A Two Way Street, Part 4

In the last three posts, we talked about ways that we connect to God. But all relationships require communication, all relationships are a two-way street. If we connect with God through spiritual disciplines, how does he connect to us?

The Holy Spirit.

God has placed part of Himself inside of us. The Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity of God. He was there in Creation…

Genesis 1:1-2
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

…and He dwells in and among us.

1 Corinthians 3:16
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

God has given a part of Himself to teach, guide, and grow us. The connection of the Holy Spirit is better than Jesus still being here. We see Jesus saying that himself in John.

John 16:5-7
“Now I [Jesus] am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

The Holy Spirit connects us to God in a way that Jesus as a man could not. This is because the Holy Spirit lives inside of us. He moves us and guides us from within. He does not speak to our ears, He speaks to our souls.

So what exactly does the Holy Spirit do?

John 16:12-15
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

The Holy Spirit communicates truth to us. He takes what is known by God (the Trinity) and reveals it to us when it is needed. Those of you who read through Scripture, how many times have you re-read a passage and pull different meaning from it because you are in a different stage in your life or you are struggling with a new problem? The Holy Spirit mediates what is revealed to you based on what you need in the moment.

But Scripture isn’t the only place that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us. Truth can be found everywhere in the world. It could be a lyric in the newest song on the radio. It could be a scene from your favorite movie that you’ve watched a thousand times. It could be a line from that book someone bought you for your birthday. The Holy Spirit can draw from anything He wants to reveal God’s truth to us. We just need to be ready to hear Him.

John 14:15-19
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

The Holy Spirit does not just reveal truth to us, He reveals Jesus to us. He shows us God in the world around us. He stirs within us connections with God. Have you ever been in the mountains as the sun sets behind a peak and recognized the beauty of God’s creation? Have you ever heard the waves crashing against the shore and recognized God’s power? Have you ever been shown kindness by a stranger and recognized God working through them? These moments are the Holy Spirit showing you God in the creation and the people around you.

God is constantly interacting with us in our lives, but we don’t always notice Him. When we remain attentive to the Holy Spirit we see more of the ways that God touches our lives. We feel God responding to us and loving us. This pulling off of the shroud over our eyes strengthens our connection with God. We are no longer praying to a powerful being that sits on a throne far away from us. We are connecting to a God that cares enough for us that He impacts our lives each and every day.

John 16:8-11
“When he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of the world now stands condemned.”

This job of the Holy Spirit is a little different than the last two. When needed, the Holy Spirit convicts us. Some people refer to this as your conscience, but what the Holy Spirit does is so much more. The conscience is the part of every human that was created to reflect God crying out for us to properly reflect God. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is more than that. It’s deeper and stronger and wider reaching.

The conscience is more of a preventer while the Holy Spirit is more of a fixer. The conscience says, “Maybe I shouldn’t lie to my spouse.” The Holy Spirit says, “You lied to your spouse and now you need to rebuild that relationship. Tell her what you did and show her that you won’t do it again.” The conscience works on a small scale while the Holy Spirit is cosmic. The conscience says, “Maybe I should give this homeless person five dollars.” The Holy Spirit says, “There is a break in social relationships if we allow the homeless to starve on the streets. You should start a foundation to shelter and feed the homeless of your town.” Our conscience helps us react, the Holy Spirit tells us to act.

Romans 8:22-27
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

All of creation, including ourselves, groans for the restoration and salvation of the world. The desire for the shalom of Genesis 1 can be found everywhere, in everything. We hope and we pray for this restoration, but we don’t understand what we pray for. We have never experienced a world without sin. We have no clue what it is like to talk face-to-face with the Father. Because of our weakness that led to sin, we do not understand what we hope for.

But the Holy Spirit does. He was there before creation, since the beginning of time. He helped create the Genesis 1 world that we long to be restored to, and it pains Him to see the brokenness of the world. As we pray for what we do not know, the Holy Spirit groans with us for what was. The Holy Spirit takes our broken understanding and brings it in line with God’s will.

Galatians 5:19-23a
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Our actions show what kind of person we are. Peace and kindness come from a heart rooted in a Genesis 1 mentality.  Immorality and envy come from a heart rooted in a Genesis 3 mentality. How we interact with others, and what we do when we are alone, tell us, and others, what is in our heart.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control: these are all of a Genesis 1 mentality. These flow out of the Holy Spirit because He is the definition of a Genesis 1 mentality. When we allow the Holy Spirit full access to our lives, He begins to rub off on us so that we produce the same type of fruit that He does.

1 Corinthians 11:4-9, 11
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit…
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

The Holy Spirit does not just help restore us to a Genesis 1 mentality, He gives us specific gifts to help us restore the world around us. God wants us to work alongside Him in the restoration of the world, so he gives us tools to do so.

Just as we were created with unique personalities, the Holy Spirit gives us all different gifts, and combinations of gifts, to fit our unique personalities. This means we are not just meant to work with God, we are meant to work with other humans to restore this world. Our gifts are complementary to each other. We can bring greater healing to the world when we work in community with God and others.

The Holy Spirit is a complex part of the Trinity, a part that isn’t quite as popular to talk about compared to the Father and the Son. Part of that might be because it is hard for us to grasp the concept of the Holy Spirit. But that is part of what makes Him special. He works in mysterious ways, ways that we will never fully understand. But I do know one thing, God placed the Holy Spirit in us so that we could know Him better.

Feel free to comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

A Two Way Street, Part 3

 

Today’s post is our last discussion of spiritual disciplines. We will be discussing inward disciplines. These are probably the most recognized spiritual disciplines. The inward disciplines function between you and God. They are ways to connect you directly to God. But their jobs are not designed to stop there. Interactions with God should change us, should inspire us. While these spiritual disciplines are primarily focused on building our relationship with God, we should see changes in our life because of the growth of that relationship.

Inward Disciplines

Meditation

The first inward discipline I want to discuss is meditation. Meditation can be a touchy subject in Christianity because it is tied so heavily to the Eastern religions and New Age thinking. But Meditation has played a role throughout Scripture.

Joshua 1:8

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Psalms 1:1-2

Blessed is the man
     who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
     or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
     and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 19:14

May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
     O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer

Meditation holds a firm place in the spiritual disciplines. Meditation is a common practice throughout many religions. Christian meditation differs from the meditation of some other religions because it not only focuses on clearing the mind, it also focuses on filling the mind. It is a process of emptying and refilling. 

Luke 11:24-26

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

It is not good enough to just clear your mind of distracting or bad thoughts because, without proper attention, those thoughts will return. Proper meditation should help tear down some of the walls we have placed up so that we can find ourselves closer to God. We should be clearing our lives of distractions and wrong motives, and then filling them with the thoughts and actions of God.

Mediation on self is all about focus. To fill our lives with things of God we must first be able to see the things of God. Mediation slows down our life enough for us to focus on the things of God: things that He has created and things He has done. As we meditate on our lives, how we act, think, and speak, we can begin to see if our lives are properly reflecting God. This allows us to understand what should stay and what needs to be cleared from our lives. Through self-meditation, we learn what needs to be cleared to allow space for God in our lives.

Meditation on Scripture is all about filling. Once we clear spaces in our lives they cry out to be filled. If we do not fill them with God, they will be filled by other things, some neutral, some bad. Scripture-meditation allows God’s word to speak into our lives and tell us how to model our lives after Him and His son. We were created to reflect God, scripture-meditation is an important step to understanding how to do that.

Mediation is a process that connects the body, mind, and soul to allow us better focus on God and solidify in our mind, heart, and lives what God shows us. Our bodies are meant to move, our minds are meant to think, and our souls are meant to apply meaning. We were not created as static, stationary characters in the Christian Narrative, we were created with purpose and with a desire to do. But sometimes we are moving in the wrong direction. Sometimes we need to slow down and rest as God did on the seventh day of creation. Sometimes we need to quiet our mind so we can hear the words God is trying to speak to us. This is the purpose of Meditation.

Below are some questions for you to reflect upon as you begin to incorporate meditation into your life.

  • When do you find it easiest to focus your heart and mind? When do you find it hardest?
  • How might the tendency to do everything quickly  (e.g. to instantly google answers, to text people and receive an immediate response) affect your ability to meditate and focus on God?
  • What are some ways you can meditate in your life? (below are a few examples)
    • Fishing
    • Sitting in God’s creation
    • Painting
    • Journaling
  • How can you mediate specifically on God and on Scripture?
  • How can you mediate specifically on Other People?
  • How can you mediate specifically on God’s Creation?

Fasting

Matthew 6:16-18

And whenever you fast, do not become like the sad hypocrites; for they make their faces unsightly so that they may always be seen fasting by men; truly I say to you, they receive their reward in full. But when you are fasting, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that you may not be seen fasting by men but by your Father, the one in secret; and your Father, seeing the thing in secret, will reward you.

Fasting can be a very loaded word that evokes many types of reactions. For some of you, it might be as bad as a curse word. For others, it might be a common way of life. Before you continue reading this post, evaluate how you view fasting.
                                                                           * * *
A quick moment of transparency: I am bad at fasting. I wish I was better, but it is one of the spiritual disciplines that I have to but a lot of effort into. 

Besides the fact that we don’t really like giving stuff up, I think that one of the reasons fasting is generally disliked is because we don’t understand why we fast. Growing up, I had no clue why we fasted. If I ever asked, I would get quick one-liners like: “It’s a way of training yourself to say no to sin” or “When you get hungry read the Bible so that God’s words will sustain you.” But what do those even mean? That by cutting off nutrition that my brain needs I can better make rational decisions about whether or not to sin? Or that somehow the words on a page will magically transform into nutrition so that I no longer have to eat?

As my faith grew these answers didn’t satisfy me, so I dug into Scripture. Now I will specifically be discussing fasting from food but these ideas can be applied across the board. The New Testament doesn’t tell us much about why we fast. It tells that we should fast, and a little bit about how not to fast, but it seems that most of the writers of the New Testament assumed their readers knew about fasting from the Old Testament.

About 71% of the Old Testament combines mourning with fasting.

That’s huge! Growing up, fasting and mourning were rarely discussed in the same conversation. But these two ideas, fasting and mourning, are tied together in both the Bible and in Jewish history. Most scholars and historians agree that these two ideas were never separated in the minds of the Jews. So, what were they mourning? On a personal level, it could range from the death of a loved one to sins they had committed. But there was often a more national sorrow that went with many fasts, a sorrow that you can trace throughout the whole biblical narrative. That is the sorrow that the Kingdom of God had not yet come.

We live in a now, but not yet world. When Jesus was on earth, he was living out the Kingdom of God on earth. As the church, we should be continuing to live out the Kingdom of God in this Genesis 3 world. But God’s Kingdom has not come in full. There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in places outside of God’s Kingdom. Times of despair, of loss, of hopelessness, of shame, of sin. Whether these are our own, or they belong to others close to us, there are still places, there are still lives, that have not yet been touched by God’s Kingdom.

Fasting is one of the ways we mourn the fact that God’s Kingdom is not fully here. But it is a very intentional way to mourn.

Isaiah 58

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

The spiritual discipline of fasting is designed as a way to propel us into a life within the Kingdom of God, a life that brings others into the Kingdom of God. It is a way for us to see through the eyes of God, and to feel what His heart feels. Fasting is designed to help us experience the state of those who are in need. We choose to deprive ourselves of something to remind us that there are many who are forced to be deprived. In this moment, we allow God to stir our hearts with the same compassion that stirs His. This compassion should lead us to acts of the outward disciplines, acts that help bring healing to the hurting. 

Below are some questions and ideas to help you connect to God as you fast.

  • Is fasting hard for you? If so, why?
  • How would you feel if you were forced to fast from something instead of choosing to fast from it?
  • Here are some suggestions to help focus your time of fasting:
    • Begin your fast by asking God to come near and share with you His eyes and His Heart.
    • Halfway through a fast, meditate on how this deprivation makes you feel.
    • End your fast by asking God to make you His hands and His feet as you walk through life. 
    • Don’t rush into fasting. It is a spiritual discipline, and like all disciplines, it will take practice. 

Prayer

Prayer is a very important spiritual discipline because it is how we talk to God. While not every Spiritual Discipline is for each person, I believe that prayer is one that everyone should practice because it is hard to have a relationship with God if you never talk to Him.

There are many ways to pray depending on the situation, your personality, and what specifically you are trying to communicate. From how you position yourself, to what your prayer focuses on, there are many unique ways to pray. While you may open a dialogue with God at any point during the day, we will be talking about specific types of prayer exercises that may be a little different than you are used to. For this section, we will talk about two different types of prayer. The two quotes are from Adele Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.

Breath Prayer

“Breath prayer is a form of contemplative prayer linked to the rhythms of breathing: (1) breathe in, calling on a biblical name or image of God, and (2) breathe out a simple God-given desire.”

The idea behind breath prayer is that you are inhaling a name of God that is meaningful to you and then exhaling a desire that is found deep within your heart. This has become one of my favorite prayers because it is simple to do anywhere and anytime. You don’t have to have a monologue prepared, you are simply focusing on a desire that you want to bring before God. It removes linear thought processes and connects your communication with God to breathing, an unconscious, life-giving process. The repetition of breath prayer, repeating the same prayer again and again for each breath, helps clear out distractions.

Below is first a list of names and descriptions of God and then a few examples of breath prayers.

  • Almighty
  • Advocate
  • Abounding
  • Blesser
  • Burden-Bearer
  • Creator
  • Comforter
  • Defender
  • Enlightener
  • Forgiving
  • Faithful
  • Guide
  • Healer
  • Inspirer
  • Justifier
  • Life
  • Merciful
  • Nourisher
  • Overcomer
  • Prince of Peace
  • Queller-of-Storms
  • Redeemer
  • Rock
  • Shepherd
  • Sacrifice
  • Triumphant
  • Truth
  • Undefeated
  • Uplifter
  • Vindicator
  • Victory
  • Wise
  • Wounded
  • Yearned-for
  • Zealous

 

(In) God the Potter (Out) Mold me in your image –Repeat-
(In) God the Enlightener (Out) Grant me your wisdom –Repeat
(In) Creator of Humanity (Out) Restore my marriage –Repeat
(In) God of Peace (Out) Calm my spirit –Repeat

Centering Prayer

Centering prayer is a form of contemplative prayer where the pray-er seeks to quiet scattered thoughts and desires in the still center of Christ’s presence.

Centering prayer is a cross-over between meditation and prayer. The purpose of centering prayer is to connect to the Holy Spirit which lives inside of us all. During this prayer, you are not listing off your needs to God or suggesting what He should do in your life, you are sitting in His presence, giving Him all your love and attention. Few words are actually said. If the mind begins to drift, words like Father, Savior, Love, Joy are spoken to guide you back into the presence of God.

Centering prayer is very similar to meditation, in fact, it is a type of meditation. But centering prayer is not focused on emptying and filling, it is focused on being in the presence of God, feeling Him close to you. It is not about immediate results and actions, it is about slowly knowing God more, and becoming more like Him, by continuously entering into His presence.

Because of the small number of words used, this type of prayer may not provide you with the same feelings and experiences as other types and that is ok. That does not mean that this type of prayer in ineffective. This type of prayer is to help you to re-center God in your life. 

 

This ends our discussion of spiritual disciplines. I know spiritual disciplines isn’t the most enjoyable subject to talk about, but they are important to developing our relationship with God. Next post we will talk about the second half of this two-way street of communication between us and God. We have talked in detail about ways for us to connect to Him, it is time to look into how He communicates with us!

 

Feel free to comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

A Two Way Street, Part 2

Hey everyone, let me start this post by apologizing for how long it has been since the last one. With getting engaged and youth retreats and sickness and a wedding, I blinked and two months had passed! But, I am rededicating this blog as a top priority. I’m excited to reconnect with you all!

Spiritual disciplines are designed to help rebuild our relationship with God. But there is an important part of that relationship that is often overlooked – how we relate to God’s creation. Just like songwriters pour a part of themselves into their lyrics and artists pour a part of themselves onto their canvases, God has poured part of Himself into His creation.

Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

As human beings, we are reflections of God. Part of God was instilled within us when we were created. We are supposed to reflect God: His love, His light, His hope. We are all children of God. Every person you meet has a part of God in them. No matter how much they have tried to bury it, He is still within them. When we interact with them, we are also interacting with a part of God.

Matthew 25:31-45

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will gather before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”

Then the rightous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirst and you gave me nothing drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothing or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

First and foremost we must understand that one of the main purposes of this verse is to show the importance of helping the poor (not just poor in regards to money, but to circumstance as well). Jesus’ ministry was all about restoration, and taking care of the needy, and bringing in the marginalized. He strongly emphasizes that here. But when he compares helping the needy to helping him, I do not think it was just a figure of speech. He very intentionally stated it in that way for two reasons. 1) He wanted to catch the attention of his followers. 2) He was reminding his followers that his Father, our Father, lives within all of us. How we treat others is a reflection of how we treat God. If we treat his creations with respect we are showing Him respect. If we show no respect to His creations, we are showing Him that we do not respect Him. How we interact with God’s creation is an important part of our relationship with Him.

But it is not just how we interact with people that affects our relationship with God, it is also how we interact with the rest of the world around us.

Psalms 19:1-4

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

God has created the world to proclaim His glory. Everything around us points to Him. The beauty of a sunrise. The power of the seas. The gentle breeze rustling the leaves. All of creation displays God.

Romans 1:18-20

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of me who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

When we disregard, disrespect, and ignore God’s creation, we are refusing to listen to the world that is praising His name. We talked in the last post about the importance of community and how worship does not just involve us and God, it also involves other people in our lives because we come together with them to worship God. We also worship alongside the world around us. As the mountains and rivers praise God, we also praise Him alongside them. To ignore their worship of God is to refuse to worship with them. This breaks the shalom that God intended.

When we kill, destroy, and ravish God’s creation, we are, as Paul pointed out, “supress[ing] the truth by [our] wickedness.” Creation’s worship is a testimony to us of God’s glory and power. To destroy and defile creation is to suppress the truth of creation’s testimony. It is to silence knowledge about God.

Outward spiritual disciplines help us connect to God by connecting with the people and the world around us. They also let us live out the parts of God that are reflected in each of us.

Outward Disciplines

Service

The first outward discipline I want us to discuss is service. Service is one of the ways we feed/clothe/visit others and thus feed/clothe/visit God. It is all about how we act towards other people. Service acts as a way to remind us to constantly live a life that helps others.

John 13:1-17

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Here we see how important service is. Jesus knew he only had hours to live and he thought it was important to serve his disciples. He stops in the middle of a meal, his last meal, to wash his disciples’ feet. Why? Why was service so important?

Service is one of the ways that we bring forth the kingdom of God. Service is an act of love towards others, and thus towards God. It is following the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.1 

Our culture revolves around wanting to be served. Most of us strive for, or at least dream of,  being our own boss. We don’t want to work under someone, we want people to work under us.

But our love is shown by what others do for us. God’s love does not shine through us by others serving us. God’s love shines through you when you serve others; when you place someone’s needs, wants, or desires above your own. 

Great love is shown through sacrificial acts. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for others.”2 We are called to step down, off of our high horses, and connect with people by valuing them.

That is the root of service. When you serve someone you show them that you value, appreciate, and respect them. You humanize them. You state that you are not superior to them. In doing this we restore the shalom that God intended us to live in.

Service is rooted in seeing others as God sees them; not as people that can be used, but as people who can be loved. It is only when we can see others and recognize that their needs are as important as our own that we can begin to serve them. When we become entangled in our own wants and needs, the worlds of others become hidden to us. When we are the center of our lives, a veil hides everyone else from our sight. When we place God at the center of our lives, he illuminates those around us, their needs, their hopes, their desires. It is through our connection with God that we can best understand those around us because we do not approach them for our own gain, we approach them for God.

Below are some questions and ideas for you to reflect upon to help reorient yourselves to a servant mindset.

  • Are you more inclined to serve or to be served?
  • When is the last time you have served someone?
  • What does it feel like to be served by someone else? To be fully loved by someone in the same way that they love themself?
  • Add this prayer to the beginning of your day: Lord, you are the giver of all things. You know when your children are in need and you know how and when to best fulfill that need. Give me your eyes to see the needs of others around me. Give me your wisdom so I can best fill their needs. Give me your heart so that I have the desire to serve your children, my brothers and sisters. In the name of your son, whose life of service I strive to exemplify, Amen.

Simplicity

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Mark 10:21

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Philippians 4:10-13

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

These verses point to the idea of Simplicity, of shedding of excess, of being content with little. Simplicity might be, in today’s culture, one of the most difficult disciplines to practice. Our culture is obsessed with stuff. We are defined and judged by how much we have, how much money we make, how nice our car is, how big our house is. Our place in society is largely determined by the amount of stuff we have.

The societal placement by stuff we have is out of control. It has gotten to the point where those in low-income housing will spend money on iPhones and gaming consoles and nice cars instead of on food. They do this so they don’t feel as poor. They do this so they can fit into society. They do this to feel human in today’s culture.

Our physical stuff is not the only thing that we use to measure our success and importance. The amount of things we have to do in our day plays a large factor into our status too. Many of us cram our schedules with as many things as possible until we have no time to breathe. It can sometimes seem that having nothing to do and nothing planned is unproductive and wasteful. There is a saying that I heard a lot growing up: If the devil can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy. There is a lot of merit in that. It is so easy to get caught up with what we have or what we are doing that we forget to think about God, or about other people.

When so many things are pulling for our attention, life gets messy and complicated. It can be hard to prioritize or to say no or to let go. The root of simplicity is placing God first and understanding that we don’t need all of the things and experiences that we want. What we need is God, and everything else falls after Him.

I am not saying that you need to live your life like a monk and give away all you have. I am saying that you should live with a mindset where you are honestly willing to give away all that you have. With this mindset, simplicity breeds generosity. When you realize and truly take to heart the knowledge that all you need is God, it becomes much easier to give things to those who are in need. The one truly eternal thing is our relationship with God. He is the thing that stays with us forever. Everything else fades.

Below are some questions and tasks to help bring simplicity into your life.

  • In what ways have the ‘more is better’ mentality shaped your life?
  • Is your identity found in what you own and what you do?
    • Who would you be if all of these were gone?
  • What one item or activity would be the hardest for you to give up? Why?
  • List 5 small ways that you could practice simplicity in your life today.

 

Outward disciplines are great ways to connect to God by being intentional about how you interact with the people and the world around you. As we begin to respect what God has created, a new respect for Him begins to blossom. The next blog post will discuss one-on-one ways of connecting with God. Keep an eye open for Part 3 where we will be discussing inward disciplines!

 

Matthew 22:39
2 1 John 3:16

 

Feel free to comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

A Two Way Street, Part 1

Of the three relationships we discussed in the last blog post, the spiritual relationship is the most abstract. Because of our decision to break our relationship with God, He no longer walks among us as He did in Genesis 1 and 2. Our choices to sin continue to drive us out of His presence. This means we no longer relate and communicate with God the way we once did. We now must fight against sin to draw back into His presence. One of the ways we do this is through spiritual disciplines.

God chose to dwell with us because He wanted to begin rebuilding our relationship with Him. He came as Jesus in order for us to know Him again. Through Jesus we see what God is like. He shows us what He cares for and what angers Him. He shows us how He accepts and loves. Everything Jesus did shows us more of what God is like. Jesus’ life is an example of how to reconnect with God: how to communicate with God, how to connect with God, and how to listen for God. These activities are generally referred to as spiritual disciplines.

Many people have negative connotations with the term spiritual discipline. I know that for a long time I did. For me the term was associated with hard, boring work and cutting myself off from everything fun. It conjured up images of spiritual gurus who cut themselves off from society and have lost touch with the the Great Commission Jesus left us with.

Some of you might have never heard of the term spiritual disciplines and that is ok! I am excited to have the opportunity to introduce them to you. Some of you might connect with the preconceptions I once had and that is ok! Hopefully I can show you a better picture of the life spiritual disciplines create. Some of you might be practicing spiritual disciplines right now and that is great! I hope I can introduce you to even more spiritual disciplines that you can benefit from.

There are many different ways to group spiritual disciplines, but we will be grouping them by their focus. Corporate disciplines focus on connecting to God with in relationship with the body of believers. Outward disciplines focus on your relationship with God by looking at how you relate to other parts of His creation. Inward disciplines focus directly on your relationship between you and God by isolating your relationship from everything else that is going on in your life.

All of us have been created with unique personalities. Just as we connect with friends differently than others connect with their friends, we all connect with God differently. It took me longer than I would care to admit to understand this. For a while I felt that if I was not good at every Spiritual Discipline then I was a bad Christian. And I was not good at practicing many of the spiritual disciplines so I often felt like a bad Christian. But that was unfair of me. My personality does not match with all of the spiritual disciplines.

But this does not mean you should never partake in spiritual disciplines that you are not prone to. Just because fasting and journalling are extremely difficult for me doesn’t mean that I should never partake in them. There is much to be gained from them, so to ignore them entirely is to lose out on all of their benefits. They may not fall into my daily or weekly routines but I should occasionally work on them throughout the year. It is healthy to incorporate a couple disciplines from each of these three groups.

Corporate Disciplines

Community
The first discipline I want to discuss is community. Community might not be the first think you think of if you were making a list of spiritual disciplines, and that might be because it is so normal. Community is something we take part in almost every single day of our lives. Although it may be the most common, I believe it is one of the most important disciplines that we engage it.

Geneis 2:18-22
The Lord God Said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds and the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man. and he brought her to the man.

By this point in the story, God has created Adam and given him the task of working and maintaining the garden. But Adam does not yet have anyone to help him in this task. He has a relationship with God who is above him, and a relationship with creation which is below him, but no relationship with anything which is on the same level as him. He is socially alone, with no one to understand his exact position in the world. No one to see the would through his eyes and relate.

As far as we know, Adam has no problem with being alone in this sense. But this can be expected because he has known nothing else. He is missing something that he can’t know he is missing because he has no knowledge of community. But God knows what Adam is missing. God shares in equal community through the trinity. And it was that love, which was experienced in community, that originally inspired God to create. Knowing that Adam needed community to experience that part of love too, He declared being alone “not good.” This is a profound remark by God. Up to this point everything that has been created is good. This is the first time we see God refer to something as “not good,” so it should stand out to us.

In order to remedy this thing that was not good, God gave Adam a task: to name every single animal. Overtly this helped with the ordering and maintaining of the garden. Naming the animals, knowing the animals he was to care for, is part of Adam’s purpose in the garden. But there was another reason Adam was assigned this task. God was allowing Adam to find a helper for Adam’s work, the work of maintaining and nourishing the garden. But there was no suitable helper. God allowed Adam to realize that there was no other creature on Earth that was able to properly connect with and help him. So God created Eve from Adam, and gave Adam a suitable helper, one that he could connect to, and relate to, and work alongside for the purpose of God. 

Humans were not created to be solitary creatures. We were created for community. We were never intended to live life alone. We have always needed a community to be a part of. And living in a community is how we better understand the love that is contained within the Trinity, it is how we better understand God, who is love.

On top of that, each human being is created in the image of God. This means that everyone we meet, everyone we come into contact with, is a reflection of a part of God. The more people we converse with and get to know, the more reflections we get to see as God. Each person is a different representation of God. As we understand other people, especially those who are very different than us, the more we can see of God. Other people help us understand new things about God while refining qualities that we thought were God but are not. And the more we love others, the more love we are showing to God.

Below are some tasks for you to intentionally engage in community in way that connects you to God.

  • List out times where you have understood more about God through getting to know someone new or through talking with someone.
  • List specific examples of how you can love people in your life that you have not done yet.

Worship

Worship occurs naturally in humanity. In my last blog post, An Epic Struggle, we discussed how there is an order to the world: God then man then creation. Each position above another position is tasked with protecting and nurturing what is under it. Positions that are below the top position should respond in reverence, awe, and worship to that top position, which is God.

But sin has disrupted this order and tempts us to mix up the order of the world. When we place others, ourselves, or things in that top position, we begin to worship those instead of God. This is called idolatry. There will always be something at the top of your list that you worship. It can change yearly or daily or hourly, but there is never a time where you are not worshiping something. There is never a time where you are not living your life for something.

Ultimately we were created to worship God; we were created to live our lives for God. It is sometimes hard to realize that worshiping something besides God is bad. In and of themselves, these things (money, success, other people, advancement, victory) are good. And it is ok to strive for these things, as long as you remember their proper place within creation. As soon as we begin to place things in improper places of our lives, they become bad and damaging and draining and harmful. Fulfillment only comes when everything resides within the proper order, where God is first and foremost.

There is a great line in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline which says, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father,” (p. 158). We worship God as a response to the love that created us and nourishes us. It is improper to place anything besides God at the top of the list because it was only God’s love that created everything, and only God’s love can provide complete, unselfish nourishment. Worship is the response of entering into a relationship with the One who created us and who fully knows us.

While worship does include church services, it is far more than that. What we worship is what we wake up for in the morning, what motivates us to get through the day. Although worship is all about what drives an individual, it is a corporate discipline because our lives are lived in connection to others.

Below are some thoughts about how worship affects our relationship with God and with others.

  • Everyone that we come into contact with is affected by what we worship. If we worship success and money and promotions, then our family and co-workers can suffer from our choices. If we worship our family, then our friends can suffer from our choices. Our lives impact the lives of those around us.
  • Those around us can point out if we are worshiping things besides God. Accountability is a major part of community. Those close to us help make sure that our lives and our worship are centered on God.
  • Adele Calhoun says this in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “The heart of worship is to seek to know and love God in our own unique way. Each one of us fulfills some part of the divine image. Each one of us loves and glorifies God in a particular way that no one else can,” (p. 45). When we worship together, we paint a full picture of worship to God.

Celebration

This spiritual discipline is often one that gets taken for granted or viewed only in a secular sense without any religious connotations. But celebrating has real ways of connecting us to God.

The discipline of celebration brings joy into our lives, joy that is meant to be experienced through community. Have you noticed that you generally laugh more in groups than by yourself? Or that when something exciting happens to you, you have this natural desire to share that good news with others? Joy does not want to be bound to a solitary life. Joy wants to be spread among others! Joy is a connecting force, a force that brings us together. And celebration is one important way of living out joy. 

In the same book I mentioned earlier, Richard Foster says that “Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety [cheerfulness] and a sense of thanksgiving,” (p. 191). Spiritual disciplines are supposed to breathe life into our relationship with God, not cause us to drag our feet around everywhere we go. And celebration helps stimulate the joy that should be flowing from the disciplines. There are two aspects of this that I want to highlight. 

The first aspect is a fairly natural reaction: celebrating in good times. It is proper for us to tell our friends and family all the wonderful things that are happening in our lives. We should celebrate with our friends, family, and God.

James 1:17
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows.

Everything good that happens is because of God. He created everything good and everything good flows from Him. In her book mentioned above, Adele Calhoun says that to celebrate is “to take joyful, passionate pleasure in God,” (p. 26). Our celebration of good things is a kind of worship to God. It is us thanking him for what He has provided.

The second aspect is a harder reaction: celebrating in bad times. When we are in hard times, it is natural for us to lament instead of celebrate. In these times, it is easy for us to lose sight of the good things that have happened to us. But it is in these times that we need celebration the most.

Acts 16:22-34
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 

This strange time to be praying and singing hymns, a strange time to be worshiping and celebrating God. They had just been beaten and tossed into a dark and gloomy jail cell, yet their reaction is one of more happy times. Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, gives us a little insight into the idea behind celebrating God in the midst of hardships. 

Lamentations 3:20-24
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

Celebration in our good times allow us to thank God for what He has done. Celebration in our hard times allow us to find hope in God. It is a way of remembering that joy of God is deeper and more powerful than sorrows. It refocuses us on the the big picture, on things outside of the present moment we find ourselves in. Celebrations orient ourselves towards worship, praise, and thanksgiving in the presence of God.

Below are some questions and tasks to help you identify when and how you naturally celebrate God.

  • Do you have a natural tendency to a) remember the past, b) live in the present, or c) anticipate the future? (you may be a mixture of these)
    • If you have a tendency to remember the past, it may be easier for you celebrate in the hard times than the good times. When you are in hard times, use your personality to remember all the times in the past that God has blessed you and know that every storm eventually passes. When you are in good times, stop and acknowledge the good things in your live that are happening right now!
    • If you have a tendency to live in the present (like me), it may easier for you to celebrate in the good times than the bad times. When good things are happening, use your personality to embrace them in the moment! You should also start a journal or note page where you list all the good things that have happened to you. This way, when you are in the bad times, you do not dwell in them, instead you can read over and remember all that God has blessed you with.
    • If you have a tendency to anticipate the future (also a little bit me), the good times might be really good and the bad times might be really bad. With this personality it is easy to think that whatever is happening now will happen forever. When you are in good times it feels like you will be on top of the world forever. But when you are in bad times, it seems that life will never be better. Remind yourself that life goes through seasons, and that although life changes, God will remain constant through all things.
  • When you see others celebrating God in ways different than you, how do you react? Are you accepting of how they connect with God or do you believe they must celebrate God in the same ways you do?
    • Write out a list of all the ways that you celebrate God. Now, as you continue to live in community, watch for ways others celebrate God differently than you do. Ask if you can join them in their celebration. (you might just like it too!)
  • Plan your next celebration of someone (Mother’s/Father’s day, a birthday, an anniversary) in a way which reminds them how cherished they are by you and by God.

