Little Soul Vittles: Happiness is…

This might surprise some people, but God’s number one priority is not our happiness. We are humans with changing emotions and feelings. Happiness, as with any other feeling, does not last. When we experience happiness now it is a foreshadowing of what we will experience eternally in Heaven; it is but a taste of what is to come if we place our faith in Jesus.

God is preparing us through trials and difficulties so we can experience true and lasting happiness. This does not mean that God does not want us ever to be happy, but our happiness is only fleeting if it is not from God. I was quite happy when my wife made me some biscuits and gravy the other day for the first time, but if I had biscuits and gravy every day, I would soon be happy never to have it ever again. No pleasure, no amount of money, no achievement, no fame will keep you happy. There is always something found wanting or something seemingly better.

The Bible says repeatedly that God is the source of true happiness. One of the Hebrew words for “blessed” can also be translated “happy.”

The “word ‘blessed’ is an infinitely lovelier word than our word ‘happy.’ Our ‘happy’ stands related to ‘hap,’ ‘luck,’ ‘chance’: it is a gambler’s paradise. But the ‘Blessed’ of the (Bible) is suggestive of natural fruitfulness; it stands related to the roses round my lawn, to the corn in yonder valleys and to the autumnal harvest of the orchard. It has to do with joys that arise spontaneously and inevitably from certain fixed conditions. It is the (Greek) word ‘macaria,’ a name that was once given to the island of Cyprus because that island was said to be so fertile as to be able to produce upon its own shores everything that its inhabitants could either require or desire.” – FW Boreham The Heavenly Octave

Does this mean that Christians will be happy all the time? No. Life is hard and full of sadness, despair, disappointment, and evil. But if we persevere, we can experience Heaven in the here and now in the midst of our difficulties because all of our hopes are placed in Jesus rather than a hopeless and flawed world. In Him we can find true happiness.

“But happy is the one who trusts in the Lord , whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

 “Happy is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Psalm 32:1

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Little Soul Vittles

 

An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves,saying, “It made a difference for that one.”
It is easy to criticize – especially when we aren’t doing anything besides criticizing. We critique politicians, our bosses, our spouses, and pretty much anyone except the one looking back in the mirror. When someone is doing good, we critique their motives, their effectiveness, or how futile their effort seem to us. Jesus looked at it differently.
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)
Notice He did not say ” all of the least of these” but “ONE of the least of these.” It is in the little everyday things we do for others where we find the face of Jesus. It is the lady with Alzheimer’s who thinks her family never comes to visit because she can’t remember the last time they came. It is waiting in the cold to hold the door for a disabled vet to help him get onto the warm building easier. It is when we act on God’s behalf to be His presence in that moment to someone in their time of need. What a privilege we have for when we visit the hurting and helpless, God visits them.
It is not about numbers. God is not calling all of us to start million dollar non-profit charity organizations so we can feed the world and adopt all of the orphans around the globe. Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

May we see the face of Jesus in every one we see today so we will feel compelled to help one of the least of these in their moment of need.

For more on this topic: One of the Least of These

Peace on Earth in a World Gone to Pieces


“There are no small roles, only small actors” or so said the director who got her name in lights and on the front page of every program. But I was no fool even when I was a wee little lad. While others got to be Joseph or King Herod or the nefarious Innkeeper in the Christmas play, I got stuck playing a talking donkey in the stable while the pastor’s kid got to play an angel (which was quite the acting performance given his less-than-angelic behavior offstage). But I made the most of it. I made an ass of myself by impersonating Eyore perfectly to the thunderous applause and laughter of the audience as I sat behind a painted donkey used as a prop for the manger scene. I stole the scene (I think Baby Jesus didn’t mind) and I learned a valuable lesson that day. While many actors are given their roles based on talent or looks and politics or irony, the roles played even by bit characters in the story of Jesus’ birth, life, and even death were not given by accident.

prop_vbs_lauran_01

One such “bit” role is the one played by the shepherds the day Jesus was born. Oftentimes these mysterious men are overshadowed as the story is told each year includes the wise men (who actually came two years later), the Innkeeper (who isn’t actually in the text at all), and even the Little Drummer Boy who miraculously causes a newborn baby to smile rather than scream in terror while oxen and lambs conduct him during his royal performance. A closer examination, however, reveals the shepherds played an important role as they were the first to hear about the birth of a savior and are the model for what our reaction should be to hearing and believing the good news.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

From Darkness Shrouded in Mystery to the Light of Revelation

Immediately after describing the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, Luke turns his attention to the lowly shepherds who were just outside of town in the fields. Luke gives no reason why the shepherds were chosen, but it certainly goes along well with his theme, which will continue to develop throughout Luke and Acts: though the world which seeks power, money, and fame may reject Jesus, God reaches out to the lowly, the humble, the oppressed, and beat-down to proclaim peace and salvation.  “The twin motifs of the rejection of Jesus by the world and of God’s acceptance of ordinary humble and needy folk, to whom he chooses to reveal his salvation, thus come to expression in the story at the outset, and remain of decisive significance throughout the gospel.” (I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke NIGTC, p. 96-97) As low as the shepherds were in status and reputation in those days, God saw fit to announce the good news first to them.

And what a way to announce it! It was pitch black. The shepherds probably felt like they were living a parody of their own lives as they counted sheep trying to stay awake. Suddenly light filled the sky and an angel appeared proclaiming what was formerly a mystery shrouded in darkness: a savior had been born in secret in the smallest of towns in the back room where the animals were kept. The world would no longer be in darkness. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13)

Praising God and Singing Too

Hark the herald angels sang…or did they? We get such a nice serene picture of angelic choirs singing Christmas carols, putting on a concert for the shepherds, but none of that is in the text. “Heavenly host” is not the best translation given how “host” is used these days. These were not hosts for a party making sure everyone was entertained and fed well. They were not talk show hosts like Oprah or game show hosts like Wink Martindale. The Greek word often translated “hosts” is almost always translated “armies” in the Bible and other Greek texts. The shepherds would not “fear with great fear” a choir director no matter how bright white his choir robe might have been; they would fear a warrior of the heavenly armies.

The text says the heavenly army was “praising God,” but that does not necessarily mean they sang songs. The shepherds are seen glorifying and praising God later in verse 20, but no Christmas carols are written about them singing. Luke states the heavenly army was “praising God and saying” – not praising God and singing. There are several Greek words used in the Bible for singing and Luke even uses one of them in Acts 16:25. I believe Luke intentionally uses a Greek word which cannot be translated “singing” because the heavenly armies praised God in other ways which may have included singing as well as shouting and jumping and encouraging others and telling stories of what they had seen throughout history that was now coming to fruition in the birth of a savior. This was not choir practice; this was a declaration of war on evil and everything that separates mankind from God.

The Glory of God Now Come To Earth

When the angel first appeared, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The heavenly army then declares the glory of God, which was reserved for heaven was now being shown on earth – not just in a brief appearance to the shepherds, but beginning that very day with the shepherds, who would be the first evangelists, spreading the good news around town after they found Jesus. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  (Luke 2:17-18)

Peace On Earth and In Our Hearts

World peace has been elusive and the hope for peace for some may fade, but peace cannot be bought in a store or negotiated in a treaty; peace can only come from God. And is not an individual experience. Peace “is not simply an inner disposition or the absence of war, but evokes a whole social order of well-being and prosperity, security and harmony” (John Nolland, Luke 1-9:20 WBC, p. 108) In Hebrew it is shalom: “peace with justice, universal healing” (Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke NICNT p.137) Peace has to do with healing, with making us whole again, with bringing wholesomeness to a world going to pieces without Him.

So who can have this peace? Only “those on whom His favor rests.” This is not an exclusive group based on lineage or salary or birthplace. As the theme of this story and message of the heavenly army shows, peace is available to ALL PEOPLE including the humblest of shepherds, who became the first to experience the benefit from being favored or the “People of God’s good pleasure,” who are “in a favored relationship with Him in which His mercy and power are experienced through His faithfulness” (Nolland p. 109).

Think of it! Peace in the midst of chaos, in the midst of darkness and confusion. We speak of the dead finally getting to rest in peace. But no one announced peace to the world upon someone’s death. A multitude of angels made such an announcement upon the birth of the kings of kings as He lay in a feeding trough for common animals. Peace isn’t for the dead. It is for today. It is for ALL people. As we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, may we find new birth as our hearts find rest in Him.

Other relevant articles:

The Real Meaning of Christmas

Christmas Quiz

Away With the Manger

The Truth About Jesus’ Birthday

 

A Fruit of the Spirit is Peace

 

The Lord’s Prayer, Part One: How To Pray and Get What You Really Want

How do you pray? I have often wondered if I was praying correctly – especially when none of my prayers seem to be answered. Even the disciples who hung out with Jesus everyday for over three years were clueless. “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1
Jesus didn’t even hesitate. He was eager to teach them and us how to pray. He did not give them a spell or incantation to guarantee an answer to prayer. He gave them a blueprint of how to pray. He said,
“This, then, is how you should pray.”

Ironically what follows has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer and is repeated verbatim by people all over the world in their own language. Notice Jesus begins by saying not WHAT you should pray word for word, but HOW you should pray. HOW “means ‘in this manner.’ It probably implies that what follows is more an example of how to pray instead of a formula to be mechanically repeated.” Even the early “church Fathers could speak of (The Lord’s prayer) as an outline” for prayer (Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7, p. 599). Jesus isn’t saying never repeat this prayer again. It is an awe inspiring experience to hear hundreds of people speak the words of Jesus in unison. Early church descriptions said it sounded like loud thunder. When Jesus first taught us to pray using these words however, He was saying “in this manner” use your own words as you use this framework for your prayer to God.

The more familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. It begins with an address to the One to whom we are speaking.

Our Father in heaven
Before you start thinking this is a lesson on individual prayer, take a look at the very first word: “our.” Even when we pray individually, we are taught to pray with “our” relationship with others in mind. God is not just “my” father but “our” father as well. The whole prayer in fact is plural: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. The implications of this are that we need each other and should not only have a personal relationship with Jesus without also having a personal relationship with His people. It is not Jesus and me. It should be Jesus and we.

Hallowed be your name
When a word is repeated over and over and over and over and over again, it loses its meaning and emphasis. The F bomb or the N word are shocking and often evoke a strong emotion, but when someone uses those words in every sentence, they lose their effectiveness. Many people say the names of God in anger frequently. Clearly they are not praying and His name has no meaning to them.

Hallowed in this context means to revere or honor or keep separate from all other names. Overusing God’s name in prayer or in daily conversation can also make His name common and powerless to us. Saying OMG frequently or using the name of Jesus as a filler or punctuation mark can make the name of God just like any other name rather than the name above all other names. Listen closely when you pray. If you say God or Jesus or Lord or Father after every sentence,  you are saying it too much.

Imagine if I wrote a letter to my favorite musical artist Bono like I used to pray.

Dear Bono,

Thank you for inspiring me, O Great U2 Front Man. Your lyrics are transcendent, Your Rock and Roll Majesty. Wearer of Indoor Sunglasses, you are still cool, Sir Bono. I will forever sing your praises, Paul David Hewson – though not nearly as well as you, Bono. You truly live up to your nickname: the Irish Cowboy.

(Pride in the Name of) Love, Jon

It is this type of Christianese that confuses people and prevents others from praying, not knowing how because of so few good examples. Prayer should be a conversation just like you would have with your best friend not a royal address fit for a king in the 17th century. Say His name full of meaning and hallowed and not so often it becomes bereft of meaning and rings hollow.

Your kingdom come
It is not to hasten the coming of Jesus for which we are to pray for the kingdom to come. There are stories of people coordinating their prayer time so they would not pray at the same time or else compel God to bring His coming sooner. God is not obligated to do as we ask. It is not for His benefit that we pray; it is for our benefit. God doesn’t need a reminder of what we need or that He is coming again. We pray, amongst other reasons, to remind ourselves of the big picture – that in the midst of all the finer details of our lives we can be sure that in the end all will be well when we see Jesus and all is already well because He is near.

Jesus not only said He would come again to establish His kingdom here on earth, He also said the kingdom is near. When He described the kingdom, it was always the kingdom “is like” not “will be like” because we bring the kingdom now – not by our words even in prayer but by our actions. “In the Biblical tradition God’s will is usually accomplished through his people.” (p. 605-606) When we love even our enemies, help those in need, and visit the sick, we are bringing the kingdom come.

With every act of love
We bring the Kingdom come

God put a million, million doors in the world
For His love to walk through
One of those doors is you

(Jason Gray, portions of “With Every Act of Love”)

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
If you got everything you asked for, who would really be God? What would be the point of saying “your will be done” if it is YOUR own will being done? Think of all the things you have asked for – a certain job, a spouse, a helper monkey (haven’t you always wanted a monkey?). If you got everything you asked for, would you even be happy? Of course if you got those things, then other people could not. Maybe there was a job better suited for you that you didn’t know about and didn’t get because you wanted the first job you applied for. If God gave you that job, someone else who needed it more would not get it. Do you really want all that responsibility? Given all that would go wrong in the world if you had that kind of power to have all your prayers answered, I dare say you would probably stop asking for anything. You would be right back where you started saying “Your will be done.”

And that is just the thing. Notice everything so far in this prayer has been about God: your name, your kingdom, your will. We have not asked for anything as of yet because this prayer has kept us focused on God rather than ourselves. So before we begin asking for what we need, we say YOUR will be done and it will be just as it is done in Heaven. The angels do His will in heaven without questioning, without complaint, without delay. May we do His will likewise.

If It Is Revenge You Seek, Turn the Other Cheek

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)

Matthew begins this discussion by quoting part of Exodus 21:22-25. “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
Why does Jesus quote this? Because people were taking the law into their own hands – just as we do today. We all love justice, but only if we get to be the judge. But none of us is supposed to be the one taking out eyeballs, pulling teeth, or cutting off limbs. That’s what the justice system is for. Yet even the justice system doesn’t always make everything right; Jesus isn’t saying it should. Jesus “does not overthrow the principle of equivalent compensation on an institutional level – that question is just not addressed – but declares it illegitimate for His followers to apply it to their private disputes.” (Davies, W.D. and Allison, D.C. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew Volume 2 ICC. New York: T&T Clark, p. 542.) In other words, it is not your place or mine to delve out justice as we see fit. When we are cut off in traffic, it does not give us the right to cut them off to make things fair. If your spouse cheats on you, you do not get to cheat on him/her or (as some did in Jesus’ time) take them outside of town and stone them without a trial. And when someone literally or figuratively slaps you in the face, you do not have the right to hit them back.

When Jesus gives the example of being slapped in the face, He is using hyperbole to demonstrate a principle. “Jesus often resorted to extreme exaggeration in order to drive home his points and to get His hearers to ask questions and see their world from a new perspective. The command to turn the other cheek cannot be understood prosaically. Rather is Jesus calling for an unselfish temperament, for naked humility and a will to suffer the loss of one’s personal rights. He is declaring that two wrongs do not make a right, that revenge is poison.” (p. 541) In a world where so many are concerned about their rights and entitlements, turn the other cheek is still a shocking statement, but if true justice is ever to happen, it must be left up to God.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NAS)

If we try to exact our own revenge, we only end up hurting ourselves in the process. Besides becoming bitter and angry, our character and even our identity as followers of Jesus could be challenged. Matthew Henry points out that “he started it” doesn’t work either. “but it will not justify us in hurting our brother to say that he began, for it is the second blow that makes the quarrel; and when we were injured, we had an opportunity not to justify our injuring him, but to show ourselves the true disciples of Christ, by forgiving him.”

Revenge is a poison meant for others that we swallow ourselves. – Charlie Crews

Jesus is not saying every time someone hits you, you must leave yourself open for a further beating as if to say, “Thank you, sir. May I have another?” He also doesn’t mean if someone hits you in the face you offer them the OTHER cheek – you know, the one not on your face. The word translated “strikes” is not a punch so much as a slap with an open hand. “Striking the cheek with the open hand” was considered a “gross insult.” (p.543) So it isn’t so much about being hit in the face as it is the meaning behind it. Since most people were right handed, “Matthew evidently mentions the right cheek in order to make plain that the reference is to the backhanded insult (to strike the right cheek with the right hand, one must hit backhandedly).” (p.543) To slap backhandedly in that day was common for a master to do to a slave. To do so to your fellow man was to say he was your slave. To slap backhandedly today is also an incredible insult commonly referred to as a bit$#slap – probably because you would only dare to treat a dog that way.
And that is just what Jesus is getting at: if someone backslaps you as a slave, disrespecting you as if you are inferior to them, the natural instinct is to strike back, which often only escalates the situation and solves nothing. But what if you did not retaliate? What if you stood up to your attacker – not with force, but with justice on your side?
If you were to turn to him your other cheek, you are daring him to hit you as an equal. By turning your left cheek towards him, it is no longer physically possible for him to backhand you with his right hand. His only option would be to try to punch you with his right hand since he is not likely to use his weaker hand if he wants to escalate things. But if he punches you, he punches you as an equal.

Jesus led by example even as he was being led to the cross. Though He was innocent, He did not even protest. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7 NIV)

This doesn’t mean we should be silent as we are being insulted. When I was in eighth grade, I used to walk uphill eight miles both ways in snow up to my waist in only a toga and my trusty linen ephod. Actually it was only about half a mile and I had my trendy Triple Fat Goose coat for colder weather. One day, for no apparent reason, a ninth grader started picking on me as I walked home every day. He would insult me and swear at me, walking behind me most of the way. Thinking turn the other cheek meant keeping my mouth shut, I would try to ignore him and walk faster. It didn’t work. I was mortified every time the final bell rang knowing he would be waiting for me. It was not until I stopped, turned around to face him, and asked him why he was saying such things that I gained his respect as an equal. I didn’t threaten him. I merely showed him I had the courage to confront him and he never bothered me again.
Does this mean we should allow others to physically beat us mercilessly and repeatedly? No! A battered wife or an abused child should not stay in so destructive an environment. Jesus is not saying to become a doormat.
I was a magnet for bullies when I was younger, but I thought I was supposed to turn the other cheek and let them hurt me in silence. I thought I could not tell any authority figure because there was some unwritten code saying I must not. So I suffered alone in band class being beaten with my own drum sticks, pushed, punched in the stomach, and humiliated. The constant bullying made me physically sick, chronically anxious, and exhausted when I made it home. Confronting him only made things worse, but was worth the try. It wasn’t until my band teacher witnessed my bully grabbing my collar and pinning me up against a wall that the bullying stopped. He never respected me, but he was forced to respect the ones who could make his life miserable with detention, expulsion, and (as was the case for him) boarding school.

You do not have to suffer in silence or alone. When someone bullies you, he is not just doing it to you. At the beginning of both of these verses, Jesus says, “You have heard…” and “But I tell you…” Both “you”s are plural, which means Jesus is speaking to all of “you” who call yourselves disciples of Christ. In the South, singular and plural are more clear so the Redneck Jimmy James Version would be “You all have heard” and “But I tell you all.” When Jesus says “If someone strikes you,” He is using the singular form of “you” because the actual blow is being delivered upon one person, but because He is speaking to “you all,” it is as if the bully is striking “all you all.”

But only if other people know. It is easy for a bully to slap you around. It is much harder for a bully to slap ten people around even if none of them even threaten to retaliate. That is what being a disciple of Jesus is really about: a community of believers who support each other, love each other, and empathize for each other.

Do not remain silent. Tell someone if you are being bullied or abused. As you turn your cheek, turn to others who love you and turn to God who will certainly bring justice in His timing.

Adam and Evil (It’s Not My Fault!)

“A naked woman with fruit can get a man to do anything” – Perry Noble
Are humans naturally good or hopelessly evil? Philosophers, theologians, and even scientists have been debating this question for centuries. This brings up other questions as well. Do we really have free will or is everything predestined? Are we born evil or is it our parents’ fault? Are all people really good at heart? How do you get a philosopher off your porch? Pay him for the pizza. What is the first question a philosophy major asks after he has earned his PhD? “Do you want fries with that?”
The Bible is clear regarding these topics. After God created the earth and declared it to be good, something changed everything: sin. It confused people, thinking they could replace God. It brought death and loss into the world. It introduced selfishness, deceit, and exploitation into previously healthy and loving relationships. It all began with a naked man and woman in the middle of a beautiful orchard…
Gen.3.1-2 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Talking snakes? Crafty reptiles? The sheer ridiculousness of this description causes many to doubt the historical validity of this story. Some scholars explain it away, saying it is not intended to be historical literature. They call it a myth and they are partially right. While most people equivocate myths with made up stories and fallacies, a myth’s purpose is usually to explain what something really is and how it came to be. If I tell you thunder is the sound of angels bowling in heaven, then I’ve told you a myth. If I said Hawaii was created from volcanic activity at the bottom of the ocean, then that would be a myth too. If you explain that we all came from apes because anything could happen given enough time, then I’d say you’re trying to make a monkey out of me. Rather than judging everything historically true or scientifically valid, we should take things at face value and examine this passage according to its main purpose, which is to explain why there is so much evil in the world. The other details are incidental. You do not have to believe every detail in order to believe the main point.
A crafty animal isn’t so farfetched. Have you never experienced an elusive mouse or a squirrel doing death defying stunts just to get to a bird feeder? Is it so unlikely that animals can talk? Koko the monkey has learned how to communicate with humans. Dolphins have their own language. Maybe we’re the dumb ones who haven’t figured out how to communicate with rest of the animal world yet.
Notice the woman is not at all surprised the snake talked. It was probably not the first time she had talked with the snake. In fact it had gotten a reputation for being crafty, which is then proven by what it speaks in the very next verse rather than anything it does.
Revelation 20:2 identifies this serpent, saying, “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”
Satan crafts a brilliant argument, chipping away at the woman’s trust in God and in her husband. Did God say not to eat from any tree in the garden? Not even close. In Genesis 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” God in fact said the opposite; they were free to eat from any tree in the garden. Except one. And just like every single one of us, the man and woman focused on the one thing they couldn’t have rather than all that God had given them.
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
Notice the woman was not there when God spoke the command. She had not yet been created. Given that she adds “and you must not touch it” to the original, it is likely she got it secondhand from Adam. The snake is being crafty, getting the command completely wrong so as to pick apart her response. If he asked her what he thought she knew, he would not be able to question the details.
In an effort to protect his wife from harm, the man probably added the very words which brought both of them down. He tried building a fence around the law in an effort to not break the law. We do that often, don’t we? Instead of telling a child, “Don’t touch the stove when it is hot.” We say, “Don’t go in the kitchen.” Every child will push the boundaries. Once he enters the kitchen and nothing bad happens, he will walk towards the stove, then put his hand near the stove, then put his hand over the burner and slowly move it closer and closer until he touches it and gets burned. This is what happened to Eve. What was she doing near that tree in the first place?!  Adam had her believe that if she even touched the fruit that something bad would happen to her. When nothing immediate happened to her after just touching it, it was easy to take the next step and eat the fruit. Adam, though he did so to protect her, actually made her more vulnerable to temptation because he lied to her by adding to the command of God.
When we cloak our warnings and restrictions as divine commands, we are hurting the very people we are trying to protect. Satan will challenge these “commands,” asking, “Did God actually say…?” and when they discover He didn’t actually say what you said He said, they will question everything you said. Then it will become forbidden fruit, which is even more desirable and irresistible than anything. If you don’t believe me, tell a child about how delicious a piece of chocolate is, then tell them they can’t have any. They will either try to sneak it when you aren’t looking or beg you mercilessly for a bite. Don’t dangle forbidden fruit in front of people. They will look at it, examine it, touch it, and taste it even moreso because it is forbidden. Give them the truth and trust in God to protect them.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”   When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
Every tree was permissible to eat from, but she wanted to get close to it and check it out. When the serpent questioned the command of God, she got more curious. She walked up to the tree to get a closer look.
The woman took the fruit because she wanted to be like God. In fact, even before she ate it she had already taken the place of God in her own mind. Throughout chapter one at the end of each day it says, “And God saw that it was good.” Now “the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good.”
The fool who defiantly wags his finger proclaiming “There is no God” need only look into a mirror to find an inferior one pointing at him.
In other words, you cannot be certain that God does not exist; such certainty could only come about if you had god-like knowledge and presence. You may claim there is no God where you are sitting or because you couldn’t find one in your philosophical studies, but perhaps you didn’t read the right book or find the right website. Even if you traveled the whole universe, the god you supposedly are looking for might have moved to Uranus while your anus was in Florida.
If you are intellectually honest with yourself, God conceptually must exist – either as the God of the Bible or as a god of yourself.
She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Adam was with her the whole time. Why didn’t he speak up? Why didn’t he correct his wife or even the serpent? Why was he silent?
What did death mean anyway? Maybe he started to believe his own lie that if she touched the fruit she would die. Perhaps he expected immediate death the moment she touched the fruit and, when nothing happened, he watched to see what happened if she ate the fruit. He may have been using her as a guinea pig. Sure he was curious about the knowledge she would get from eating the fruit, but let her take all of the risk. When nothing apparently happened, he didn’t need any convincing. He just took the fruit from his wife and ate it without a word.
That was not his only option. He did not have to act so hastily. He could have offered himself as a sacrifice for her sin because he himself had not yet sinned. He could have been the spotless sacrifice needed to redeem her. Granted, he probably didn’t know what the plan of salvation was should either of them eat from that particular tree, but what a waste of an opportunity! He could have saved her from sin and death instead of joining her. He could have died for her so they both could live.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.   Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Death is separation. It is a separation of our soul from our body, a separation of us from our loved ones, a separation of our lives on earth to the afterlife.
Did they die that day? Yes, they were separated from God and removed from the garden. They even hid behind the very tree which literally separated them from God in the first place.
They were also separated from each other. No longer did they trust each other. When God came calling, they didn’t protect and love each other as before; they blamed each other and even tried to blame God. It isn’t until after all of this that Adam names the woman just as he had named all the animals, an act of dominance as well as affection. Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (3:20) 
Fortunately for Adam and Eve and all of us, God didn’t leave it at that. While still reaping the consequences of their actions, Adam and Eve were also given grace and mercy. Had they eaten from the Tree of Life after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would have been forever trapped in a state of decay in their now dying bodies. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 
God also made a promise as He was cursing Satan. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. This is the first prophecy referring to Jesus in the Bible. Even as Satan had a hand in bringing down Adam and Eve and all of us as their offspring, he had indeed struck our heels, causing us to limp in our walk with God. But Jesus, through the power of His death and resurrection, struck a lethal blow upon the head of sin and death and provided us a way to no longer have to be separated from God.
So what is separating you from God? What tree are you hiding behind? Why are you blaming others when you chose to replace God with yourself? It might be subtle things like not trusting Him to provide money, security, or healing. It might be sins which you have rationalized and justified for years such as lust, stealing, or bursts of anger. Anything that keeps you separated from God and what He wants you to do brings death and fear rather than the abundant life He wants you to live.

