Bible, sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Crossing the Jordan

(Taken from a sermon at the end of an interim pastorate a few weeks before the new pastor would arrive on the field.) These are some of the memes the week after the winter 2021 storms that wreaked havoc on Texas:

  • 2021? Feels more like 2020 and a half
  • 2020: the year from hell / 2021: the year hell froze over
  • 2020: learn to stay home / 2021: same, but now let’s test your survival skills
  • Shame on all of you who made fun of Bernie Sanders. Now look at you sitting on your couch in the same outfit!

Like many of you, my wife and I conserved electricity and wore extra layers of clothes to help keep the power grid up in our area. I think Lucy stayed in the living room by the fire most of the week! Friends and family went without power or had water damage from frozen pipes or leaking roofs. And many had to conserve or boil water as a by-product.

It may have felt like a winter wilderness, but it only lasted for a week. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Their daily lives were a marginal existence for an entire generation. Finally, however, it was time for them to cross over into the land promised by God to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is the focus of the biblical passage in Deuteronomy 31:1-8. The story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan is one of the stories that shapes our lives.

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It Is Time to Leave the Wilderness

The interim period between pastors is like a wilderness experience. It is a time when you have left the familiarity of the old pastorate and you walk by faith with the interim minister in anticipation of the new minister who will soon come to the field. Many times at the beginning or in the middle of the interim, you are not sure what lies in the future. Frequently, it is a marginal existence, like the wilderness, with the interim minister only on the field on weekends or certain ministries suspended for a season. Even churches not in an interim situation felt this margin living In 2020, as the pandemic forced worship online or delayed or canceled a number of “normal” ministry opportunities.

But as an interim ends (or for us in 2021, as we may be nearing a turning point with the pandemic in the U.S.), a new day dawns. Like Moses, the interim minister cannot follow the congregation into the new pastorate but he can provide some words of wisdom. With the end of the interim, the journey ends for the minister but it is just the start for the congregation. It is for this reason that Moses says repeatedly in this passage, “Be strong and courageous” and “do not fear.

As rough as the wilderness was, some had become comfortable in it. For some, it was all they had ever known. Often, Christians are comfortable with the way church has been done (sometimes for decades). Some might become familiar with the leadership or worship style of the interim pastor or liked the reduced meeting times of the interim period or pandemic restrictions. In the wilderness, there were times the people wanted to return to Egypt. So as they crossed into the new land promised by God, some would continue to look backward toward the wilderness or beyond.

Moses tells the people not to be terrified because of “them.” Whether with the start of a new pastorate or the end of a pandemic, there are new problems coming and new issues to address. Perhaps new ministries need to be started. Other ministries need to be revived or restarted. This can be just as scary as conquering a land. Don’t be terrified by the unknown or the new, for God will be with you.

God Crosses the Jordan Ahead of You

The blessed news is that we are not alone. We do not have to go it alone. God is with us. He says in the passage that he will never leave us nor forsake us. This is a blessed hope and comfort. What is more, God crosses before us and enters the new land, the new phase of ministry, the new situation we cannot fully understand, ahead of us. He will fight the battles for us, if we will only trust in him. We are called to be obedient, but he himself is our strength and our shield.

Whether in the interim period or through the pandemic, we have seen God at work even in the wilderness. He helps those who trust in him to grow closer to one another as they grow closer to him. He uses the wilderness time to resolve and heal various issues lingering since we have left Egypt as he prepares us to enter the new land of Canaan. He has helped us learn to adapt to new situations and to seek his guidance when times seem dark. As we have trusted him through the wilderness, we find over and again that he proves himself faithful. God knows the future to which he is calling us. We can trust him and rest in him.

Follow Your Leader Into the Promised Land

Before Moses died in the wilderness, God called Joshua to be the new leader. This leader would go with them into the promised land. Like God, Moses says Joshua will go ahead of the people into the new land and will lead the people. Yet he was just as scared and unaware of the future as the Israelites. Moses gives Joshua the same words of comfort to be strong and courageous and not to be afraid. For churches beginning a new pastorate, the new pastor enters into the unknown with the congregation. He will lead and the congregation will follow, but he and the congregation both truly follow God who promises to go before them. On the other side of the Jordan is the promised land. It is a land of new opportunities and new ministries. It is the place of hope and new life.

For all the hope that lies beyond, however, the promised land is scary. Change is scary! For the Israelites, they were moving from the barren wilderness to beautiful farmland. They knew how to be nomads. That was comfortable. What did they know about farming? What did they know about living in settled villages and permanent homes? So church life now or even in the past may not be what it will be in the future. We always need to be ready for change, but especially in times of transition.

An interesting feature of the wilderness story is Joshua himself. He was one of the twelve spies originally sent into the land for forty days just a few months after the people left Mount Sinai. Ten spies returned saying there was no way they could enter the land. Joshua and Caleb said, there is a way–with God! The Israelites listened to the ten, however, and so they were condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years because they refused to face change. They refused to trust God for fear of the unknown. Yet during those forty years in the wilderness, as the current generation gave way to a new generation, the legend of Joshua–the man who trusted God–grew. Joshua trusted God so we can trust him to guide us.

During the interim period, the congregation has prayed for a new leader and prepared themselves for the next phase of life together. They have trusted God that he would guide them to the right person to take them into the next years of ministry. When that man is called, you must trust God and trust him.

Notice one key difference in Moses’ encouragement to Joshua than to the Israelites. Moses adds to his admonition to Joshua, “do not be discouraged.” For forty years, Moses bore the brunt of complaints about the wilderness and the struggles and needs ever wore down on him. Moses understood that ministry could have periods of discouragement. The new pastor will make mistakes. Joshua made mistakes. The role of the congregation is to encourage the minister, pray for him, trust him to lead, and forgive the mistakes that are made. Certainly, this doesn’t mean to forgive moral lapses or ignore ungodly actions, but we are called to trust in the leader as he trusts in God. He will lead the congregation into the promised land.

Soon after this, God let Moses ascend to Mount Nebo. Moses was able to look over and see the promised land even though he wasn’t able to enter in with the people. And then Moses died. In some ways, the role of the interim minister is similar. He has the opportunity to see the potential within the congregation as he helps the congregation believe in that possibility as well. So be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Trust God who is going on before you. Trust your new leader and give him grace to fail. Help him conquer giants as you enter into the land of promise.

