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Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. – Genesis 2:1-4

Seashell | Galveston, Texas | February 2021

I believe that God created the world in what might be best understood as six 24-hour days. He could have taken six seconds to do the work and still have it be very good. I have no need, either to lengthen the “days” spoken of in Genesis 1 to epochs or eons of time: six trillion years, for example. I am intrigued, nonetheless, in the use of the word, “day” in 2:4. Here it seems to refer not to a 24 hour period of time, but to an event or work in a fixed moment. 

Again, just to be clear, I believe the days of Genesis 1 refer to six 24-hour periods of time. But more important to me than fixing the number of hours or the length of the days, is the fact that God created the earth and the heavens. This is his world. We are living on his turf. If he wants to, he can say – like Harrison Ford in the movie Air Force One – “Get off my planet!” He is the creator. We are the creature. We are accountable to him. 

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

11 Thus says the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
12 I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host. – Isaiah 49:9-12

I think of Job hearing from God, 

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? – Job 38-4-7

This is no fairy tale. This is not a fanciful fable. “These are the generations of…” is a significant term that sets the stage of the whole book of Genesis. These “generations” are headings or sometimes footnotes to peoples and events recorded in Genesis that vividly [reveal] the cultural scenes and historical accuracy of the narrative. They also clearly illustrate the development of writing and the written preservation of events and transactions (The Generations of Genesis). 

Most faithful, Bible-believing Christians will not bristle at these issues. We believe that the Bible’s accounts are true and reliable. And these generations provide a clue to the various epochs and narratives that form the narrative accounts of this book. The care, rhythm, planning, and clear purpose for creation that is provided for us will point us to the God who has made us and all that exists and still cares for us from day to day.

This day has been an object lesson of that reality. From a power outage that started at 2:30 AM during record-breaking freezing cold, to frustration’s relief when I was able with God’s help and Diane’s encouragement, to start our generator, to relief and appreciation for electricity that is now restored: I was reminded not to take things for granted – whether it is turning on a light, or turning up the temperature. All this ultimately goes to God’s design of an orderly universe that suffers when evil intrudes. 

But this is also the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Who knows what it will bring?

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. – Genesis 2:1-14

Seashell and its Shadow | Galveston, Texas | February 2021

I remember learning about the Fertile Crescent in high school. I recall that it was considered the cradle of civilization. It is located in the middle east, and is identified by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I might be able to draw some inferences about that. And I suspect that since those simpler days, there may have been other theories about the cradle of civilization and all that. 

In this account of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth the Tigris and Euphrates as well as the Pishon and Gihon Rivers are mentioned. There is little doubt about the location of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. And it is most likely that the Gihon River refers to the Nile River. The Gihon River is less clearly identified. But at the mouth of these four rivers was located a beautiful garden from which all civilization, life, and a Divine Drama unfolded. 

It is as though God was setting up the stage in Genesis 1. He then rests. And then he lets the drama begin. It is difficult for me not to rush ahead with further details of the drama. There are so many twists and turns in its plot. What seems at once to be the ideal setting soon becomes a place of rebellion and shame. What begins as a family story of two brothers quickly becomes a murder non-mystery. Giants roam the earth. Evil worsens. God saves 8 people and sets a rainbow in the sky. And this is just the first 9 chapters of this incredible book!

Look with me now at the opening verses of this chapter. God is resting. He is finished with creation. All is very good. He has accomplished his first task. I wonder why God rested. I’m guessing he was not tired – at least in the sense that I get tired after a day of labor. I’m guessing he wasn’t trying to catch his breath. Nor was he, I think, pondering his next move. It seems to me that God is confirming and establishing the rhythm of evening and morning, and work and rest. As a side note, it is interesting to me that Adam and Eve’s first day of life would have been a day of rest. 

I’ve spent much of my life “running to a rest.” I even commented on that to a friend several years ago. I go, go, go, until I drop. And to some extent these early days of retirement are much the same. I feel a bit like I’ve run a marathon over the last 40 years. I’m thankful to hand the baton to the new senior pastor at St. John. I’m thankful that I don’t have to prepare for meetings, get up before 5 AM on Sunday mornings, or attend to the business aspects that used to accompany my calling.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a Jesus follower. I still am called to love my neighbor. I still pray for my friends and family, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the Church throughout the world. Nor do I resent the challenges that went with the leadership opportunities I’ve had over the years. But, unlike God, I’m resting because I’m tired, and ready to enter a different chapter of life. 

But I still miss the opportunity to think of and plan for new series of messages and studies. I sometimes have a nagging feeling I’m missing a meeting or failing to plan for something that is my responsibility. And I really do look forward to the time in May when I will begin working part time for the Texas District of the LCMS. There are even potential opportunities for further work with PLI in Tanzania and Kenya. 

But for now, I’m taking a page from God’s book (literally!). I’m resting. And I’m resting in anticipation of new and more opportunities to serve and lead. My mission is to help people and churches discover Jesus’ plan and purpose. I want to prepare well for doing that. And so I rest in anticipation of the fertile opportunities God will lay before me in the coming years. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021 was my last Sunday as Senior Pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. Saturday, February 13, 2021 the church hosted a retirement celebration event. It was a great and delightful blessing. Thank you St. John!

Diane and I have been blessed to have served in Utah and Colorado (4 years), Arkansas (10 years), and Texas (Arlington, 11 years, and St. John, Cypress 16 years) over the past four decades. We have been deeply enriched by the people God has sent our way through those times. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and have needed the grace, love, and forgiveness of those we have served. We has also sought to give that same grace, love, and forgiveness we have received from God. 

We received very generous financial gifts from members of the congregation as well as kind and gracious well wishes and lasting tokens of love in the form of artwork, and other gifts. We are truly thankful for all these things. Most of all we are thankful to God for bringing us to St. John, for providing opportunities to serve and lead here, and for the many experiences of love and grace we have had.

To all who sent cards and letters, thank you. To all who provided gifts of various kinds, thank you. To all who helped make yesterday possible, thank you. To God who considered us faithful and allowed us to serve, thank you. 

At the end of the celebration I was offered the opportunity to speak. Diane spoke first, and shared her heart of thankfulness and love for the people of God at St. John. I quoted from Romans 12:9-12. This is my prayer for the people of God at St. John.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

 

Quilt given by the Dorcas Guild on the occasion of our retirement celebration | February 13, 2021

Psalm 14:1

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Psalm 44:4

You are my King, O God;
    ordain salvation for Jacob!

Psalm 74:12

 God my King is from of old,
    working salvation in the midst of the earth.

Psalm 104:1-4, 33-35

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
    Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
    covering yourself with light as with a garment,
    stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
    he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
    his ministers a flaming fire.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
    and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 144

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

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

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. – Genesis 1:26-31

Willet # 10 of 11 | Galveston, Texas | February 2021

We are not amused.” So says the Queen, using the plural of majesty, or the royal we. In the public situations in which it is used, the monarch or other dignitary is typically speaking not only in their own personal capacity but also in an official capacity as leader of a nation or institution. In the grammar of several languages, plural forms tend to be perceived as deferential and more polite than singular forms (Thanks, Wikipedia!). 

Let us make man in our image…” says God. Some have suggested that in this instance God is using the plural of majesty. That may be the case. God is majestic, and it would be appropriate for him to express his majestic holiness by use of this grammatical device.

There are at least five suggestions as to why God speaks in this manner here. 

  1. The revelation of himself as Triune; speaking within his three-in-one nature about his work of creation
  2. God speaking about his work with the angels in attendance and assistance
  3. God and creation itself working out this marvelous design
  4. God’s revelation of his majesty by use of the grammatical construction known as the plural of majesty
  5. A polytheistic view of God as though God is working with other gods to create the world and everything in it

We reject the final idea out of hand. Scripture is clear: there is one and only one God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4). There is no biblical evidence that the angels or of creation itself participated in creating. That leaves us with either the plural of majesty or God speaking within his three-in-one being – a self-reflecting conversation about this dramatic work. 

Opera ad extra indivisa sunt. That’s Latin for “works [of the Triune God] outside of his being are indivisible.” In other words, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as One created the world. If you want a deeper consideration of this, you might check out this website

There are many ways to conjecture about these issues – including how God relates within his being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three persons. Perhaps this is a peek into that mysterious reality. We can even diagram  the Bible’s teachings about Triune God. (Thanks to Pastor Brian Chilton for this diagram.)

