I’m really excited to share with you today, something that God has laid on my heart over the last couple of weeks, and something he’s been teaching me and I’ve been trying to walk in. And what I love most is that it ties in so nicely with the first week of the curriculum we’re using in children’s church and youth group, going the beginning of the Bible to the end, teaching kids and students about God.
Since this is the first week, we’re going to talk about the beginning of the story of God. Now, the beginning of any story is arguably the most important part because it’s in the beginning that the basic elements of the story come out that will ultimately help us understand what’s happening in the end. Plot development. Climactic point. And conclusion. It shows us what led up to the problem that needs to overcome and perhaps the preferred future for the characters.
Imagine not knowing that Mufassa was killed in a stampede while he was trying to save Simba. Without this beginning you might think Simba was just a hormonal teenager with an attitude problem, deliberately being rebellious against his poor momma, Nala.
8:15 – If you turned on Rocky half way through, you’d just see a guy getting ready for a boxing match. You wouldn’t know his past, his struggles, and how much it means for him to have the opportunity to fight such a significant fight and how this fight could change his life forever.
10:45 – Imagine turning on the secret life of pets half way through… you might think that there was an outbreak of rabies and these dogs were going wild in the sewers.. you wouldn’t know that these poor abandoned animals were neglected by their previous families… and they just needed love.
Missing the beginning of a story can ruin our experience of the rest of it.
Have you ever thought about going to see the sequel of a movie without seeing the first? Most of the time that doesn’t work. You’re not gonna know what’s going on!
We know this first hand in real life. Maybe you got home after a long day at work and your spouse had the kids all day by himself and he’s yelling at the kids for a seemingly small issue and you say, very lovingly, “honey, I think you’re overreacting.” And he said, “you’re only saying that because you didn’t see the first 4 hours of this story!”
I remember in 11th grade, I took psychology. Don’t ask me why, but everyday I walked into this class and I dropped my books on the floor from the height of my desk. I wasn’t trying to be rude, I was just trying to be funny and for some reason I thought that might make people laugh. It was 7th period and I had already been doing this for weeks. So I walked into class, did my normal routine, SLAM, and the teacher turns around and pelts me in the chest with the chalk he was using on the chalk board and yelled at me. Clearly, I missed the beginning of some story that played out during the day.
The beginning of every story matter, including the beginning of our story. And I’m not talking about the birds and the bees.
I’m talking about Genesis 1:1… “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
We’re going to take a brief look at the first three stories of the Bible today, creation, cain and abel, and noah, because these stories have some similarities and patterns that help teach us something important about our lives today.
Let’s start with Creation. In Genesis 1 we learn that God created everything in the world out of nothing. The sky, the land, the sea, the stars, plants, animals, and last but not least… mankind.
It was a good place, a paradise. Some might refer to it as a utopia. Nothing was wrong. Everything was right. Adam and Eve had everything they needed and they walked perfectly in step with God… and they did it all completely naked.
Can you imagine a perfect life? Not worrying about what other people thought. Not worrying about how long your boss would put up with you or whether the other girl would get the promotion at work or whether kids at school liked you?
Adam and Eve walked perfectly in step with God… until they didn’t anymore. Eventually, they decided to trust themselves instead of trusting God. They decided they wanted to be in charge. They thought they knew what was best for them.
They fell into temptation and they chose to sin. We call this the fall.
Sin messed everything up. It caused broken relationships. Adam and Eve now were ashamed of their nakedness because sin caused them to fearful of what others might think about them if they really got to know them. They had to hide their true selves. It caused them to not trust each other, to fear the future, and to live selfishly and out of self-preservation. Sin caused them to run and hide from God. Sin caused them to wonder if God really loved them. Did God really care?
This is starting to sound familiar, isn’t it?
And when Adam and Eve sinned, just as God warned them, they were punished. They were kicked out of the garden and from that point forward it took a lot of work to get plants to grow in the ground and child birth was painful.
Some of the women are out there like, I can attest to that!
They sinned and they were punished, but all through this story is God’s great grace for Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were suddenly aware and ashamed of their nakedness, but Genesis 3:21 says, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and he clothed them.” God didn’t leave them to fend for themselves, he provided clothing for them.
God also could’ve killed them instantly for their actions, but he didn’t. He let’s them live apart from him. This gave them an opportunity to turn back to him.
And God made a way for them to be redeemed through sacrifices, as we see in the beginning of Chapter 4 in the story of Cain and Abel.
Adam and Eve fell, they were punished, but God offered them grace.
Cain and Abel were two sons of Adam and Eve. Abel took care of animals and Cain worked the soil. They both offered sacrifices to worship God, and while Abel gave his best, Cain gave his seconds to God. So Abel was honored by God and Cain was called out for his sin.
So in jealousy, Cain killed Abel in a field. Again, he chose his own way over God’s way. He fell into temptation. And he was punished by God. God says from now on, no matter how hard you work the ground, you will never produce a harvest. You’ll be a restless wanderer on the earth, having to ask and barter and trade for food.
But in this story, grace abounds. Genesis 4:15, “Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.”
Cain fell, he was punished, but he was offered grace. Grace of protection and again grace of life to have an opportunity to turn back to God.
I used to read that and think, “That’s not fair! Cain killed Abel! He should have to die! Rid the earth of such a terrible person. Eye for an eye. Tooth for a tooth. But God extends grace. An opportunity for a second chance.
Alright, you still with me? We’re plowing through. We’re going to story 3. Noah. Noah builds a giant boat that God tells him to build.
God tells Noah to build a giant boat because people on the earth had become completely corrupt. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”
It even says God even regretted making humans to begin with! Now, I don’t know what they were doing that would’ve made God say that, but it must’ve been a pretty dark time.
So mankind was punished through a floor that wiped them off the face of the earth, but even in this situation, God’s grace was persisting. God saved the one righteous person who was on the earth and his family. He established a covenant with Noah that he would never destroy the earth by a floor again, and he gave a him a blessing to be fruitful and multiply.
God didn’t have to offer grace. He knew Noah and his kids kids and us… he knew we would sin again. He could’ve eliminated the problem completely right there. But he offered grace.
He offered the grace of a second chance for all mankind.
The first three stories of the Bible. Creation. Cain and Abel. And Noah. They share the pattern of a fall, a punishment, and an extension of grace.
This is the beginning of our story. The beginning of our story is the work of God in the lives of broken people who are rebelling against him and God working in the midst of it because of his grace.
See, naturally, we lean toward sinfulness rather than righteousness. We have this stupid desire deep within us to determine for ourselves what the best way to live is. We think we know what’s best. We think we’re smarter than God.
Every time we puff ourselves up by putting someone else down, whether to their face or behind their back, we’re choosing our way instead of Gods.
Every time we bend the truth to get out of trouble or to get what we want, we’re choosing out way over God’s.
Every time God calls us to give and we say no out of fear or out of selfishness… we’re choosing our way instead of God’s.
The beginning of our story teaches us that we all have falls. We all sin. We still choose our way over God’s. I don’t have to convince you, you know what I’m talking about.
And just like the beginning of our story, there’s punishment for our sin. In 2 Peter 3, Peter warns the people of the coming judgment. “But they deliberately forget that long ago God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
Eww… We might look at that and think why is God so uncompassionate with people? We hear in Romans that the consequence for sin is death. Eww… Why does he punish so severely for sin? But maybe God is wondering why we’re so comfortable with the sin that’s still present in our own lives.
Think about it. Sin hurts people. Sin causes broken relationships. Sin causes fathers have no relationship with their children. Mothers to be put in prison. Sin oppressed people and puts them in slavery. Sin keeps us from the fullness of life that Christ said he came to offer us in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Sin hurts us, it hurts others, and it keeps us from full life. Why don’t we hate it more? Did you ever think about that? Why do we tolerate it in our own lives?
But despite the punishment, the beginning of our story tells us that there is grace available. With Adam and Eve, God clothed them, and he offered a way for them to worship him. He protected Cain, the murderer. He kept humanity alive through Noah.
Yea, God hates it when we sin. He hates when we look at a man or woman lustfully. He hates when we lie. He hates when we sin.
But he doesn’t end there. God offers grace to those who seek it and gives the grace of time to those who don’t. God offers us a way out.
God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to live among us, and to suffer and die to take on himself the punishment of our sin.
And all we have to do is accept this gift.
But God doesn’t stop there.
The gift doesn’t end with forgiveness of our sin, but we just go on living life, sinning and causing broken relationships, hurting the people we love, and wanting the things we can’t have.
If we follow Jesus, we are continually be transformed by him. We begin to desire the things he desires – righteousness, justice, mercy, peace - and hate the things he hates – oppression, war, sin. As we follow Jesus, He shapes us into who we were made to be. We begin to receive fullness of life. And fullness of life is a life fully surrendered to Jesus.
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but worrying about whether or not I’m popular among my peers doesn’t feel like fullness of life. Broken relationships with my family doesn’t feel like fullness of life. Hurting the people I love doesn’t feel like fullness of life. Lashing out at my kids in anger or having road rage doesn’t feel like fullness of life. Feeling so bad about myself that I feel like I have to gossip about others so that I feel valuable doesn’t feel like fullness of life. Being married to one woman but desiring another doesn’t feel like fullness of life.
It doesn’t feel like fullness of life because it’s not. That’s sin and the effects of sin.
And not only does God want to save us from the punishment of sin through Jesus, God wants to transform us into his character… bearing the fruit of the spirit… because that is fullness of life.
But you know what I’ve noticed sometimes in myself? We have a tendency to believe this little lie. We’re tempted to believe that who we are today is just who we are and there’s nothing that can change it.
“I’m just a worrier! It’s who I am!”
“I know I shouldn’t, but I just gossip! There’s nothing I can do to stop!”
“I lust!” “I’m prideful!”
For some reason we feel like, “God’s finished with me. This is the best he could do.”
But what we learn in the beginning of our story is that God is not done with you yet.
Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:13 – until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
We can’t look at our lives today and believe for one second that who we are today and the lack of fullness we experience daily is the best God can do. The truth is, God’s not done with you yet.
How do we do this? It’s real easy. And I’m kind of being faciscios, but I believe it’s true… if you do this, truly seeking God and depending on his power, he will transform you. You ready?
First – seek God. Through his word, through prayer, through worship. Seek God.
Second, get into a Christian community. Find people to walk with, to encourage and be encouraged by. People who will say, dude… God wants more for you. There’s lots of small groups in our church, stop waiting and just do it.
Third, confront the sin in our lives. Here’s what I mean.. when you feel the desire to gossip, you’re believing a lie. Don’t just accept it. Figure out the lie Satan’s telling you, find the truth, and correct your thinking.
Let me give you an example: my best friend moves to a new city and he buys a sweet house. He’s posting pictures on Instagram every day with his big house and his stupid kids and they all look so happy. And all of sudden I start thinking… he is so happy… if I could just have a house that was a little bigger and a little nicer, I could finally be happy. I could finally find joy.
See, the lie is if you accumulate the right thing, you will find joy. But the truth is, all you need is Jesus. Nothing else matters. The lie leads us to covet our neighbors stuff, to desire it… and that’s sin. The lie leads us away from depending on Jesus and toward depending on stuff to save us. Confront the sin in your life by figuring out the lie and exposing it.
This transformation isn’t easy. And it’s not always fast. And in some things, we may never fully get there before we’re united with Christ in our death… but we work hard to fight sin in our lives because ridding our lives of sin allows us to experience the fullness of life and because fighting against sin and seeking God is what it means to walk in obedience to him.
But… while we’re doing our part, we’ve got to understand that’s only by God’s grace that transformation happens. St. Ignatius says, “Let us work as if success depended on ourselves alone, but with the heartfelt conviction that we’re doing nothing and God everything.”
We work hard at doing our part in following Christ, knowing that Christ is the only who is transforming us.
And as I close, let me be clear. This work that we’re doing… and the transformation by Christ that we seek. This is not so that God loves us or accepts us. This work comes AFTER we acknowledge our need to be forgiven for our sins. AFTER we accept the grace of God, we’re obedient to Christ and we’re transformed and we experience the fullness of life.
“Let us work as if success depended on ourselves alone, but with the heartfelt conviction that we doing nothing and God everything.”
This is the beginning of our story. God’s grace is constantly at work in our lives to bring us into right relationship with him and to experience fullness of life.