Why You Are Who You Are, Part 1

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No matter what you believe about Genesis 1-3, the author is telling a story. It is your story. It tells the reason you were born, the meaning of your life, and the purpose behind planets and people. It reveals who you are. It reveals why you are. Most of the time, the meaning of the story is missed.

Part of the reason we miss the story is because God later describes it as a mystery. In Biblical language, a mystery is something once hidden now revealed. In other words, there are clues to its meaning, not always recognized as clues, their answer revealed over time. You and I live in the revelation of the story but not the resolution of the story. We know what the clues mean. The problem is, we approach Genesis without honoring the clues for what they are, points along the way that solve a mystery.

The joy of a good mystery novel is that, in the end, when the detective reveals clues and their ultimate meaning, we are amazed and think “I should have seen that coming.” (Which is exactly how God’s people were supposed to react at the coming of Jesus, but that’s a later section). A mystery is never about one clue; a mystery is about the revelation of the clues.

You, and what God intends for you, is that revelation.

Who you are, and why you are who you are, has been made known.

You are part of a grand story. Your story is very much important in it. But you will not understand your story, or realize the full genius of your story, if you miss the greater story.

                Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a beautifully constructed, poetically structured account of how God created and brought order to the cosmos.

                 It is a chiastic structure in which the final phrases of 2:3 reverse the order of the same phrases of 1:1. In addition, the first paragraph of 1:1-2 and 2:1-3 both contain Hebrew words in multiples of 7. The number 7 and its multiples dominate the opening section: God is mentioned 35 times (7x5), earth 21 times (7x3), heaven 21 times, and the phrases “God made,” “it was so,” and “God saw that it was good” 7 times. The days correspond to each other: 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. Days 3 and 6 both contain double uses of “God said” and “God saw.” There is more, but you get the picture. The author is trying to tell us something. And he does so quite artistically. The Poet is at work.

                Days 1-3 account for God’s formation of time, weather and food. He creates the environment in which we can live. In days 4-6, God makes living things; he furnishes the cosmos. This is how God orders things: First create the sustainable environment, then create living things. I’ve been known to reverse the order and start stuff before it was sustainable. That never worked out well.

                The first words of Genesis, “In the beginning” speak of our beginning, the world as we know it. God is eternal, without beginning or end, and yet, humanly speaking, at some point, he decided to bring about what was not.

                Why? Was he bored? Did he need a good laugh? Did his ego need feeding? Did he want someone to boss around (in love)?  Get the why wrong, and all sorts of stuff go wrong.

Here is what we know so far.

In Hebrew, the number seven is God’s number, representing divine completion. God, complete within himself, fixed a time and place for something to happen in.

This is a clue.

                2:1-3 tells of the seventh day. In these verses, the seventh day is mentioned three times, each in a sentence of seven Hebrew words, drawing special attention to the meaning of the day. On the seventh day, God rests.

This is a clue.

The word rest is rooted in the concept of something being settled. Though rest encompasses relaxation, as in ceasing from something, it assumes the continuance of normal activity. When God rests, it means he now reigns. In Psalm 132, God declares “This is my resting place forever; here I will sit enthroned.” Creation language is used in the Bible more for God’s ongoing work than it is his original work. “This continuing activity is not the same as the activity of the six days, but it is the reason the six days took place (John H. Walton).”

When you move into a house, you have a period of time in which the house is being furnished and things are given their place. But then you begin to live in what is now your home. The reason you moved into the house begins. That is rest. When God told Israel he would give them rest from their enemies, it wasn’t to provide them an endless vacation. He gave them peace so that they could live out their identity, capacity and destiny.

Deity only rests in a temple. Genesis 1 is teaching about the creation of the temple in which God takes residence in order to rule (the reason he moved in begins). Creation as temple is often paralleled: The later tabernacle and temple of Israel housed items that represented the universe and contained images of the Garden of Eden. In the ancient east, gardens adjoined sacred space. Waters flowing from the presence of deity, as is found in the Garden of Eden, were common imagery (see Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22). God declares in Isaiah 66:1-2, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”

                The world is ordered to be sacred space, God’s special place.

Most of Scripture is best understood starting from the end (Next time you want to read through the Bible in a year, try going backwards).  In Revelation 21, there is no physical temple on the renewed earth, for God himself is the temple: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Rev.21:3).” In the New Testament, the church and the individual Christian is described as a temple: He indwells us, his new creation. In the Gospels, Jesus came to dwell among us, and dwell is the same word used to describe the Old Testament temple and the tabernacle before it.

God fixed a time and place in which to dwell.

In six days, God constructed the house. On day seven, he moved in, and made it his home.

But he didn’t move in alone.

Ancient religions taught that man was created to relieve the gods of work and to provide them with food. In contrast, Genesis declares that God made man as the goal of creation, that God provides for man, and that God created an environment and living things in order for man to thrive.

It’s our home, too.

With cool pets. And beautiful scenery.

This is a clue. The clues are stacking up.

In the ancient world, an image was a representation in physical form that carried the essence of what it represented. In mythology, the deity’s work was believed to be accomplished through an idol. In the political realm, kings set up an image to represent their authority in that land. Whether in mythology or royal history, an image was a physical representative. The ancient world taught about gods building a temple in seven days. Placement of the image was the final piece before the deity took up residence. It was day six work.

The writer of Genesis declares that, contrary to the stories of other religions, there is only one God. This God rests in his temple, the one true temple. This God, on the sixth day, said “Let us make man in our image.”

You are God’s physical representative. You reflect his attributes. You are day-six work.

The next time you hold a baby in your arms, snuggle her against you and rock her gently, you cradle divine image. You coo to heaven’s child.

(To be continued)

Watching Adam Walk Away

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I had a weird experience today.

I was deep-diving into some Biblical texts, reviewing theological histories about subjects, and generally having a great time bending my mind around what I was learning.

Part of my study was a reflection of Adam. We have missed a valuable part of the Adam story, because we fixate on blame: “Adam, man, if you hadn’t disobeyed… (In essence, dude, this is your fault).

In my reading of Romans 7, a part of which can easily be interpreted as Adam’s actual experience, I read, “Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life (like a serpent striking), and I died…For sin, seizing the opportunity, deceived me…and put me to death.”

I started weeping. Something bypassed my mental gymnastics and went straight into my spirit. I have never stopped to feel Adam’s loss. Yet, this passage, inspired by God, gives us a glimpse into Adam’s heart. Yes, guilt. Yes, hiding. But the defeat, the loss, the utter destruction of sin on his soul. He had it all. And then he didn’t. And he knew it: “I was alive. I was deceived. I died.”

Then I thought of my own sin. I know it is forgiven. I know that God does not call it into the present and hold me accountable to it. But sometimes, I see more clearly, upon reflection, the sinfulness of sin. All that I had, that I deemed not good enough, and chased after what is rightly forbidden, what isn’t really life….

I’m not alone. You and I know sin. Yet, I can still easily assess blame on the fallen and not embrace the deep loss they have suffered. Adam was banished from the garden. We watch him walk away. We don’t stop to think what he is experiencing, just like we do with so many who sin. They will one day realize the wreckage of sin on their life. They shouldn’t be alone when they do.

We are not called to just watch a person walk away. We are called to “show a person their fault” because we are called to show them their freedom.

“There is, now, no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” That’s Romans 8. That’s good news. Then the chapter talks about a whole new life, one by the Spirit, who gives life, and who empowers us to overcome the sin that seeks to strike.

I hurt for Adam. I hurt for me and for you and for all deceived; I hurt to the point of needing to do something about it because Jesus did one big thing about it: He, too, sprang to life.

Miss, are you ok?

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Have you ever been caught in the act?

My wife, Natalie, and I began dating our senior year of High School. We were in love. I was the student leader in our youth group, the nice young man who could do no wrong. She is a sweet, quiet perfectionist who does no wrong.

One cold winter night, I took her to a really nice dinner, which in her home town of Puyallup meant the Sizzler. When we finished, it was too early to go back to her house because her mom was still awake. So we decided to hang out in my car. I drove my 1968 Oldsmobile - with bench seat - to a nearby park. No one else was there, which made it much nicer for us to....talk.

I’m not sure if it was the steamy windows that caught the police officer’s attention, but all of a sudden there was a loud rapping on the car window. As Natalie and I hurriedly scooted away from each other on the convenient bench seat, flashing red and blue lights illuminated the rear view mirror (face) as I lowered my front window.

The officer was quite a large man. Towering, even. He bent over and trained his flashlight on me and then focused it on Natalie.

At this point, I expected the officer to rain down judgment. I expected him to say to me “What do you think you are doing? Or to Natalie, “What were you thinking?”

Instead, with the light still held on Natalie’s face, he asked one question: “Miss, are you okay?”

Have you ever been caught in a situation where you expected God to rain down judgment? Have you experienced, instead, how he trains his light of love on you and simply asks, “Are you okay?”

Has the unexpected concern of God invited you into his unexplored place of grace?

The Word on the Word of God

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W.O.R.D.

  1. Want it
    • Your word is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. Psalm 119:72
    • They are more precious than gold, they are sweeter than honey. Psalm 19: 10
    • Like newborn babies, crave the pure milk of the word. I Peter 2:2
       
  2. Open it
    • His delight is in the word of the Lord and on his word he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:2
    • They examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11
    • All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
    • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Colossians 3:16
       
  3. Receive it
    • They received the message with great eagerness. Acts 17:11
    • You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in  you who believe. I Thessalonians 2:13
    • For the word of God is living and active. Hebrews 4:12
       
  4. Do it
    • Do not merely listen to the word and deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

  

 

You are more than meets the eye

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You want all that God has for you, but not just for you. You are restless until the difference your life can make is exhausted. Transformation and influence, God in you and through you; those are your heart’s desire. You want to be like Jesus; you want your relationships to be good and godly and full of grace. You want to be unforgettable in the lives of people and in your legacy to this world. God wants that for you. We want that for you. 

Unforgettable people are ordinary people who experience extraordinary change and influence. God’s best:  In themselves. In those around them. In what’s around them.

You experience the difference and make a difference when you know why you are who you are, how to fulfill what matters most, and what to do when you do. Nothing is beyond the change you seek. No one is beyond the change they need. We don’t need to feel stuck any longer.

What the world desperately cries out for, which deep down you ache to fulfill, is very little of what has been afforded you in opportunity. The staging has been wrong, the script altered, the characters fed edited lines. The casting call you answered pulled a bait and switch. You play a role you did not audition for. Is it any wonder you have lost that lovin’ feelin’?

God says he made you a little lower than him. He crowned you with glory and honor. Is this your experience?

King David praised God for making you “awesomely wonderful” (Psalm 139:14). Is that who you saw today in the mirror?

People do not have the power to define the depth of my relationship with Jesus or the quality of the faith that I exercise. If I’ve lost that lovin’ feelin,’ I left it.

And that’s good news.

Somewhere along the line, due to any number of factors, I missed something, and all that I need to get it back is a simple turn. Jesus loves to teach course corrections.

You and I want more in our relationship with God. We are not satisfied with formula faith that sours. On the contrary, until we know him so that we are like him, our spirit is restless. We long to draw near to his heart.

We also want more in our experience of his church. We want genuine relationships that translate into real and memorable ministry. We want church to be outside of walls and inside of hearts.

You have a network of relationships. They need you. The real you. But you have too often discounted yourself. You believed lies about you. You were swamped by the tsunami of religious agenda.

But, because of Jesus:

The authority you possess is incomparable.

The Spirit within you is as active as ever.

The gifts you long to give are poised for reception.

The people you love need more of you and less of what has been.

Understanding your true identity, capacity and destiny, and the why behind them, turns disappointed living into Spirit-filled experiences that shock the world.

So that’s Advocāte does. We unveil a different experience of Jesus and his church so that you enjoy God’s best in you and through you, fulfilling what matters most to you and to those you love. You  discover the community you need for the change you seek. 

(Much of the above is an excerpt from Advocate, Copyright 2017, Joe Woodruff. Used with permission).

Numb and Number

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I had a vasectomy.

My father said there are two things I should never try to buy cheap: Shoes and mattresses. He missed one.

A friend of mine found a clinic that performed vasectomies for guys on a budget. This was in the day before online reviews, so I had to rely on my buddy’s experience. He seemed to come out of it okay, as well as one can from having the private area invaded with a scalpel.

I did all the necessary prep, which in itself requires surgical-like precision, and showed up to my appointment. The doctor and nurse staff seemed confident and competent. By the time I was numbed, I felt as if I was nothing more than one in a series of routine operations.

In the middle of the procedure, the anesthesia wore off.

I know it wore off, because the pain caused me to bolt upright in a manner worthy of Frankenstein’s monster, accompanied by monstrous screams and horrified looks.

I had a natural vasectomy.

“Oh,” said the doctor.

A few weeks later, another friend scheduled his procedure with the same clinic and asked me to drive him home. I forget if I told him about my experience. Honestly, I just can’t remember. My friend was an athlete, a tough man’s man. His pain tolerance was high. No big deal, and what are the odds his anesthesia would wear off?

It didn’t.

 His procedure was free of difficulty, so I was wondering why he was moaning and groaning. As I assisted him to the car, you would have thought he had gone natural the whole time. I had the common decency to offer sympathy like any caring friend would.

Until I couldn’t take it anymore. So as we drove, I turned on the radio, just in time for us to hear The Righteous Brothers singing: “You lost that lovin’ feelin’, whoa that lovin’ feelin’, you lost that lovin’ feelin’ now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa.”

Have you ever lost that loving feeling?

It takes us by surprise. We start in a new career full of promise, and one day we pull up into our parking spot and just sit there. The energy to get out of the car and walk one more time into the building is gone; we fight the urge to just turn around and call it quits.

Something that once held our interest now does nothing for us. A best friend forever is now nearly forgotten. The artist within us keeps the supplies locked away. We realize a dream and discover it to be an illusion.

John Cheever said, “The main emotion of the average American adult who has had all the advantages of wealth, education and culture is disappointment.”

Have you been there?

Jesus said to one of his churches, “You have lost your first love.”

King David once prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

We have been there.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, in the commitments and the disciplines, in the giving and the serving, in the contending and the pretending, in the divine appointments and the disappointments, we realize something is off; something has worn off. We allowed religion to cool our relationship with God. We became frozen chosen.

Few are immune to the experience. We love Jesus, but so much of what goes on in his name makes us think “such awful thoughts that I cannot say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (Anne Lamott).”

The problem isn’t Jesus. We are just tired of the lack of genuineness and the insincerities and the positioning and posturing. It happens in big churches and small churches and good churches and bad churches. Like Charlie Brown, we want to scream “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?”

The experience is so prevalent, pollsters have coined a new name for people: Dones. These are people who love God but have left the church, or, if they are still attending church, have withdrawn from any significant involvement. Dones wonder, “Is this it?”

I have met a lot of Dones. One thing true of each is their continued desire to be used by God to make a difference in this world, to know more of Jesus and to be more like Jesus. But they rarely know what to do about it. Many parents have children who are done. They are friends with Nones, those who have little to no spiritual background or church affiliation.

Done or not, people are disappointed because they know deep down that there must be more. Are you a business leader who wants your influence for Jesus to be more than financial support (What does it mean to do business with Jesus not just for Jesus)? Have you been leading a women’s ministry that is mostly status quo while a vision for what women can truly be burns deeply within you? As a pastor, are you trying to understand how to navigate the cultural shifts around you, how to bring real transformation into people’s lives, and still anticipate the changes your church faces in years ahead?

We want a different experience of Jesus and his church.

We want God’s best in us and through us.

We want back that loving feeling.

And that’s Advocate. We start with you and what God is doing in you, and we build from there: Your personal growth, your relational health, your life purpose.

God in you. God in your relationships. God in your ministry.

Because the love of God is always waiting to be found.

(Much of the above is an excerpt from Advocate, Copyright 2017, Joe Woodruff. Used with permission).