I woke up the other morning around 4:00 AM and this question was going through my mind, “What world do you live in?” My answer, “The one I created for myself.” I’m guessing that some of you have been asked that same question or some variation of it. For the next couple of hours that question and I danced down many trails, trying to come up with an answer.
The World God Created
Think about this for a couple of minutes. At some time in eternity, which there isn’t any (time), God the Father and Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit were talking about nothing when One of them said, “Let’s make something.” Of course all there was, was God, and there was only nothing to create with, so out of nothing the Holy Trinity said: “I want a billion stars scattered throughout the universe in perfect harmony so that none of them collide and destroy what I create. I want them all to sing and I want the colors to be mind blowing.” And it happened in a word. We know that from there creation continued until God said, “Enough, that’s all we need.”
Here’s how Clement, the Bishop of Rome in 92 AD, tells what God can do with nothing:
The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed…The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another. The winds in their several quarters fulfil, at the proper time, their service without hindrance. The ever-flowing fountains, formed both for enjoyment and health, furnish…for the life of men. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever.
That’s what God did with nothing. Now, go and look in the mirror and realize that you were made in His image and ask God what He can make out of you. Spend some time meditating/contemplating the implications of what I just said. I’ve said this before, but here it is again: Your potential is in your will and the will of God is your potential.
The crown of creation was you and me, made in His image and likeness. It is because of that image we, too, can create. Before our ancestors ate the fruit, they could do about anything they pleased, spontaneously filling their days in the Garden of God tending to the birds and animals and fish and all the foliage. I don’t know if they built a shelter or not, but they must have “created” some place to live, under a tree or something. They were spontaneous in their decisions because there were no competing choices: “Should I catch some fish today for dinner or maybe go to the club and cruise for a chick?” There were no choices to make when it came to spending them on sensual pleasure and self-love. Before the Fall, whatever they chose to do was God centered.
What’s amazing, though, is this: Now, after the Fall, we create entire worlds that we inhabit with rules that direct the way we live. We build on the basis of what we think to be true and then move inside that world and feel safe and secure. If someone tells you your world is a bit out of whack, you might take offense and say, “No, your world is out of whack–mine is perfectly made in my image.” And it is.
The problem, of course, is that our worlds are made with finite brains that struggle to keep the harmony of our spirit, soul and flesh in sync. When we create, it is imperfect because we can only create with the knowledge we possess.
I’m a bit color blind. Jackie will tell me something is green and I’ll argue with her it’s gray and I’m wrong every time. I confirm I’m wrong by asking others if it’s true the shirt I have on is a shade of green and sure enough, it is. My color world is a bit fractured, but it still works for me. After all, who really cares if my color perception is lacking in accuracy?
Unfortunately, there are other issues beside the shades of green I could be wrong about. If I can’t correctly see green, what else am I doing incorrectly? That old saying about what you don’t know won’t hurt you isn’t true, is it? Truth is, what we don’t know is what we never incorporate into our worlds and therefore they may be lacking important components. Can you imagine living in a house in Florida that’s not air conditioned? You’d be miserable for most of the year. What spiritual aspects of your world are missing because you built it with incomplete knowledge?
My brother-in-law died of cancer because he never went to the doctor to investigate the symptoms that his body was throwing out to alert him of a problem. When he had to be hospitalized because he could no longer breathe, it was too late to do anything but die, and that’s what he did. You may be spiritually weak right now because of something you built your world out of. You know there are 1000s of people who are dying or died of asbestos poisoning because it was thought to be a safe product to insulate with. They didn’t build with the intention of compromising their health…they just didn’t know any better. Have you built with toxic material?
Don’t worry, you can go to the doctor right now and find out what it is your symptoms are screaming about that need attention. You just have to figure out what doctor you are going to see. Don’t go to a knee doctor if you have eye problems.
For me, I have a lot of good friends who are very wise, loving and just a whole lot smarter than me. I can go to them and ask if they see something in my world that is out of whack. But what if their world is out of whack too? Guess what? It is. Everyone’s world is out of whack–some to a greater extent than others. We all build with finite knowledge. Is there someone who can help? Let’s look at building materials first.
1 Corinthians 3:11 – 13 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. We’ll simplify this and focus on gold and straw as the materials we build with. Fire purifies gold but it eliminates straw.
In today’s world, “Straw” is satisfying sensual pleasure, chasing after things fueled by self-love. Straw competes with the will of God and takes away our focus, watchfulness, prayerfulness, good works and eventually silences our ability to hear our spirit and soul. In other words, when we build with straw, our flesh begins running at full speed, unhindered. When we build with straw, which is the striving after things rather than God, we are like the little pig living in a straw house, only this straw house will have to deal with fire and God.
Vitally important is to know the difference between straw and gold. It seems like that would be easy to do, but the evidence of how our world is spinning right now defies that thought. Jesus said this in MT 25: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” That’s why we are to love our neighbors–they are living icons of Christ.
So where do you go to find the correct way to build your world, the place that shows us the difference between straw and gold, the striving after things instead of God?
Read your Bible. The challenge with that is this: Do you understand what it means? For the first 350 years after Pentecost there was no New Testament. It was 100s of years after that until individuals starting getting their own copy. In the early Church, the Bible was read and studied corporately. There was no personal interpretation like it is today, no “I just think.” The 3 most dangerous words in the Christian vocabulary are these: “I just think….” Take out the “I” and put in: The Bible, the Church and her traditions think this…. That’s far safer to build with than “I just think.”
A trusted Priest/Pastor/Friend. Oftentimes others can see more clearly what’s going on around us. Listen and pray about what they see. At least that way you can say, “WE just think.”
What you believe to be true will govern how you live your life, and how you build your world. If you believe the world is going to end tomorrow, you won’t worry too much about paying your electric bill today. So build with gold, build with eternal value as your qualifier and guide. If what you are building with doesn’t glorify God and precede you into heaven, it’s probably straw.
If a 1st century Christian walked into a Protestant church today, he most likely would not know what was going on or if he were even in a Christian church at all. Here’s what I’ve been doing to discover gold–Reading the historical writings of the ascetics and early church fathers. They will take you to another time, unaffected by our modern norms, filled with advice you won’t get from the writers of today, about building a house of gold rather than straw. We are called to become like Christ as we sojourn here on earth. Those writers will give you invaluable insights into doing that. I’m not going to tell you what they say—you will have to go to the fountain and drink for yourself. You’ll find the water is pure, as pure as gold purged by fire.