This week was full of surprises, as I continued my exploration and exposition of Genesis chapter one. These are kind of things we might expect as we teach more on our Maker.
After almost a year free from 'man-flu' the dreaded virus struck again. By the time I got to the pulpit to deliver the sermon, my voice was two octaves lower, and I had to cut the morning service short. My sinuses were blocked, my head was aching, and for two or three days it was very hard to think.
Nor, I must admit, was it the easiest week I've had. A number of things cropped up which meant some sleep was lost. Difficulties which were hard to handle, conversations which could have gone better, humanly speaking, and a number of vexing problems to which resolution at present is lacking. Heart-searching questions which demand a long, reflective, prayerful, weighed-against-scripture, look at self. It is only by the grace of God most weeks are not so draining and demanding.
It was also a little bit hectic (I know that some brethren have far-more-pressing weekly schedules to 'cry for'). There was an additional meeting to take with the youth of our Presbytery, which, of course, is always a joy and delight. I managed to get through the talk satisfactorily despite the fact that my voice was nearly gone and my nose was streaming virus. That same night my boys had, out of the blue, been asked to host the pre-match meal of pasta for their 20+ strong school rugby team (the request came two days before). I managed to grab both the start and end of the meal, in-between my visit to presbytery, including ingesting a dish of pasta, which the rhinovirus made tasteless. The following morning the team scraped through to the semi-finals of the cup, after a nerve-jangling, heart-in-mouth, encounter, having gone 7-21 down at half-time. By lunchtime on Saturday I felt I was fit-for-nothing, with the infection now taking a firm hold. Cough linctus, multiple tablets and other remedies were employed in the hope of a reasonable night's sleep (not for my husband-induced, insomniac wife, who did an amusing impersonation of my nocturnal nasal noises at breakfast the following morning). Oh, and of course, there was also the 'Bible Class', which I gladly and enthusiastically had agreed to lead for one of the elders, while he was taking a hard-earned, two-week vacation - I was able, by grace, to cover the material thoroughly, head still muggy, on Saturday afternoon/evening.
There was also the unusual occurrence at the end of my morning sermon - what I meant to say was 'now I think, to save my voice, I'll finish at the first point. We'll return to the other points, and finish the sermon next time out!' My intention was clear - to take up where I had left off the following week. This was actually roughly what I thought I had said: but then I was greeted first at the door, then later in the home, by five or six voices who insisted, looking surprised, that I had declared I would preach the rest of the sermon of Genesis "tonight," at the evening service, in a few hours time. Disaster! Or so I thought - how fickle and faithless we can be. In my opinion the morning had not gone very well, and the rest of the sermon, which focused on 'refutation of the Day-Age Theory', though not phrased in that way, seemed to me a little bit dry, cold, academic, and not frankly relevant to the needs of the flock - many of them are struggling with personal difficulties at the moment. What was I to do? I felt I had no alternative but to press forward with 'dealing with the Days of Genesis.' It was, I confess, with a certain amount of hesitation and trepidation that I approached the pulpit, still sneezing, coughing and spluttering, in spite of all the additional medication on-board. 'I came in much weakness!' (The sermon outline is appended to the end of the blog).
The biggest shock of the week was the response to the evening sermon of the days of Genesis. Not for some time have there been so many positive comments (one comment is a good week!). I was genuinely surprised, still half-apologising for being too technical or theoretical. Yes, I did my utmost, to furnish the flock with warm, helpful, applications. Still, for all that, I wondered 'Might this seem a little remote?' Yet, much to my rebuke, it actually appears, by the grace of God, and to His honour alone, the 'slightly stuffy' sermon had hit the mark: one lady, it transpired, had engaged in a discussion with a Christian colleague at work, the previous week - the debate centred on the meaning of 2 Peter 3.8 (a text often used to argue for millions of years and object to a non-literal interpretation of the days of Genesis 1); during the sermon I had deliberately taken a 'time-out' to unpack the full extent of what I believed this verse actually teaches; I had supplied three or four illustrations about how God's view of, and relation to, time differs from ours; I explained how that, even in true believers, the flesh resists the truth of the text of Genesis, and how it is only by the gracious, illumining and enabling of the Holy Spirit, that we can receive this Word of faith, and be rescued from unbelief concerning the teaching of Creation.
