What NOW?

NBS 13

Take a moment to read Numbers 13+14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

I think it’s something that happens to all of us at one time or another.  We’ve prepared for something, enjoyed success, felt elated and satisfied…and then we wake up the next morning and realize that thing is over.  There’s an obvious hole where that thing was, and we wonder, “What now?”

It’s the feeling Simon Peter had the day after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and even Thomas was finally on board.  Being a man’s man, Peter met the “morning after blues” head on and said, “I’m going fishing.”  Look it up.  It’s in John 21:3.

This is a twice-yearly feeling for pastors, one that is felt most keenly the day after Easter.  Andy Fuqua described it pretty well in an article entitled, “The Post-Easter Blues.”

“You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The ‘post-Easter blues’ aren’t logical, but they are real.”

(Read the whole article at andyfuqua.com/2016/03/28/post-easter-blues/.)

When dealing with “morning after” moments and the other disappointments of life, the bottom line is this:

Don’t give up on God.

This morning we’ll take a quick look at one instance where the people of God gave even before they got started.  They gave up on God, suffering devastating consequences. We can learn from their mistakes.

  1. 12 spies had 40 days of fruitful research. (13:23-27)

The first half of chapter thirteen details the first committee formed in the Bible; the twelve men sent in to scout the Promised Land.  This was a 40 day trip; pretty extensive searching and a rather daring thing to do considering they didn’t know any languages or cultures.

The last half of the chapter deals with the report they filed.  They brought along physical evidence; a CLUSTER OF GRAPES, with POMEGRANATES and FIGS.  This collection of fruit was so great it took two men to carry it.  They said, “WE WENT INTO THE LAND TO WHICH YOU SENT US AND IT DOES FLOW WITH MILK AND HONEY!  HERE IS ITS FRUIT.”

  1. 10 spies gave up on God’s promise. (13:28-33)

After attesting to quality of the land and its produce, the majority gave up on the LORD when they got around to describing the people who lived there.  “THE PEOPLE ARE POWERFUL,” they said, and embellished on that with, they are “DESCENDANTS OF ANAK (28), and THE NEPHILIM (33).  You might read Genesis 6:1-4 to find out who these legendary characters were.  But please don’t ask me to explain; we don’t have enough room for that.

It seems to me the majority is making excuses; “ALL THE PEOPLE THERE ARE OF GREAT SIZE” (32) and “WE SEEMED LIKE GRASS-HOPPERS IN OUR OWN EYES, AND WE LOOKED THE SAME TO THEM (33).”  These exaggerations are bent on disguising the fact that it was their fear of the size of the task that motivated their pessimism, not the size of the people.  The true comment is added almost as an afterthought:  their “CITIES ARE FORTIFIED AND VERY LARGE (28).”

The two dissenting members were Joshua and Caleb.  Caleb voiced the minority opinion in verse thirty, trying to impart some faith-fueled  confidence to these cowering characters.

  1. 40 years and 1 generation later, they would finally enter the Promised Land (14:1-45).

The majority worked their tale-spinning until the whole COMMUNITY spent the night grumbling and bawling (14:1-4).  They were ready to elect someone to lead them back to Egypt and a return to slavery!

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to talk them out of this dumb idea (14:5-9).  They gave four excellent reasons for obeying the LORD and entering the Promised Land.

Verse seven: The “LAND IS EXCEEDINGLY GOOD.”

Verse eight: The “LORD…WILL GIVE IT TO US.”

Verse nine reveals two “do not’s.”  One, “DO NOT REBEL AGAINST THE LORD,” and the other, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND.”

The people’s reaction was violent (14:10).  To make room for new leadership, they decided to stone their current leaders to death!

But God Himself intervened and the GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED AT THE TENT OF MEETING.  From the beginning (see Exodus 20:18-21), the glorious appearing of the LORD had filled the Hebrews with fear.

God’s reaction sounds extreme (14:11-12).  He was justifiably angry and said to Moses, “HOW LONG WILL THESE PEOPLE TREAT ME WITH CONTEMPT?”  Adding, “THEY REFUSE TO BELIEVE ME IN SPITE OF ALL THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS.”

How could they be so slow to believe?  Not for the first time, God threatened to strike them all down and start over with Moses: “I WILL STRIKE THEM DOWN WITH A PLAGUE” (v. 12).  That was not an empty threat.  Though the nation was spared total destruction, the ten negative spies were NOT spared and, in 14:36-38, died from a PLAGUE.

Moses interceded in prayer for the nation (14:13-19).  Here is Moses’ reasoning: first, killing the entire nation would undo what God had done, causing the nations to disbelieve (14:13-16).  Killing the entire nation would also be contrary to God’s character.  God is love: He is “SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FORGIVING SIN AND REBELLION” (14:17+19).  God is holy, too, demanding justice for the sake of the victims of sin: “HE DOES NOT LEAVE THE GUILTY UNPUNISHED” (14:18).

God forgave the people, but did not tolerate their sin (14:20-38).

According to verse twenty, the LORD had already forgiven them.  Regardless of how it may appear, this conversation is not Moses talking God into forgiving the people as He’d already done it.

But forgiveness does not always mean the offender avoids the consequences of his offense.  Indeed, avoiding discipline or the natural consequences of one’s actions is a shallow perversion of love, not the genuine thing.

That generation of adults had repeatedly been guilty of committing serious sins against the LORD.  In this situation, they had:

DISOBEYED and TESTED Him (22).

Treated Him with CONTEMPT (23).

GRUMBLED against Him (27).

Enacting love and holiness, God gave Moses new orders: “Go back the way you came” (14:25).  This is ironic justice: they’d been plotting to return to Egypt, so God sent them in that direction.

God’s wrath would take 40 years to satisfy.  That complaining, disobedient, and contemptuous generation did not enter the Promised Land; they wandered the wilderness until every member of that generation died (14:26-31).

The people suddenly repented but disobeyed the LORD again and got a whuppin’ for their foolishness (14:39-45).  The death of their ringleaders (36-38) put the fear of God in the nation.  When Moses repeated all God had to him, they MOURNED BITTERLY (14:39).

After what was probably a sleepless night, they were all ready to repent and obey God’s original instructions (14:40).  But they were too late.  This illustrates the principle of “obedience in time” as essential to complete obedience.  When we delay, make excuses or procrastinate, we are being disobedient.  Complete obedience requires doing what you’re told and doing it right away.

Talk about stubborn!  These people thought they’d avoid God’s justice by disobeying Him AGAIN (14:41-44).  The first time they disobeyed Him by refusing to fight.  Now they disobeyed the LORD by refusing to leave, insisting on a fight.  In verse forty-four the writer rightly identified their sin as PRESUMPTION.

Moses warned them a battle now would end with a number of deaths (14:43), which was the awful outcome (14:44-45).  When are we going to learn to obey?  When will we learn going our own way results in calamity?

Notice that in verse forty-four neither Moses nor the Ark of the Covenant was involved in this doomed military expedition.  This battle was not the Lord’s doing & He didn’t assist them.

Don’t give up on God.

You may’ve wondered earlier if I got the “post-Easter blues.”  Not an extreme case, but a little.  I pursued an unusual cure.  I went to a public library and pulled a book from the shelf that expresses some very critical views of the Bible.  I spent the afternoon reading that book and I hope very soon to post a rebuttal on our website.  It sounds weird, but this guy’s heretical opinions set me on edge and that got me out of any sense of the “blues.”

The better part of the experience is being reminded that Easter is not the end of Jesus’ story nor is it the end of ours.  There is a lot of living, loving, and serving in the days ahead.  We might as well be grateful for what God gave us on Easter and get on with it.

That’s a little bit of what Jesus said to His disciples just before He returned to heaven.  To paraphrase just a bit, He said, “It’s time to get to work.  There’s a whole world out there and everyone in it needs to learn about me.  We’ll go together.”

The God who began that work in you will surely see it to completion.  Just don’t give up.

Last Supper, Last Words (2 of 5)

Swaney

Please take a moment to read John 14:15-31 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.

If you’ve been watching the Olympics for the last EIGHTEEN DAYS, you’ve been treated to some pretty amazing athletic performances.  However, the biggest controversy may be over an Olympic skier who became an internet sensation for her horrible performances.

Hungarian freeskier Elizabeth Swaney is the subject of some angry athletes’ social media posts, accusing Swaney of “scamming” her way into the Olympics.  Under heavy criticism about her qualifications to even compete in the Olympics, Swaney told CNBC on Wednesday she was “striving to achieve” the level of an Olympic skier.  Swaney became a sensation when she came in last place in the women’s ski halfpipe for Team Hungary.  She was unable to complete even the most basic tricks but did succeed in not falling down.

In an interview Swaney said she is capable of landing tricks on waterski ramps, but “I just haven’t been comfortable enough yet to land those tricks on snow.”  Swaney’s grandparents are from Hungary which allowed her to compete for that team.  That’s one loophole in the rules.  The other loophole was that Swaney “competed” in World Cup events and by finished in the top 30 by only going to events that had less than 30 competitors! <Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/21/olympic-skier-elizabeth-swaney-i-did-not-scam-my-way-into-the-games.html on 2/23/18.>

Let me tell you some good news: there will be no “scammers” in heaven.  There are no loopholes to exploit, no way to cheat, and no fooling God, who knows our hearts.

Everyone in heaven will be there because they walked in Jesus’ footsteps.  They received His gift of salvation by faith.  Having been adopted into God’s family, we show forth God’s love, following the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives us leadership in loving.

  1. Our love FOR God is manifest in obedience. (14:15, 21, 23-24)

Jesus started this section with the word IF.  “IF” is a little word with big implications.  With it Jesus effectively says, “You can claim to love me, but those who really love me will obey my commands.”  Obedience is keeping God’s commands to love.  Remember them?  Love God first, others second, self last.  Easy to say, harder to do, yet it is the doing – not the saying – that really counts.  God gives us the Holy Spirit to encourage, empower, and guide us into keeping these commands.

  1. The love OF God is manifest in the Holy Spirit.

We get the Spirit through our faith-connection with Jesus = “I WILL ASK THE FATHER…” (16).

We understand the Holy Spirit Jesus by studying what Jesus told us about Him.  For example, there are five things we can learn from this passage.

First, the Spirit is ANOTHER COUNSELOR (16).  The Greek word for COUNSELOR is paraclete.  It is such a rich word in the original language, it is difficult to translate into English and do it justice.  It means “a person summoned to one’s aid,” but can be translated as “Comforter, Helper, Advocate, Teacher, Mediator, Legal Advisor, Intercessor,” and “Friend.”  All that means the Holy Spirit is our greatest supporter and our most capable assistant all rolled into one!

Why did Jesus refer to Him as ANOTHER Counselor?  There are two reasons I can think of: because He continues the work of Jesus in the world.  Also, so we can see all the members of the Trinity expressed in this passage: God the Father sent God the Son into the world.  When God the Son returned to heaven, God the Spirit was given to help Jesus’ disciples.

Second, because He is the SPIRIT OF TRUTH (17).  The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth but unfortunately, not all people will accept that truth.  In fact, our culture is increasingly hostile to two assertions that are central to our faith: one, that absolute truth exists and two, that God has revealed it to us.

Third, because the WORLD cannot know Him (17).  Jesus – the first Counselor – came to us in a physical body.  Because of that, He occupied time and space and could be perceived by the five senses.

The Holy Spirit – the second Counselor – exists as a spirit.  As such, He is not limited to a single time or space and cannot be perceived by the five senses; this is one reason the WORLD cannot know Him.  The WORLD only trusts what it can physically perceive.

There are more than eyeballs and ears involved here.  In John’s writings, the word WORLD refers not to this planet, but to the system that pervades all worldly cultures and is contrary to God. Satan is identified as the “PRINCE OF THIS WORLD” (30) and he exerts his influence to oppose God and His people.  However, Satan has NO HOLD on Jesus because three years earlier, Jesus endured Satan’s temptations and stayed faithful to God.  It is only by faith that any of us can perceive God.  People who love the WORLD have rejected God and thereby will not/cannot see Him.

Fourth, because He lives in Jesus’ followers (17).  “BUT YOU KNOW HIM,” Jesus said.  As we have faith in Christ, we have the Spirit.  Jesus declared, “HE LIVES WITH YOU AND WILL BE IN YOU.”

God has chosen to partner with His people in order to share the good news with people who have not yet believed.  The Spirit will guide and help us; this news is too good to keep to ourselves.

Fifth, because He WILL TEACH YOU ALL THINGS and REMIND YOU OF EVERYTHING I HAVE SAID TO YOU (26).  The word TEACH implies the Holy Spirit helps us understand Jesus’ teaching, eternal truths.  The word REMIND makes me think this isn’t knowledge for its own sake but it must to be applied to our daily lives, helping us make godly choices.  The word EVERYTHING means that this promise of the Spirit is unconditional.  The Holy Spirit will provide us with all we need to keep God’s commands.

  1. Jesus comforts us with His promises.

“I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU AS ORPHANS,” he declared; “I WILL COME TO YOU” (18).  This promise will be completed at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Instead of being ORPHANS or treated like orphans, we’re adopted into God’s family.  More than that, we are one with God as Jesus described in v. 20.

“YOU WILL SEE ME” is such an important promise, it gets two mentions (19, 28-31).  Verse nineteen is a promise set in Jesus’ day.

He said, “BEFORE LONG, THE WORLD WILL NOT SEE ME ANY MORE.”  Jesus lived in the world 33 years.  After His death and Resurrection, He went back to heaven.  It is to His Resurrection and Ascension Jesus referred.  “BUT YOU WILL SEE ME,” Jesus promised. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 we are told Jesus appeared to more than 500 of His followers after His Resurrection!

On a broader scope, this is a promise for us (28-32), referring to the Second Coming when we will all see Jesus (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16).  In these verses Jesus comforted His disciples saying His departure is good news because He is going to God the Father.

This is a reference to Jesus taking the seat of honor and authority in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father (see Romans 8:34).  From that advantaged point Jesus acts as our Mediator, speaking to God the Father on our behalf.

“I HAVE TOLD YOU NOW…SO WHEN IT HAPPENS YOU WILL BELIEVE” (29).  – This statement is virtually a word-for-word repeat of 13:19, which we read last week. When things get repeated, we should pay close attention.

One of Jesus’ aims in His Last Supper teachingswas to prepare His disciples so that when events unfolded as He predicted, they would keep their faith in Him.  But His intended audience was much bigger than those eleven men: “THAT THE WORLD [would] LEARN THAT I LOVE THE FATHER AND DO EXACTLY WHAT MY FATHER HAS COMMANDED ME” (v. 31).

Here is a third fantastic promise: “BECAUSE I LIVE, YOU WILL LIVE” (19).  In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul identified Jesus as the FIRSTFRUITS of the resurrection of all who believe.  Jesus’ statement here establishes a link between Jesus’ Resurrection and ours.  Because Jesus won victory over death and lives forever, so will we who are in Him.

We are promised fellowship with the Father (20).  The word “Trinity” is the name the Church has given to the three-part nature of God.  Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons in one personality.  It is not a doctrine we have embraced because it is easy, but because the Bible affirms that Father, Son, and Spirit are all God, but there is only one God.

The point is, being three-in-one, God exists as a community within Himself.  His very nature is to be in relationship.  Jesus

invites us to join Him in this close relationship, the ultimate version of community.

Jesus promised, “I WILL LOVE AND SHOW MYSELF” (21).  Love is the divine standard and brings us into relationship with God.  Love was the reason Jesus came to Earth and did all He has done for us, including giving us the Holy Spirit.

Verse twenty-seven is a classic promise, one that through the ages, has uplifted people of faith: “MY PEACE I GIVE YOU” (27).  Jesus’ PEACE is contrasted with what the WORLD calls “peace.”  Jesus’ PEACE is lasting and independent of circumstances.  It is a PEACE that banishes troubles and fears from our HEARTS.

The Holy Spirit gives us leadership in loving.

Jesus spent the last hours before His arrest preparing to live in a world that was going to be turned upside down.  He predicted the events of the next few days so His disciples would be ready to trust Him to fulfill all God’s promises.

Today these words serve a similar purpose for us.  Jesus speaks to prepare us to live in the WORLD, in a system dominated by evil that is hostile to the truth.  The best thing we have to counter this system is love.  The best source of love is the Holy Spirit.

Let us live in love by living in Jesus and following the Holy Spirit.

A Forever Kind of Love

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

Please read Psalm 89 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to research my remarks.

Picture the usual Christmas scene and focus on the husband and wife opening their gifts to each other.  This is one of those moments in life when something funny is bound to happen.

The husband pointed to an ill-wrapped package and said, “Open that one next.”

The wife picked up gift and unwrapped it, opening it to find one of those obnoxious singing-and-dancing robot Christmas trees. She is a bit shocked, remembering how just days ago she had pointed out how much she hated those things when she and her husband were shopping together.

Holding it at arm’s length she said, “Weren’t you listening when I said I thought these were the most annoying things ever?”

“Open that other gift,” the husband said, pointing to a long package that is even more poorly wrapped and is very heavy.

His wife set down the robotic Christmas tree as if it were radioactive.  She opened the second package to reveal a sledgehammer.

“Is this for what I think it’s for?”

The husband replied, “And you thought I wasn’t paying attention!”

<Adapted from https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-christmas-jokes/ on 12/21/17.>

We pin a lot of hopes and waste a lot of time trying to both please and surprise one another with Christmas gifts, don’t we?

One person wrote about how her dad got her mom a DVD of her favorite movie.  That would’ve been a thoughtful gift, except the DVD was a rental and they didn’t own a DVD player!

When calamities come, one question that springs to mind is “Why?  Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  The worst calamity to ever befall the OT people of God (Judah) was to be taken over and taken captive by the Babylonians.  This psalm is one of many examples of songs lamenting this terrible circumstance.

The psalm writers were not shy about expressing these questions, even accusing God of neglecting them.  They pleaded for an end to their suffering and leaned on His promises to encourage their hope.  This morning’s Psalm is an example of this way of attempting to renew the hopes of the captive Jews.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the dynasty of David (Psalm 89:1-4).

In verses one and two the LORD is worshiped because of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS.  These words occur seven times in the 52 verses of this psalm.

Eternity is bound up in this song; it is meant to be “The Song that Never Ends.”  We see this in the use of FOREVER and THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS; this worship is as eternal as HEAVEN ITSELF.  In Hebrew, the word translated as FOREVER is an indefinite length of time.  It is not exactly the same as the New Testament idea of eternity.  For example, in Romans 11:29, Paul wrote GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.  This assures us that God is not going to suddenly change His mind.  Our salvation is secure.  Here we see the idea that eternal means “unchanging.”

The LORD’s GREAT LOVE, a constant (faithful) LOVE.  So faithfulness is another aspect of things eternal.

These divine virtues they have been ESTABLISHED…IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The idea implied in the Hebrew is that the psalmist is creating a record of God’s faithfulness that will be preserved for future generations.

The appropriate human response is to praise God for His perfect love.  The words SING and DECLARE cover the two main ways we humans use our mouths to praise God.  The phrase WITH MY MOUTH meant “aloud” or “loudly.”  The joy of being in God is not supposed to be something we contain.  It ought to be too wonderful for us to conceal or hold inside; it ought to flow out of us, revealing God’s LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to our family and community.

The rest of this song gives us examples of other reasons the LORD is worthy of worship.

Vs. 5-13 = God’s power over creation.

Vs. 14-18 = God’s moral power.

Vs. 19-29 = God’s Son will be imbued with power.

Vs. 30-45 = God’s wrath against sin is mitigated by his covenant LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to keep His part of the covenant.

Vs. 46-52 = Worship includes pleading to God for mercy and relief from His discipline.

Verses three and four explain one aspect of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS: His eternal covenant with David in which God established the dynasty of David forever.  (See also vs. 26-29.)  King David is referred to as the LORD’s CHOSEN ONE and His SERVANT, emphasizing the special relationship they enjoyed.

The title CHOSEN ONE refers to the way God always works.  He chooses us first.  He makes His plans and attempts to work them with our cooperation.  The emphasis is never on our qualifications, but on God’s choosing and empowering.

The title SERVANT refers to David doing his part of the covenant-relationship; doing God’s will.

The COVENANT God swore with David was to establish an eternal dynasty, having one of David’s descendants reign over God’s people for all eternity.  The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus, who was a member of David’s royal family and because of His victory over death, Jesus Christ will reign as King for all eternity.

We are to feel secure in this promise.  The psalmist expressed that feeling of security in a couple different ways: he used the words STANDS FIRM (2) and ESTABLISH (4) to assure us of this trustworthy foundation to our faith.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) is there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David and went back only as far as Abraham.  The purpose behind that family tree was to show that Jesus is related to all Jews.

The genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (1:1-17) is also there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David.  But Luke’s version goes all the way back to Adam, with the purpose of showing that Jesus is related to all people.  Some people also think that even though Mary’s name is not used by Luke, these ancestors Mary shared in common with Joseph.

The love of God the Father for Jesus, God the Son, was expressed three times in the New Testament.

The first was at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), where the voice from heaven said, “THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

These words were repeated by the voice of our Heavenly Father at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), with an addition, “LISTEN TO HIM.”

In John 12:20-50, Jesus taught some Greeks about eternal life and prayed, “FATHER, GLORIFY YOUR NAME.”  The heavenly voice responded, “I HAVE GLORIFIED IT, AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN.” Jesus explained that the voice spoke so that the people there would realize that His immanent death would provide salvation for all people.

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

In an article entitled “Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas,” Bible Teacher and Pastor John Piper put Christmas in perspective.

“Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was ‘fullness of deity.’

“And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.”

<Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/keep-close-to-the-heart-of-christmas on 12/21/17.>

On this last Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve just hours away, we reach the climax of our struggle to keep Christmas centered on Christ.  Too soon, the day will be over and we’ll wonder why we got into such a fuss again this year.  We’ll vow to do better next year and probably fall back into old habits instead.

We’ve learned that Jesus Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments.  He gives all that is needed for salvation to all who will, by faith, receive it.  Be one of those people at Christmas and all year long.

All Good Things

Please read Psalm 85 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

One part of the process of maturing is setting aside the myths and mistaken thinking that comfort and guide us when we are young and/or immature.  For example, the inevitable moment in growing up when we set aside the Santa Claus myth.

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller tells the story of when he first realized that Santa was not real.  He was eight years old at the time and at the mall.  Needing to use the restroom, he went inside and was awestruck to see Santa himself, standing there using the facilities.  He thought it an honor to see jolly ol’ St. Nick, even though he was outside of his usual environment.

Santa finished what he came for, turned around and caught young Donnie staring at him.  He said, “Ho, ho, ho, kid.”

There were no words in young Donald’s mind and nothing came out of his mouth.   Santa shrugged & walked out of the bathroom.

After being starstruck wore off, Donald realized that Santa had left the men’s room without washing his hands.  Yuck!  He could not believe that someone with Santa’s reputation for fussiness about keeping naughty and nice lists could be so lacking in simple hygiene.  It was then and there that Donald decided there was no such person as Santa Claus and the guy with germy hands was just someone trying to earn some extra money during the holidays.

He left the restroom to join his family who were already in line to see Santa Claus.  He asked his mother to be excused.  He sat down in the lingerie department and consider the ramifications of this important decision.

(Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller, 2004, pp. 22-25.)

This process is not just for children, however.  All our lives we are supposed to continue maturing, continuing to put away the myths, superstitions, and half-truths that have made us comfortable but are wrong.

Jesus came, in part, to keep God’s promises.  He became one of us to give us the whole truth about God and set us free from the untrue things that hold us back from real life with God.  Psalm 85 is packed with “adult words” and encouraging promises.

  1. The key words in these promises.

FAVOR (v. 1).  The object of God’s FAVOR is the LAND.  The Promised Land was one of the chief points of Jewish theology, it was a sign of God’s love for His people.

Restoration (v. 1+4).   The historical object of restoration was to be returned to their LAND, to end their 70 years of captivity.

Forgiveness is named and described in four different ways.

God forgave and COVERED ALL THEIR SINS (v. 2).  True forgiveness requires some forgetting, putting away the offense.  When God forgives, He forgets completely.  We must do the same.

The psalmist pleaded with God to forgive and SET ASIDE ALL YOUR WRATH AND TURN FROM YOUR FIERCE ANGER (v. 3).  Forgiveness requires giving up one’s right to seek revenge or punish.  To truly forgive, both the forgiver and the forgiven need to humble themselves and make some sacrifices

He also pleaded with him to PUT AWAY YOUR DISPLEASURE (v. 4).  Forgiveness does not allow grudge-holding.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  This truth is expressed twice in verse five, in slightly different ways.  (Do not BE ANGRY WITH US FOREVER, and do not PROLONG YOUR ANGER THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.)  They show a concern for the future and a desire to move forward.

Revival (v. 6).  To “revive” something is to restore or renew life; to spark vitality where life is ebbing.  This is a gift from God, another act of grace.  Asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step toward revival.  Every revival has begun with intense times of conviction of sin and repentance.

LOVE (v. 7).  LOVE is an Old Testament virtue.  It may not be as obvious as it is in the NT, but it is true that throughout the Bible, LOVE is the greatest virtue.  This verse is as accurate and abridged statement of the Gospel as you’d hope to find in the NT.  LOVE has always been God’s thing.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs. 11+13).  We think of RIGHTEOUSNESS in moral terms and that’s true, but not the whole truth.  The origin of RIGHTEOUSNESS is not in our moral willpower.  It comes with the Holy Spirit.  It is another grace God gives us.  The Bible says that any righteousness we can achieve is inadequate to save us.  As v. 13 makes clear, the human form of RIGHTEOUSNESS was expressed in the living and teaching of Jesus.  We follow His example.

  1. The results of the promises kept.

REJOICE IN YOU (v. 6).  Joy is supposed to be our “default setting.”  If life is characterized by anger or gloom, something must change.

SALVATION (vs. 7+9).  It is likely the original readers/singers of this psalm saw restoration, revival, and SALVATION as returning home from Babylon.  For us, SALVATION takes on a more eternal perspective.  We think of SALVATION as our going from earth to heaven.

PEACE (v. 8).  This is REAL peace, the kind that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4:7).  More than the absence of conflict, this is an emotional stability that exists in the face of conflict, a contagious positivity and ease.

HIS GLORY will DWELL IN OUR LAND (v. 9).  God’s presence is His glory and is manifest in light.  God is among His people and in the LAND.

The combined virtues of LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE become possible (v. 10).  We know it is difficult to be loving AND faithful at the same time.  God will sometimes require us to do the faithful thing and someone will feel like we’ve been unloving.  Doing the right thing will put us at odds with people doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing.  When your choice is between doing God’s will OR anything else, pick God’s way.  Be obedient to God first and let the people sort themselves out.  We have to answer to God.

THE LORD WILL GIVE WHAT IS GOOD, the LAND WILL YIELD A HARVEST (v. 12).  Whether or not we recognize it at the time, the LORD will do what is GOOD for us.  What we HARVEST depends on what we have planted (see Galatians 6:7-8).

  1. Our part in receiving these promises.

We must LISTEN TO WHAT THE LORD GOD SAYS (v. 8).  On a practical level, this means two things.  First, listen to the LORD, not the world and CERTAINLY not the devil.  Second, as James 1:22-23 states, don’t just listen to God’s word and then go out and do whatever you please.  Apply the word.

Be FAITHFUL SERVANTS (v. 8).  Pride can get in the way of being a SERVANT, but you must serve others if you want to serve the LORD.  God’s will is that we should serve each other, not be individuals unconcerned about each other, or worse, in competition with each other, or worst of all, in conflict.

TURN NOT TO FOLLY (v. 8).  FOLLY here refers to claiming to be a child of God but behaving like a worldly person, not following the way of God.  It is the worst kind of FOLLY to see the life that God offers and then reject Him.

FEAR HIM (v. 9).   FEAR of God means at least three things.  One, feeling awe for God; being overwhelmed by His glory and goodness.  Two, having respect for God; complying with His will because you recognize His authority.  Three, it is legitimate to have a healthy FEAR of God.  A healthy fear is based on knowledge that God has all power and that one day we will have to stand before Him in judgment.

Verse 11 lists two virtues and describes their different points of origin.  FAITHFULNESS is something we practice: that’s why it SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH.   To be faithful, we must make our daily decisions based on the guidance we receive from God’s word; it involves our will.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a virtue we receive from heaven: that’s why it’s said to look DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  To be righteous, we must allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into the right things to say and do.

  1. Jesus was born to keep these promises.

This truth is affirmed in the Gospels.  In Matthew 1:21, an angel declared to Joseph one reason for the birth of Jesus; “[Mary] WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.”

To Mary, the angel Gabriel declared a different purpose, “YOU WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO CALL HIM JESUS.  HE WILL BE GREAT AND WILL BE CALLED THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID, AND HE WILL REIGN OVER JACOB’S DESCENDANTS FOREVER; HIS KINGDOM WILL NEVER END.” (Luke 1:30-33).

Paul affirmed Jesus was the keeper of God the Father’s promises (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  He is our RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, and REDEMPTION

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

Don’t be content to just hear the words; be ambitious to do them.  The world needs godly people ambitious to do God’s will.

Who Wouldn’t Want Delivery?

(Please read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

God delivers us from death to Himself.

An actual Twitter exchange between an angry customer and Domino’s Pizza:

Customer: Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, It’s Just Bread

Domino’s: We’re sorry to hear about this!

Customer (minutes later): Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down :/

A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hired a new CEO with a reputation for ridding his companies of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning on a wall. He saw a chance to show everyone he means business! The CEO walked up the guy and asked “How much money do you make a week?”

Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $ 200.00 a week. Why?” The CEO then handed him $200 in cash and screamed “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!” Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asked “Anyone know what that slacker did here?”

With a wry grin, one of the other workers muttered “Pizza delivery guy”.
source: http://www.jokes4us.com/miscellaneousjokes/foodjokes/pizzajokes.html

It is believed that Paul actually wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but only two of them were preserved and made part of our New Testament.  One of the reasons Paul kept writing to them was to defend his ministry from critics.  The false teachers in the church kept trying to elevate themselves by tearing Paul down.

In our section this morning, Paul is attempting to defend the authority of his ministry in an unusual way.  He effectively wrote, “No one has suffered more for the cause of Christ than I have.  What I know about Jesus and what I have taught you I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.”

To his credit, Paul never turned to his sufferings as reasons to complain or any other kind of sin.  Instead, he always turned them to good, brought glory to God, and directed people’s attention to Jesus as the One who delivers us from our troubles.

  1. We are delivered again and again (8-11).

This is obviously a personal section of this letter.  Paul did not want the church to be unaware of the difficulties encountered while ministering on their behalf.  It is unusual for Paul to begin a letter this way.  Usually he emphasized the concerns of the church and not his own struggles.

His TROUBLES were personal.  This is obvious in the repeated use of “WE.”  Our TROUBLES aren’t to be only troubling; they serve the divine purpose of drawing us closer to God.  Imagine how more depressing TROUBLES become when we lack faith.

His TROUBLES were profound.  People of faith don’t pretend to be chipper or strong when they face troubles; they don’t make light of them to impress others.  People of faith are just as deeply affected by grief as anyone else; we have God as a greater resource in overcoming pain.

Paul’s choices of words in vs. 8+9 convey a deep emotional impact from his difficult circumstances.

UNDER GREAT PRESSURE (8) may refer to a persecution Paul suffered in Ephesus (ACS 19:23-41).

DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF (8) indicates a deep sense of grief.

SENTENCE OF DEATH (9) means Paul felt that even God was against him.  Later in life, Paul would receive an actual death sentence and died a martyr’s death.

The point was not to arouse sympathy or to boast, but to do two other things.  Primarily, to glorify God as the Deliverer:

THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES FROM THE DEAD.

HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.

WE HAVE SET OUR HOPE THAT HE WILL CONTINUE TO DELIVER US.

Secondarily, to thank the churches for their prayer support.  We tend to reflect on the personal effects of our sufferings.  Paul showed a broader vision by looking at how the church supported him in his TROUBLES by means of prayer.

AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.

MANY WILL GIVE THANKS ON OUR BEHALF FOR THE GRACIOUS FAVOR GRANTED US IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY.  The result of God’s deliverance should always result in prayers of thanksgiving.

The greater the sufferings we face, the more we feel loved and the closer we draw to God and one another as we overcome them.  This fact should encourage us, especially in moments of greatest sorrow.

  1. We are delivered to be comforters (3-7).

Giving comfort is what God is all about.

THE FATHER OF COMPASSION (3). (“Merciful Father.”)

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (3). (“Encouragement” and “consolation.”)

WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES (4).  The Greek word for “comfort” here is the same one used in John 14 as a name for the Holy Spirit – the source of our comfort.  It means “one who stands alongside to help.”

JUST AS WE SHARE…IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, SO ALSO OUR COMFORT ABOUNDS THROUGH CHRIST (5).  (See also Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Colossians 1:24.)  THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST does not refer to the passion of Jesus, but to the things His followers suffer that are similar, and to His identification with us.  As Jesus is the source of our COMFORT, it makes sense that we, by faith, identify our sufferings with Him as well.

Giving and receiving comfort is what God’s people are all about.  Paul saw His suffering as contributing positively to spiritual maturing of the Corinthian believers.

We are also familiar with human nature and repeatedly observe that the most naturally sympathetic counselors are people who have suffered the same things.  Paul affirms both the spiritual and emotional benefits of suffering in five expressions found in vs. 4-7:

SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVE FROM GOD (4).

IF WE ARE DISTRESSED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SALVATION (6).

IF WE ARE COMFORTED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT (6).

YOUR COMFORT…PRODUCES IN YOU PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE SAME SUFFERINGS WE SUFFER (6).

OUR HOPE IN YOU IS FIRM BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT JUST AS YOU SHARE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, SO ALSO YOU SHARE IN OUR COMFORT (7).

The question raised as the title of this message seems easy enough to answer: When you’re sick with real problems or worries, when you’re hedged about with difficulties, when you’re down and grieving, why wouldn’t you want to be delivered from those things?  I’ve been ill for a couple weeks now and have prayed repeatedly for deliverance.  Did I want to be delivered from the flu?  You betcha!

But it is human nature to complicate things, so even deliverance is not as obvious as it first seems.  Do people who hold a grudge pray to be delivered from their anger?

Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?

Do people who feel empowered by their status as a victim pray to be delivered from that circumstance?

Do people who oppose change pray to be delivered to something new?

Let’s be honest.  The person who stands most securely in the way of deliverance is the person in the mirror.  Sympathy is often a good thing, but good intentions can also impede growth if it merely maintains our affections that oppose God’s will.

God has promised to either deliver us or use our trials to change us more into the image of His son.  People of faith do not waste perfectly good suffering.  They struggle, not only with the trial, but with everything inside them that impedes the work of God on their heart.

Waging War on Weariness #1

 

What are we to do when we are wearied?

I read an article entitled “Six Sneaky Signs of Exhaustion” by Zahra Barnes.  I’ve got to say five of the six weren’t “sneaky” at all.  Eating more junk than usual, fuzzy thinking, difficulty working out at the gym (say nothing of even getting to the gym), and being stressed were all pretty typical stuff.  The fifth sign, sleeping poorly, even once a week, was a little unexpected, but the sixth clue was the surprising one:  Your lips are dry.

Yes, cracked lips are a sign of dehydration which is, in turn, a cause of weariness. Chapped lips are a common woe in cold-weather climates but it can also be a marker of dehydration that can lead to exhaustion.  So, do somebody a favor today and check out their lips.  Go ahead, its a public service.  Do they look exhausted to you?

<Retrieved from http://dailyburn.com/life/lifestyle/exhausted-signs-tips/ on 2?11/17.>

A more reliable source of information is the Apostle Paul.  He identified the spiritual problem of weariness and offered good reasons for combating it with godliness.

Please read Galatians 6:1-11 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV for this message.

The reformer John Calvin commented on this passage’s command DO NOT BECOME WEARY; because he’s referring to human nature, his comments are just as relevant today.

“This precept is especially necessary because we are naturally lazy in the duties of love, and many little stumbling-blocks hinder and put off even the well-disposed.  We meet many unworthy, many ungrateful people.  The vast number of the nedy overwhelms us; we are drained by paying out on every side.  Our warmth is damped by the coldness of others.  Finally, the whole world is full of hindrances which turn us aside from the right path.  Therefore Paul does well to confirm our efforts, so that we do not faint from weariness.”  (Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries 11.114, as cited in The New American Commentary on Galatians, Timothy George, 1994.)

To command someone “don’t become weary” makes about as much sense as telling them not to sneeze or stop crying, etc.  In this life and with our nature, some moments of weariness are inevitable.

Paul is not writing to us about the avoidable or unavoidable moments when we naturally weary physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually.  His concern, as made clear in the text, is that we do not become so weary that we GIVE UP.  We must not become so characterized or paralyzed by weariness that we quit.  A faith that saves us is a faith that lasts us – until the very end of life, and beyond.

So we’re not going to take any time to discuss weariness in terms of what it is or how to avoid it.  Though those are worthy topics, we’re going to assume that weariness, discouragement, and being “sick and tired” are going to happen.  We’re turning to Scripture to find out what we can do about it when weariness strikes.

  1. Continue to do good anyway. (Galatians 6:10)

Watch for the word THEREFORE in Paul’s letters.  That’s the word that links steps in his teaching together.  The first five chapters contain specifics about good deeds to be done by the Christians in the church in Galatia, including the Fruits of the Spirit passage found just before chapter six. THEREFORE links that with the promise in v. 9 if we DO NOT GIVE UP, we will one day REAP A HARVEST.

This is a great choice of symbols: who ever planted a seed and reaped a harvest the next day?  There is always a gap of time between planting and harvesting, and plenty of work to be done in the middle.  The waiting time in between can tax a person’s patience.  But hang on.  Some kind of harvest will inevitably come.

In this case, harvesting is a sure thing because it is a promised based on the character of God.  With that in mind, we do what people do while they wait on a crop to mature; they look for work to do to prepare for the harvest.  In spiritual terms, this means we keep on looking for and acting upon opportunities to DO GOOD: whatever is godly, noble, and spiritually maturing. The inevitability of the promise being fulfilled is offered as a God-approved motive for not giving up when we are worn down by weariness.

The HARVEST comes at the PROPER TIME (kairos = opportune moment), not necessarily at the time of our choosing.  That is God’s choice, not ours.  In 1 Timothy 6:15, Paul also used kairos to refer to the timing of the Second Coming.  It will happen when God the Father has decided it should.

We’re not to be fussy about who benefits from our good deeds, but we are to particularly extend ourselves on behalf of THOSE WHO BELONG TO THE FAMILY OF BELIEVERS.  LET US DO GOOD TO ALL PEOPLE means that we are not to limit our love to those who love us and/or seems especially loveable to us.  In Luke 6:32 Jesus taught,

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.”

Let’s face it; all people are created in the image of God, Jesus died for all of them, and God loves them all.  We have been loved with unconditional and unlimited love, so we must aspire to, as much as we can, do exactly the same.

The word ESPECIALLY means that we give first attention and extra effort to fellow believers.  Yes, that means “preferential treatment.”  Other believers are our primary neighbors.

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.  (RMS 15:1-2)

This does certainly not excuse stiffing outsiders.  Remember, Paul lead with ALL PEOPLE and the Bible calls us to love OUR NEIGHBOR, which is another way of saying ALL PEOPLE.

  1. Wait on the Lord.

He will see justice is done and the Law of Sowing and Reaping is observed. (see Galatians 6:7-9 and 2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

In Galatians 6:7-9 we find the Law of Sowing and Reaping.  This Law can be stated as follows: “All deeds are seen and remembered by God.  One day, He will reward good doers and punish evil doers.  Perfect justice will be served.”  Though it doesn’t necessarily take effect as quickly, this law is as inevitable and reliable as the law of gravity.  God cannot be MOCKED; this law cannot be violated.

The use of SPIRIT and FLESH is mentioned to compare good and evil.  Just as you can expect a certain plant grow where you plant that kind of seed, you can also expect an appropriate reaction from God for the things you choose to do.

– A lifetime wasted on deeds that flow from a selfish and evil heart results in DESTRUCTION; it is a life lost.

– A lifetime spent on deeds the come from the Holy Spirit within true followers results in ETERNAL LIFE.

– Judgment Day is a reality and the wise person begins today to stockpile good deeds.

In 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 we see both sides of God’s reaction to human actions:

The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.  But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

Because the Lord had PITY on HIS PEOPLE AND HIS DWELLING PLACE, he gave the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem warnings and opportunities to repent.  But they repeatedly chose the world and its false gods and the result was that the WRATH OF THE LORD was AROUSED against them.  Note the ominous words: THERE WAS NO REMEDY.

Like the people of Judah, God graciously gives every one of us every opportunity to repent and be saved.  For those who refuse, their choices will catch up with them.

His salvation is coming (see Lamentations 3:25-26 and Hebrews 9:27-28).

In Lamentations 3:25-26 we read,

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

This verse details a GOOD thing from God = God is GOOD to those who place their HOPE in Him and not in any worldly thing.  It also conveys a GOOD thing we do = It is GOOD to WAIT QUIETLY for the LORD to bring our salvation.

Waiting is so often contrary to human nature that where it is practiced, it may be a sign of the Holy Spirit in us.  The only thing worse than having to wait is having to WAIT QUIETLY!  This means that the right kind of waiting is one that is marked by patience.  It means we cease our manipulations and instead devote our attention to the LORD and allow Him to do it for us.

In Hebrews 9:27-28, we read about the certainty of this promise of salvation:

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting on him.

Just as death is inevitable but comes suddenly and one should prepare for the moment, so the Second Coming of Jesus Christ an inevitable event that will happen suddenly and for which we must be prepared.

On that day, Jesus will recognize His people and take them into the presence of God the Father.  Those who are rewarded with SALVATION on that day THOSE WHO ARE WAITING ON HIM.

In a sermon on Isaiah 40:27-31, Pastor Joe Alain compared two kinds of weariness.  He wrote; “There is a weariness that we might describe as a good weariness. It’s the kind of being tired that comes as a result of some accomplishment. You’re tired but you’re satisfied. For example, you work out and you’re tired, but it feels good because you know you’ve accomplished something. You play hard and you become tired but it’s a good kind of tired, a rewarding type of weariness.
“But then there is a soul-weariness that is draining and anything but satisfying. It’s the kind of weariness of the soul that weighs you down. You’re tired spiritually, you become burned out, you get tired of fighting the spiritual battle that is going on the inside, you become weary of fighting the good fight of faith. When that happens, we give up and we give in to living a lesser life than God intends for us.”

<Retrieved from  http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/76302/hope-in-the-hard-place-of-weariness-4-of-4/ on 2/11/17.>

Obviously, the Apostle Paul wrote about the second kind of weariness.  The first kind is a gift from God, an act of grace that is a natural reward for having done right.  The second is a curse from the devil, trying to distract us with pettiness and discourage us into bitterness.

This kind of weariness is not part of the life God intended for you.  It is a serious problem.  We are going to spend a few Sundays learning how we can be encouraged and ward off weariness.  We’re going to get at the heart of the matter, to expose what goes wrong when we walk in self-destructive ways.

Getting it Right from the Beginning #2

(Please read Genesis 1:6-13 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.)

One day, Eve was walking in the garden with the Lord. She said, “Lord, the garden is wonderful, and the animals and birds provide such joy, but I am still lonely sometimes.”

“No problem!” the Lord replied. “I will make you a man for a companion. He will desire to please you and to be with you. But I have to warn you, he won’t be perfect. He’ll have a difficult time understanding your feelings, will tend to think only of himself, and will stay out late with his bowling buddies.”

“What’s bowling?” Eve asked.

“Oh… never mind. I was just getting ahead of myself, sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think I can handle this ‘man’,” Eve replied.

“Great, I’ll get right to it!” God said, and started grabbing some mud and shaping it.

Suddenly, the Lord stopped and said to Eve, “Oh, there’s one other thing about this man I’m making for you.”

“What’s that?” asked Eve.

“You’ll have to tell him he was here first.”

<Retrieved from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Creation/Man_Is_Created.shtml on 10/07/16.>

We ask Genesis to answer a lot of questions, including the big ones; “How does all this exist?” and “What is the purpose of creation?” and, like that joke, the little questions like resolving the “Battle of the Sexes.”  Because Genesis is the inspired word of God, it is a reliable guide to all answers, but not all questions are worth asking, are they?

In fact, we see the writers of the New Testament turning to Genesis to solve some of the puzzles they had to solve.  Jesus and His followers took Genesis literally and seriously.  Its teaching formed the basis of their theology and that is another reason we must strive to interpret Genesis correctly, to “Get it right from the beginning.”  It is, after all, the basis for our theology too.

We observe the six days of creation are all followed by the same three-part formula:

  1. GOD SAID – the word of God is His power to make creation happen. God required no help whatsoever; He simply spoke and it happened. This phrase is followed by AND IT WAS SO, a formula repeated throughout the chapter to reinforce the fact of God’s supernatural power. His word alone is needed AND IT WAS SO.  The reality immediately conformed to His will when He spoke it into being.
  2. GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD – This phrase appears on every day except day two. God approves when chaos is defeated by being organized. Creation was GOOD. That word, by the way, means that the created items were all functioning as they were supposed to.  Things were GOOD because they were going according to plan.  This Heb word can also be understood to be morally good, but it makes more sense in this context to emphasize it as “functional, orderly.”
  3. THERE WAS EVENING AND THERE WAS MORNING – this is the Jewish description of a day. As we are given no reason in the text to take these words any way other than literally, we believe that these words mean what they say. God’s power is underlined by the fact that He created all these changes in a single day.

Look for these recurring phrases as we study the days of creation in Genesis.  Pray that God will reveal all He wants us to know in this first book of the Bible, and that it will make a lifestyle difference in the way we live for Him.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2)
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5)

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).

God separated the waters into sky and sea by placing an EXPANSE between them.   This Hebrew word is difficult to translate.   Some have translated it as “atmosphere” in an attempt to make it sound more congruent with modern science.  This gives us an opportunity to address a few assumptions:

Modern science is NOT our authority in deciding what is most real; God is.  That means if the Bible says something and science says otherwise, we don’t assume the Bible got it wrong.  In fact, we can allow contradictory statements to exist side by side; there is no command in Scripture to reconcile the Bible with science.  Trying to shoe horn the Bible into science or vice-versa has created errors on both sides.

Like any other field of human endeavor, science is prey to trends, prejudice, errors, and other forms of fallibility.  It is temporary and ever-changing.  The Word of God, on the other hand, is eternal and unchanging.  The choice of which to trust first and foremost is obvious.

When science and Scripture agree, that’s great, but it is certainly not a matter of necessity because faith is not by sight.  We ought to see these instances of agreement as “happy accidents” and in no way base our confidence on them.

The Bible writers did not write with the same understanding of the natural world that we have.  But they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This means that scientific reliability is not a standard we need to use in evaluating the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Back to this word, EXPANSE (translated as VAULT in newer versions of the NIV); what the author of Genesis may have understood was that  the sky was a bowl that had been inverted and placed over the surface of the earth.  This bowl formed the solid foundation, the floor of heaven on the outside and provided a space between the surface and the heavens on the underside.

In this view, rain was the WATER ABOVE THE EXPANSE and it was held back by the bowl until such time as God saw fit to bring water to the earth (which explains 2:5-6, an otherwise challenging passage).  The WATER BELOW THE EXPANSE included the rivers and oceans.  The inverted bowl kept these two kinds of WATER separate.

The stars and other features of the heavens were believed to be like precious stones set into the inside of the bowl.  We understand there to be practically endless space between the stars, but that is not the way ancient cultures understood them.

One of the ironclad rules for understanding the Bible is to first seek the understanding possessed by those who originally received these words.  The first place to look for clues to their understanding is to draw from the text itself.  In this case, we find clues in vs. 8+20, where the emphasis is on the space between the earth and the heavens.

– 1:8 = God called the EXPANSE “SKY.”

– 1:20 = Birds fly ACROSS THE EXPANSE OF THE SKY.

These clues indicate that the best translation of EXPANSE would be “sky.” Regardless of how you understand the science or prescientific views of the writer, it accounts for the space between the surface and the heavens.  We may include clouds with rain as the WATERS ABOVE, even if the Bible writers did not understand clouds to be water vapor.

The point of day two’s creative activity is to reassure the reader that God is in control of the weather.  He created the bowl so that He could regulate the exchange of water from the sky to the surface.  This recognizes that the writer of Genesis’ purpose to have been theological, not meteorological: it is not to explain how weather works, but to point to God as the one who makes it work.

Permit me a moment on a tiny soap box: I wince when meteorologists – supposed scientists  – refer to “Mother Nature” as the origin of weather.  Such a creature is a pagan notion, an idol they worshipped and appealed to for fertility in their crops and families.  “Mother Nature” does not control weather and it is not simply chance combinations of variable conditions.  Can we agree with the writer of Genesis that God is in control?!

As we learned in part one, the story of creation is the story of God exerting His control to bring order to the originally chaotic first form of creation.  What we see here on day two is God exerting control over a resource we know to be essential to life; water.  God is acting powerfully to make the earth hospitable to life.

  1. Creation, Day Three: Separating the sea and the land, growing plants on the land (1:9-13).

Day three is a little different.  God still used separation as His means of organization, but then went a step further, and added something (PLANTS) to the new element of LAND.  This makes sense when you consider that with all three basic elements in place – light, water, and land – that God would then turn to developing them, as he does in days four to six of creation.

We see God’s organizing creation continuing on day three.  The WATERS UNDER THE SKY (on the surface, under the bowl) were GATHERED TO ONE PLACE so that DRY GROUND would appear.  Having separated them, God called the gathering of waters SEAS and wherever the dry ground appeared, He called it LAND.

Remember that THE DEEP was one of the four things in verse two that showed the creation was initially chaotic.  Now God takes care of that matter by organizing the surface waters, dividing them by placing DRY GROUND in between.  The previously chaotic waters are now organized.

Then, starting in vs. 11, God gives the LAND a job to do – grow plants.  In this sense, it can truly be said that God created agriculture on day three.  Here we see some of the “happy accidents” to which I referred earlier: points of agreement between the ancient text and modern science.

– Both the Bible and science assert that plants commonly grow on the LAND.

– Both teach that plants reproduce by means of seeds.

– Both affirm that plants bear FRUIT according to their KINDS. (What a horror farming would be if every seed were a mystery!  Imagine sowing a field and ending up with hundreds of different kinds of plants!)

These details emphasize the predictability that orderly systems have.  Science is able to observe “laws” of nature because our Creator is the One who wrote those laws! They are also indicative of God’s making the world a place suited for human habitation.

Later in Genesis (8:22), God points out the orderly aspect of nature as He created it; “AS LONG AS THE EARTH ENDURES, SEEDTIME AND HARVEST, COLD AND HEAT, SUMMER AND WINTER, DAY AND NIGHT WILL NEVER CEASE.” This promise was given to Noah, along with God’s pledge to never again destroy the earth a flood. As with all God’s promises, it is meant to reassure His faithful people that He is in control.  The world exists and acts according to the laws of nature because He keeps it that way.

These are important truths ever since Moses was inspired to record these words because our experience of nature is not always GOOD.  (Say a prayer for those who’ve suffered recently because of hurricane Matthew.)  While nature operates under observable laws, those laws don’t always operate in our favor.  When you’re on the receiving end, nature can feel out of control.

A zoo-keeper noticed that the monkey was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In surprise he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books”?

“Well,” said the monkey, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

<Retrieved from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Creation/The_Monkey.shtml on 10/07/16.>

Let’s recap: in the first three days of creation we have seen God organizing light, water, and earth.  Do you recognize these as three of the essential elements in an equation that results in LIFE?  What kind of world would we have if any one of these three foundational elements were missing?  We’d have an uninhabitable world, that’s what.

What’s clear in Genesis is that God created the world as a place perfectly suited to nurture human life.  God made a home for all of us.  Scientists have shown that if a change were made in any one of several small ways, the earth would be uninhabitable.  For example, the Earth is the right distance from the Sun. It is close enough to be kept warm by an insulating atmosphere, but not so close as to suffer the worst effects of sunspots and other solar activity.

<Retrieved from http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/rose-center-for-earth-and-space/david-s.-and-ruth-l.-gottesman-hall-of-planet-earth/why-is-the-earth-habitable on 10/07/16.>

There are several applications of that truth, but let’s try this one on today: what kind of job are we doing taking care of our God-given home?  As we’ll see later in Genesis, God put us in charge of our own planet.  What are we doing to keep it clean and hospitable to all the life forms with whom we share our home?

People who understand Genesis must be serious managers of the environment.  We have the very best motivation to care for the world; to honor the One who created it.

I’m not advocating Greenpeace or the Green Party or any other worldly environmentalist group, I’m simply saying that each of us, in our own fashion, needs to contribute to the cleanliness and safety of our world.  I want to challenge you this week to honor and show gratitude to our Creator by doing something to maintain our earthly home.

(View a video version of this message on YouTube at “EBCSF.”)