Sink or Swim? Walking On Water Was the Easy Part

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/deadliest-jesus-christ-lizard

Sometimes we just need a little encouragement to do the impossible. Moving mountains and walking on water may seem crazy, but maybe those who try to explain away miracles are the ones who are little crazy. Jesus led the way not merely to prove He is God, but to encourage us to follow Him on the waves as well. If we could just focus on each step He is making for us in the waves, nothing will be impossible for us.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Earlier Jesus had learned his cousin John had been killed. Finding Himself alone at night, He went to His favorite place to pray. No one knows what He prayed about, but given His need to be alone, I imagine it had much to do with his grief over John’s death.
Being up on the mountain, Jesus could see for miles. He saw the crowd walking back home – some waddling having eaten too much fish and chips. He saw the storm coming as the sun went down. He saw the disciples in the boat, struggling to get to the other side of the lake. Mark adds a detail in his account.
He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. (Mark 6:48)
Notice the disciples were not afraid at this point; they simply couldn’t get anywhere despite their greatest effort. “The disciples’ situation is not presented as one of danger, but rather of inability to make progress, together with extreme physical effort and discomfort  (“tortured” will ring true for those who have experience of rowing a heavy boat against the strong wind).” (R.T. France The Gospel of Mark NIGTC Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2002. P. 271)
Have you ever struggled to get somewhere or accomplish something that you believe God wants you to do? You’re not alone. It happened to the disciples too. Jesus was watching them in the midst of their struggle and wasn’t worried. Maybe we shouldn’t be worried either.
25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
“The fourth watch was the last (and the darkest), the time between 3am and 6am. This implies that the disciples struggled without Jesus for quite some time.” (Davies and Allison Matthew 8-18 ICC 2004 p.504) Sent before sunset and still going after 3am, the disciples were rowing for six to ten hours and getting nowhere fast.
As with every miracle in the Bible, there are those who try to explain it away. Davies and Allison give a brief overview:
     There are, to be sure, those who remain content with the affirmation that the narrative simply records what happened: Jesus walked on the water. But, because of the modern reluctance to accept miracles at face          value, there has been no dearth of other explanations.
     1. Klausner supposed that the story goes back to a hallucinatory experience of the disciples – ‘simple, oriental village-folk and fishermen, for whom the whole world was full of marvels.’
     2. “Jesus was able to project his ‘etherial double’ in order to calm the troubled disciples.” (p. 499)
The first theory assumes the stupidity of uneducated, simple-minded men, either that they were easily fooled or all hallucinated the exact same thing. Actually, these were all highly educated men, chosen by Jesus (a respected rabbi to say the least) to learn from Him for over three years. The second theory is an even bigger stretch incorporating the “phenomenon of bilocation.” Never mind that this doppelganger of Jesus scared the disciples out of their wits rather than calm them as the theory suggests. Nor does it account for how the “real” Jesus ended up on the other end of the lake at the end of this event. I guess people will believe anything so long as they don’t have to believe in miracles.
Why did Jesus walk on water? Certainly it was to reveal Himself to the disciples that He is God. But levitating or stilling the storm or inventing a jet pack would have been just as effective. I believe He walked on water so the disciples could follow Him on the water. Psalm 77:20 says, Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. The boat obviously wasn’t working for them. He was safer than the boat. If they had trusted Him completely, they could have left the boat and walked with Him to shore.
He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Mark 6:48-50)
Many assume Jesus was walking on water so He could get in the boat with them. But why would He do that? They were getting nowhere. He didn’t need the boat; He could walk on the water! Many scholars believe He “intended to pass by them,” but changed His mind and decided to help them out instead. Gerhard Kittel adds, “The element of intention is carried a step further when it acquires the sense of ‘to be on the point of doing something.'” (TDNT vol. 3 p.46 1999) Jesus was at the point of passing them when their screams of terror prompted His words of assurance. As I explained earlier, they were never in any danger so He wasn’t being callous when He started to pass them by. Perhaps He was even making a path for them in the waves. Job.9:8-11 might provide a clue as well. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. Clearly the disciples did not see Him for who He was; they thought it was a ghost. Jesus reassured them with three short phrases.

