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FLY AND SWIM | 40 Days of Focus, Day 5

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
(Genesis 1:20-23)

On day two God separated the waters above from the waters below. Now on day five God filled the waters below with fish and the sky with birds. For the first time the Earth is inhabited by creatures that can breathe and move and mate and fight and hunt and forage and multiply and spread out and start families. There is something of free will within the order of creation.

These living creatures are the first to receive a blessing from the Creator – to be fruitful and multiply, fill the waters and the sky. God’s blessing is one of permission and encouragement to do what his creatures are made to do. There is a freedom to living within the order of creation.

Is there something special about birds and fish in particular that they would get their own “day” devoted to them?

Looking back to Genesis 1:2 again, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep. That word “hovering” is also the word for “fluttering”…you know, like a bird. Then at the baptism of Jesus, we once again see the Spirit of God descending like, wait for it… a bird.

And then who could forget the awesome passage in Isaiah:

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:30-31)

Birds factor prominently in the story of Scripture, but what about fish?

Obviously I think about the story of Jonah in which God creates a “great fish” to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning. After three days, the fish vomited Jonah up onto dry land, and he then goes on to complete his mission to the city of Nineveh. Nineveh, coincidentally, means “house of fish.” And Jonah’s name, coincidentally, means “dove.” Crazy, right?

I think it would be hard to think about fish in the Bible without skimming through all the fish stories in the gospels. It seemed like Jesus was always around fish. His first disciples were fishermen whom he called to “fish for people.” One of his first miracles was an overwhelming catch of fish. He used fish and bread to feed close to 10,000 people all together. Then there was that odd story where Jesus told Peter to go catch a fish and inside the fish would be a coin to pay the Temple tax…that was weird. Even after the resurrection, the disciples met Jesus on the shore of Galilee as he was cooking up a fish breakfast.

There’s something unique about birds and fish. Have you ever found yourself jealous of them? Flight is one of the most often requested superpowers. Everyone wants to fly. Nearly 500 years past between the flying machine drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 1400s and the first manned airplane developed by the Wright brothers in the early 1900s. We take flight for granted now, but we’ve only been able to soar above the clouds for just over 100 years of human history. We dream of flying cars and jet packs and hover boards. We want to be able to do what the birds can do naturally.

And what about swimming? We’ve been sailing the oceans for thousands of years, but submarine technology has only been around for a couple hundred years. Even today, something like 80% of the oceans have yet to be explored thoroughly. Will we ever have our own personal submarines? Not likely. But we still want to do what the fish can do naturally.

God’s creation has a design and a purpose. Each piece of it falls neatly into place. God brings order out of chaos, and in that order there is freedom. If we try to do what birds do, we will fall off the roof and break a bone. If we try to do what fish can do, we will drown.

Birds were created to fly. Fish were created to swim. So what were you created to do?

You have made [humans] a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
(Psalm 8:5-8)

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Why do you think humans have tried so hard to fly throughout the ages?

Would you rather be able to fly like a bird or swim like a fish? Why?

What significance is there in the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of a dove?

HEAVENS | 40 Days of Focus, Day 4

 

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
(Genesis 1:14-19)

Days one, two, and three were all about separating – light from darkness, waters above from waters below, dry land from the seas. Now we make a shift from separating to filling. Days four, five, and six fill what was separated on the first three days.

On day one, God created light and separated it from darkness. Now he fills the light and dark with the sun, moon, and stars. But notice how he doesn’t give them names. Why?

In the cultural context in which this poem reached its final form – probably in Babylonian exile – the study and worship of the heavenly bodies was very common. Most ancient cultures regarded the sun and the moon as major gods/goddesses. The stars and planets also played a role in giving “signs” from the gods. The creation song in Genesis simply regards them as “the greater light,” “the lesser light,” “…and also the stars.” The importance is placed on the Creator, not the creation. The sun and moon were set in place to “govern” under the sovereign kingship of God.

But this is not just the creation of the heavenly bodies. It’s also the creation of time itself. Their job was to give light to the earth AND to mark days, years, and sacred times. God is already building a rhythm of time into his creation. Evening, morning, days, weeks, months, years, holidays – God created the sun and moon to help keep track of it all.

Since the dawn of humanity, we’ve been staring up at the sky and wondering what it all means. Even though we know now that each point of light is a giant flaming ball of gas thousands of lightyears away, even though we know our Sun is an average-size, middle-aged star, even though we know our moon is not made of cheese… – even though we can explain it all, it still takes our breath away. We still have the same overwhelming sense of our own smallness whenever we look up.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
(Psalm 8:3-4)

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4a)

Think about how big of a deal celestial phenomena still are. There is still a ton of hype and excitement around solar and lunar eclipses, blood moons, and meteor showers. Even though we can explain it all, we continue to experience a deep emotional reaction in our core.

Nothing can make you feel quite so small as studying the stars and planets. We cannot wrap our minds around the size and scale of our solar system or our galaxy or our universe. I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach just thinking about it. But to know God is bigger than that and he still chooses to care for you and me…that is the most shocking realization of all. To see pictures like this…

…and know that God loves all 7 billion people on that “pale blue dot” hurtling through space…I don’t even have words. Is certainly puts this verse into a whole new perspective:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

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Do you have a favorite constellation? What is it, and why?

When was the last time you simply looked up at the clear night sky? How did it make you feel?

The Pleiades and Orion are two constellations mentioned in the Bible. In Job 38:8 God asks, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt?” It wouldn’t be until centuries later that we discovered a little thing called gravity. With the invention of telescopes and the discovery of gravity, our understanding of the cosmos changed. It turns out the stars that make up the Pleiades constellation are gravitationally locked in place (Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?), and the stars comprising Orion’s belt are actually drifting farther away from each other through space (Can you loosen Orion’s belt?). **MIND BLOWN**

NATURE | 40 Days of Focus, Day 3

 

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
(Genesis 1:9-13)

Out of the waters came the dry land, and that land produced vegetation. I wish I could have been there to see it. I’m constantly in awe at the sheer diversity of plant life and vegetation on this planet. My boys were watching The Magic School Bus the other day on Netflix, and the students in the cartoon were learning about how trees communicate with each other through releasing different compounds and molecules into the air. Nature is absolutely stunning.

I love finding out new things, so here is a “Did you know?” list about nature.
  • There are more trees on the earth than stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
  • The Amazon rainforest produces half of the world’s oxygen supply
  • Caffeine serves the function of a pesticide inside the coffee tree
  • The tallest tree ever recorded was an Australian eucalyptus in 1872, measuring 435 feet tall
  • Bamboo stalks can grow up to 35 inches in one day
  • California Redwoods are the largest living organisms on the planet
  • Ginko is the oldest living tree species – dating back 250 million years
  • There are over 300,000 identified plant species, and that number continues to grow

God doesn’t do anything halfway. Our planet didn’t have to be beautiful. Think about it – beauty is not a necessity for life, just look inside the boys’ locker room. Beauty is not essential, but it’s woven into the fabric of creation, and we get to witness and enjoy it. Take time to notice the yellow blooms of the early daffodils beaming brightly above the frost-covered ground. Notice the vibrant hues and the soft greens of the first leaves sprouting on the trees. Notice the flowers that will ultimately transform into apples and tomatoes. Notice the warm reds and oranges of a late-autumn sunset over the trees. Notice the strong evergreen branches draped in snow.

There are some who believe that God created everything in the world solely for the benefit of humans. I don’t necessarily ascribe to that notion. I think God made non-human creation for his own sake. The world is not ours to conquer and bend to our will. Nature is intended to point us toward God and his will.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
(Romans 1:20)

We should feel a sense of connection with the Creator when we are exploring his creation. But it does make me feel good to know there are parts of this planet that are still a complete mystery to us. Because it’s not about us – it’s all about God. We get to join with the rest of nature in praising and worshiping God.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
old men and children.
(Psalm 148:7-12)

We bring honor and glory to God when we fulfill our purpose as humans (which we’ll get to on day 6). In the same way, the land and vegetation brings honor and glory to God when it is doing what it was created to do. That’s one of the reasons I believe God’s people should care about the environment. Pollution, deforestation, and global warming make it harder for creation to bring glory to its Creator.

We are intimately and inextricably connected to nature. We are made out of the “dust of the ground.” We breathe the oxygen produced by trees as they scrub the toxic Carbon Dioxide from our atmosphere. We eat the fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables produced from the plants around us. We need nature, but nature doesn’t necessarily need us. Make no mistake – nature was here long before we came on the scene, and nature will be here long after our time.

And if we don’t carry out our business in giving praise and glory to God, then nature will carry on without us.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
(Luke 19:37-40)

Now get outside and go take a walk in the woods. Join the trees in praising God.

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Have you ever felt a connection to God while being out in nature? What was that experience like?

When was the last time you simply stopped and took in the beauty of creation around you? Why do you think we don’t do that very often?

If you could actually hear the trees and the mountains and the flowers praising God, what do you think they would say?

Spend some time in prayer, thanking and praising God for his creation and the beauty of nature all around us.

WATER | 40 Days of Focus, Day 2

 

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
(Genesis 1:6-8)

Liquid water is such an interesting substance. Without the presence of Dihydrogen Monoxide in liquid state, there can be no life as we know it. But too much at any given moment can be fatal.

Humanity has a strange relationship to water. We need it to live, but we can’t control it. We can’t make it rain or stop raining. We can barely do anything to hold back raging rivers or flood waters. Drowning is still among the leading causes of accidental deaths. Tsunamis, hurricanes, and flash floods continue to wreak havoc across the globe, wiping out entire villages and devastating national economies.

