Topical Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31
Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he’ll believe you. Tell him a park bench has just been painted and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.
We’re following the maxim: don’t ask God to bless what you are doing–ask him to help you do what he is blessing. What is he blessing? How do we live the life he blesses?
It all begins with trust–that he is running the universe, and that his purpose is the best plan for your life. That the complete surrender of your life to his Spirit is in your best interest. That his word and will are best for you, every time.
We all agree that it’s so, as we sit in church. The next time you’re tempted today, your conviction will be put to the test. The next time you’re given an opportunity to do the right thing at a cost, your commitment will be on the line.
It’s my job today to get you ready for that next time, to teach you what God says about living your blest life.
How did we get here?
For 35 centuries, the Judeo-Christian tradition taught us that we are created by God, and that his creation is “good.” That our purpose and identity are found in the fact that we are God’s creation, that we are each given lives of purpose and eternal significance.
However, recent generations have done battle with that foundational belief, and emerged victorious in our culture.
Isaac Newton determined that the universe operates as a machine, according to fixed laws.
The “deists,” Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them, believed that while God created this mechanical universe, he has nothing to do with it now.
Then Charles Darwin taught us that God did not create our lives at all, that we are here as the product of random, chance evolution.
Along the way, philosophers taught us that we cannot know this world, however it came to exist, but only our personal, subjective experience with it. Your sexual ethics are just your truth, and you have no right to force them on me or anyone else. I may disagree with homosexuality or sex before marriage, but who am I to tell someone else how to live? Tolerance is the great value of the day.
Postmodernism is the result, the worldview which dominates our culture today. All truth is subjective and personal. There is no “reality,” only yours and mine. Our lives have no real destiny–this is all there is. You can believe what you want about the origins of life and its purpose and destiny, so long as you tolerate my beliefs.
And the debate rages on.
Harvard University announced this week that it is establishing the “Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative.” Researchers hope recent scientific advances such as NASA’s rovers on Mars will help them learn more about life’s origins. The research team will receive $1 million annually from Harvard. Said one of them to The New York Times: “My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention.”
Time magazine calls the debate “Evolution Wars.” Here’s one reason why. The magazine quotes Steven Pinker, psychology professor at Harvard: “Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we would wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.”
Are you here by chaos, chance, coincidence? A cell floating in a pool of water which mutated to its present status? If your past has no purpose, your future has no plan. And Martin Heidegger is right: you’re an actor on a stage, with no script, audience, or director; courage is to face life as it is. Jean Paul Sartre was right to title his most famous play No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea. His story is ours. Or is it?
God’s answer to the question
Here’s how God’s word begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Everything starts with him. You say life began as a cell floating in a pool of water. Genesis asks where the water came from. You say life began as a cataclysmic, natural Big Bang. Genesis asks where the big bang came from. It all started somewhere. Genesis says it started with God.
And you and I started with him as well. God made us as part of his universe, and in fact, as its crowning work: “Let us make man,” God said. When he made the other days, he called them “good.” But when he made us, he called his work “very good” (v. 31).
We must agree with him, or nothing else I’ll say today will matter. If you think you’re nothing more than random, chaotic chance, with no intrinsic value or design, you’ll not be interested in a conversation about purpose and destiny. So let’s examine what Genesis says God made.
Think about the organ with which you think. Your brain contains about 10 billion nerve cells, called “neurons.” Each neuron is connected to surrounding cells by a network of fibers called axions and dendrites, and has as many as ten thousand fibers leading from it into other cells. As a result, the number of possible interconnections between the cells of your brain is many times larger than the number of atoms in the entire universe.
Your brain can consider 10,000 separate factors at one time. In fact, a normal human brain has enough capacity to know everything that is known in the entire world, if there were enough time to learn it all.
In a book titled The Computer Age, a scientist tried to determine the monetary value of one brain. He noted that our brains contain 10 million urion cells. He calculated that if we could buy one of these cells at five cents apiece, and the connections at one cent each, it would cost one quintillion dollars to build a human brain computer. That is a billion, billion dollars. And that is more money than all the governments of the world now possess. That’s how much your brain is worth.
Consider the ears with which you are hearing these words. The average piano has 88 keys; each of your ears has a “keyboard” so advanced that it is capable of catching 73,700 vibrations a second. Your heart is no larger than your fist, but it will beat 40 million times this year. 60,000 miles of arteries run through your body. More than 9,000 taste buds are resident on your tongue. More than 220 bones make up your frame; some 600 muscles cover those bones. You are special.
In fact, you are made in God’s “image” or “likeness” (v. 26). An “image” is a representation of something, as with a “mirror image.” God says this is true of us–not of anything else in creation, just you and me. What is unique about us?
We have three characteristics which distinguish us. Like God, we have a will, what the Bible calls the “heart.” We are spiritual beings, characterized as “soul.” And we have intellect, a mind. Jesus said we are to love God with all three: heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). That’s our first purpose in life.
And Genesis says we have a second purpose in life: we are to “rule” the world he has made. Nothing else in creation is given this charge. The Hebrew word doesn’t mean to exploit, but to nurture, develop, take care of. We are to manage God’s creation. And we are especially to care for his highest creation, each other. As Jesus said, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
My purpose is to love and serve God, and to love and serve you. That’s why I’m here. It’s why you’re here as well.
What do we do now?
We do what God blesses when we live according to these two purposes, these Great Commandments. No good parent can reward a child’s destructive behavior. We must live by God’s plan to have his prosperity and blessing. It all starts with agreeing that we are here on a purpose for a purpose, that we exist to love him and each other. Then the Great Commandments fulfill the Great Commission. And we live a blest life.
So how do we do this? How do we love God and each other so fully that God can bless our obedience and daily lives? Here’s the key, one I missed for much of my Christian life. I thought I was supposed to do my best to serve and please God, to live by the maxim, “What would Jesus do?” To try my hardest to obey God’s word and will every minute of every day. The trouble is, I can’t. I fail too often. I fall down too much. And I cannot convict a single person of a single sin, or save a single soul.
If we end our conversation now, we leave the Sanctuary to go to inevitable frustration and failure.
Here’s the statement which first changed all that for me. Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost For His Highest (August 9 reading): “I have to see that the Son of God is manifested in my mortal flesh. ‘Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost,’ i.e., the Bethlehem of the Son of God. Is the Son of God getting his chance in me? Is the direct simplicity of the life of God’s Son being worked out exactly as it was worked out in his historic life?”
I am his Bethlehem. He wants to live through my body as fully as he lived through his. He does not want me to try to love him and you as best I can–he wants to do that through me. I know this sounds a bit esoteric and abstract, but it’s the essence of the blessed life.
Paul said it best: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
This is the “exchanged life” by which I submit myself to the Holy Spirit each morning and all through the day, asking Jesus to take control of my life and live through me. Then as I stay in touch with him through prayer and Scripture, obedient to the thoughts he puts in my mind and words in my mouth, he lives through me. And he blesses me. And others through me.
Here’s proof that it’s so. Last Sunday afternoon I was sitting outside the Pediatric ICU room where David and Dana Dodgen were holding baby Abby on their laps, waiting for her body to expire.
The cardiologist and three nurses were waiting outside the room with me. One of them said, “How can they be so strong?” Two of them were mothers of small children themselves, and they could not fathom how David and Dana had been through the most terrible day of their lives with such strength and courage.
So I got to explain the Christian faith to these four health care professionals. I told them that Jesus is real, and that he is real in the Dodgens, that his strength is theirs because they are trusting in him. One of them told me she was without a church in Dallas, so she has my card now. And all of them heard about Jesus, because he used David and Dana for eternal purposes.
When I told them that story on Monday, their eyes teared up as they told me they had prayed to be used. And God granted their prayer, last Sunday and again this morning.
Decide that your life has a purpose: to love God and us. Ask Jesus to live that purpose through your life every day. And you will live your blest life. This is the promise and the invitation of God.