The Gospel According to Genesis: A God Who Creates, Part 3

We’ve been talking about the biblical truth that God is our Creator. But the biblical story points to a force that works against God’s purposes in creation. It’s a force that undoes the good of God’s original creation. In this way, it is a force that “uncreates” what God sets out to create. That force is called “sin.” We don’t like to talk about sin — it doesn’t do much for our self-esteem and our happiness, so often times we avoid it. But this is another foundational truth in the scriptures: we’re all guilty of sin. 

So here’s how this works: we are made in the image of God, made to reflect His light and His love and His goodness. But sin corrupts the image of God in us. We could say it pollutes that divine image, distorts that divine image; it changes the way we look. So Sin is the great “uncreator” because it creates something other than what God would intend. We may be made in God’s image, but there are times when we don’t look very much like that because sin has corrupted that image almost beyond recognition. Sin always does this — it distorts the image of God in us, driving a wedge in our relationship with God and also our relationship with others. The Bible is very clear on this one — sin is a game changer. 

In the biblical story, the goodness of God’s creation is undone when Adam and Eve eat of the fruit that was forbidden — fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had already declared His creation to be good, but He had also declared that something was not good — specifically to eat of this fruit. And this is important: when they reach for this fruit, Adam and Eve are seeking to define good and evil for themselves. They are not simply reaching for a meal they’ve never had before; they are reaching beyond their station, reaching for God-like status. 

We are made in the image of God but we are NOT God. We are incapable of defining good and evil apart from outside revelation from God. In fact, we often call evil good and good evil as it says in Isaiah 5:20, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness. Adam and Eve sin when they decide it’s a good thing to disobey the direct command of God. And I think we understand that because we do the same thing, do we not? We reach beyond our station, we forget our place. In our world, evil is being called good and good is being called evil so much that it will make your head spin. 

This is the sobering bad news of the biblical story. God looks at sin and it’s work of “uncreation” and He says, “This is very bad.” And I bet you can look at the consequences of sin in your own life and reach the same conclusion. I know I can. Sin keeps me from being the person God created me to be and it damages my relationships with other people. 


But this is exactly where we need to look at the Genesis story through the lens of the Jesus story. The image of God is corrupted by sin; we’ve established that. But the good news is that God has acted in Jesus to restore the divine image in us. Only in Jesus are we able to live according to God’s purposes once more — through His death and resurrection. 

The writers of the New Testament talk about the work of Jesus as “new creation” work. He rose on the first day of the week, which takes us back to the first day of creation in Genesis. If sin has the power to “uncreate” Jesus sets out to re-create — to redeem us from our slavery to sin, to reconcile us back to God, and to restore creation to God’s original good purposes. 

And, to echo what God said in Genesis, this news is very good. It is very good news that we don’t have to be slaves to sin any longer. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

2 Corinthians 5:17

This verse contains Paul’s favorite phrase: “in Christ.” Paul is always contrasting the difference between being “in Christ” and to not be “in Christ.” To not be in Christ is to continue to live in the land of uncreation — to remain beholden to sin and it’s corrupting, perverting, distorting power. But to be in Christ is to live in an entirely different realm — it is to become a new creation. 

And when we become a new creation, we are set free to once again pursue the purposes for which God created us — we are free to image Him once more. This includes the good works for which He created us. 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

Ephesians 2:10

When we are “in Christ” we are created anew. And Paul uses a unique word here — we are God’s “workmanship.” Paul intentionally uses the Greek word poiema — from which we get our English word “poem.” It’s a word that refers to a creative composition, like a poem, a sculpture, a song. In essence, Paul says that when we are in Christ, we are God’s masterpiece. God’s original good purposes are restored to us and we are free to pursue the good works He has prepared for us. 

When we are in Christ, God once again looks at us and says, “This is very good.” 

To be in Christ is to be a new creation. 

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The Gospel According to Genesis: A God Who Creates, Part 2

The Bible begins with this universal truth: God is the Creator. Not only are we all created by God; we’re also created a particular way, for a particular purpose. According to Genesis 1:27, all humanity bears the image of God. 

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

Genesis 1:27

Not only does God tell us that He is our Creator, He makes it very clear that we are made “in his own image.” This is another foundational truth of the Scriptures. Every human being is important in the eyes of God — because He creates each person in His image. This gives intrinsic value to every human life. You are important to God because you were made in His image. This is part of humanity’s universal identity. 

And this is a radical truth — everyone we love is made in the image of God; but so was everyone we struggle to love. We don’t get to pick and choose on this one. God, as Creator, has determined that every human life matters because every human life bears His image. 

When I was young, we sang a song about this in Sunday school. It was called “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” And the song said that everyone, no matter the color of their skin or their nationality, all are “precious in His sight.” Some of you might remember that song. It’s rooted in this idea from Genesis, the idea that God has created us to bear His image. Easy to apply to children, but what about grown ups? I think the point is the same…

So who is “precious in His sight?” Everyone. 

  • Male and female, they are precious in His sight
  • Old and young, they are precious in His sight
  • Rich and poor
  • Christian and atheist and agnostic and Muslim and Buddhist — because they’re humans, they’re precious in His sight.

Now, there’s a lot more we could say from the Bible about differences in worldview and religion and all of that. But as important as those things might be, they flow out of an understanding that all humanity is precious in His sight. 

And you can make the same application on the basis of economic status, race, sexual identity, political affiliation, etc. 

  • Your next-door neighbor and the homeless man on the street corner, they are precious in His sight
  • African-American and Latino are precious in His sight
  • Gay and straight are precious in His sight
  • Boomer and Millennial are precious in His sight
  • Conservative and liberal are precious in His sight
  • Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi, both are precious in His sight
  • Auburn fans AND Alabama fans

You can take this as far as you want to take it and the point is still the same. They are all “precious in His sight” because every human being throughout history has been made in the image of God. That is a bedrock truth in the word of God — one that we have to go back and recover from time to time.

God is your Creator. That means you are precious in His sight.

Posted in Devotional, Faith, God, Imago Dei, Kingdom Values, Politics, Poverty, Race, Scripture, Social Issues, Theology | Leave a comment

The Gospel According to Genesis: A God Who Creates, Part 1

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

Genesis 1:1

With these words, God sets out to tell the most epic story of all. 

The Bible is the story of the God who creates. That’s one of the foundational truths in the Bible. These opening words establish God’s ownership of the entire world — the world belongs to Him because He has created it. David says the same thing in Psalm 24:1, The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. In many of the creation stories in the Ancient Near East, things like water and the sun were considered to be divine. But the biblical story says, “No, these things were created by God.”

That’s the first verb in the Bible — create. Scholars have noted that throughout the Bible, this word is only used to describe the activity of God. Men and women don’t create; angels don’t create. In the biblical story, only God creates. So again this is one of the foundational truths of the Scriptures; you could even say it is THE foundational truth. Everything else flows out of these words: In the beginning, God created…

And in Genesis 1&2, we find the story of God’s creative work — He creates the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon, birds and fish and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” God speaks and things happen — because there is always power in the Word of God. His Word has always been and always will be THAT powerful. 

And God surveys all that He has created and He says, “This is good.” And the crowning achievement of that creation is humanity. God breathes into man His ruach —His wind, His breath, His spirit — and the spark of life ignites. The first man opens his eyes to see his Creator standing over him, smiling as He says, “Now this is very good.” 

But the story we read in Genesis isn’t just a story of how it all began. This is just as much a story about how it all begins, for you and for me. 

God’s Word opens with a summons to recognize that we, too, are created beings. Just like the rest of creation, we have a definitive point of origin — a beginning. There was a moment when I wasn’t and then there was a moment when I was. We have received that same ruach — that same wind, that same breath from God that brings us to life. 
That’s the application of this foundational truth from the Scriptures: we have a Creator; we are created. God’s Word puts this identity ahead of any other identity for us. It comes ahead of any sort of gendered identity or marital identity or parental identity. It comes before any identity of work or achievement or even failure. More than anything else, you are God’s creation. This is your truest identity. 

And this also means that you’ll find your greatest fulfillment in Him — in your Creator, not in any other identity or any other relationship. 

Several years ago, I was having coffee with a friend of mine who is a marriage counselor. I was asking him about his practice and he said something that was a revelation to me. He said that one of the reasons so many marriages fail is because we put unrealistic expectations upon our spouses. We buy into the false narrative pushed on us by Hollywood and Hallmark, a narrative that says he/she is “the one”, that he/she “completes” me, makes my life perfect or whatever. We put this expectation on this flawed person to make us whole, to fulfill all of our hopes and dreams and desires — which, when you think about it, is kind of ridiculous. That’s a weight far too heavy for any flawed person to bear. And when that reality eventually comes crashing in, guess what happens to the marriage? All too often we cash in our chips and say, “I guess he / she wasn’t really the one after all.” And the relationship falls apart because we expect our significant other to do for us what only God can do. 

The only thing that can truly “complete” you is the finished work of God in Jesus Christ. God is the one who created you; therefore God is the only one who can complete you.

We are the handiwork of a God who creates.

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NFL Playoff Picks: Wild Card Weekend

Every year our family makes predictions regarding the NFL playoff games. It’s sort of comical because those of us who don’t follow the NFL at all usually do a better job of predicting these games than those of us who follow it more closely. All in good fun.

Sunny:

  • Bills over the Texans
  • Patriots over the Titans
  • Saints over Vikings
  • Seahawks over Eagles

Joshua:

  • Texans over the Bills
  • Titans over the Patriots
  • Saints over Vikings
  • Seahawks over Eagles

Jackson:

  • Bills over the Texans
  • Patriots over the Titans
  • Saints over Vikings
  • Seahawks over Eagles

Jason:

  • Texans over Bills
  • Titans over Patriots
  • Saints over Vikings
  • Seahawks over Eagles

Abby Kate:

  • Texans over Bills
  • Patriots over Titans
  • Saints over Vikings
  • Seahawks over Eagles
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Jason Isbell at the Mars Music Hall in Huntsville, Alabama

A mighty fine way to spend the first Friday night of the new year: with Sunny at the grand opening of the Mars Music Hall, a brand new music venue at the Von Braun Center here in Huntsville. When we heard that the opening night was going to be headlined by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, we knew we had to get tickets.

I’m guessing Sunny and I have seen Isbell perform about a dozen times together — several times in Nashville (the Ryman, the Opry) and a few times in other places (Birmingham, Huntsville). And I’ve seen him another half-dozen times on my own. The Ryman Auditorium is still my favorite venue to hear them (or anyone, for that matter), but this new spot was as good as any other place I’ve seen them perform. I liked the intimate vibe and I thought the band sounded great.

Here are a couple of pics and videos of the night:

Decoration Day
Cover Me Up
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The Bybee Family Survivor Game

One of the immunity challenges from Season 2 of the Bybee Family Survivor Game

My youngest child is a Survivor fanatic. We all enjoy the show, but he’s especially obsessed. Over the holiday break, he’s created his own version of Survivor, complete with immunity challenges, hidden idols, and a tribal council set-up in our playroom. It’s really awesome and he’s proving to be a pretty good host. (Watch your back, Propst.)

In our first season (last week), I was the first person voted out.

By unanimous vote.

My wife voted me out, as did all three of my children.

Probably a good thing, because I ended up winning Season 2 (New Year’s Day). I played a pretty complete game, if I do say so myself. I won an individual immunity, I found a hidden immunity idol AND an advantage (an extra vote), had an alliance member give up their own immunity to protect me at one tribal, and I fashioned a fake idol that I wore to the final vote. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I’m asked to mentor rookie castaways on the next Island of the Idols season.

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Somewhere South of Atlanta: What Makes for Peace

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Romans 14:19

I had about 12 hours of “windshield time” yesterday as we drove home from Florida — lots of time to think. I started thinking about New Year’s resolutions and whether or not I believe in them. And after thinking it over, I’ve decided that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore — mainly because I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m fairly distrusting of our ability to bring about lasting transformation through resolve and effort. Sure, you can eat better, hit up the gym, and drop 20 pounds — but that’s not real transformation anymore. You can be 20 lbs. lighter and still be the same old jerk you’ve always been. So somewhere south of Atlanta, I decided I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore. Not that you asked.

But somewhere south of Atlanta, even though I decided that I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore, I realized that I do believe in transformation — true, gospel-centered transformation. I’m talking “I-once-was-lost-in-sin-but-Jesus-took-me-in” kind of transformation. It’s Simon Peter leaving his nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; Zacchaeus repaying every single person he’d ripped off; and Saul seeing the light on the road to Damascus. Somewhere south of Atlanta, I was reminded of just how much I believe in that kind of transformation. If I were trying to convince you that such transformation were possible, I would submit my own life as Exhibit A. Only I would know the degree of transformation I have experienced over the decades I’ve spent in apprenticeship to Jesus. But believe me, even though I am far from a finished product, I continue to receive a new nature from King Jesus. Whereas my natural tendencies veer toward selfishness and anger and isolation, King Jesus perpetually offers me a new, better identity grounded in His mercies. I believe in this kind of transformation with all of my heart — so much so that I believe it to be the only hope for any of us.

So somewhere south of Atlanta, as I renounced the whole business of resolutions but affirmed the power of God unto salvation, I found myself asking, “What do I hope God does in my life in the upcoming year?” It’s a broad, open-ended question and I spent a lot of time mulling over my answer.

And somewhere south of Atlanta, a verse came to me — which I attribute to the work of the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:19, So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. This is what I’m praying for in 2020: that God will help me pursue what makes for peace.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called His followers to the work of peacemaking (Matt. 5:9) — to actively participate in God’s work of creating shalom (flourishing) in the world once again. As New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington notes, God’s entire redemptive work can be understood as His effort to bring His own shalom to the earth. Jesus calls us to take up this redemptive work in our own way, to create wholeness and rightness wherever and however we can. That’s what it means to “make peace.”

And somewhere south of Atlanta, as I reflected on the call to make peace, I had an immediate opportunity to test this out. Sunny and I had a discussion that could’ve easily turned into an argument. And even though I defaulted into a bit of defensiveness — at least at first — the call to make peace helped me to re-direct fairly quickly. The trajectory of the entire conversation changed when making peace was the goal.

Paul’s comment in Romans 14 is rooted in what he’s already said about love.

  • Rom. 12:9, Let love be genuine.
  • Rom. 12:10, Love one another with brotherly affection.
  • Rom. 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
  • Rom. 13:8-10, Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

With these verses in view, we can properly follow what Paul says in chapter 14. Genuine love for neighbor is the true fulfillment of the law; therefore love for neighbor takes precedence over observing other, “lesser” ordinances. When this kind of love moves through the disciple community, there can be no room for judgment or discord. Instead, we are to walk in love. And when we walk in love, we will pursue what makes for peace.

So my prayerful hope for 2020 is that I can simply pursue the path of peace. In the words of the Psalmist, to “seek peace and pursue it,” (Ps. 34:14). The ancient rabbis used this text to speak of the “paths of peace” and it seems as if Paul is echoing this in Romans 14. To walk in love is to journey the path of peace. In these divisive times — with another election looming in a few months — I can’t think of a better thing to be praying for 2020.

Would you join me on the path of peace? In the name of King Jesus, let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.

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