Is it any wonder why the ancients equated water with chaos?

If you back up to Genesis 1:2 we see this in action:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

That’s the language of chaos. Many creation myths from the ancient world featured chaos in some form. They often claim the world as we know it is simply a byproduct of the chaos with no real meaning or purpose. Come to think of it, those ancient creation myths are not too far off from modern physicists.

But in our Bibles God controls the waters and brings order out of chaos. Think about all the times water plays a role in the stories of Scripture. The flood. Baby Moses on the Nile River. The parting of the Red Sea. Water flowing from the rock in the wilderness. The parting of the Jordan River. The storm on the Mediterranean Sea in the story of Jonah. The 3-year drought in the time of Elijah. The times when Jesus calmed the storm and walked across the water.

To many ancient peoples, the waters were associated with chaos and the abyss, or the realm of demonic spirits. But every step of the way throughout the Bible we see that God is in control of the uncontrollable. I love what God says in the book of Job:

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?”
(Job 38:8-11)

He goes on to speak about snow and hail and rain, reminding us humans that we are completely helpless in the face of weather phenomena.

Water is a source of both life and death.

I can’t help but connect this to another event involving water: baptism. Baptism as a holy sacrament has been practiced for centuries. It predates Christianity. Baptism was actually practiced by the Jews in the Second Temple period. If you go to Jerusalem today you can still see the remains of ancient baptistries around the Temple complex. They would go down into the water, immerse themselves, and come out of the water ceremonially cleansed.

Jesus and his followers brought a different understanding of baptism. In Christian baptism we do not immerse ourselves. We allow another to lower us down into the water. We submit our lives into their hands. It takes a certain degree of trust. This immersion represents a death and burial beneath the flood waters. We are then raised up out of the water into a new life, a new creation, a new humanity, a new kingdom.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
(Romans 6:3-4)

Water is the source of both life and death. Water is both good and necessary and dangerous and beyond our control – just like God. Submitting ourselves to the waters of baptism connects us with this ancient story of destruction and creation, of fear and wonder, of death and new life.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
(John 4:13-14)

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Have you ever stopped in awe and wonder at the sight of the ocean, a river, or a waterfall? What is so awesome and inspiring about those locations?

In the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis says about Aslan (representing God) that he is “not safe, but he’s good.” How does this challenge the way we understand God?

Have you been baptized? What led you to that decision? Do you remember going under the water? What was that like? How did you feel when you were lifted back up?

LIGHT | 40 Days of Focus, Day 1

 

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he 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 1:3-5)

Light is one of the most common themes in all of Scripture. If you think about it, Light vs. Dark is one of the most common themes in all of literature and entertainment. Countless stories have been told throughout the generation of Light triumphing over Darkness – from Beowulf to Star Wars, from The Lord of the Rings to Mean Girls, from Harry Potter to The Princess Bride. Light represents good, and dark represents evil.

But I want you to notice something in the passage above. On the opening day of Creation, God created Light and separated it from the Darkness. Here’s an interesting thing to keep in mind – God still put the darkness to use. We need darkness in our lives. Our bodies survive on a natural rhythm of light and darkness. It’s how we are able to produce melatonin which helps us fall asleep. Many animals are nocturnal and would not survive in complete light. I love what David says about light and darkness in Psalm 139.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

The natural state of the universe is darkness. Without nearby light sources, like our sun, space is completely black and devoid of light. But that’s not the case if you look back far enough in time. When scientists pointed their radio satellites into the darkest part of the visible sky, they accidentally found light. In the earliest days of our universe’s existence, everything was full of energy and light. The whole universe glowed brightly with what astronomers now call the “Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.”

Let there be light, indeed.

When we look at the night sky, what looks like complete darkness can actually be filled with light if we look hard enough – just like the human heart. Even in the most corrupt, most evil of people, I believe there is still a spark of light waiting to be ignited. Otherwise, Jesus could not have said this to a huge crowd of complete strangers:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:14-16)

But how can we be the “light of the world” when we know how much darkness resides within us? Simply put, we can’t. On our own we try to hide our light out of shame for our darkness. Thank God he doesn’t leave us on our own.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
(1 John 1:5-7)

On day one God created light, but he also left the darkness. There may still be darkness within us, but the closer we walk with God the brighter the light shines forth. As we embark on this journey over these forty days, I pray that you will learn to walk in the light and overcome the darkness. As the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. That’s just how it was on that Good Friday so long ago when Christ was crucified and sealed in a tomb. The world seemed darker than ever before, but a new day would dawn with the resurrection.

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Do you remember being afraid of the dark? Why do you think that happens?

In what ways do you see darkness in the world and in your life?

Are there specific areas of your life in which you may be afraid to shine a light? Is there anything you are worried that the light might reveal?

How can you be the “light of the world” in your family? in your workplace? in your school? in your community? online?