 

Corporate spiritual disciplines are wonderful ways to step into the Body of Christ. As we connect with others around us we begin to see and understand God in new ways. The next two blog posts will discuss more personal ways of connecting with God. Keep an eye open for Part 2 where we will be discussing outward disciplines!

An Epic Struggle

In the last post we discussed how everything was created out of love. Love prompted God’s creation of the universe and God instilled that same love in us so that we feel a desire to create. Our creating was part of God’s commission to us to fill the Earth. With that, we are also called to maintain and nourish creation so that it may flourish.

There is a certain order concerning creation, a hierarchy. At the very top is God, in His Triune form. He is at the top because He created all things, and, as the ultimate creator, He is naturally above all of His creations (and all of His creations’ creations). We are below God and under us is the rest of creation. In Genesis 1:26 God says to Himself (within the trinity), “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” We have been created in God’s image and thus placed in a power of authority. So the hierarchy we see in creation is:

God

Humanity

Creation

This hierarchy of creation was not set up as a ladder of power where whatever is on top dominates whatever is below. Each position in this hierarchy is designed to nurture, care for, and protect whatever is below it. And everything that is below was created to point towards what is at the top, which is God. God created out of love and love has a nurturing aspect to it. If you love something you want it to succeed and to flourish. Within this hierarchy, love creates a balance of relationships. Each part of creation is in relationship with the other parts of creation. For humans, these relationships can be grouped into three categories:

  • Spiritual:    Humans <—> God
  • Social:         Humans <—> Humans
  • Physical:     Humans <—> Creation

In Genesis 1 and 2 we see these relationships in the way they were intended to be. God walks and talks with humanity in the garden. Man and woman support each other. Humanity watches over creation to help it flourish and creation provides nourishment for humanity. In Hebrew this state of peace and proper order within the world is called shalom.

In Genesis 3, sin enters the world and begins to disrupt the shalom that God had created. Sin is a disobedience to the One that has created us, a disobedience to God. God set the world up in a certain order and sin is the disordering of God’s creation. This can be seen when we as humans place anything above God; including ourselves, other people, and even material things. God is the creator of all things and nothing has a place above Him. When we begin to value and revere things above God, we begin to breakdown our relationship with the Creator who provides life.

This disordering of creation can also be seen when we place people above other people or creation above other people. The former is most commonly seen when we place ourselves above other people. Doing this devalues our fellow members of the human race. It shows them that we view ourselves closer to God, and we view them closer to creation. We turn into mini-gods in our own minds. The latter is seen when we value materials over people. Money is the most common example of this. When we place a desire for money over family, friends, and even strangers it shows that we no longer value those who hold within them an image of the living God.

In Genesis 3 we see the results of sin breaking these relationships. When Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and ate from the tree which God had commanded them not to eat from, they placed themselves above God. They decided that God no longer had ultimate authority. They decided that they knew better than the One who created all things. And when they did this they immediately felt the effects.

Genesis 3:7-8
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and this wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Here we see the first effects of sin. In Genesis 1 and 2, man and woman had nothing to hide between themselves. The physical nakedness they had before one another also symbolizes their mental, emotional, and spiritual nakedness. Before they chose to eat from the tree they were equals, living in harmony. When they chose to eat from the tree, they both tried to place themselves above God, at the highest spot in creation. Since this spot can only hold one, for there is only one God, man and woman came into conflict for the first time. The social relationship began to break down. We see this in Genesis 3:12, when Adam is reciting to God what happened.

The man said, “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Since placing themselves at the top of creation, Adam and Eve must remain in conflict so they can stay above the other and remain at the top of the hierarchy. When God asks Adam what happens, Adam is in danger of being bumped down a couple of pegs. So Adam tries to throw Eve under the bus. Instead of telling the truth that he chose to make a decision which went against God’s word, Adam tried to hide his disobedience by blaming everything on Eve. In Genesis 3:8, Adam and Eve try to hide their physical bodies from God. When that failed, Adam tries to hide his actions from God, which also fails.

This act of hiding from God marks the breakdown of the spiritual relationship we saw in Genesis 1 and 2. Before sin, God walked among humanity. God, the creator of all things, had a relationship with His creation. God was visibly in our lives; we had unhindered communion. Then we decided we were above God, better than God. But we can only think this when there is distance between us and God because in His presence we are convicted of His glory. So we run and hide from Him. The more distance we create from Him, the higher above Him we can (falsely) believe that we are.

There are consequences to the breakdown of these three relationships. Some of these are natural results and some are imposed upon us.

Genesis 3:23-24
So the Lord God banished [humanity] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which [Adam] had been taken. After He drove [them] out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way of to the tree of life.

The consequences of the broken spiritual relationship are seen in these verses. God once walked among us, He once communicated with us face-to-face. Now, sin has caused us to be separated from His presence. It is not that we can no longer have communication with God, it is that as long as there is sin in our lives, we can not have unrestricted communication with God. Sin drives us away from God, and it is difficult to commune with God as we are being driven away from Him.

Genesis 3:16
To the woman [God] said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

Here we see the first consequences of the broken social relationship. Many more will follow and are seen to this day. In Genesis 1 and 2 Adam and Eve were partners, they helped each other take care of creation. The disruption caused by sin changed their relationship. The inequality of women that we see today is one of the results of this original disruption of shalom. The relationship between man and woman has broken down because each believed that they knew better than God. Once they stepped out of the proper order of creation, their relationship with one another was no longer pure.

Our broken social relationships are not limited to the relationship of man and woman, it extends to each human’s relationship with all of humanity. Our  pride is like a wrecking ball to our social relationships. We have a tendency to view ourselves as the center of our world, to view ourselves as the main character in our stories. When this happens, the love that was meant to flow from God through us to others becomes caught up in only us. Love is meant to create and nourish. If we do not allow love to flow through us, we cannot nourish relationships with others.

Genesis 3:17-19
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

These verse give us a glimpse into the first consequences of a broken physical relationship. We do not know the exact relationship between humanity and creation before sin, it is harder for us to imagine this relationship than the other two relationships, but we know that it was healthier than it is now. While I cannot say how creation might have acted towards us, there are some ways that we did, or did not, act towards creation.

Genesis 2:15
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Our first “job,” one of our original purposes, was to take care of God’s creation. This means we didn’t litter, we didn’t overfish, we didn’t hunt for sport, we didn’t destroy rainforests. Our actions towards creation are supposed to help it grow, not kill and destroy it.

Before we see sin enter the story in Genesis 3, we see this picture of a beautiful world in Genesis 1 and 2 that existed in shalom. Everything was as God intended it. But we decided to sin, to disorder creation and break the relationships God had made. That is the world we live in now, a Genesis 3 world, but that is not the world we were created to live in. We were created, and intended, to live in a Genesis 1 and 2 world.

After the introduction of sin, God chose the nation of Israel to be His chosen people. They were called to restore those broken relationships. But they could not fully restore them, they could only begin the restoration. So God became man in order to give us an example of how to live a Genesis 1 and 2 life in a Genesis 3 world. Our job today, as both the church and as individual Christians, is to follow the example of Jesus. In doing this we can restore the broken relationships and return to the reality which God intended for us!

In the Beginning…

Creation

The sensical starting point for us is Genesis, the very beginning of the biblical story. The beginning is one of the most important aspects of a story. It is the inception of the story, it’s what sets the direction and the momentum of everything that happens. And Genesis is the inception of the biblical story, of the Christian Narrative that we find ourselves living into. The Biblical Narrative starts of with five powerful words:

In the beginning God created…

Already we have the main character of our story, God. Not us, not a spouse, not money or a job. But God. Everything that is points to Him; everything that happens is because He first created. The importance of this is pointed out by the reason He created. We read later on in the story, in Colossians 1, that  15[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (italics added)

The love of the Father for the Son, the love that is found within the Trinity, is so strong that it compelled God to create in order that others might know that same love…so that we might know that love. In 1 John, John says that God is love.1 God is not just someone who loves, but love is at the very center of God’s personality, God’s identity. Creation flowed out of God wanting to share that part of Himself. More than that, He wanted to instill that same personality of love into something! And thus humans enter the scene.

Genesis 1:26
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Here we see the magnificence of God creating mankind in His very image. The very same love that inspired the creation of the whole universe is instilled within us as well. When we write stories or music, when we paint or draw, when we invent, when we form friendships and relationships, we are tapping into the same love that inspired God to  create the universe.

So here is a question for you: In your life, how do you display love which produces creation? 

For a long time I struggled trying to find something that I was good at creating. I wish I could sing or play an instrument so I could make music and create beautiful songs. But if you ever hear me sing, you’d quickly notice that I’m pretty close to tone-deaf. So making good music was not an option. I took an art class in middle school and discovered that although I’m bad, I’m not good either. 

If I really think hard I can remember myself being creative. Way back in elementary school I was very creative, or at least I remember myself being creative. But aren’t all  kids creative? Many of us lost our creativity when we ‘grew up’ and were told by adults that we should find more useful things to do. For me, it was math. I was really good at math in school so the school system thrusted me into the subject. This greatly increased my love of math. But I was never taught how to use math in a creative way, so I lost my connection to creativity, my connection to a facet of who God is. 

I have recently rediscovered my creative side. Through different research projects I am learning to use math discover and create new ideas. I also made a New Years resolution to write at least 100 words a day.

So I’ll ask you again: In your life, how do you display love which produces creation? I want you to take a moment and stop reading this blog post. Pull out a pin and paper, or the notes app on your phone, and write down a fews ways that your love for something translates into creativity. If nothing comes to mind I challenge you to look for ways to awaken creativity in your life.

Now we’ll take another look at Genesis. We are going to read the whole first chapter of Genesis. Bear with me because some really cool things happen in this chapter!

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

There is a really cool parallel that happens in this chapter. You can split these six days into two categories. The first category is forming and consists of the first three days. Here God forms the light and the dark on day one. He forms the sea and the sky on day two. He forms dry land on day three. The second category is filling and consists of the other three days of creation. Here God fills all that he has formed. On the fourth day he fills the light and dark with the sun and moon and stars. On the fifth day He fills the sea and sky with fish and birds. On the sixth day He fills the earth with land animals, including humans.

The theme of filling is an important one throughout Scripture. In Genesis 1:28 we see a commission that God gave to Adam and Eve.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth. From the beginning of our existence, part of our purpose on earth has been to fill it. We are called to create with God just as He created us. We are called to create by tapping into the love which is innate within us. We had work while we lived in the garden, work that consisted of nurturing and growing God’s creation while using what God created to create more things. Writing, painting, singing, inventing –  these are all examples of what it means to be made in the image of God. Whether you’re Mozart or tone-deaf, we were all created with a desire to create something, a desire to help fill the earth.

 

1 John 4:8