Missteps

Genesis 12:10; 13:3,4missteps

The autobiography of Billy Graham begins with this sentence: “It was July 14, 1950, and I was about to make a fool of myself.”

He had just spoken personally with President Truman. They spoke informally for a bit and then he went out to the press and told them every word of their conversation (some of it very personal in regard to faith and religion).  He then knelt down and prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving in front of all the popping flashbulbs and scribbling pencils.

Truman was furious.  He never invited Billy back to the White House during his presidency.

One White House staff memorandum in late 1951 stated bluntly: “At Key West the President said very decisively that he did not wish to endorse Billy Graham’s Washington revival meeting and particularly he said he did not want to receive him at the White House. You remember what a show of himself Billy Graham made the last time he was here. The President does not want that repeated.” Ouch!

Billy Graham, however, was able to not only speak, but be the confidant of several president following. Billy learned a secret about mistakes.

Abram in Genesis 12:10… just 6 verses from his marvelous act of obedience in verse 4… makes a misstep.  Abram went to the promised land as instructed and pitched his tent. The Promise had been offered and Abram had taken God up on His offer.  Now came a period of waiting.  If one was to give grades to Abram so far.  He would have straight A’s.  An “A” for listening to God.  An “A” for submission.  An “A” for obedience.  But now, when it comes to waiting, he gets an “F.”

He first of all goes into the Negev – a Desert Region, Southern most extremity of the promised land.  Nothing wrong with checking out the land.  But it is there that he meets a test.   12:10:  “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

Here is Abram’s first test: “Will God provide for my basic needs?”  He took one look at his circumstances and said, “There is no way this is the road God wants me on. It is time to abandon faith and time to start using some common sense.”  What road does your faith have you traveling these days?  Are you looking for a way around some struggle in your life?  Maybe the way God would have you move is through, not around your difficulties.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time makes people do rash things.  Check out Genesis 12:11-20.  With brutal disregard to Sarai, and a total lapse from faith in his Lord, Abram resorted to deceit in order to save his own skin.  In the process he endangers his family.  (Husbands, don’t ask your wife to be complicit with you in a lie.  You are out from under the protection of the Lord when that occurs.)  Abraham lies to Pharaoh… well, half lies anyway.  Sarai was a half-sister.  Abram, the great man of faith, knew what it was to desert the way of faith, and experienced fear and fell into temptation.

But after practically being thrown out of Egypt (12:20) Abram did what we all must do after a misstep.  13:3-4 reads:  “He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly, and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

He retraced his steps and he finds forgiveness, cleansing and renewal… where?  Where he had last worshiped the Living God.

Driving around a new neighborhood a young woman noticed a hair-salon chain offering $10 haircuts. “How could local salons compete against such a low price?” she wondered.  Then a few doors down she saw a sign on the storefront of a locally owned salon, it read, “WE REPAIR $10 HAIRCUTS.”

There ought to be a sign outside our churches that reads:  “God Repairs Damaged Lives.”

Remember Billy Graham’s mistake.  He learned from it.  Right after that debacle, Graham vowed never to make that mistake if he was granted access to a person of influence again.  He learned from the error… repented of it.  And it made all the difference.

Made a few missteps?  Your journey isn’t over.  Retrace your steps back to the sight of your last act of faith.  He awaits you there with forgiveness, healing and a fresh map of the promised land.

 

 

What Came Out of the Ark

animals off the arkGenesis 9:22-29; 10

“What are my kids going to end up like?” Don’t you wish you could answer that question?  Or maybe not.  I have met many parents as a pastor that looked at what happened to their children and feel such shame.  If only they had gone to church more… or had gone to church less… or had read the Bible to them more… or went to more parenting seminars.  The guilt is immense.

But I’ve met and talked with enough black sheep to know that it often has not a thing to do with how they were parented.  It had everything to do with their own stubborn will and their poor choices.

Take Ham.   One of Noah’s sons.  You know Noah… the man who walked with God… who alone found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  His son, Ham… made a terrible choice one day.  It began innocently enough.  He caught sight of his father Noah naked in his tent.  No big deal.

It was considerable breach of family ethic back in this day, but remember, the event was not intentional.  It was what he did with what he saw that got him into trouble.  The Scriptures put it gently, that he “told his two brothers outside.”  More than likely his actions were an attempt to show himself triumphant over his father by mocking Noah’s condition.  His two brothers proved more noble by (without looking) covering over their father’s shame.

Noah woke up… and he knew what Ham had done.   He announces what will happen to all three of his boys:  ““Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.” and “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.  May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.”

Cursed be Canaan?  What father would wish that on a grandson?  But remember, this isn’t a wish.  It is a prophecy.  Noah could see in the behavior of his son, Ham, something that would be passed down to his son and beyond.  Ham’s son would father the Canaanites.  And they would be wickedly sinful… and they would always end up on the bottom of his three sons.

God sought to preserve man in the ark… to save him from destruction… but the seed of sin was carried on within the human heart even after the judgment fell.  Noah’s drunkenness and Ham’s actions are evidences of that.  And quickly the sin of man begins to spread on the earth again.   “These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.” (10:32)

God would need another way to redeem man.  Another stronger ark of safety.  Jesus.

The late Adrian Rogers once preached:  “Noah’s ark is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ in this way: The ark is like a great coffin. It doesn’t have a bow; it doesn’t have a stern; it doesn’t have a helm because it is under the control of Almighty God.   The ark keeps the judgment waters out. God shut Noah, his family, and the animals inside the ark. …  God sealed them in. Nobody could open the door. But, there was a window. Noah could open the window and look up. Do you see the parallel?  Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In whom [Jesus] ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.”  We are in Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. It is in Jesus that we know God the Father. Is it not true that when we come in to Him, we are closed in to look up? The way that we look into heaven is through Jesus Christ, the Ark of Safety.” (source)

How did sin continue on the earth after God had wiped away sinful man?  It sprang from out of the ark… from the depths of their fallen hearts.  Man-made arks can save you from drowning but can do nothing about your sin problem.  And just as Noah’s “perfect” family still turned out little sinners in need of redemption… your family will do the same.  Just as a church can only produce a healthy, safe place to worship and perhaps a good churchman or churchwoman… it cannot make redeemed believers.  That is the work of God.  A church can only expose sin and then point to the Savior.

So: pray for your kids.  Invite friends to your church.  Encourage and counsel lost family members.  But if they don’t turn out right.  It is best to put aside your guilt.

Remember and hope.  You too were a fallen sinner once as well.  And you made it onto the right boat.  Pray that they to will do the same.

Noah: Another Review

NoahGenesis 6:16

No.  I didn’t see Noah (2014 Paramount Pictures).  There was no one reason why.  I’m not a special effects junkie.  I tend to be discouraged by Hollywood’s attempts at bringing the Bible to life.  I was busy.  I just decided to sit this one out.

I didn’t, however, escape from a flood of reviews about Noah.  They were everywhere and were a mixed bag even from within the Christian community.

Christian movie blogger Brian Godawa wrote about what troubled him:  “Flat characters that you just don’t care about. A sick twisted hero that you just don’t care about. Look, I know your hero has to have a character flaw, but this is so extreme that you can’t stand Noah, and you just want to leave the theater.”

Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) wrote:  “Friends, last night I watched the Hollywood (Paramount) movie Noah. It is much, much worse than I thought it would be—much worse. The director of the movie, Darren Aronofsky, has been quoted in the media as saying that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him.”

I was intrigued by a review by Greg Thornbury of The King’s College in New York.  While he had some major theological objections to the film he saw in it some redeeming qualities: “The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.”

This leads me back to another reason I didn’t go see Noah.  I confess I might not give the Bible story that good of a review!  If you look beyond the cute Noah’s Ark set in the church in the nursery, and actually read the story in Genesis… you feel the horror of it all.  It is hard not to see the scene through the eyes of anything but a children’s picture book.  Maybe the film might “set one back on their heels” for the first time.  In the Genesis account, God meant business.  Most of the evil and foolish men He had created were wiped out in this Million year flood.  This is as frightening a plot as any thriller Hollywood has ever dreamed up!

Stories about judgment are never an easy read.  Whether it is in Genesis 6 & 7 (at the Bible’s beginning) or in the Book of Revelation (at the Bible’s end)… these are not stories for the squeamish heart!

But as one stands there contemplating the destruction and the surge of the water don’t forget… the ark!  Yes, the judgment of God was severe and He destroyed just about all flesh on the earth.  There was a completely different perspective just on the other side of the ark’s door.  They were singing Hallelujah!

Four  facts of life we all need to see and embrace from Noah’s tale:

1.  There is a coming judgment for sin.  “…for the earth is filled with violence… I am about to destroy them…” (Genesis 6:13)

2.  A way of escape has been made.  “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood…” (6:14)

3.  We need to enter the escape hatch before it is sealed.   “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded them…” (7:16a)

4.  God is the one who makes the protective seal.  “…and the Lord closed it behind him.” (7:16b)

We can’t hold the waters back with our own efforts of goodness.  There is no human who can provide their own protection.  Only God can do save us.  And He did that in Christ.

