- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Each devotion includes scripture references, thoughtful stories, a prayer, and reflection questions that are suitable for private meditation or group settings.
This book will be your trusted companion to the Wesley Study Bible as you grow to love God with a warmed heart and serve God with active hands.
IN THE BEGINNING, GOD
Genesis is a book of "beginnings." This is the meaning of the Greek title genesis. This first book of the Bible presents the beginning, the origin of everything except God.
Few phrases have stimulated the mind and imagination as this one has: "In the beginning, God." Poets have tried to describe in their words that day. The famous nineteenth-century poet Percy Shelley labeled it the day "when God first dawned on chaos." Artists have tried to paint it. Philosophers have sought to explain it. Scientists have never lost interest in it. Theologians continue to seek and communicate its meaning.
GOD OF BEGINNINGS
In this beginning phrase of the Bible, the first profound truth of Christian understanding is stated: God is eternal.
Perhaps some of your children have asked, "Who made God?" The answer is, "No one. God has always been, God is, and God will always be; he was before the world and before human history, and he will be after the world and human history are dissolved."
Once Martin Luther was asked what God was doing before the world was made. The old reformer replied, "Cutting switches with which to flog those who ask foolish questions!" We may not silence this question in such a harsh way, but for Christians the beginning, the continuing, and the end is God. God is eternal.
Intrigue with these first words of Genesis and the story of creation has not diminished through the years. But neither has its joy. God speaks, and everything changes at once—from nothing to everything, from chaos to order. And at the height of creation: humankind, in God's own image—from the dust of the earth.
When Job was wrestling with the tragic dimensions of his own life, and was debating God, God reminded him of this joyful beginning by asking:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! ... On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone? (Job 38:4-7)
But joy is soon diminished by the pathos of love and hate, all the human vices and glories in everyday living. Before the end of Genesis 3, the entire gamut of our human experience is recorded, the rich intimacy and harmony of human relationships, even harmony with the earth and its creatures; and paramount, harmony with God. Then comes "the Fall." Adam and Eve, thinking they are wiser than God, do precisely what he commands them not to do. They are left with shame and brokenness, the loss of intimacy with God and others. Life "east of Eden" results.
BUT WE FALL
Karl Barth was one of the most outstanding theologians of the twentieth century. He was a pastor of a village church in Switzerland when World War I came and seemingly all the lights went out. A great darkness descended upon Europe. As pastor, he heard his people crying for some word from the Lord that would make sense out of what had happened. Barth had been raised and trained in the optimistic humanism of the nineteenth century; therefore, he was bereft of anything to preach that would be relevant to the world in which his people lived. In desperation, he turned to the Scripture and discovered what he called "the strange new world within the Bible." From that experience, he wrote The Word of God and the Word of Man. He called what he discovered in the Bible "strange" because it described a world of glaring sin and darkness unlike the image of the world held by his confident teachers. He found a diagnosis of the human condition that offered a source for the chaos of his time.
Creation, fall, and redemption are the core themes of Scripture. In the beginning, God. God created, and what God created was and is good. God created humankind, breathed into them his own breath, the breath of life. God gave us freedom, and in our pride we chose to violate God's direction for us; thus, sin came into the world. From then until now—and it will be so until God brings his story to an end—we live with sin at the very heart of our lives. Our only hope is the salvation that is ours through God's gift of himself in Jesus Christ. This is the gospel about which Paul said, "I am not ashamed ... it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith" (Rom. 1:16).
GOD'S GOODNESS DESPITE OUR DARKNESS
We need to light up another facet of the Creation story that is worthy of reflection. Note the recurring phrase in the Genesis story: "And it was good." Then at the end of the story are the words: "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good" (1:31).
We need to hang on to that because the temptation is to see the world and all that is in it as evil. When the darkness of our circumstances makes life seem dark, we grow frightened and sometimes faithless. We find it difficult to believe that God is near and that God has not forgotten us. We long for light in the midst of our darkness. Do you remember John Keats's poem "Ode to a Nightingale"? In the poem, Keats expresses his longing to escape from his pain and join the pleasant-sounding nightingale who flies above the dreary life of human beings. He asks for a cup of poison to drink as he is overwhelmed by emptiness, darkness, meaninglessness, and hopelessness.
That happens to us, doesn't it? The darkness of our particular circumstances makes us believe that all of life is dark, and so we are frightened and sometimes faithless. What we need to know is that God owns the dark as well as the light and is present in the night as well as in the day. God promises to be with us and bring us out of our darkness into the light of his salvation. God's good gift of joy will always be the last word.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
Where do you need a fresh start? What is the darkest place in your life in which you need God's light to shine?CHAPTER 2
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
GENESIS 4:1-16; JOB 3:1-12
At the very beginning of history, the story of humankind, our story, is acted out not only in Adam and Eve but also in their sons, Cain and Abel. There is a lesson even in their names. Cain means "I have gotten a man." Eve, the proud mother, suggests that this son will bear the dignity of being the firstborn, and that for her he is to be the quintessence of power and strength. "Abel," on the other hand, means something like "nothingness," "frailty," or "meaninglessness." The younger brother is overshadowed by the elder from the very beginning. He is the representative of those who get the short end of the stick.
BLESSING OR PRIVILEGE
Life is that way, isn't it? There are those who are born with silver spoons in their mouths, and there are those for whom the cry of hunger never ceases.
Cain, as a name and a symbol, speaks volumes to us. The strong ones—the firstborn, the blessed, the ones who have everything—easily find themselves in the center of things.
Here is a challenge for us. We have to be careful that we do not confuse blessing with privilege. Because we are especially blessed—economically, educationally, culturally—does not mean we should have privileges that others don't have. The movie Driving Miss Daisy is a marvelous story that makes this lesson clear. Miss Daisy is a Jewish woman—a rich widow. She's stubborn, independent, frugal, and eccentric in a charming way. Her son hires a chauffeur, Hoke, a warm, gentle black man. And that's the story—the story of a rich relationship that grows from Hoke "driving Miss Daisy."
A particularly moving scene is when Hoke drives Miss Daisy to a dinner where Martin Luther King is speaking. The setting is a private Atlanta club, the picture of wealth and Southern elegance. Miss Daisy listens to King in person; Hoke listens on the radio in the car outside. It is obvious that Miss Daisy wishes she had brought Hoke in with her as King speaks those prophetic words, "God's judgment will not alone be upon those who did violence and provoked anger, but also upon those people of good will who knew what was right and good but refused to speak and act for the cause of justice and brotherhood." That got to Miss Daisy.
Another moving scene is the closing one when Miss Daisy has lost her mental faculties. When Hoke comes in for his day's work, he finds her out of touch with reality. She thinks she is a young woman again, teaching school. But Hoke is kind and gentle, listens to her, and calls her to her senses. When she finally is back in touch with reality, she is seated in a chair, Hoke standing beside her. She reaches up with her frail, white, wrinkled hand, and takes his big, boney, black one and says from the depth of her being, "Hoke, you're the best friend I have."
Miss Daisy learned that because we are blessed, it doesn't give us special privileges at the expense of denying them to others. We need to learn that. Because we have everything, we dare not always put ourselves, as Cain did, in the center of the picture.
WHEN THINGS DON'T GO OUR WAY
Now, a second lesson from the Cain and Abel story. When things don't go our way, we are too often quick to blame God. The lesson is in the mysterious story of God accepting Abel's offering but refusing Cain's.
"Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground." The scripture says, "Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock" (Gen. 4:3-4). Then there is this stark word in verses four and five: "And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard."
Both men were grateful to God and, at least on the surface, were bringing a fitting sacrificial gift. It's hardly any wonder that "Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell."
Divorce yourself from that quick identification with Cain and think for a moment. Isn't it true that when God takes the liberty to do something that we do not understand and that we think goes against us, we are immediately ready with the question, "How can God do such a thing?"
Think of Job. He believed it was right for the good to prosper and the wicked not to prosper. As long as God conformed to this favorite idea of his, to his conception of a moral world order, he was all right. But when God did something that did not fit into his system of convictions—when Job's children died, his house was burned down, and his flocks were destroyed—he not only withdrew into the sulking corner of his religious house of belief, he questioned God and the meaning of his own life, as would many of us.
Job asked the same question most of us ask at one time or another: Why? At first he tried to keep a stiff upper lip when he said, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (1:21). But after Satan was allowed to take Job's health away as well, he begins to cry out in chapter 3 and raise the question over and over: Why? "Why did I not die at birth, / come forth from the womb and expire? Why were there knees to receive me, or breasts for me to suck?" (Job 3:11-12).
It's so with all of us, isn't it? Why should this happen to me? Why did God allow my wife to die so young? Why have my children turned their backs on the church and all I believe? Why is my friend caught in the tenacious clutches of drugs? We identify with what Alex Haley said about the turtle who found himself atop a six-foot fence post in a bean field: "He didn't get where he was all by himself." We know that about our situations. We didn't get here by ourselves, so we blame God.
Cain, unable to understand why his gift is not accepted, stands before the altar of God with a doubting and rebellious heart. God is not acting according to his program. And so Cain reflects our own egotism and lack of trust. Though there is mystery here as to why God accepted Abel's offering but not Cain's, we are led to believe that God was looking on the heart, the attitude of the giver, rather than on the specifics of his offering.
WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO GOD?
In the way of money, it's not the amount but the spirit in which you give. And it also has something to do with proportion. That's the reason Jesus made the woman who gave pennies in the temple one of the most famous women in Scripture. She gave everything.
But money is not all we can offer God on the altar. We can offer him our time and energy. We can give God our intentions. We need to be disciplined in our intentions.
We will never be loving extensions of the ministry of Jesus until we become intentional about paying attention to people we meet daily, listening to them, giving them our time. The offering of our life will be acceptable to God only as we are intentional in making that offering daily.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
Are there circumstances or problems in your life for which you are tempted to blame God? What sin is lurking in your heart?
What privileges are you blessed with? What gifts will you give to God today?CHAPTER 3
GOD KNOWS WHO I AM
PSALM 8; ISAIAH 12
Psalm 8 is one of my favorite psalms. When I'm feeling blue and lonely, when I become preoccupied with failure, and when depression threatens to turn the sky of my life into clouds of grey, I shower my mind with a portion of this psalm.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. (Ps. 8:3-5)
It's a thrilling reminder that God knows who I am. And when I think that way, if I am alone, I shout "hallelujah." If I'm where I can't shout, I allow my inner self to sing with joy, otherwise I might explode.
LIVING A HALLELUJAH LIFE
Singing, shouting, celebrating—it's the response of anyone, especially Christians, when contemplating God's story. The psalms are songs—songs that express every mood and attitude of persons. The highs and the lows, the successes and the sorrows, the doubts and the disillusionments are all there. So you have pensive confession, desperate longing for God's presence, honest questioning of God's activity, helpless dependency on God's strength, abandonment of self to God's will and way—and punctuating it all are exclamations of joy.
The coming of Jesus makes the singing more vibrant because we are now even more confident of God's character—his love and grace.
No question about it, the religion of the psalmist is a religion that sings. Psalm 8 is a pristine example. It begins and ends with that exulting greeting, "O LORD, our Sovereign, / how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (vv. 1, 9).
The postmodernists are right when they tell us that modernity—life based solely on science, rationality, and reason—has failed us. Researchers in physics and math are creating and making more space for wonder, imagination, mystery, and majesty. Science itself is discovering that while facts are important, facts alone are not enough either to explain or to experience the mystery and majesty of creation and this magnificent planet that is our dwelling place.
Evolution and intelligent design theories will continue to be debated. They deal with the "how" questions. Faith asks "why" questions dealing with the meaning and purpose of it all, our place as human beings in the "great scheme of it all."
Two of the best-known verses of Scripture are in this psalm. "O LORD, our Lord, / How excellent is Your name in all the earth" (v. l NKJV) and "What is man that You are mindful of him?" (v. 4 NKJV). Do you see it? It is only in the context of praising God, certainly only after praising him, that we can rightfully consider who we are. The psalmist places humanity within the vastness of God's creation. At first glance, that vastness highlights the smallness of humans. The motive of the psalmist is brilliant. He wants us to see God's immense care and concern for us, so he marvels, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, / mortals that you care for them?"
Our marveling at the heavens, the work of God's fingers, might well be beyond that of the psalmist. We have far more data than was available to David's naked eye. We know that in one second a beam of light travels 186,000 miles, which is seven times greater than the distance around the earth. It takes eight minutes for that beam to go from the sun to the earth. That beam from sun to earth travels almost six trillion miles in a year. Scientists call this a light-year. It boggles the mind. Eight billion light-years from the earth is halfway to the edge of the known universe. There are a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars, on average, within the universe. There are perhaps as many planets as stars within all the galaxies—ten billion trillion!
Excerpted from The Grace-Filled Life by Maxie D. Dunnam. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.