Oh, what a weekend.
We had faux snow in south Charlotte (the real thing hit north Charlotte) and so we spent much of Saturday deciding whether or not to have church.
We ultimately decided, yes, normal schedule AND we’re going to start the series “Creatures of Habit” as planned.
I’m glad we did. The decision honored those who braved the elements and made it to church, a fact that actually added to the effectiveness of the series launch.
We were able to hand out the devotional guides that augment the series as well as show a video interview that brought the message home.
The bottom line? Emerging from the creative process in Genesis 1 it’s:
You have to go THROUGH the monotony to get TO the masterpiece.
So we start 2017 with something called Creatures Of Habit. And we do that in part because I know a lot of you make resolutions around this time of year. And those resolutions typically involve weight or diet or fitness or finances or faith or relationships. Many of you are here today, in fact, because one of your resolutions involved Sunday church attendance. And a resolution is really a desire to turn an occasional activity – dieting, exercising, praying – into a repeating pattern. An event that becomes a habit.
And the thing about habits – whether a self-destructive one like biting your nails or smoking those cigarettes or texting while driving or good ones like daily prayer, bible memory, weekly giving, consistent LifeGroup – is that once in, once established, they are STRONG.
Like let’s do an experiment. Can I get a volunteer? (Thread experiment) What do we get from that, the first church experiment of 2017? Activity? Meh. Habit? Watch out. So: how can we leverage the opening month of the year to turn us into creatures of habit for good and not for ill; so we grow and maintain the kind of habits that give you emotional serenity, that protect your marriages, that send you to sleep with a clear conscience. Do you know what a blessing a clear conscience at night is?! And it doesn’t just happen! It’s the result of a lot of little steps, the accumulation of habits, the transcendence of activities into patterns. Now: we’ll get to dropping bad habits in a couple of weeks – it’s actually called Habit Drop! – because I know how easy bad habits are to fall into. But today we’re starting on the opposite end; how it is we adopt, embrace, and live into habits that brings life. So that the force of habit in my life and your life really does reinforce a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
To do that, we’re going to go to an unlikely source in Scripture; a new look at an old word. We’re going to journey into Genesis 1, the words that open the library. Because look here at 1:1-2:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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
You know what that means? That chaos was in some sense reigning. And God creatively orders and arranges all the stuff of creation and assumes authority over it. With a minimum of fuss and no battle (unlike every other ancient creation story), God asserts his authority over chaos. Tuck that away.
And then, and then, this pattern emerges. Let’s do this next part together, OK? (We’ve had an experiment, we might as well have a collective reading to start the year.)
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.”
And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13
And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
WITH ME READING VERSES AND PPL READING “CHORUS” See that? You read it, after all! In 1:5, 8, 13 there’s the routine, the repetition, the pattern, the MONOTONY. Just so you know, the rest of Genesis 1 continues in the exact same vein, with the repeating phrase in 1:19, 23, and 31: READ those.
See, we come to Genesis 1 and we want to read between the lines of it and in so doing we ask all kinds of questions about dinosaurs and evolution and Jurassic Park. And Genesis 1 is fundamentally not interested in those questions! The inspired author wants us reading THE LINES and not between them and in so doing discover that Genesis 1 is more song book than science book. Why do I say that? Look look look look again at vv. 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31: And there was evening, and there was morning — the _______ day. Know what that is? It’s the chorus! The stuff between is the verses and this is the chorus. It starts out as chaos and so God brings a chorus to bring it some order.
And don’t we ALL remember the choruses of songs even better than the verses? Like this: Hotel California chorus.
But think of the sheer repetition. Over and over and over. Writing was painful, expensive work back in those days and so the inspired author of Genesis 1 REALLY wanted to make sure you got this and got it good. That the creative process of God himself has embedded within it the routine, the ritual, the habit, the monotony.
Because look where all these verses and especially those choruses build. First there’s 1:31 in which the human race gets created: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Note the critical change – not just “good” but “very good.” See! You really are ALL THAT! But even more, look at 2:1:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
Look at that again: vast array. A vast array there has the idea of an army, decorated in full splendor, marching against its enemies. Which, when you understand that this entire song has been an in your face to those neighboring religions who worshipped sun, moon, stars, & other created things, makes sense. Creation is this living, forceful testimony to the fact that everything created depends on a Creator. All that beauty, power, display needs the ultimate general at the helm.
See, it’s as if God’s looks at the majesty of creation – all of it from the farthest galaxies to the tiniest atoms (AV), from the telescopic to the microscopic – and says, “this is my masterpiece. All the beauty, all the complexity, the immensely large & the massively small, all of that is my masterpiece.” But note how he got there. Not that the splendor of creation is the net result of all those (apparently) tedious and time consuming refrain/chorus: evening, morning, the 3rd day. The masterpiece is the direct result of the monotony. The heavenly host comes from heaven’s habits. So here’s the deal as we launch 2017 as creatures of habit: To get to the masterpiece you have to go through the monotony.
Yes! That’s the pattern God built into the universe from the very beginning. Genesis 1 establishes the rhythm of a week, after all. It designs creation around the habit of a weekly Sabbath. All the splendor comes from sweat. The display follows the discipline. It’s like God can only compose his song after first practicing the scales. And it is as if he has hard wired this into the way creation works. If God works this way, he has designed us to as well. To get to the masterpiece you have to go through the monotony.
See, a lot of people want the benefit of godliness – marriages that stay intact, consciences that are clean, the ability to address life’s challenges with serenity and calm – without the habits that it takes to get there. We want to BE (or have or own) the masterpiece, the finished product without going through the finishing process. We want the masterpiece at the snap of our fingers, not as a result of doing the same things over and over and over, turning our random activities into committed habits. But a close reading of Genesis 1 shows how unlikely all that is. Because God has loaded up the moments of monotony with his masterpieces. What looks to be just a pattern of speech is actually a pinnacle in disguise. To get to the masterpiece you have to go through the monotony.
You know why this is hard for us? Because we live in a microwave culture. Newer is better, younger is smarter, and gratification is instant. We get upset because the WiFi is too slow on an airplane! Here we hurtling in the sky in a metal cylinder at 700 mph, completing in hours trips that took our ancestors months and we want access to all the information ever produced on planet earth and we want it now! And when it’s not NOW, we get all EYE ROLL & HUHHHs. Well, with that mindset and those expectations, no wonder we resist growing the habits that helps us live well and that enlarge our living relationships with Jesus Christ.
In contrast to that, I think of the people I know who have been sober for 20 years or more – in some cases, a lot more – and yet still go to AA meetings. Multiple times per week. Sometimes I’ll ask “why do you still need to go when you’ve proven you know how to be sober?” The answer? Force of habit. The second answer? Because if you get hit by a train, it’s not the caboose that kills you. It’s the same with drinking. It’s not drink #4 I’ve got to avoid; it’s drink #1. Going to meetings is the habit that makes sure I don’t reach for #1. To get to the masterpiece you have to go through the monotony. . It’s not instant gratification, it’s not a spiritual finger snap, it’s evening, morning, the 1st day . . . and the next thing you know, there’s a masterpiece of sobriety.
Because as I look around this place, I want to unleash all the masterpieces at GS. Like, some of you are plagued with anxiety and depression and you can’t shake it. You know what? You’ll NEVER be free of that without the habit of daily getting away and alone for 10 minutes of bible reading, reflection, and prayer. Without that, you become a human DOING and human DOINGS are always stressed out. You’ve got to be a human BEING for at least those 10 minutes a day. It’s a habit, it’s not sexy, it’s not finger snapping or jaw dropping, but there’s no serenity without it. It’s why we are resourcing you to do just that this entire month (Creatures Of Habit book giveaway).
Others here are plagued with self-destructive thoughts. Almost like that young person who came to healing service with just that. Mind had gotten away from her. Well, in addition to praying, you know what we did? Gave her Philippians 4:6-7 to memorize:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
What did that do? It started the habit of bible memory and, just as importantly, it replaced thoughts centered on death with those that bring life. That’s what habits do – they eliminate what kills so you can germinate what lives. Nowhere more true than with how your mind works. It’s why part of our resourcing is a memory verse per week. To get to the masterpiece you have to go through the monotony.
And then others find yourself withdrawing more and more in all of life. Not into solitude – which is good – but into isolation – which is not. Guess what? A great antidote to that tendency is weekly, regular LifeGroup involvement. It’s why we keep talking about how we want all of you in a LifeGroup and on a ServeTeam. They’re not magic, you may find yourself in one you don’t like ( you can change!), sometimes you go even when you don’t want to!, but we’re convinced they’re the best delivery system for a living relationship with Jesus Christ. To get to the masterpiece you have to go through the monotony.
And then I know there are people here who can’t get out of your financial fixes. The harder you work, the behinder you get. Guess what? The habit of generosity is the cornerstone of overcoming all that. You don’t give to God when you remember or when you feel like it or when you have it, but as a habit. Not to claim your blessing (!) but to follow God’s call. And the more habitual it becomes, the more the rest of your life & finances fall into place.
Because in those patterns of what one pastor calls sacred sameness – prayer, bible, community & giving – there is the pinnacle of faith. In what looks monotonous – evening, morning, the first day – is God’s masterpiece. And yours.
Here’s what it looks like in real life: