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Old Testament Challenge Volume 1: Creating a New Community Teaching GuideLife-Changing Stories from the Pentateuch
By John Ortberg
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSession 1 God's Greatest Dream
The Heart of the MESSAGE
Infants who receive no love, touch, or words of affection can be damaged for life. Some even die. Before they can ever express their need in words, the smallest of babies cry out for the community and tender touch of other human beings. Children and teens long for acceptance and will do almost anything to have a sense that they fit in and belong to some group, club, team, or even a gang-if that's what it takes to satisfy their hunger for community.
This need does not go away as we become adults. There seems to be some deep and unyielding cry of the heart that says, "I don't want to be alone. I need to love and be loved. My heart is crying out for a place where I can be accepted and belong."
From the beginning to the end of our lives, we hunger and long for community. We were not made to be alone, but in loving and life-giving relationship with God and each other. God, who exists in eternal community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, invites us into the beauty and wonder of fellowship with him. He also makes it possible for us to connect heart-to-heart with each other. This journey toward authentic community begins in the first verses of Genesis and finds its culmination in the final verses of Revelation. We were made for community, and it is God's plan to bring us into life-giving relationship with him and with each other. The longing of our heart can only be satisfied when we enter God's plan for community.
The Heart of the MESSENGER
As you prepare to teach this message, take time to do a heart check. Do you live with an increasing awareness that God loves you? Are you overwhelmed with the reality that God loves each person you will encounter today? Are you stunned by the fact that God longs to invite you into deeper and deeper places of community with him and with others?
Ask God to remind you of the simple, yet life-changing truth that you are God's beloved child! Pray for your heart to be expanded with God's love so that as you teach this message, you speak from a place of joy-filled amazement over God's passion and affection for you! As you prepare to lead, ask God to remind you that your need for community is just as deep in those you will be teaching.
The following chair illustration is a powerful way to help people form a mental picture of the community experienced by the Trinity and also a picture of the human need for community.
Challenging the Prevailing Worldview
It is fair to say that the first sentence of the Bible is the single most controversial and important sentence that has ever been written. It is hard for us to imagine how the opening words of the Bible challenged and shattered the prevailing worldview.
Reflect on how these words rivaled the conventional wisdom taught in the creation stories of that day. To get a sense for how these words would have hit people in the Old Testament world, you need to use your imagination. Imagine for a moment that you lived in the days the book of Genesis was written and that you have never heard that there is a personal God who created all things and who promises life in heaven. This idea has never entered your thinking.
Rather, since you have grown up in the ancient Near East, you have heard a number of stories about how creation took place. None of these myths involve a loving and personal creator. These myths embrace a belief that the universe is filled with many gods, and all these gods are limited in power and morally fallible. The gods are petty and jealous with one another.
As a result of this worldview, you live in fear and are ruled by superstition. You are in a world with fertility cults that encourage gross sexual immorality. The people around you worship objects like the sun and the moon and even small stone statues. The common belief is that heavenly bodies, like stars, actually have influence over the affairs of human beings.
You are familiar with practices such as human sacrifice, used in an effort to manipulate the gods and to gain their favor. You are profoundly aware that the view of human beings is low and that the common belief system says that people were created to do the work that the gods didn't want to do. Life is a cycle of conflict between people and the gods, and, in turn, between fellow human beings. Life is not about servanthood; rather, it is a fight for dominance. Immense violence, elimination of the weak, and infanticide are common and acceptable practices.
The central belief is that life is just an endless cycle. Life is, in the words of the scholars, "a wheel of life that rotates around the hub of death." One generation is born, grows old, dies, another one comes along, and so it goes without any meaning or purpose.
Into this horribly destructive belief system these words are spoken: "In the beginning God"-a transcendent, all-powerful, eternal, personal being-"created the heavens and the earth." These words were written, and the world has never been the same.
1. God Created the Heavens and the Earth and Everything in Them
It is the first question asked by countless children. As we grow up, we ask it over and over again. It is a good question, a fair question. And it is just one word: "Why?"
We all have a desire to know why things are the way they are. Why am I here? Why is anyone here? In this portion of the message we will address why God created the heavens and the earth. Ultimately, we will answer the question: Why are we here?
"Why does something exist rather than nothing?" It's a great question! Richard Swinburne, a great twentieth-century philosopher
Community from the Beginning
Highlight the presence of the Trinity from the very beginning of creation. Make note of the community that existed even in the creation of the world:
• In verse 1 we see the Father creating. In James 1:17 this Creator is called "the Father of the heavenly lights," who sends us every good and perfect gift from above.
• In verse 2 the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters. Similar language is used to describe the Spirit of God hovering over Jesus at his baptism.
• In verse 3 God creates by speaking his word. In the beginning of the gospel of John we learn that "the Word" through whom all things are created is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:1, 14).
Out of this community, this Trinitarian joy and delight, God creates. He does not do this because he is bored or because he is lonely. God does not create us so that he will have little servants to do the chores he does not want to do. Rather, out of the magnificent richness of the eternal community experienced by the Trinity, God decides to broaden the circle. He longs to invite us to live in his love. This invitation is not for us to become little gods, but it is for us to bask in the glorious fellowship of the Trinity. This is the first open chair in all time. We sit in that chair, and God invites us to enter his circle, to pull up to his table, to join the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God's aim in history is the creation of an inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included as its primary sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. Dallas Willard
2. God Wanted His Community to Have a Wonderful Place to Live!
We get confused. All of us do, sometimes. We forget that only the Creator is to be worshiped, never the creation. At the time Genesis was written, people worshiped the sun, moon, stars, and even little stone idols. Thankfully, we have moved well beyond that kind of adoration of material things ... or have we?
Many people have become entangled in new forms of idolatry. Let some of these words float through your mind for a moment: Lexus, Beemer, my portfolio, the summer cottage, or my horoscope, just to name a few. Material things still cry out for our worship, and we need to get a proper perspective on the stuff of this world. We need to remember who made it all, who sustains it all, and who truly deserves our worship and adoration.
You can't buy happiness, but now you can lease it! Magazine ad for a car company
You might want to tell a story about a time you were in God's creation and learned about his character and beautiful creativity as you looked at all he has made. We need to celebrate the wonder of his creation, but let this celebration turn our eyes beyond the creation to the Creator.
"We Don't Have the Power!"
Seven times we read that God spoke and things came into existence. We are so limited in power, but God can speak and the universe comes into being. In the Star Trek series, Captain Kirk often barked out a command, "I need more power!" Often he would hear back from Scottie, "I can't do it, Captain." With all the resources of the Enterprise and all the futuristic instruments they had, there were times when the captain's commands were met with a panicked, "We don't have the power!" When we speak, we see limited results; when God speaks, there is always enough power!
Another theme in creation we need to notice is that God kept giving a running commentary on his creation. Do you notice how he describes it, over and over again? He says, "It is good." God takes endless delight in his creation.
A Glimpse of God's Love
Many people have a deep love for animals. They have a pet that means so much to them. There is a true story about a guy who chartered a plane and flew his dog across three states just so they could be together. It was just the pilot and the dog on the trip ... a private plane ride. It might seem strange to some people, but those who really love their pets can understand this story. Now, take the love that guy had for his pet dog and multiply it over and over, and you might get a glimpse of how God feels about his creation.
As a teacher, you can tell this story, or tell a story from your own life about someone you know who did something extraordinary because he or she loved a pet. The key is helping people see that God's love for his creation is so much greater than our love.
Because children have abounding vitality and because they are fierce and free in spirit, they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again," and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead-for grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately but never gets tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
God has boundless delight in what he creates. The great Christian thinker G. K. Chesterton
Take Time to Notice
When we celebrate the wonder of creation and this celebration leads us to authentic worship of the Creator, we discover joy. Take time this week to drink in the wonder of God's creation. Go to a forest preserve, the oceanside, the lakeside, or a large park, or just take a long drive. Notice the colors, the birds, the plants, the color of the sky, and whatever else you see. Take time to praise the Creator for the beauty of his handiwork. Tell him, "You know, Lord, you are right! This really is good."
3. The Climax of Creation: Human Beings in Community with God and Each Other
As human beings, we live with the risk of forgetting who we are. We live between two radically different extremes. On the one hand, we can become prideful and believe we deserve a place equal to God. Sadly, this happened early in human history, and it still happens today. On the other end of the continuum is an attitude that degrades human beings and treats them as some coincidental result of a random Big Bang or cosmic accident.
Between these poles lies the truth. We are God's creation. Human beings are the apex, the pinnacle of God's creative work. Yet, we are not God, we are his children. We are valuable because of who made us, and we are significant because of how he made us, in his image! Yet we must never forget that he is the Creator and we are his creation.
A Healthy Perspective
The first thing we need to notice when we read of the creation of human beings is that we are finite, limited, and fragile. We are not gods. We are made of dust. It is important to note that everything else in creation was spoken into existence. We are told, from the very beginning, something that gives us perspective on life. Genesis 3:19 teaches us that we came from dust and will return to dust.
More Than Dust
The dominant scientific worldview today says we are simply highly evolved apes without tails. We are just the next step in the evolutionary chain of events. But Genesis tells a different story. We might be made of dust, but we are still the apex of God's creation. The crescendo at the end of this symphony is the creation of men and women, made in the image of God.
God Loves His Creation
Focus on how God relates with his creation and how he continues to build relationship with us:
• God blesses his people and gives abundant life (Genesis 1:28).
• God provides for his people (Genesis 1:29).
• God calls us to meaningful and rich experiences of work (2:15). It is important to note that work is not a result of the Fall, but was a gift given before the Fall. After the Fall work became painful, but before, it was a gift from the hand of the Father. God actually left some things undone and invited us into the joy of being coworkers with him.
Closing Reflections and Challenges
1. Invitation to take the Old Testament Challenge. Give a strong exhortation to commit to the daily study and reflections as well as small group gatherings (if you are a part of these).
Excerpted from Old Testament Challenge Volume 1: Creating a New Community Teaching Guide by John Ortberg Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.