Crossing the Jordan (Deut 31:1-8)

sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Saved to Serve

Christians observe a sacred meal commemorating Jesus’ death. Depending on your tradition, it is called the Lord’s Supper, communion, or the eucharist. On his final evening, Jesus instituted this meal using two elements from the Jewish Passover meal–bread and wine. The Jewish Passover is a remembrance of God’s liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Specifically, it refers to the last of the ten plagues God sent against Egypt, when the Angel of Death passed over the homes that had the blood of a lamb on their doorframes but killed all the firstborn sons in homes not protected by the lamb’s blood. Jesus connected his coming death to this Passover story, that those covered in his blood would not know eternal death. After the stories of the plagues and the exodus, the description of the Passover festival, and the crossing of the sea, Exodus 19 tells of the Hebrews’ arrival at Mount Sinai as the end of this rescue operation and the start of a covenantal relationship between God and Israel.

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God Saved the People from Bondage (Ex 19:4)

God begins by emphasizing his liberation of the people, that he rescued them on eagle’s wings and carried them to himself. They had been enslaved in Egypt. God appeared to Moses and told him that he heard the Israelites’ cries and groans, so God was sending Moses to liberate them. The ten plagues of the exodus were an undoing of the creation story in Genesis 1. At creation, God took the dark, chaotic waters and brought life and order out of them. In the exodus, however, when Pharaoh refused to release the people, God unleased a series of plagues that took the ordered life of the great empire and brought it crumbling down into chaos and disorder. Like Genesis 1, the plague stories begin with chaotic waters (the Nile turning red and killing fish). While Genesis 1 ends with the creation of human life as the culminating act of order out of the chaos, the end of the exodus plagues is not life but death, the death of the firstborns.

With this, Pharaoh lets the people leave, then changes his mind and chases after them. The chaotic waters return once again in the form of a sea of water separating the people from any hope of escape as Pharaoh’s chariots bear down upon them. Yet God saves his people by simultaneously bringing order and salvation to them while bringing chaos and destruction to Pharaoh’s army. First, God separated the darkness from the light (with Egypt in one and Israel in the other), just as in the first day of creation. Then, the wind/Spirit of God hovered over the waters until land appeared (like day three). God created a way for his people to find life through the midst of the chaos, as he protected them. When the Egyptian army pursued through the waters, God removes his protective presence, and the waters returned to the chaos they had been before. The army lay dead and God’s people stood liberated and free. This is what God reminds them of as they stand at the mountain of God, the very place where Moses first received his calling to rescue the people. Now, however, God extends this call to all the people assembled before him, to those he had redeemed.

God Invited the People to Serve (Ex 19:5-8)

Now God invites them into a relationship with him. After reminding them how he redeemed them, he makes a covenant with them. If they fully keep the instructions he will give to them, then God offers them a unique relational status. Notice they are rescued first, then they are invited into covenant. This is a pointer to the fact that salvation is not based on our works but rather it is a free gift of God. God liberated the people. Now he invites them to show their thankfulness to him for that liberation by keeping his covenantal instructions. If they fully obey this covenant, then out of all the nations they will be his treasured possession. If they fully keep these commandments, then out of the whole earth they will be a nation set apart as a kingdom of priests. When the people hear this offer, they reply, “we will.” We will keep this covenant fully and fully obey these instructions. Unfortunately, the history of the nation demonstrates they do not.

God Called the People to Consecration (Ex 19:9-25)

To prepare for this covenant, God told the people to consecrate themselves for two days. They were to wash their clothes and avoid sexual relations. That is, they were to cleanse themselves and disrupt the daily routines of life in preparation and expectation of something new and marvelous. They were also asked to treat the mountain as holy (that is, to treat it as set apart). Anyone setting foot on the mountain was to be put to death. They were to respect God and not think they were on equal footing with the divine. This was his mountain at the moment. He was about to set foot upon it so they should respect it.

On the third day, the Lord would descend from heaven upon the mountain and pronounce the covenant. God promises Moses that God’s actions would result in the people realizing that Moses was indeed God’s chosen leader so that they would place their trust in him. Anytime Christians sense God’s call to a new venture–whether the calling of a new minister, the start of a new ministry, or a new pursuit within one’s family or one’s personal life–we should prepare ourselves through prayer and consecration. We should ready ourselves to listen for the voice of God and to accept his call.

God Pointed Toward His Ultimate Plan (Rev 5:9-14)

As we observed above, the people were called to fully obey the covenant yet none of them over the centuries was able to do so, save one. Jesus kept the covenant fully and he did so for all of us, whether Israelite or not. Jesus was the firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15) who voluntarily became Egypt’s firstborn to die in our place. He was the Lamb whose blood covered us and so allowed death to pass over those who accept his sacrifice. In the Revelation, the Song of the Lamb picks up this imagery from Exodus 19 alongside the imagery of Jesus as the Passover lamb. Jesus’ blood purchased us and so now we have become his treasured possession. No longer is this treasured possession one people “out of all the nations.” Rather, in Christ, we who are “out of every nation” are now one people, the people of the Lamb. We are called to serve him as kings and queens and priests. We are to serve God by serving our fellow human beings even as we represent him to the world. We are not saved for our own benefit. We are saved to serve.

Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we should recall the words of Jesus. He said the bread was his body broken for us. As we partake of the bread, we should dedicate ourselves to acts of service that will honor Jesus by restoring his body and making it whole. What person do you know who needs to become part of Jesus’ body today? Will you consecrate yourself to service for that person, to witness to your Lord and Savior who died for them? Jesus also took the cup and said it was his blood poured out for us. As Jesus gave his life for us, we are called to pour out our lives in service to him and to others. Who in your sphere of influence needs your service today? How will you be Jesus’ priest to that person? Jesus set us free to serve. May we serve one another because he first served us.

Saved to Serve (Exodus 19)

sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Called to a Journey of Faith and Blessing

The Bible talks about the calling of Abraham and the subsequent people of God as “called” or “chosen.” Sometimes we see the Israelites and later Jews misunderstand this idea of “chosenness” and Christians sometimes struggle with the same misunderstanding. Being chosen does not mean that you are better than another. It doesn’t mean that you are God’s child and that God doesn’t care about those who are not called by the same name as you. To be called is to follow after God and to trust in him even when the way seems dark or obscure. To be chosen is to be a servant to live your life to bless God and to bless others. God sometimes calls us to a new occupation, a new city in which to live and minister. Genesis 12:1-8 tells us about the calling of Abraham. Much like Abraham, we must must decide if we will accept the call. Will we live the journey God choses for us or chose our own way and reject his call.

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Called to Journey with God

Abraham was invited by God to go into the unknown, learning only later that the land of Canaan is the land promised to him by God. Through the Abraham narrative, we travel to the Western Highlands of Canaan, the Negev of Southern Canaan, down to Egypt, back to the Negev and Western Highlands, throughout the region in a war narrative before settling back into the Negev. Along the way, Abraham built altars to God and prayed to God, he dug wells and planted trees, he worked with his neighbors, and he even fled from famine and set out in war. When he returned to the region after his journey into Egypt, God again told him that Canaan would be his home (Ge 13:14-17). All the way through the story, we see that Abraham was not alone. God was always with him on the journey, through the good decisions and the bad one.

We are journeying through an unknown time right now. It is a time of pandemic and a time of economic uncertainty, a time of political unrest and social upheaval. In your own journey, there may be a path through unplanned cancer or the death of a family member. You may be called to a new job or blessed with a new child. Through whatever situation you face, you are called to journey with God and to trust him along the way, no matter how dark the path or foggy and unclear the future.

Called to Walk by Faith

Abraham had to trust God in order to leave his home land and his family. Because of Abraham’s belief in God, he is considered righteous by God (Ge 15:1-6). The story makes clear that belief is not some sort of checklist of ideas to understand. Abraham is told he will have a son. We read soon after that he and Sarah totally misunderstand this and he has a son through her maid-servant Hagar. We also see that Abraham’s righteousness is not based on any action on his part at the time he is called righteous. If Abraham did anything, he walked out of his tent when instructed and looked up at the stars when instructed. The emphasis of the text is that he saw the stars, heard God’s promise that his descendants would be as numerous, and he put his faith in God that God was trustworthy to keep such a promise. We do find that such faith is later demonstrated by action, but Abraham’s righteousness is not based on action.

When the child of promise is finally born to he and his wife Sarah, Abraham must make a painful decision. He must sacrifice his son and through away the promises that were to flow through this child or he must disobey God’s call to sacrifice his son and thereby break covenant with the one who would provide the covenant promises through this son (Ge 22). He was between the proverbial rock and hard place. Abraham chooses allegiance to God over the hope of the promise, but God stays his hand and his son is spared. God then swears by himself that the promises made to Abraham through Isaac would certainly come to be (Ge 22:16-18).

In the New Testament, we are told that we are children of Abraham if we live by faith (Ga 3:7) and so are part of the stars and sand too numerous to count (He 11:12). The journey we are called to is the same type of journey as Abraham. We are called to journey by faith through this land. We are not to be loyal to our land for it is not our own. We, like Abraham, remain exiles longing for a heavenly city (He 11:13-16). Like Abraham living as a nomad in the land promised to him, we live in this fallen world awaiting the day God will resurrect it along with our bodies into the Kingdom of God. It is this but not now. It is here but not yet. We are foreigners and strangers living by faith in the one who calls us. When God calls us to a new city, a new profession, a new marriage, our allegiance is first to God over any personal preferences we might have. Abraham, when told that God’s way was a child of promise to be born of barren Sarah and not the “natural” child born of Sarah’s maid-servant, Abraham questions this and asks, why cannot Ishmael live under the covenant blessings (Ge 17:17-18)? What we want is not necessarily what we need. God is the one we trust.

Called to Be a Blessing

God’s calling to Abraham included a promise that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him (Ge 12:2-3). Throughout his life, we find him blessing others. He was a blessing to Lot, giving him his choice of the land (Ge 13:8-11), rescuing him from captivity (Ge 14:12-16), rescuing him in his prayers for Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:29). He was a blessing to the cities who lost loved ones as war captives (Ge 14:16). He sought to be a blessing to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, asking if God would destroy the city if righteous remained in their walls (Ge 18:23-33). He was a blessing to the Philistines at Beersheba, creating peace between his people and them (Ge 21:22-34).

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, says the promise to Abraham that his offspring would bless all nations (Ge 22:18) was fulfilled in Jesus. If we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise alongside Jesus, whether we are Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Ga 3:8-9, 14, 28-29). Today, Paul would have added “Democrat or Republican,” for we need to be more committed to King Jesus than to the USA or to any party that seeks to divide the body of Christ. (As Hebrews said above, we seek a better country and should have no ultimate allegiance to our current land.)

We see the promise of Abraham’s seed blessing others lived out in the story of Zacchaeus. When he announces that he will give half his wealth to the poor and repay fourfold anyone he has cheated, Jesus replies, “This man also is a son of Abraham” (Lk 19:9). That is, he is a blessing to others. We are called to bless others by being a servant to them. We have lots of opportunities that present themselves each and every day to be a son or a daughter of Abraham. Just a little thing we can do in the pandemic is to wear a mask in order to protect those more vulnerable than ourselves.

Have you ever pulled up to a drive-thru window and found out that the car in front of you paid for your food? Did you feel blessed? Did it make you want to pay for the person behind you so that they could share in the blessing you had experienced? Recently, a man ate at a Colorado restaurant for breakfast. His bill was $20.04. He asked his waitress how many employees were working that day. Seven, she replied. He asked her to make sure that every employee received the same amount of his tip. He wrote on the receipt, “COVID sucks! $200.00 for each employee today!” and tipped $1,400.00. That man was on a journey when he stopped by the restaurant. He saw others struggling through their own journeys. He chose to be a blessing that day. He trusted in something other than his personal resources that day. He trusted in community and enacted Jesus’ teaching that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

Called to a Journey of Faith and Blessing (Ge 12:1-8)

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sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Judged Yet Given Hope

In the 2000s, Colorado judge Paul Sacco noticed a number of people who appeared in his court because they played loud, blaring music were repeat offenders. Simply paying a fine was not a sufficient deterrent to change their minds about respecting their neighbors. So Sacco came up with a unique method of punishment. He would make the offenders sit in a room for an hour listening to very loud music from Barry Manilow, Mozart, opera, the Barney theme song, and even Boy George. The offenders would leave the room wondering, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and Sacco saw a dramatic drop in repeat offenders! Those who like classical music or soft rock would think the judgment held hope. We find that God provides hope in the midst of judgment as we consider the story of Noah (Ge 6-9).

