DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

And God Created Woman (Genesis 2:18-25)

Most of us have shared two common reactions to the opposite sex: appreciation and frustration. There are times that we are so appreciative that God created the opposite sex. It's a gift from God, and we're so grateful that he did it that way. But let's be honest: aren't there times that you wonder what God was thinking when he created the opposite sex? There are mysteries and joys and frustrations as we try to get along with one another.

Sometimes the gender differences are pretty minor. But other times, there are some very serious issues. In society, we've changed how we view women, but gender is still an issue that's debated all over the place. In our churches, one of the best ways to start an argument is to raise the issue of gender and leadership. It's all over the place, and it's hard to find much agreement. That's not even getting to the personal level in which our gender affects our families and our closest relationships.

The Bible has a lot to say about gender. We've been looking at Genesis the past few weeks, at the earliest account of the creation of this world. We have a before and after picture that tells us a little more about God's intention for us as it relates to gender.

Before

God had created everything and had pronounced it good. He looked at everything and said, "Good, good, good." But then he got to Adam, and he said something different. Genesis 2:18 says, "It is not good for the man to be alone." It was the first time that God saw anything that he didn't think was good.

There was something missing in only having one gender. This may be in the "duh" level of Biblical insights, but it's there. There was a part of humanity that was missing. Man alone is not enough; he's lacking something. God has to step in and provide what he is missing.

So we read what happened:

And the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him." So the LORD God formed from the soil every kind of animal and bird. He brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, and Adam chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, birds, and wild animals. But still there was no companion suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18-20)

This was probably a bit of a frustration for Adam. He looked at all the animals, and still realized that he was alone despite having them. There was nobody else who corresponded to him, nobody else who bears the image of God.

I don't think God thought that Adam might find a companion among the animals. It's probably more likely that God wanted Adam to realize what he didn't have before giving him what he really needed. God was about to solve the problem of Adam being alone. He doesn't want to squander his gift on someone who's going to be unappreciative.

The First Woman

In Genesis 2:21-22. we read the only full account of the creation of woman found in any of the literature of the Ancient Near East: "So the LORD God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam's ribs and closed up the place from which he had taken it. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam."

So here we have the first woman. And you have to love how Adam reacted when he saw the first woman: "'At last!' Adam exclaimed. 'She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called 'woman,' because she was taken out of a man.'" I see great joy and relief in Adam's reaction to seeing Eve. He immediately recognized that she supplied something that he was lacking, and that she reflected and complemented him. You see both sides: she was like him, but she was different in a way that complemented him. This was exactly what Adam needed.

This passage is so familiar to a lot of people that we need to take a step back and look at what it says and doesn't say. First, let's look at what it doesn't say. It in no way implies that women are inferior to men or subordinate to them. God said in verse 18 something like this, depending on your translation: "I will make a helper suitable for him." A lot of people have taken that word helper and thought that it implies inferiority. In English, the word helper can imply a lower status. That is not the case in Hebrew, the language in which this text was first written. In fact, this word for helper was only used nineteen times in what we call the Old Testament. Sixteen of those nineteen times, it was used of God. Helper does not been lower.

Some others have talked about the fact that Adam named her woman in this passage, stating that naming is a function of authority. Adam does name Eve, but not here. Here, he only recognizes that she belongs to the same category as he does. He names her after the Fall, when everything was thrown off balance, but here there is no naming. There is only recognition and appreciation.

What Genesis does say about the female gender is this: males are incomplete without them. Women provide something that men lack. At a time in which it was generally believed that only kings were made in God's image, the Bible states that not only all men but also all women are made in God's image. Women, like men, bear the image of God and reflect him in some way. That is a radically high view of women. Not only are they necessary, and not only do they bring what man lacks, but they also fully bear the image of God. This is revolutionary even today. It was certainly revolutionary back then.

