Teaching Series Introduction:
People are complex. You and I are complex. How do we understand ourselves and each other? How do we move toward one another in God-honouring ways? How do we love wisely in the context of everyday relationships?
One of the most memorable songs in recent years is the song ‘Human’ by Rag ‘N’ Bone man. It’s an honest reflection on the complexity of human relationships, with the line ‘I’m only human after all. Don’t put your blame on me.’ It’s something we’ve all felt at times – I’m just human, don’t expect perfection! The word ‘human’ originally means ‘of the earth’. It’s where we get our word humours from – dust, from the ground, from the earth.
During 2020, we’ve had a glimpse of some of the limits of our humanity, but also some of the best of us humans. And, as we begin to emerge out of this pandemic, it’s worth getting back to basics to remember some foundations of what it means to be human. When we know who we are, we can rebuild for what’s ahead.
Our guide will be the very opening words of the Bible. Yes, the first few chapters of Genesis provide is with rock-solid foundations to be able to navigate uncharted times. We’ll be thinking about our purpose, our relationships, our sexuality, our identity, and how we live in changing times. We’ll be grappling with some pretty big questions that we all face in life.
And as we do so, we’ll discover the freedom in being neither dust nor divine. Yes, join us at Riverside to find the freedom in being able to say “I’m only human after all!”
Title: Human – Session 1: Whose Story Am I Living?
By: Tim Chilvers
Date: 17 January 2021
Bible Passage: Genesis (Chapter 1, verses 1 – 25)
Our story only makes sense as part of the big story. The Genesis account of creation is about God. All the questions we have about it all falter under the misunderstanding that it is about us. Only when we discover this, do we build foundations that make sense.
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- Author Nicky Gumbel says the following: ‘There are over 25,000 varieties of orchids. The orchid is just one of 270,000 species of flowers…In our galaxy there are over 100 billion stars like our sun. Our galaxy is one of over 100 billion galaxies. It is thought that for every grain of sand there are a million stars.’ Where do you think it all comes from? Why?
- Read Genesis 1:1-25. In his talk on Sunday, Tim mentioned that this chapter is more about the ‘Who’ rather than the ‘How’. It is saying something about God as much as it is about the universe. Do you agree? Why/why not?
- In verse 1, we discover some key things about God. What are they?
- Look through the passage. What strikes you about it? What patterns, repeated phrases and ideas are there? What is this trying to tell us?
- In the hit TV show The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson says the following brilliant line, “I’m no theologian. I don’t know who or what God is. All I know is he’s more powerful than Mom and Dad put together.” What difference would it make to human existence if there is, or isn’t, a God?
- Throughout Genesis 1, one repeated phrase is that God saw that it was ‘good’. Why difference does this make to how we we the world around us?
- Take some time to pray, asking God to help you see your part in His story and to change how you see the world around you.
FURTHER SERIES LINKS
BOOK – ‘Dominion‘ by Tom Holland. An award-winning book, by a secular historian, that reminds us that our 21st Century world has surprisingly Christian foundations that we can easily take for granted.
BOOK ON GENESIS – ‘Genesis‘ by Bruce Waltke
BOOK ON GENESIS – ‘How to Read Genesis‘ by Tremper Longman III
VIDEO – A brilliant video series ‘Reset’ by SpeakLife – https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4zD5797LHdfMAdMokPT9wtUl5TxJ5_np
FURTHER STUDY – an online study guide going through the entire book of Genesis called ‘Knowing the Bible: Genesis’ – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/course/knowing-bible-genesis/#week-1-overview
FURTHER STUDY LINKS – SESSION 1
BOOK – ‘Seven Days that Divide the World’ by John Lennox
VIDEO – Does the Bible teach that God created the universe in 7 days? https://www.publicchristianity.org/7-days-that-divide-the-world/
BLOG POSTS – A series of helpful blog posts on Creation and Science – https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/series-creation-and-science
VIDEO & ARTICLES – How should we read Genesis 1? – https://www.publicchristianity.org/reading-the-genesis-creation-accounts-part-1/ and https://www.publicchristianity.org/reading-the-genesis-creation-accounts-part-2/
ARTICLE – Does Science contradict Religion? https://www.bethinking.org/does-science-disprove-god/does-science-contradict-religion
Watch Online: YouTube
Listen Online: Podcast
In the 16th century, a man named Nicholas Copernicus changed everything. Until that point. Most people had believed that the earth was at the center of the universe and that everything revolved around us. So the sun and the stars and the planets all revolved around little old planet earth.
But Copernicus helped everyone realize that actually the sun is at the center of the solar system and we revolve around it. Now this discovery was huge. In fact, the church of the day called it heresy. We couldn’t believe that we’re not at the center. It’s called the Copernican Revolution.
And as we begin a new series today, I think we’re going to discover another Copernican revolution because through this series over the next few weeks, we’re going to come face to face with something very similar. That the story of our lives is way bigger than we imagined, that we are not at the center. As we come face to face with that, we’ll discover quite how good news that really is.
So over these next weeks, we’re going to be looking at some of the biggest questions that we all ask from time to time, questions about where do I find meaning in life. What’s my purpose. What am I here for? Or who am I? Questions around our relationships, why are they so beautiful and yet so painful? Why do I feel so ashamed? Why is there so much wrong in the world, and where do I find true value?
Huge questions, and to help us with those, we’re going back to the very, very beginning of the Bible, the opening few chapters of the book of Genesis, right at the start of the Bible and whether or not you’d call yourself a Christian, whether or not church is something is on your radar you are welcome to join us as we explore what it means to be human. And the reason we’re doing it now is because as society is sort of changing and we’re throughout this year beginning to ask big questions around what the future looks like, it’s important to get back to the basics, back to some foundations that are so crucial that when we discover those foundations it enables us to plot and to rebuild for the future of our lives healthily and in a strong way.
So you’re welcome to join us over the next number of weeks. As part of this, we’re delighted that Stuart Tonge who’s part of the Riverside Church family has created three pieces of art for us, beautiful piece that draw some of the themes that we’ll be looking at. So that will kind of weave in and out of this series over the next few weeks and we want to say huge thank you to Stuart for your hard work and your talent in creating these.
We’ve called it human, because that word says something really important. The word human comes from the idea of being from the dust. That’s what the word means. It’s where we get our word humor, or the food hummus from. And actually there’s two things that helps us realize, we’re created from dust as it were, and that idea helps us discover that we are not God. We’re created. We’re not the center. But at the same time, we’re not just dust. We’re more important, more valuable than we ever realized.
Those two things help set us on a really beautiful course. So today we’re going back to the very, very beginning of this ancient document. We’re going to look at the very opening words, words that have actually changed history and form the bedrock for our society in ways that we have taken for granted. So let’s jump in.
As we explore the very opening words of Genesis Chapter 1. The writer begins, “In the beginning God.” Now those words change everything. Because for so long people have grappled with the first chapter of Genesis and try to sort of set it up against science as though science says this about the universe and Chapter 1 of Genesis says this and almost this war between science and the Bible.
But actually the Bible is saying something very, very different to many of the questions we actually have of it. And those opening words, show us why. In the beginning God, this document is not about the how of the universe or the what of the creation, but it’s about the who. Rather than being some sort of science textbook that you’d have at school, actually, this is something way bigger. This is about the who behind it all.
And the original writer is making something very, very clear, that rather than this universe being some accident, rather than this beautiful world being some mistake or some kind of natural byproduct, actually it’s intended. It’s created. There’s a beauty to it that means it’s valuable, which therefore means you and I have meaning and value and worth.
And there’s a number of things that this opening chapter of Genesis 1 revealed to us that changed so much in our thinking. And the first is this, do you notice, and did you notice as we were reading through what the verse says about God? In the beginning God created. That word is important, because it shows intent. God created this.
Now at the time of writing Genesis, there were lots of different ideas that people had about the universe. There were ideas that the gods had a sort of battle and out of that this sort of natural thing came, the universe, or some that it was sort of almost they produced the earth for food for the gods.
In contrast to that, the writer of Genesis is saying, no, no, no, no. There weren’t loads of gods. In the beginning one God, and this God created, intended, purposed the universe into being.
I think that’s so important, that word created, because it shows us that everything that we see in the world around us is part of a bigger story. It’s not an accident. Friends, you are not an accident. There is a beauty and a dignity in everything that we see.
The other day at home we dropped a piece of crockery and it smashed on the floor. And I guess people have do that from time to time. You might have dropped a glass and it shattered into bits. Have you ever seen it done the other way around, where bits of broken glass have been dropped on the floor and they’ve joined together to form a beautiful glass or some China has been thrown on and it’s formed a lovely cup? Of course not. Why? Well, it works the other way around, doesn’t it?
So often many of us in our society believe that about the universe, that kind of almost out of nothing the beauty that we see appears. And frankly, I don’t think any of us really believe that. Where does it all come from? Where does the beauty come from? It’s the equivalent of believing that we throw broken bits of glass and it forms something beautiful that just fits and works. It doesn’t happen like that, does it? And of course, where does the glass come from in the first place? No, the opening words of Genesis reminds us there is something bigger going on, something, someone behind all of this.
We’ve just had Christmas, and many who would say they’re not believers in God find idea of the Virgin birth almost fanciful. That doesn’t happen, does it? And yet for many of us in society, we’re quite happy to believe in the Virgin cosmos, as though all of this came from nothing. Yet we struggle with the Virgin birth.
The truth is we all believe in miracles. It’s just choose your miracle. We all have faith, because there’s something way bigger that we have to trust there’s something else going on. And that word, in the beginning God created, shows that there’s a beauty and there’s an intentionality about it which changes everything.
The second is this, the God who created is powerful. As you look down Genesis, you can see the way it’s written. There’s an order to it and there’s a power to it. Do you notice every few lines as and God said this, and God said this, and God said this, and God said this. And what God says, happens. The God who is behind all this is powerful. The words that are used, God called it. He saw it. In other words, he is the one behind it. He is the one who intends it. There’s a power to this God.
I think that’s helpful because it both helps us realize something about him, but it also helps us discover something about us. We all know we’re limited. This coronavirus pandemic has, I think, for many of us helped us see something shocking. We’re not in control of our destiny. We can’t even control a tiny microscopic bug that has flawed the planet. We’re not as powerful and impressive as we think. This opening chapter of Genesis helps us discover that there is a God behind it all who created and crafted it and he is powerful.
But there’s a third thing that this opening chapter of Genesis helps us realize. In that power, there is an order.
Now, as you go through that opening chapter Genesis, you can see even if just by looking at the text in the Bible, it’s written in a very particular way. It’s a very poetic bit of literature. You can see the way it slightly margined in and there’s an order to it. God said, he created, first day. God said, created second day and so on.
That helps us discover that there’s something else going on rather than this being a clear textbook of the how of creation. No, there is an order to the creation that this bit of the Bible is showing us.
Even the word day, there’s several days that I mentioned. That word day has been often considered in three different ways. Some people view it as a 24-hour period, whereas I’m not sure that can be the case because even the Bible itself talks places about one day being like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. Others have seen it being as sort of eras, there were several eras that were created.
I’m not sure either of those or what the writer is actually referring to, but rather that there’s sort of an order to it. It just works, fits together. We live in a country where there’s seasons and so you can clearly see every year there’s seasons, and even though they’re different from time to time, they’re still, this time of year is colder and the summer is a bit warmer. It just works.
I remember when Claire, my wife, was pregnant, us being utterly amazed. When you think about it, the whole miracle of birth and the whole miracle of humans creating other humans, even with our technology we can’t do that from nothing. And yet it just happens kind of naturally. It all fits together. It works. There’s an order to it that helps us realize something about the one behind it. So that’s the next thing.
But there’s something else about this God that is at the center of this story. He cares. The very opening words have a lovely phrase that I think is kind of mystical, but it’s lovely.
Verse 2, Genesis Chapter 1, “Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” That word hovering we kind of zzzz. But actually in the original language, it’s more the word that you’d use for an eagle flying above its nest, hovering and nurturing, caring for the young. This God cares. It’s not as if he just sort of set the world in motion and disappeared. No, he cares. There is an interaction, a relationship between God and the universe that he has created.
And of course that’s important because it helps us discover that you and I are not on our own. There is a God, we’re part of his story and he cares for you, for me, and for this creation.
But there’s another thing about this God that is behind all of this in this passage, and it’s this, the world, the universe, and you and I are valued. Did you notice as the passage was read to us how describes this creation? Time and time again, we read the words, “And God saw that it was good.” That’s important, because right at the beginning of the Bible there is a value given to the world we live in and there’s a value given to you and to me.
If we remove him from the picture, the world just is. You and I are just here. And therefore, why do we have to treat the world carefully? After all, it’s just there. And more sinister, in a more sinister way perhaps, why do we need to treat other people as valuable and important? But God says it’s good. There is a value to it.
The other day at home, we had a shocking evening when we heard from our Guinea pig cage some squeaks at a time where we don’t normally hear it. And Claire went out to the Guinea pig cage and in the cage was a rat and the rat was freaking out and had bitten one of the Guinea pigs. Now it was a shock and we had to deal with it and fortunately at the moment they’re both okay. But the rat was in a bit of a mess.
Now, if there is no God, the rat was just doing what the rat does. It’s fine. Rat was stronger than the Guinea pig and it was fine. That’s what rats do. And in the same way, if God is out the picture, why can’t societies do what they want?
But of course at the beginning of the Bible we discover there’s a value in everything. That’s even where we get our human rights from. When we remove God from it, why can’t a particular society choose what it wants to do? Why can’t we choose what we want to do for the sake of our planet now, because I wants to just destroy it? Why not? But actually God saw and it was good. So therefore we are called to treat our planet with care and respect, and also we’re called to treat each other with care and respect.
There’s something else in these opening words about this creation and it’s this, he’s a God who speaks. Do you notice how this creation is done, and God said, and God said, and God said, and God said? This God isn’t distant. He’s the God who speaks, relates. I guess for some of us, we have known that. We may not be able to hear his voice as we might hear my voice now, but deep down we know that we have sensed something in our life.
And even perhaps during this coronavirus pandemic, we’ve known there’s questions that is brought up, niggling issues, concerns, or thoughts about life and if there’s more to life than what we see. Maybe God has been gently speaking to you. That’s what this series is about. It’s about little old you, little old me, more valuable than we ever imagined, because we’re part of a much bigger sorry.
Now right at the beginning its important for us to get our bearings, because if the story is about God, then the natural question is how does God fit into our lives into our society? Because it’s only as we put him back where he should be that we get the right order of everything. In a time of global crisis, where huge questions are being asked about the future, it’s important that he is at the center, because he’s the creator and therefore if we follow the way that his creation was intended to be, then everything will be way more healthy and thrive way more. So the question is this, where does this God feature in your story at the moment?
The writer Julian Barnes said a beautiful thing many years ago. He said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” I think he’s echoing something that many of us in society realize, that we think we’ve got no space for God, and we’ve done away with that old religion.
Yet, honestly, if we look around us, look at our lives, and we ask the question, is it all working? I guess many of us would say, “I don’t think it is.” And for many of us, we miss God.
Shall we pray together? Lord, my life is in your hands. God, I realize that my life is part of something much bigger. Please help me to put you at the center. Please forgive me for living as though I am God.. And Lord God, I choose to trust in you as God. Lead me forwards I pray. In Jesus name, amen.