Sunday, May 29, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Listening Life
#4—Listening to Creation
It’s Memorial Day weekend when we remember loved ones, and honor those who gave their lives in the service of our country. Let’s have all our veterans, and active duty servicemen and women so we can thank you for your service.
I love being outdoors! My preferred place to think and pray is outdoors. It is why I loved jogging—it is outdoors. For 40 years, Laina and I have been running outdoors. She is still going, but I had to quit because my knees are worn out. We’d run year around, rain or shine or snow—it didn’t matter. Since I can’t run, now I take my dog Mazy on long walks. She sniffs and I pray.
I love being outdoors! It’s why I love riding my motorcycle. I love the wind in my face and all the beautiful sights I get to see. I pray, I sing, I think—some of my best sermon ideas come when I’m on my bike!
I love being outdoors! It’s why I backpack. I’ve hiked over 300 miles through every corner of Glacier National Park, not to mention hundreds of miles in the Cascades, the Wallowas, and the Selkirks. This summer I’m heading into the Canadian Rockies with friends.
I love being outdoors! It’s why I ride bareback in the wild!
Did I mention that I love being outdoors? God meets me outdoors in wonderful ways. Creation speaks to me and reminds me how great and how good God is. I always come back refreshed when I’m out in God’s creation.
Welcome to week 4 of “The Listening Life.” This series is inspired by Adam McHugh’s excellent book, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. The book, and this series, is about whole life listening: learning to listen to God in all of life. God speaks in many ways, so we want to learn to listen to His voice in prayer, in Scripture, in creation, in other people, and in our own lives. Today, we’re going to talk about listening to God in creation.
The Big Idea: The God who created the universe left His fingerprints everywhere! Creation sings of her Creator!
The Bible starts here.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
God created the heavens and the earth. This is why I’m not using the generic term “nature”, but the specific term “creation.” Above the universe, above the world, above all of creation stands a Creator. God is not the universe: we are not pantheists who believe that God is everything. God is the Creator; He is different from His creation.
The universe is fundamentally personal, because it came from a Person: God the Creator. The universe is not meaningless and impersonal, as it would be if it were only the product of time plus matter plus chance. It is full of meaning and purpose because it was created by a personal God. The universe crackles with the sound of God’s voice. Creation sings of her Creator. So first, we want to:
- Listen to creation’s song. Offering here
The ancient Celtic Christians believed that there were two sacred texts to study: the Bible and the “Big Book” of creation. We believe that God has revealed Himself through creation, through the Scriptures and of course ultimately through Jesus. So we listen to Scripture (we talked about that last week) and we listen to creation (the “Big Book”), and most of all, we listen to Jesus. We always correct back to Jesus. If we see something in creation or listen to something in Scripture that leaves us wondering, we always correct back to Jesus. He is the exact representation of God; He is the Word—the full expression of God.
Creation preaches; she sings and speaks to us about the Creator. The Scriptures have lots to say about this.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
All creation is preaching to us, declaring the glory of God. Creation pours forth speech, but without words; her voice goes out into all the earth. If we’re listening, creation is singing praise to her Creator. But often we’re not paying attention.
ILL: I have seen kids in Yellowstone glued to their phones or tablets while creation sang all around them! I often see people walking or running with their earbuds in—do they know what they’re missing? Creation is not only beautiful, but boisterous—it sings and shouts God’s praises. Take your earbuds out and listen. You’ll hear birdsong, and wind in the trees (every species of tree sings a different tune); you’ll hear a river chatter its praise or the ocean roar.
Creation is singing and clapping and roaring its praise to God. The Scripture actually uses images like this.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Have you ever heard the trees clap their hands? Creation is singing God’s praise and we’re called to join in.
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
7 Let the sea roar, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
Creation is singing and roaring and clapping her praises, and as we hear, it should inspire us to join in the song!
ILL: Once I was skiing at Schweitzer with my friends Steve and Vicki Orsillo. We got off the lift on top of the mountain; it was a beautiful day and you could see forever—it was spectacular. And Vicki started shouting, “Author! Author!” She heard the music and sang along.
Creation is singing the Maker’s praise; if we don’t join the song, creation will sing without us. When Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, crowds of people lined the road waving palm branches and shouting praises. “Praise the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” The religious leaders were offended and told Jesus to rebuke His followers.
Luke 19:40 “I tell you,” Jesus replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
What a picture! The Creator steps into His creation and it trembles, wanting to shout His praise. And if we didn’t do it, she would! Creation’s song is so loud and clear that the apostle Paul would write that we have no excuse for not knowing God.
Romans 1:19–20 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Creation sings of God’s eternal power and divine nature. Are you listening? In a few moments, we’re going sing again; this time, I want you to join in with all of creation—if you don’t, the rocks may cry out!
Adam McHugh has a great suggestion: he proposes the spiritual discipline of the long walk. Just go for a walk—unplugged of course—and be attentive. Listen to the sermons that creation preaches. Stop when you see or hear something interesting; stop and look and listen…and join in the song.
ILL: I said earlier that I’ve taken up long walks with my dog. She helps me tune into to creation’s song because she notices lots that I miss: sights, sounds and of course, smells. Here’s a cool side benefit to the spiritual discipline of the long walk: I’m meeting my neighbors. Tuesday, I met a new neighbor and yesterday we went on a long walk together with our dogs. I’ve been encouraging you to meet your neighbors and build relationships. Get a dog and take a long walk!
Creation has much to teach us. God uses it to teach us if we’re paying attention. You can learn from ants.
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
All through the Bible, God uses creation to speak and teach. Go learn from the ant! Or the stars.
In Genesis 15, God wanted to make a promise to Abraham. He took Abe outside and told him to look up at the night sky and count the stars. “So shall your descendants be.”
ILL: My first experience with the greatness of God came in high school on a backpacking trip. I lay on my back high in the mountains looking at the night sky as Abraham had done centuries before. I thought about the vastness of the universe and how small and insignificant I was. And I was overwhelmed by both the greatness of God and His love for me.
I resonated with what the psalmist said:
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
God is so great! And yet He cares for you and me.
Jesus loved to use creation as a teacher.
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
“Look at the birds.” When was the last time you just sat and watched some birds? “See how the flowers grow.” That sounds like watching paint dry! Creation is singing; are you paying attention? God uses creation to teach us.
ILL: God is using my new dog, Mazy to teach me. We got her January 1; she’s a rescue dog. She spent her whole first year in a crate, and was mistreated. So she’s very shy and fearful. The first day I got her home, the Lord spoke to me and said two things.
Perfect love drives out fear.
The second one I can do—I find it easy to love Mazy, and the more I love her, the more confident she becomes. But it’s that first word—be patient—that kills me. I’m not a patient person. I like things to get done now. Fast. Gitty up! And every time I’ve grown impatient and tried to force things, it backfires.
For example, she was afraid of the TV. So in the evenings, if Laina and I were watching a show, she’d hide in the laundry room or my office. Around week 6, I got impatient, and picked her up and carried her out to the living room. I held her squirming in fear, and when I put her down, she bolted back into hiding. That one impatient moment set her back a week; for the next week, she wouldn’t come into the living room at all—it didn’t matter whether the TV was on or not!
Be patient. God is using His creation, my dog, to teach me patience.
Creation speaks: it sings its Creator’s praises and it teaches us. In the words of the old hymn, “This is my Father’s world.” And because this is God’s world, Christians should love it and care for it. “No one should exult in creation like Christians and no one should stand guard over the environment like Christians, because we have met the King of creation and his thrones are scattered everywhere.”
Creation sing. But there is another side to creation—a dark side. Think windstorm—how many of you were in the dark and cold on that one? Think Hurricane Katrina. Think drought and famine. Think ticks. What are we to make of these? What is creation saying to us? We listen to creation’s song, but we also…
- Listen to creation’s groan.
Creation is beautiful, and it’s broken. It is delightful, and it’s dangerous. If the only revelation of God that you had were creation, you would be uncertain about God’s nature: is He good, or bad? Without Scripture and Jesus, creation alone sends mixed signals. Why? The Bible explains that when human beings rebelled against God, it wasn’t just the humans who were affected; all creation was. Creation is fallen, broken, cursed.
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
When Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the human race. We were separated from a holy God, ejected from Paradise, and thrust into a now hostile world. The very ground was cursed. What had easily produced fruit, now produced thorns and thistles—and ticks. I’m convinced that ticks are part of the curse—part of the Fall. I can’t think of any useful purpose they serve. All creation was broken and is groaning because of our sin. The apostle Paul explains this in Romans 8.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Paul describes creation in three stages: past, present and future. First, creation was broken: it was “subjected to frustration” (v. 20) when man sinned. This word means that it lost its purpose, which was to be a perfect home for human beings. Instead, it became an uncertain and often hostile environment. Second, creation is waiting: “It waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (v. 19). It is in bondage now, but it is awaiting its release when Jesus comes again. Third, creation will be liberated: it will be set free from “its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory” (v. 21) of God’s children.
Paul goes on:
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Creation is waiting, and while she waits, she is groaning, like a mother in childbirth. I’ve been told that childbirth is painful—is that right moms? I’ve also been told that the only thing that makes the pain and groaning tolerable is the joy of a newborn baby! Paul says that creation is groaning, but in hope of a coming redemption. Natural disasters are broken creation groaning. Drought, famine, disease…and ticks, are all creation groaning. Jesus came to put the whole world right, to reconcile everything back to God, to forgive sinners and heal a broken world. Meanwhile, creation groans awaiting its deliverance, and we groan with it. But in our groaning, we have this hope: our brokenness will be healed! The whole world will one day be put right. We live with this hope:
2 Peter 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
Creation is groaning; we groan with it, and as we pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us with groans.
*Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
And we are all groaning for the same thing: our full redemption as God’s children, the restoration of all things. The Big Story is Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We are here…groaning for our Restoration.
Why is all this important? When we listen to creation, we hear its song of praise to God, but we also hear its groans of bondage. Creation’s song and groans together reminds us of the gospel.
- Creation: God created a good world. (this is the same slide as above)
- Fall: we rebelled against God and our sin spoiled everything.
- Redemption: Jesus came to forgive our sin and save everything.
- Restoration: Jesus will come again and restore God’s good world.
Creation’s groans remind us that we’re fallen, living in a broken world because of human sin. Every natural disaster, famine, poverty, disease, death and decay—they all remind us that creation is groaning and looking forward to Christ’s return. And we groan with every groan of creation, praying, “Come Lord Jesus!” Listening to creation’s groans also moves us to care for God’s creation—this is my Father’s world—and we work to alleviate suffering, reduce hunger and fight injustice in Jesus’ name.
We listen to creation’s song of praise to God.
We listen to creation’s groans and groan with her.
Finally, we listen to creation’s Lord.
- Listen to creation’s Lord.
Creation doesn’t point to herself; she points to her Creator. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” not their own glory. If you listen to creation and miss the Creator, you’ve missed the point, because creation is pointing to her Creator.
ILL: Imagine looking at a beautiful painting. You don’t praise the painting. “Oh great painting, you are amazing!” You praise the painter, the artist who painted it.
It’s the same with creation. It sings of her Creator, and expects us to do the same. But people get this wrong all the time. Paul wrote about people in his day:
Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.
People do this today too. They worship and serve created things rather than the creator, whether it’s money or the stuff money buys, or creation itself. Lots of people are into Mother Nature, or Mother Earth. Lots of people talk about nature being their cathedral or their church. Of course they don’t say this in the midst of a hurricane or a famine.
If you worship and serve creation, you’ve missed the point, because creation points to her Creator, creation’s Lord.
*Colossians 1:15–17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Notice Jesus’ relation to creation.
- 15 He is over all creation.
- 16 In Him all things were created.
- 16 All things have been created through Him and for Him.
- 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
If you listen to creation and don’t come to Jesus, you’ve missed the point. He is the creator of all things. All of creation exists in Him and through Him and for Him. Catch that: it’s all for Him. This world was created for Him. Mt. Rainier was created for Him. The Pacific Ocean was created for Him. My dog was created for Him. I was created for Him. You were created for Him.
Life isn’t about me; it’s about Him. All this isn’t for you; it’s for Him. Your life is not your own; you belong to Him. And when you get that straightened out, that’s when you discover life—real life. Jesus said, “When you keep your life (as your own) you lose it; when you lose your life for my sake, you find it.”
Listen to creation. She will point you to Jesus. She’ll say, “I belong to Him. I exist for Him. And so do you.”
Prayer to decide to follow Jesus.
 McHugh, Adam S.. The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction (Kindle Locations 1416-1420). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.