Telling thankful people just who to thank
Acts 14: We don’t make God; he makes us, and all of this.
Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra and open their ministry there by performing a miracle, healing a lame man. The town goes wild and before they know it Barnabas and Paul are identified as the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. In the mythology of the day Hermes is the spokesman of the gods and since Paul does most of the talking they identify him as Hermes. Barnabas, though, gets the highest title. Maybe there’s a lesson here that if we keep our mouths shut people will think more of us than they would otherwise! Anyway, it takes some doing to calm the crowd down so that Paul can preach the Good News of the gospel to them. Since the theme of the day is already set, Paul focuses in on the true God and his good will toward all people. That good will, he says, is evident in the blessings that surround each of us. Here’s evangelism fueled by Creation. Even a person who’s secular to the core looks at the majesty of the Grand Canyon or some other natural wonder and feels a sense of gratitude. A good place to start a conversation about the Lord is to tell them who it is that we thank for it all.
Take Away: One of the ways the Lord has revealed himself to us is through his Creation.
No shallow water here
John 1: The Word was God.
Intentionally paralleling the opening words of Genesis John begins his gospel with poetry. In the first words of the Bible I’m told that God “spoke” the world into existence. “God said…and there was.” Now, I’m told that in recent days God has spoken again. This time, not creating a new world but, rather, creating salvation. This time, God has spoken in a man and that man is the Word of God. Everything I need to know about salvation, everything necessary for salvation is accomplished in the living Word of God. The One John introduces here is more than just a man speaking God’s words. He is, in man, God, himself. This, my friend, is a huge concept that can’t be explained in one short devotional paragraph. It can, though, be summed up in a sentence: “the Word was God.”
Take Away: To know Jesus is to know God. To know Jesus is to know Salvation.
That big fish
Jonah 1: Jonah was in the fish’s belly three days and nights.
Not long ago I read that a new species of jellyfish has been found at the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Think of it, after all the serious exploration and all the visits of tourists there exists a creature that no one has ever spotted before, or at least no one who recognized that this is a unique creature. When the sailors reluctantly toss Jonah into the water neither he nor they have any idea of what God has in store for this reluctant prophet. God sends a big fish to swallow him whole. Now, it may be that this is a whale that has a birth defect that traps air in its stomach. It may be that this is a “Designer model” of fish – one of a kind and made for this specific purpose. Folks who laugh at this story and discard it as impossible ignore all the “impossibilities” of life, stuff we take for granted that if they weren’t right in front of us we’d declare to be fantasy. The story of Jonah may be a fable started in another culture and appropriated by God’s people as a platform for teaching us about God. On the other hand, it may be “just the facts” retold generation to generation to teach us about God. Either way the end result is the same. I think I’ll just let the story stand as factual and get on to what I’m supposed to learn from it.
Take Away: Every day and all around us we encounter “impossibilities” that might be called “ordinary miracles.”
The biggest fish story ever
Jonah 1: One day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah.
As I finish my quick read of little-known Obadiah, I turn the page to find myself on very familiar ground. After all, everybody has heard of Jonah and the “whale.” This is surely one of the top five stories of the Old Testament and people who’ve never read the Bible or attended church know about this “fish story.” A few years ago I was teaching a church membership class and this story came up. The teens in the class wanted to know if Christians have to believe as literally true stories like Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the “whale.” Had the question been asked by some fine fundamentalists I’ve known I would have thought I was being set up for the old trap that sounds something like this: “If you don’t believe in a literal six day creation how can you believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus?” That question, by the way, ignores the clear teachings of the Bible which says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). Note that Paul doesn’t add, “Also, you have to believe every statement in the Old Testament is literal.” I’m not required to believe in a literal six day Creation to be saved, but I do have to believe “God raised him from the dead.” Anyway, back to the teens in the membership class. I told them that I believe the Lord created all things and that sending a big flood or making a big fish capable of doing what the book of Jonah says it did would be a simple thing for such a Creator. However, the purpose of stores like this is to tell us something about God and ourselves and that it’s a bigger mistake to read the story, believing every word while missing the lesson than it is to read the story and “get it” while doubting that it’s literal. So, “big fish” or not, I’m supposed to come away from the Book of Jonah knowing more about God and his work in this world than I knew before. That’s still my goal as I start through this story once again.
Take Away: The Bible tells us the story of God and us. It has no interest in answering every scientific question or providing for us fodder for religious debates.
God of Creation
Isaiah 40: God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants.
In this passage Isaiah pictures for us the God of Creation. This is the God who “scooped up the ocean in his two hands” and measured out the mountains. This God calls the stars by name and sits high above the earth, so distant that the inhabitants of this world look like “mere ants.” The purpose of this passage isn’t to teach what I’ve heard called “worm theology” in which the human race is viewed as insignificant and worthless. After all, once those oceans are created and the mountains put in place, God turns his attention to making us, and when he finishes he’s pleased with the results. This portion of this passage isn’t about putting humanity in its place. Instead, it’s about lifting our Creator to his place! We aren’t talking about a tin god here; this is the God of the Universe, Maker of all. This King isn’t the ruler of some little country off in some forgotten part of the world. No king or idol holds a candle to this Creator-God. I can never fully comprehend him but I can worship him. This passage is a reminder of the greatness of God and a call to humbly bow before him.
Take Away: I can never fully comprehend him but I can worship him.
Questions and the Answer
Job 41: I’m in charge of all this — I run the universe!
The response of the Almighty to Job centers on who God is, what God does, and what God knows. I’m reminded of the opening words of Genesis in which we’re not given a rationale for God’s existence but, instead, the story of God’s action in creating all things. Now, after Job has demanded an audience with God in which he could straighten things out, God speaks, not to explain things to Job but to declare himself to him. Surely the One who runs the universe is not subject to us! We see here that God isn’t especially interested in our having answers to all of life’s questions. He is interested though, in our knowing him. Job’s encounter with God is centered on all the mysteries of creation. Job needs to not only have a better understanding of God, but he needs a clearer understanding of himself and his relationship to the Lord. Of course, the same is true of us. As I better understand who God is and who I am, I realize that my questions aren’t as important as I first thought.
Take Away: I’ll never have all the answers anyway, but I can trust God to be the answer to the deepest needs of my life.
Elephants and Monkeys and Kangaroos
Genesis 2: Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name.
God gets the ball rolling: sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and humans. It’s all his handiwork. The crowning act of creation is humanity. The Lord, himself, breathes life into man, who has been made in his own image. Unlike other elements of creation, this creature has something of God inside. He also has free will. At this point the Creator stands back to watch his masterpiece in action. The Lord wants to see what man will name the animals. Right off the Almighty gives up some of his authority to his Creation. Whatever Man names an animal will stand. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s a significant moment. God, the Decider, decides not to decide. Rather, this new creature, this man, will decide. Also, a theological concept is introduced: God, who has all authority, agrees ahead of time to let decisions made by a human being stand. Will Adam do a good job in naming the animals or will he come up with some stupid names? The Lord, no doubt, is interested in what this unique being will do of his own free will. This pretty much overlooked event is actually filled with drama.
Take away: Having free will is part of my being created in the image of God.
The Who, How, and What of Creation
Genesis 1: It was so good, so very good!
The account of Creation is a lot more about “who” than it is about “how.” When the story begins its God who begins it. He speaks and things happen. There’s no doubt that he’s in charge and the account of Creation is all about what the Creator does. On the other hand, there’s no more effort made to tell me “how” it happened than there is to explain God, himself. If I want to know the composition of light, I’ll have to look elsewhere because the Bible doesn’t tell me. If this is a poetic description of a “big bang” it’s okay with me so long as I can believe that God is the one who creates and directs the energy of it in the first place. So, as I read these opening pages of the Bible, I immediately encounter the “Who” of it all and I immediately find that this Creator isn’t all that interested in satisfying my curiosity of “how.” However, there is one thing he wants me to know: that’s “what” he has done. He declares to me that it’s “very good.” I know “Who” did it but I don’t know “how” he did it. Still, I know that “what” he did is “so good!” As I read this account I’d better concentrate more on what I’m supposed to know and less on what the Lord doesn’t bother to tell me about it.
Take away: I need to focus on the Creator and not get too wound up in how he created.
The curtain rises and there stands God
Genesis 1: First this: God created the Heavens and Earth.
Genesis is the book of beginnings. Here I’m told how the world began: light and sky and life. In Genesis I see the first sunrise and meet the first man and woman. Of course, I see the first sin and the first death here, but I also see the first act of redemption, hear the first prayers prayed, and encounter the first man known for his faith and friendship with God. The big omission of a “first” happens in chapter one, verse one. As the curtain lifts I find One Being already standing at center stage. There’s no prelude and no introduction. I start reading and even though there’s nothing to be seen, there He is. It’s staggering isn’t it! The first thing that ever happens is when God steps out into nothingness and begins doing something. Right off I know he’s the Creator and right off I know there’s no hope of my ever fully comprehending him.
Take away: I can know this eternal, Creating Being.