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Daily Devotional

Genesis 2-3

Why are things as they are? What kind of world do we live in? Who are we? The answers to these fundamental questions are answered in Genesis by the God who calls his people to himself in order to bestow his blessing. Stuart Holman hosts this series of short devotionals as part of the Bible Reading strand of GrowingDisciples.

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Daily Devotional

Genesis 1

Why are things as they are? What kind of world do we live in? Who are we? The answers to these fundamental questions are answered in Genesis by the God who calls his people to himself in order to bestow his blessing. Stuart Holman hosts this series of short devotionals as part of the Bible Reading strand of GrowingDisciples.

Welcome to Growing Disciples

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Daily Devotional

Introducing our Daily Devotionals

What are Daily Devotionals, how do they fit in with the rest of the Bible Reading strand, and how can we make the most of them? Stuart Holman answers these questions in preparation for the launch of our Daily Devotionals next Monday.

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Growth Exercises

January: Week 3

A Regula Vitae

In his essay, “We Live by Rhythms“, Chris Webb explains that most of us would benefit from the Christian tradition of intentionally structuring our lives through a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life.” Don’t panic, this is not a legalistic set of rules to follow. Rather, it’s an invitation to write down some of your thoughts and responses to the questions you have been thinking about already this month. 

Regula was the Latin word for a length of wood with markings, used for measuring and alignment—similar to our present-day workshop rulers. We hold things against a ruler to see if they are straight and if their proportions and measurements are right. In the same way a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life”—is an opportunity for us to mark out some of our intentions in advance and then to regularly hold it up to our life and see how our alignment and proportions are fairing. When we align our habits with our faith, we become people who actually love God and our neighbour– as opposed to just knowing about them.

The importance of planning and reflecting on the patterns and rhythms of our lives has been long established by Christians of all kinds– even St. Anthony of Egypt. Some patterns are weekly (sabbath, church, etc), some patterns are monthly (e.g., giving from our pay-cheque) and some patterns are seasonal, as we go through different seasons of life. For further reading about fruitfully navigating the different seasons of life, I warmly recommend Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.

Without committing yourself to anything at this stage, what worthwhile things might you commit yourself to this year? As you journal on this theme, try to describe what such a commitment would look like for you, and how it might benefit your relationship with Jesus Christ?

Some further thoughts on establishing a Regula Vitae for yourself:

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Daily Devotional

Structure and Genesis

As we read our way through the book of Genesis one of the key questions we ponder is, ‘What kind of literature is this?’ Our answer to this question of literary genre will determine our understanding of the book. Is it a scientific treatise, a dispassionate eye-witness account, a fairytale, a ‘dreaming’ narrative,… the options are endless. Further, we also need to ask, ‘What is the purpose of Genesis?’ When we know why it was written, and for whom, then we also have a firm foundation for making the important step into our place and time, into our lives and basic self-understanding.

The best answers are going to be found in the book itself. Instead of beginning with our own prejudices and ‘hobby horses’, we want to allow the book itself to reveal the answers to these questions.

An important feature of Genesis seems to be its in-built structure. It is a highly patterned document with repeated devices, narrative motifs, bookends and inter-textualities. For example, in the creation account of Genesis 1 we saw the numeric patterns (3+3+1) and the repetition of phrases such as, ‘And God said…,’ ‘and it was so…,’ and, ‘evening and morning, the X day.’

Genesis 2:4 introduces the first structural marker that appears throughout the whole book, ordering all the narratives that follow the initial creation account. Genesis 2:4 begins: “This is the account of…” The underlying word, Toledot, means ‘generations’— which is best understood as “this is what became of” (Woudstra, CTJ 5). It is this ‘generations of’ marker that provides a structuring device for all of Genesis. It is used in Gen 2:4; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2, each introducing a new narrative thread and closing off that which came before. In this way Toledot gives us a heading to each new unit. It tells us what is important and which information belongs together.

This careful structuring shows us that the whole of Genesis hangs together as a unit. It has been organised with a particular purpose. While there are very clear signs that multiple sources have been brought together in the one book, there is someone who has acted as editor and organiser. They have collected together the accounts of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph etc and assembled them in a single place for a certain audience.

Traditionally, Moses is identified as this Editor. He is the one who is said to have gathered the oral traditions of his people. Why? Because his people need to know who they are. Their origins are not found among the Egyptians. Their God is not like the pantheon of the Egyptians or the Babylonians or the Mesopotamians. The people whom Moses led out of Egypt and into God’s promised land have their identity formed in the family lineage of Genesis. It is history told with a purpose. The wilderness generation and their descendants are uniquely called by God to be his people, living his way, in his land.

And so as Christian people reading Genesis in the 21st century, we find some very important parts of our identity in the same scriptures. We understand ourselves, our world, and God through this narrative. He reveals his purposes, his character and his ways to us within the story of the family which became the nation of Israel. Despite our many significant differences, we are also bound into the world of Genesis.

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Daily Devotional

Babel’s Blessing

Genesis 11:3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other
.

Building, building with bricks, building cities with towers— these are not sin. But the motive is: so that we may make a name for ourselves. Pride and self aggrandisement reveal a deeper rebellion against God.

A unified and coordinated effort in rebellion against God (… otherwise we will be scattered…) also signals danger. The efficacy and capacity of a united humanity is great but when directed only to human ambitions it becomes a threat to humanity itself. Totalitarian regimes can achieve much: trains run on time, technological advancement makes better bombs. But divergent views are outlawed, dissent is crushed.

God’s response of creating diversity through the ‘confusion’ of languages is certainly a judgment against the Babel Project, but it contains grace within. Humanity is not wiped out (as promised by the rainbow after the flood) and difference is protected. Minorities can flourish. Humanity will indeed be diverse and they will fill the earth, carrying out their creation mandate.

Within temporal judgment God’s gracious purpose is very often to be discerned.

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Daily Devotional

Ruling over sin?

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:6-7)

The experience of temptation outside the Garden of Eden is described first as an internal battle, where Cain must address his own (fallen) nature in order to live God’s way. There is no snake opposing him, seeking his undoing. He must address himself. Sin desires to rule him, but he must rule over it.

Sin is an opportunistic foe. It waits, crouching, coiled for action at a moment’s notice. God unmasks sin for Cain’s benefit. He must know his enemy and how sin plots his demise. But Cain refuses the warning. Instead he invites Abel to ‘come for a walk’. It sounds innocent enough. But his evil intent is soon revealed.

Cain’s own sinful nature pounced upon him, unbridled and indulged. Cain then pounced upon Abel.

In his fallen state Cain is told what to do with sin— he must rule over it. I don’t suppose God would not ask him to do the impossible. And so, in our state (fallen, but with the Spirit) we must also rule over our sin. As Christians, enabled by God’s Spirit, we talk back to our urge to sin, we address pride, greed and lust. We say ‘No’. Instead, we look for the alternate path, the way out, God’s provision of grace.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor 10:12-13)

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Daily Devotional

Genesis 1 : on its own terms

Here’s a great introduction to the text of Genesis 1 from he Bible Project team. I love the way it takes the text seriously and on its own terms. It’s a good beginning point for personal reflection.

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Article

Welcome 2021

Growing Disciples offers a step-by-step pathway towards Christian maturity, no matter whereabouts you are up to on your journey of following Jesus. This program is intended as a resource to help us develop in four key areas: bible reading, prayer, community, and practical exercises in growth. Since the days of the early church, Christians have found that each of these activities, together, are used by God to bring growth.

This course is a development of the St Andrew’s Roseville 2020Discipleship program, made available to fellow disciples wherever you may be. What’s new this year? A greater emphasis on both Prayer and Christian Community, with planned opportunities for us to share our insights and experiences (in person, circumstances permitting) as we read the broad sweep of the biblical narrative in a year. Having learned much from our first attempts, we hope to refine and nurture some more ‘growth exercises’ (commonly known as ‘spiritual disciplines’).

Our program of video Daily Devotionals will also see some development. Look out for these to re-launch in late January.

So, welcome to Growing Disciples. Please bookmark this site on your web browser or sign up for email up dates in the box below.

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Article

Do you have a plan?

This ‘Growing Disciples’ program is a plan to help us follow Jesus in this way, as his disciples.

“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” So says a crusty old leadership tome on the back of my bookshelf. But the point is a good one, especially when we want to take our living for God seriously. The Lord Jesus has called us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. This is not something that happens casually or without intent. Our life of discipleship is something that we choose. We weigh up the cost, we count ourselves dead to our old life, and then we turn and follow.

Follow. Following means going somewhere. It is a journey. We leave behind somewhere, and we set our path to another place. Our destination. The graphic ‘hiking’ theme of this site reminds us of this truth.

Following also means that there is someone in front of us, someone who treads the path before us– a pioneer, our master. Jesus.

When we choose to be Jesus’ disciples, we embrace each of these truths. We have died to our old selves. We have turned our back on our former allegiances. And instead, we now go the way of Jesus our master.

Being Jesus’ disciples means more than merely doing what we’re told: it also means becoming. It means that we follow Jesus such that we are inwardly changed, such that we become like him. Disciples are transformed by Jesus.

This ‘Growing Disciples’ program is a plan to help us follow Jesus in this way, as his disciples. It seeks to have him change our lives through the course of this year. I look forward to your company as we follow Jesus throughout 2021.

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Growth Exercises

January Week 1

New Beginnings

Socrates declared at least 400 years before Christ, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Although it’s unlikely he was setting out to make a theological statement, there is plenty of biblical evidence to suggest that he was on to something. It may not be said in exactly those terms, but many of the psalms, proverbs, letters and examples in Scripture extol the benefits of self-evaluation. Why then do we do so little of it?

We are all creatures of habit. We prefer to live with some level of routine than with absolute chaos. We follow patterns; we build structure; we create shorter-term rituals and longer-term traditions. We live by rhythms. 

Unfortunately, however, we seldom make a habit of examining our habits. Our schedules, our routines and our habits are for the most part passively acquired. We work “X” number of hours because our job (or our debt!) demands that we do. We commute for as long as is required to make those work hours happen. We gather in groups as our beliefs and pastimes require. We catch up with friends and family when we want to, remember to, or have to—depending on the enjoyment we derive from their company. In the time left over we squeeze in our shopping, our eating, our banking, our cleaning, our mowing, our sleeping, etc. With all of this going on, it is not surprising that most of our decisions are reactive rather than proactive. It’s not that we avoid decisions, we just make most of them on the fly. They lack intentionality. The resulting problem is that, for many of us, how we live our day-to-day lives has little connection to what we think life is actually all about. As John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy” warned us: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

This week, at the start of a new year, I want to encourage you to pause and ask: “What sort of life do I want to be living?” and therefore, “What do I want the rhythms and habits of my life to look like?” Chances are that we haven’t considered these sorts of questions for a while, if ever. Chances are, also, that our answers will look quite different from our current trajectory of activity. 

I’m not talking here about hyped-up goal setting. The corporate world is awash with such motivational material and I think its usefulness here is limited. Perhaps we should have realised that focusing on Key Performance Indicators might produce a generation of Christians obsessed with performance. Appropriate goal-setting can be very helpful and there are moments in this book when we will recommend it. But it can also encourage an overemphasis on achievement and end results. We are more interested here in how well we know and imitate Christ along the way—and how well our actual day-to-day practices fit with this vision of what life is about. 

Chris Webb from Renovare—an organisation that works to help Christians live more intentional lives—suggests our daily practices not only reflect our vision of life, they can change it. “We make some choices because of who we are, but others because of who we wish to become.” This is a crucial insight behind this calendar—how we live shapes who we are

“Human Becomings” is probably quite a helpful way to think of ourselves—for we are all in the process of becoming. The crucial question is What or Like whom are we becoming? Our hope is that the simple suggestions and discussions to come will assist you in building some intentionality and faithfulness into your own rhythms of life. 

In this first week of the New Year, our first exercise is go out and buy ourselves a Journal– a personal note book that we are going to use throughout the course. If you wish, you journal may be as simple as a MSWord document. Or perhaps you prefer a leather-bound folio, elegantly lettered with a quill. Whatever your choice, get a Journal. And then, jot a few notes to yourself about the key questions raised here:

  • “What sort of life do I want to be living?”
  • “What do I want the rhythms and habits of my life to look like?”
  • What, or like whom, do I want to become?

Happy New Year!—Here’s to examined lives that are worth living!