1. “Take courage” is different from “have courage.” Having courage assumes you already have courage but are not utilizing it; you must somehow work up the courage yourself. Taking courage assumes you have no courage and must take it from someone who has it. Jesus was saying, “Trust me. Take courage from me.” To encourage someone then is to give another the courage to do something they might otherwise find impossible. If we would only take courage in Him, we could do what otherwise would be impossible – like walking on water.

2. “I am” goes back to Moses at the burning bush who asked God what His name is. God said, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:14) “I am” has to do with existence. God always was, is, and will be; He is present everywhere. It is how we can find courage for courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of God.

3. “Don’t be afraid” is the most frequent command in the Bible – probably because most of us just don’t learn the first time. The word translated “afraid” is the word from which we get “phobia.” Phobias are irrational thoughts and fears which paralyze us and often cause us to miss opportunities to do extraordinary things.

Here are my top ten favorite phobias:

10. Anuptaphobia- Fear of staying single.                                                                   9. Arachibutyrophobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.

 8. Automatonophobia- Fear of ventriloquist’s dummies, animatronic creatures, and wax statues
7. Enissophobia- Fear of having committed an unpardonable sin or of criticism
6. Eremophobia- Fear of being oneself
5. Gamophobia- Fear of marriage
4. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia- Fear of long words
3. Phobophobia- Fear of phobias
2. Pteronophobia- Fear of being tickled by feathers
1. Zemmiphobia- Fear of the great mole rat.

The disciples were afraid of ghosts. As a result, eleven of them missed out on the chance to walk on water. What are you NOT doing because of fear? Starting your own business? Talking to your neighbor? Doing the dishes for your woebegone wife? Letting go of fear has to start somewhere.

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Just like Jesus, Peter walked on the water. It is simple as that. There was no long prayer beforehand. The disciples didn’t lay hands on him. Peter didn’t confess his sins just in case it didn’t work out. He merely obeyed Jesus, got out of the boat, and effortlessly started walking towards Jesus. It seems as if that was the easy part.
Many have said Peter started to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus. That is a nice and warm picture, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t always bright and sunny with clear sight-lines to Jesus. It was dark and the waves were tall. Peter couldn’t have focused on Jesus if he wanted to. He just walked in the dark, spotting Him every now and then with the rhythm of the waves, and trusted in the word of Jesus. He started to sink when he started looking around for evidence of Jesus’ presence on the other side of the wave. He began to focus on the wind. But who sees the wind? He saw the effect of the wind. It howled and blew the waves around. It is when he began to focus on the effect of the wind that he began to sink. Instead he should have focused on the effect of Jesus on the waves before him.
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
 Notice Jesus didn’t have to do anything other than reach out His hand to catch Peter. The text says nothing about Jesus running on water like David Hasselhoff in tight spandex to get to Peter; He needed only to reach out because Peter was close to Him when he began to sink. The text says only that Peter “came toward Jesus.” Whether Jesus kept walking towards the boat and met him halfway or He stopped and let Peter come to Him like a proud father watching his son take his first steps, Peter was closest to Jesus when he began to sink. He had made all that way, to within a step of Jesus, when began to sink. Remember, this was not quicksand where Peter sank slowly. This is water. Just like what his name means, Peter sank like a rock, but Jesus was there to catch him before he even went under.
Peter came towards Jesus without thinking ahead. He thought the goal was to get to Jesus, but Jesus wanted him to go further. Taking a step towards Jesus is a good start, but Jesus wants us to follow Him through the storms after we come to Him. He has made the path already. We need only follow His lead.
Jesus refers to Peter as “you of little faith,” but three chapters later encourages the disciples that they need only a little faith to do impossible things. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) Mature faith allows us to follow Jesus through the storms even with his back to us and His voice silent. He will make a path for you on the waves to follow Him.
Let me encourage you. Whether you are taking your first step towards Jesus or you are straining at the oars and feel like you are going nowhere, if you trust in Jesus, you will make it safely to your destiny. Let go of your phobias, take courage from Jesus, and do the impossible. And if none of your goals in life seem impossible without God’s help, maybe they are too easy. Maybe you haven’t really even left the boat yet.
Another relevant post: