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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5

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Calla Lily | backyard photo safari | April 2017.

Like many young people I struggled with the idea of creation when I was in college. I hadn’t really been exposed to a strong argument in favor of evolution, but I knew it was out there. Then in college the atmosphere was saturated with evolutionary belief and atheistic tenates. It was the air we all breathed. I read Urlichman’s Population Bomb and believed every part of it – including thoughtlessly – the idea that abortion was a legitimate form of birth control. Lord, have mercy! Thoughtless and foolish I was.

I have since recovered from those follies and having even taken a tour into some debaucherous behaviors, sought the forgiveness of God. I am so thankful for the forgiveness of sins, the grace of God, and the patience of God who is not slow concerning his promises, but is patient waiting for us to repent. I repent! Daily, and now once again over those youthful and foolish indiscretions.

I learned of the forgiveness of sins from my pastor at the Lutheran Chapel of Hope at Southeast Missouri State University in my hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My pastor, Robert Lange was a faithful and grace-filled servant of Jesus. He showed me Bible passages when I would inquire of certain Lutheran teachings. He made it clear that God’s forgiveness is precious and plenteous.

Pastor Lange also taught me something about creation. “It’s a matter of faith,” he said when I asked him about it. I wondered about the whole creation/evolution, six days/six epochs theories and ideas. I struggled with the idea that creation didn’t fit into the scientific framework in which we lived. Somehow those words gave me permission to let go, to live in a I-don’t-have-it-all-figured-out,-but-I-believe frame of mind and faith.

I believe God created the world and everything in it. Just as I would never assume that a watch “just happened,” so I reasoned that the world did not “just happen.” In seminary I learned other things about creation and scientific evidence for a young earth and the need on the part of the scientific theories for such long periods of time, and a very old universe in order that the happy accidents of evolution would have time to occur. Moon dust, the decay of magnetic poles to name a few were interesting.

But I don’t go there. I don’t try to prove the creation of the world in six natural days, six days of morning and evening, or six 24 hour days. I believe it. It is a matter of faith. And that faith is not only in the God of creation, but the God whose Spirit hovered over the face of the deep and now dwells in the hearts of believers. I believe in the God who spoke the world into existence, saying simply, “Let there be…” and there was. I believer that Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. I believe he is the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14-18).

I believe God made me. I believe he redeemed me and all people. I believe he has set me apart by faith in his Son: the gift and work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a matter of faith and  through faith by grace I have been saved. It is a matter of faith.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5

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Sunrise Over the Ocean | September 2010

Tohu wa-bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) is one of the few Hebrew phrases I can easily call to mind. It means “formless and empty.” Prior to the creation of light the earth was formless and void. Gene Peterson in the Message version has, “a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness.” The rest of the chapter details – following the creation of light – the acts of God to give form to that which was a soup of nothingness, and fills that which was a bottomless emptiness. There is beautiful prose in these verses in the first book of the Bible.

Those words reflect the glory and beauty of God’s creation. Take a look at the sunrise. Consider a flock of Geese making their way south for the winter. Enjoy the grand splendor of the starry host in the middle of a cold winter night. Watch the unfolding of a butterfly’s wings emerging from its chrysalis. These simple and elegant displays of creation’s splendor – if we will consider them – inspire songs of praise and adoration of our God.

If we lose this sense of awe we walk dangerously close to the precipice of faithlessness and a formless and empty life. We may hide such emptiness with glitz and glamor. We may numb ourselves with gin and distract ourselves with virtual reality. But there is an emptiness in a life without awe before God. Our lives conform to any and every whim of the world. We careen from one pursuit to another enticement.

This truth – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – provides a foundation for all that will come afterward. If this is not true there is no reason for us to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. He is nowhere to be found. And justice and mercy will be constantly redefined by the latest impulse of political correctness.

But there is this foundation. God has created the world. He has left a record of his work for us to consider, and spoken through prophets and apostles. But the One who spoke the world into existence has also spoken the final word of grace and truth. Whatever else comes of my acknowledgement that God has made me and all that exists will flow from through the truths that spring from this fount.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5

August 2014 NWHPC Assigned Category: Landscapes - 1st Place

Kissed by the Sun | Paso Robles, CA | June 2010

One of my prize winning photos won its prize because of the light’s play over a rolling-hilled vineyard (above). You may not think the photo is all that great, but the light was wonderful! Beautiful. The touch of light on the vineyard is like a delightful kiss of God’s grace. Light makes things good. Light is good.

How true this is of Jesus! His touch is a kiss of God’s grace. We had done nothing to earn or deserve God’s kindness and love, his character and nature demanded that he redeem that which was – in its pristine condition – pure and perfect. God created all things good. His perfect creation was itself a gift. He will even provided a beautiful garden of delight and splendor for man and woman to enjoy.

Our experience today, however, includes not only light but darkness. Not all is beautiful. Not all is glorious. Creation has been marred.

Sometimes it’s obvious that man is the culprit. Gashes of earth torn away by strip mining. Forrests denuded by irresponsible foresting practices. Rivers and lakes polluted by careless industries and cities. Air pollution hanging over cityscapes like a caustic brown cloud.

There are also those times when creation itself shows its brokenness. Tornadoes rip through neighborhoods scraping even the grass bare. Hurricanes and tropical storms leave cities paralyzed in their wake. Earthquakes rattle in destructive tremblors. Wildfires scorch the earth and burn homes to the ground.

God’s gift of light has been blighted by sin. And the whole creation waits for the light to shine in the fullness of God’s glory. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God created light. That light has dimmed, but the darkness will not overcome it. There will come a Day when the light from above will be fully revealed. We will see the glory of God and the splendor of his creation as it was meant to be. Paradise will be recreated. It will be glorious. It will be good. We will see it, and we will see that it is good, for it is the work of God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5

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Light Fades into the Western Horizon | Whidbey Island, WA | January 2019

Beyond the need to be in an attitude of humility and accountability before God, and a holy reverent fear of God, we must also give God praise for his majestic creative glory. The first assessment of God of his creation – that of light – was to see that it was good.

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. -Genesis 1:3-4

As an avid amateur photographer I have taken this up as my tag line in my email signature. It speaks volumes. If you’ve ever been completely in the dark you know how precious light is. I’ve experienced it in my high school photography darkroom. But that was short-lived, and if I wanted to spoil the film, but needed to turn on the light, I could. I’ve experienced it in a power outage, but that only for a time. I’ve experienced it out in the middle of nowhere – extreme southern Colorado to be exact. But the darkness of the night blazed with the glory of a million stars.

To be entirely in the dark is a harsh and distressing thing. Mice – when placed in a pail of water with the light on will swim for hours. Turn off the lights and they quickly drown. Deprive someone of light and their bearings evaporate. Some people suffer from SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.

But God created light and saw that it was good. This is the first note in God’s creative symphony. It telegraphs what is yet to come. Other good things will be created. And those things will be seen. Visible. Observable.

This is good. For God wishes not only to create, but to be known as our Creator. He reveals himself in creation. “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” (Romans 1:20 NLT). Light itself is testimony to God’s majesty, power, and divine attributes. It also illumines the world around us which testify to God’s glorious, divine, design, and power. For the light still shines.

That light shines most fully in Jesus Christ who claimed that he was the light of the world. He enlightens all things necessary to know, love, fear, trust, and obey God. That is a subject for tomorrow.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:1-5

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Clouds With a Flourish | Galveston, TX | July 2019

I have a theory about creation. It doesn’t have to do with big bangs, days, epochs of time, figurative or literal understanding of these opening verses of Genesis. It has to do with creation itself, and how we believe, deny, celebrate, or belittle the idea that God created the world as described in these verses. The implication of the way we and the world relate to the idea of creation is profound.

Judge Robert Bork wrote a book titled Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American DeclineThe book’s blurb says that Bork

offers a prophetic and unprecedented view of a culture in decline, a nation in such serious moral trouble that its very foundation is crumbling: a nation that slouches not towards the Bethlehem envisioned by the poet Yeats in 1919, but towards Gomorrah.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah is a penetrating, devastatingly insightful exposé of a country in crisis at the end of the millennium, where the rise of modern liberalism, which stresses the dual forces of radical egalitarianism (the equality of outcomes rather than opportunities) and radical individualism (the drastic reduction of limits to personal gratification), has undermined our culture, our intellect, and our morality.

He asserts that the root of all this is the sexual revolution of the 60’s and the twin ills of radical egalitarianism and radical individualism. I believe, however, that the story begins long before the 1960’s. It begins with the loss of faith in the Creator God who spoke light into being, and who created the world and everything in it.

At our church’s national convention we adopted a resolution affirming the belief that God created the world in 6 “natural days.” I’m not certain what that means, nor am I ready to avow a term that might mean something the Bible does not say. I believe God created the world in 6 days in which there was evening and morning each of those days. We’ve been told that clearly in the Genesis account. Beyond that is a mystery.

