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Sunday, February 20, 2022

Creation: Day 1 - Light

The world we live in is breathtaking and complex.  The artistic genius of it points to Something/Someone higher, greater, more wonderful than we can even imagine.  How did it all come to be?  Was it merely an accident or does nature’s harmony point to a Higher Power?

Come along with me on a journey back to where it all began—Genesis Chapter 1.  Over the next 7 weeks, we will explore the depths of the Creation story as told to God’s people for thousands of years.]

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then
he separated the light from the darkness.
 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

God created the heavens and the earth – everything!
Much debate has surrounded the origins of the universe, planet Earth, and life.
However, there is something we can all agree on.  This world is amazing!  

The farthest known star is 13.2 billion light years from earth.[i]  In other words, it would take you 13.2 billion years to go there if you could travel at the speed of light!

The smallest living organism (the porcine circovirus) is only 17 nanometers in diameter.[ii]  3,000 of these organisms could easily fit on a single grain of sand.[iii]

The blue whale is the largest living animal, weighing 180 tons or 360,000 pounds (that’s as much as 13 school buses)! 

Much more impressive than facts about any single specimen, is the intricacy of how the whole of creation works together.  Plant life absorbs carbon dioxide and uses it to live.  Plants produce oxygen so animals can breathe.  Animals absorb the oxygen and turn it into carbon dioxide so plants can live.  Fungi live in the soil producing chemicals that allow plant roots to take up important nutrients and even enable roots from one tree to communicate with other trees by chemical signals!

Countless fragile ecosystems work in perfect harmony with every living thing—from the smallest bacteria to the largest blue whale—playing a crucial part to contribute to the success of the whole.  Many have looked at the amazing interconnectedness of these living systems and describe the whole system as living organism in its own right.  So one could describe Creation a one BIG living organism made up of millions of tiny little parts instead of a planet made up of many different living organisms.

Within the infinite vastness of space, planet earth stands as the only known haven of life.  We are so small, and yet so incredibly precious.  Whether you believe this is all a happy accident brought on by chance or the result of an intentional act of creation by a Divine Power, is a matter of faith.  Science cannot contain something so unfathomable. 

The account in the book of Genesis of how it all began was given thousands of years before the advent of science.  It was never intended to describe the creation of the world in purely rational, scientific terms.  Genesis was written to speak to the mysterious longings within our hearts to know the Truth about God.  In these verses, the creation story reveals the character of God and the life He offers us.  If you want to know God, you can know Him by studying the story of creation in Genesis.

On the first day, God created light.
The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.  The original Hebrew describes a place that is a wasted, worthless thing.  Darkness (in Hebrew:  ḥšeḵ) figuratively describes misery, destruction, death, or ignorance.  These things are contrary to the character of God.  One might say the creation of the universe was inevitable.  For the Creator to abide in formless, empty darkness, was as unnatural as for a rooster not to crow at the dawning of new day.  And so God said, “Let there be light: and there was light.”

This light is not necessarily the light of the sun.  It is simply light.  It is illumination.  It is the ability to see things clearly.  It is the ability to perceive.  It is the opposite of darkness, misery and ignorance.  Light is cheerfulness—as when your spirits brighten when the sun breaks through the clouds—even for just a moment-- n an overcast and gloomy day.  Light is understanding—as when a light turns on when you get a new idea.  Light is the symbol of Truth.  Not scientific information.  What God gave the world swallows up scientific information as one small part of His larger Wisdom.

Today, we think so highly of science (as if it has all the answers).  Science has only been part of our culture for a few hundred years.  We don't know what new discipline might replace science in 100 or 500 year.  But the human longing for Divine Truth has been in with us from the beginning and will last forever. 

God brings understanding and Truth.
We see something important about God’s character in the very way that Genesis tells the story.  God works systematically, day by day, to bring order out of chaos.  Day one is simply light.

Day two is the sky.  Day three is land and vegetation.  Each day, God moves to more and more complex systems until He finishes with the most complex of His creation—humanity. 
This was not a random act.  It was purposeful and ordered, because the Creator is enlightened.

It is God’s intention for you to know understanding and Truth.  When we open our lives to Him, God does the same thing for us that He did for all Creation.  God offers you understanding about your purpose in life.  God seeks to awaken you so that you live your life on purpose in an enlightened state of being.  While animals may wander the earth according to their instincts in a lower state of consciousness, you were meant to live for so much more. 

You were meant to know God.