Peter writes in the New Testament how: “…God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.  And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (3:20b-21 NLT)

The review from within the ark is a much different one than one from outside its protective walls.  One day the final judgment will take its toll on this earth.  But those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb will find themselves rescued from the wrath of the Lamb.  I don’t deserve such mercy… but I am thankful He saved me.  Like a child protected in their home during a thunderstorm I can sometimes take my salvation for granted.  Help me never to be ungrateful.

How about you?  Have you responded to God?  If not, come to Jesus.  He will not turn you back.

Have you been baptized in order to picture this great saving act of God?  If not, then surrender to His will and be baptized to symbolize what He has done for you.

Hurry, He might be about to seal the door.

 

Standing Out From the Crowd

Genesis 6:7-10standing out in a crowd

An old song I remember from childhood went:  “Noah found grace in the eye of the Lord and He left him high and dry!”

Never being much a fan of water… the lyrics “high and dry” drew me into His grace.  I knew I didn’t want to get wet!

“Pick me, Lord.  Pick me!” was my heart’s cry.  I wanted to stand out from the crowd like Noah and be rescued from the world flood.

As I grew up I discovered that standing out from the crowd came at a price.  I didn’t like standing out from the crowd that much anymore.  My prayers became more like:  “Lord, could you just make me like everybody else?”  “Could you do something about this puny bicep, Lord?”  “Could you shrink my nose a bit?”  Of course that didn’t happen.

The good news is that there came a day when I wanted to stand out again.   A day when I longed to stand out from the crowd… standing in the fields of His grace!  But at 16 the questions became:  “What will make me stand out as worthy of God’s grace or attention?  What will make the Lord “pick” me?”

Genesis 6:8 says:  “…Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (6:8)  How did he do it?  The next few verses give us some ideas.  As does several verses in Hebrews chapter 11.

One thing is clear… it wasn’t something Noah earned by being good.  The word for “favor” here is also translated:  “acceptance” or “grace.”  Note that Noah didn’t “earn” favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Noah was just as sinful as his contemporaries.  Yet God graced this one who “stood out.”

1.  Noah Sought the Lord.

Hebrews 11:6 says:  “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Noah had no goodness to bring… but he could throw himself upon the mercy of God.  In a world as ungodly as his was… being a mercy seeker… caused him to stand out.  And Noah believed that God was a rewarder of those who seek after Him.

2.  Noah Sought to Live Righteously

Genesis 6:9 records that he was a “righteous man, blameless in his time.”  These choices also made him stand out from his peers.  He wasn’t perfect.  No man or woman can be.  But his heart was right.  And he most likely was broken over his sin.  His faith and not his works would save him.  Grace would eventually bloom in Jesus Christ.  (The ark would become a picture of saving grace.  But more on that in the next blog.)

3Noah walked with God.

“Noah walked with God.”  Like Enoch in the chapter before, Noah too had intimacy with the Almighty.   This was displayed by his his actions.

Noah:

Waited…. 120 years of listening to lame giraffe jokes.

Preached… 2 Peter calls him “a preacher of righteousness.”  Noah probably had his share of rotten tomatoes hurled at him.

Entered… (Genesis 7:7) Don’t think that this didn’t require faith. A boat built by one that wasn’t a boat builder that has been stuffed with animals from across the planet. I wouldn’t be at ease being enclosed in such a vessel.

And Waited Some More… (v.8) – One week passed before a single drop of rain fell.

Whether  Noah was called to physical activity (ark building) or to passive activity (waiting on the Lord)… Noah remained faithful.

4.  Noah was a good father.

“Noah became the father of three sons:  Shem, Ham and Japheth.” (6:10)  Why do I even mention this?  Because Noah’s fatherhood is mentioned again and again in the book of Genesis. (5:32; 6:10; 6:13; 9:18-19)  Genesis 10 even records the genealogy of each his children.  In the Hebrews 11 the author notes that Noah: “in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household.” (11:7)

Dad’s obedience was crucial for the survival of this family.  Mom or Dad, your obedience to God is just as crucial for the survival of your children.

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So….in a nation of rebels… How did Noah stand out?  By seeking the Lord’s favor, by living righteously (even if everyone else was not), by possessing an active faith, and by being a good parent to his children.

The question is:  Do you stand out in THIS generation?  God’s desire is for all to come to faith in Him (1 Timothy 2:4).  He wants to choose everybody.  He chooses those who exercise faith in Him.  And like Noah… He leaves them “High and Dry!”

