Sunday, April 18, 2010
The Questioning God
Part 2—What have you done?
ILL: In Lodi, California, in March of 2006, a city dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey’s car. The car was damaged badly, so Gokey sued the city of Lodi for $3,600. Does that sound reasonable?
Here’s the problem: Curtis Gokey was driving the dump truck. Oops. The city dropped the lawsuit, stating that Gokey could not sue himself.
We do something wrong and we immediately start looking for someone to blame.
ILL: A 16 year-old girl got her drivers license and had a wreck in the first week. She called her mom crying, “Mom, I just hit a parked car…and I think it’s my fault.”
Do you think?
Today, we’re going to look at the question God asked Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit: “What have you done?” We’re going to let Him ask us the same question.
Offering and announcements:
1. Dad’s Boot Camp (back of tear-off)—great teaching from Jerry Sittser, Kurt Bubna and John Repsold—three of my close friends and three guys who are great dads.
2. Music Drama Day Camp (#2)—only 300 spots, register your child using the Life Center website, or stop by the Info Center today.
3. Bloomsday (#2)—no morning services on Bloomsday, May 2! Attend Saturday night at 6 or Sunday night at 6.
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Notice these things about how God wants us to give.
- Giving is universal. “Each man should give.” Each person should give—generosity is a core Christian value. “Stingy Christian” is an oxymoron. Each person should give.
- Giving is voluntary. What you give is up to you—you decide in your heart. No one should force you or compel you to give—you decide. Giving is voluntary.
- Giving is joyful. We don’t give reluctantly, but cheerfully, happily. The Greek word is hilaros; we get the English word “hilarious” from it. Giving is hilarious! Jesus said, “It is more blessed, more happy, to give than to receive.” Giving isn’t a duty undertaken reluctantly, but an opportunity undertaken cheerfully.
Giving is universal, voluntary and joyful. Let’s give!
This is week two of this five-week series, “The Questioning God”. We’re looking at questions that God asked people in the Bible, and letting God ask them of us. Last week, we wrestled with the question, “Where are you?” When God came for evening coffee with Adam and Eve, they were nowhere to be found, so God asked, “Where are you?” It is a question born out of God’s intense desire to have relationship with us.
This week, we’re going back to the same story and we’ll wrestle with the second question, “What have you done?” Here’s the story.
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’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 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.’ ”
4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 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.
8 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. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
When Adam and Eve come out of hiding and have a conversation with God, He asks some questions, including this question:
1. The question: What have you done?
God asks Adam, “Who told you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Essentially, God was asking Adam, “What have you done?” I said last week that all these questions are rhetorical; they are for our benefit, not God’s. God knew what Adam had done; He wanted Adam to own up.
Instead, Adam gives an evasive answer, which we’ll look at in a moment. Then God asks Eve, “What have you done?” And Eve gives an evasive answer.
“What have you done?” It’s a great question. How many of you have asked your kids this question?
ILL: Your child comes in the house crying. “Meagan kicked me,” Johnny wails. So you ask Johnny, “What did you do?” And he says, “Nothing.”
“Really?” you ask. “Did you do something to make her want to kick you?”
“Well, I slugged her.”
“But she was calling me names.”
“What have you done?” This is a question that God regularly asks us. It is the question about personal responsibility.
We live in an age in which personal responsibility is becoming less accepted. We are understood to be the products of forces beyond our control: our genes, our chemical balance (or imbalance), our environment, our family of origin, our circumstances—these things make us who we are. Therefore, we are no longer responsible for our choices; they are determined by these outside forces. We are victims. Turn to someone and say, “It’s not your fault.” That’s what we want to believe! We are victims; biological and environmental determinism have let us off the hook.
I think we all understand that these things do affect us; they shape us in very significant ways, and often influence our choices. But they do not determine every choice we make. Human beings have consistently demonstrated the ability to rise above both hereditary and environmental conditions and make free choices. The fact that you call me names doesn’t mean I have to slug you: I have a choice! Turn to someone and say, “You are responsible.” We are not as excited to hear that! But it is true. I am responsible for the choices I make, regardless of the hand I’ve been dealt.
So God comes and asks me, “What have you done?” God regularly asks me this question.
When I am having a conflict with my wife, I may say, “Lord, Laina said this, or did this. This woman has a problem. You really need to fix her.” And invariably, the Lord will ask me, “What have you done?”
In fact, in almost any interpersonal conflict, this is the question the Lord asks me. What have you done? It takes two to tango; when there is conflict between me and another person, I always have contributed in some way. What have you done?
ILL: Recently a friend of mine was upset with me about something I did. I thought he over-reacted big time. I thought, “This is silly. This is such a dinky thing. Why’s he making a big deal out of this? It’s his problem.” Then the Lord asked me, “What have you done?” And as I thought about his over-reaction, it occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t reacting to the little thing I did; maybe he was reacting to something else. And I realized what it was—actually, it was something I had failed to do. The little thing I had done was just the presenting issue; the real issue was the bigger thing I had failed to do. I owned up to him, and to God, and I’m taking steps to correct that.
