Biblical Persecution vs. American Persecution

I was initially disappointed to hear the news of Houston’s city attorney filing a subpoena for five pastors’ sermons. Houston was our home for five wonderful years. We love and miss the city. Not only that, but overall I’m a fan of Mayor Parker. I think she has been an exceptional mayor, so this news was troublesome. Based solely on the facts I’ve read online, I have tried to answer the following questions regarding the subpoena of the pastors’ sermons for myself: Is it Overreach? Yes. Is it Unconstitutional? I can only assume, though I claim to be no expert. Is it persecution? Hmmm… You know what, for the time being, let’s just say yes, this is persecution. As followers of Jesus, what’s our response? PERSECUTION 101 I’ve seen Christians on Facebook and Twitter quote from the United States Constitution, the Texas Bill of Rights, and even from America’s founding fathers. What I’ve yet to see is anyone cite the New Testament and its teaching on what we do when faced with persecution. Granted, I’m currently sensitive to this topic and at least one passage is fresh on my mind because I taught about it last Sunday in my series on Hebrews. The passage is from Hebrews chapter 10. In an effort to encourage his church to hold firm in their faith, the Preacher reminds them about “the good old days” and suggests they get back to how things used to be. He says:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

It’s difficult to teach from a passage like that one – one that reminded the Church of how wonderful it was to be truly persecuted – and then read this week’s comments from those who are aghast at a constitutional infraction. The way American Christians respond to suffering, persecution, and injustice is not consistent with the teachings of scripture. In fact, we’ve got it completely inverted. We have become notorious for looking away from racial, gender, and systemic injustices in society while vehemently defending perceived injustice against us. In scripture, God’s people are told to uphold justice and fight for the oppressed, yet are never told that we are the oppressed. Even in the Hebrew scriptures when the Israelites were captives and slaves, they were never told to see themselves as the victim. When they cried out, their cries were to God, not to Pharaoh, not to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Pilate. They believed God when he said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” The people were bound by simple commands, even in the face of persecution and slavery: love God and love your neighbor. Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. The same was true for the early Church in the New Testament: suffering and oppression and even death were part of the job. They were to be expected. We are never the victims. We are never the oppressed. We are “aliens and strangers” whose citizenship is in heaven. Author and theologian Simon Chan wrote in his book Spiritual Theology:

The cure for worldliness is seeing the world for what it really is: passing away.

Why should we fear those who can only kill the body when we follow the One who can heal the soul? What does it matter if we work much harder, go to prison more frequently, get flogged more severely, and are exposed to death again and again when the power of him who raised Christ from the dead lives also in us? The world and its desire pass away, and if God is for us, then who on earth could be against us? JESUS TAUGHT US HOW TO SUFFER More than anything else, don’t we follow a Savior who walked willingly to the cross, who showed us the way of love as the Suffering Servant, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, whose humble posture even won over a hardened Roman soldier who just hours before was flogging him and driving nails through his wrists and feet? We don’t win over the world through power, bombs, money, votes, litigation, or angry Facebook posts. We win over the world by humbly submitting ourselves as servants, even to the point of death. We win over a world that’s given up on us by being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. That’s the way Jesus carved out for us to follow. There are people suffering oppression – real oppression – around the world. There are Christians in the Middle East praying against all odds that ISIS won’t make it to their town, that a masked terrorist won’t knock on their door, that their children won’t be executed in the streets and their wives sold as sex slaves. There are followers of Jesus in Egypt still facing loss of their homes and even death. May we be mindful of them and their suffering, pray with them for peace, and take action when we’re able. And may we not belittle their suffering with cries of injustice in our country of wealth, safety, and comfort. ARE WE THE OPPRESSED OR THE OPPRESSORS? We must also acknowledge the suffering and oppression the Church inflicts and has inflicted on others. Gay teenagers make up one of the largest populations of homeless people in America. Some of them are homeless because they come from Christian homes and their parents refuse to live with a gay child. Historically, the Church has been guilty of excluding, ignoring, or even condemning those who: are divorced, are mixed-race couples, vote for the “wrong” candidate, cannot or do not dress appropriately, cannot or do not show personal responsibility, have been incarcerated, prostitute themselves, dance, drink alcohol, smoke, struggle with addiction, believe in evolution, have had an abortion, are mentally or physically disabled, suffer from depression, etc. etc. etc. May we repent of our own oppression forced upon others. May we repent of the injustices to which we daily turn a blind eye. May we recall those who have suffered before us and joyfully take our place in a long line of sufferers. If this is truly the beginning of the “Liberal-Gay-Media-Muslim-Obama-Democrat” take-down of the American Church as we know it (and I don’t believe it is), may we welcome the suffering and persecution with joy, just as the apostles did in Acts, just as Christians have done for centuries, and just as Jesus himself did when with the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame.     SINCE FINISHING THIS BLOG, I’VE COME ACROSS UPDATED INFORMATION. AS I STATED ABOVE, I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT FOR US AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TO SET A PRECEDENT FOR BEING QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. IT’S ALSO HELPFUL TO DO OUR RESEARCH. Here’s an exceptionally helpful article from Vox that details the specifics of the subpoena. The short of it is this: the subpoena’s are in regards to a suit filed by city pastors. They submitted the required number of signatures to have a ballot measure to repeal HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) that grants all people equal protection under the law. The city attorney, however, ruled the signatures were acquired illegally. So the pastors sued. The city attorney then subpoenaed, among other things, their sermons in order to find out if they explicitly told their churches what to say/do/sign in regards to the petitions, which would be illegal. The subpoena wording is now being revised to more specifically target the HERO repeal signatures, and not the HERO act itself or references to Mayor Parker.

Dadding

My wife reads and writes a lot of blogs for and about moms. I’d say moms definitely corner the parenting market in the blogosphere. There’s simply not much there for us dads.

So, this is for you, blog-reading and non-blog-reading Dads. I know many of you are probably reading this because your wife is making you. Still, I’m glad you’re here. I’ll keep my thoughts brief, provide lots of pictures, and give you a few words to say to your wife so she knows you really “got it.”

Here’s what I want to say:

You should take your kids camping.

I’m not a camping person. I go when I’m forced to. Last weekend I was forced to go camping because our 1st grader started Cub Scouts and it was the annual fall campout. It fell on the same weekend as our church’s Ladies Retreat, so my wife retreated with 30 women while I camped with our six boys and like 75 other scout families. Our boys are 3, 4, 6, 6, 8, and 11.

Together, we:

Set up this tent

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Made this fire (it really did catch, eventually)

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Heated up water for oatmeal, hot chocolate, and coffee on this camping stove

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Played with this turtle

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Won this rockin’ alien mask on a scavenger hunt

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Watched our 1st grader kill it in kickball

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While some of the others kept score

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and other cool stuff that wasn’t captured on camera.

It was a challenge camping with six kids, for sure. But – and I know everybody says this – if I can do it, so can you! I am not what you might call “nature savvy.”  I took most of our camping supplies out of the original packaging they came in when we got them two Christmases ago. I’m not very good at starting fires. I don’t own a single working flashlight. It took over half an hour to set up our tent. I didn’t have the ability, energy, or emotional stamina to add the rain fly, so instead I crawled in the tent, got on my knees, and begged God to hold back the rain for the night. It worked, too.

ENGAGE

Camping forces you to engage. And let’s be honest, sometimes we need someone or something to force us to engage our kids. It’s easy to consume ourselves with ourselves, or our work, or our sports, or our books, or our shows, or our projects, or our tee times, or our Fantasy Whatever. Anything but our kids.

But, seriously, does anything get your kids fired up more than when you play with them? Try this and see if I’m wrong: the next time your kids are in the middle of something they love (in our case it would be Minecraft or Pokemon cartoons) stand in the middle of the room and, as loud as you can, shout, “WRESTLEMANIA!” Then (gently) body slam the nearest kid. I’m not kidding, whatever they were doing will be dead to them and they will come alive because Dad wants to play. We only have boys, but I have to believe daughters love wrestling their dads just as much as sons. And if wrestling’s not their thing, buy some water balloons, get some face paint, take a hike, go eat ice cream, climb a tree, play with play dough, ride bikes, make a crazy video, build a fort and throw wadded-up socks at anyone who comes near it.

If you think this is only for young kids, try any of the above with your teenager and watch the kid come out. I hear people complain a lot about kids being disengaged, consumed with electronics, etc. I think a playful dad is the best way to bust them out of that rut.

Now, as promised, here are a few lines to say so your wife knows you got it:

1. Do you think I play enough with (insert child(s) name)?

2. Should we go camping some time?

3. Maybe I’ll take (insert child(s) name) shopping for fishing poles tomorrow (now’s your chance!!!!).

4. Was your dad playful?

Happy playing!

A Disturbing God

This week I preached the 2nd sermon in a new series in Hebrews. If you’re in the Little Rock area, you’re always welcome to join us at CrossWalk Family of God. Here’s the brief recap:

I have a friend who recently met Charles Barkley. And by “met” I mean he gave Chuck a high-five. Yet my friend was moved enough to post a picture of his hand on Facebook and recount the entire event, word for irrelevant word. The moment mattered not because of what was said, but because of the encounter itself. Barkley could have said, “Hey, drop dead, moron.” and my friend would tell the story with the same gusto. Meeting celebrities turns us into screaming, tweenage girls because for just a moment we matter, we’re seen, we’re known, we’re important.

In Hebrews, the Preacher says in chapter 1 that God tried to reveal himself to creation for thousands of years. He tried through the prophets, the Law, and by manifesting himself in various forms (clouds and burning bushes, for instance). But none of it worked. It was all just a shadow, a reflection, a copy of a copy of a copy.

Until Jesus.

The Preacher of Hebrews goes into a pretty lengthy teaching about angels in Hebrews 1:5-14. It’s bookended by the phrase, “To what angel did God ever say…?” In Hebrew culture, it was believed that angels were assigned to rule over certain nations (from Deuteronomy 32:8-9), while God himself ruled over Israel. So it was believed that angels had some authority – divine authority – and were of greater standing in the created order than humans.

Not only that, but angels were messengers. Think about Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who saw an angel as he entered the temple to make an offering. Think of the shepherds in the field who were told by an angel that the Messiah was born. Angels brought a message from God, but the Son brought God himself, and is therefore greater than the angels.

But that’s not really the main point. The main point is that by being the exact representation of God, the arrival of Jesus sent shockwaves throughout creation. You know how a pebble sends ripples across a still lake? Well Jesus wasn’t a pebble, he was a Mack truck. Everything was disturbed, everything turned on its head, and all creation moved toward eternity.

God’s encounter with creation through the incarnation of Jesus was disturbing for all people in all times. Life changed forever. Creation changed forever. The world received a new form of economics, ethics, politics, and religion. The world saw how to treat those of lower class, of different race, and of opposing religious beliefs. The world saw the value of the outcast and the authority of the powerless. Jesus threw the whole universe off-course.

And he’s still doing it in the hearts and lives of every person pursuing him.

Here’s what I want to say: Jesus will shatter your life. You simply cannot pursue Jesus and the life he offers without being permanently changed at the core of your being. Pursuing Jesus will slowly – and often painfully – strip away layer after layer of You until there’s only Him.

What would Jesus blow up in your world if you started pursuing him right now? Where are you comfortable? Where are you blind toward the suffering? What are you absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, unwilling to do or unwilling to go? There’s a good chance that’s exactly where he’ll call you. Because Jesus isn’t in the business of keeping us as we are; he’s in the business of disturbing everything in our world so that we’ll finally know the full expression of God. 

If you want to get a little crazy, hit your knees right now and ask God to come disturb your life. But, as Jesus warned, count the cost. Make sure you know what you’re asking. Because he probably isn’t going to disturb you by giving you a bunch of money and a big house and that job you always wanted. He’s probably going to send you the other way, down the ladder, and out into the margins. If you’re ready to see where God will take you, then go for it. But be ready for a wild ride.

The World Needs Us to Believe This Stuff

In Genesis 9 we read God’s covenant with Noah after the flood. Verses 4 and 5 say:

But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

Before the flood, the world was violent and corrupt. The new world isn’t any different. God acknowledges that the threat of violence still exists. What’s different now is God’s response. He’ll demand an accounting for each person (and animal too, it seems) but no matter what, he won’t destroy the earth. God and Noah and all creation are now in a covenant to find a better way forward, to make the world a place of peace and generosity. 

God continues in verse 6:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

At the heart of God’s covenant with Noah is the fact that we are all made in his image. Everyone deserves justice, everyone deserves peace, everyone deserves mercy, because everyone – everyone – is a reflection of the Creator.

The question is, do we believe this?

An artist named Jim LePage created this picture shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS. It was hard for many people to see, especially given the emotionally-, politically-, and religiously-charged circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s acts of terrorism. 

Do we believe Osama bin Laden bore the image of God? Do we believe, as the picture states, that he is loved with an everlasting love? Because that’s a pretty dangerous sort of love. That sort of love is a threat to those of us who grew up in the Church hearing stories about how God loves the righteous and hates the unrighteous. That sort of love threatens our established boundaries that keep the Saved safely removed from the Damned. Because if God loves everybody, shouldn’t we? If God sent Jesus for the sake of the entire world, shouldn’t we love the entire world like that? If God loves all people, don’t we have an obligation to go to Them and share that love? It’s far easier to collect ourselves in church buildings on Sundays, listen to podcasts about the evil ways of the world, and sleep comfortably every night knowing God loves Us and hates Them. 

But that’s not how the story goes. 

When God made his covenant with Noah, there were no set religious boundary lines. There was no Law, no Ten Commandments, no Thou-Shalt-Not’s, no church buildings, no Bible, no dogma, no interpretation, no traditions, no denominations, no Sunday School. There was a covenant. And that covenant had one command: 

When you see the image of God, honor it.

Jesus took it to another level. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell.

So when we who follow Jesus say things like, “I hope Osama bin Laden burns in hell,” that’s a sin. We might not have murdered bin Laden, but in our hearts we feel hate, and hate toward any person diminishes the image of God within them. When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, we respond to violence the same way God did in Genesis 6 before the flood – with grief. With pain. We don’t celebrate the death of any human being no matter how heinous their crimes because violence is counter to God’s covenant with Noah.

RACE AND FERGUSON, MO

I’ve been consumed by the story in Ferguson, MO. The shooting of Michael Brown was tragic, regardless of the circumstances, because an 18-year-old image-of-God-bearer was shot and killed. All sides need to be honest about the case and let Officer Wilson have a fair chance at explaining his side of the story. Eventually he’ll have his day in court, and the case will be closed.

But Ferguson isn’t about the Michael Brown shooting. Ferguson is about a community of people who have felt the sting of violence and the weight of police brutality – real or perceived – for far too long. Ferguson is about the reality that we still live in a nation that hasn’t solved the race problem. And racial tension is a failure on our part to uphold our end of the covenant God made with Noah. The image of God lives in every human person, everyone with “lifeblood.” So making decisions about a person because of the color of their skin is a sin – it cheapens the image of God that lives within them. 

To be honest, the Church isn’t helping. One of my former professors has said that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in our country. Our churches have mostly failed to embrace diversity, to break down barriers, to be united by the image of God in every one of us. The fact that we have “black churches” and “white churches,” “urban churches” and “suburban churches” indicates we’ve grown comfortable among people who look like Us and uncomfortable around Them. And if the Church can’t get past race, why should we expect the rest of the world to?

IS GOD’S LOVE CHANGING THE WORLD?

The situation in Ferguson is personal for me. Many of you know that Christina and I have six sons – 3 white, 3 biracial. After the Travyvon Martin shooting, I wrote about my fears of raising three boys who look black. Those fears haven’t gone away. Do I have the ability to effectively teach my three youngest sons how to live as black men once they leave home? Do I need to teach my sons to be afraid in certain situations? Will I have to teach my biracial sons lessons I’ll never teach my white sons?

I need God’s love to matter for more than sermon fodder and feel-good moments on Sundays. I need to believe that the love of God, manifest in Jesus, is as powerful today as it was the second Jesus stepped out of the tomb. I need to be part of a movement of people who believe so much in his love that, like Jesus, we’re willing to give it all if it means the world will be closer to reflecting God’s heart. I need to be part of a people who are no longer satisfied remaining safely on their side of the line, holding God’s love for themselves as some kind of security blanket. I need to be part of something that’s actually changing our world, because in 12 years my 6-year-old black son will leave home. I need to know that he’s going into a world where people see the image of God inside him before they see the color of his skin. I need to know that the Church has loved the world into peace, that we have decided to follow Jesus into the racial tension rather than pretend it isn’t there. I need to know that the Church has set the bar for how high love can reach, and how deep love can heal. I need to know we – the Church – believe the Kingdom of God can actually exist on earth as it is in heaven.

I need to know Ferguson is over, for good.

May our world see the Church as the living incarnation of the love of Jesus, a love that Isaiah said would change everything:

The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks

Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Water and Spirit

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 1:2 says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

The first thing God created, according to the creation poem in Genesis 1, was light. But something existed before light – water. God never spoke water into existence. Yet in the very first verses of scripture, God’s Spirit is there with the water.

Then in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 6-7, God destroys the earth with water. After a very grim description of the carnage brought by the flood, Genesis 8:1 says, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

That word wind is the same word as Spirit in Genesis 1:2. When the world was created, there was water and Spirit; when the world was created a second time after the flood, there was water and Spirit.