Love is the Whole Ball Game

love is the whole ballgameGenesis 4:1-12

John Ortberg in his book, When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box, has an interesting paraphrase of the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter):  “If I make a fortune, get the cover of Time magazine, and become attractive, comfortable, and secure, but have no love, I have rolled snake eyes. No matter how much I win, if I win alone, I lose. Love is the ball game.” (p. 203.)

In Genesis 4 we encounter the first sibling rivalry.  Cain murders his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage.  When quizzed about his brother’s whereabouts, Cain responds: “How should I know?  Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The source of Cain’s beef with his brother was that God accepted Abel’s animal sacrifice and snubbed his own fruit and vegetable offering.  In other words:  Abel’s work was #1 and Cain’s work was an “also ran.”  So Cain played hard ball and took care of his competition.  Cain’s rival for God’s affection was removed.  So Cain won the struggle with his brother, right?  Of course not!

God says to Cain:  “What have you done?  The voice of you brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”

How we respond to others when they block our goals matters to God.   When we treat with contempt a person that He has created… one precious to Him…  it does NOT escape the hearing of the Almighty! “His blood cried from the ground!” God told Cain.

Abel’s treatment broke the heart of God… for God loved him as His very own.  And God feels the same way about your rivals and your enemies.  And that can be a difficult thing to remember in the heat of competition.   Empathy is an emotion tossed aside when we are denied victory.  So we vent and we back stab and we claw our way to the top…  and in the end we MAY win.  But our win is entered in the loss column.   Life was never about winning or striving for perfection.  It was always about love!

I am called to be my brother’s keeper.  But who is my Abel?  An Abel today could be anyone who has been hurt, abused and discarded by others… anyone oppressed or forgotten.  God still asks of you and I:  “Will we continue to pursue selfish agendas or will we become look out for our brothers and sisters?  The call to love them is rooted here in Genesis… and blossoms in the words of Jesus:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  In the Kingdom of God there is one one game we participate in:  Love.  And it will be that way for eternity!

Author N. T. Wright wrote:  “Love is the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it against the day when God’s world and ours will be brought together forever. It is the music they make in God’s courts, and we are invited to learn it and practice it in advance. Love is not a “duty,” or even our highest duty. It is our destiny.”  (After You Believe, p. 188.)

Go live your destiny!

 

 

Seeing People through Fresh Lenses

Genesis 1:26-27glasses

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sea and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”

Are you a people person?  40 – 60% of the population report that they are shy… so chances are great that you aren’t.    Shy people are often introverts (though there are shy extroverts, of which I am probably one.)  (http://psychcentral.com/lib/facts-about-shyness/000138)   Not being a people person it can be our tendency to look inward first and then outward.  We will never see people… really see people… with this type of vision.

Now I’m not asking you to fight against personality, but I am hoping today to give you a fresh set of glasses.  Did you know that the people you will meet today have been created in the image of God?

C. S. Lewis once remarked:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Wow!  The people you come in contact with today:  “the holiest objects presented to your senses.”  Your spouse.  Your kids.  Your co-workers.  Your service station attendant.  Your barista.

We may never overcome cronic shyness.  That’s okay.  But can we sharpen our vision of our neighbor and love them as ourselves?

Seminary professor and author Robert Pyne shares an intimate story about his oldest son, Steve:

“Steve had open-heart surgery when he was just eight months old. Unfortunately, some countries, doctors, and even some parents would not have allowed him to have that operation, even though it was necessary to save his life. Steve has Down Syndrome, and too many people think that lives like his are not worth saving.My temptation as a proud dad has always been to talk about the things that Steve enjoys doing, how quickly he learned to read, or how sincerely he loves the Lord, to try to convince others that his very happy life was worth saving. On the other hand, my job as a theologian is to say simply this: His life was worth saving because he has inherent dignity as a human being in the image of God. The same is true of little boys who never will learn to read and those whose lives don’t look happy at all.” (Humanity and Sin, pp. 69, 70.)

I have a friend named Kate that started a “Nice” movement.  It is an effort to treat others around us with dignity and respect.  She challenged me to not be negative about anyone for 3 months.  I have failed miserably.  But with each new sun I am challenged not just by Kate, but by the Lord himself.

I live in a world He has created, among people that he has created.  It is my job to see them with “theologically” correct glasses.  Maybe then… and only then… will I see less of me.  And even more of Him!

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Related article from Christianity Today:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2014/may/female-and-made-in-my-fathers-image.html?paging=off

Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!