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God’s Judgment Is Not out of Anger but from Regret

The story of Noah tells us God saw the wickedness of humans and how unjust they were to each other. Because of this, God would destroy all life on earth. Noah, however, was found to be righteous in his generation and so he, his family, and representative animals would be saved through this destruction in the ark Noah would build. In a podcast series looking at the anger of God in the Bible, Tim Mackie of the Bible Project noted the flood narrative never once mentions God being angry. The text only says God regretted making humans (6:6-7). God felt sorrow for what humanity was like and the role he played in creating humans, but he is not angry at them or demonstrating his wrath through the flood. As the Old Testament repeats often, God is slow to anger (e.g., Ex 34:6).

So when does God get angry in the Bible? When his people deny his call. Moses gave multiple excuses why he was not the right person to lead the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt. Eventually, God became angry (Ex 4:14-17). God also gets angry when his people improperly challenge the leader he selected. Aaron and Miriam didn’t like Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman. Instead of talking to Moses about this issue, they began to raise doubts among the Israelites about Moses’ calling as leader. They don’t question a legitimate leadership issue. They questioned his choice of a woman from an ethnicity of which they did not approve (Nu 12:6-10). His anger manifests when people misuse the gifts he gives them. Balaam has the gift of prophecy and attempts to use this gift against the Israelites to curse them (Nu 22:21-23). God is angry when people practice injustice against one another. His anger destroys the Egyptian army attacking the fleeing Israelites (Ex 15:7-11). Some of the first commands to Israel describe God’s anger at those who mistreat foreigners, widows, and orphans (Ex 22:21-24). God gets angry when his people misrepresent him to the world. God’s response to the Israelites’ golden calf was anger and to wipe them out, like in the flood story (Ex 32:7-10). God gets angry when his people don’t trust him to provide for their needs. The people refuse to enter the land because they fear they will be defeated (Dt 1:29-36). Cursed to wander in the wilderness, they complain about their hardships despite God’s provisions for them (Nu 11:1-3). God is also angry when his people consistently reject him and break his covenant (Dt 31:15-18).

So we see two broad categories that evoke the anger of God. First, God becomes angry when his people are not faithful representatives. God created humans to bear his image. God called Israel to faithfully bear his image after humans refused collectively do do so. When Israel doesn’t do this, God becomes angry with his own people whom he has called. Today, Christians are called to be image bearers of Christ, so God’s anger would be against us. Second, God becomes angry with any person who preys on the disadvantaged or is consistently unjust in their dealings with other humans. In the story of the flood, God could have been angry, as we are told that the world is filled with violence because humans are inclined to evil and their acts were wicked. But more so, God is sorry that he had made humans. So, God withdraws his hand and the order established in Genesis 1 devolves back to the initial chaos (Ps 104:29-30). All humans die because of the flood, save Noah and his family (Ge 7:22-23).

Even in Judgment, God Remembers, God Gives Hope

At the height of the chaotic destruction comes these words of hope, “But God remembered Noah” (Ge 8:1). God remembered he made a promise to Noah and those with him in the ark to rescue and redeem them. So the creative Spirit of Gen 1 begins once again to blow upon the waters as they begin to recede and order returns. Over and over, we see God not give up on his creation. God rescues them not because of who they are but because God remembers the promises he made to them. As God begins to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he remembers his promise to Abraham and rescues Lot and Lot’s family (Ge 19:29). When Rachel cries out in her barrenness, God remembers Rachel (Ge 30:22). Not only does he give her a son, that son becomes the salvation of his people and many others. When God hears the groaning and cries of the Israelites, he remembered his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 2:24). So he called Moses to deliver them.

Even before the flood began, God provided hope within the judgment. We are told that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Ge 6:8). Among his generation, Noah was found to be righteous (Ge 6:9). That might not have been saying much, so we must always remember that God gives hope in judgment not because of who we are but because of who he is. Still, God makes a covenant with Noah to rescue him and those with him in the ark. God doesn’t base this on anything Noah has done or will do in the future. God promises to save him simply because of who God is (Ge 6:18). God did not only save Noah and his family. God did not only save the animals he identified as ritually clean. God saved some of every unclean animal as well! God saved more clean (seven pair) than unclean (one pair), but God saved some from every species nonetheless (Ge 7:1-2). This gives us hope for the nations that God is a gracious and compassionate God who does exceedingly more than we ask or imagine.

At the end of the story, there is hope. God also made a second covenant with Noah for all humans and all creatures. No matter how bad it gets, God promised he would never again remove the order that he had created to allow the world to return to the chaotic waters before creation (Ge 9:11). God promised to keep order in the cosmos, the regular rhythms of life that allow stability for growth and for planning (Ge 8:22). Throughout the latter part of the story, there is a lot of creation (Ge 1-2) language: creative wind/spirit (same Hebrew word) over the waters; command to be fruitful and multiply; humans as the image of God. The author is calling to mind the story as a renewal of creation, a second start.

God gave hope through a sign. God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant (Ge 9:12-17). Whenever it appeared during a rainstorm, it would be a reminder to God not to flood the world. It would be a promise to humans that there is hope that the rain will end. The rainbow reminds us that God can be trusted. Often in the stories of the Bible, God provides a sign of hope in the midst of judgment. When Eve is cursed, she is also promised that her offspring would crush the head of the serpent’s offspring (Ge 3:13). God tells Abraham he was wrong to jump ahead of God’s plans by having a child with Hagar, yet God gives both the sign of circumcision as witness to the covenant God made with Abraham (Ge 17:9-14). Though the child of David and Bathsheba dies because of David’s sins of rape and murder, out of that same union is born Solomon who becomes the bearer of the earlier covenant God made with David (2 Sam 12:24-25). In the midst of judgment, God offers us hope and calls us to trust him.

