By Any Means Necessary
This message was given at the 11AM Contemporary Service.
Some artists have something so important to say, something so monumental and profound, they will stop at nothing, will use any means necessary, to make their point. Consider, for example, this…
Thanks goes out to comedian and musician Haywood Banks for celebrating the wonder and joy of toast!
There’s no hiding I’m a mom of three young children, but it’s a wonderful thing. Their favorite radio stations, TV shows and movies, introduce me to things that give me a fresh perspective on life, help me to see the wonder of the world from their point of view, and just make me laugh. And who doesn’t need a little more laughter in their lives? But while some artists create odes to toast to convey their message, others design a universe.
Journey back with me to the very beginning. Genesis. The first book of the Old Testament. Written by Moses while the Israelites were wandering in the desert so that they might understand “where they had come from, where they were going, and why”. The name itself means “beginnings” or “origin” and this book records the beginning of the world and the history of humankind. For those of us who were raised in the church, the creation story was one of the first Bible stories we ever encountered. I bet there might even be a few children here today who can tell us what happened on which day. I think that’s significant. From the beginning of our faith journeys, we know God as a powerful creator and loving father.
Let’s review the familiar story, since it might not be as fresh in our mind as it is in the minds of our younger members here today:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen. 1: 1-5)
Over the next 5 days, God created:
- Day two: sky and water
- Day three: land and seas
- Day four: sun, moon and stars
- Day five: fish and birds
- Day six: animals, man and woman
And then on Day seven, God rested.
Our scripture reading today was taken from the second creation story in Genesis chapter two. Although we only heard the beginning of this story, it continues on to detail the creation of Adam and Eve and their experiences in the Garden of Eden—a paradise God created to provide for their comfort that comes with a few important rules.
Together, these creation stories stick with us because they give us a glimpse of God’s power and authority over all creation and his great love for us. They reveal the very nature and character of God and who we are in relationship to Him. They introduce God’s purpose and plan for His creation and set the foundation on which the story of our faith is built.
Last Fall I had the pleasure of attending Pastor Randy’s Wednesday morning Bible study on the book of Genesis. This is a lively and Spirit-filled group of people who are equally at home cracking jokes or making prophetic declarations. Some of you know what I’m talking about! You never know what’s coming next. Well, ever since we discussed it in class, this verse we studied has stuck with me:
9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. (Genesis 2:9a)
God didn't just make all of creation, he made it "pleasing to the eye"! That really struck me. God didn’t make creation purely functional, it was meant to bring us joy as well. What does that reveal about the character of God? What does that reveal about us and how we learn of him? What does that tell us about ourselves and who we are in Christ? That’s what I’d like us to look at this morning.
So then, what does this reveal about the character of God?
First and foremost, we see an amazing demonstration of God’s extravagant love for us. He didn’t go half way; He is an over-achiever! His love is generous, abundant and overflowing. And it is creative. Consider creation, the number and variety of trees and plants and animals, oceans, mountains, climates, terrains, and so on. Now imagine the most beautiful place you have ever seen and then consider that as something God made just for you, to put a smile on your face. That’s love on a level we can barely comprehend.
Psalm 8 puts it this way:
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
Secondly, these verses reveal that God is an artist. What do I mean by that? Artists are often compelled to express themselves, how they feel and what they want to say, by any means necessary. They will stop at nothing to say what they want to say, what they need to say. For some, it’s beating on a toaster, while for others it’s writing a symphony, creating a tapestry, or dancing the tarantella. While some artists create novels and poetry, others convey their messages without words. God has something special to say to each of us, and He knows that sometimes the written and spoken language gets in the way of our ability to connect with Him and each other. God is spelling out his great love for us throughout creation itself.
Psalm 19 reads:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Ok—so God loves us extravagantly and is the ultimate artist-in-residence. What do these verses reveal about ourselves?
To answer that question we need to look back to the first chapter in Genesis. In verse 27, we read:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
That means we have been created in the image of God. Now, that’s a sermon in and of itself, but for our purposes today, this means that we share many of God’s characteristics. We have an extraordinary capacity to love, and each of us, believe it or not, is an artist too. We have a God-given desire to express ourselves creatively. We have something to say that others need to hear, whether we do it with paintbrushes or pianos, PowerPoint or power tools. And we have the ability to communicate in ways beyond words. I love how the psalmist says it in Psalm 139:
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
We don’t always feel that way, do we? Yet we are no less grand than this beautiful planet we call home. In fact, we are even better, because only we have been created in the very image of God.
Let’s also touch on the creation of man in Genesis chapter 2 verse 7:
7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Think about that for a moment. Inhale. Exhale. We are filled with the very essence of God! It is that essence of God that fills us, that gives us life. Without that, we are a shell, a collection of skin and muscles, tissues, organs and bones. God is our breath of life. For Christians we call this in-dwelling of God the Holy Spirit. And like recognizes like. This part of God inside of us recognizes and responds to the part of God inside others, in creation, and in any expression of God found in any work of art, whether we are conscious of the connection or not.
So then, now that we have explored what today’s scripture reveals about God and ourselves, what do we do with that information? Does this give us a clue as to how we can grow in our knowledge and understanding of God? I believe it does. And it starts with three words.
Availability, Awareness, and Acceptance.
Availabilty. We need to create space and time in our lives for God.
God created us to be in relationship with him. Let me say that again. God created us, man and woman, girl and boy, and breathed his life into us, to be in a relationship with him. More than anything else, God desires a relationship with us, but that’s only possible if we make time for Him. Although he made us, he wants to know us, inside and out, and he wants us to know him.
Every good and loving relationship is a matter of give and take. Think about the relationships in your life. The little demonstrations of love given and received and reciprocated. Look at the gift God gave us in creation, and that was his starting offer! And yet, more than anything, God simply wants our time and attention. Only then can he start to accomplish his work in us. When is the last time you intentionally created time for God? Did you do all the talking or did you let him speak too? Did you promise you would meet him for devotions and then stand him up? If you want to improve your relationship with God, you need to make spending time with him a priority.
There was a time, not long after the boys were born, that I struggled with post-partum depression. It was the darkest time of my life, and while I was treating it with medication and counseling, the recovery process was slow and arduous. As a woman of faith, I was seeing a Christian therapist who was trying to help me to use my faith as a part of my healing. I had such anxiety, about so many things, even how to make it through one more day. She encouraged a daily devotional time in the morning before the activities of the day began. A time of prayer and study of Scripture and worship wherein I would seek God’s guidance on the order of my day. Maybe like me you’re thinking “yeah right, like that would be possible in a house full of kids,” but she insisted it was possible, and suggested I ask God to help me make that a daily habit. It never occurred to me to ask God to help me strengthen my relationship with him. But I did just that, and in time, God answered that prayer.
He answered that prayer and so many others, and that daily habit helped to heal me as I learned to lean on him. Those dark days passed, but I still have a daily devotional time with God, most mornings anyways. I have made this a priority in my life, I cherish this time with God, and it helps to keep me centered and focused and prioritizes my day. And no, as a stay at home mom, it’s not easy. But I have found, for the most part, they respect my time with God. If we want to have a closer relationship with God, we need to make time for him.
Secondly, if we want to grow in our relationship with God, we need:
Awareness. We need to be aware that God communicates with us by any means necessary.
If I were to ask you how God speaks to you, I hope you would mention things like scripture, songs of faith, times of worship and Pastor Randy’s sermons. And you would be right. God uses these things powerfully to speak to us. But the creator of the universe is not limited by these things. One of the greatest canvases he uses is the great outdoors. When God has something to say to us, there is nothing He can’t use to make His point. And because we are made in his image, and like recognizes like, if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibility, we will recognize him when we encounter him. And it might be something we feel—warm sunlight or a cool breeze; something we see—a work of art or the latest movie; or something we hear—a great orchestral piece or advice from a friend. But too often we miss it because we’re not fully present in the moment.
We text while the kids are at the playground. We listen to our favorite playlist while jogging the trail. We answer calls while driving to the next appointment. We check out Facebook while chatting with a friend. Or we spend the time in worship worrying about what needs to be done when we get home. Ahem. And I’m as guilty as the next person. Sometimes it’s a necessity to do these things, and sometimes it’s a preference. Either way it potentially denies God the opportunity to speak to us, to connect to us, even in the midst of our busy days and this overcrowded life.
Me, I’m a fan of silence. So much so, in fact, that I have gone on silent retreats. Fortunately I have a husband that supports me in this. I unplug. I fast from electronic devices. I find the time away from the hustle and bustle of daily responsibilities, and the constant urge to check my phone for emails, texts and updates, brings refreshment and renewal. And as I have made study and prayer and worship a part of this time away, I come away with an ear more tuned to God’s voice and a greater awareness of the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. I am more focused and better able to live in the moment.
I know this isn’t the answer for everyone, but even driving in the car with no music, or taking a walk without a smart phone, or really listening to what our children have to say, with prayerful intent, can help us to be more present in the moment. We need to be intentional about practicing a holy awareness so that we can recognize and respond to God in others and the world around us. If we want to hear what God has to say, we need to learn how to listen.
So then, when we have made ourselves available to God, and have an awareness of how he can and does speak to us, what do we do with what he says? And that leads me to the third and final point.
Acceptance. We need to embrace who God has created us to be.
Earlier in the message we spoke about the concept of God as an artist. And since we were made in his image, and his very essence flows through us and moves within us, we are both works of art and artists ourselves. Now I recognize for some of you that’s difficult to understand. I’m with you! But we all have something only we can do and a message only we can say. Consider this verse from Ephesians chapter 2:
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The New Testament takes this concept to a whole new level. We are God’s masterpieces re-created in our Savior Jesus Christ. Not only that, but we have work to do—work that we have been lovingly and painstakingly created to do. And God needs us to do it, in fact, he is depending on us to do it. And he came to earth as a human being in Christ Jesus so that he would have the perspective of the human experience, so he would know what it would be like to live as we do—the joys and the sorrows, the victories and defeats, the triumphs and the tragedies. Then, and only then, could we:
throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And … run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12: 1-2)
Now I don’t know about you….that can be hard to fathom! But we are all God’s masterpieces—Mona Lisas and Davids, each of us. The signature of our maker is on us all. And one of the greatest pursuits of the human experience is to figure out what God created us to do and to do it with all our might, by any means necessary. Some of you might be asking, “how can I think about these things when I need a job to pay the bills, when my loved one is fighting for their life, or when fear and insecurities threaten to stifle whatever creative contributions I might make?”
I know about fears and insecurities. Prior to starting our family, I enjoyed a wonderful career in orchestra management, and I always thought that one day I would return. But over the past year, I have heard God calling me to explore a future in ministry, and that’s one of the reasons I’m in front of you today. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating! I’ve always been more comfortable just off stage rather than on it. But I trust God more than I trust myself. And although I’m not entirely sure of the destination, with love and enthusiasm, I’m willing to follow where my Savior leads.
Now might not be your time. And that’s OK! But each of us, in God’s perfect timing, is called upon to have a faith greater than our fears, a faith stronger than our insecurities. We are called to lovingly embrace and accept the God within us and others, despite our imperfections. We are called to remember God’s gifts of love to us in creation and in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we are called to offer ourselves in love and service to others as a response to God’s great love for us, remembering above it all and around it all and through it all that “if God is for us, who (or what) can (possibly) be against us?" (Romans 8:31)
Oh what beauty and truth and power we find in scripture! And it all began in Genesis. If we are fortunate enough to be raised in the church, one of the first stories we learn of God is the creation story. We are told of God’s great love for us as evidenced in the world around us, and most of us believe it. Then we grow up. We question. Maybe we doubt. Life happens. People disappoint us, hurt us, and things don't turn out like we planned. Perhaps we begin to question God’s love for us. We search for meaning, reassurance, proof. Perhaps that’s you today.
Then one glorious day, perhaps even while we’re on our summer vacation, it happens. We're at a mountain overlook and a gust of wind comes upon us, or we stand at the edge of the ocean while the waves crash around our feet. And in the beauty of that timeless moment, when God finally gets our attention, our full attention, for just a moment, we are reminded of the deep truth we have always known but know it as if for the first time. With breathless abandon we accept and embrace, finally, who we are and whose we are and why we are, and we respond with arms open wide, "Oh God, I love you too, by any means necessary."