Creation’s Beauty

Read Genesis 1:1-31

Sometimes it takes a person to get out of his/her daily surroundings to appreciate the wonder of creation. Each part of the country has similarities and unique aspects with other parts. The wonder of how creation intermingles and stands out marvels a person with open eyes. When traveling, an individual is given the opportunity to experience creation and the magnificent work of the Lord afresh. This week I have been drawn to the lyrics of this hymn:

Make some deliberate time today to notice and experience the wonder of God’s creation wherever you are located.

Eden Quest

Read Isaiah 11:6-9

Throughout human history, humans have been on a quest for the idyllic way of life. This quest has led us on a search for Nirvana, Shangri la, Eden and many other “paradises” with different names throughout history. There is a vision of a place where all creatures, including humans, live in harmony. The search for a place where there is an ample supply of everything which a person could possibly need. This place is void of strife and grueling labor. As much effort and time has been dedicated to this quest, the claiming of such a place remains elusive from a physical and spiritual standpoint in this temporal world.

In the vision which Isaiah relates, we receive a glimpse of the place which has driven humans on the quest. Isaiah describes a mountain where creatures interact in a harmonious way. The vulnerable do not suffer at the hands of the stronger and/or more lethal. This vision harkens us back to the time before humanity attempted to be in full control. We see how God intended all of creation to exist. This passage also provides assurance that this state of existence will occur again at some point.

Humans, often unknowingly, always strive for what is part of God’s plan. We search for purpose because God intends all to have purpose in the world. We search for a place to belong because God created us to be interwoven into the fabric of creation. Seeking love is our need to experience the love in which we were created by the love we know as God. Living in harmony without strife and labor is how God intended us to experience life so we search for the place where this may be our reality. God promises us that this reality exists where God is and so we strive to be in the full presence of God.

May your quest lead you to find God.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 5

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

As we continue our indepth look at the prayer which has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, we look at a phrase which is connected to the one from yesterday. Yesterday we examined the phrase, ” thy will be done.” Jesus continues that thought by adding “on earth as it is in heaven.” Here Jesus is providing a comparison of the spiritual realm and the earthly realm. (For a discussion regarding heaven and earth, review the devotion from June 23, 2021.) Specifically in regard to how God’s will is fulfilled is lifted up here.

First we are confronted with the reality that we are dealing with two different sets of actors in these realms. In the heavenly realm, the ones fulfilling God’s will are spiritual beings such as angels and redeemed souls. We get an image of this in John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation. The actors in the earthly realm are humans and creation as a whole. Each set of players have different abilities and limitations.

From Jesus’s inclusion of this phrase, we see his perception that while in the spiritual realm God’s will is consistently followed, the same is not true in the earthly realm. This is a fact highlighted in yesterday’s devotion. This phrase also directs us to Jesus’s desire that there be a more consistent following of God’s will by humans and creation. God desires all of humanity and creation to exist in harmony with one another as was intended when God first created all.

Jesus reminds us in this prayer that we have been given an example to follow and a goal to obtain. Understanding how the spiritual beings as described in Scripture respond to God’s will, we have examples set before us. The redeemed souls of individuals who have gone before us also provide a set of examples as we look at how they fulfilled God’s will in their lives. Having these examples to follow, our goal then is to do God’s will in our own lives.

Creation of Humanity

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.

Genesis 1:26-30 (NIV)

One of the most famous ceilings in the world can be found in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the vaulted ceiling of the chapel. One of the panels depicts the creation of Adam and has that exact name today. Below is a picture of that panel as it appeared in National Geographic.

1. What do you see first in this image? Why do you think this stands out to you?

2. How do you interpret the relationship between God and humanity as depicted here?

3. Why might Michelangelo have chosen to place a space between God’s finger and Adam’s finger? Do you agree with that choice? Why or why not?

4. Was there anything missing in the painting which would be important based on your reading of today’s passage?

Songs From the Sky

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 reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6 (NIV)

Humanity has been impressed and awed by the magnificence of the sky since recorded time. The mysteries of the sun, the stars, the planets, and the weather associated with the sky have drawn humans to speculate and search for answers. Even prior to the launching of the scientific age, individuals had tried to explain what they observed in the sky. With the advent of science, the explanations have shifted from mythical and spiritual explanations to physical and temporal explanations. The awe and wonder still remains though. Our hunger to explore and go farther in our celestial understandings remain strong as evidenced by the increased interest in Mars and talks of returned trips to the moon.

In the psalm from today, we hear the psalmist claim the great wonder of the firmaments. These words link the awe of the sky to our understanding of God. When the psalmist gazes on the massiveness of the sky, there seems to be a voice which is singing the praises of God. The sun communicates the warmth which God provides to all of creation.

The imagery found in this psalm speaks to us about the greatness of God. Amazed at the vastness of the sky, we are led to contemplate the vastness of our God. As large as the galaxy and universe may be, God is larger. From the sun we receive warmth, necessary nutrients which create and sustain life, and light to direct all creation through the activities of a day. As we stand amazed at the wonders of the stars, planets and sky, we are prompted to be amazed by the One who created them all. So we join our voices with the creation’s celestial voices as we sing of the glory of God.

Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

New Life

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Spring is a wonderful time of year because of all the new life which surrounds us. During winter the fields lay fallow, trees are barren of leaves, and grass, along with other plants, become brown. It is easy to perceive everything as being dead. With the arrival of spring flowering plants shoot out of the ground, buds which will burst out as leaves on the trees, and the green color returning to the grass and plants signal that life now exists where death seemed to reign.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus with words about death and life. In our sins and transgressions we were dead. We followed the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience. But God made us alive in Christ because God loves us. God has raised us to the heavenly realms where we sit with Christ. This is grace which has saved us. We have been created and prepared by God to do good works in Christ. In Christ, what was perceived as dead is truly alive.

Like creation gets a new life in the spring, we are given new life. We can put behind us those behaviors of our past which were killing our spirits. Because of God’s love for each one of us, we were not left in death but instead we have been resurrected into a new life. With new life, new opportunities exist. There are opportunities to serve others, establish mutually nourishing relationships, and discover the wonders of God’s love and grace. Embrace this new life given to you in Jesus Christ.

The Old Becomes New

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 (NIV)

As we sit on the eve of the new year, many of us hope for a better year. We once again are ready to celebrate a new beginning. The imagery used to symbolize a change in years is the image of an elderly man and a baby. Historians believe using a baby’s image to symbolize a new year can be traced back to the Greeks around 600 B.C.E. The elderly man is thought to be Father Time. Legend says that Father Time (the Old Year) hands over duties of time to the Baby New Year at midnight. In some ways, this can be seen as the passing of the old creation to a new creation.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth regarding the change of an old creation into a new creation. Due to God’s grace, the old, sinful nature of humanity is replaced by the righteous image before God. Christ is the one who assumes our sin so that we can become a new creation and reconciled to God. The old is gone and only the new remains.

Just as the old year fades away, our sinful selves can fade. God no longer takes notice of the sin which existed prior to our reconciliation through Christ. Paul tells us at the start of this passage that we should view each other in the same way. Having been reconciled, we now see only the new, righteous self who God has brought into being. The old no longer exists, only the new remains.

Reasons to Sing

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33 (NIV)

Singing is something which I have always greatly enjoyed. I am not a highly talented singer. I never truly learned to read music. I am able to know when notes go up or down and can follow that guideline with my voice most of the time. My ability to sing melody is much stronger than my ability to sing harmony. If I have a strong and gifted singer beside me, I can follow fairly well. While my skills may be limited as a vocalist, my love and passion for singing is limitless.

Throughout the Bible many different songs can be found. In the book of Exodus, the songs of Moses and Miriam are recorded in chapter 15. The victory song of Deborah and Baruk is located in Judges 5. A song of praise for the Lamb can be found in Revelation 5. One book of the Bible which is a love song is the Song of Solomon. The greatest collection of songs is the book of the Bible entitled Psalms. This book is likely the first hymnal compiled for the worshippers of God. Today we turn to the 33rd psalm.

In our psalm for the day, the song encourages us to sing joyfully and praise the Lord, even using instruments. The song continues by listing all the reasons to sing praises to the Lord. The Lord is trustworthy and faithful. All of creation came into being through the work of the Lord. The plans of the Lord endure while human plans fall apart. By looking to the Lord, we find salvation, deliverance and hope.

The psalmist gives us an outstanding list of reasons to sing praises. I am sure we can add to that list. My list would include the Lord’s unconditional love. The grace and forgiveness which I endlessly receive from Godi s another reason for singing praises. All which has been provided and daily is added to from the Lord’s hand gives reason. My list really seems to grow each minute of consideration as to why to sing. What would you have on your list? Consider your list and then sing and play praises to our Lord without ceasing!

New Life

While winter in Texas is not as cold or stagnant as winter in Iowa, over half of the trees are without leaves, the grass turns brown, and the color of flowers is limited. With the approach of spring, all this changes. Over the last few weeks, we have seen significant change in the landscape. Trees are flowering and budding. The garden centers are stocked with flowers ready to be planted. The sun has increased in its warmth. Rains are helping green to reenter the grass and other plants. New life is arriving daily.

Currently in the Christian Church calendar, we are in the season of Lent. Lent is a time for personal reflection, recommitment to spiritual disciplines, and a time to await new life. The new life which becomes a reality is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which is a reminder of our mortality and forty days later (Sundays are not counted) we are reminded of the truth of new life we share with Christ.

I am sure that the correlation of the transition from winter to spring and Lent to Easter is not coincidence. Just as spring provides new life for God’s creation, Easter provides new life for God’s children. As a child of God, I anticipate the fulfillment of the resurrection in me as much as I anticipate the witnessing of new life during spring. I yearn for both of them. Every Easter I celebrate the truth of my new life while I watch the promise of new life in creation.

What does spring mean for you? How does Lent and Easter create anticipation for you? Where do you see God’s promises fulfilled around you?

May the promise of new life in Jesus Christ fill you with anticipation and great joy. May the witnessing of new life in creation be a present reminder of this promise for you.