Seeing God in Creation
Romans 1:20 says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

When I was a young man (18-19 years old), I moved away from home to attend college in Marietta.  I was studying to be an engineer.  For the first time, I felt I was an adult and trying to really decide what I believed about life and religion and my purpose.  I was studying a lot of science and wondering (as many young adults do) if all that I'd been taught about God and faith as a child was just myths and superstition.  Was it time for me to leave behind those outdated, childish ideas?

I thought of this often as I studied in my classes and lived the life of a college student.  One day, I was contemplating all this as I walked across the beautiful campus.  The grass was freshly cut and birds and squirrels were busy gathering their food.  And as I walked through a thin stand of pine trees, I saw a parking lot through the trees filled with cars.  And it struck me how different people are from all the other animals.  Biologically, we are the same material--flesh and blood and bone.  And yet, of all the animals on earth, we are the only ones who can take the minerals and materials from the earth fashion them together into rubber and steel and plastic and make a car with and internal combustion engine and an electrical system.  Humans are so different from the other animals; so special.  And it occured to me that it could not have come to be this way by accident.

About this time, I also read an illustration that made so much sense to me.  It told the story of a man walking along the shoreline on a beach who found a watch in the sand and he picked it up.  He came to the logical conclusion that someone was walking on the beach and dropped the watch. Now, it is true that all the elements and materials that makeup the watch are present in the ocean.  However, it would be ludicrous to think the elements naturally present in the ocean randomly and spontaneously came together in just the right way and in just the right amounts and order to accidentally form a watch.  The idea would be ludicrous and no one would believe it.  

The world is far more complex than a watch.  Yet science would have us accept that this incredibly complex and amazing world randomly and spontaneously came to be after an explosion.  The theory requires far more faith than any religion!  And so it confirmed for me that there must be Someone, Something higher and greater and beyond creation that made it all.  And these thoughts drove me to dig deeper and want to know more about this Higher Power that must be in charge of it all.  Soon, through my searching, I came to believe at the core of my being that the God of the Christian Bible is indeed the One Tre and Living God.  The realization set my feet firmly on the path of seeking Him and soon serving Him and led me to the life I live today, working as a Christian minister, living as a child of God putting all his hopes in Jesus Christ.

The first day of spring in only 4 weeks away. I already saw a cherry blossom tree blooming yesterday.  As we see new life beginning to bloom, I challenge you to open your eyes and look for the Truth about God in nature—His invisible qualities, His divine nature, His eternal power.

Look at the birds in your yard and see the incredible creativity of a Master Craftsman who designed them.  Study your pet dog or cat, whose ancestors started out as wild predators, but now is your companion and understands you better than most people.  Contemplate how the flowers and grass grow from the warmth of the sun and live their own life while also providing food for animals and a virtual forest ecosystem for billions of tiny bugs and microorganism we never even see or consider. We literally walk by them every day without a care or thought. Yet without them, we could not exist.

And through all your observations, consider the God who made it all. 
I invite you to pray to God now and ask Him to reveal Himself to you as you study His creation.

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Beautiful Mind

Mother Teresa once taught, “Christ has no body now on earth, but yours; no hands, but yours; no feet, but yours. It is your eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out to the world; your feet with which he must walk about doing good; your hands with which he blessed humanity; your voice with which his forgiveness is spoken; your heart with which he now loves.” 

Mother Teresa’s words are a poignant reminder to all who follow Christ as Lord that we the Church Christ established to serve as His physical presence on the earth.  When we are faithful, Christ’s love spreads and the world becomes a better place.  

If we are to represent Christ well, we must be faithful to His teachings and way of life.  For great harm is done whenever people misunderstand Christ’s teachings or intentionally misuse Christianity to further their own selfish agendas.  Therefore, it is imperative that we study and do our best to be faithful.

We enjoy so many blessings today because of the work of Christ’s Beautiful Church over the last 2,000 years.  Consider these blessing we enjoy and even take for granted today that came into being through the work of Christ’s Church: 

  • Sacrificial Love as the highest virtue
  • Charitable giving
  • Humility as a virtue
  • Peaceful protest
  • Nonviolent resistance
  • Abolishment of slavery
  • Equal rights for women
  • Civil rights
  • Public Hospitals
  • Care for orphans
  • Child abandonment laws
  • Court Appointed Attorneys
  • Religious Freedom 

Today, I want to address one final blessing we have received from the Beautiful Church--the blessing of intellectual learning. 