While I won’t embrace the idea of “natural days”, I do not necessarily reject the idea. More important, I believe that the foundational reality that the Bible reveals here is profound beyond the length of the days of creation. It is this: Did God create us? Are we his creatures? Are we accountable to him? Most important, What does it mean to believe this?

This is an article of faith. Martin Luther explains this doctrine of creation in these terms:

I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true. – Luther’s Small Catechism, The 1st Article of the Apostle’s Creed

Notice how he points us to the act of God’s creation, his ongoing care and daily provision for us and his creation, his fatherly divine goodness and mercy, and then our accountability to God for all this.

On a human, secular level, the idea that there is a Creator to whom we must give an account will give us pause in the face of temptation toward evil of every kind. It will restrain us to at least some extent from abandoning decency and morality. It will point us toward the True North of a life of thanksgiving, praise, service and obedience.

There is much more to be said of all this, and I look forward to unpacking it in the days to come. For now, let’s hold our heads high (no slouching here!), stand strong in the confidence of our Creator’s love and daily provision, and thank, praise, serve, and obey him.

 

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. – Acts 5:1-11

Flowers by God | Unknown Time and Place | Photo by David Bahn

When we were in seminary we experienced an amazing amount of generosity. We were given large amounts of money to help pay for school expenses, housing, and living expenses. I recall very clearly yearning fo the day that we could begin giving to the Lord through our offerings in the local church. Once we actually had income we began the practice of tithing. It’s been a practice we’ve never abandoned. On more than one occasion we have doubled our tithe in support of God’s special work. It is a practice that brings us great joy. If you are impressed by this, please do not be – except for being impressed with God’s goodness and grace at work in us. All glory belongs to him!

When St. Paul directed the Christians in Corinth to give he told them that a gift is acceptable to God “according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). Ananias and Sapphira’s gift was not acceptable because they lied to the Holy Spirit. They did not give based on what they had, they gave on the basis of what they did not have. For they did not have a pure heart. They sought to deceive and impress people, rather than expressing true thanks to God.

I’m sure each of us struggle in some aspect of our Christian walk. None of us ever outgrows the need for God’s ongoing work in our hearts: purifying, refining, and clarifying in our hearts what is truly good. But we need never seek to deceive God in that regard or anything else. We can give our gifts based on what we have in Christ: righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and a new heart.

For most Christians money is the chief rival god. We too easily look to money for the most good in life – rather than looking to God, trusting in him, and rejoicing in his goodness, grace, and salvation. With faith in God’s love, goodness, and mercy, and with joy in our hearts we can give acceptable gifts – never for the praise of others, but for the glory of God.

Let each one give as he has decided in his heart to give, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times you may have all that you need for every good deed. You will be enriched in every way, so that you may be generous in every situation, and…produce thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:8,9, 11

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. – Acts 5:1-11

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Wench | Galveston, TX | July 2019

A colleague served as a missionary in New Guinea. He told a group of pastors about a man who had served as treasurer for their small and fledgling church there. The treasurer had embezzled money from the church funds. The president of the congregation was deeply distressed upon hearing the news. When he confronted the treasurer about it, he said, “Don’t you fear God!?!” He could never imagine doing such a thing – for fear of God.

The fear of God is a secondary motivation for Christian obedience. Our primary motivation should be the love of God and the love that is in our hearts because of God’s love for us. Love is the primary motive for Christian obedience. But sometimes fear must do its work in us as well. It might be that I love God, but in a misguided reliance on God’s love and grace think that I may do as I please. Fear will often correct such false belief.

I may restrain myself from giving in to temptation because I fear the consequences of doing wrong and getting caught. I might also be legitimately afraid of the judgment of God if I willfully sin. No sin is beyond the redemption of God. But willful sin can lead us farther away from a repentant heart and put us in grave danger of God’s judgment and even condemnation.

Notice how fear grips all who see this dramatic visitation of judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira. Twice in these 12 verses Luke tells us that fear gripped all who heard of this event. When love wears thin, we can be thankful for the fear of God that rightly corrects us and restrains us from gross outbursts of evil.

“We should fear and love God above all things,” wrote Martin Luther. The Psalmist says, “There is forgiveness with you that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). I don’t want to live in fear of God, paralyzed in anxiety about whether or not he loves me, or desires my prayers. But I do not wish to live without a due sense of God’s holiness, which engenders a godly fear that adorns the love that he inspires by his great love for me and all people.