“What have you done?” This is the question that invites us to examine our behavior and honestly own it. This is the question that we must answer if we ever hope to change. I have to assume responsibility for my own behavior. The only person I can change is me, which is why God doesn’t ask, “What have others done?” but “What have you done?” I have to own up.
But often our answer to this question is not to own up, but to blame.
2. The answer: blame.
God asks Adam and Eve, “What have you done?” And their answer was to blame.
“What have you done?” The first words out of Adam’s mouth were, “The woman…”. Not, “I did this”, but “The woman”. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” This is so classic! Adam blames his wife! “The woman…she gave me some fruit.” Adam blames Eve. But not just Eve; he also blames God. “The woman You put here with me.”
“This is Your fault, God. You gave me this woman. We didn’t have this problem back when it was just You and me. If You had just left well enough alone; but no, You thought I needed a partner. And now look what’s happened.”
So Adam blames his wife and then he blames God before he really answers the question. What have you done? “I ate it.” There’s the real answer to the question! “What have you done?” I ate it. I ate the thing you told me not to eat; I did the thing you told me not to do. I ate it.
Adam blames God and Eve, so God turns to Eve. “What have you done?” and the first words out of her mouth were, “The serpent…”. Not, “I did this”, but “The serpent.” “The serpent deceived me,” she said. “The devil made me do it; it’s not my fault. I was deceived; I was tricked.” Only after she blames the serpent does Eve finally get to the real answer to the question, “What have you done?” She said, “I ate it.” I did the thing you told me not to do.
Adam blames Eve; Eve blames the serpent. Blame: this is still our first reaction to the question, “What have you done?” We want to blame someone else; we want to divert responsibility to someone else. “It’s really not my fault.” But sooner or later, your sins catch up to you; there’s no one to blame but you.
ILL: A CEO took a new job, and the outgoing CEO says to him, “Sometimes you’ll make wrong choices. You’ll mess up. When that happens, I have prepared three envelopes for you. I left them in the top drawer of the desk. The first time it happens, open #1. The second time you mess up, open #2. The third time, open #3.”
For the first few months, everything goes fine. Then the CEO makes his first mistake, goes to the drawer, opens up envelope #1, and the message reads, “Blame me.” So he does; he blames the old CEO: “This is the old CEO’s fault. He made these mistakes. I inherited these problems.” Everybody says, “Okay.” It works out pretty well.
Things go fine for a while, and then he makes his second mistake. So, he goes to the drawer and opens up envelope #2. This time he reads, “Blame the board.” And he does: “It’s the board’s fault. The board is a mess. I inherited them. They’re the problem.” Everybody says, “Okay, that makes sense.”
Things go fine for a while, and then he makes his third mistake. So, he goes to the drawer and opens up envelope #3. The message reads: “Prepare three envelopes.”
Sooner or later, blame catches up to you.
“What have you done?” God asks. We want to blame others. Or, rather than blaming, we may try to justify our behavior. Like blame, justification or rationalization says it is not my fault, but instead of blaming another person, we point to circumstances that justify our decision. You can see this in Eve’s response: “I was deceived.” It’s not my fault; I’m not responsible; there are extenuating circumstances.
ILL: In the movie, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, Robert Duvall plays Adolph Eichmann, the notorious Nazi henchman who was known as the architect of the Holocaust. Eichmann escaped Germany after the war and hid in Argentina. In 1960 he was captured by Israeli operatives who smuggled him out of the country to Israel where he was tried for war crimes. At his trial, Eichmann, like the Nazis tried at Nuremburg, insisted he was not responsible; he was only following orders. He blamed those above him.
In the movie, which is based on the memoir of the man who captured him, Eichmann is chained to a bed while being guarded by his Israeli captors. When he is accused of killing Jews, he protests that he never killed Jews. He was only in charge of transport, shipping the Jews to the death camps.
“But you knew where they were going and what would happen to them. You knew you were sending them to their deaths.”
“Yes, but that was not my province. Once the shipments were complete, my responsibilities ceased. My duties ended at the gates of the camps. Besides, hundreds of thousands survived. I had nothing to do with the concentration camps.”
It’s an incredible rationalization!
- “I only shipped them; I didn’t gas them. So I’m not responsible.” Do you buy that?
- “Besides, hundreds of thousands survived.” Oh, that makes it all ok. Do you buy that?
- “I had nothing to do with the concentration camps.” Do you buy that? This is the guy who filled the camps with millions of victims, knowing what awaited them.
It’s an incredible rationalization! But we are all equally capable of justifying our sin. I can do the same thing. Human beings are remarkably adept at justifying their behaviors, excusing themselves from responsibility. If we can’t blame someone else, we can explain why it’s not really our fault or our responsibility. We want to avoid personal responsibility.
