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What Went Wrong?
February 25, 1996

GENESIS 2:15-17; 3:1-13, MATTHEW 4:1-11

Mystery and Wonder is our theme this Lent. When I created this theme, I did not realize that we would be hosting the Boys' Chrysalis this weekend. 21 boys, with a support team of over 60 people, have been here since Thursday evening. This morning they are meeting in the Music Room. I don't know if you sense anything different here in the sanctuary, but the Holy Spirit has been mightily at work. The mystery and wonder of God is beyond description. When teen age boys pray out loud in small groups throughout the sanctuary, when teen age boys kneel here to confess their sins and commit their lives to Christ, you know God is at work.

Throughout the weekend, the boys hear fifteen talks, some by laymen, some by clergy, and some by youth. We heard one youth speak of the devastating effect of his parents' divorce on his life, and his struggle with alcohol and drugs. We heard another describe his attempt at suicide. Oh, the mystery and wonder of God who turned their lives around! The talk on marriage was given by Andy and Claudia Speziale. They did a magnificent job of telling their story, and then answered several thoughtful, impromptu questions. The boys spontaneously gave Andy and Claudia a standing ovation. Five of the fifteen talks are given by clergy, one of which was given by me last evening.

How God works never ceases to amaze me. Some time ago I went to the Westminster Retreat Center in Alamo for a United Camps meeting. Before the meeting began, I took my books and Bible, sat in a room overlooking a rushing stream in the midst of trees, and planned sermons. Using the lectionary (the suggested Scripture lessons), in only two hours, I planned the Lenten theme, and the main ideas and titles for all the Lenten sermons. Later, when I received my Chrysalis talk assignment, the sermon I had planned for this morning fit exactly the topic of last evening's talk. Oh, the mystery and wonder of God. How is that for planning! Two birds with one stone. Here is the talk I gave to the boys.

The Hebrews loved stories, and they were first-rate story tellers. They thought in story form, and conveyed deep truths through stories. Picture a group of people sitting around a fire enjoying God's beautiful creation. They study the moon and the stars. They listen to night sounds-- an owl hooting, a dog barking, a child crying and laughing. It's a beautiful world. How good is God! O Lord, how majestic is your creation! Someone reflects, "God made such a beautiful world for us, with air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. What went wrong? Why are there murders, wars, jealousy, greed? Why is there so much evil? What went wrong?"

To answer the question-- what went wrong?-- the early Hebrews told the story of the first man and the first woman-- Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, for Adam means human in Hebrew. The story of Adam and Eve is your story, my story, our story. Don't get hung up on whether Adam and Eve were real people. The story of Adam and Eve is a parable where the characters represent all of us.

The story of Adam and Eve tells us that what went wrong with the world is what the Bible calls sin. To sin is to deny our relationship with God. Sin means our relationship with God is broken. Adam and Eve broke the relationship they had with God in the Garden of Eden. They said No to God and Yes to the serpent. God placed them in the beautiful garden where all their needs were met. God told them to enjoy themselves, but with one restriction. "Do not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden." But, along came the serpent and manipulated the woman into eating the fruit. The serpent was very clever, and enticed Eve to eat the fruit by telling her, "God did not want her to eat the fruit because when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God!"

The man and woman disobeyed God, broke their relationship with God (they even tried to hide from God by covering themselves with leaves and sneaking into the bushes), and they would not take responsibility for their actions. God confronted Adam, and Adam blamed Eve. He said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree." He even blamed God for giving him the woman! God confronted the woman and she blamed the serpent. She said, "The serpent tricked me." The man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent. Neither would take responsibility for their actions. Sound familiar? "She made me do it." "It's not my fault." "It's my mother's fault." "It was the way I was brought up!"

God created each of us to live in the garden. God gave you an intelligence to make decisions. God gave you emotions so you can feel and enjoy life. God gives you opportunities to make something of your life. God places you in the garden of life and expects you to take responsibility for your actions, to take responsibility for your life, to be the person God made you to be. But, what goes wrong?

What goes wrong is that Adam and Eve said No to God and Yes to the devil. Saying Yes to God meant saying No to the serpent and No to eating the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. But, they allowed themselves to be manipulated by the devil, the serpent.

None of us like to be manipulated, do we? None of us like to made fools of, to look ridiculous. We want to be independent, in charge of our lives, able to make our own decisions; but how often we are manipulated. It's hard to say No. There is so much pressure, so much temptation. It's not easy to be a youth. It is hard for youths to take hold of their life, and find purpose and direction. It's a lot harder today than it was for me. Life was simpler when I was young. Today we live in a consumeristic, consumptive society which constantly entices you to buy this, buy that, consume this, consume that. You are constantly being manipulated to be a consumer, to wear what clothing the manufacturer wants you to buy, to wear your hair the way others do, to look like everybody else, to act like everybody else, and smell like everybody else.

For example, look how people are manipulated by tobacco companies. To be modern, macho, masculine, and cool, advertising and peer pressure manipulate you to smoke cigarettes. Like someone said, "Actually, it's the cigarette that smokes; you're just the sucker on the other end!" Tobacco companies make a sucker out of you, a dupe, a dope, and an addict. And, then, tobacco companies have the audacity to issue a statement denying that smoking is addictive. They are clever, conniving, and corrupt. Saying Yes to God means saying No to being manipulated, saying No to the pollution of your body.

Saying Yes to God means saying No to alcohol and drugs, saying No to artificial addictive depressants which deaden your reactions and your conscience, No to artificial addictive stimulants which distort your perceptions and destroy your mind.

Saying Yes to God means saying No to cheating. Cheating is the dishonest attempt to be someone you are not. Oh, the pressure is often great to cheat so you can get a good grade, or to help someone else cheat so he can get a good grade. Saying Yes to God means having the courage to say No to being manipulated into being a cheater or helping a cheater be someone they are not.

Saying Yes to God means saying No to promiscuous sex, No to premarital sex, No to being manipulated, seduced to misuse your body-- the body God gave you, the handsome, sexual body God gave you to reserve for the one you choose to marry and live with the rest of your life; saying No to the manipulation and seduction of anyone else. Can you love a girl enough to respect her and her body?

Saying Yes to God means saying No to peer pressure, No to compromising your principles just so you can belong to a group, or a gang. I recall the time when I was a teenager, and was playing pool in what we called beer joints in that day. The others tried to get me to smoke a cigarette. They teased, jeered, coaxed, but I resisted the pressure. My Dad smoked and I hated it. I hated the smoke which burned my eyes. I hated the way he coughed. I hated the smell of ash trays. I resisted the pressure of the group, and decided I would make my friends at church. I chose a different peer group. I decided I didn't fit in with that crowd, and I would find a different crowd. Choose your friends carefully. Too many folks give their souls to the wrong crowd. They lose their identity. They allow themselves to be manipulated and do things they would never have done by themselves.

We are in the season we call Lent, 40 days before Easter, when we recall Jesus' temptations after his baptism. He went into the wilderness for 40 days where the devil tried to manipulate him. The devil tried to get Jesus to say No to God and Yes to him. The devil tried to entice Jesus with power. "Turn these stones into bread." My, wouldn't people follow Jesus if he gave them free bread. "Throw yourself down from the Temple. Show people how powerful you are!" The devil tried to entice Jesus with riches. "I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world in all their splendor if you worship me." The devil promised Jesus fame, riches, popularity, people falling all over themselves, screaming for him, wanting his autograph. But, Jesus held firm. Jesus refused to be manipulated. Jesus was his own man. Jesus was the man God made him to be. Jesus said No to the devil and Yes to God.

Saying Yes to God leads to life. Saying Yes to God means saying No to the easy road that leads to destruction. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13,

Enter through the narrow gate (where lots of Nos are required); for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The leading cause of death of American teenagers is suicide--the ultimate destruction.

What went wrong in the world and what goes wrong with your life is sin. Sin is to break your relationship with God. Sin is to say No to God and Yes to being manipulated by the devil. Salvation is to say Yes to God. Do you know why it is possible for you to say No to the devil and Yes to God? Because God says Yes to you. It cost Jesus his life. That's how much God loves you. God does not leave you to your own devices and strength. God is not sitting somewhere in the distance watching you to see which way you will turn, which road you will take, which gate you will enter. No, God is not watching. God is with you, agonizing with you, crying with you, laughing with you, giving you strength and power to say No. God loves you just the way you are, but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.

You can love God because God first loved you. You can let go and let God because God is there to catch you, and will never let you down. You can say Yes to God because God first says Yes to you. Have you said Yes to God? Are you saying Yes to God--daily, hourly, in every situation and every temptation?

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris