Domain: In the beginning (part 4)

(excerpt from a recent sermon on Genesis 1:1)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

I want to finish this series by thinking about the heavens, not as things seen (like space ‘n stuff), but as things unseen. The heavens. The realm of the heavenly. The abode of God. The heavens are God’s domain.

So much of our understanding is unseen. Ideas. Thoughts. Concepts. Our faith, also, is an unseen entity. We walk by faith, not by sight. Even so, God has gone to great lengths to reveal himself and to make himself as visible as our oft-as-pea brains can handle.

Think about the ways God has manifest himself throughout history. As a voice in a bush that was burning, but that wasn’t consumed by flame. Neat. A voice on the mountaintop in thunder and lightning. Neat. A pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. These things are spectacular, and quite honestly beyond my wildest imagination. Mostly, though, God shows us the effect of his presence. The red sea parted. Manna appeared every morning for 40 years. Water poured from a rock. Droughts. Rain. More lightning. Countless lives convicted, changed, transformed, empowered. Countless enemies brought low, defeated, conquered. These are the effects of his presence.

Then Jesus changed everything. The invisible became visible. The intangible became tangible. The Son of God took on flesh and became a man.

John 1:14 says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Hebrews 1:3, “Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,”

Colossians 1, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

This is special revelation. This is the stuff you can’t find out from a science experiment. And here’s what it says:

Jesus is God.

He said so. (John 8:58)

His friends said so. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

His Father said so. (Matthew 3:17)

He became flesh and walked around.

For a brief window in the fullness of time, God walked the earth as a man and demonstrated his Lordship of the visible and the invisible. He gave us a glimpse of the heavenly kingdom, and a promise to bring the kingdom in full when he returns. In the meantime, he promised to make the kingdom evident as he redeems and saves sinners, restores the image of God, and makes them to look more and more like himself.

The incarnation was amazing, but it was the preview/ the trailer. The fullness is yet to come.

Until that day, we are once again seeing God through the evidence of his presence, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the gift of God, his down payment and his guarantee. The Spirit is the seal of life everlasting upon the Christian. The unseen but true; the third Person of the Trinity.

Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven to earth, and he proved that the unseen is God’s domain, too.

So what does this mean?

I often say, if Genesis 1:1 is true, then the whole Bible becomes quite significant. If this verse is true, God is sovereign over everything you see, everything you don’t see, everything you imagine, and the time in which you see, don’t see, and imagine.

A God who is so sovereign is terrifying… unless he gives you a reason not to be afraid.

If Genesis 1:1 is true, Jesus gives rest from the terror of a holy God.

Jesus is the rescue for sinners.

Because Genesis 1:1 is true, here is truth.

God is perfect. One God, eternally existing as three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Man is sinful. Every man deserves death in this life and the next because God’s holiness cannot be compromised. The bigness of sin is not measured by how bad I behave, but by the significance of the one I’ve sinned against. Sin against an eternally perfect God, you’ve earned an eternal death sentence.

The good news continues. Jesus lived a perfect life in fulfillment of God’s law. He did what no other man could, because he’s Jesus.

Jesus revealed himself to be the God of Genesis 1:1, and offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for sin. He died on a Roman cross, bearing the wrath that sinful humanity deserves. His shed blood perfectly satisfied God’s justice and wrath. His sacrifice is so perfect that any who take it upon themselves are redeemed by it.

This sacrifice is applied to your account when you turn to God in repentance and faith, turning away from sin and trusting in the work that Jesus accomplished on your behalf. When the blood is applied to your account, not only are you brought out of the red, debt paid, but you are also placed infinitely in the black as Christ’s perfect life and righteousness are given to you as a gift. You are viewed as perfect in God’s eyes by grace through faith IN CHRIST.

The Word says that all who turn to God through Jesus Christ are given the Holy Spirit, not only to seal our future salvation but to transform our lives now. God promises to make us over to be like Jesus… never perfect in this life, but ever moving forward.

Life itself pivots at Genesis 1:1. May we never fail to appreciate the significance of a Sovereign Creator!

Domain: In the Beginning (part 3)

(excerpt from a recent sermon on Genesis 1:1)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

I’ve been breaking this single verse down into chunks as a way of digging into God’s domain, his sovereignty over everything we can see, everything we can’t see, everything we can imagine, and the time in which we see, don’t see, and imagine. I want to talk about the heavens and the earth on two levels. First, I want to talk about the heavens and the earth as all the stuff we can see. If God created everything we can see, then God’s domain is everything we can see.

Personally, I forget about this at times, but there are TWO books of revelation. God wrote TWO books. It’s one of those theological realities that doesn’t make it to the post-it note on my forehead. (You know, so I can see it when I brush my teeth.)

The one we do think about is the Bible. You can call that special revelation.

