Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reflections on Eden: Pondering our beginnings (Part 1)

The story of Eden is quite an intricate one, laden with details that are easily overlooked. As I began to consider what I should put as my second entry for this month, it just hit me how much I've been wanting to share some of these details I've been looking at. As this is quite the lengthy topic, I've decided to break it down into parts. So, I submit to you, the reader, installment numero uno.

Let's start with a brief review of the story prior to the tempting of our common ancestors. God creates the sun, moon, stars, sky, earth, plant vegetation, aquatic life, and birds in 5 days (Gen. 1:1-23). On the sixth day, God starts by creating land-based animal life (Gen. 1:24-25). He goes on to create man (Gen. 1:26-30) before calling it a day (v. 30) and a week, at that (Gen. 2:1-3). Now before I say anything else, notice how much attention is given to one aspect of one day of the process. Five verses talk about the creation of man. That's nearly 1/6 of the entire chapter! If that weren't enough, He goes on to spend the first 6 verses of chapter 2 talking about how He rested on the seventh day and making a few comments on His creation before spending the rest of the chapter talking once again about man. The chapter closes with a very unusual verse: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed," - v.25.

Hold that thought. Let's look at the opening of chapter 3: "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made." Let me share something with you. Did you know that the Hebrew word used for "subtil" in the beginning of chapter 3 is very closely related to the word used for "naked" at the end of chapter 2? I'll have to look further into the significance of this, but it seems to me like it's worth taking note of. Let me take this a step further, though. You're likely familiar enough with the story of Eden to know that the serpent tricks Adam and Eve into doing the one thing they were told not to do. Up until this point, Adam and Eve existed in a state of innocence (i.e. they weren't held as being guilty of any sin). Most likely you've also heard that Jesus once told his disciples, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and gentle as doves," - (Mt. 10:16).

Now get this. The Greek word that's used for "wise" is the same word that's used for "subtil" in the passage in Genesis as it's rendered in the Septuagint. The word for "gentle" could also be translated as "innocent". Have you ever noticed that people often associate intelligence with having a sinister nature? It's like the saying I heard once: "Knowledge is power, and power corrupts. Study hard. Be evil." Where in Scripture does it ever tell us that having our wits sharpened is in and of itself outside of God's will? If anything, we're warned about the dangers of foolishness (see Mt. 25:1-13, or Proverbs, the whole thing:o). It seems as though Jesus was reminding us of what it was like to be in Eden, giving us hope that we can maintain our innocence without being foolish (namely about the ways of the enemy).

I hope this really ministered to you like it did to me.

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." - James 1:5

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How "bold" should we be in evangelism?

I was talking with a friend of mine recently about the subject of evangelism. We were discussing the different styles that are used and comparing them with the examples given in Scripture. He said something that really made me jump a bit: "Where in all of the witnessing accounts in the book of Acts do the apostles mention God's love? Nowhere." I noted that the people they spoke with were full of religious pride, hence they didn't need to hear a "soft" message about God's love, but a "hard" message about His humanly unattainable holiness. "Not true," he replied. "Look at Cornelius."

I confess that I haven't yet looked at Cornelius, but nevertheless, there are some things that jump out at me. Didn't Paul say that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4)? What about when Jesus was witnessing to Nicodemus in John 3, where we find Him saying the oft-quoted verse, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life,"? Is there something to be considered in the fact that 2,000 years ago, Christianity hadn't earned the bad name it has amongst so many people today due to the church's mistreatment of certain people (pogroms, the Inquisition, and the Crusades, for example) and other forms of hypocrisy done "in Jesus's name"?

On the other side of the coin, how many Christians are there who allow the worry of offending people to get in the way of witnessing, who delude themselves into thinking that being a person's friend long enough and demonstrating God's love will automatically result in the person wanting to know what's up? In fact, where in all of Scripture do we see any mention of a "silent witness"? Have you ever heard of someone coming to know the Lord just because somebody was "really nice and loving"? Sure, living out God's love is a powerful testimony, but there still has to be the preaching of the word.

I've wrestled with this dilemma for so long, and I'm coming to this conclusion:

A. Perfectionism is a horrible mistake to make. It forgets that God is bigger than our shortcomings and ends up getting in His way.
B. Some people are going to be offended by the message of the Gospel no matter what you say or do. Oh, well.
C. Part of "loving" people is telling them that they're lost. Is it loving to look at a man who is going to drown if he doesn't swim to shore asap and say to yourself, "He looks like he's really enjoying himself out there. I don't want to be rude and ruin his fun,"?
D. Many people might be more open than you think.
E. Simply being "nice" is more of a turn-off than you might realize. It communicates that you aren't serious about what you believe. If you can't take what you believe seriously, why should anyone else?

Bottom line - We have a mission to do, and whatever we've gotta do to get it done, do it. We know what's loving and what isn't, and if we're honest enough with ourselves, we'll know when "being quiet" is something we're doing out of fear as opposed to wisdom. There's really no need for it to get any more complicated than that, so grab that bull by the horns and do what you've gotta do. I'm Jimmy Ballenger, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.