Image result for triune god diagramBut make no mistake. The diagram is not God. It really doesn’t do justice to the sublime nature of God’s being.  I find it quite plausible that God is speaking within his being as he says, “Let us make man in our image…” And I know that the teaching of the Triune nature of God is vital to true faith. But in the end, two truths sustain me: 

If I could understand and explain the Trinity, you and I would have a puny and paltry god. If God could fit inside my head, and if I could understand his being, he would be in my image – not the other way around. 

As I’ve said before, “We know precious little about god but the little we know is precious.”

I am thankful to God for creating me and all people in his image. It is a tragic truth that we have tarnished and besmirched that image. But the God who created us has also come to our rescue. He has saved us through the death of his Son. He has given us the Holy Spirit, and invites to to pray to him as “Our Father.” For all that I shall thank, praise, serve, and obey him.  

 

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

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

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. – Genesis 1:26-31

Willet #5 of 11 | Galveston, Texas | February 2021

Maybe you’ve seen the vacant stare. Eyes open but not seeing. Breathing shallow breaths, lungs not filling with the breath of life. More recently I’ve not taken for granted this gift of breath. Through a sleep study, what my wife had told me was confirmed by hard data. According to the results, I stopped breathing 3 times (as I recall) in the 5 hours of the study. I also did something else – different from snoring – although I don’t recall the term. My bi-pap machine is now my night time friend. It helps me breathe. 

But if you’ve seen the vacant eyes and shallow breaths of someone barely alive, you know the difference between machine-induced breath and the breath of life. The first cry of a newborn baby. The gasp of delight at the sight of the Christmas tree and all the presents on Christmas morning. The gulp of fresh mountain air on the ski slopes. The deep sigh of a day well-ended. These are all possible because God breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

Yes, I know I’m getting ahead of myself here. The “breathing into his nostrils…” doesn’t occur here in chapter 1. But look closely. It does mention “everything that has the breath of life in it” (v. 30). The point is two-fold here. Breath certainly hearkens back to the Spirit of God, hovering over the face of the deep (1:2). And the breath of Jesus over his disciples after his resurrection (John 20:22). It is also echoed when the Bible speaks of the Word of God being “inspired,” better yet, “God-breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16. 

We may occasionally hold our breath in anticipation of the anxious moment being resolved. The game-winning field goal. The play at home plate. The moments that may seem like hours when we’re waiting for her to say, “yes.” When the point is scored, the date is set, and news is good, we let out a sigh of relief. We might even cheer. And as we do, we are echoing God’s out-breathing of life. And we certainly ought to recognize our need to give God the glory for another breath of life. Full. Blessed. Hope-filled. Or even if we must wait for the answer to our question or our prayer. 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

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

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. – Genesis 1:26-31

Willet # 5 of 11 | Galveston, Texas | February 2021 [Apologies for yesterday’s misidentification of this bird!]

With a bit more discretionary time these days, I’ve managed to watch a couple movies – some of which I might one day recommend. One very clever series, Lupin, is about a thief who steals Marie Antoinette’s prized jewels from the Louvre. There was quite a back-story, and many twists and turns of plot. Those jewels, though. Precious. Valuable. Beautiful! 

Perhaps you’ve seen it in a newborn baby. Maybe it’s a supermodel. Perhaps it could be your favorite heartthrob actor. Would I date myself if I mention Rachel Welch, or Tom Selleck. George Clooney? Sophia Loren? How about the Venus de Milo sculpture? Or Michelangelo’s David? Maybe it’s your husband or wife that you see reflecting the beauty, creative splendor, and image of God. 

If you watch almost any TV or movie these days, in addition to the electricity between leading man and woman, you will no doubt see a gay or lesbian couple. Portrayed as normal, upstanding role models these actors provide a glimpse of the subtle tools of the deceiver. When God is finished with his work of creation (male and female) he pronounces it not just good, but very good. 

The pure and perfect relationships of man and woman with God – together with all of creation is very good. We have here the grand sweep of God’s creative work. He creates light first and at the end creates man and woman from the dust of the earth. He breathes into their nostrils the breath of life. And man becomes a living being. The crown of God’s creation.

Consider what we are able to do! We can imagine a painting or sculpture and if we have the skill  create a work of art. We are able to conceive and bear children. We are able to manicure lawns, grow flowers and vegetables according to our personal tastes and desires. We can build cars, rockets, airplanes, and ships, and travel near and far. 

There are also ways we can damage and abuse the creation. We will look at that soon enough, but for now let us reflect on God’s very good creation. Imagine if you are able what life in a pristine environment without sin or brokenness of any kind would be like. One day it will all be restored. One day we will leave behind this present brokenness and trouble. But for now we must do all we can to subdue the earth, manage it well, and reflect the image of God in how we live, speak, think, and move. 

We must thank, praise, serve, and obey the Creator of everything initially deemed to be very good.

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:20-25

Willet # 4 of 11 | Galveston | February 2021

There is an art to taking a good photo of a bird. It’s all in the eyes. You want to capture the catchlights in the bird’s eyes. This shows that the bird is in focus, and gives the bird a clear sense of being alive. Birds typically move fast, so getting that in-focus shot isn’t always easy. Then there’s framing, the direction and quality of the light, the background and foreground of the photo, and the composition itself. Where is the bird in the frame? Are there any tree branches, grass, or other things that distract or obscure. 

It also helps to have a good camera and lens. Bird photographers go for long lenses – 500MM or longer. And many add a teleconverter, multiplying the lens focal length by 1.5, 2, or more times. Continuous autofocus is a real asset, as is a camera that will allow you to take a burst of 10 or more photos in a second. 

All that, however, is nothing without the person behind the camera. Ansel Adams has famously said, the most important part of the camera is the 12 inches behind it. He was referring to the eyes and brain that sees, sets up, and takes the shot. 

When someone says to me, “That looks like a really good camera. I bet it takes good pictures!” I reply, “Yes, I’m sure it does. Let me set it down here and we’ll watch it do so.” Well, maybe I only imagine saying that, but I do imagine doing so!

Which gets to the whole point of this rant. If God had not created the heavens and the earth, the seas and “every living creature that moves,” the finest camera, greatest photographic eye, the most perfect technique, and setup would be for naught. It’s like the scientist who told God he could create life, and picked up some dirt do begin his work. God says to him, “Just hold on there. Get your own dirt.”

The splendor of God’s created order is delightfully beautiful and worthy of my best photographic pursuits. And I’m thankful for the excellent photographic equipment I have available to me. Once in a while I manage to take a decent photo. But all glory goes to God, for whether it’s “Flowers by God…” or “Birds by God…” or “Light by God…” it’s all his work. It’s my privilege to see, and I thank God for it.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. – Genesis 1:9-13

Willet | Galveston | February 2021

What’s your favorite day of the week? Mine used to be Sunday/Monday! Thursday was a close second. But because I start my week on Sunday. With worship. Gathering. Hearing the Word of God. Calling on him in prayer. Receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. And on Monday, the week was before me. Things to do. Hills to climb. Opportunities to embrace. Challenges to face. Purpose. Meaning. Mission.

Thursday was my close second in those days. Thursday evening was my Friday. Since I took Fridays off, and often had a much lighter work day on Saturday, I looked forward to that day. Friday morning was perhaps even better. After our workout, Diane and I would go out for breakfast on Friday mornings. 

But now all that has changed, and I’ll have to discover my new favorite day. Perhaps I should choose Tuesday. That would be in alignment with the double-good third day as recorded in Genesis 1. Did you catch it? Twice during the creative activities of the third day. First when waters are gathered together and dry land appears, “God saw that it was good.” Then, before the third day ends, the earth brings forth trees, vegetation, and fruit. And again God sees that it is good.

In Israel some couples choose to be married on Tuesdays – the double-good day. Perhaps we could learn a lesson from them. This is not about superstitious posturing for the right day of the week to start a business, look for a new job, ask for a raise, or start a diet. It’s about recognizing that God determines that which is good. And if he twice calls a day good, it just might be worth looking at the land and sea, vegetation and fruit with a deeper appreciation for these things. 

Today is a good day to thank God for his beautiful creation.

For your personal meditation and reflection on this Lord’s Day

Psalm 7:17

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
    and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Psalm 37:3-4

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 67:1

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth,
    your saving power among all nations.

Psalm 97:11-12

Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
    and give thanks to his holy name!

Psalm 127:1

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.