ILL: Many years ago, I did a really stupid thing. Here’s what happened.
In those days, I had to do something to supplement my income as a pastor. So a friend and I started a business—we bought cars wholesale and sold them. We called our business “H&R Enterprises”—it stood for Holy Rollers! My friend and I were not good at this; we lost more money than we made, and closed our business after a couple years. But I still had the line of credit at the bank that I had opened to buy the cars.
About that time, three friends of mine asked me for a loan for a business they were starting. The banks had turned them down as poor credit risks. My three friends knew I had this credit line, and asked if I would borrow the money from my credit line and loan it to them to start their business. They would make the payments each month and in addition, pay me something each month.
I asked my banker; he said, “Don’t do it. There’s a reason the banks turned them down. This is too risky.”
I asked Pastor Noel; he said, “Don’t do it. The Bible says don’t co-sign; this is worse. Their names aren’t on the loan at all; you are assuming sole responsibility.”
I asked my wife; she said, “Don’t do it. You could ruin your friendship with these guys.
I did it. I borrowed $12,000 and loaned it to my friends. A few months later, the money was gone, and my friends declared bankruptcy, leaving me with a $12,000 debt I couldn’t afford to pay.
So I emptied my savings to pay the debt down. Then I sold my baseball card collection to pay it down. I was still thousands in debt, and had to make monthly payments, so I got a job as a paperboy. I had two early morning routes—Pastor Joe, your paperboy!
One morning, I was walking my routes, complaining to God. “Lord, this is so unfair! Those guys should be doing paper routes and paying this debt, not me. This is their fault, not mine.” What’s that? Blame.
The Lord asked me, “What have you done?” I started thinking about that. What had I done? I hadn’t really wanted to think about that! What was my part in this fiasco?
- I had refused to listen to the wise counsel given by my wife, my pastor and my banker.
- I had disobeyed the clear teaching of the Bible about guaranteeing another person’s debt.
- Why had I done this? Because I was greedy. I saw an opportunity to make some easy money. I wanted the easy money.
It was my fault! If I done the right thing, none of it would have happened. When I owned what I had done, when I named my sin, a wonderful thing happened. I repented, I told God I was sorry, and I accepted His forgiveness. And then I was able to forgive my three friends.
What have you done? That question changed everything for me; it will for you too. Instead of blaming others, instead of justifying your behavior, just own up. Answer the question, “What have you done?” I ate it. And when you own up, here’s the promise.
3. The promise: confess your sins and you will be forgiven.
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
There is the promise. If we confess—if we answer the question honestly and take responsibility for our behavior—we will be forgiven and cleansed. Own up and you’ll be forgiven. The opposite is also true:
Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
If we blame, if we justify, if we deny, if we avoid responsibility, we do not prosper; things don’t go well for us. You can’t be forgiven for a sin you won’t admit. You can’t change if you don’t admit you’re responsible. But if we confess and repent, we find mercy.
King David discovered this. The story is found in 2 Samuel 11-12 (not 1 Samuel as on your outline). David committed adultery with Bathsheba, who got pregnant, and then he tried to cover it up by murdering her husband. Adultery, murder, and cover up—pretty serious stuff. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David, and when he did, David owned up.
2 Samuel 13:13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”
No excuses, no blaming, David just owned up. “I have sinned.” But before his confession, while he was covering up, David was being eaten alive by the guilt of his sin. Psalm 32 describes it.
Psalm 32:1-5 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
When we do the wrong thing, we feel guilty; it eats at us. True moral guilt—feeling guilty for doing something wrong—is not neurotic. It’s healthy. It’s like pain. Pain tells you that something is wrong. Touch a hot burner, and it’s the pain that tells you to move your hand! If you felt no pain, you’d cook your hand. The pain is unpleasant, but it saves you from something worse. True moral guilt is like that; you feel terrible; it’s unpleasant. But it’s trying to tell you, “Something is wrong! Move your hand! You’ve got take care of this.”
Sin clouds my relationships with God and others. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and hid in the bushes. David disobeyed God and he starts wasting away. When you and I disobey God, we feel it too. We know we’ve done wrong. If we “keep silent” and cover it up, or deny it, or blame or justify, we just continue to waste away. Our souls grow numb and callused. God seems far away. Walls go up between others and us. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…your hand was heavy upon me…my strength was sapped.”
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” At that point, everything changes. We are forgiven, cleansed, set free, restored.
“What have you done?” When I answer that honestly, when I confess and repent, I clear the air. God forgives me; I can forgive myself and others; I can change. Confession and repentance lets my relationships with God and others be healthy again.
“What have you done?” I hope you’ll let God ask you that regularly, and give Him an honest answer. I want you to sit with that question for a few moments right now.