1 Corinthians 2:13-16
When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,

“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?  Who knows enough to teach him?”  But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

Christianity and Education
When the Church is faithful to Christ, we take on the mind of Christ and we help enlighten the world with God’s wisdom and knowledge.  The Church caused the advancement of medicine, science, better government, wisdom, and education. 

In our day and age, there is a misconception that science and learning stand against Christian religion.  That is an unfortunate misunderstanding that has been perpetuated by ignorant people.  Jesus himself stated in Matthew 22:37 that the greatest commandment of all was to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” 

Jesus, as a 1st century Jew, came from a religious background that valued education and learning.  Jewish children were taught to read the Torah from an early age.  Many could recite the first 5 books of the Bible from memory and make logical arguments about their teachings.  

Jesus’ first followers were Jews that valued education. They spread their love of learning to the Christian Church--even as it spread out beyond the Jewish community to more and more gentiles.  The Christian faith always included a love for learning, because Christ’s followers believed their faith was logical and knowing God required Christians to study and learn. 

Even though the earliest Christians were mostly from the lower classes of society that tended to be uneducated, these believers were required to learn.  In order to join the early church, new converts were often required to attend 3 years of classes in the Christian faith before they were fully initiated into the Christian Church.  

One of the great attractions of the Church to common people was the opportunity to receive an education.  Education was not commonly available to the average person in ancient times.  The Christian Church valued education as a road to deeper understand of and devotion to God.  Therefore, the Church believed all people should be able to receive an education and worked diligently to provide educational opportunities for everyone—rich and poor alike. 

The earliest Christians began as a small minority in a sea of other religions that were often hostile to Christianity.  However, the early Christians refused to use violence to defend themselves or advance their cause.  Instead, Christians said, “Let’s debate the issues and let group with the most compelling arguments stand.  And over the course of 2 centuries, more and more people in the ancient Roman world—from all walks of life—found the Christian’s ideas most compelling.  And so, in the face of violent persecution, and a myriad of competing religious ideas, Christianity rose to prominence as more and more people were won over to the Christian Church by the reasoning of Christian arguments about faith in Christ.

The early Christians knew what they believed and why they believed it and they lived out their beliefs even in the face of persecution, torture, and death.  For they believed because they knew what Scripture said:

Romans 8:37 – “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”

1 John 4:4 – “You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”

The early Christians could willingly embrace the loss of property, freedom, and even their life because they really did believe something greater was already won for them--the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal live.  This world had nothing for them.  Their hope was in the coming Kingdom of God.


Christians and Scripture
Christians as a people of the Book, highly valued reading and writing.  They set about recording the life and teachings of Christ, which was no small task in the ancient world.  Today, we take for granted our access to the Holy Bible.  Most Americans have multiple copies as well as access to the Bible through the internet and a computer or smartphone.  We forget the tremendous cost expended to preserve the Bible for us. 

The printing press, which automated the book printing process, was not invented until 1436.  So for 1,400 years, all books had to be copied by hand—word by word, letter by letter.  The cost of materials  and labor to manufacture a book in the first few centuries after Christ’s birth was incredible.  The cost to reproduce just one Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—was the equivalent of 30 years of wages for the common person.  How much money have you earned in the last 30 years?  That's how much one Bible would cost to produce in the first few centuries of the Church.  Consider that for just one moment...

The early Christians valued Scriptures so much they set their hands to copying them so that future generations would have these sacred words to guide our minds and our faith in what we need to know to be faithful to God through Jesus Christ.  They sacrificed the time, resources, and energy to preserve God's Word because they knew this Word holds the key to wisdom and life and eternal life. 

Early Christians were even willing to die in order to protect their sacred texts.  Two female deacons of the early church, Catalina and Micoclius, were arrested and interrogated by Roman authorities who demanded they give up their sacred texts to be burned.  Catalina and Micoclius refused to tell where the books were hidden and were therefore put to death (Bullies and Saints by John Dickson). 

One might think it a waste of human life that these two women would sacrifice their lives for the sake of a book.  However, you must understand these early Christian really believed with all their hearts what their book said—that Christ has already won the victory.  The main purpose of this life is to further the purpose of Christ coming Kingdom.  We who follow Christ have already died to our selfish ambitions, and to die a physical death for Jesus is only to begin our eternal life in Christ heavenly Kingdom.  These are not just words.  They are Truth.  Early believers were willing to sacrifice their life for the cause of Christ's Kingdom with the sure and certain knowledge that what was to come was far better than this life.

When you hold your Bible, I want you to remember the hundreds of thousands of Christians who dedicated their lives and livelihoods to preserving the words of these texts so you can read them today.  It was a tremendous sacrifice they willingly made. 

The early Christians efforts were not limited only to Christian texts.  They also believed other important documents of classic learning should be preserved as well.  The reason we know so much about philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, (as well as other important ancient texts) is because the early Christians preserved their ideas by copying their texts and teaching their philosophies through the centuries.

Christians love for learning flourished even more after the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity.  With the support of the Empire, Christians were able to establish great institutes of learning that helped advance government, science, medicine, writing, wisdom, philosophy, and mathematics.  Ironically, the so called “dark ages”, which modern enlightenment thinkers like to blame on the Christian Church, was not caused by the Church.  Rather, it was caused by the collapse of civilization with the fall of the Roman Empire and its Christian institutions of learning. 

Christian Scientists
Christian education and love for learning inspired scientific discovery throughout the ages.  In fact, the most influential scientist during the enlightenment period were Christians.  Their love of God and desire to know Him and His creation inspired them to delve deeply into scientific investigation to discover the mysteries of God’s universe.  A list of Christian scientists included such lauded scientific pioneers as:

Galileo Galilei, who discovered the earth revolves around the sun.

Robert Boyle, who defined elements, compounds, and mixtures and the first gas law.  Boyle said that a deeper understanding of science was a higher glorification of God.

Isaac Newton was a passionate Christian who spent more time on Bible study than math and physics. Newton profoundly changed our understanding of nature with his law of universal gravitation and his laws of motion; invented calculus; built the first ever reflecting telescope; showed sunlight is made of all the colors of the rainbow.

Michael Faraday was a devout member and elder of the Sandemanian Church. Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction; discovered the first experimental link between light and magnetism; carried out the first room-temperature liquefaction of a gas.

Werner Heisenberg was a Lutheran with deep Christian convictions and the primary creators of quantum mechanics who formulated the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Louis Pasteur was a Christian, a biologist, microbiologist and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. 

These scientists and countless others believed deeply in Jesus Christ and were faithful members of His Church.  Their love of learning and the drive to search the mysteries of God’s creation were not deterred, but rather enhanced, by their faith in God.   

The Christian faith challenges us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  God gave us our intellect as a tool to help us know Him better and to bring His heavenly Kingdom upon the earth.

Therefore, let us not shy away from learning.  But let us join with Christians from throughout the centuries who have helped make our world a better place by promoting education and intellectual pursuits for the glory of God.  Let us rebuke the slanderous idea that the Church is only for the ignorant and unlearned.  Let us show the atheist that true knowledge comes from God through Christ. Furthermore, let us be eternally grateful to God and His Church for the incredible contributions over the centuries that have made our world a better place. 

Communion and Welch’s Grape Juice
I want to end my message with a true story about a man named Thomas Bramwell Welch.  Welch (1825-1903) was a British–American Methodist minister and dentist. He pioneered the use of pasteurization as a means of preventing the fermentation of grape juice.  This grape juice, which millions enjoy today, was not practically available before Welch use pioneered a way to pasteurize it (using an adapted method created by Louis Pasteur).  Prior to Welch and the advent of refrigeration, grape juice would turn to wine within a few days due to natural yeast found in the air.  

During the 1800s and early 1900s, churches were fighting against an epidemic of alcoholism and encouraging Christians to abstain from drinking alcohol.  However, at Sunday morning communion services, the Church had no option but to use alcoholic wine for their sacrament.  Welch wanted to provide the Church with a non-alcoholic option for the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Welch's grape juice, pasteurized to prevent fermentation, was the solution.  When sales to churches were low, the graoe juice was made available for general use to the public for secular consumption.  Sales skyrocketed and Welch's grape juice is one of the most common brands available in grocery stores today.  However, the grape juice we love so much, was originally intended for sacred use.  

In my church, we use grape juice for Holy Communion.  Whether it uses real wine or Welch’s grape juice, the red color of the beverage is a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, shedding His precious blood to atone for our sins.  The sacrament also reminds us that Jesus is here with us in spirit even now.  His presence nourishes us and strengthens us to be His Church, joining with the countless saints who have gone before us.  When we are faithful to Jesus--the Way, the Truth, and the Life--we are the Church, Jesus physical presence on earth.  

So, let's be His feet going. 
Let us be His hands serving. 
Let us speak His words of truth.
Let us offer His grace, love,  and forgiveness.