Acts of Creation: A Devotional

An image of a person kneading and pulling at bread dough.Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. (Genesis 1:31)

The beginning of a new year is a good time to look at the beginning of everything, when there was “a formless mass cloaked in darkness” (Gen. 1:2) and, out of that, God created our world and made men and women in His image. However it happened, God had His creative hand in everything from massive hulking mountains to delicate designs etched inside seedpods to the complex system that is a human being.

God said the same thing about each thing: It is good. Until the moment when He looked back on it all and He said it was excellent in every way.

Excellent here doesn’t mean perfect, flawless, or the best of its kind. It doesn’t mean that each thing met a high artistic standard. It doesn’t mean each thing was a model of efficiency. It doesn’t mean someone else with more authority or knowledge looked at each thing and approved of it. Those are things we mean by excellent.

I think it’s something more basic: both the work of creation and the things He created gave God a deep sense of satisfaction, of rightness. Of joy. And because we are made in the image of a Creator God, satisfaction, rightness, and joy are available to us when we create.

Creative acts don’t only belong to what we call “the arts.” Even if we don’t ever do anything someone else would call “artistic,” we create our lives.

Thinking differently than the culture you grew up in or that you live in now is a creative act. Making an unexpected connection between things that seem unrelated is a creative act. Trying something new to you is a creative act. Finding a solution to a problem is a creative act. Working out how to be a follower of God is a creative act.

They’re creative acts because they require imagination. Any time you can imagine yourself and your life as different than they are at this moment, that’s profoundly creative – an image-of-God act.

So create a life that’s satisfying, right, and joyful. It may not look like the lives your family members or childhood friends build. It may not be approved of by everyone you know. At times, it may feel like a formless mass cloaked in darkness. But follow God’s creative spark and it can be excellent in every way.

More Than We Can Ask or Imagine

Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite Bible verses, but first, we’re going to talk about this.

What can we do with a mandarin orange? We can eat it. We can make it into juice. We can put that juice into muffins. Maybe we can even toss it in the air and catch it. Really talented people might even be able to juggle a bunch of them at the same time. Can you imagine anything else we can do with it?

How about this … can you imagine it as a lamp?

First, cut the peel around the equator and loosen it all the way around.


When you peel the halves away, try to keep the center thingy attached to one of the halves, but if you can’t manage it, you can pluck it out and stick it back onto one of the halves.

Now, mostly fill the half with the “wick” with oil (olive oil, canola oil, any household oil) and light the wick. It might take a few tries, especially if the wick is too high above the surface of the oil.

Look at that. I made a mandarin orange into a lamp. Did you think I could do it? Is this what you imagined it would look like?

This orange lamp reminds me of … me. When I was your age, I was really, really shy. I would’ve been too shy to come up in front of church in front of everyone to listen to a children’s message — just like some of you have been, just like some kids who are sitting with their grownups right now.

But here I am. Up front. Not just listening, but talking. And sometimes dancing. And doing it happily. I couldn’t have imagined that when I was a kid. I don’t know that I ever even asked God to help me be better at being in front of people. But God kept giving me gifts and passions and starting me out small and building me up until here I am.

So here’s the Bible verse, from Ephesians 3, verse 20 (from The Message):

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

That was true for me. And I know it’ll be true for you.

Because I could turn this mandarin orange into a lamp and I’m not very amazing, but God is totally amazing. I wonder what amazing things he’s going to do with you as you grow up….

I have one more thing to show you. First, I have to cut a hole in the other half of the mandarin orange to make a lid.

Look what happens when I put the lid on.

Did you know that the peel had all these little circles? They were invisible before, but now we can see them.

That reminds me of me again. When I was your age, I had no idea I could dance. I didn’t even want to dance. I wasn’t taking lessons or anything. But as I got older, that changed, and I discovered I loved dancing and I could to it and I did it more and more, in classes and then in church, until it became a big part of how I serve and worship God. I didn’t know it was there … but God did.

I wonder what’s already inside of you that you have no idea about … but God does.

I wonder what God imagines for you.

I can’t wait to see.

This is the text of the children’s message I gave at my church on January 5, 2014. 



Why I Do What I Do

“What I do” is turn the power of my imagination, my knowledge of story, and my historical research onto biblical stories in the hopes of developing a better and deeper understanding of who God is and what God wants of me by way of what God wanted of his followers in the Bible, and to share that with my readers.

That’s all 😉

Sometimes, the Bible is its own barrier. The way of life 2,000 – 4,000 years ago was so different from our own that there are all kinds of things we miss: jokes, radical ideas, contemporary ideas biblical writers may have been trying to counter.

Not to mention the differences in translations. Look at these two versions of Psalm 116, verse 5

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! (NLT)

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. (NRSV)

That’s mostly a matter of style; some will prefer the more casual, others the more formal. But sometimes there’s a difference in substance, like in Psalm 138, verses 17-18 (emphasis mine):

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! (NLT)

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. (NRSV)

Those are not the same thing. In the NLT, God’s innumerable thoughts are about me and they’re precious. In the NRSV, God’s thoughts are general and weighty. Many other translations combine the two, and have God’s thoughts as precious, but, again, they’re general thoughts. Just that one translation choice makes the difference between a God who intimately knows me and is thinking about me all the time (like a parent thinks about their child all the time) and a God who’s, at worst, inaccessible or, at best, impossible to understand.

And then there’s this: the Bible can be boring to read. There. I’ve said it. It’s out there. The more I know about the context of its writing, the more interesting I find it, but there’s no denying that getting through a book like Numbers is a real slog. If I were the editor of the Bible, several books would have been half as long, because so many verses are (unnecessarily!) repeated almost verbatim within the same book, sometimes the same chapter.

We are the problem, too, sometimes, when we approach Bible reading with too much seriousness, too much pressure to hear from God in a way that applies to my life right now; we can wind up confused and discouraged when the Bible doesn’t deliver.

A friend who read the first of the final drafts of It Is You admitted that she didn’t much like reading the Bible because she couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t get into what was going on. Indeed, it can be difficult to read, the ideas opaque, the stories violent, the heroes unheroic by today’s standards. She said that my writing brought the story of David and Saul alive for her in a way her own reading never had and that she had been engrossed in the story. That, right there, is why I do what I do.

I’m not the only person who uses imagination and research to explicate the Bible, of course. Children’s worship leaders do this every time they ask kids the “I wonder” questions. And anybody who’s been in an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship inductive Bible study does it.

My husband and I are back in an IVCF-style Bible study for the first time in 15 years, and it’s fantastic. And illuminating. For the first meeting, one of the leaders read the entire book of Ephesians out loud to us — just as it would have been read out loud, in its entirety, to the church at Ephesus. I was astonished at how different Paul’s words felt with that presentation, as opposed to the few-verses-at-a-time pace I was accustomed to. It was a much more encouraging and uplifting book than I’d ever thought.

And then, at the next meeting, that same leader shared some historical research with us. She noted that, in Ephesus, at the time, the ideas of Fate and Destiny were heavy burdens. Seers made a living both predicting your fate and accepting payment so you could buy off the more unpleasant parts of your fate. And then in comes Paul with his idea of predestination. In Ephesians 1:5, we are predestined to be adopted as sons of God — feminist though I might be, I’m sticking with sons here, because this means that daughters and lowly eighth sons were, by God through Jesus, given the higher status of the son who will inherit his father’s wealth. “Adopted as sons” is a good and radical thing, in this context.

In fact, the two times predestination is mentioned in verses 1-14, it is used in the same breath with adoption (v.5) and inheritance (v.11). This, to me, says that God has already made us part of his family: no matter what happens to us (our “fate”) or when we discovered him, God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, has already embraced us. In this reading, predestination takes away the heavy burden of worrying about our fate, which is the exact opposite of my previous understanding of the term. I find this very exciting and freeing.

And now I’m sharing it with you, my readers. In the hopes that you, too, will appreciate this take on predestination in Ephesians.

So, what do you think?