God’s Image Bearers Serve as Signs to Bring Hope

Christians are called to pray for the salvation of others and to serve God by bringing hope to the world by the way we live our lives as image bearers. We see the hope within judgment that God’s people can bring in the story of Abraham. God told him about the coming judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham begins to question God about his righteousness, asking if God would surely “sweep away” (flood language) the righteous with the unrighteous. Would God spare the cities for 50 righteous people? God said he would. Would God spare them for 45? yes. For 40? yes. Abraham negotiates God down to 10 righteous people. Each time God says for the sake of the few, he would not destroy the many. Abraham appears satisfied with the answer and ends at ten. What if Abraham had continued the query down to five or even one? Would the cities not have been destroyed (Ge 18:23-33)? As believers, we are called to pray for the people around us. We must not pray the destruction of the wicked but for the life of the righteous remnant. Jesus, after all, told us to love our enemies and prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Even though Abraham stopped at ten and the cities were destroyed, we are told that God “remembered” Abraham–the call to not destroy the righteous with the unrighteous–as so he saved Lot and family (Ge 19:29).

In a similar story, Moses talks God out of destroying the Israelites. Because of their sin at the Golden Calf, God wanted to wipe them all out and start over with Moses. God wanted Moses to be the new Noah. Moses, however, called to God to remember his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God promised them that their descendants would inherit the land. God could not go back on his promises. God also needed to think about what the Egyptians would say if he destroyed Israel. If God’s purpose was for Israel to bear witness to the nations of the love of God, how would destroying them advance that cause (Ex 32:11-14)? The next day, Moses returns to God (with blood on his hands for killing some of the Israelites once he actually saw their wickedness!) and tells God that, if anyone has to die, take his life but spare Israel. He offers his life as atonement for the people’s sins, though God rejects the offer (Ex 32:30-34). Christians need to offer their own lives for the lives of others, as Paul did through his many afflictions to advance the gospel (2 Tim 2:8-10). Paul prayed that he would gladly accept God’s judgment if only the Jews would come to faith in Christ (Rom 9:1-5). May we be symbols of hope in a world destined for judgment.

Martin Luther King Jr., in a jail in Birmingham, wrote a letter to the white Christian pastors who published a letter to the editor about him. In the midst of a stirring judgment against their inaction and lack of support (even to the point of questioning his tactics or condemning his motives), King held out hope that some would see their error and even join in his cause for justice.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a week, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

As the body of Christ, we must pray for the salvation and protection of our communities. We are a sign of hope but we also must speak judgment about the injustice around us. We are the community saved within the ark of Christ’s sacrifice, but unlike Noah, we are able to captain lifeboats that seek out and save the lost from among our family, our neighbors, and even our enemies. When we speak judgment, it must be the work of the Spirit guiding us and not our own spirits and thoughts judging others. But far more often and far more importantly, we are called to bear the image of Christ, to be signs of hope that bring healing and forgiveness to our communities, our nation, and our world.

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Judged Yet Given Hope (Ge 6-9)

sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Exiled but Not Forgotten

2020 is in the rearview mirror, but she won’t let go. Civil unrest, political divisions, and COVID restrictions–many people feel as if they are exiles even if they are living and working in their own homes. Others wonder if God has forgotten about them, about us. The violence we’ve seen in the news, the anger and frustration that we see on social media, these are all issues rooted in the story of the Garden of Eden (Ge 2:5-3:24).

In Hebrew, the author’s description of the garden tells us “the tree of life [was] in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:9). This descriptive imagery symbolizes both God’s ideal plan for humanity as well as our present reality, the result of choosing our way over God’s plan. The tree of life’s central location in the garden represents God’s paramount goal for humanity was life in all its wonder and fulness. That was the heart of the divine project. The other tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree from which God warned humans not to eat, was nearby the tree of life, but it was off-center. And so, just as the tree was not centered in the garden, we read that as soon as the humans eat its fruit (3:6), every area of their lives becomes askew and off-balance. They are no longer comfortable with who they are (e.g., they realize they are naked, 3:7). Their relationship with one another is fractured (e.g., the male blames the female, 3:12, and their intimacy is so estranged that they can no longer share a single name, 3:20). They now struggle with the creation itself (e.g., the woman’s pains in childbirth increase, 3:16, and the man’s work becomes toilsome due to thorns and thistles, 3:17-19) and even their relationship with God is impacted (e.g., they hide from God, 3:8).

Because their lives are now out of harmony with heaven and earth, God no longer wants the humans to eat from the tree of life. God’s will for them–life–has not changed. Rather, it is the circumstances of the moment that have changed. If the humans now eat from the tree of life, in their present condition, they will live forever in discord with God, other humans, creation, and even their own selves. So God exiles them from the garden (3:23-24) as an act of judgment, but even more as an act of love and compassion. Though humans had rejected God’s plan for their own way, the story emphasizes God’s continued care for his human creatures. We see his concern prior to their judgment and exile, when God calls out and asks them where they are, knowing that they are hiding. He asks them how they know they are naked, have they eaten from the tree, what have they done, all the while knowing exactly what had occurred. In this way God offered them opportunities to confess their sin and reconcile their relationship with him (opportunities they unfortunately do not fully embrace). After pronouncing judgment but before exiling them, God sees they are uncomfortable with their nakedness. God could have reprimanded them for not accepting themselves as he had created them. Instead, in an accommodating act of service, he lovingly removes their tattered fig-leafs and provides them with more suitable attire (3:21). Even after they are sent into exile, God does not forget them nor does he give up on his plan for them–life. The remainder of the Bible is the story of God’s reclamation project for his lost creation, his effort to redeem them from their exile. Humans, however, in the midst of our exile often miss the beauty of the Biblical story and misunderstand God’s plan to restore his creation to life everlasting.

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First, we misunderstand the story of exile when we don’t realize it is a story about forgiveness. After the garden story, we read about the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain kills his younger brother Abel, so God punishes him. Cain will be exiled to a nomadic life of wandering in the East. Cain protests that this curse is too much to bear, that without the protection of his family clan others will surely kill him. To show God’s continued concern, that exile does not mean we are forgotten, God places his mark of protection on Cain and promises that anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over (Ge 4:11-16). Within four generations, however, God’s offer of grace to Cain is misunderstood. The compassionate protection of God becomes the privileged right of humans. God’s mercy is now a man’s threat. Lamech boasts to his wives that he had killed a man. If Cain was avenged seven times then Lamech would be avenged seventy-seven times (Ge 4:23-24)!

In stark contrast, Jesus taught his disciples a radically different way. His followers should be like God, dispensing undeserved mercy and demonstrating unconditional love. When Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone when they wrong us, Peter thought a reasonable number would be seven times. Jesus, however, rejected this. Not seven times, Jesus said, but seventy-seven times. And so Jesus inverted the Cain and Lamech story. The story of increasing violence and vengeance was to be replaced with a new story of unlimited forgiveness despite wrongs incurred (Mt 18:21-22). As Christians, we bear the mark of Christ, a mark that challenges us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44).

Second, we misunderstand the story of exile when we don’t understand it is a story about inclusion. Later in the Old Testament story, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire, who exiled conquered people groups by scattering them throughout their empire. Even later still, the southern kingdom of Judah was also conquered, this time by the Babylonian Empire, who sent the Jews into exiled communities throughout Babylon. Yet God did not forget the Jews in exile. The opening vision of Ezekiel (Eze 1:4-28) describes a mobile throne on which God comes from Jerusalem to be with his people in their exile. And Isaiah prophesied that God would go through his people’s trials with them and proclaimed the hope that God would ultimately bring them back from the east, west, north and south (Is 43:2-7).

The Jews did return from their exile in Babylon, but the “lost tribes” of Israel scattered among the nations did not return. Over the centuries, hope developed among the Jews that the the tribes would return when Messiah came. Jesus took this nationalistic hope and re-centered it back onto God’s inclusive purposes. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus spoke of people from east, west, north, and south (an allusion to Isaiah’s vision) coming to sit alongside Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets at a feast in the Kingdom of God (Lk 13:28-29). Since Jesus proclaimed right before this that the entrance to the kingdom is narrow (Lk 13:23-24), one might think the returning ones were the lost tribes of Israel. But Jesus tells his Jewish audience that many of them would weep because they would find themselves thrown out of the kingdom. Matthew clarifies the identity of these new arrivals from east and west by placing this statement by Jesus immediately after the story of a Roman Centurion whom Jesus said had faith greater than anyone he had encountered in all Israel (Mt 8:8-13). That is, the Roman would be at the feast. So the promise of people returning to the kingdom feast was not a statement about the lost tribes of Israel, or not just them. It was the return of the lost tribes of Adam; that is, a return from exile open to all nations and people. This hope was embedded in God’s covenant with Abraham. His seed would bless all nations (Ge 22:18). It was also the fuller understanding of Isaiah’s own prophecy.

Even in the narratives of the Old Testament we see God’s unfolding plan has an inclusive strand even as its primary focus was momentarily on Abraham and his descendants. As the story of Abraham’s family unfolds, we see family lines break off along the way, yet occasionally descendants from these other lines wander back into the grand narrative. Lot separates from his uncle Abraham. His descendants become the Moabites. Generations later, a Moabite named Ruth re-enters the story and becomes the ancestor of both King David and Jesus the Messiah (Mt 1:5). When twins are born to Abraham’s son Isaac, the covenant continues through the younger, Jacob, and not the older, Esau. Yet Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, apparently produce the early form of the Old Testament book of Job. The setting of Job is the land of Uz, which Lamentations 4:21 identifies with the land of Edom. Job, the righteous man who suffered greatly, was an Edomite. After Sarah’s death, Abraham marries a second time and one of his second wife’s sons is Midian. Generations later, we meet a priest of Midian named Jethro, who becomes Moses’ father-in-law and serves as a wise counselor to Moses (Ex 18). Even the accursed Canaanites, the people to be driven from the land by Joshua and the Israelites, were not completely exiled from the story. Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, helped Israel conquer Jericho and became an ancestor of both David and Jesus (Mt 1:5). These are just a few of the side stories in the Bible that hint to us the plan of God was not exclusive to the Jews but included all the nations.

Finally, we misunderstand the story of exile when we don’t recognize it is a story about reconciliation. Jacob, the one through whom the promises of Abraham were to pass, stole his older brother’s birthright and blessing. Because of his actions, Jacob ended up in exile, sent away by his parents to live with his mother’s family in order to avoid his brother’s wrath. Yet God did not forget Jacob in exile. He promised to bless him and Jacob was blessed. Eventually, Jacob began the journey out of exile back to his homeland. Soon he received a report that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with a contingent of men. The reader wonders if we are about to experience another Cain and Abel story. Will the older brother again kill the younger? Instead, we read that as Jacob repeatedly bows down in submission as he approaches his brother, Esau runs to cover the remaining ground between them. Esau then throws his arms around Jacob’s neck, not in anger but in joy, and he kisses him. Then they both weep (Ge 33:4). Esau tells Jacob he had also been blessed by God. He had long since put aside his anger at his brother for his deceptive actions and Esau longed to be reconciled to his estranged brother. Now, God had truly blessed him for Jacob was home (Ge 33:9).

The story of Jacob and Esau is likely the basis for Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), though the father takes the place of Esau in the parable. Like Esau, the father runs to meet the returning exile, throws his arms around him, and kisses him (Lk 15:20). It is easy to see that the story emphasizes the importance for exiles to desire reconciliation with God, our Father. But Jesus also wanted us to seek reconciliation with other humans. There is an older brother in Jesus’ parable that we sometimes overlook. “But his older brother was in the field” Jesus continues the story (Lk15:25). How will this brother respond? Will he respond like Cain, who killed his brother “in the field” (Ge 3:8)? Or will he respond in reconciliation like Esau (and like the father in the parable)? The older brother’s response was somewhere in between, though closer to Cain’s response than Esau’s. He was angry his younger brother had left while he remained behind (in his words) to “slave” for his father (Lk 15:29). He was also angry that his father threw a party for this wanderer but never showed such honor to him for his continued work in his father’s home and fields.

Jesus’ message to the Jews hearing this parable was that they shouldn’t be like the older brother. Though they were God’s servants longer, as Abraham’s descendants, they should welcome these new members of God’s family, the Gentiles and other “sinners” they currently looked down on. Instead of rejection and anger, they should be like Esau, who welcomed back his younger brother Israel/Jacob. Today, Christians stand in the place of Jesus’ Jewish audience then. Will we be like the prodigal’s older brother, demanding God do things our way and angry when God blesses others we don’t think deserve his grace? Or will we be like Jacob’s older brother, happy with what God has given us and rejoicing to accept the returning lost members of our family?