Please don't get me wrong or misunderstand why I am writing this - I think it is wise to take with a pinch of salt (in the nicest possible way) most positive things people say after sermons (what we surely pray for is lasting fruit of the Word, after the dust settles and initial enthusiasm fades): don't take too seriously any well-meaning, loving, positive-feedback and compliments you get following preaching; be sure, at all times, to direct all glory to God alone, for He is the one who grants any minute grain of good mere servants sermons do, as they become instruments of the Word. Yet, as far as I can tell, from some later remarks closer to home, remarkably and strangely, what to my mind was potentially a dry and dusty sermon, actually proved to me essential nourishing fodder for a significant proportion of Christ's flock.
Why have I chosen to share these positives and surprises with you? For this reason, friends, that we, as preachers of the whole counsel of God, are regularly under attack - how easy it is for us, through a mixture of discouragement and unbelief, to draw back from the frontline of the battle, or be fooled into thinking, the 'Creation question' is settled. We need to be encouraged, brothers, teachers, preachers, parents, that this task of a detailed, tackling and handling of Genesis 1, is really worthwhile. It seems to me, from Romans 1.18-32, where Paul sets out the antithesis and background to the Gospel, there is fact we must face squarely: in one way or other, the Devil will not desist until the foundations of 'the revelation of the glory of God in the works of Creation' are destroyed! Yet, even, of course, at whatever moment that might appear to be the case, remember little sheepish under-shepherds, the eyelids of the Heavenly Chief Shepherd will always have your back (Psalm 11.3-4).
Perhaps you are thinking 'Pastor what's your point?' Apologies if I have gone all around the world for a short-cut, but when you preach a reflective, savouring, series on 'God's Great, Glorious, Good Genesis' Creation account, you should expect a number of surprising benefits of the following ilk (even if 'expect' and 'surprise' seem, superficially, oxymoronic):
The sheep of Christ will benefit from this detailed exposition and addressing of common errors concerning creation in ways you do not expect. All this material is more relevant than you know. I thought the Day-Age Theory was 'old hat', the sort of thing that we used to talk about as undergraduates in the 1980s. I'm pleasantly surprised (if you know what I mean) that for Christians this is still a 'live issue'. What, I guess, may have happened in the case of this wavering Christian, is that the waves of unbelief that were discussed as 'options' for Genesis back then, have now so eroded the sea-wall of faith, that it is now ready to give way under a Tsunami of scepticism, regarding the teachings of Moses, among large swathes of the 'faith-in-crisis' adult church population. It is just at this juncture, after sustained attacks of Satan, that after three or four decades, the man or woman in the pew is surrendering the Young-Earth view (in the UK at least), and with it 'Historical Creation'. Many have warned us repeatedly of potentially ruinous repercussions for Gospel preaching in the West. Brothers, take your shovel, quickly load it with Scripture - its time to shore up the dyke with detailed declaration of Creation truth.
The ministers of Christ may be taken by surprise at the difficulties they face as they expose error and preach truth. Opposition will arise within and outside the church, distractions will mount up inside and beyond the home to disrupt, hinder, deter careful prayer and preparation. Your most important sermons, which may at first seem insipid, may come in your most pressing, pressurised weeks when you are at your lowest points. As you drive back darkness with the light of Christ, by the Spirit, through Moses, your heart, mind, body will be subject to difficulties.
The rewards are great, later in the next life, but presently in the church: the protection of the hearts of believers who are wobbling and wavering like most ministers have done; the salvaging of the next generation of youth and children from the errors, lies and confusion of militant evolutionary atheism; the joy of knowing you attempted prayerfully, unwittingly and faithfully to preach a bang-up-to-date, highly relevant sermon series (the Word is always relevant!) to Christ's flock, and that the words of your sermon (which Christ preached through you) will probably end up as the topic of conversation in a home or office of a member, who will spread the truth to others.
Now, I've hardly even given you a taster of the sermon that I preached. However, I found all this so instructive and encouraging, as well as genuinely surprising, that I wanted, with reinforced confidence, to urge you to press on with a 'slow-burner' series on Creation. May God have all the glory. May, by grace, there be many more gift-wrapped, sovereign, surprises!
Go on brothers, Guard the flock with Genesis!
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For those who are interested, I have appended my sermon outline below (just to prove how unimpressive it really was!!!)
I had originally intended to leave this section out, but on reflection did not want to leave the skeleton without any meat on it, so here, in note-form, are the bare bones of the relevant section of my sermon, cut and paste from my notes, entitled 'Time Recording':
This is best taken as the normal day (though not properly solar until sun created on Day 4) & you may want to cite the following verses (c.f. Psalm 74.16-17; 139.11-12; Isa 45.7; Jer 33.20). While there are some questions that we cannot answer such as 'Was the earth axis tilted' or 'Was the earth rotating at the same speed', a 24-hour days is favoured by the following considerations:
- The Debate – explain a little of the Day-Age Theory
- Ask the question 'How long are these days?'
- Give the options including billions of years, geological periods or 24 hours?
- Actual duration – several reasons for taking as 24 hour periods
- Other Hebrew words that might have been used are avoided – such as age, long-time, forever, eternal etc.
- Day here is unexceptional – three basic meanings of 'DAY' are daylight v5, daily cycle v5, or other related or extended meanings (however these usually occur when combined with article 'THE' or additional words in phrases meaning, for example ‘when’ for “in that day”, ‘life/reign’ for “in the days of Hezekiah
- Usually if not always when simple term alone it means 24-hour period. Quotation “the theological use of day is mostly intertwined with its ordinary use”
- Alleged difficult verse in 2 Peter 3.8 says not is a day but as a day
- All of this ties in nicely with origin of week – Babylonians divided hours into minutes but not 7-day week & French tried to change a week to 10 days during Napoleonic times but failed.
- Fits perfectly with understanding of Exodus 20.11 & agrees with catechism
- Neatly aligns with the viewpoint of Israelites who formed the first congregation for Genesis 1, in the wilderness, and at Sinai – these simple folk knew full well what Moses meant by a Day (without further explanation the plain sense means 24 hours).
- Do we believe in the omnipotence of God or is our God not able to do these things in such short time - things which make Israel marvel and cause David to pen psalms at God's 'jaw-dropping wonders?' Give other examples of this power in Christ - Did Jesus rise from dead breaking normal rules? Was possible for Jesus to feed crowd with loaves & fishes, or turn water into wine – these are processes that take years from scratch? Quotation: “It is equally possible then for God to have brought our world to its present ordered position is 6 literal days of 24 hours. God is capable of doing such things.”
- Verses explained (Psalm 90 & 2 Peter)
- God outside time before, above, beyond – whole of time & history like tiny miniscule core of infinite sphere of eternity: Yahweh surrounds time in glorious greatness.
- God never in a rush – each planned event just a stepwise, sequential, rolling out of billions of events which to Him in reality all part of a one purpose which he views at once.
- God sees like blink – child in car complains after 5 minutes 'are we there yet?' but adult of 90 years feels a decade has flown past as if yesterday (how much more for Yahweh who lives from everlasting to everlasting).
- God slows or speeds – if we can break or accelerate car, ffwd or rrwd a DVD at will, or take and slide show time-lapse photos, to God it is simple to accelerate or decelerate time (like stopping the sun over Aijalon for Joshua or sending the sun back ten steps of Ahaz as a sign to Hezekiah).
- Differing views – does not explain all like tilt axis, speed rotation, or reformed differences (good people have held bad views but we don't embrace their errors).
- Young Earth – this being taught by implication, matter of faith, flesh goes against, grace will accept,
- Exact Age – far as we know, from what God said, not to be ashamed, planet thousands years old
- Carbon Dating – no conflict true science, not wish sound daft, but who most likely wrong, Word of God or radiometric dating of physicists?
- Witness Friends – ever read your bible, too hard for God, your Creator to small, pray God open their eyes
So, as you can see, not actually very well structured, and bit too much info, and some illustrations which are less than perfect!