Now that Rosh Hashana is past, and with the passing of Simchat Torah the High Holy Day season being truly over, and with yesterday being “Shabbat B’reishit” the Sabbath of the first section of Genesis, it is time to speak of new beginnings. And speaking of beginnings . . .
It is interesting to look at the Creation account. What strikes one is that this was not simply an account of creation: it was an account of bringing things into proper order—a Divine sorting out.
Just as the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the primeval waters of Creation, so we woke up today, the first day of the week, in the company of the Spirit of God. And the challenge for all of us, as it is every day, is also to do some sorting out, to impose order on our world—to decide what is important, what is unimportant, what rules over what. In other words, it is our individual responsibility to demonstrate and determine what matters most to us today, tomorrow and every day. And the way we make our choices and live our lives reveals what matters most to us, far more than anything we might say.
We are made in the image of God. And that means that we create our lives—for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. We make the choices that make our lives what they are. This privilege of choice, this responsibility to choose, is part of what makes us human, God’s image bearers.
If in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, as we begin the new week, and as we begin each new day, we are challenged to create our life. Nobody else makes our lives life but ourselves. So I say to you who are reading this, “It’s your life. Make it a good one.”
Today let’s look at the first section of the yearly Torah readings, Parashat B’reishit, to derive Ten Ways To Create Your Best Life Every Day, Every Week, All the Time.
As we consider Genesis 1:10 6:8, we can find ten principles to guide us in our own acts of life-creation.
- To create our best life we must mean what we say and act accordingly. Early in our Creation account, God says, “Let there be light.” The difference between God and us is that what He says and what he means are always exactly the same, and he follows thrown on what he says. Our liturgy preserves this insight: Blessed is He who says and performs, who decrres and fulfills.” This is almost never true of us. We say one thing, and we mean another. We lie to ourselves first and then to each other. We have grown accustomed to throwing words around cheaply, not always prepared to stand behind them. Instead, we excuse ourselves for failing to follow through on what we said we would do, and we do this all the time. So let’s make this our first principle this: to always say what we mean and act accordingly. We will live lives of power and integrity to the degree that we align our life with our words.
- To create our best life we must always be imposing order on chaos. We must decide what matters most and what overrules other things in our lives. It is true that much of the work of Creation involved putting things in order, sorting things out. The same will be true for us in our work of life-creation. And everything God created was good: it only got bad because of how man related to it. It will be the same with us. God gives us each new day as a day of glorious pristine opportunity. Our task is to be alert enough and to care enough and to be honest and caring enough not to defile it, not to blow it. The challenge is to actualize ourselves as persons made in the image of God. We are made in God’s image, after his likeness. This means that living up to our best self means bringing good order and blessing to the world we inhabit, our surroundings, our friends, neighbors, family, possessions, neighborhood—the part of the created order that Stephen Covey calls our circle of influence—those areas where you can make a difference. And as for God, who made Adam and Even the pinnacle of his creation, charged to have dominion over all else, so for us too, the challenge is always to put things in hierarchical order—what is important, what is trivial, what is most important—day by day, hour by hour. And just as God brought blessing, and light, fruitfulness, purpose and meaning to the created order, so should we. Or we can mess it all up like Adam and Eve did. It’s our opportunity, and we are responsible and capable of living such a life. And part of the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to perfect us in the image of God, living lives that reflect Yeshua, the One who is Himself the Image of the invisible God.
- To create our best life we must cultivate relationships and behave well in them. God created the world because he wanted company. And God said of man, made in his image, “It is not good that man should be alone.” God created us for relationship with others-relationships are meant to be a divine source of blessing. This is no time to think about the people who have misused us or disappointed us. This is not about them. It is about us. As persons made in the image of God, a God who chose to create others with whom He could have relationship, we have a choice: we can choose to be in relationship with others, and to be a source of blessing, wisdom, and fruitfulness in their lives, or we can either make it all about ourselves, preening and protecting ourselves and our assets, or we can imitate the irresponsibility of our First Parents. Eve tempted Adam to do what she knew he should not: similarly, we can create problems for others. And Adam blamed Eve and God for his own irresponsibility: we can blame others for our fouled up lives and there are plenty of people who spend their whole lives playing the blame game. Or instead, we can realize that relationships are meant to be an arena for fruitfulness, increase, expansion, and joy and we can choose to make that happen in our circle or relationships, or we can instead make it all about ourselves and create problems for others and look for someone to blame. It’s all up to us. We can either “Let there be light” or we can increase the darkness.
- To create our best life we must always be discovering and serving our purpose in the world. Adam and Eve had work to do. So do we all. This is not about income, it is about living a life that imitates, honors, and pleases God. What might the work be that God has given you to do in the world that? It might be relational—to be a support to certain people to whom you believe God has called you. It might be a special work of some kind, something vocational. It might be that you are gifted and called in prayer. It might be that your special role is to be, in your character and in you relationships, a signpost of the Kingdom of God. Whatever it is, you might ask yourself: on the basis of my natural abilities, my acquired skills, my spiritual gifts, what is it likely I ought to be doing that imitates, honors and pleases God? On a day by day, week my week, month by month basis, what life investment should I be sure not to neglect?
- To create our best life we must do a costs/benefits analysis on succumbing to the temptations that plague us, and be sure not to pay a higher price than we can afford to pay. Temptation is a reality for all of us. Each of us has his or her vulnerabilities. What are yours? And what traps do you need to avoid? And why bother? From your experience, study, and observation. what is to be gained or lost through giving into temptation in your vulnerable areas. Is it really worth it? What we you do to distance ourselves from the areas that trip us up? Is the tripping up worth it? If not, then let’s learn to put a distance between ourselves and our besetting sins. The price tag is just too much, and we see that around us every day. Just turn on the evening news.
- To create our best life we must constantly actualize our holy responsibility for the children in our lives. All of us have children in our lives for whom we are responsible or whom we can influence. Relating properly to your children and the children you are in a position to influence is, next to your relationship with God, the most crucial task of your life. It is not that I consider spouses unimportant: but generally, with some exceptions, spouses are adults. But children are more malleable, that is, shapeable, and they are more vulnerable. They instinctively look to YOU to tell them what reality is and what to do about it. So tomorrow, if you have children, or if you have grandchildren, the question you should be asking and answering is “How am I going to actualize my holy responsibility for these young hearts, souls, minds and bodies?” It’s up to you.
- To create our best life we must give God his rightful place – The general wisdom is that when Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices to God, Cain’s brought God a cut, and Abel brought of the best that he had. One brought a tip for the Holy One, the other brought the best he had. That’s why God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. And in the case of their parents, when Eve and then Adam partook of the tree of which God told them not to eat, they also failed to give God His rightful place. They had a chance to trust God, and they chose to “play it safe” and do something else. We need to learn that the safest way to play it is always to trust God. But some of us never learn that less. And Cain failed to give God his rightful place when he treated him like someone to tip rather than Lord and Master. Part of God giving his rightful place is observing and keeping Shabbat as a protected enclave where you do not monkey with life to remake it according to your will, but where you receive and celebrate your life and the world as the Gift of the Creator. God made room for you in His universe. Make sure you make special room for Him every Shabbat.
- To create our best life we must never act out of feelings when we should be acting out of principles – Both Adam and Eve and their son Cain made the same mistake: they acted out of feelings rather than principles. God told Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden; but they not only doubted God but followed a craving for the fruit of the tree. Bad idea. And when Cain was nursing a grudge against his brother, God told him to look out: “sin is crouching at the door, but you must master it.” A good principle. Eat from that tree: another good principle. But both Cain and his parents followed their gut instead of following their God. Learn to act on principle and instead of on feelings.
- To create our best life we must learn to face our failures and learn from them. All of us sin. It is what we do after we have sinned that marks the kind of person we are. It is important to never forget the contrast between King Saul and King David, in how the two of responded when confronted with their sin.
- In the case of Saul, God had told to blot out the Amalekites and to destroy everything they had. Here is what the text says in 1 Sam 15.
And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15:1-3 ESV)
- But Saul did not do that. “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction (1 Samuel 15:9 ESV)
- The key thing to note here is how King Saul responded when Samuel the prophet confronted him in the Name of the LORD, for how he had failed to do what God had said. Here is what he said: And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”(1 Samuel 15:20-21 ESV) This was of course, as in the case of Adam and Eve, one of history’s greatest examples of blame shifting. Saul is a case study on how not to deal with accountability.
- In the case David, who had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and who had arranged that her loyal husband be put into the front lines of battle so that he would be struck down and die, which he did, when the Prophet confronted David, David had a six word answer in English, “I have sinned against the LORD,” and two words in Hebrew, “Chatati L’Adonai. Notice: no evasions, no excuses, no equivocations.
- The contrast between the two could not be more stark: Saul shirks and avoids responsibility, David acknowledges it straight on, takes his lumps, and keeps going in the direction of God’s purpose for his life and that of the people of Israel. It is as a G. Campbell Morgan expressed it years ago, “The important thing about David is not that he fell into sin, but rather, what he was facing when he got up.”
- It is as I said before, “All of us sin. It is what we do after we have sinned that marks the kind of person we are.” What we should do is acknowledge our sin, plead with God for mercy, take our lumps if any, and keep on keeping on. So if some sins that you have committed have got you derailed this morning, the good news is that it should not and need not be that way. The Bible reminds us that “Those who confess and forsake their sins will find mercy.” So come and get it, and then get on with your life.
10. To create our best life we should each be a positive stand-out. – Here we come to our final example from this week’s parashah, and that example is Noah who lived in a notably loose and wicked age. But the very next verse after our parsha reminds us that Noah was “righteous in his generation.” This means that he was righteous in his context. What does righteousness look like in my context? In yours? Righteousness today will be slightly different from what it was in our grandparents’ day. You and I are being called to stand for certain things that they stood for, certainly, but also for some things they weren’t called to stand for, or perhaps never dreamed of.
What things should you be standing up for, for which you believe God just might be holding you responsible? If you know you have failed to live for the right things, or even to discern what your life should be about, get beyond it—confess your sin, forsake it, and get on your way serving God with the gifts, abilities, acquired skills, and opportunities he gives you. Above all take Noah’s example as your watchword: be righteous in YOUR generation.
All of us need to ask this question: what is that God is calling me to stand against and to stand for in my context? Don’t be quick to answer. But DO find the answer to that question and then answer these: What am I going to do to serve God’s purpose for me in the world? And suppose I elect not to bother: what then?
There were consequences for Noah’s generation for the choices they made. There were consequences for Adam and Eve, for Cain and Abel. And there will be consequences for us.
As God said through Moses our Teacher, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life that your soul may live.”
And as Yeshua said, “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who walk in it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life and there are few who find it.” But also, “What will it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” The message is clear: make right choices.
Today you have the opportunity to create our day as one made in the image of God. Make it a good one. And the day after too.
For an interesting tool in maximizing your life day by day, see - http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/238452
And perhaps read Rick Pitino's new book, The One Day Contract: How to Add Value to Every Minute of Your Life http://goo.gl/DPRbqb