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About the Author
Steve Wiens is the founding pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. He, his wife, Mary, and their three young boys live in Maple Grove, Minnesota. He blogs at stevewiens.com and podcasts at This Good Word.
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The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life
By Steve Wiens
NavPressCopyright © 2015 Stephen Wiens
All rights reserved.
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth — all you see, all you don't see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
God spoke: "Light!"
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning —
MY SISTER LISA IS my oldest friend, and one of my greatest confidants. But there was a time when we almost lost her.
Lisa is two years older than I am, and she has watched over me during all of the seasons of my life. One of the enduring memories of my high school years is walking into her room at the end of the long hallway in our white house in Waterloo. I always found a safe place to land at the end of that hallway. I would just show up and start talking: about the girlfriend who had just broken up with me, about my struggles in school, about the anger inside of me that I didn't understand. I don't remember her ever telling me she didn't have time for these late night conversations. She has helped me through many difficult decisions, and she is one of the few people on the planet who knows me and loves me thoroughly, even recklessly.
Lisa was the commencement speaker at her high school graduation and her college graduation. She's a rare kind of brilliant: Her expansive intellect is eclipsed only by her over-sized heart.
Her brilliance made it all the more surprising, all the more tragic, as we watched her enter into and get lost in an abusive relationship a few years after graduating from college. She lived in Memphis, and on those rare occasions when we saw her, we hardly recognized her. She was gaunt, and she was devoid of the sparkling light that usually characterized her bright smile and dazzling eyes. Normally irrepressible, she became morose, secretive, swallowed up by a darkness we could see and feel. I remember the time she first told me about the relationship. It was late at night, and as we shivered under our coats, our eyes never met. She just stared off into the distance, and I didn't know how far she'd gone or how we'd ever get her back.
During those years, she came home a few times, but she didn't really want to be with our family. I suppose it was because she was afraid that if we really knew what she was doing, we'd start hoping she wouldn't come home. Maybe she was right.
One night, when the darkness became too dark, she called my parents and simply said, "Please come and get me." When it gets so dark you can't see anymore, it's time for someone to do something.
And so my parents rented a U-Haul truck the next morning, drove down to Memphis, and got her out of there. They didn't hesitate or ask clarifying questions. They knew what they needed to do, and they did it. Immediately. My parents are not perfect, but in these moments, they shine. They became the gift that helped Lisa to walk into a new beginning.
In addition to still watching over me, Lisa now spends many hours a week listening to the stories of heartbreak and pain that characterize the homeless, invisible teenagers of downtown Minneapolis. She is a new beginning herself, and new beginnings are being generated all around her.
When I'm lost and in need of a new beginning, I don't put a lot of hope in being found on my own. When I think about what God is like, I think about that U-Haul truck and those desperate parents, racing from Minneapolis to Memphis. I'm betting everything on the hope that it is God who rents a U-Haul truck to get to me. When I am in the cracks and crevices of disappointment and failure, God finds me, stoops down to grab me, and whispers good news in my ragged ear:
There you are! It's time to go.
At the dawn of a new beginning, you will need someone to show you the way. Because it starts in the dark, you will need to hear and see something that leads you into it. You'll need to see that the light is stronger than the shadow.
* * *
Let there be light. These are the words that ushered in Day One. But before there was light, there was darkness and chaos. "The earth lacked shape and was totally empty, and a dark fog draped over the deep" (Genesis 1:2, The Voice).
The Hebrew phrase used to describe that which lacked shape and was totally empty, before anything was created, is tohu va-vohu. Listen to the consonants in that word, how they swirl around, looking for a place to land. I love this phrase. It crashes around on your tongue, chaotic and unpredictable. Tohu va-vohu describes the empty places in your life where you can't see, you can't hear, and you don't know.
Tohu va-vohu is the drive home after you've just been laid off unexpectedly, the day after you found out you need a new water heater.
Tohu va-vohu is hearing the doctor say the word cancer out loud, when it's still bouncing off the walls and hasn't had a chance to land yet.
Tohu va-vohu is what washes over you seconds after you wake up, as you remember the betrayal, and reflect on what was destroyed.
Tohu va-vohu is finally becoming CEO, and instead of savoring the sweet taste of celebration, there are only ashes in your mouth as you look down onto the full world from your empty corner office.
Tohu va-vohu is a burgeoning bank account, an empty nest, and a journal full of regret.
Tohu va-vohu is sitting on a deck late at night wondering if you're just sliding downhill. It's emptiness when you want fullness.
Tohu va-vohu is living a gaunt, empty life in Memphis, right before you pick up the phone.
Tohu va-vohu is dark, empty fog, and we hate it so badly that we will try anything to escape it.
As it turns out, we cannot escape the emptiness. But there is something else that exists, hovering over the tohu va-vohu, vibrating and waiting to bring creative energy and life.
Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
The word for "spirit" in Hebrew is ruach, which means "wind" or "breath." It also describes the creative energy of God, which both generates life and holds it together. It's full of life, energizing and animating all the emptiness, everywhere. Whatever else it means, it is used to describe something living and moving, compared with something rigid and calcified.
It is the Ruach that initiates new beginnings, and without it, we stall out, sitting on decks late at night overlooking our past, seeing nothing but endings. The psalmist wrote,
If you turned your back,
they'd die in a minute —
Take back your Spirit and they die,
revert to original mud;
Send out your Spirit and they spring to life —
the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.
Ruach is the word for "Spirit" in those verses above. It's used in some form more than 380 times in the Scriptures. When the generative life force of God is not present, we will remain lost in the tohu va-vohu.
The God who hovered over the waters of chaos in the beginning of all things is still hovering, always inviting us into something beautiful and new. God is an artist, painting portraits of you and me on canvas in the attic, shadow and color and sparkle fusing into reality and potential. God is a farmer who still gets up early to scatter seed in the spring and to gather the harvest in the fall. God is a parent who delights in measuring your height with hastily scribbled pencil marks on the kitchen wall.
God wants to usher all of us into new beginnings, no matter our motives and no matter how blurry our picture of God. God isn't finished creating and recreating, and it's precisely because God is continually generative that we keep getting invited to grow and change and become, despite the fact that we keep landing ourselves in the same old garbage heap that we found ourselves in last year, and the year before that.
God is the one who speaks a word into the darkness of our lives, when tohu va-vohu seems to be winning.
Let there be light.
And then the light is separated from the darkness.
When we think of light, we automatically think of the sun. But according to the creation story, the sun is not created until Day Four. So what is the light of Day One? What is it that showed the way into that first beginning?
In the beginning of the Scriptures, if you want to find the right thread that will help you understand a mysterious phrase like "Let there be light," you need to look for where this word is used elsewhere in Scripture.
* * *
Genesis tells the story of the beginning of the children of Israel, how they became a people, and then how they almost died out because of a famine. When they were rescued, they found a home in Egypt, where they lived for many years as honored guests. But as the book of Exodus begins, the children of Israel are slaves in Egypt. It was a tohu va-vohu time for them, and while they cried out to be rescued, they were answered only by emptiness and nothingness for four hundred long years. If God was hovering over that tohu va-vohu, it must have felt like a million miles away.
And then a baby was born.
Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months.
EXODUS 2:1-2, ESV
What mother doesn't think that her baby is a fine child? I actually don't trust this mother. There are a few genuinely beautiful babies, but most of them are really just small, wrinkly old men wearing onesies with pictures of ridiculous dogs flying airplanes.
But the word in Hebrew that is translated as "fine" is tov, that expansive word that means good but also refers to the actualization of the potential for life, embedded in the earth by God when creation brings it forth with the seeds of future life in it.
You'll remember that tov is first mentioned all the way back in Genesis 1, used to describe everything that God makes.
That's kind of like PUTTING SOMETHING IN ALL CAPS: Pay attention to this one, the writer seems to be suggesting. This beginning — this fine baby — has something to do with the beginning. Into the tohu va-vohu of slavery, something new is about to be created — much more than a baby.
But first, more tohu va-vohu.
After noticing how fast the Hebrew people were reproducing, Pharaoh (the Egyptian king), in an attempt to drown out their population growth, ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. He commanded the Hebrew midwives to carry out this order.
Instead of killing the baby boys, two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah allowed these boys to live. They told Pharaoh that the Hebrew women, who were much hardier than Egyptian women, gave birth before the midwives even arrived. Cheeky midwives, it turns out, are the very best kind of midwives.
So this fine child was saved. But you can't hide a growing boy forever. After three months, this brave mother put him in a small ark, laid it in the Nile River, and watched him float away in order that he might live.
Can you imagine doing that?
The fine child was strategically placed at a spot on the river where women bathed — rich Egyptian women. One of them noticed this Hebrew boy and snatched him up to raise as her very own. It was Pharaoh's daughter, who named him Moses, which means "drawn out."
Can you feel the ache of the Hebrew people, longing to be drawn out of Egypt, out of slavery?
There you are! It's time to go.
So Moses was raised as a prince in Egypt — the wealthiest, most resourced place on planet Earth at the time. He eventually saw the Hebrew people — his people — enslaved and mistreated, and one day, something in him snapped: He murdered an Egyptian slave driver who was beating a Hebrew slave. Moses buried that slave driver in the hot, unforgiving sand that day. The prince became a revolutionary in that moment, and in the next moment, a fugitive.
Moses ran away to the wilderness, where he remained for forty years. He spent most of those years as a lonely shepherd, roaming the hills and valleys of his lost and lonely soul. For forty years, one of history's greatest leaders experienced an ocean of emptiness. For forty years, Moses tasted the gritty sand of the wilderness, a tohu va-vohu that must have confused and scared him. He had murdered the Egyptian inside of him, burying it in the sand of memory, but he hadn't found his identity as a Hebrew yet.
And so the camera cuts back to Egypt, where the cries of God's people, which have continued to ring out in the darkness, are finally heard.
Many years later the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Their cries for relief from their hard labor ascended to God:
God listened to their groanings.
God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
There you are! It's time to go.
It was then that Moses' life took an unexpected turn, bending and twisting like the river into which he was placed as a baby. Moses encountered something he had never seen before, so he turned aside to see what it was.
The light of Day One, it turns out, is shining all around us, but only those of us who turn aside get to see it.
Burning bushes are a common occurrence in the hot, dry desert. Plants are tinder in the wilderness, and when lightning strikes, they burn. This is how they reseed. Normally the bushes burn quickly, and the smoking remains are all that's left. As a shepherd, Moses had probably seen it happen hundreds of times. But on this day, years into his emptiness, he saw a bush that burned but was not consumed. Out of the burning but not consuming light, after forty years, God spoke. That is how you know you're in Day One: The emptiness is suddenly filled with presence.
The God who has been absent is suddenly and unexpectedly there. The U-Haul truck shows up.
God said, "I've taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I've heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey, the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I've seen for myself how cruelly they're being treated by the Egyptians. It's time for you to go back: I'm sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt."
It's time for you to go back. Those were the words that branded Moses' soul and changed his identity. These were the words that ushered him into a new beginning.
There you are! It's time to go.
But Moses ran into a buzz saw named Pharaoh, the king in Egypt who did not want to let them go. You can't really blame him; the children of Israel were his slave labor force, and without them, the economy would likely collapse.
So God sent ten plagues to change Pharaoh's mind. First we see blood in the Nile (#1). Then frogs crawl out of the Nile and cover everything (#2), and after that gnats appear everywhere (#3). Then flies cover every crack and crevice of Egypt, filling mouths and covering food (#4). Next all the Egyptian livestock die (#5).
Then it starts to get personal. The Egyptian people are covered in painful boils (#6). Hail destroys all their crops (#7). Locusts swarm and eat the rest of the vegetation not destroyed by hail (#8).
The next plague is darkness (#9), and it is especially delicious in helping us to understand what the light of Day One is. The scene opens with God speaking to Moses.
God said to Moses: "Stretch your hand to the skies. Let darkness descend on the land of Egypt — a darkness so dark you can touch it."
Moses stretched out his hand to the skies. Thick darkness descended on the land of Egypt for three days. Nobody could see anybody. For three days no one could so much as move. Except for the Israelites: they had light where they were living.
Excerpted from Beginnings by Steve Wiens. Copyright © 2015 Stephen Wiens. Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Tov xi
Day 1 Light 1
Day 2 Expanse 27
Day 3 Seeds 47
Day 4 Seasons 79
Day 5 Monsters 111
Day 6 US 135
Day 7 Stop 165
Epilogue: Day Eight 193
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life by Steve Wiens is written like a memoir in order to illustrate the significance of beginnings in one's life. Through the use of personal anecdotes, the reader can relate to the author's drive to find renewed meaning despite a life of stagnation. The author, a pastor, and father as well as a husband still felt as if something was missing as he reminisced about his childhood and youth. In his own words, he states in the introduction that "This book is about not missing those moments. This book is about leaving the forced march. This book is about finding hidden beginnings and pursuing the endless adventure of becoming." (Wiens, 2015) He writes in a personal conversational tone that will make the reader feel as if he is having a one on one conversation with Wiens. In the context of the Genesis account of the seven day creation, the author applies these basics to our own lives. He addresses each day of creation and uniquely applies it to our lives- our own beginnings and purpose. He weaves a wonderful analogy- a modern day parable that modern readers will understand and be able to apply. He breaths new life to the bible. New bible readers as well a those familiar with the bible will learn a new perspective on how God's word applies and its relevance on our lives. He has an uncanny ability to relate any story or circumstance to a spiritual lesson. For anyone looking for a renewed biblical perspective from the ordinary and mundane, to the tumultuous or tragic- this is the book. As a blogger I received a copy of this book published by NavPress for the purpose of writing this review.
More like a succulent seven-course dinner than reading a book… I’ve read enough books-fiction and non-fiction-to know what ingredients are necessary for a good book. But like meals, two people can have the same ingredients and the same equipment and come out with two completely different reads. That’s a bit like describing my read on Beginnings by Steve Wiens. There were several times when I could guess the ingredient he was putting in the book, but even when I was right, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the way his story telling. Steve’s stories, whether his own or someone else’s, created vibrant scenes in my mind that lingered long after I stopped reading. In addition to appealing presentation, the content is both provocative and helpful. It’s provocative because instead of approaching the creation story of the Jewish and Christian faiths as an ancient story to dissect or debate, the author re-imagines it as a past, present and even future pattern of how God works in the world. (Faithful people have believed this about Sabbath for millennia, but for some reason the other days of creation were off limits to this idea.) For the studied person who believes and follows Jesus, the author brings rich depth to these familiar stories from the Bible. After many years of church going, bible reading and even years of seminary training, I found myself saying, “Wow, I never knew that.” It is a helpful book for the person who has no idea where a story comes from when a pastor/priest/teacher says, "I'm sure this story that we’ll look at in the Bible today will be familiar to you...". I bet if you have sat in a church you know that feeling; I can still feel that years later. I bet this author knows that feeling too, because his stories from the bible are straightforward, inclusive and accessible. Finally, the reflection and discussion questions at the end of each chapter invite readers to engage further beyond reading alone or with a group. These reminded me of a sorbet between courses or a smooth wine sipped through a dinner. I highly recommend the book.
This was one of those books that I will read over and over again. The first reading was simply to get the wonderful substance. I will read it again to get every nuance and to thrill in the beauty of the words. I will listen to the audio version to hear Steve's own voice narrate his thoughts. Steve tells wonderful stories. I love how he weaves those stories into the point he is making: you don't even know you've been taught an important lesson -- but there it is, woven within the stories. I also really like the questions and suggestions he uses at the end of each chapter -- to help you make these points sink in and become your own. (Or.....my own.) Steve's book is generative and restorative. He helps us see, in the busy-ness of life, how we can slow down and let God do what God wants to do in our lives. I especially love the last chapter -- "Day Eight", the epilogue. He ties all those other days of creation together to make a unified whole, a complete week. I will look for more books by this author!