The one we don’t think about is creation. You can call that general revelation.

Romans 1:20 says God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” can be perceived in the things that have been made. God laid these things out so that people would have no excuse. We can’t miss him. What we gather from creation is not sufficient to know the Lord, but it is sufficient to know of the Lord on a certain level.

I believe we limit our understanding by saying that because creation is big and beautiful, it shows us God’s glory.

“The heavens declare the glory of God.”

As an example, picture a starry night, or the Grand Canyon, or a starry night at the Grand Canyon. I’ve heard this argument before in the observation of nature, “How could you deny a Creator? This stuff is so BIG and BEAUTIOUS!” Yes, it is big, it is beautiful, and it is humbling, but such statements only scratch the surface.

I believe science is beyond important and worth engaging in order to study the divine attributes and eternal power of God. I also believe science and faith are in no way at odds with each other. After all, if God wrote the book on creation, it is infallible – when rightly interpreted. I believe misinterpretation usually comes down to asking many of the wrong questions on a fundamental level – but that’s another post for another day.

Let’s stretch out the big and beautiful to see what we can see. Pick a scientific law… any scientific law. (I’m envisioning a deck of scientific law cards spread masterfully before you, because somewhere I’m sure someone owns that deck of cards.) Grab a real law. Laws are beyond dispute. No theories. Gravity works well in this case.

Think about what is true of gravity within time and space.

Gravity exists everywhere in the created universe. Gravity is omnipresent.

Gravity has always existed, as long as creation has existed. So gravity is, in a sense, eternal.

Gravity never changes. Gravity is immutable.

Gravity has absolute power within time and space. There is no speck of the universe over which gravity does not exert its power. Gravity is omnipotent.

Gravity cannot be seen, but it can be experienced. Gravity is immaterial & invisible.

Even though we define gravity scientifically, every investigation raises more questions and sparks new studies. A full and complete understanding of gravity is elusive. Gravity is incomprehensible.

Gravity plays fair with everyone. Gravity is just and good.

If you deny gravity, you will lose. If you decide to fight against gravity, gravity will destroy you. Gravity is righteous.

Gravity exists on three plains. First, as truth. Second, as the articulation of that truth – a word. Third, gravity exists as applied power. Gravity is triune.

Now, if you know anything about God, you know that he is omnipresent. He is eternal. He is immutable, omnipotent, immaterial, invisible, incomprehensible, just, good, and righteous. God exists eternally as three persons – the Father plans, the Son is the expression of the plan, the Spirit is the power of the plan and the accomplishment applied.

I’m not saying scientific law IS God. God is beyond time and space. He is wholly other. I’m saying scientific law DESCRIBES God. It is a book that points us to the Creator. It functions similarly to the moral, civil, and ceremonial law we find in the Bible. The biblical law reveals to us God’s holiness and his saving heart, his character. Scientific law reveals to us God’s divine attributes and his eternal power.

This works for gravity, thermodynamics, cosmic expansion, Newton’s laws of motion, Archimedes law of buoyancy, any of them. When you dip into scientific law, you’re dipping into handiwork that speaks the very nature of God. It runs so much deeper than “big and beautious.”

The book of creation serves to condemn mankind, because while the book shows God’s awesome power, there is nothing in this book to reconcile our sinfulness. Instead, we are left humbled before our Creator with no accompanying message of hope. But the book of creation should drive us to know more of him who fashioned us from the dirt.

Thankfully, there are two books with two different messages.

The book of Scripture reveals “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

The book of Scripture reveals that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forebearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26)

Though the books speak very differently regarding the relationship between God and man, both are nonetheless true and necessary. The book of creation magnificently sings the glory of God. If this is true, then the implications are overwhelming.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The seen world is God’s domain. And we are without excuse.

(I didn’t come up with this on my own. (If only!) For a great resource, check out Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress) 

Domain: In the Beginning (part 2)

(excerpt from a recent sermon given on Genesis 1:1)

In part 1 of the series, I briefly touched on God’s relationship to time. This second portion continues the first verse in Genesis, turning to God’s role as Creator and his continuing interest in human creativity. Admittedly, this is the most scattered portion of the sermon, but then again, I’ll be processing this part for awhile… Take the ball and run.

In the beginning, God created…

Not only did God create using the stuff of the universe, he created the stuff of the universe! He did this without buying a blueprint or a plan. God imagined this stuff and spoke it into reality, then used his creativity to divvy it up and make cool things. His creativity is on so high a plane that creativity itself is God’s domain.

If you dig into the squiggles, dots, and dashes of the Hebrew language that read “he created,” they are used in two ways in the Bible – specifically the verb exists in two stems. One is a special use reserved for God’s creative activity, because his work is different. His work is other. God’s imagination is crazy good.

The other use – the second tense – of these particularly glorious squiggles speaks of man’s version of creating. Man’s creating comes by wiping clean something that has been done in order to start over. More clearly, we further divide what God has already created and divided. BUT, we never start from nothing. All of our creativity has a context, a foundation. We think using brains that God created and thought processes that he invented. We apply our thoughts with materials he designed and provided. This means our creativity, no matter how seemingly original, is subservient to his.

How limited is our ability? We can’t even imagine the nothing from which God created everything. We call that ex nihilo. (Hebrews 11:3) Go ahead. Try. If you are picturing darkness, it’s not nothing. Darkness was a product of creation upon which God has shone light. Maybe your mind’s eye moves to pure white… something like blinding light? Again, it’s a concept that has a foundation, a base. Nothing. No thing. It is entirely other.

God’s pre-existence to our own is a big deal.

Truly original ideas are hard to come by. Don’t get me wrong, I come up with original and creative ideas all the time. But my original ideas aren’t creative, and my creative ideas aren’t original. (I even stole that quote)

God has laid the groundwork that we engage & call imagination. Genesis 1:26-28 says that we are made in the image of God. We are reflections of his glory. One way we do this is by creating. By imagining. By finding answers to questions. By studying and figuring things out. By receiving the raw materials from the hand of God and building. We do these things because the God who created us owns and shares his vast imagination.

Every human who has ever lived bears the image of the Creator, whether we or they have loved God or not. This means that ALL creativity… let me say that again, ALL CREATIVITY is evidence of God’s glory. Creativity doesn’t all of a sudden “glorify God” when it’s done by a Christian or with an explicitly Christian theme. The very existence of imagination points to God, no matter who expresses it. Now, the expression of human creativity is driven by the deceitful human heart – and so there are expressions which do not necessarily honor God as LORD. But the ability to think, to imagine, to create IS the stamp of our Maker. Christians can and should seek and learn to appreciate creativity.

The Scriptures say God has written eternity on all of our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Because that is true, human creativity will often serve the gospel.

Think about the books, movies, TV series, paintings, music you enjoy. Not necessarily “Christian” stuff. Anything. What makes it good? Good creative stuff makes us imagine paradise. Good creative stuff helps us explore and understand brokenness. Good creative stuff desperately wants justice and redemption. Good creative stuff ponders judgment. Good creative stuff chases after the eternity found only through the gospel. We like this stuff because, in the end, we’re all after one thing. We’re all chasing eternity. If the Bible is true, then this eternity is only found by chasing after Jesus with every last breath.

On the flipside, where good creative stuff explores truth, deceptive creative stuff twists or exploits truth. Consider the extreme: pornography. Porn misrepresents paradise, glorifies brokenness, feeds injustice, abandons redemption, and ignores righteous judgment. Pornography denies eternity and replaces it with instant gratification. It is the product of sin and the work of the Enemy. When your conscience recoils around this stuff, it is your heart’s eternal longing shining through.

But even the presence of the lie suggests the existence of the truth and makes us cry out for something better. The desire to create is an image thing. The abuse of creativity is a sin thing. Human creativity is stained by sin and the fall, which means there will always be an absence of perfection. But rightly engaged, imagination will serve to draw us nearer to our God – who is creative – by drawing us into the narrative of redemption (creation, fall, redemption, consummation in Christ Jesus); a narrative that he first imagined and then brought to fullness in the life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son.

Big picture application for the Christian: Engaging healthy creative expressions helps us to see how humanity processes eternity. Ask questions that get to God’s arc of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation as you are blessed by the expression of the image of God in another. Drag someone else into it with you. You will be blessed.

Big picture application for the non-believer: If our creativity and creative activities are subservient to God’s; if our creativity is designed to draw us nearer to him through Christ as we explore truth, then we will never create an avenue apart from him that will lead us into the eternity we all so desperately desire. It may provide a temporary escape, but never an answer.

The truth is: in the end, creativity can’t save us.
But imagination CAN help us explore the eternity God has created.
Ultimately, creativity is good, because creativity is God’s domain.

Domain: In the Beginning (part 1)

(Excerpt from a recent sermon given on Genesis 1:1)

JK Rowling was in the news this week (she created the whole muggles & magical world of Harry Potter, right?) because of some tweeting with a fan. This fan questioned some of the decisions Rowling made when she was writing them Potter books. Rowling has faced criticism for a decade or more. One time Rowling was answering a question like this and I loved her answer. Essentially, she said, “I created the world, I can do what I like with it.”

You can agree with that, right? If you created some kind of universe, I’m pretty sure it’d be fair that you get to be the head honcho. The big cheese. It’s your world, after all.