We are all exiles in this world but we are called to be God’s witnesses through the empowering Spirit of Christ. Peter tells us that, though we are exiles, we should live such good lives that even those who falsely accuse us cannot help but glorify God because of what they see. We are also called as exiles to respect the government God places over us (1Pe 2:11-15). The war we fight is against sinful desires and spiritual powers, not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). While we are free, we are told we must not abuse this freedom by using it as an excuse to do evil. Instead, we are slaves to God and so servants to those made in God’s image (1Pe 2:16).

During the height of the Civil War, when many Northerners grew weary of the conflict and were ready to cede the Southern states, Edward Everett Hale wrote a short story to rekindle the imagination as to why a Union of States was so important. His short story was called The Man without a Country. The main character in the fictional story joined Aaron Burr’s insurrection in the West and was subsequently captured and court-martialed. During his trial, the young man foolishly asserted, “D—-m the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The judge’s response was that he would indeed never hear again the name of the United States nor would he see her. The young man was reprimanded to the custody of the Navy and until his death (over five decades later) the man with no country was transferred from ship to ship while remaining at sea. Crews were given orders never to speak about the United States in his presence and he was never allowed to come within sight of the American shore. On the occasion his ship put to shore, it was always a distant one. Through the years he earned the respect of the officers and sailors with whom he sailed. At the end of his life, he was graced by a single final conversation about the nation from which he was exiled, during which he asked numerous questions about its growth and condition. The love he expressed to his companion was so strong that the friend could not bring himself to tell the man about the division and decimation brought upon the States through the then-current Civil War. At the man’s death, a slip of paper was found marking a verse in the Bible, “They desire a country, even a heavenly: where God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (He 11:16, KJV). He asked to be buried at sea but requested a stone be set up either at the site of his rebellion or his trial which read, “In memory of Philip Nolan, Lieutenant in the Army of the United States. He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.” Though an exile, he developed a deep respect and love for the country he never heard of or saw again and he truly learned the meaning of forgiveness, inclusion, and reconciliation.

We are called to trust God in exile. This world in its present fallen condition is not our home. As exiles, we are to join in God’s inclusive plan for forgiveness and reconciliation centered in the life and reign of Jesus Christ our Lord. We may be in exile, but we are not forgotten. God is with us, and he will lead us home.

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Exiled but Not Forgotten (Gen 3:1-24)

sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Created to Bear the Image

During Christmas, my older son, Christian, watched old home movies with me, my wife, and my parents. The videos were primarily of a time when I was about the same age as Christian and his younger brother, Isaac. “That looks just like Isaac!” Christian remarked several time whenever my younger self made some face or reacted in a certain way on the video. It was in those moments that Isaac “bore my image.” He grew up watching me and so picked up some of my mannerisms and actions. (I’m sure there were points in the videos that Christian could have remarked, “That looks just like me!” but Christian doesn’t see himself as others do.) Just as Isaac bears my image, the Bible begins with a story of God creating us to bear his image (Gen 1:1-2:4).

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The first thing we find in the text is that we are imagined by a creative God. The story begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the dark chaotic waters. And then God created light and separated it from the darkness, the first of many creative acts over six days progressively remaking that dark, chaotic, watery mess into an orderly, diverse, and beautiful cosmos. The movement from chaotic darkness to order and light is even emphasized with the daily summary statement: there was evening and there was morning, the x day. By the end of the sixth day, God saw his creation was very good, so on the seventh day he assumed his sabbath rest from this creative work. What hope this story holds for our moment in history. 2020 has been a dark, chaotic, turbulent time–a time when many felt they were drowning in the churning waters of gloom and darkness. As a new year dawns, we can trust God that he is still in the ordering, creating, beautifying business. He can bring light and order to our new year even in the midst of the pandemic’s continuing chaotic disruptions and moments of dark despair.

In the story, God simply speaks and his will is done. He doesn’t wrestle with the chaos. He doesn’t have to exert himself in labor. The story emphasizes God is powerful, so we can place our faith in him to care for us. Days 1-3 emphasize there is no place in creation that he did not make. Days 4-6 tell us everything that exists in all of these spaces was also made my him. Therefore, we can trust him, for there is no danger too great, no obstacle too big, no mission too difficult. The same creative Spirit that ordered this chaos now lives within those who serve the risen Christ. While we often wish we could jump immediately to day seven, the day of rest, we usually find our immediate circumstances to be chaotic or even dark as we wait on God to finish the work he is doing. Even so, we can trust God to see us through, for the story helps us see that God has a plan that leads to a beautiful destination.

A second key insight we find in the text is that we are created as image-bearers and co-creators. The climax of the first creation story is that we are created in the image of God. While some older English translations speak of God making “man” in his image (in its older sense of all humankind), most modern translations speak of “humankind” or “humanity.” This is clearly the meaning of the text as its next statement says humanity was created “male and female.” The second creation story emphasizes that humanity is not truly humanity until it consists of both males and females (for the male is incomplete until the female is created at the end of the story). The image as “male and female” helps us conceive of a great God who is bigger than all of us. God is neither male nor female, but the best qualities seen in males and the best qualities observed in females provide us a glimpse into the character of God.

This social dimension of the image of God (male and female) emphasizes the vital importance of community. The second creation story culminates with the cry of the male that the female is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” While on one level this is focused on the institution of marriage, the larger emphasis with the two creation stories is that humanity is not “according to its kind” (a phrase used of the animals in the first story) until the male discovers another of his kind, even though she is at the same time different from him. The animals prior to the woman’s creation were not sufficient, for they could not provide the true community needed for human flourishing. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we are made for community and not isolation. True, healthy community is ultimately discovered through personal, face-to-face connections. Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, and other “social media” are helpful temporary patches (especially during lock-down), but they can never replace genuine community. This past year certainly showed us that social media can be weaponized when we are not in community, making these tools no longer “social” and certainly not civil. Christians should not engage in such anti-social behavior (though unfortunately, they did). Instead, we should seek to be one image as one body, just as the God whom we image is both one yet also a society of Father, Son, and Spirit. Our call to unity should always welcome and accept diversity within our community.

