Creator

The FOMO Tree

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unsplash.com_RBico

I had two personal encounters this week that illustrate the present polarization in America. The first was a young millennial guy I met in a Starbucks parking lot. I saw his lavender, yellow, and blue school bus and remarked that I had friends who had one like it back in the 70's.

It was a throw-back moment seeing him with a 'fro and full beard, tie-dyed shirt, and beads telling me of the protests he and his group had gone to on behalf of Native Americans. It was reminiscent of the hippie movement of my day.

My second encounter came at a dinner with friends. During casual conversation, one of the older persons expressed his agreement with the current crackdown on illegal immigration, but with a broad, derogatory statement about all immigrants.

Both individuals are convinced of their very different views on current cultural issues. What a contrast! How did we, as citizens of the United States, get so polarized? It's nothing new and yet, it's not political. It goes deeper than that.

Back at the beginning

Last week, I looked at the beginning of the story of redemption in the Bible. The primary reason the Father sent His Son Jesus as the Redeemer of humanity is God's original purpose for creating humankind—humans were originally created in His image (Gen 1:26-27).

Each person, since the beginning of creation, has the imprint of God. But God's original purpose and design went awry.

After forming the first man (adam in Hebrew) from the basic elements of earth and breathing life into him, God placed him in a beautiful garden—a paradise. In the middle of this well-watered paradise, God planted two trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:7-9).

God gave the man permission to eat the fruit of all the trees except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God also created a life partner for the man who fit him perfectly. The man (ish in Hebrew) called her woman (ishshah in Hebrew) because she was literally part of him (Gen 2:20-22). They lived together naked and without shame, innocent of any evil (Gen 2:24-25).

God was content with all that He created and He said it was all good (Gen 1:31–2:3).

The beginning of FOMO

This is not a fairy tale. There is no "happily ever after" in this story. Although the first man and woman were in a state of innocence in paradise, it didn't continue that way.

Among all the creatures God created, one was especially clever—the serpent. He could speak to the humans and one day he approached the woman and questioned if God told them not to eat the fruit of any tree (Gen 3:1).

The woman clarified there was only one tree they weren't to eat from—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent countered this truth with the first lie—

You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil. (Gen 3:4-5 MSG)

Here is the first occurrence of FOMO—the fear of missing out. The serpent's question created doubt and his lie stirred up a well-spring of insatiable curiosity. He deceived her into thinking God was holding out something better from then than what they knew.

FOMO is not based in culture, trends, or even curiosity but now it's embedded in our human nature. We and our self-will don't want to miss out on something better. We don't want to be denied what we want or could have.

The fall

And so, the woman looked at this beautiful tree and its desirable fruit that would make a person wise. She reached out, took the fruit, and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband.

After they ate the fruit, their new insight made them realize they were naked. They saw each other without the innocence they knew before. Shame set in, so they hurried to cover it with a garment of fig leaves (Gen 3:6-7).

They fell from the perfect relationship of trust they knew with God. They crossed a line, one they couldn't erase. Only their Creator would be able to restore the relationship back to what it had been.

Most of the time, I hear the fall of humanity reduced to an issue of disobedience. Consequently, redemption is focused on dealing with sin. Indeed, it was disobedience to God's command not to eat of that tree which is sin—it missed the mark of what God intended.

But, it's the lack of trust in God that led to FOMO and led to their selfish choice of disobedience. It is not just a matter of bad morality but a bad choice and broken trust.

The story so far

This isn't the end of the story but here's a summary of what's taken place so far.

God created the earth and universe and all that exists including all life on earth. He created a man and woman who were naked and unashamed and placed them in paradise with two exceptional trees, they were not to eat the fruit of one.

A talking creature deceived the woman into thinking God was holding something back from her and her husband, so they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. As soon as they ate, they realized they were naked and tried to cover their shame with leaves from a tree.

The story continues, but here are two important things to remember about God's redemption of humanity so far—

  1. All humans were created in the image of God—we all have God's imprint in us
  2. Trust was broken between God and the man and woman, which precipitated a selfish, willful decision on the part of the man and woman to rebel against God's authority

Next week

Next, I'll look at the consequences of this break in the relationship of trust between God and the man and woman (Adam and Eve), and the consequences for the serpent.

We'll also get a glimpse of God's plan to restore what was lost in paradise.

Until then... if you have some thoughts or questions on all of this, please comment below or on Word-Strong's FaceBook page.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

An Unknown God—part 2

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unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16

New Clothing

Where do you shop for clothes? Do you go to thrift stores, big-box discount chain stores, trendy boutiques, or high-end stores? Or is most of your shopping online?

When do you shop? Do you wait for clearance sales or Black Fridays? Are you a last minute shopper or do you plan your shopping trips?

We Americans, known for our consumeristic culture, are overly focused on clothing. It's more than just covering our nakedness, it's often part of our identity.

But really, how important should it be? It depends on the clothing.