Tuesday, December 31, 2019

“ARK” Series, Week 5: The Ark of Completion

I think the majority of us knows that feeling of accomplishment, when we’ve worked hard on a project and at the end we step back and and think, wow, I did that. Over the summer,  I built a cabinet as a birthday, slash, anniversary present for my wife. It took several weeks, a lot of trial and error, the blood, sweat, and tears of me and my three kids, but sometime in October, I finished the project. It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned, but I think it turned out pretty good for my first cabinet.
I was pretty proud, and excited to show Marika. So I began the process of moving it to the parsonage. But I quickly realized that I had built it extremely heavy, and it would take more than just me to move it. So I got one of our teenagers, Karl, to help me. But after putting on the trailer and arriving at the house, I realized I needed more help. So I got one of our adult leaders, Gabe to help me and Karl lift the cabinet on to the porch. And that’s when we ran into another problem.
See, when I first drew up the plans for the cabinet, I had envisioned it being two separate pieces that would connect in the middle. But for stability and strength, I built it as one unit. Well, when I did that, I created an unforeseen problem, it was now too big to fit through either entrance door to the house. 
That cabinet stayed on the porch for the next two months, after which we finally moved it into our new house, through a 4x4 window we took out.
But once we got it in to the house, the sense of accomplishment finally came to me. I was finally done with this cabinet, now I could move onto something else.

But it’s this sense of finality, that brings us into our last week of our Christmas series on the Arks of the Bible. In the last four weeks we have covered three Old Testament arks, and one New Testament ark. And if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be looking at one final ark in the New Testament. This last ark is actually a combination of three and we’ll start looking at these starting in the 19th chapter, verse 23 of the Gospel of John.
And as we open up to John 19, verse 23, let’s understand what has gotten us to this point in our Ark series.

We started this series focusing on the word tebah, which is the Hebrew word for ark. The definition of this word describes a box or a chest. But when we looked at the application of this word in the Old Testament, we saw that it was only used in two instances. The first was to describe the boat that God used to save Noah, his family, and the land creatures from the flood. The second time we saw this word used, it described a small basket, which saved Moses from the infanticide that was happening to the Hebrew people. Neither one of these instances matched the definition of tebah, which is a box or chest.
And so we asked the question, is God using this word to help us understand something greater? And as we looked closer, we saw that the first ark represented God’s regret that he had to bring judgment on to his creation in the flood. In the second ark, we saw God hearing his people’s cries of agony as slaves to the Egyptians, and his plan to rescue them from it.
Then something happened, we saw that a new word was introduced that also meant ark, the Hebrew word aron. And like tebah, it’s definition was also that of a box or chest. Except this time, it really was a box or chest. This was the ark that God commissioned the people of Israel to build. This ark went on to be known as the Ark of the Covenant, and became the symbol to the Israelite people of God’s presence with them.
It was here, that we began to see a story of God’s work with humanity. Humanity is sinful and requires the judgment of God to happen, but God’s desire is not for humanity to be destroyed, and so in our agony God moves to enact a plan of rescue, where by he himself will rescues humanity by being present with them. It was here that we talked last week, about how the manger, even though it doesn’t have the word of ark, works as an ark. The manger encompasses the entire story of God and humanity, because it represents every ark that came before it. Which is the story of Christmas: humanity in trouble because of our sin, awaiting the judgment of God that will deal with that sin, but God hears our cries for mercy, and he enters into time and space himself, as Jesus, to take on the punishment that the judgment will bring. And it’s at the moment of the pouring out of God’s judgment on Jesus that we come to our last ark.

Let’s read together John chapter 19, starting in verse 23 where we find Jesus already nailed to the cross.

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The Ark of the Manger and the Ark of the Cross are two interconnected moments in time. The manger represents the moment God entered the world to complete the work he had started in the garden of Eden, when one human, Adam, failed in keeping the command of God, and so allowed sin to be brought into the world. The judgment of God was then placed on every human following, but in God’s mercy, he heard our cries, and provided a way to take the judgment off of us. He himself, came as Jesus, the fully God, fully human being that lived the perfect life that we were created to, but have failed at. And because one man brought sin into the world, all it took was one man to take the judgment of God on himself for all of humanity (Romans 5:12-21).
And in Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” he is not simply speaking of the pain and suffering he had to endure from the beatings and the crucifixion, but rather, he is speaking of the finishing of ark of Regret. The judgment that the first ark represented, was now carried out in the ark of the cross. All the punishment that we are deserving for our sin, is laid upon Jesus in that moment. And as he draws his final breath, everything that was spoken about this moment in the Old Testament was complete.

But that is not the end of it. It’s what follows the ark of the cross that finalizes the other arks of the Old Testament. In the second ark, the ark of Hearing, we talked about how the manger represents Jesus being the bridge between us and God. He is the advocate on our behalf, our connection with God. Through him, we are made right before God the Father, and he speaks on our behalf. Jesus is what Job was calling out for in Job 9. But if Jesus was dead, that advocacy could not be there, so instead, the pathway to Jesus being our advocate opens.

This is pathway is opened because of the ark of the tomb. At the end of chapter 19, we’re told that Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross and buried. After that we get these words in the 20th chapter, “1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

The tomb is empty, because Jesus, God the Son, has raised from the dead, and after 40 days of interacting with his disciples, returns to God the Father, and now, advocates for humanity. This ascension to advocacy, then opens access to the final ark. 

We talked about the third Old Testament ark, being the ark of Presence. We talked about God’s desire has always been to dwell with his people, and how the word Immanuel means God with us. The life time Jesus spent with humanity, was only the beginning of that presence experience. It is through the empty tomb that the way to a moment by moment experience of God’s presence was opened.

Earlier in John chapter 14, Jesus says these words, “15 If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

At Jesus’ resurrection, the presence of God through the Holy Spirit is given to those who accept Jesus’ work on the cross on their behalf. When we accept that we’re a sinner, and we call on Jesus to be the Lord of our life, the Holy Spirit is given to us. God dwells with us, as he has desired to do all along. 
God the Holy Spirit dwells with anyone who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf, acknowledging and turning away from sin, calling on Jesus as Lord. And God’s Spirit dwells with us, because the ark of the tomb is empty, Jesus has returned to God the Father, and Jesus’ words are fulfilled.

These three arks connect us back to the story of all the arks. The ark of the cross connects us to the ark of regret, where God regretted that judgment had to come upon humanity. The ark of the tomb, connects to God’s hearing the cries of the people which the tomb provides an open communication between humanity and God. And the final ark, connects to the ark of the presence, you and I are that final ark. God’s dwelling is with humanity, because he dwells within everyone who has accepted Jesus as their Savior. These three arks, is what I like to call the Ark of Completion. Because within each, everything is finalized. God’s judgment is taken care of on the cross, the empty tomb gives us access to the God who hears us, and the Spirit dwelling in those who have accepted Jesus finalizes God’s desire to be with his people.

This is the end of the Christmas season, that we would fully realize that scope of God’s work on our behalf.  There’s a song called, “I Heard the Bells,” in the second verse of the song, the singer laments that he looks around and there is no peace on earth. And it can be so easy for us to look around this world and lament that God’s work was not accomplished, that Christmas story was just a story, but the peace it said it brought really didn’t happen.
But God wants us to understand that all that needed to be accomplished to bring humanity out of judgment and into the presence of God, has been accomplished. But that’s not the end of his work. And it’s this work that we’re going to pick up in our New Year series starting next week.

But for this week, I want to challenge you with this: If you haven't’ accept Jesus as your Savior, what is holding you back? I would love to have a conversation with you about it. There is no topic I won’t talk about, no challenge that I won’t discuss. What is holding you back from the God who loves you, when all it takes is a recognization of you own sin that we all have, and calling on him as Lord of your life?
If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then I want to ask you, is your life that God is dwelling in right now, honoring him? Do you speak as God speaks? Do you listen as God listens? Do you love, show forgiveness, and seek the good of others as God would? People talk about New Year’s resolutions, I want to challenge you to seek a more God honoring dwelling this year for him. As Jesus himself says in John 14:21, "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”
Let us show the world that we love God, by following him even closer this coming year and having his dwelling in our lives show it.

Let us be God’s people that live in the completion of his work on our behalf through the ark of the cross, the tomb, and our lives. Amen.

“ARK” Series, Week 4: The Ark of God’s Heart

What is the one goal of the majority of young children during Christmas? Isn’t it to get as many presents as they can? For a lot of kids, Christmas is the culmination of all their good deeds throughout the year, hoping that Santa brings them all their heart desires. And when Christmas starts being seen in the stores, and the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” comes on the radio, being on the nice list becomes front and center to their lives. And if you know anything about Saint Nicholas, you would know that he doesn’t take kindly to those on the naughty list. In fact, Saint Nicholas in 325 A.D. was one of the bishops summoned to the first council of Nicacea to discuss issues about Church doctrine and the canon of Scripture. 
During these discussions, while a bishop named Arius was speaking, Nicholas became so upset with the way in which Arius portrayed God the Father and God the Son, that he got up from his seat, walked across the chamber, and to the shock of all the other bishops, slapped Arius in the face for his views.
So when the song says, “You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town,” it should add, and he’s ready to slap some people.”
But it’s this idea that Christmas is a culmination of things, that brings us to this Christmas Sunday and back into our Christmas series “ARK”.
For the last three weeks we have been looking at three of the arks of the Old Testament. Each one adding to the story of God and humanity. Today, begins the culmination of that story.

So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in Luke chapter 2 verse 1. This is the Luke’s perspective of the Christmas story.  See the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth is found in only two places in Scripture, Matthew and Luke. Reading the two together gives us a well rounded view of what was happening at the time of Jesus’ birth. Matthew gives us what happened when Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, then we are fast forward after the birth to the arrival of the Wise Men, then immediately were told of Herod’s killing of children, and the Jesus’ family’s escape to Egypt. 
With Luke, we are given more details of the birth of John the Baptist that proceeds Jesus’ birth. We’re told of the angel Gabriel speaking to Mary and announcing her pregnancy. And finally, a more detailed reason of why Mary and Jospeh were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. And it’s here that we pick up the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2, verse 1.

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius [Ker-een-e-us] was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

For the last three weeks we have discussed three arks, and now here is our fourth ark, the ark of the manger. Let’s dive into why the manger is our fourth ark. First off, the Greek word for manger is, phatné (fat’-nay), which means a couple of things: a cattle-crib; a feeding box for cattle; feeding-trough, a stall, and of course it’s most common form, a manger.
Now, unlike what we have seen the last three weeks, neither the Hebrew word tebah nor aron, the two Hebrew words meaning ark in the Old Testament appear in this passage. In addition, not even the Greek word for ark, kivo̱tós (key-vote-o-s), appears in this passage. So why then is the manger an ark?

Well if you’ve been following along with me for the last three weeks, we’ve been trying to understand what an ark is by Old Testament standards. The reason being, is that the word ark, both tebah and aron, both mean a box or chest. But when put into practical use, tebah is used first of a giant boat and second of a small basket. Aron on the other hand, is used of a box, both in the ark of the Covenant that we talked about last week, and the other two uses of it in the Old Testament.
So the question becomes, what is the proper use of the word ark, when it’s uses runs the gamut from a small basket to a gigantic boat?
It’s here that we showed that the one common use of the word isn’t in it’s strict definition, but rather what it represented. The first ark, was the gigantic boat known as Noah’s Ark; it represented God’s regret that judgment had to come to humanity. The second ark, Moses’ basket at three months old, represented God hearing the cries of humanity. The finally ark, commonly referred to as the Ark of the Covenant, represented God’s desire to have his presence dwell with humanity.

The manger is an ark, not because it uses the Hebrew or Greek words for ark, but rather because it encompasses all of these ideas into itself.

What do I mean by that?

First, let’s take a look at God’s regret that judgment has to come. Speaking of the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah writes in his 53rd chapter, “2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

God judged all of humanity with a giant flood with Noah’s ark, and God is going to judge humanity once again. Except this time, instead of a world wide flood, we get one man taking on the whole of the punishment that we deserve. The manger represents this, because as Matthew records in his Christmas account, the wise men brought three gifts, two of which were used in both religious ceremonies pointing to Jesus’ being a priest and in burial rituals, pointing to Jesus’ death.

The manger also represents God hearing the cries of his people. In Job chapter 9 starting in verse 32, Job cries out to God from a deep despair that recognizes the separation between humanity and God. Listen to what Job says when talking about the gulf between God and people, “32 He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. 33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, 34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. 35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

Job’s cries are answered in the manger, as Paul writes in the second chapter of his first letter to Timothy, it reads, “3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”

The manger is God hearing the cries of humanity, that they are lost in sin, and have no exit. So God creates a way for humanity, and that way goes through the manger, through Jesus.
Finally, the manger represents God’s desire to dwell with his people. In the commonly referred to Christmas passage found in Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, it reads “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” 

Now, in Matthew’s Christmas story, chapter 1 verse 23, we get the interpretation of the name Immanuel, which means God with us. But to take it a little more simple, the name is a combination of two Hebrew words, Im and El. El is the common use of God in the Old Testament, and Im is the word with. So at it’s simplest, Immanuel is God with. God will be with his people. In the manger, he has achieved the purpose of what the Ark of the Covenant was only a symbol of. God’s presence with humanity. Jesus, God on earth. 

Paul, speaking about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, wrote in the second chapter, “6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus, God himself, walking and talking with humanity in a way that had never happened before, yet as always God’s desire happens through the manger. The manger represents, the regret of God’s judgment, God hearing humanity’s cries, and the presence of God with us. The manger roles them all into one, and that’s why it’s the Ark of God’s Heart. 
See, the story of the Bible is simple: God created us to be with him in his presence, but our sin separated us from him, causing God to have to judge us. But in our sinfulness, God found a way to fix the problem of sin and bring us back to him, back to a place of experiencing his presence. The manger, the ark of God’s heart begins that fix. And next week, we will talk about the final ark in our series, the Ark of Completion.
But today, on this Christmas Sunday, if you find yourself not in a personal relationship with God though the Ark of God’s Heart, which means, you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, I want to call you to that relationship. We can all look at our lives, and know we have sin. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we gossip, we lust. We hurt other people with our words, our actions, and even our thoughts. All this is sin, that separates us from the God who loves us, and puts us under his judgment. But, God doesn’t want to leave us there, he came down as Jesus to take on the judgment we are under and the punishment that it brings, so that we wouldn’t have to experience it. That is Christmas. God with humanity to begin the process of bringing us out of sin and back to his presence.
And it’s done through Jesus’ perfect life, and the death he experienced for you and me. And all we have to do is simply accept his sacrifice for us, his taking our place in judgment. And we need to call on him as Lord of our life, turning over our life everyday so that he can live through us. 
Christmas shows us that sin has lost it’s power, because God came to us almost 2,000 years ago, and one day, God will return for us. But more on that next week.

This week my challenge for you is in two parts: First, if you haven’t accept Jesus as your Savior, then do it before Christmas. That would not only be your best gift of the year, but also the best gift for the rest of you life. Everything that I’ll ever receive on Christmas, pales in comparison to the gift of Jesus as my Savior when I was 16. And I want you to have that same life altering gift.
Second, if you have accepted Jesus as you Savior, first take some time to praise him, and then, pick one person before Christmas day, and show them God’s love. It’s that simple. 

Today, let us be the people of God that celebrate Christmas, not for what we get, but for Who we got. We have Jesus, and that’s better than any present we’ll ever receive. Amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

“ARK” Series, Week 3: The Ark of Presence

The clearest Christmas memory I have from my childhood is the time my family went to Colorado for a family reunion. I remember it because of three distinct parts of the trip. First, it was the first, and I think, only time I have ever been on a train. We boarded in Sacramento, California, and made our way to Grand Junction, Colorado. We even had to stop because snow had covered the tracks to point were the train couldn’t proceed for a time. Once we arrived in Colorado, I spent several days with my mom’s extended family. Which is the second part of the trip. I spent those days with my cousins, one of which, I performed the ceremony for her wedding a few years back. The final part of the trip happen when we finally got home. While we were away from the house, there was a 100 year freezing that happened. Which caused the pipes in the house to bust. It was not a fun situation to return to, with a whole section of our garage underwater.
But out of all the Christmas I’ve had, and all the gifts that I’ve been given, that one Christmas stands out as a clear memory, above everything else. And the main reason is because I spend a lot of time on an adventure with my family. 

And it’s this idea of being with people that we come back to our Christmas series on the Ark of the Bible. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in Exodus chapter 25, verse 1 today. And as we open our Bibles to Exodus 25, verse 1, let’s look back to the two previous weeks, to see where we’re at in this series.

When we started this series two weeks ago, we started with the Hebrew word and definition of the word ark. We talked about how the word is tebah (tay-baw), which means a chest or box.
But when we looked at the first use of this word, it wasn’t exactly what I would use to describe what we saw. The first use of the word ark instead, was used of a giant boat that help Noah, his family, and the animals of the earth survive a major flood.
As we dove into this ark, we walked away calling this ark, the Ark of Regret, with Rescue. Because God regretted that he had to bring judgment upon the people for thinking of nothing but evil, but he provided a rescue for them as well. 
Then, moving on to last week, we saw the second use of the word tebah in the Old Testament. This time not referring to a gigantic boat with all of the earth’s creatures, but rather a small basket containing one three month old baby. This baby was saved, not from a flood, but from the infanticide that took his fellow Hebrew people. Eventually, the baby was adopted as a son by the Pharaoh’s daughter and named Moses. He eventually killed a man, ran away, had an experience with God in a burning bush, returned to his home, and was used by God to rescue the Hebrew people from the enslavement of the king of Egypt. We walked away calling Moses’ basket, the Ark of Hearing, because God heard the cries of his people and he saved Moses to use him to bring about their freedom. 
But one of the biggest take aways that I want us to see, is that God’s use of the word ark, does not necessarily follow the definition of the word. Instead of a box or chest, we’ve gotten a boat and a basket.

So, the first two arks of this Christmas series are done, and we have two to go before we get to Christmas.

Now, let’s turn are attention to Exodus 25, verse 1.

1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

Let’s stop there. Moses, the one who was saved by the last ark, is now the leader to the whole of the Hebrew people. And he alone, is the direct communicator with God. This isn’t by God’s design, but rather by the people’s. God was too overwhelming for them, so they asked Moses to be the one to communicate with him directly.
So God speaks to Moses and tells him to have the people bring a offering of assorted goods. This offering is to be used to create a sanctuary, which will later be called both a tent, and a tabernacle.
Now, we get the reason for why this sanctuary is going to be built at the end of verse 8, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”

So the sanctuary is going to be a sort of house for God on earth. The word dwell is the Hebrew word shakan (shaw-kan'), which simply means to dwell, rest, or settle on something. It’s first used of God, in Exodus 24:16, where it says, “and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” If you have ever heard the term shekinah glory, this is where we get it from. God’s shakan, his presence dwelling or resting on something. 

This same word that described God settling on Mount Sinai, is now being used by God to convey that he wants a movable dwelling that goes with the people as they move forward to the land that he’s bringing them to. This dwelling is the sanctuary, the tent, or the tabernacle he is now calling them to build.
So what’s the first thing God tells Moses to build for this sanctuary? It’s an ark. But the Hebrew term used for this ark isn’t tebah, it’s aron (aw-rone). Now the definition is basically the same; aron means chest. What’s interesting about this word is unlike tebah, which is used only in two instances in the Old Testament, once to talk about Noah’s Ark and the other to talk about Moses’ ark, aron is used 202 times. But it is used in connection with three different ideas.
The first time aron is used, it’s to talk about a coffin in Genesis 50:26. Another time aron is used is in connection to same offering box that is mentioned in both 2 Kings 12:9-10 and 2 Chronicles 24:8-11. In total these two mentions correlate to the word being used six times. That means that the third use of the word is by far it’s most common form at 196 times. This use of the word is for the first thing that God tells Moses to build for the sanctuary. Let’s drop down to verse 10 of Exodus 25.

“Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.”

Finally an ark that fits the definition of a box or chest. This ark is about 3 1/2 feet long, by 2 1/2 feet wide and high. Which is a rectangular box. 
It’s the first thing that is commissioned to be made, and as we find out later, it is to be placed in the most inner part of the sanctuary called the holy of holies. 

Now, let’s fast forward to Exodus 40 verse 34, we’re skipping over all the other things that are commissioned and the building process so the we can get to the end product. After everything is done for the sanctuary, the people set it up, and place everything where it’s supposed to go. Then we get to verse 34 of chapter 40 in Exodus.

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

God’s presence shakan, settled, dwelled in the sanctuary. And when it was time to go, God’s presence left the sanctuary and led the way. And when it was time to stop and stay a while, the cloud would stop, the tent was set up, and the presence of God would shakan on the sanctuary (Numbers 9:15-23).
Later, after Moses had died, a new leader took his place. His name was Joshua. God told Joshua to have the ark of the sanctuary lead the way into the land of Canaan, because the ark was the representation of God’s presence with the people. So much so, that centuries later David writes in Psalm 132:8, “‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” Or as the Amplified version makes clear, “Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark [the symbol] of Your strength.”
In fact, it’s this deep connection between God’s manifested presence and strength in physical objet of the ark, that has led some scholars, with the NIV translators being some of those, to translate, Psalm 78 verse 61 as, “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy.” In the case of this Psalm, the people had been in rebellion, so God allowed their enemies to overtake them, and allowed the representation of his presence, the ark, with the Hebrew people to be lost to them. Scholars use the word ark in this passage, even though the word in Hebrew aron doesn't appear here, because the connection between God’s manifested presence and strength is so deeply connected to the ark as an object, they let us know, that it is the ark that is being given to the enemies. And therefore the a physical expression of God’s presence leaving the people because they have turned their backs on him.

All this to say, that the ark that is commissioned by God to be placed in the sanctuary, that would eventually be commonly referred to as the Ark of the Covenant, is what I like to call the Ark of the Presence. Because it was so closely connected by the Hebrew people to where this ark was seen as the presence of God on earth.

As I reflect on this, I am reminded, that it is so easy in our lives to think that God is far away. That when we’re going through hard times, and we cry out to God, he doesn’t seem to be around. And the feeling of not having him near when you’ve experienced him before, makes the absence seem so much deeper.
Too often I have had conversations with our youth after a camp. Where at the camp they’re on fire. They’re ready to take on the world, but a few weeks later, they don’t have that same feeling, that same emotional high. I have talked with youth that say they don’t feel God’s presence when they’re not on that mountain and so their desire for him burns out.
And it breaks my heart, because I know God’s desire is to be with his people, but too often we allow the world around us to push out the presence of God in our lives. Not that he is gone, but rather we miss the fact that he is there. That he is shakan, resting on all those who have accept Jesus as their Savior. If we are not experiencing the presence of God, it is not because God doesn’t want us to, but rather we have allowed something to shakan, rest on us, that isn’t him.

This week I want to challenge you to seek the presence of God in three ways. First through his word; I want to challenge you to read Exodus 40, verses 34-38 and reflect on it for the next week every single day. Asking God to reveal his presence in a deeper way.
Second, I want to challenge you to listen to the song, “What do I know of Holy”, by Addison Road. A beautiful song that challenges us to think deeply of who God is when we are in his presence.
Third, praise God for his desire to be with us. You and I are not worthy of God’s presence, yet he wants to be with us anyway. That’s praise worthy.

This week, let us as a community of believers, move deeper into the presence of God, so that in all things we may know him as he desires us to know him. And that we would be know as a people found in the presence of our God. Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

“ARK” Series, Week 2: The Ark of Hearing

This time of year brings with it some of the saddest TV commercials. And you know when those sad commercials are coming on, because most commercials have this really upbeat music that is suppose to get you excited for the product. But not the sad commercials, their music is usually somber and with a lot of string instruments to really get at the heart. Then the pictures start. A little girl with dirt on her face, outside a shack, and the streets are muddy. Or the sad looking dogs behind chain link fences. And it crushes you to watch these images, because these children and animals seem to be abandon with no hope.
Recently my wife and I just watched the movie, Instant Family with Mark Wahlberg. The story follows a married couple who take on three foster kids. At first they decide to just take on a teenager, but as they discuss it with the agency, the agents show the couple that she has two younger siblings. The dad gets up and yells out, why would you show us their pictures, their cute, now we have to say yes. Those agents did it, for the same reason those commercials are done the way they are.
People that put them together know what it takes to pull on our hearts, and we tend to feel bad if we don’t resound. I’ve got to the point, where I try to avoid those commercials. As soon as I hear that sad music, I desperately search for the remote, because if I don’t, my heart strings get tugged and I get kind of down. And I’m not saying it’s bad to recognize the hurt of other people, it’s actually really good, but when you start to think of all the people and all animals that are in those situations, it can be overwhelming, because the reality is, we can’t help them all. And when you realize you are powerless to do something, it makes watching those commercials all the more difficult.

But it’s this idea of people feeling abandoned that brings us to our second week in our Ark Series. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in the book of Exodus chapter 1, starting verse 8.

As we open to Exodus 1:8, let’s talk about where we’re at in this Christmas series. Last week we began talking about the arks of the Bible. We looked at the Hebrew word for ark, which was tebah (tay-baw). This word means a chest or box. But when we looked at the first use of the word in Scripture, we found that it was used to describe a boat, which is not the first image that pops into my head of a box or chest. And really stretching the definition a bit. We then talked about how this boat, was used by God to carry out both a judgment upon the people, and as a way to save humanity. We talked about how this ark represented God’s regret that humanity used his gift of creation to make evil, and how the ark represented God’s rescue of people so as to not utterly destroy them.

We walked away from the first week with two observations. First, the Bible’s use of what an ark is, is more than it’s common definition. And second, God used the idea of the ark to bring about both his judgment and rescue. Now, let’s move further into the Scriptures, where we’ll see the next use of the word ark. Let’s read together from Exodus chapter 1, starting in verse 8.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

In the opening verses of the book of Exodus, we get a situational update on the state of the Israelite nation. At the end of the last book of Genesis, God had led the Israelites to the nation of Egypt to escape a large famine. God did this by using an Israelite named Jospeh, which brought about prosperity for the Israelite people, and security for Egypt. 
But then, sometime after Jospeh died, there was a king change in the land of Egypt. I once heard an Old Testament scholar say that what might have happened, was the king during Joseph's time was an outside conquer who conquered Egypt. This would make sense that he would have no problem allowing a Israelite to become so great in his kingdom. But eventually the Egyptians overthrew that outsider king’s descendants and saw the Israelites as a potential problem. Hence the reason the new king thought the Israelite would join Egypt’s enemies.
So the new king decides to enslave the Israelites, so that they would be too weak to challenge him. 
When the hard labor didn’t work, the king tried to curb the Israelite’s population by conducting infanticide. Trying to kill any male offspring. But if we continue to read, the midwives who were conscripted to do this wouldn’t participate in such an action, so the king calls on all of the Egyptian people to help. And it seems the Egyptian people responded by participating in the infanticide. And it’s in the midst of the king’s killing of children that we pick up the story in chapter 2 verse 1.

1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

Here is the birth of Moses. Like we said last week when talking about the flood and Noah’s Ark, if you’ve been to Sunday school, or have been in the church for a number of years, you probably know this story. Really, you don’t even need to have gone to church at all, because Hollywood has turned this story into several movies, both live action and animated. 
So as we look at this story, we have to come at it with a desire to see it with fresh eyes. Because if we don’t, then we’ll miss the connection of each of these arks.

Let’s go back into the passage, because we’re talking about the arks of the Old Testament, but we might have missed where the ark showed up here. Let’s re-read verse 3.

3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.

Did you catch it? Most English translations describe what the basket Moses was put in looks like. But the Hebrew reads like this, “But when no longer she could hide him then she took for him an ark of bulrushes and pitch and dabbed it with asphalt and put the child in it.”

That word for ark, is the same root word that we saw back in Genesis 6:14 last week. And what’s even more interesting, is the fact that so far in Scripture, it has only been used in two places. The first ark was Noah’s boat, and now the second ark is Moses’ basket. 

Neither of these arks really follow the definition of what an ark is, but instead point us to what the importance of what these arks contain. In Noah’s case, the ark held the animals and people, both to be rescued by God from his judgement. In Moses’ case, the ark holds a three month old baby boy that is spared from the infanticide around him. And why is that important? Let’s jump over to chapter 3 verse 7.

As we do that, let me fill you in with the story between these two points, if you’ve never heard it in church, or if you’ve never watched any one of the movies based on it. Moses grows up in the king’s court, an adoptive son of the daughter of the king. One day, Moses sees the cruelty done to the Hebrew people, which leads him to kill a man. He then runs for his life. He eventually finds himself in Midia, where he creates a life for himself.  He marries a daughter of the priest Jethro, and becomes a shepherd. By the time we catch up with him in chapter 3 verse 7, Moses is about 80 years old. One day he’s out with his sheep when he sees a bush on fire, but the fire isn’t consuming the plant. So Moses investigates, he then hears a commanding voice come from the burning bush that claims to be the God of his ancestors, and Moses becomes afraid. Let’s pick up the purpose of conversation in Exodus chapter 3, verse 7.

7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

In this brief exchange between God and Moses, we can quickly come to an understanding of why Moses was saved in that ark. God saved him to bring the Israelite people out of the harsh treatment they were experiencing from the Egyptians. And God’s intention is not to just save his people, but to also judge the Egyptians for their cruelty.

After a back and forth with God, Moses reluctantly agrees, and we end up seeing ten plagues come into Egypt, each one attacking one of the Egyptian gods that were falsely worshiped. And at the end of the story, God shows himself to be greater than any other in the land of Egypt. And through this, we again see the judgment and rescue of humanity. Both found, not in a giant boat, but a small basket.

As I reflect on this passage, the idea to call this ark, the ark of hearing, comes to my mind. Because God heard the cries of his people and acted to deal with the injustice. 

And again, God uses an ark to bring about judgment and rescue. It is here, that I hope we begin to see both pattern and a non-pattern. The non-pattern is the ark’s definition, which is a chest or box, yet in the first two instances in the Bible, the ark has been a gigantic boat, and a small basket. Both, in some sense fitting the definition, but both vastly different than the imagine of what a box or chest brings to mind. We need to recognize this, because God’s use of the word ark, is not the same as the definition of the word ark. Whereas the word ark is simply a box or chest, God’s use of it is that of something that contains something very important that deals with judgment and rescue. This is the pattern, in both biblical uses of the word ark at the beginning of Scripture, we see a pattern of judgment and rescue connecting them.

As I have meditated on this story and read and re-read it this year, it hits me that this whole story takes place over a period of at least 80 years. It starts with Moses being born just after the decree to start killing babies happens in chapter 3. He is saved at three months. By the time he grows up, leaves, and then returns to Egypt, about 80 years pass. And as I think on this time frame that it took God to respond to the people’s cries for help, I wonder if the people thought that God had abandon them?
I mean, I have a problem when God doesn’t respond after a couple of minutes, and yet here we see that the people had to wait 80 years for God’s rescue. They might have felt abandon, yet God was at work that entire time. He prepared Moses’ ark before they cried out, and then worked to bring about his judgment upon the Egyptians, and the rescue of the Israelites through the little boy he saved in that ark. 
All this reminds me that though there are times when I don’t think God’s working, the reality is, he’s already been dealing with what I will eventually need, even before I cry out to him. And when I bring my needs before him, I can trust that he is all ready at work, even if it takes more time than I think it should.

I want to challenge you this week to recognize the ark of hearing that God is already working on in your life. 
This week, if you’re seeking God to move and deal with something in your life, I want to challenge you to praise him for him already working on it. Let us not fall into the mindset that God is too busy, isn’t interested, or our problem too small for him, but rather let us realize that he is already at work providing a solution to our situation. We need to be praising him that our situation is in his hands, trusting him to deal with it. But as we praise and trust him, we must be willing to wait patiently, who knows, it might take 80 years, but God’s on it.

Let us be God’s people who are waiting on his work to be carried out, and satisfied in the knowledge that he has not abandon us. Let us not take our eyes off of him, praising him as we wait. Amen. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

“ARK” Series, Week 1: The Ark of Regret

When my wife and I discipline our children we try to relay the understanding that the discipline is necessary because we are trying to curb their behavior that could eventually get them into trouble. If they steal now, we discipline them so that they don’t steal when their older and receive jail time. If they lie now, we discipline them so they don’t lie later and lose their job. We try to help them understand that when we do bad things, discipline becomes  a necessary, though not really enjoyable, responsibility of a parent. 

And it’s this understanding of necessary discipline that brings us into our Christmas series. Where we’re going to be opening first to Genesis chapter 6. So if you have your Bibles, let’s open together to Genesis chapter 6 verse 5. And as we do that, I want to share with you a little about how we came to this particular sermon series.

Last November, as I was preparing for our last Christmas series, I stumbled upon something that I found very interesting. And I thought that it would be the basis for that past series. But as I dug into it and prayed about it, I realized that I needed more time with it before moving forward. 
Fast forward to today, and we’re going to be embarking on a journey where we are going to talk about the four arks of the Bible. In these next four weeks, we’re going to see how God’s provisions throughout the Old Testament with three arks, points to the final ark that arrives at the beginning of the New Testament.

First, before we can jump into today’s ark, we need to know a little bit about the word. Why? Because there are different variations of the word ark in Hebrew, but we don’t always translate those words, as ark in modern English. 

So, the Hebrew root word for ark is tebah (tay-baw’), this word is found in numerous places throughout the Old Testament, with different additions to the word in different contexts. The first of these is, hat-te-bah (ha-tey-baw), which is most extensively used between Genesis chapters 6 through 9. The root word tebah (tay-baw) means two very simple things, a box or a chest. Now this is important because we’ll see that the word used for ark, doesn’t necessarily mean a box or chest, but rather something that contains important objects.

But let’s get into the passage, see what it’s saying about what God’s use of the word ark is.

Genesis chapters 6 through 9 is the story of Noah and the flood. If you have ever been to Sunday school, or been in the church long enough, you’ve heard this story.
But, as we jump into this tried and true biblical story, we need to look at it with fresh eyes to discover the consistent line of thought that moves it’s way from the beginning of the Bible, to it’s conclusion. 

Let’s begin this Christmas time in Genesis chapter 6 verse 5 were we’ll discover God’s ark for humanity.

5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

In these opening verses to the flood story, we get a synopsis of the world in which our story takes place. Every person on the earth had become engulfed in wickedness. So much so, that were told, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was evil.” That word for inclination in Hebrew is yetser (yay’-tser), which means to form for purpose. In other words, every thought of the humans was focused on forming evil plans to be carried out.

Then in verse 6, we’re told that God regretted making humanity. Now, that seems like it means that God made a mistake that he’s sorry for, but the Hebrew word nacham (naw-kham’), is deeper than simple regret. The word means to be moved to pity. Or in other words, God isn’t regretting making man, as if he made a mistake, but rather, his heart breaks for them because of what he has to do next, he has to judge them.
In other words, God is reflecting on how the situation has gotten this bad, and now, he has to pass judgment on the people, which gives him no pleasure in carrying out. 

My wife has relayed to me a situation where her father had to come down to her room to dull out a spanking. She remembers as her father talked about the act, she could see that he was feeling the pain of carrying out the discipline. This is God’s heart at this moment. The heart of a father, who does not want to carry out the discipline, but knowing that it needs to be done. 
So as we go into the story of the Flood, we can see the heart of God breaking over the coming events. But there is a glimmer of hope for humanity, Noah has found favor by God. This is huge, because it gives God a way to pass judgment and to continue creation. And it’s then that we are given the process in which God will show his love for humanity, even in the coming judgment.

Let’s drop down to verse 13, where we pick up God’s description of events to Noah.

13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

It’s here that we get our first ark, and if you notice, this isn’t a simple box or chest, but a large boat. This ark is what I’m going to call the ark of God’s Regret and Rescue.

The ark that Noah is to build, represents the regret of God in having to dull out judgment and punishment on the world. Yet in that regret, he provides a way of rescue for humanity and the other creatures. 

God regrets that his crowing jewel of creation has taken themselves to a place where every thought was focused on creating more evil. God now regrets, as a father loving his child, that he has to now give out discipline befitting the crime. Every aspect of creation is becoming tainted with the sin of people, and so every aspect of creation receives the punishment that is to come. God’s heart becomes troubled, but there is hope. Noah has found favor, and provides God the way in which to rescue humanity. 

God has him build and ark and place animals in them to continue creation. Then, 120 years pass, and Noah builds the ark awaiting the judgment of God. This 120 years gives ample time for people to repent and join Noah. Even when the people’s minds have nothing in them but evil, God still gives time before the judgment for people to repent. But we see the only ones who go with Noah, is just as God said, his wife, sons, and daughter in-laws. 

Then the time comes, the rain begins to fall. Noah and his family enter the ark, and in verse 16 of chapter 7, we’re told, “The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.”

I want to take a moment and to think on those six words, “Then the Lord shut him in.” At that moment, God’s regret must be at it’s peak, because God himself literally closes the door and the only opportunity for anyone else to be saved. In a sense, shutting the door on thousands of lives that would not be saved, but die in their sin.
To me, this scene shows us the wholeness of God. He is both Judge of sin, and Father of love. Though the people were intent on evil, God gave them an additional 120 years to repent, and they didn’t. So he himself takes on the role of closing the door, making him solely responsible for carrying out judgment on the people. 
In one act, God simultaneously closes the door on those who have rejected him, and provides a rescue for the future of humanity. 

This is the ark of regret and rescue. Regret that it had to come to this, and rescue that there is still a path to him.

In this first ark of the Bible, we see God’s heart for humanity. A deep hurt that we cause to God by our sin. He regrets that he made us, in so far as to see us succumb to evil. But even in that, he still finds away to bring us out of our sin, and back to himself.

The story of the flood ends with God making a promise and giving a sign. God says in Genesis 9:13, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” In the sign of the rainbow, we again see God’s regret that this destruction had to occur, but he makes a promise that this type of judgment would never occur again.

But this won’t be the last ark that God uses to save humanity.

In the Old testament it’s easy to see the God’s judgments as him simply dolling out punishment, over and over again. But the reality is, God desires for us to come to him actually stays his hand at the judgments that we are deserving. And even when he gives out his judgment, there is still hope of experiencing his grace.
The ark of Regret and Rescue, is the ark that shows us just how deeply God hurts from our actions and his needed response to them. And yet, God loves and provides a way to escape his judgment and enter his grace.

My challenge for you this week is simple. Take a moment of reflection and ask yourself, what am I doing right now in my life that would cause God to regret the discipline he has to take me? Take time to repent of those thoughts, or actions that would bring you into places that God doesn’t want to take you. 
But then praise him, because he is the God of rescue. God’s desire is to bring you to himself, and he will do whatever he can to do just that. Praise him, that he provides the ark of regret and rescue, because it shows that he is the God who cares deeply for us, and desires that nothing should separate us from him.

Let us be people who would find favor in God’s eyes, that we would be those called to the ark that would save us from the floods of our own lives.. Amen.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

No One Talks About it Series: Week 7 - At the Heart of the Matter

I have three kids, each precious in their own way. Each one has a very outgoing personality, and all have their own unique traits. And since they were little, I have heard the same thing from people, “They’re so cute.” After a while I started replying, “From a distance.” Because the reality is, they are cute from a distance. Their personalities are fun, and when you don’t have to be around them all the time, they’re really fun. 
But then when they get comfortable with you, they’re not so much as cute, as they are cute mixed with chaos. But every time I say, “From a distance,” I inevitably get the response, “Oh their angels and you know it. Well I have a response for that too, “Lucifer was an angel.”
But there is something good about young children. They may lie, but their lies are usually so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. When they’re upset, they really are upset, with tears that cold fill a small pond. And when they’re tired, they just curl up, and you think to yourself, glad that’s over for the day. But children seem to have this innate goodness that a lot of us gravitate to. 

And it’s this idea of the innate goodness of people that brings us to the end of our “No One’s Talking About It” series. In the past six weeks, we’ve covered some of the ex-worship leader and song writer for Hillsong church, Marty Sampson’s reasons for why he is leaving the Christian faith.
We’ve talked about how he says no one talks about preachers who fall, and so we responded with how we need to be praying for people.
We’ve talked about how no one talks about there not being many miracles today, and so we responded how we need to seek God for who he is rather than what we can get from him.
We’ve talked about supposed Bible contradictions, when the reality is, the Bible is actually harmonious when we allow it to be understood in the context in which is was written.
We’ve talked about how God doesn’t send people to hell on a whim, but rather hell is the last action of a loving God to a person who completely rejects him.
We’ve talked about how all of humanity has sought truth for thousands of years, yet Jesus says he is truth, the only way to truth, and only in him can we experience truth.
And finally, last week, we talked about how modern science isn’t piercing the Bible, making it obsolete, but rather, science is finally catching up to the deep hints that the Bible points to about creation.
Six weeks we’ve talked about those things that Sampson says are not being talked about in the Christian Church. And to each one, we have given a response to Sampson’s reasons to why he is leaving the faith.

