Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Know Your Role

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 
Genesis 1:26-28


Do you ever feel like you haven't found your place in this world? Many of the teens and children that I work with are still trying to figure out who they are. They are still trying to find how they fit in at church, at school, and at home. As they move from child to adolescent to adult they instinctively know that their role has changed, but they sometimes struggle to figure out what it is. Nowadays, more than just teenagers struggle with this. It is increasingly the case that all ages of adults at some time or other also struggle with this question. What is my role in this world?

Generally when we ask this question we mean it in a deeply personal sense, but nonetheless the above passage of Scripture can help. It tells us first off that we are made in God's image. Now a lot of books have been written about what that means. Some think that we are in God's image because we are rational creatures, or because we have free will, or because we were built for relationships. We aren't going to probe too deeply into that just here, but suffice it to say that, at the very least, it means that you are very valuable. Notice that later in Genesis 9:6 God appeals to the fact that all humans are image bearers as the reason that it is wrong to kill another human being. To strike at them is to strike at the image of God. So from the very first we know that we are creatures of special worth.

Second, we know that we were created to rule. At times we have abused this power, but the fact of the matter is that God has given us dominion over His creation. One of my seminary professors explained it to me like this: he said that humans are priests and kings. Here in Genesis 1:28 we are kings. We rule the world as God's appointed vice-regents. We represent God and His authority to all the rest of creation. Because His image is upon us we have been given dominion over the earth and we rule as His servants. But elsewhere in Scripture we are also priests (see I Peter 2:4-12). We serve God by bringing all of the praise and worship that He is due on behalf of His creation before His throne. You may still be searching for how to specifically live this out in your life, but know that you are called to be a priest and a king. You have been given dominion over creation and you are called to bring worship to God on behalf of His creation.

Lastly, I just want to point out the supreme goodness of our God. In verse 28 we see what God's first act toward mankind was after creating them. "He blessed them." That this is presented as God's first act toward us is so very fitting for we serve a God who has been pouring out blessing after blessing upon mankind ever since that day. James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). Rest assured dear believer that every good thing you have ever experienced, every joy, every contentment, every smile, every bit of happiness has come down from your Father in heaven. You are not out of place. You are not without purpose. "You are fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). "He has prepared good works in advance for you to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Ask Him to reveal those good works to you. Don't take God's blessing for granted. Don't forget to lift up worship to His throne as a faithful priest. And don't forget that you have been given authority by the Almighty. "If God is for you, who can be against you?" (Romans 8:31)

For further reading...   

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The "Days" of Creation?

God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. 
Genesis 1:5


There was a time when talking about the details of creation with other Christians was a pretty straightforward undertaking, but those days are long gone. Now theories abound on different ways to understand the creation story. Some hold that the creation account in Genesis should be taken literally, meaning that God created the earth in six, literal 24-hour days. Others argue that we have pressed the language of Genesis beyond what the original author intended it to mean. He was not trying to be scientifically accurate. The Bible tells us that "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (II Peter 3:8). Thus, the six "days" of creation represent six allotments of time of indeterminate length. It could have taken God thousands of years to create. Still others argue that answering questions about the details of creation falls rightly to science and not religion. They would say that this is a general story telling us that God is Creator and that we should shift our interpretation of the Bible to fit the truths that science reveals. After all, science is only telling us what is true about God's creation, isn't it?

I am not going to take the time to argue extensively for one view over the other. The fact of the matter is that although I am convinced that God created in six 24-hour days, one can find Scriptural evidence that makes the second view a valid option. I have friends and family members that disagree with me, yet it does not affect our relationship in the slightest. There are some things we can disagree on and still get along. However there are other things that are much more serious. So today instead of arguing extensively for one view of creation over another, I want to warn you against two dangers that I believe you should watch out for as you consider how best to understand this passage for yourself.

The first danger is represented by the last view above. To be more specific, I want to warn you against putting anything above the Bible as your standard of truth. Scripture is 100% without error. It is absolute truth. In fact, it is the only source of absolute truth we have in this world. Everything and everyone else is flawed. Even your own judgment of what is true is flawed. Thus, nothing - not science or math or my opinion or your opinion or anything other than the Bible- should become your standard of truth. The Bible is the measuring stick by which we measure the truth of everything else in our world. We don't use anything else to measure the truth of the Bible, because any other standard is flawed. 

The second danger is understanding the rest of the creation story too figuratively. There are some truths in the first three chapters of Genesis that are non-negotiable. These three chapters are the bedrock of the Christian faith, without which the whole framework of Christianity slowly begins to crumble. Let me explain by comparing the entire Bible to one big story. In any narrative there is a conflict or a problem that the characters are trying to overcome. Sometimes this is presented as a tension that needs to be resolved. This conflict or tension is what moves the story along. It is why the characters do anything in the story. They may go on a quest to find their lost son or their one true love, etc... Genesis 1-3 gives us the conflict that the rest of the Bible is trying to resolve. So, even if you begin to consider other ways of understanding Genesis 1, here's a list of things you really should believe in a literal sense:
  1.  That God is the Creator. Without this He has no claim on our lives,  no right to demand obedience or to inflict punishment.
  2. Man was created in God's image with a special relationship to Him and the rest of creation. This makes the Fall possible and helps set a framework for understanding Christ's grand sacrifice.
  3. There was a real Garden of Eden with a real man and woman named Adam and Eve who were really the first man and woman. This Adam and Eve really did encounter a snake that enticed them to sin, and they really did fall into sin. All of these elements are important to the conflict which the rest of the Bible seeks to resolve and to God's promise to redeem His creation.
Without at least these three things, the rest of the Bible is nonsense. 

May the Lord give you wisdom as you seek to understand His truth.

For further reading...
  • Genesis 1-3: Read the beginning of the story for yourself. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

God's Light

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Genesis 1:2-4


God sees the world that He has begun to create. It is formless and empty and dark. It seems chaotic and unordered. And God's first act in response to this world is to shed His light on it. There isn't a battle between the light and the dark. God's light simply overcomes the darkness. The darkness is exiled to the portion of the day for which it has been appointed. This way the light and the darkness are kept separate and easily distinguishable. And God does distinguish between them for He doesn't give approval of the darkness but He acknowledges that the light is good.

I know that at its most basic level this passage of Scripture is a straightforward declaration of God's creation of literal light to overcome literal darkness. But the Bible oftentimes uses light and darkness as symbols. Light represents God and holiness and purity. Darkness indicates evil or sin or worldliness. And I think, at a deeper level, this passage teaches us a precious truth about how God's figurative light always overcomes the figurative darkness of our world.

Take a moment to consider this truth with me. Throughout the gospel of John Jesus' coming to earth is discussed in terms of a great light coming into the world and being rejected by it because the world loved darkness. Jesus said "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). We know that Jesus is the true light because wherever He goes, He overcomes the darkness just as God's light did in the beginning. The New Testament also tells us that not only is Jesus the true light, but all Christians are called to be lights as well. "You are the light of the world," Jesus says. Don't hide your light; shine it brightly that your Father may be glorified. But this is not all. To make this truth even more glorious the Scriptures go on to tell us that on the last day God will defeat Satan once and for all. He will cast him into the Lake of Fire. And how will God choose to show His surpassing greatness? Our God will reign victoriously from His heavenly city of light for all eternity. A city that will have neither sun nor moon nor lamp for "the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Revelation 21:23).
The simple truth is that while God's light and the darkness of this world are constantly in conflict with one another, there is no real contest. God's light overpowers the darkness of our world everytime. You have nothing to fear! Our God is in control and "greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4). Praise be to the Lord!

For further reading...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Entitled?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1


The word 'genesis' means 'origin'. The book of Genesis then is the story of the beginning...of everything. The beginning of creation, the beginning of man, the beginning of God's relationship with man, and the beginning of sin. All of it can be found in this book. It's fitting then that Moses who we believe wrote Genesis (cf. John 5:46) starts with the above statement. It seems simple enough, but it holds great import for the Christian faith. It tells us that in the beginning God already existed. Before even time or space came into existence, God was. This means that God is not bound by anything but His nature and (because of His nature) the promises He chooses to make. 

This verse also lays the foundation for our relationship to God. He is creator; we are the created. At a fundamental level this affects how we relate to Him. The fact that he created us means that He is entitled to all that we are. Everything we are belongs to Him, and He has the right to do with us as He pleases. Consider Romans 9:20-21:
But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9 is a difficult passage to understand. People interpret it differently. But at the very least it supports the truth that as creator God has the right to do with us as he pleases. He owes us nothing. He is bound by no law or principle on how He should treat us. He is bound only by His own character. 

This week as I was reading for one of my seminary classes I came across a quote from George Muller, one of the great Christians of the nineteenth century, that embodies this well. Muller's life was touched by tragedy quite a few times. He buried two wives, an infant son, and his only child to reach adulthood (a daughter named Lydia). Upon the death of his second wife, Muller wrote the following in his journal:
It pleased God to take to Himself my beloved wife, after he had left her to me twenty-three years and six weeks. By the grace of God I am not merely perfectly satisfied with this dispensation, but I kiss the hand which administered the stroke, and I look again for the fulfillment of that word in this instance, that 'in all things God works for the good to those who love Him' (Romans 8:28).*

Though he had served God faithfully his whole life and brought much glory to his name, I find in Muller's words not even a hint of the modern idea that God somehow owes him something. He knew that the joy He experienced with His wife was a gift from God. That it had been a gift for more than twenty-three years, and that God had the right to take it away. 

Unfortunately, our words are often tainted with the sense of entitlement that Muller's lacked. Like a little child clinging to his favorite toy, we look into the face of our maker and scream "Mine!" We cling to what God has given us by His grace and claim that we have a right to keep it. Whether it is the life of a loved one, financial security, or health, we somehow think that God owes it to us, that we have earned it by our good life. In reality, God owes us nothing. He never could owe us anything. No. The simple truth is that you and I don't deserve any of the blessings we have. God has given them to us out of His free grace

Stop and take a moment to consider the preciousness of God's love for you. How glorious it is to consider that a God who has every right to do with us as He pleases should take joy in forgiving us our sins and lifting us up and seating us in the heavenly places with His Son Jesus. What a gracious God we serve! 

For further reading...

* p. 219 of George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer.