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Fall themes: Creation – First
Things (Genesis, Exodus, Psalm 104)
Fall themes: Creation – First
Things (Genesis, Exodus, Psalm 104)
Monday August 26
God Knows Our Every Need
How do you trust God to feed and clothe you?
I had not realized how much time shopping took up until my husband was laid off. He was without work for almost a year, and during that time we sharply cut our spending. I no longer took the time to peruse mail-order catalogs or browse at the mall.
In the uncertainty that goes with unemployment, I found myself taking a closer look at my faith and my relationship with God. Did I trust God to take care of us and provide for our needs? Interestingly, I had more time to reflect on these questions, to pray, and to study Scripture since I had given up shopping. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he told us to "desire first and foremost God's kingdom and God's righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) rather than worry about food and clothing.
Jesus calls our attention to two of the more vulnerable parts of God's beautiful creation: the birds and the flowers. We do not know specifically what flower Jesus spoke of when he indicated the "the lilies in the field" (verse 28), "since the word is used of all kinds of wild flowers, but it has been suggested that here the scarlet anemone is compared to the royal robes of Solomon." Jesus' point is that if God takes special care to provide food for the birds and dress the "grass in the field so beautifully" (verse 30), then God will certainly provide for our needs, for we are "worth much more than they" (verse 26).
Jesus was not saying we should not do our part. Unlike the birds that are unable to "sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops" (verse 26), humankind has been given the ability to earn a living. The Book of Proverbs warns against laziness (Proverbs 6:6) and points out that even the ants "store away their food in the summer" (Proverbs 30:25).
Indeed, God has provided enough food to feed God's people. The fact that children go to bed hungry is due to humankind's selfishness, not a lack of provision on God's part. God has called us to be the hands and the feet of Christ. We do this by making donations to food banks and soup kitchens, supporting programs that teach families to raise animals and crops for food, and working against injustice. While my husband was unemployed, I knew that if our resources ran out, the church would be there to help us.
After my husband found a job, I did not rush out to the mall. I preferred the lifestyle change I had adopted during the time of unemployment, focusing more on "God's kingdom and God's righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) and less on shopping. Jesus asked, "Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothes?" (verse 25). How does your lifestyle reflect your answer to that question?
Prayer: Generous God, teach me to seek your kingdom and trust you for my daily needs. Amen.
Tuesday August 27
The Greatness of the Creator
How do you experience God's presence in creation?
When have you felt God's greatness reflected in creation? When have you, like the psalmist, wanted to worship God with your "whole being" (Psalm 104:1)? Perhaps it was while watching a sunrise or a sunset, standing on the ocean's shore or a mountain ridge, or observing the delicate and intricate patterns of a flower petal or a butterfly wing.
The psalmist began this hymn of praise and thanksgiving with the exclamation, "Let my whole being bless the Lord!" (verse 1). We can picture him standing with arms open wide, raising his voice toward the heavens. Although biblical scholars have not been able to identify the author of this hymn, we can identify with him. We stand in awe of the same creation and offer our songs of praise to the same Creator.
The psalmist declared that God wears "light like a robe" (verse 2), a light so bright it is concealed behind a curtain of sky. This idea that God is clothed in light appears in other places in Scripture. When God appeared to Moses, it was in the light of "a flame of fire in the middle of a bush" (Exodus 3:2). God told Moses he was "standing on holy ground" (Exodus 3:5), and "Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God" (Exodus 3:6). In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that God "lives in light that no one can come near. No human being has ever seen or is able to see him" (1 Timothy 6:16).
The psalmist envisioned God living in a "lofty house on the waters" (Psalm 104:3). With the word lofty, we sense that he meant the waters God placed "above the dome" (Genesis 1:7), or sky, at the time of Creation. He pictured the wind, fire, and flame as God's messengers and ministers (Psalm 104:4).
These images of wind, fire, and flame are also present in the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). In contrast to the psalmist's idea that God lived above the heavens, Paul wrote that God, through the Holy Spirit, lives within us (1 Corinthians 3:16).
It is awesome and humbling to know we live in the presence of the Creator. When we view a range of snow-capped mountains, feel the power of an ocean wave, or watch the seasons change outside our kitchen window, we know why the psalmist described our Creator as being "clothed in glory and grandeur" (Psalm 104:1). In the presence of such grandeur we may feel with the psalmist that God wears a robe of light too bright for us to approach. Yet as Christians we know God is approachable.
God through Christ opened the door for us to live in relationship with our "fantastic" (verse 1) Creator. How does creation remind you of this wonderful truth?
Prayer: Creating God, thank you for your awesome creation that reminds me of your greatness. Amen.
Wednesday August 28
Nourishment for All Creatures
In what ways does God nourish you?
The psalmist painted a beautiful, almost idyllic picture of God's creation. It is a picture we might see on a calendar or in a magazine about life in the country. Read the verses again. What colors do you see? What actions are taking place? What sounds do you hear? How do you feel as you read these verses?
Water is a recurring theme in this passage. The water comes up from the earth as "gushing springs" (Psalm 104:10) and rains down from God's "lofty house" (verse 13), which the psalmist envisioned as being built on the waters above the sky (verse 3). Then, as now, water was critical for survival. The psalmist praised God for this sustaining gift that satisfied wild and domestic animals and nourished the grasses in the pastures and crops in the farmers' fields.
Abundance is another recurring theme. The water from the springs is "gushing" (verse 10) so "every wild animal" (verse 11; italics added) might drink. Creation is "filled full" (verse 13) and "well watered" (verse 16). The "cedars of Lebanon" (verse 16) are the only trees mentioned by name in this psalm. They were tall, strong, and majestic trees, extravagant, perhaps, in comparison to smaller trees. The high resin content in cedar made it a durable building material. King Solomon used it in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The psalmist praised God for providing for humankind's basic needs: food to eat, water to drink, and materials to build a shelter. The psalmist also noticed God provided for more than humankind's physical needs. The fruit of the farmer's labor "cheers people's hearts" and "sustains the human heart" (verse 15). What aspects of creation "cheer" and "sustain" you?
When a family member was in the hospital, I made daily trips to visit. Dogwood trees were in bloom, and their bright pink and white blossoms reminded me of new life and the gift of God's presence during that difficult time.
The sound of a bird singing has the power to distract me from the cares of my day and remind me that my Creator watches over me. My husband said sunshine brightens his heart, and expansive vistas bring him a feeling of peace. Gardeners often find dandelions to be pesky weeds, but our preschool-aged daughter often squealed in delight at the sight of the bright yellow flowers.
If you were to write a poem or a song about the extravagant nourishment God provides for you in creation, what would you include? How can you offer praise and thanksgiving to your Creator who provides for your needs and also cheers and sustains your heart?
Prayer: Creating God, thank you for gifts that cheer and sustain me and remind me of your presence. Amen.
Thursday August 29
The Cycle of Days and Seasons
How do the sun and the moon remind you of God's providence?
When I was in kindergarten, I liked to paint pictures of a bright yellow sun. I remember a poem our teacher taught us that began, "Good morning, merry sunshine." My mother used to sing a song about the moon. Since the beginning of humankind's history, we have been fascinated by these two heavenly bodies.
Pagan cultures in the ancient world used the sun and the moon as objects of worship, believing them to be gods. In contrast, the psalmist expressed the Judeo-Christian belief that the sun and the moon are God's creations and were placed in the universe to fulfill God's purposes.
The psalmist may have been familiar with the Creation story in Genesis 1, for he wrote, "God made the moon for the seasons, and the sun too" (Psalm 104:19). In Genesis, we read, "God said, 'Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years'" (Genesis 1:14).
The psalmist expressed the belief of his time that the sun traveled across the sky, providing daylight, and then knew "when to set" (Psalm 104:19). It is interesting to note that the psalmist did not equate darkness with the setting sun but with God's power to "bring on the darkness" (verse 20). God's wisdom is reflected in God's plan that animals prowl and seek food at night and sleep during the day, thus making it safe for people to be out and go to work when it is light (verse 23). Verse 4 reminds us that God watches over creation day and night: "Israel's protector / never sleeps or rests!"
Unlike the sun, the moon actually does travel across the sky, as it rotates around our spinning planet. It revolves around the Earth from west to east, with each rotation taking approximately four weeks. Israel's calendar was based on these lunar months. Passover was celebrated at full moon in the spring. The Feast of Booths, celebrating the harvest, was observed at full moon in the fall.
Like the psalmist, we find wisdom in God's plan for the cycle of days and seasons. In the Creation story, we see that God observed the daily cycle of work and rest. We know we feel better and are more productive in our work when we follow this example and take time for sleep.
Our years are divided into seasons, each of which reveals the nature of our Creator. The cold landscape of winter holds the secrets of spring. Spring reminds us of God's gift of new life, which blossoms into the fullness of summer. In the fall we gather in the harvest, sustenance God provides to nourish us through the winter. The golden sun and the silver moon are gifts from our loving Creator, gifts that meet our needs and cheer and sustain our hearts.
Prayer: Creating God, thank you for the sun and the moon that order our days and seasons with you. Amen.
Friday August 30
The Exalted God of Creation
How does the promise of God's triumphant justice give you hope?
We live within a tension of "now" and "not yet." We look forward to the coming kingdom of God, yet we already live within God's presence. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God as a coming age and a present reality.
We sense this tension between "now" and "not yet" in Psalm 97. It may have been composed during the early period after the Exile. If so, the Israelites had recently experienced God's deliverance from a foreign land and the return of exiles to Jerusalem.
This was a time of joyful thanksgiving for Israel. The people proclaimed with the psalmist, "The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice! / Let all the islands celebrate!" (Psalm 97:1). The islands mentioned here included the islands and the coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea.
The psalm is about God's final judgment. The symbolism is eschatological in nature, meaning that it relates to last things and end times. The images of "clouds" (verse 2) and "lightening" (verse 4) are reminiscent of Israel's experience at Mount Sinai. God said to Moses, "On the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai for all the people to see" (Exodus 19:11). On that day, "there was thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud on the mountain" (Exodus 19:16). The psalmist pictured God as ruling from a throne "built on righteousness and justice" (verse 2), not material wealth or greed for power.
As in other depictions of the last days, God's enemies meet a violent end and are burned with fire (verse 3). Even the "earth ... trembles" (verse 4), and "mountains melt" (verse 5). The people who worship idols "are put to shame" (verse 7).
In contrast to these frightening images, there is a reference to God's "glory" (verse 6) that will be seen by "all nations" (verse 6). Even the false gods will recognize the one true God and "bow down to the Lord!" (verse 7). Israel's response to God's just and righteous judgment will be celebration and rejoicing.
Like the Israelites, we live in a sinful and unjust world. As followers of Christ, we work for justice and trust God's righteousness. It is easy to lose hope and feel our efforts are inconsequential. Then we see glimpses of God's kingdom here on earth. A child thanks a teacher for telling him about Jesus. An addicted mother receives help in a faith-based program and then involves her family in church. An adult hears about Christ from a mission team and begins to think seriously about her faith in God.
We remain faithful as we share God's love with a hurting world. We serve with hope, trusting in God's future just and righteous judgment.
Prayer: Loving God, I trust your righteous judgment as I faithfully work for justice. Amen.
Saturday August 31
Praise God, the Creator
How do you praise your Creator?
When I was in graduate school, I was walking across campus one day when a professor stopped me and asked why I looked so happy. I had to think for a minute before I could pinpoint the reason. "Because the sky is so blue," I said. Indeed, the cloudless sky that day was a deep cobalt blue. Its bright, brilliant color was enough to put an extra spring in my step and a smile on my face!
The psalmist saw God's glory revealed in creation and exclaimed, "Let the Lord's glory last forever!" (Psalm 104:31). He noted God's power over creation. The Lord had only to look at what God had made and creation responded (verse 32). The psalmist promised to "sing to the Lord" as long as he lived (verse 33).
When we offer our praise and thanksgiving to God, I wonder if sometimes our focus is more on ourselves than on our Creator. We may think, Look at the beautiful world God created for me. We may hope that God and even other people notice how thankful we are and how earnestly we sing our praises. If we are not careful, our praise may become self-centered rather than God-centered.
The psalmist exclaimed, "Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!" (verse 31). The psalmist thought about the Creator's response and hoped the Lord would find joy. He also wanted his praise of creation to be "pleasing" (verse 34) to God. He offered it as a genuine, heartfelt gift to the One who had given him life. What is your response to creation?
The psalmist declared he would praise God for as long as he lived. He did not put any conditions on his praise. He did not add, "As long as I am having a good day" or "As long as I am not too busy." This might be a hard example to follow. It means we will praise God when we are running late and sitting in traffic. It means we will rejoice in God when we receive disappointing news or face a challenging time.
The interesting thing is that when we offer our praise to God, we are reminded of God's promises. We are reminded of God's steadfast love and continuing presence. Our genuine acts of praise keep us focused on our Creator and our place in creation as a precious child of God.
How and when do you praise God for the amazing gift of creation? Is it with a prayer of thanksgiving at the beginning and the end of each day? Is it through praise and worship with your community of faith? Are there aspects of creation that have the power to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face? Resolve to be like the psalmist, and offer your praises to God every day of your life.
Prayer: Dear Creator God, accept my expressions of praise and thanksgiving for your wonderful gifts. Amen.
Sunday September 1
Psalm 104:5-9, 24-30
God, Our Creator and Sustainer
How does creation remind you of God's sustaining power?
Where do you find security? In your family? your church? your career? your faith? Where do you place your trust?
The psalmist found security in God and creation. He declared that the earth was safely established "on its foundations / so that it will never ever fall" (Psalm 104:5). He noted that God "set a boundary" (verse 9) for the waters so that there were designated areas for mountains, dry land, rivers, and oceans.
Excerpted from Daily Bible Study Fall 2013 by Stan Purdum. Copyright © 2013 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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