What amazes me, though, is how folks seems to want control of worlds THEY didn’t create. People read the books, watch the movies, and figure they know better. Most people would think Bilbo Baggins went off the deep end if – instead of doing the whole hobbit ring thing – he spent his time questioning JRR Tolkien’s existence & publicly slamming Peter Jackson’s creative decisions?

We do this in fictional worlds. We also do this in God’s world. We question his existence, his every motive. I think this is why the angels rejoice when we finally turn to Jesus… this show has to be so boring while we walk around questioning what God designed to be obvious.

Creators create. Creators take the reins. That’s just the way it is.

Today I want to check out one of the most important verses in the Bible. It’s one almost everyone knows by heart. It was the first verse I taught my kids. Even God-haters have a loose idea of what Genesis 1:1 says. I mention this verse nearly every time I speak as a visiting pastor.

If this verse is true, then God’s domain, God’s area of sovereignty, includes the following:

Everything you see,
Everything you don’t see,
Everything you could possibly imagine,
The time in which you see, don’t see, and imagine.

And there’s some big news about Jesus on the back end.

I’m going to break this verse into pieces to unpack the size of God’s domain.

In the Beginning…

Genesis 1:1 says that God created “in the beginning.” This means that God must have existed before the beginning, before there was time, which then means God is independent of time. He created time. Time is God’s domain.

As such, time has no bearing on God. He distinguishes the beginning from the end from everything else in between as one who stands APART from time. OUTSIDE of time. God is timeLESS.

God doesn’t get older with time. His mind doesn’t start to slip as time goes on. God will not resign or retire from his job. He doesn’t intend to “hang it up.” God won’t collect social security. His beard won’t go gray ( *GASP*  he may not even have a beard) God’s reflexes don’t slow so he’ll never be caught off guard. His metabolism won’t slow, so he’ll never grow a gut from drinking Frappuccino & eating Dunkin Donuts.

God also won’t get more wise with time, because he is already the sum total of wisdom in all the universe. God’s hindsight is 20/20. His foresight is 20/20. His insight is 20/20. God doesn’t see things after they happen because time has no effect on God. Instead, God effects time. He’s not watching to see what happens next, because he is everywhere, all the time.

Sometimes we question him about things that happen – hard things – as if he wasn’t there. As if he isn’t sovereign over that moment and EVERY moment. There is nothing you have gone through, are going through, or will go through that he didn’t see coming – or specifically send your way to draw you near, to make you more like Jesus, to expose your sin, to taste something of what the Savior suffered, to equip you for ministry, or even to increase your longing for Christ’s perfect coming kingdom.

What, then, is God’s view on time? He created it, he must have done so for a reason.

There’s a verse in the New Testament book called Galatians. Fourth chapter. Fourth verse. It puts time in God’s perspective.

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

When the fullness of time had come.

The fullness of time.

An interesting phrase. Notice it doesn’t say God sent Jesus at the right time, or the best time, or even on time. No, it says the fullness of time. There is a lot of geeky foreign language thought that goes into this, but suffice it to say the biblical term is different. Paul uses this term in Ephesians 1. Jesus used this expression to refer to his act of redemption in John 7.

Sometimes God works and explains time in order. Start to finish. LINEAR. But on another level altogether God also often expresses time in chiasm. EH?

The fullness of time means that God doesn’t simply look at time as a series of passing moments – moments from A to Z. Instead, time is a collection of moments that have a point of fullness, an apex from which you interpret all the rest. This apex, the point of fullness, doesn’t occur at the end. It occurs somewhere in the middle.

God’s domain. God’s rules.

He uses this approach all over the Bible. Books and chapters are arranged in chiasm. It also happens that the arc of human history as well as the big picture of the Bible, is chiastic. This does not downplay the importance of a linear view, but it casts a brighter light on the big picture of time.

With Galatians 4 in mind, we can say that Jesus came at the time for which time was created. When time was full, complete, at the apex, God sent his son to redeem sinners and make them saints. The reason time exists is for the revelation of Christ. Last week – holy week – we remembered and celebrated the fullness of time. The apex.

The year is 2015. Why? Because when the smart people of old measured time, they were thinking like God. There is no universally agreed upon born-on date for the universe to take a linear measure. Instead, they recognized that the hinge of time – the most significant event – is the life of Christ. This is God’s design – that every other event in history finds its place and its meaning by relating it to the most important event in all of God’s history. Ravi Zacharias said in his Easter Meditation that “the Cross of Christ is truly the crux of history. Without the Cross, history itself cannot be defined or corrected.”

Christ’s apprearance; his life, death, and resurrection, mark the significance and the crux of time.

If Genesis 1:1 is true, then time is God’s domain.
If Genesis 1:1 is true, then time was created by God, for God’s purpose.
If Genesis 1:1 is true, then time revolves around Jesus.