Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: April 2014

God Said . . . and It Was . . . and It Was Good


Opening the first chapter of Genesis . . . has the feel of an Indiana Jones movie.  You step from the familiar 21st century world into a cryptic underground cavern.  Dust hangs heavy in the air.  Pages of an ancient document feel like dried leaves to your touch.  Here lies the record of the beginning of everything.

The language isn’t 21st century scientific.  (How could it be if it was written in the second millennium B.C.?)  It reads rather like a children’s story–simple statements that allow the imagination to soar.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1,2). 

God the Master Potter.  Before him a massive lump of clay, formless and empty.  But hidden beneath deep waters, held in place by the presence of the Potter.  And all is dark.  Had there been human eyes to see, they could not have, because there was no light.  But there was movement.  The Spirit of the Master Potter–like fingers ready to form what his mind envisioned–hovered.  Instead of probing and pushing, however, he spoke . . .

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Genesis 1:3-5).

Into existence, out of the darkness, he spoke light.  He was satisfied with what he saw.  Light not driving away all darkness, but separating itself from darkness.  Day and Night.  Day One in the beginning.

The ancient document repeats the pattern.  God spoke.  And into existence came an expanse he called.  Heaven.  Day Two.  God spoke.  And waters under the heavens gathered themselves into massive pools around which dry land appeared.  Good, God saw,  The third Day (Genesis 1:6-13).  God spoke.  And it was as God said:  a great light to rule the day, a lesser light to rule the night–and stars.  God saw it was good.  It was the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19).  God spoke.  Swimming creatures swarmed Earth’s waters.  Birds soared across Earth’s heavens.  Good.  Multiply!  It was the fifth Day (Genesis 1:20-23).  God spoke.  Living creatures came forth, creeping and walking and bounding across the ground.  It was good.  

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26,27).

God spoke.  Let us make man!  In our image!  Multiply!  Fill the earth!  Subdue it!  Rule over it!  Feed yourselves on every plant and fruit I have given you!  And so it was.  And God looked over all he had made and look!–it was very good.  The sixth day (Genesis 1:28-31).

Is this ancient document for real?  Do these dry, yellowed pages that pre-date science tell the truth of the beginning?  If natural science snickers at such a story because it can’t prove it in its labs, must we reject it as religious myth?  But there’s so much science can’t explain, isn’t there.  Wide-mouth wonder when an eight year old sees the ocean the first time.  Young love that captivates each by the other.  Elder love that keeps two wrinkled hands clasped through decades of joy and sorrow.  Laughter.  Tears.  Loneliness.  Best friends.  Intuitively we know these are more than chemical processes.  Just as we know the creation cries out, “There is a Creator!”‘  Whose very words bring into being what hadn’t been.  Whose creation is delightful to him and an Eden for us.  Who formed us in his likeness that we might–under him–rule over what he has made.

And that we might sing with the psalmist . . .

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works . . . May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 104:31,34).

You see, this simple ancient story about this complex creation isn’t about the mechanics of creating.  It all points to the Creator.

It’s about him and his delight in what he has made.  And it’s about us and our delight in what he has made that moves us to delight in him who made it.







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You Are What You Think

I’m reading Psalm 103 as part of my prayer time this morning.  The psalm begins this way . . .

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (verses 1-5).

David, the psalm’s God-inspired composer, is singing of the benefits of the Lord.  This is why he begins praising the Lord.  One might call this an exercise in positive thinking.  It’s far more than that, of course, but not less.  David thinks positively about the Lord’s benefits, so is moved to “bless” (praise) the Lord.

Are we moving dangerously close here to the psycho-babble of professed Christians whose entire “gospel” is “you are what you think” and “create reality with your words” and “name it and claim it”?  Not really.  We’re just stealing the content of their words (“God wants me rich” or “God wants me healthy”) and replacing it with the content of God’s.  “The Lord . . . forgives all your iniquity . . . heals all your diseases” and so on.

Thinking or saying those words carry greater impact to us when we personalize them like this . . .

The LORD forgives all my iniquity, heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit, crowns me with steadfast love and mercy, satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

For even more personal impact, turn it into a prayer . . .