So the obvious question then is, if we were able to answer these questions, why wasn’t he? He says no one talks about these topics, but just doing a quick Google search, we can find page after page, and video after video, addressing each and everyone of these. So why is Sampson walking away from his faith based on easily answered objections?

To answer this question, I want us to go to the last part of his online post, because it’s in that quote that I think we will find the real reason why he is leaving the faith.

Sampson writes, “Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
“All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”

There are several statements that he makes in the last part of his post. “I’ve never been about living my life for others.” “All I know is what’s true for me right now…” “Some things are good no matter what you believe.” “Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Statements like these reveal something, that I don’t think Sampson intended to reveal. By saying these things, Sampson thinks that he is trying to communicate that he is living the life that best suits him. Love, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, and just doing good, are all things that he thinks we all do no matter what our religion, and so Sampson is saying that life is just about doing what is good, no matter the god you believe in and that’s true living. And to top it all off, he gives a little worldly wisdom of there’s always a brighter tomorrow.

Sampson’s intent is to show that he isn’t a bad guy, and that all of us just need to be good to each other. It doesn’t matter what or who we believe, because it is all the same. And in his trying to be inclusive, he reveals that he truly doesn’t understand the God of the Bible, and the world around him.

I’ve run into this belief a lot. People talk about the innate goodness of humanity, never realizing that the goodness they see, is actually a result of the goodness of God. We touched on this idea back when we talked about hell. Hell is the absence of God’s goodness. In this world, we experience good things, because God originally created it to be good. And so even in this world’s fallen state we still get to experience moments of that goodness. But hell, is the complete absence of the goodness of God, that means, even on a bad day here, there’s still God’s goodness. Whereas hell is the worst day of deep dark depression multiply by thousand every moment.

But let’s back up and take a look at the goodness of the world without God. Taking God completely out of the equation, what do we have? Atheist William Provine in his book, Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible, says, “No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there any absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life…”
In his debate with Christian apologist Frank Truek, atheist David Silverman stated, “There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion.”
In his book, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, atheist Julian Baggini writes, “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are… moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error…”
Finally, atheist John Steinrucken, in his book Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity, writes, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!”

There is a consensus among atheist scholars and philosophers that without God as a  moral standard, morals or what we say are good and bad, are merely a personal or social belief. Having no absolute authority over anyone.
So what does the absence of God from the world look like, when all we have to go on is the goodness of humanity? Well, you get people like Josef Stalin who said, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” Or Vladimir Lenin, “Russians are too kind, they lack the ability to apply determined methods of revolutionary terror.” That flies in the face of Sampson saying, being kind absolutely.

What about the physical results of such belief? Well, you get 61,911,000 murdered in the Soviet Gulag; you get 35,236,000 murdered in communist Chin;, 20,946,000 murdered under the Nazis; and if you combined just the communist regimes in the world, you 131,501,000 people killed in the 21st century alone. Why are we focused on these regimes? Because at their heart they’re atheistic. Vladimir Lenin once said of Marxism, “Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism. Of the theory and practice of scientific socialism. Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.”
See the absence of God results in a goodness that is based solely on the whims of people, which tend to lead to the deaths of those who are deemed expendable.

Now a common objection that is out there is, “Well this might all be true, but religion has caused more wars than any other reason in the world.” But the reality is, that’s completely false. In their three volume set called the Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Dr. Alan Axelrod reviewed 1,763 major wars over the course of written human history. As they categorized all these wars, religion only occurred in about 7% of those wars, but had additional factors as to why they were being fought. That means 93% of wars throughout history were based, not on religion, but on the supposed goodness of humanity.

In other words, religion is a small reason for the wars in all of human history, what is the main cause? You and I. We are the cause of war, why? And this is where Sampson misses the God of the Bible. 
God calls us out of war and conflict and into his goodness. Jesus says in Mark 10:18, “No one is good—except God alone.” James later in the New Testament writes, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (1:17)”

God is good, and things that Sampson brings up, Love, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, those things only come from God, and without who he is, being left to ourselves, we reject all of them.

In an interview on the youtube channel Unbelievable, the agnostic author Tom Holland reveals his realization of where his morality comes from. He speaks of the Roman world and how alien it is to him, even though, the thought his morality came from it. Listen to how he describes it.

Sampson doesn’t realize that the goodness that he thinks comes from an innate human ability, really only comes from the God of the Bible. And he shows that his goodness is really a self serving one, when he states, “I’ve never been about living my life for others.” In the context, he’s saying that if people want to unfollow him, that’s fine, he’s not putting on a show for them. But with those words, Sampson reveals that his desire isn’t the true goodness of God, because the true goodness of God is a servant attitude. As Paul writes in Philippians 2, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

After spending these past seven weeks reading and re-reading Sampson’s words about leaving the faith, I have come to this conclusion: None of the reasons he gives are the real reason he is leaving. Instead, it it his desire to follow himself, rather than God, that he has decided to leave the Christian faith. He either has lost sight of who God is, or never understood him in the first place. Either way, this should break our hearts. We need to be in prayer for those who are struggling in their faith. We need to find ways to build them up, and show them the love of God, curbing our judgment for grace.
And for ourselves, we need to cultivate a servant’s mindset and heart. We need to have the attitude of Christ, because when we serve others, we see the true goodness of God.

As we wrap up this series, my challenge for you this week, is to pray for those struggling in their faith, please start with Sampson. Then, seek God to create in you a servant’s attitude that reflects him. Every question has an answer, but the the greatest answer is what Paul says about you and I, when he writes to the Colossian Church, “27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Let us be revealers of Christ, who is in us, to the world around us, so that those who seek goodness, would find it in the only place it can be found, which is Christ Jesus. Amen.