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Why We Sin: Don’t Touch!

“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.” ‘ ” (Genesis 3:2-3)

Eve’s answer to the serpent’s obvious lie about God’s command brings us to Day 2 of our clue-mining for reasons why we humans are so easy to tempt, so ready to fall into sin. And Eve’s answer seems pretty good. She sets the record straight about what God really said – until you look a little closer.

down_350Eve added a phrase to the command: “You must not touch it.” How did she come up with that? Why did she “improve” on God’s order not to eat the fruit with a further directive not to touch it? We don’t know, but it seems reasonable, right? Why touch a fruit you must never eat? It’s not a bad thing to stay a step back from the edge. It was probably a really good idea not to touch the fruit, but it wasn’t God’s command.

The problem with adding to God’s Words is that it’s another lie. God gives us commands as a gift; what he tells us to do (or not do) reveals his best intention for us. His directions reveal his character. To add to them distorts our understanding of him – and it’s our (wrong) perception of his character that we often end up rebelling against.

So, first the snake lied to Eve about God’s command – and then Eve lied to herself about it.

Think: Have you ever noticed anyone in your life adding extra rules to what God has actually commanded in Scripture? Do you ever do that yourself? How can you keep those man-made rules from distorting your understanding of who God really is?

Pray: Thank God for the commands he has given to you in his Word. Ask him to help you to keep from adding anything to his commands, even with good intentions.

Do: Read what Paul said about religious man-made rules in Colossians 2:20-23.

Why We Sin: Did God Really Say?

“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”?’ “(Genesis 3:1)

For the next week or so, we’re going to live in the excruciating moments leading up to the first sinful human action ever. What we’ll be looking for are clues to why we’re all such natural born suckers when it comes to sin and temptation – why we’re so easy to lie to, so willing to participate with the Liar in our own destruction.

down_350Here’s the first clue: The Liar invites us into a conversation with temptation with an obvious lie. (He’s a liar, remember.) Of course, God did not say Adam and Eve couldn’t eat from any of the trees – and, of course, Eve knew that. Here’s what God did say: “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 of it you will surely die.” (2:16-17)

This would be like starting a temptation about sex with, “Did God really say you should never hold hands with someone?” Or starting a temptation to disobey your parents with, “Did God really say you have to obey every adult who tells you to do something?” Our response is likely to be quick, corrective, and curious. And before you know it, we’re in a dangerous conversation about exactly where the line of sin is.

Think: Have you ever been lured into unhelpful thinking by your reaction to an obvious distortion of the truth? What can we do to make sure we’re not being deceived when confronted with a big idea about God’s Word that is obviously wrong?

Pray: Ask God to help you to overcome temptation to sin. Ask him to help you to be aware and careful when someone uses an obvious lie to get you engaged in thinking about a sin that tempts you.

Do: As we work through Eve’s temptation this week, notice in your own life what kinds of temptations are most effective at tripping you up.

Church 101: More Every Day?

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

We’ve spent this last week looking at a snapshot of what the early New Testament church was like. We’ve seen what it meant to these brand new Christians to “do church.” It’s helpful to notice what church was like for them, because they were the first ones to be the church (at least in the way we think of it), and they received all their instructions directly from Jesus’ apostles.

church_350I’m sure there are things you like – and don’t – about your own church. I’d guess the Christians in your church are like these first “churchies” in some ways and not in others. Every church could learn from their commitment to and enjoyment of each other – all while following after Jesus.

The last thing we notice in today’s verse is that people were being saved and joining them every single day. What if that happened in your church? Would people be surprised, excited, confused, upset? Is it something your community is hoping for?

God wants to bring people into relationship with him through Jesus. And he can do that through your local church. Do you expect that he will? Have you asked him to help make it happen?

Think: Would you guess that someone gets saved every day through the ministries or relationships of people in your church? Is that a realistic goal? What expectations do you think most of the people in your church have for seeing new people become Christians and become part of your church family?

Pray: Thank God that he is active in working through the church to reach out to lost people right now. Ask him to help your church to be a place where people get saved and grow in Christ.

Do: Ask someone in leadership in your church what they expect or hope for in terms of new people getting saved and becoming part of your church family.

Church 101: So Happy Together?

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:46-47)

A few more things about these first New Testament churchies:

church_350They hung out every day. They met at the temple courts and went to each others’ houses. They just liked spending time together. Remember, they had something in common – they were all excited about belonging to God through faith in Jesus.

They did a lot of eating, both for what we call “the Lord’s Supper” and for, you know, lunch and snacks and dinner. Eating together was a big part of being a (big) family together. When you have a choice, you tend to eat with the people you care most about.

They were happy, with “glad and sincere hearts.”

They praised God together – and probably not just during the “worship service.”

Everyone liked them. At first, these new Christians were popular in the community. And why not? Who doesn’t like to be around glad, sincere people that love to spend time together eating and praising God? It’s no wonder they enjoyed the “favor of all the people” for a while.

Think: Would you say that the Christians in your church like to hang out together more than once or twice a week? Like to eat together? Are mostly glad and sincere? Praise God together? Are well-liked in your community?

Pray: Ask God to help you to enjoy being connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do: Make a point to notice during this next week how much time you spend with other Christians, how much you enjoy it, and how that impacts those outside of the church.

Church 101: All for One?

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

My two younger brothers sometimes like to get really close to me and just stand there – or randomly touch me for no apparent reason. Why? Because they know it drives me crazy. I’ve got what some people call “space bubble” issues. I like to get close to people as long as we all understand the boundaries. I’m either a regular old introvert or a selfish control freak – or a little of both – but I love me my personal space.

church_350That’s why these descriptions of the early Christians make me a little nervous. You? I mean I’m all for the church being close, being a family, being there for each other – as long as we all go home to our separate houses and watch our own TV shows and stay out of each others’ business when not invited.

Instead, these first churchies apparently erased a lot of those cultural boundary lines we all take for granted. They cashed out and put all their personal money in the same account. They didn’t just put some of their paycheck in the plate; they sold the stuff in their houses to pay each others’ rent and medical bills and groceries. (I’d be more willing to do that for someone else than to have them do it for me, you know?)

We don’t naturally understand that kind of no-boundaries mutual commitment. At least, I don’t. But in a way, it sounds kind of wonderful to be so connected to a group of people – because of our mutual love for God and each other – that the boundaries get blurry. Guess I’m going to need to keep shrinking my space bubble.

Think: Does it make you nervous to think about being that deeply integrated with a group of people – or do you wish your church was more like this today? Why?

Pray: Ask God to help you be willing to go beyond the boundaries to meet the needs of other Christians – and to have them do the same for you.

Do: Ask someone in leadership at your church for some examples of ways your church has come together to help out people in real need. (You might be surprised how generous your fellow churchies can be.)

Church 101: Filled with Awe?

“Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43)

What does it take to impress you? Are you skeptical, sarcastic, cynical, a hard sell? Yeah, me too, sometimes. I think most of us learn to put up some kind of wall against being too easily impressed because we live in the advertising age. Too many people want us to get fired up about too many worthless things.

church_350But people still get plenty excited about what matters to them. If you’ve ever caught any coverage of Comic-Con in San Diego, you likely saw some fanboys (and fangirls) that were “filled with awe” by photo ops with movie stars and scoops from directors about their favorite shows and films. Part of being in a group is getting excited about the same things together.

Church people get excited about God together. Of course, it would have been impressive to see the miracles performed by Jesus’ supernaturally empowered apostles in the early days. But God’s power is still at work, still on display through his Spirit in the lives of his people. His creation still boggles the mind; his sacrificial love still overwhelms the emotions.

Feelings of awe come and go. Our relationship with God through Jesus isn’t defined by emotion. But if we never feel any enthusiasm about God when we’re together with Christians – if we never get a little fanboy thrill about moving closer to him – we might be missing out on part of what it means to belong to the church.

Think: Does it bother you when a roomful of Christians “doing church” feels completely lifeless? Does it bother you when a roomful of Christians seems to be trying so hard to be excited that it feels fake? What does it mean to you to be “filled with awe” with other Christians in a way that is real and meaningful?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be able to be impressed by who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do.

Do: Notice this week anyone in your church who seems to be genuinely filled with awe by some aspect of God or his Word.

Church 101: Are You Devoted?

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Once the New Testament church had been launched, what did they do with themselves? That’s the question we’ll spend the rest of the week and weekend answering from the end of Acts 2.

church_350The first thing they did is the one thing Christian churches still focus on most clearly: They tuned into the apostles’ teaching. The apostles were those guys who had been trained by Jesus and specifically chosen to teach the church how to walk after him. A couple of millennia later, we’re still devoting ourselves to their teaching in the pages of the New Testament.

The church then, like yours today hopefully, was all about spending time together, as in “all for one and one for all.” That meant eating and praying together became the norm for this growing family of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Membership in the church was never meant to be an online-only kind of thing that you went off an did by yourself. God intended us to be a family, learning about Christ and following after him together, asking him for help because it’s hard to follow him, and “breaking bread” together (for Communion or “the Lord’s Supper”) to remember what he did and what he will do.

Think: How does your church do in these areas? How do you do at participating in each of these things with the people in your church? Do you think you place enough value on participating in church life?

Pray: Ask God to help you to devote yourself, along with other Christians, to studying God’s Word and to the fellowship of believers by breaking bread and praying together.

Do: Write down a number from 1 to 10 (with 10 being high), rating your opinion of how your church does at each of these areas: being devoted to the Bible’s teaching, eating and/or sharing Communion together, and praying together. Then write down a number rating how you do at contributing to these areas in your church.