From Nothing (Romans 4:1-5,13-17)

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Whenever people make something, we need something to make it with. For example, when I make breakfast, I need cereal, toast or juice. If I was to make a picture, I would need paper, paints and something to be the subject of my artwork. If I was going to make a cake, I would need ingredients such as flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and so on. If I was going to make a Lego model, I would need the bricks and a good set of instructions to complete it.

Our human experience tells us that if we are going to make something, it needs to come from something else. You can’t just make something from nothing – it just isn’t part of what we know.

But could you imagine being able to make something from nothing? What do you think it would be like to be able to think of something and then bring it into existence when it hadn’t existed before?

This is the creative power we can see God working throughout the Bible. From the beginning, God created the world out of nothing. The actual text of Genesis 1 talks about the earth being ‘formless and empty’ (NLT and NIV) but the idea is still the same. In the beginning, God created light and life and everything that exists where previously there had been nothing.

We can see God’s creative power at work throughout the biblical story. We can see it in Abraham and Sarah, who were well past the age of having children. However, God brought life out of Sarah’s dead womb and gave them Isaac, whose descendants became the nation of Israel. We can see it in the Old Testament stories when God saved his people. He took hopeless situations, broken and messed up people, and gave them deliverance, freedom, security and a future. Stories like Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David and more all show us how ‘God brings the dead back to life and … creates new things out of nothing’ (Romans 4:17 NLT).

We see God’s creative power most clearly in Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus brought life out of death and created new things from nothing by healing the sick, purifying the unclean, forgiving the guilty and raising the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was the greatest display of God’s faithfulness to his promises and his life-giving power as he defeated the power of death over humanity by raising his Son to new, eternal life. When we look at the empty tomb of Jesus, we can see how God brings life out of death. God reaches into the deepest and darkest places of human existence to speak promises of life, hope, love and light. These promises do what they say. They raised Jesus to new life, once and for all showing that God’s creative power is stronger than death, stronger than nothingness, and brings into existence a new reality of light and hope and joy and peace and love and life! God creates all these and more where previously nothing had exited at all.

We have these stories so we can also receive the promises of God through them. If God could bring life from death and create new things from nothing for the people of the Bible, then he can do the same for us. In a world which tells us that you can’t make something from nothing, the gospel of Jesus tells us that God can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and that God has the creative power to bring new life from what is dead, and to create good where there has been nothing at all.

This is the good news of salvation for us in Jesus. When we were dead in our sin, God created the new life of Jesus within us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel (Ephesians 2:4,5). When we were distant from God and turned away from him, God spoke his promises into our cold, hard hearts to create something new and living. The good news of the redemption of Jesus is that God creates new life in us where previously there was nothing through his promises of forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Through the faith the Holy Spirit gives, we receive what God promises us by believing them. That’s why Paul writes, ‘the promise is received by faith.’ (Romans 4:16 NLT). When we hear God’s promises of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, the Holy Spirit creates the faith that we need to receive exactly what God promises us – forgiveness and new life as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased.

God continues his creative work which he began at creation by bringing into being things that haven’t to this point existed in us. When we have no hope, God creates hope. Where there is no joy, God creates joy. Where there is no love, God creates his infinite and perfect love within us through Jesus. When we have nothing good within us, God creates the goodness of Jesus within us through the good news of Jesus and the creative work of the Holy Spirit. Where there is no life and we just feel empty inside, our God ‘who creates new things out of nothing’ creates new, eternal life through his promises of the gospel of Jesus. If there is a part of our lives which looks like there is nothing or something is missing, our God who spoke all that we see into existence at the beginning of creation can speak whatever we need into existence so we can live in the reality of his creative power and love.

This is why it is so important for us to be listening to God’s promises in his Word. God ‘brings the dead to life and … creates new things out of nothing’ through his promises. When we receive those promises by believing them and trusting them, we also receive what is promised. That is why this Lent, and throughout my ministry, I want to help people find the promises God makes to you in his Word so you can hear them, you can believe them, and you can live in the reality of God’s creative power in your lives.

I know that it makes human sense to say that you can’t make something from nothing. God’s word, however, tells me something different. It tells me that God has the power to do what I can’t – that’s why he’s God and we’re not. At creation, in Abraham and especially in his Son, Jesus, God brought the dead back to life and created new things out of nothing. He can do the same for us through the promises in his word by the Holy Spirit’s power.

So what is missing in your life? And how might God’s promises to you in Jesus create what’s missing in you?

Looking Past What We See (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

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Most of us have heard the saying to never judge a book by its cover. There are always dangers with coming to conclusions about people, circumstances and other things by taking a superficial view of them and not taking the time and effort to find out what’s going on under the surface.

So why do we do it so often?

We live in a very superficial culture where appearance is everything. The media emphasizes looking good, wearing the right clothes, having the right body shape, and so on. Marketing often makes the packaging more important than what the product. Social media dictates that people’s perceptions of us are based on our profile pictures, so we can be constantly taking selfies or paying for professional photographers to find a picture which will help the world decide that we are acceptable or worthwhile.

The way something looks is often more important in our society than what it is.

In the church, we have also fallen into the trap of making conclusions about people or situations based on appearance. We can be judged by people in the church by the clothes we wear to worship, how we wear our hair, whether we have tattoos or piercings, or other ways in which we might present ourselves. Our actions and behaviours are often judged by others, especially if we don’t come up to expectations of what is acceptable behaviour – just ask any parent of young children who are noisy during worship. When we make decisions in our congregations about changes or new directions in ministry, people can be critical without knowing the full story. We tend to make decisions and judgements in the church based on what things look like rather than what they really are.

But God doesn’t work that way.

I love this story of Samuel anointing David to be the new king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 because God tells Samuel that he doesn’t look at outward appearances. God looks at the heart (v7). God looks beyond the superficial things that we are usually preoccupied with. He looks beneath the surface to see what’s really going on in our hearts.

For God, who we are is much more important that how we look.

In the Hebrew way of thinking, a person’s heart isn’t just an organ in our chest that pumps blood around our bodies. A person’s heart is what lies at our core, at the centre of our being. During my student days I worked in a supermarket and used to put cans of artichoke hearts on the shelves. I was surprised to learn that artichokes are a vegetable, not a small, furry animal. An artichoke’s heart is what is at its centre. In the same way, when the Bible talks about our hearts, it is referring to what lies at the centre of who we are. What lies at the centre will shape who we are and what we do.

We aren’t told in 1 Samuel 16 why David’s heart was different from his brothers, so we can only guess, based on the stories we have of David in the Old Testament. As we get to know David, we find a person who made mistakes and did some pretty horrible things. But what seems different about David is that he had a heart that was open to God and was turned towards God. The centre of David’s being was oriented towards God’s goodness as he relied on God’s grace and love.

Maybe, in the same way, God is looking for us to have hearts that are turned towards him and are open to his goodness. God looks past our appearance, how we look and even what we do, to see if our hearts are turned towards him. Whatever our hearts are turned towards becomes our god, so God looks to see whether our hearts are turned towards him or away from him. He is looking to see if our hearts are open to his grace or closed to the goodness he wants to pour into them by the power of his Holy Spirit. It’s not up to us to try to work that out for other people because we can’t see into people’s hearts. But God is looking to see what lies at the centre of our being and whether or not God has a place there.

Because God wants to give us new hearts that are orientated towards him and open to his goodness. Everything that lies on our hearts which would be an obstacle to or disqualify us from a relationship with God has been taken by Jesus and put to death on the cross. The message of forgiveness is that Jesus removes everything which lies in our hearts that is wrong or bad or unclean. He has carried it to the cross and put it to death once and for all. In its place, Jesus fills our hearts with goodness and love and purity and peace. He mends our broken hearts with his grace and gives our hearts new life as he gifts us with his Holy Spirit and restores us to being the people he created us to be. This love re-orients our hearts and turns them towards God who fills us with his grace.

That is why Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:16,17 not to evaluate others form a worldly point of view which only looks at superficial externals. Paul wants us to see each other from God’s perspective, as he looks into our hearts and sees Jesus. Everything about us that is old, broken and wrong is gone. In its place, God gives us the life of Christ which is new and full of shining goodness and purity. This is how God wants us to see each other, as well as ourselves: as people whom Jesus loves, for whom he died, and who are made new through the gift of his Spirit. When Jesus lives in our hearts, at our core and the centre of our being through faith, then we are a new creation and his life has begun in us.

Whether we are talking about or ourselves or others, it’s good to never judge books by their covers. God never just looks at the external appearance, so why should we? Instead, God looks at our hearts and sees Jesus who fills our whole being with his goodness, grace and love. The challenge is to see each other in the same way.

So, this week, who could you look at in a new way from God’s perspective? Is there a person or situation where you’ve only seen the external appearance? How might your perception of other people be different if you looked at them with God’s eyes and saw them as people for whom Christ died?