Humans as the “image of God” also means that we are living, breathing idols of our God. The importance the Bible gives to each human as bearing God’s image is precisely why idolatry is prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Sometimes Christians are confused by the 330 million gods of Hinduism which are said to represent different aspects or sides of the one God–yet our Bible teaches us that we have almost 8 billion images of the one God! But we do not need idols made of stone, metal, or wood to help us learn about God or to aid us in demonstrating our devotion to God. We have each other. This is why the prophets were so concerned about injustice and unrighteousness. True worship of God is to treat your neighbor as yourself and to do to others as you would want them to do to you. That we are the image of God means that every word we speak matters, for we speak for God. Every act we do matters, for we act on behalf of God. Because every human is made in the image of God, it matters how we treat one another. “They” are not our enemy to slander or destroy. “They” should be honored as the very image of God–even when we disagree with something they say or do. This is why Jesus, when his opponents attempted to trap him with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, held up a coin and asked whose “image” was on the coin. When they said Caesar’s, Jesus told them to give to Caesar what bears Caesar’s image and to give to God what bears God’s image (ourselves). In other words, stop worrying about the taxes and the politics and just love your neighbor. If you do, everything else will work out.

Humans as image-bearers are also given dominion over creation. In the Ancient Near East, it was normally the king who was the image of God and this image gave him the right to rule. All others served the king. But the Bible takes the radical step to place the burden of dominion on us all. We are all kings and queens. God is to rule over us and we are to rule over creation. Unfortunately, dominion too often has been misunderstood by Christians to mean we can do whatever we like with the world. Look at the current climate concerns that exist. (Regardless of your view on the extent of humanity’s impact on climate change, 2020 helped us see that we can indeed make changes that do benefit the rest of creation). The biblical view of dominion, however, is that of responsible stewardship. We are to tend the garden (in the second creation story). We are to care for animals. We are not to misuse the land.

Finally, the call to be in the image of God means that we are intended to be co-creators with God. The Ancient Near Eastern creation myths tended to say humans were created as servants for the gods (that is, the priests and the king–those who were the representatives of the gods). But Genesis emphasizes that we are created to be creators with God. God names the spaces in the start of the first creation story (e.g., light, sky, land) but not the many animals that fill those spaces in the latter part of the story. Yet in the second creation story, God creates various animals and brings them to the human to name. It is the first act of co-creation. We are created not only to think and to be self-aware but to be creative. Music, art, dance, science, technology–all of these flow out of us. We are the only creature who can imagine things that are not (such as communicators in Star Trek or radio-watches in Dick Tracy) and decades later create those imagined things (smartphones–especially the original flip phones–and wearable technology). The call to co-create carries throughout the Bible into the new creation of the Revelation. We do not find a return to a garden at the end of the Bible but the emergence of a city that has a garden within it.

So if humanity was created to be image-bearers, to live in community, to reflect God to one another, to rule over God’s creation for him, and to co-create with him . . . why is the world the way it is? Genesis 3 talks about a fall that changes humans in some manner so that we are exiled from the presence of God, while the rest of the Bible is about God’s restoration of creation. It is like we are mirrors intended to reflect God to one another but our mirrors are now shifted so that they do not reflect properly. Some reflect a partial image. Others may be warped so the image is skewed. Yet others have moved so much that there is not even a partial reflection of God remaining. This is what we often call sin and it impacts all of us, non-Christians and Christians alike.

This fallen image leads us to the final idea from the passage. We are reimaged for the new creation. The New Testament refocuses us on Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. He is said to be the image of the invisible God. Christians are called to put off the old man (Adam) and put on the new man (Christ), an action which helps renew us as the image of God. That is, we consciously strive to stop living a life of sin and start conforming our life to the image of God’s Son, Jesus. Day by day we continue this process, though it will not ultimately be fulfilled until the resurrection from the dead.

This resurrection will take place in a new creation. While many Christians today speak of “going to heaven,” that is not a concept found in the Bible itself (at least, it is not the primary goal). God’s creative work is still ongoing. Those who are baptized into Christ and follow him already are the first glimpses of this coming new creation, which Peter says in his second letter will culminate in a new heavens and new earth of righteousness after this creation is destroyed by fire. But interestingly, both 2 Peter and the Revelation do not use the Greek word for “brand new” (neos) but the one for “refurbished” or “renewed” (kainos). God will not destroy this creation but will renew and restore it so that finally heaven and earth will be united.

If God would have to annihilate the present cosmos, Satan would have won a great victory. For then Satan would have succeeded in so devastatingly corrupting the present cosmos and the present earth that God could do nothing with it but to blot it totally out of existence. But Satan has been decisively defeated. God will reveal the full dimensions of that defeat when he shall renew this very earth on which Satan deceived mankind and finally banish from it all the results of Satan’s evil machinations.

Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 281

This is what we see even in the first creation story. We try to read the story sometimes as if it is all past, as if it is trying to teach us about the very beginning of things. Genesis 1:1-2:4, however, is giving us the grand introduction to the divine project that will encompass the remainder of the Bible. You will note that in days one through six of the story, there is evening and there is morning. On day seven, however, after God has declared all that has gone before to be “very good,” God rests. He enters into his creation as gods of the ancient world would be conceived to enter into their temples. And as heaven and earth become one, there is no final repetition of evening and morning in day 7. It just “is.” Zechariah and Isaiah pick up on this hope of an eternal day–a time when creation will finally be complete as God intends it to be. The Revelation picks up these same ideas by saying there is no need for sun nor moon for God is the light and the Lamb is his lamp. Day seven has not yet happened. It will only happen when God’s project is complete.

There is a story about a father working hard at home on a project that was due the next day at his office. His nine year old son persistently asked to “help” on the project, so the father decided he needed something to distract his son. The father noticed a map of the world in a magazine on the table and gently tore the page out. He cut the world into little pieces and handed these–along with tape–to his son. He told the son it was a puzzle to put together, confident it would take days to finish such a difficult task. In a couple of hours, however, his son called out that he was finished. The father had doubts, since the son had never really seen the whole world and shouldn’t know how to quickly reassemble it, but sure enough the picture of the world was complete and in tact. “How did you do it?” he asked. The son said that as his father pulled the map out of the magazine, he noticed there was a man’s face on the other side of the page. When the boy started having difficulty putting the world together, he decided to flip the pieces and reassemble the image of the man instead. When he finished restoring the man’s face, he found the world was also put back together. We are created to bear the image of God to the world. When Christians begin to reflect the image of Christ, our community, our problems, our world will begin to be put back to rights. It will begin to be healed. We are invited by the almighty God to co-create with him as he builds the new creation–starting with each of us.

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“Created To Bear the Image” (Gen 1:1-2:4)