another.  Together, we had faced the emotions of first crushes and break-ups, math tests and sporting events, our first days of school and the final months of our senior year.  We had faced all of this together, and, in this way, we could relate to one another.

My experience this past weekend reminded me of the blessings of friendship and how God puts people in each of our lives for a purpose.  It also reminded me that God himself, in Jesus, chose to take on flesh and become one of us, to experience life with us and for us.  In this way, he could relate to us.  He lived a life that was perfect, knowing that we would struggle with the messy things of life, and finally, he died for us, because he loved us that much.  Someday soon, we will experience a reunion of sorts with him, in Heaven, and there will be cheering and open arms.

Class of ’92, I can’t wait to see each of you again!  Thanks for reminding me of my many blessings.