Lord, you forgive all my iniquity, you heal all my diseases, you redeem my life from the pit, you crown me with steadfast love and mercy, you satisfy me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Notice a huge change in focus?  The positive-thinkers’ approach finishes by putting the focus on the benefit you want (wealth, health, a BMW, etc.) while the Bible’s approach finishes by putting the focus on the Lord.  “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (103:1).  Are we still remembering all his benefits?  Absolutely.  They’re benefits we enjoy.  But they are his benefits.  So, while remembering his benefits, the focus shifts from forgiveness and healing and redemption and goodness that we enjoy to the Lord who gives them to us.

The result?  We treasure the Benefit-Giver more than the benefits.  To put it another way, in a world where life is short  (103:15,16) and suffering is real (103:l6), we become Lord-praisers.  For our mind remembers his benefits and can’t help but turn to bless his holy name.


The Last Tuesday

(*Suggestion:  First, grab your Bible and read Mark 11:20-14:11.  You’ll understand this post better if you read the Scripture.  Remember:  The Old Preacher’s job is just to pass on God’s Word.)

The conflict begins.  Not physical, just verbal.  But tension is building.  The controversy between Jesus and Jewish leaders has become a life-and-death struggle.  Either Jesus must die or Jerusalem must fall.  The kingdom of God (see Mark 1:14,15)  cannot peacefully co-exist with the kingdoms of this world, be they religious or secular.  Mark fills Tuesday’s news with the growing conflict.

Preparing for the Day.  In the morning Jesus and the disciples pass by Monday’s cursed fig tree.  “Rabbi, look!” Peter exclaimed.  “The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  Jesus answered, “Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown in to the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:20-23).   Jesus was preparing the Twelve for what lay ahead.  Israel (symbolized by the fig tree) would fall.  Life would turn upside down.  But they must have faith in God.  Their believing prayer could move mountains.  As Philip Yancey wrote, “Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

Facing the Conflicts.  In 14:1,2 Mark will make it clear that “the chief priests and scribes were seeking how to arrest [Jesus] by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.'”  Passover pilgrims packed the city.  Many hoped Jesus was Messiah.  Arrest Jesus in the middle of that mob and a riot is sure to erupt!  So for now the conflict will be verbal.

The chief priests, scribes and elders fire the first salvo.  “By what authority are you doing these things . . . ?” (Mark 11:28).  If he said, “God’s”, they’d claim they represented God’s authority.  If he said, “Mine”,  they’d claim theirs exceeded even a miracle-worker’s like him.  They thought they had him.  But Jesus used a common debate tactic, turned the tables on them and they found themselves had (Mark 11:29-33).

Other temple visitors were listening, of course.  It was an opportunity Jesus seized to fire a salvo of his own.  He told a parable about a vineyard owner who sent a series of servants to collect fruit from his tenant farmers.  But the tenants refused, abused the servants and even killed some.  Finally they even killed the owner’s son.  “What will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this Scripture:  ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone . . . ?'” (Mark 12:1-11).  Jesus’ interrogators would have grabbed him that minute.  (They knew he told the parable against them.)  But, fearing the people, they simply sulked away (Mark 12:12).

Try again.  ” . . . they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians (representing two sects in Judaism) to trap him in his talk.”  After flattering Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Jews hated Caesar.  So a simple “yes” would have made Jesus a friend of Jewish oppressors, while “no” would have been grounds for treason.  You know how he answered, right?  If not, read Mark 12:15-17.  Everybody “marveled at him.”

Next came Sadducees (another sect) who didn’t believe in a last-day resurrection.  (Did they not think how their belief clearly showed the hypocrisy of their question?)  They wanted to know if a woman had seven husbands who died, whose wife would she be in the resurrection!  Jesus demolished both their question and their belief.  ” . . . when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.”   Furthermore, when God spoke to Moses he was still Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s God–the God of the living.   ” . . . you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:18-27).  Whoops.

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” one of the scribes standing nearby asked.  With hundreds of commandments, rabbis debated this incessantly.  Maybe this could somehow trap the Teacher.  Love the one God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself, Jesus replied.  The scribe was so impressed he actually congratulated Jesus (Mark 12:28-34)!

Warnings about the Scribes.  According to Mark, Tuesday’s conflicts were over.  But Jesus had two warnings for the crowds about the scribes.  (Scribes were authorities on Jewish law.)  The first came in question form: “How can the scribes says that the Christ is the son of David?”  In other words, how could Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord?  The question (which Jesus didn’t answer) implied that Messiah would bring a different kind of kingdom than anybody understood–including the scribes.  The second warning was against following the scribes who were hypocrites and would one day receive great condemnation (Mark 12:35-40).  Jesus pointed to (of all people) a poor widow who exemplified both the emptiness of hypocrisy and the nature of the messianic kingdom.  Many rich people were making a show of putting large sums of money into the temple treasury, while a poor widow modestly dropped in a penny–all she had to live on.  Jesus explained, ” . . . this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing . . . ” (Mark 12:41-44).  Different kind of kingdom for sure!  One in which outward signs of importance mean nothing.

Warnings about Coming Judgment.  Continuing his implications about the nature of his kingdom and assuring his disciples that he would win the war against his opponents, Jesus warned of coming judgment.  These  impressive temple buildings would be destroyed.  Wars, earthquakes and famines would mark coming days.  They would be “birth pains of the kingdom”.   Jesus’ followers would suffer.  But in the end (no one knows when that will be) , “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  So they must not be misled by false messiahs.  They must “stay awake”, living with that end in view (Mark 12:1-37).

Plotting the Betrayal.  By Tuesday night Jewish authorities have decided they must wait to arrest and kill Jesus until Jerusalem empties after Passover (Mark 14:1,2).  Meanwhile, back in Bethany, Jesus knows death is imminent.  When a woman pours expensive perfume over his head, he explains, ” . . . she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:3-9).  In fact, in the darkness of that very night Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, “went to the chief priests in order to betray [Jesus] to them” (Mark 14:10,11).

So the conflict’s outcome was settled.  Jerusalem would stand.  Jesus would die.  But, in view of Jesus’ prediction of judgment falling and of his coming, was something more happening here than met the eye?  If so, was it something that would change the world–and our lives–forever?

The Last Monday

Passover visitors praised Jesus as he entered Jerusalem that Sunday.

And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.  And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:810).

Jesus’ miracles had fueled Jewish hope that he was the son-of-David Messiah the Lord had promised 900 years earlier.  “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom . . . I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12b,13b).

Passover kindled their expectations.  Pilgrims come to commemorate rescue from Egyptian slavery 1400 years earlier packed the city.  As Moses had freed the Jews from Egyptian slavery, so they expected this messianic son of David would free them from Roman oppression.

But expectations flickered when Jesus didn’t fight.  “ . . . he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.  And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11).

Jesus doesn’t act according to our script.  We don’t like that.  We don’t understand.  Preachers who portray Jesus as a genie in a lamp ready to grant our every wish only deepen our disillusionment when he doesn’t.  Let’s get it straight.  Jesus calls us to follow his script.

The last Monday dawns.  “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it.  When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’  And his disciples heard it (Mark 11:12-14).

What’s with that?  Jesus the spoiled brat?  No breakfast from that tree!  A death-curse be on it!  But things will get more startling this last Monday.

“And they came to Jerusalem.  He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?  But you have made it a den of robbers.’  And the chief priests and scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city” (Mark 11:15-19).

Passover visitors didn’t cart their sacrifices with them.  They bought them at the marketplaces east of the city.  Business was so successful new ones had opened in the outer temple courts–“The Court of the Gentiles”, where Gentiles could approach Israel’s God and pray to him.  But merchants had made the place of prayer for “the nations” a place of profit for themselves.  That Monday for a few hours Jesus ground the whole business to a halt.

What’s going on here?  First Jesus curses an empty fig tree.  Then he violently shuts down the temple.  What’s happening is a mini-judgment day.  The barren fig tree symbolized Israel—a God-called nation that bore no fruit of righteousness.  The temple symbolized God’s living presence among the nation—but Jews had turned the temple into a business, while smugly assuming God was on their side.  When Jesus cursed the fig tree he  symbolized God’s judgment on Israel.  When Jesus cleansed the temple he briefly executed judgment on Israel.

Imagine Jesus in our church sanctuary during Sunday morning worship overturning chairs and bashing instruments and throwing books around the room.  This is no “sweet Jesus meek and mild”!  This Jesus gets angry when we dishonor his Father.  This Jesus turns into a judge when we reject him.

The last Monday is a bitter appetizer of judgment to come.  ” . . . because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).  Safety can be found only in the one who unleashed a taste of God’s judgment that last Monday.



In the beginning God . . .

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

A long way from where we live, right?  Why should we care about the beginning when we can barely keep up with nowBecause the beginning points us to the One who determines the present and shapes the future.  Because the beginning points us to the One we can enjoy and worship.

The beginning.  The heavens and the earth (the whole “natural” order) had a beginning.  Most scientists agree.  Their “big bang theory” posits a time when the universe wasn’t and a “moment” when it exploded  into being.  Of course, we don’t need science to affirm Scripture (even in a culture that regards science as the final word); but it does boost our faith a bit.  Furthermore, since Scripture is God’s Word and the natural world is God’s handiwork,  sound theology and sound science must ultimately agree.   And on this it pretty much does:  The heavens and the earth had a beginning.

When isn’t Genesis’ concern.  But we can’t help but surmise.  Scientists estimate about 4 billion years ago (“the old earth” theory).  Many (but certainly not all) Christians say about 4 to 6 thousand years ago (“the young earth” theory).  The “young earth” theory rests on two things.  One, the generation lists in Scripture.  Add them up and you’ve got a “young” earth.  However, Hebrew generation lists often skipped generations.  That makes them unreliable for counting years.

Two, the “young earth” theory mistakenly assumes that “the old earth theory” requires belief in evolution.  Evolution typically views man as a higher form of animal, not a being created in the image of God.  So some Christians argue for a “young earth” that science seems to deny.  But as John C. Lennox,  Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford,  has shown in his book, Seven Days That Divide the World,  “the old earth”  theory doesn’t require evolution.  The dating of the earth’s age and the theory of evolution are completely  separate matters.  We’ll see that as we proceed through the Genesis creation account.

For now, let’s put the focus where Genesis does–not on  the when of the beginning, nor even on the fact of the beginning (though it clearly states there was a beginning).  Let’s put the focus on the God of the beginning.  The Genesis account isn’t concerned about the when of creation, but the who.

God created the heavens and the earth.   In the beginning God . . .   Don’t hurry over “God” to get to “created the heavens and the earth.”   Not that God creating the heavens and the earth is unimportant to the text.  Genesis, after all, is the book of beginnings.  The writer is explaining how the beginning of the heavens and the earth came about.  God created them.

The Hebrew bara can imply created “out of nothing.”  Humans can’t do thatWe can create beautiful music or works of art or magnificent cathedrals or fancy, fast cars.  A man and woman can even create another human being.  But never out of nothing.  Whatever we make, we make out of something.   But out of nothing God created the heavens and the earth.  And the heavens and earth point to God.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, sings the psalmist in Psalm 19:1.  Genesis 1:1 is about God.

Who hasn’t scanned the ocean and pondered its vastness?  Or been thrown about in its wind-driven surf?  What child hasn’t laid back on the ground and gazed into the starry night sky and shrunk under its immensity?  Who hasn’t felt a house shake from a hurricane or seen the fury of a swirling tornado?  Who hasn’t marveled at the beauty of a butterfly or stood in sacred awe admiring the sweet face of a sleeping baby?  These creations are wonders in themselves.  But Genesis and the Psalms remind us that they point beyond themselves to their Creator.

What kind of Being creates such wonders with a word?  Makes huge galaxies and tiny human cells?  Designs elephants and ants?  Sends streams dancing over rocks and tsunamis swallowing up everything in its path?

Carl Sagan is wrong.  The universe is not all there ever was or ever will be.  God was before creation.  The universe is not a closed system with nothing outside it.  God exists outside it.   He is its Creator and sustainer.  And it all reveals Him.

We can’t travel back in time to the beginning.  We can’t replicate creation in an experiment.  But we can stop and look.  At a white cloud drifting across the blue spring  sky.  At a red and gold leaf fluttering to the ground in the fall.  We can take a walk and feel a summer shower sprinkle us.  We can listen to the silence as a winter snow blankets the ground.  We can hold a tiny baby close or rest in the arms of the one we love.  The beginning can become a present joy.  The beginning can offer us future hope.  And we can be moved to sing with the saints in the Book  of Revelation . . .

You are worthy, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they were created and have their being (Revelation 4:11).


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