Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-31
Key Verse(s): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
The creation story teaches us much about God and ourself. First, we learn about God: (1) he is creative; (2) as the Creator he is distinct from his creation; (3) he is eternal and in control of the world. We also learn about ourself: (1) since God chose to create us, we are valuable in his eyes; (2) we are more important than the animals. (See Genesis 1:28 for more on our role in the created order.)
The simple statement that God created the heavens and the earth is one of the most challenging concepts confronting the modern mind. The vast galaxy we live in is spinning at the incredible speed of 490,000 miles an hour. But even at this breakneck speed, our galaxy still needs 200 million years to make one rotation. And there are over one billion other galaxies just like ours in the universe.
Some scientists say that the number of stars in creation is equal to all the grains of all the sands on all the beaches of the world. Yet this complex sea of spinning stars functions with remarkable order and efficiency. To say that the universe "just happened" or "evolved" requires more faith than to believe that God is behind these amazing statistics. God truly did create a wonderful universe.
Almost every ancient religion has its own story to explain how the earth came to be. And almost every scientist has an opinion on the origin of the universe. But only the Bible shows one supreme God creating the earth out of his great love and giving all people a special place in it. We will never know all the answers to how God created the earth, but the Bible tells us that God did create it. That fact alone gives worth and dignity to all people.
God did not need to create the universe; he chose to create it. Why? God is love, and love is best expressed toward something or someone else--so God created the world and people as an expression of his love. We should avoid reducing God's creation to merely scientific terms. Remember that God created the universe because he loves each of us.
In what ways are we made in God's image? God obviously did not create us exactly like himself, because God has no physical body. Instead, we are reflections of God's glory. Some feel that our reason, creativity, speech, or self-determination are the image of God. More likely, it is our entire self that reflects the image of God. We will never be totally like God, because he is our supreme Creator. But we do have the ability to reflect his character in our love, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and faithfulness.
Knowing that we are made in God's image and thus share many of his characteristics provides a solid basis for self-worth. Human worth is not based on possessions, achievements, physical attractiveness, or public acclaim. Instead it is based on being made in God's image. Because we bear God's image, we can feel positive about ourself. Criticizing or downgrading ourself is criticizing what God has made and the abilities he has given us. Knowing that you are a person of worth helps you love God, know him personally, and make a valuable contribution to those around you.
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3
Key Verse(s): By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God's command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. (Hebrews 11:3)
God called the universe into existence out of nothing; he declared that it was to be, and it was. Our faith is in the God who created the entire universe by his word. God's word has awesome power. When he speaks, do you listen and respond? How can you better prepare yourself to respond to God's Word?
Scripture Reading: Genesis 3:1-24
Key Verse(s): "Who told you that you were naked?" the LORD God asked. "Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat?" (Genesis 3:11)
This is how Adam and Eve broke their relationship with God: (1) they became convinced that their way was better than God's; (2) they became self-conscious and hid; (3) they tried to excuse and defend themselves. To build a relationship with God we must reverse those steps: (1) we must drop our excuses and self-defenses; (2) we must stop trying to hide from God; (3) we must become convinced that God's way is better than our way.
Scripture Reading: Genesis 6:1-22
Key Verse(s): The LORD was sorry he had ever made them. It broke his heart. (Genesis 6:6)
Does this mean that God regretted creating humanity? Was he admitting he made a mistake? No, God does not change his mind (1 Samuel 15:29). Instead, he was expressing sorrow for what the people had done to themselves, as a parent might express sorrow over a rebellious child. God was sorry that the people chose sin and death instead of a relationship with him.
The people's sin grieved God. Our sins break God's heart as much as sin did in Noah's day. Noah, however, pleased God, although he was far from perfect. We can follow Noah's example and find "favor with the Lord" in spite of the sin that surrounds us.
Scripture Reading: Genesis 18:1-33
Key Verse(s): The two other men went on toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham for a while. Abraham approached him and said, "Will you destroy both innocent and guilty alike?" (Genesis 18:22-23)
Why did God let Abraham question his justice and intercede for a wicked city? Abraham knew that God must punish sin, but he also knew from experience that God is merciful to sinners. God knew there were not ten righteous people in the city, but he was merciful enough to allow Abraham to intercede. He was also merciful enough to help Lot, Abraham's nephew, get out of Sodom before it was destroyed. God does not take pleasure in destroying the wicked, but he must punish sin. He is both just and merciful. We should be thankful that God's mercy extends to us.
Scripture Reading: Numbers 14:1-45
Key Verse(s): Please pardon the sins of this people because of your magnificent, unfailing love, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt. (Numbers 14:19)
Moses pleaded with God, asking him to forgive his people. His plea reveals several characteristics of God: (1) God is immensely patient; (2) God's love is one promise we can always count on; (3) God forgives again and again; and (4) God is merciful, listening to and answering our requests. God has not changed since Moses' day. Like Moses, we can rely on God's love, patience, forgiveness, and mercy.
Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-22
Key Verse(s): Suddenly, the angel of the LORD appeared to him as a blazing fire in a bush. Moses was amazed because the bush was engulfed in flames, but it didn't burn up. (Exodus 3:2)
God spoke to Moses from an unexpected source: a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he went to investigate. Many people in the Bible experienced God in visible (not necessarily human) form. Abraham saw the smoking firepot and blazing torch (Genesis 15:17); Jacob wrestled with a man (Genesis 32:24-29). When the slaves were freed from Egypt, God led them by pillars of cloud and fire (13:17-22). God made such appearances to encourage his new nation, to guide them, and to prove the reliability of his verbal message. God may use unexpected sources when communicating to us too, whether people, thoughts, or experiences. Be willing to investigate, and be open to God's surprises.
At God's command, Moses removed his sandals and covered his face. Taking off his shoes was an act of reverence, conveying his own unworthiness before God. God is our friend, but he is also our sovereign Lord. To approach him frivolously shows a lack of respect and sincerity. When you come to God in worship, do you approach him casually, or do you come as though you were an invited guest before a king? If necessary, adjust your attitude so it is suitable for approaching a holy God.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 36:1-12
Key Verse(s): Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD. (Psalm 36:6)
In contrast to evil people and their wicked plots that end in failure, God is faithful, righteous, and just. His love reaches to the heavens; his faithfulness reaches to the skies; his righteousness is as solid as mighty mountains; and his judgments are as full of wisdom as the oceans with water ("the ocean depths"). We need not fear evil people because we know God loves us, judges evil, and will care for us throughout eternity.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:9-15
Key Verse(s): Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. (Matthew 6:9)
As Lord, God deserves our highest honor.
The phrase "Our Father in heaven" indicates that God is not only majestic and holy, but also personal and loving. The first line of this model prayer is a statement of praise and a commitment to hallow, or honor, God's holy name. We can honor God's name by being careful to use it respectfully. If we use God's name lightly, we aren't remembering God's holiness.
Scripture Reading: John 3:1-36
Key Verse(s): God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
As Lord, God deeply cares for his creation.
The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse. God's love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Here God sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships--when you love someone dearly, you are willing to pay dearly for that person's responsive love. God paid dearly with the life of his Son, the highest price he could pay. Jesus accepted our punishment, paid the price for our sins, and then offered us the new life that he had bought for us. When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus'--willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God's love.
Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-22
Key Verse(s): God replied, "I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS. Just tell them, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14) God reveals himself as the only true God.
The Egyptians had many gods by many different names. Moses wanted to know God's name so the Hebrew people would know exactly who had sent him to them. God called himself I Am, a name describing his eternal power and unchangeable character. In a world where values, morals, and laws change constantly, we can find stability and security in our unchanging God. The God who appeared to Moses is the same God who can live in us today. Hebrews 13:8 says God is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." Because God's nature is stable and trustworthy, we are free to follow and enjoy him rather than spend our time trying to figure him out.
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:13-25
Key Verse(s): Now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God--who chose you to be his children--is holy. (1 Peter 1:15)
God reveals himself as a holy God.
The God of Israel and of the Christian church is holy--he sets the standard for morality. Unlike the Roman gods, he is not warlike, adulterous, or spiteful. Unlike the gods of the pagan cults popular in the first century, he is not bloodthirsty or promiscuous. He is a God of mercy and justice who cares personally for each of his followers. Our holy God expects us to imitate him by following his high moral standards. Like him, we should be both merciful and just; like him, we should sacrifice ourself for others.