The First Marriage

The account of the creation of the first woman reads like a marriage ceremony, with God as the attendant presenting the first woman to the first man. It not only describes the wedding, but it also leaves this story as an archetype for us. In some sense, their story is our story: "This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one" (Genesis 2:24).

This passage isn't saying that all of us need to get married, or that you're not as complete if you remain single. Far from it. But it does teach us something about the value of marriage. When a man and a woman marry, it's because they see that they are related to each other in some way. They look at one another and see that they are the same flesh, the same blood, and that they need each other. Marriage is valued because men and women really do need each other.

Fast Forward

We obviously don't live where Adam and Eve lived. Their situation is very different from our situation. There are all kinds of gender battles today, which lead to all kinds of conflicts and hurts. Many of us could speak about them at length. You get a hint of that at the end of this chapter: "Now, although Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame" (Genesis 2:25).

Do you know what this verse was saying? When God created us, there was a sense in which we were safe with each other. There was no vulnerability, and there was no need to protect ourselves from each other. By the next chapter, we're going to see that this falls apart. When sin entered the world, Adam and Eve no longer felt safe around each other. We're living with the consequences of that today.

God is building a Kingdom today. He's undoing the damage that was brought into the world by sin. One of the battles that he's ending is the gender battle. I don't want to solve every question about gender today, and I couldn't if I tried. But I do know that the Kingdom is about recognizing the value that both men and women have before God. It's about recognizing the fact that in Christ, there is "no male or female" (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, the gender battle is over.

We're not fully there yet, but we can be a church community in which it is safe to be male or female. We can recognize the necessary partnership that exists between the sexes, and we can realize how tragic it is to have one gender without the other. We can be a church that recognizes the image of God in one another, and that takes joy in what God can do in all of us.

One of our deepest challenges is to recognize God's image in the person that we might not appreciate. If you're married, there are times that you look at your spouse and you can't see anything good in them. You may even be right. It may be miserable to be married to that individual. But part of your calling is to recognize the image of God in that person. It's there. It's your calling to see it. That doesn't solve every problem, and there might be other issues to work through, but most of us can see our spouses as image-bearers and gifts. That goes a long way.

I want to pray today that God would allow us to be a church in which we can recognize and celebrate the image of God in all of us, whether male or female, and that we can be a church that celebrates the gift of gender.

God 101 (Genesis 2:4-17)

One of the big issues that we face in our lives is who God is. We're sometimes afraid to talk about this, especially at church, but it's a question that's always there. It colors everything to do with how we worship, how we relate to him. We don't always feel safe talking about it, but it's a reality for all of us.

This happens in the big moments, when something big has taken place and we ask how God could allow it. But it also happens everyday, as we do things like pray. When we read the Bible, we bring a lens that colors what we read. If you start to read the Bible, you don't get too far before you find lots of numbers and lots of rules. It's easy to see why we get a picture of God that is a little scary, a little judgmental at times.

There are certain people that make me feel guilty. They don't even have to say anything. You know the kind? Usually, it's not anything they've said or they've done. Maybe I'm feeling guilty about something, and seeing them triggers that guilt in my mind. Some of us see God that way. We feel guilty even thinking about him.

I have to admit that this has been an issue in my life. I want to give God everything that he asks, but in the back of my mind I'm scared with what he's going to do with my life. When I've made some pretty major life decisions, I've been more than a little scared to let God weigh in. This is hard to admit, but it's true. Our understanding of who God is one of the most important issues that we face.

The Garden

It's sometimes surprising that God is presented very differently in the Bible than we think. Today, I'd like to look at one of the earliest passages of Scripture. It's found in Genesis 2, which is right at the front of your Bible.

The past few weeks, we've been looking at the account of the creation of this world. In chapter 2, we come to an important break that marks the start of a new section of the book. Verse 4 says, "This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth." This type of statement appears a number of times in this book, and it's always a signal that a new section is about to begin.

In chapter 2, we read about the creation of the Garden of Eden. Even if you've never read this story, you have probably heard bits and pieces of it. We're going to read quite a bit in this chapter - about the creation of the first man, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We're going to look at some of the details in this chapter, but none of these are the point of the chapter. It took me a long time this week studying this chapter before I even realized what the point of this chapter is.

The star of this chapter isn't the Garden, the first man, or any tree. It's God. God had just finished creating and blessing humans. He told them to rule the earth under his authority, and he allowed them to reproduce. Two things were needed for humans to carry out this blessing. In order to rule under God, they needed something to rule. That's what today's passage is is about: God providing a setting for Adam to carry out this part of the blessing. In order to reproduce, humans needed male and female. Right now, you're saying, "I came to church for this?" That's the second part of the blessing. It's what we're going to look at next week.

The story of chapter two is all about God giving us exactly what we need to do what he put us here on earth to do. This story tells us more about God than it does about us or anything else. It's about the type of God who goes out of his way to give us everything good. Let's look at the details and see what we can discover about God.

The story of this chapter starts with the "before" picture. Before God went to work, there was nothing to cultivate, no plants or cultivated grains:

When the LORD God made the heavens and the earth, there were no plants or grain growing on the earth, for the LORD God had not sent any rain. And no one was there to cultivate the soil. But water came up out of the ground and watered all the land. (Genesis 2:4-6)

God then creates the first man. In chapter 1, we read that God had created humans in his image. Here we get the same story from a much more earthy view. God created man (the first woman comes next week), but this time we read it from a more creaturely perspective. Verse 7 says, "And the LORD God formed a man's body from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life. And the man became a living person."

Here is where you can find biblical proof that men are dirt. We may be created in the image of God, but we're very connected to matter, to this earth. There's no conflict. God created us. He also created a Garden for us to work in, so we could carry out the blessing to rule under God on this earth:

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he had created. And the LORD God planted all sorts of trees in the garden-beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit. At the center of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches...

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. (Genesis 2:8-10, 15)

Here you have a well-stocked garden, with everything the first man would need to live. The image is of an enclosed, protected area that was lush with all kinds of lush vegetation. You read later that this is called the Garden of God. The rivers symbolize the presence of God. Everything is in balance and harmony. The first man is put here to enjoy his life.

Sound too good to be true? It is hard to believe. It's actually a unique story. The other traditions of the Ancient Near East didn't have stories that were similar to this. This tells us about what God originally intended for us. It also tells us about God.

One more feature of this garden. Two trees are mentioned in detail, as we read in verse 9. One was the tree of life. It seems as if this tree had fruit that sustained life, almost like a tree of youth. It may have healed, enhanced, and prolonged life.

There was one other tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was the only tree they weren't allowed to eat. What's so bad about this tree? God reserved the knowledge of good and evil for himself. He essentially said to us, "Take me word for it. If it's bad, I'll tell you." It required trust in God, and submission to him.

So why did God leave the tree there? I don't know. Maybe it was because staying in the garden required active faith, to take God at his word. Maybe God wanted us to have the choice, so following him was not forced upon us. Verses 16-17 say, "But the LORD God gave him this warning: "You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die."

Rediscovering God

If this passage tells us things we need to know about God, what are they? Let's try to look at a few.

One of the things that this passage tells us about God is that he is a God that provides. The whole story, and the story next week, is about God providing what we needed to get started. He didn't provide sparingly, either. He provided humanity with everything we needed to get started. Not only did he provide food, but he provided food that was good to look at and delicious to eat. He even provided a tree that extended life and health. He sends out rivers that branch out and water all the earth. It was all good. That tells us a lot about who God is.

One of the issues we face all the time is that we have a hard time believing that God is going to provide what is good for us. It's not a new problem. Jesus even talked about the fact that some of us think that if we ask God for what we need, we somehow think that God is going to give us something else. Right back at the beginning of human history, we're encountered with a God who gives us exactly what we need. He's not stingy. He doesn't hold back. He gives richly. He provides not just what will help us get by, but he also gives the gift of beauty and enjoyment. At the root of God's character, he's a generous God. He's giving. That's the God we encounter in this story.

The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil also tell us something about God. You know what God's first command to humanity was? It's right there in 16: "And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden...'" The first commandment that God ever gave us was to enjoy, to eat and enjoy. God also gives us the flip side, about avoiding what's harmful for us. God's interest is in giving us life. His will and his intention for us are good. He wants us to have access to what's good for us, and to avoid what's dangerous for us. He offers life.

It's interesting that while God offers us life, he also offered us a choice. I suppose that God could have given us a tree of life and removed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from us. But that wouldn't have required any faith response on our part. We wouldn't have been able to choose to worship God and to submit to him willingly. Instead, God gave us the opportunity to obey him, but he also gave us the opportunity to do so willingly. We had alternatives. The odds weren't even stacked against us. Everything was good to look at and eat. Only one tree was dangerous, and was clearly marked and warned against. But he still gave us a choice.

It also tells us something about God's desire for relationship with us. The garden was God's garden. It's a temple garden, rich with life and with God's presence. Later on, we read of God's presence within the garden, of him walking in the garden in the cool of the day. This was a place of safety, of relationship.

God is described later in the Bible as love. When Jesus was asked about the two greatest commandments, both of them boiled down to love. Love God, love others. God wants relationship with us. That's what he desires from us today.

In a few weeks, we'll see at how sin messed a lot of this up. The world is no longer all good, and a lot of things have gone bad since that point. But God has not changed. The God we read about here, who wills life for us, who desires relationship with us, who provides for us - that God has not changed.

So What?

I wanted to talk about this for a couple of reasons today. The first reason is simple: our past is our future. What we read here is the before picture of what happened before sin messed up our world. We live in the now picture, and we see all the damage that's taken place. But our after picture - what is yet to come - looks a lot like the before picture. God is at work, and he's restoring the world to what it once was. We see glimpses of it; it's already, but it's not yet. It's here, but there's still more to come. This is exciting for me.

When we say the Lord's prayer, we say, "Your kingdom come." You know what that means? When Jesus came to earth, his kingdom began to break into this world. He's bringing wholeness and healing and restoration to all things. Romans 8 tells us, "All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay" (Romans 8:21). God is going to recreate the heavens and the earth, and to undo the damage that was done. I want you to understand that your future is a lot like what we read from this passage. The story ends much as it starts.

But I also want to make this a lot more personal for us. I mentioned earlier that some of us have a hard time trusting God, because we're not really sure where that will lead. We probably wouldn't be this direct, but we're not sure what God will do with us if we trust ourselves to him.

Some of us have been carrying around images of God as a guilt-inducing, stingy, rule-loving God who's a little bit ticked at all of us. The God we discover here is a God who gives all good things to us. He provides. He gives us choice. He gives life. He desires relationship.

There once lived a man who chose to enter religious service in his fifties. He thought that he was making a big sacrifice for God, that in taking this radical step he would be subjecting himself to hardship. Listen to what he said in a letter that he wrote:

I decided to sacrifice my life with all of its pleasures to God. But He greatly disappointed me in this idea, for I have met nothing but satisfaction in giving my life over to him.

When we discover God as he really is, we discover that it is no sacrifice to trust ourselves to him. There is nothing lost when we choose the tree of life. This is who God is.

Prayer

Confessions about carrying the wrong image of God
Responding to who he is: relational, providing, life-giving
Prayer of commitment in an area we've been holding back

Rediscovering Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3)

We've had a house guest staying with us the past few days. When you have a house guest, you start to realize that not everything that you do is normal. We have our family quirks, but we're so used to them that we forget that not everyone acts as we do. We do them without even thinking about it. Then a guest comes along and we realize, "We're not always normal after all. In fact, sometimes we're freaks."

If you do something without thinking, over time, that makes a difference. Do it once, and it hardly matters. Do the same thing over decades, and you have a situation. It makes a big difference whether I eat a piece of chocolate cake every night, or if I go out and exercise every night. One time doesn't matter. Do the same thing over twenty years, and watch what happens.

Today, we're going to look at something that most of us don't do. Yet it's something that, if done over time, can make a significant difference in our lives.

Tracing the Sabbath

The past few weeks, we've been examining the account of the creation of this world as recorded in Genesis. Last week, we got to the culmination of all that God created. You'd expect that, now that everything is created, the story would move on to other things. It doesn't. There's one more event in creation, and it's not written as a tag-on. It's a key part of all that God did to bring this world into being.

Genesis 2:1-3 reads like this:

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day, having finished his task, God rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from his work of creation.

If you had written this story yourself, you wouldn't have guessed that God would complete his creative work by resting. God finished creation, and then he rested, not because he was tired or needed to relax. He rested to commemorate what he had done. It's as if God finished and was then enthroned. God commemorated the day and made it different.

I never caught one detail until this past week. Prior to taking his rest, God created humans in his image. God essentially said, "I've created you to be like me, to rule with me, and to act like me." Then, the very next thing God does is to take a Sabbath and rest. If we're going to be like God, it makes sense that we would do some of the same things that God does.

If this was all that the Bible had to say about the Sabbath, we'd just have to think a little about what it meant for God to do this. Instead, the idea of Sabbath becomes one of the themes of Scripture. When Moses gave the Ten Commandments, this was big enough to become number four, which is also the longest of the Ten Commandments:

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any kind of work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

I'll be there's some details in this commandment that you've missed before. God never says what we're supposed to do on this day. He doesn't say to go to church or to the Temple or to do anything religious. God told Israel a lot about how to worship him, but he never gave any instructions about any religious duties to be performed on the Sabbath day. He didn't say what to do, but he said what not to do. Don't work. Don't make it a day like every other day. You, and everyone around you (even the animals!) are to make this one day different.

"Wait, it says to keep it holy!" Actually, it says that if we make this day different and stop our normal routine, that will make the day holy. It's not the religious stuff that we do on the Sabbath that makes it holy. It's what we don't do that makes it holy. We're not told what to do; we're only told what not to do on the Sabbath.

Think about this for a minute. God gives a list of his ten big commands for us to follow. One of them is that we take a break and don't work all the time. What should we do instead? He doesn't tell us. He doesn't fill that day with all kinds of other stuff to do. He leaves that up to us. Just don't work yourself to death seven days a week. Take one day and do something different.

This was so important to God that it came to be known as a sign of God's relationship with Israel, part of his covenant. In Deuteronomy 5, it becomes tied with God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt as well as with creation. Then we get the idea that it's tied to Israel's ability to delight in God. Isaiah 58:13-14 says this:

Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don't pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD'S holy day. Honor the LORD in everything you do, and don't follow your own desires or talk idly. If you do this, the LORD will be your delight. I will give you great honor and give you your full share of the inheritance I promised to Jacob, your ancestor. I, the LORD, have spoken!

By the time that Jesus arrived on earth, though, this had become a command that was seen as a burden rather than a delight. The religious leaders had built so many rules around how to keep the Sabbath that Sabbath-keeping was almost work itself. Jesus, who is presented as the God himself, came and claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, and he released people from the burden that Sabbath-keeping had become. Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath!" (Mark 2:27). It's not something that's given to us as a burden. It's given to us as a gift.

This commandment, which was so central to what God intended for us, had become a burden instead of a gift, but Jesus changed all of that. Later on, Paul went even further and said that the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ. He told followers of Christ to stop judging one another by how they kept the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16). The author of Hebrews goes even further and teaches that followers of Jesus Christ have already entered into God's Sabbath rest.

Most of us read that and go, "Wahoo! No more being told what to do or not do on the Sabbath!" We're like kids who are no longer on a curfew. The first few nights we stay up all night before we realize that sleep is actually a good idea. Paul doesn't say that there is no more Sabbath. He essentially says the opposite. He says that every day belongs for God. Instead of one day out of seven being God's, every day now belongs to God. We live in divine time. As followers of Christ, we've already entered into the Sabbath rest that God promised, even though we haven't completely experienced it yet.

So What?

We're no longer under the obligation to keep the Sabbath. Still, I think the Sabbath has something to say to us today. I want to unwrap some of what the Sabbath should mean to us today.

In ancient times, God did at least two things within Israel to claim them as his own. He instructed them to create a Tabernacle. There was nothing special about a tent set up over a patch of dirt, except it represented God's presence. By claiming a piece of their space, he inhabited all of their space. He claimed their space as his own.

God did the same with time. He carved out a piece of time, and by inhabiting it and making it different, he claimed all of their time. At the core of Sabbath, that's what it's about. It's about more than just taking a rest for ourselves. It's stopping to remember that we're his, that we've been made in his image, that he's been at work in our lives. By giving God some of our time, we're recognizing that he is the God who is over all of our time.

At its core, the Sabbath is about trusting God. One of the biggest problems that we tend to have with the Sabbath is the question, "Who's going to look after us if we take a day off?" There's all kinds of work that needs to be done, all sorts of needs that we need met. God takes this day and says, "Remember that I'm the one who looks after you. I'm the one who ultimately meets all your needs." We're tempted to depend on ourselves so much that we sometimes forget that we ultimately depend on God. The Sabbath is a reminder to us that it doesn't depend on us. At least once a week, we stop to realize that we depend on God to meet our needs. He is, after all, the one who completes his work, as he did on the original Sabbath.

A person who feels they should work seven days a week is faced with the question, "What god am I worshiping?" When I'm tempted to do this - and I am! - I find myself realizing that I'm worshiping self-reliance, productivity, advancement. I'm worshiping all kinds of things, but I'm not worshiping God.

The Sabbath is also for rest. It's meant as a rest for us. When you think about it, it's funny that we struggle when God says, "Take a break. I won't tell you what to do that day. Just take a break." What's not to like? It's a day to realize that there is something higher than daily life. We enter into God's rest and share his Sabbath. We realize that we're more than cogs in a machine.

When I lose perspective, I tend to run even harder. I'm less sure of what I'm doing and where I'm going, but I'm doing it harder and going faster. Sabbath reminds me to take a break and to catch my breath. It's time to reflect on what we've done and to welcome a few sacred moments into our lives.

Living the Sabbath

I need to bring this home today to two groups of people. The first are those who have been keeping the Sabbath religiously, even dutifully. The word for you today is probably something like this: relax! Recapture the delight of the Sabbath. It isn't meant as a duty. It's meant as a delight. It's not something for which you should judge other believers. It's a gift to be enjoyed.

If we have to be coerced into the Sabbath, it loses its function. It's not an obligation or a duty. There's not a list of what you should do. There aren't tons of do's or don'ts. Martin Luther said it well:

If anywhere the day is made holy for the mere day's sake, then I order you to work on it, to ride on it, to feast on it, to do anything to remove this reproach from Christian liberty.

So relax about it. It's not a duty or a legalistic thing. It's for your enjoyment, and the minute you start to make the Sabbath work, it's already lost its purpose.

Most of us don't fall into this group, though. I'm not going to try to make you feel guilty and to tell you that you need to start to take a Sabbath day. But I would invite you to receive a gift - not as an obligation, not as something that you must do. I'd like to invite you to receive a gift, believing that over the course of years and decades, this will make a significant difference in your life. I'd invite you to make one day a week different from the rest. Don't do anything like work that day. Don't get all caught up on what's work and what isn't. Just make it a different day.

Do I have to go to church on the Sabbath? No, you don't have to do anything religious on the Sabbath. In the early church, people didn't go to church on the Sabbath. They went to church on a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath. You're never told what do on the Sabbath day. Be creative. Do whatever fuels your love, appreciation, respect, and awe of God and his cosmos. Create sacred space within your week.

Because every day is a Sabbath, we can do this with all of life. Len Sweet says, "A weekly or daily Sabbath is a ritual crowning of God's reign and governance. It is life leaning into the sway and swag of the Spirit. But all of life can be a coronation rite." You can celebrate the Sabbath in little ways daily. You can create sacred space within your time

Here's what I'd like you to do this week. It's not a promise, because then it would be an obligation. It's a gift. Pick a day, any day this coming week, and make it a break for yourself. Don't do anything that would be work. Use your creativity and do something different. And see what it does for your soul.

Let me close with this:

Remember, Sabbath is a gift to us from God. Accept his invitation. You can relax in his presence because he is safe to share your life with. More than anything else, he just wants the time to be with you. Unfettered and unbusy time to enjoy you, to show you his love. Time to make you a champion at living. (Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart)

Essence of God (Genesis 1:26-31)

One of the cool things about getting away from the city is seeing the sky without light pollution. Last month, on vacation, I lay on the beach one night and looked up at the sky. I had forgotten how many stars you can see in a remote place. It was absolutely stunning. The minute I looked away, Charlene saw a shooting star, which is what usually happens. It was a beautiful sight.

The number of stars you can see on a clear night is stunning, but it's even more so when you start to hear estimates of how many stars are out there. All the stars that are visible to us are part of our galaxy, the Milky Way. We are on a planet that circles one of up to 400 billion stars in our galaxy - in our galaxy alone! Astronomers estimate that there are about 125 billion galaxies in the universe, some of which contain many more stars. I can't begin to comprehend these numbers. It's why I can relate to what one of the psalms says:

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers-
the moon and the stars you have set in place-
what are mortals that you should think of us,
mere humans that you should care for us? (Psalm 8:3-4)

It's a good question. Why do we rate? We're small creatures on a small planet in a remote part of one of billions of galaxies. Statistically, we're smaller than a rounding error. It's hard to make much of a case for our importance given these numbers.

Today, I'd like to take us back to the beginning to look at the Bible's account of how we came to be. A few weeks ago, we started to examine the book of Genesis, which is the first book in the Bible. The first chapter talks about the origin of everything that we see around us. It talks about creation, but it's not primarily about creation, as much as it is about the Creator. It's the first time that God reveals himself and what he's like to us. It's about God, but the passage that we're going to read today tells us a lot about ourselves.

In the first part of chapter one, God's been creating all kinds of things and animals. On day six, God creates us. Here's how it reads:

Then God said, "Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life-the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals."

So God created people in his own image;
God patterned them after himself;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and told them, "Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals." And God said, "Look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given all the grasses and other green plants to the animals and birds for their food." And so it was. Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. This all happened on the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)

Differences

If you read over the entire chapter, you'll notice that the creation of humans is treated differently than the creation of everything else. This isn't accidental. It's there to tell us that there is a difference.

Every other day, God said, "Let there be..." When it came time to make us, God said, "Let us make..." There have been all sorts of guesses on who us is. I tend to think that God is turning to his heavenly court and telling them what he's about to do. When God created us, it was expressed in more personal terms.

When God created humans, he announced his intent beforehand. He never did that with all the other creatures. Here, he spoke about our purpose before he even created us.

Then there's the interesting phrase: "Let us make people in our image." With everything else, God says that they are to reproduce after their kind. When it comes to us, God makes the point that we are made after God's own kind. There is something of the essence of God that we carry within ourselves. Hold on to this for a minute, because this is worth pursuing.

It's also the first time that the gender of what is created is mentioned. Gender existed before this, but it's the first time that it was considered important enough to mention. Both genders carry God's image. Gender is obviously important in understanding who we are.

We're also given a job description. We're given a role as God's representatives here on earth, to master and to use creation.

God also blesses us. This is going to be a theme that we see coming up a number of times. Finally, he says something on day six that he's never said before. Every other day, he's pronounced his creation as good. On day six, after he's created us, he looks over everything that he had made, and he pronounced it very good (or excellent). God saw what he had made and he liked it.

None of this is here by accident. The author is signaling to us that when God created us, it was different. God created everything, but we're treated differently than everything else that was created. While we're pretty insignificant given the size of the universe, we're not insignificant to God. In fact, the Psalm I read earlier on our seeming insignificance goes on to say this:

For you made us only a little lower than God,
and you crowned us with glory and honor.
You put us in charge of everything you made,
giving us authority over all things-
the sheep and the cattle
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O LORD, our LORD, the majesty of your name fills the earth!
(Psalm 8:5-9)

God's Essence

The heart of this account is the statement, "Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves" (Genesis 1:26). Your translation may say "in our image, in our likeness." What is meant by this phrase?

The Bible never defines what this means, but we do have some hints. Kings back then would conquer a land, and would mark their conquest by setting up images as signs of their authority. It was believed that kings were made in the image of gods, but not the average person.

You have that type of idea here. God sets up his image on earth as a symbol of his authority over earth, except we are his image. He puts us in his place to rule over the earth. Instead of just male kings bearing a god's image, he gives his image to all of humanity, male and female. But there's more.

A few chapters later in Genesis, we see the idea of image come up again. Genesis 5 reads like this:

This is the written account of Adam's line.

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man."

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. (Genesis 5:1-3)

God created us in his likeness, which is similar to the likeness that gets passed on to our kids. Just as you see similarities between parents and children, we see qualities in humans that resemble God. It's not so much a list as it is a statement that we carry the essence of God. We're like him. You can come up with lists, such as our capacity for rational thought and our spirituality, and those are okay, but it's enough to say that we carry God's essence.

Here's the amazing thing: When God wanted to create something more like himself than the rest of creation, he made us. That blows me away.

Living with God's Image

Think about this for a while, and it really changes the way that we think. We tend to either undervalue people by saying that they're accidents, that they're expendable. On the other hand, we can overvalue people by thinking that we're the center of creation. Genesis gives us a different view.

Genesis teaches us about the incredible value of human life. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

Human life has incredible value. We read later in Genesis (chapter 9) that even though the image has been tarnished as a result of sin, it's still there, and it still makes human life valuable. We have not lost the image. James 3:9-10 says that the image of God in others prevents us from being able to say bad things about other people. Because of God's image, we should never put down any human being. Every person, regardless of disability, age, race, gender, or sin is an image-bearer of God.

You may need to hear this about yourself. Some of us have been close to the breaking point, or beyond. You need to know that you carry something of the essence of God, something of his image.

This also tells us about what God is up to today. Colossians 3:10 says that you "have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator". People often talk about what God does in the afterlife, but God is busy right now. He's restoring his image in us. Following Jesus means that God begins the process of image restoration within us. What God made very good in the beginning, and was then tarnished by sin, God is making perfect again.

It also means that we belong to God. One day, Jesus was asked a question by some people who were trying to trap him. They asked if they should pay taxes to the foreign government of Rome. If Jesus answered yes, then Jesus would come across as being pro-Roman and anti-Israel. If Jesus answered no, then he would be accused of disloyalty to Caesar. It was a no-win situation. But listen to what happened:

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." (Mark 12:15-17)

Jesus said, "Coins are made in the image of Caesar, and therefore they belong to Caesar." But he went even further. He also told us that we are responsible to give to God what belongs to God. That means that because we are made in the image of God, we belong to God. We are his. Giving him all that we are, all that we have, is the least that we can do. We belong to him.

That's us - made in God's image, bearers of his essence. God is restoring that image in us, and we belong to him.