Fast-forward to Jesus sitting at the table with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that anyone who wishes to see the Kingdom of God must be “born again” (what a loaded phrase that has become!). Nicodemus protests: “How can I be born again when I’m a grown man? Can I enter into my mothers womb?” But Jesus tells him that if he really wants to see the Kingdom of God, he needs to be born of water and spirit

Creation. The flood. Jesus. 

In each story there are elements of both death and life; destruction and creation; chaos and order. And in each story there is water and there is Spirit.

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In my heritage in Churches of Christ, we’ve often been guilty of reducing baptism to that thing we do to stay out of hell. That’s been our message to our children and to those with whom we share Jesus: get baptized or go to hell. But surely there’s something more to baptism than that. Surely it meant something more to Jesus.

In the broader narrative of scripture, water is used for three purposes that I’ll explain using the letter P:

Presence, Purification, and Preparation.

PRESENCE In the Hebrew scriptures, every time we see water, we see God. Again, consider creation and the flood, as well as Jesus’ baptism when God spoke from heaven. You should also read a really cool story in Ezekiel 47. Each time God’s presence is there with the water. So when we are baptized, we are drawn in to God’s presence.

PURIFICATION The Hebrew scriptures also teach that water is used for purification. The Law of Moses commanded the Israelites to wash with water when they were pronounced clean from infectious disease, or when they were about to eat, or when they entered the Temple to worship. Priests went through a rigorous washing ceremony before offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then again once the sacrifice was complete. And in the Christian scriptures, especially in Acts, we see baptism as a form of purification. Churches of Christ hold fast to Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

PREPARATION If a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, he had to do three things: 1) be circumcised, 2) seven days later be baptized, and 3) offer a sacrifice as an act of worship to God. Baptism purified the Gentile in order that their worship might be acceptable to God. It was an act of preparation for worship. When Jesus was baptized, he was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. His baptism prepared him for that act of worship, and it also launched him into his earthly ministry. In the same way, it prepares us to be what Paul calls living sacrifices. 

Now, back to Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus said that to see the Kingdom of God we must be born of water and Spirit. We must be drawn into the presence of God, purified of our sin, and prepared for a life of worship. What, exactly, is the Kingdom of God? Jesus said it’s everywhere, it’s all around us, it’s among us, it’s within us (Luke 17:7). He also said it’s like a woman who lost a coin, swept her house until she found it, then called her neighbors over for a party because she found something so precious (Luke 15). It’s also like a man walking through a field who stumbles upon a treasure. He runs home, sells all his possessions, and buys the field (Matthew 13:44).

In other words, the Kingdom of God has no border, it has no definition. It is both here and now, and also in the age to come. More importantly, the Kingdom of God is worth everything you have! There’s nothing on earth greater than life in the Kingdom. And we enter into this Kingdom through a mysterious act of worship called baptism – through water and Spirit – because, from the very beginning of time, those have been the ingredients for a true, God-breathed life.

Isn’t that a better story than, “be baptized or go to hell?”

A Flood of Love

“An iPod, a phone, a breakthrough internet communication device.

An iPod, a phone, a breakthrough internet communication device.”

Remember these immortal words from Steve Jobs back in 2007? He announced to a crowd that Apple was prepared to ship three things: an iPod, a phone, and a breakthrough internet communication device. Three things, one product. 

The iPhone.

It was only seven short years ago, but consider how far we’ve come technologically. Consider what the iPhone has meant to the world and how we go about living.

It was a breakthrough. And we love breakthroughs.

In Genesis 6 we read the story of the flood. The flood came because of what the storyteller describes as “wickedness” (6:5), “evil” (6:5), “corruption” (6:11), and “violence” (6:11). We’re not told specifically what was involved, but we can use our imaginations. 

Our traditional recounting of the flood narrative is:

A) God created the world

B) The world went bad

C) So God flooded it and started over

That’s mostly true, but we miss a really important detail. God didn’t start over entirely. Noah and his family hung around.

But why?

God already showed he can make mankind from the dust. So why did he keep Noah and his family alive? Why run the risk of wickedness manifesting itself again in Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, or Japheth? Why not kill everybody, make brand new humans, and have a few more restrictions in the new world?

At first glance it appears God saved Noah as a reward for his righteousness, as though he earned his ticket onto the ark. But if we read the flood narrative as part of the entire story of God’s people, another possibility emerges. God didn’t reward Noah. God needed Noah.noah-298x144

Creation is the only thing in scripture God did alone. After the world was created, everything was a partnership between God and humanity. So, the flood wasn’t God’s solution to wickedness, evil, corruption, and violence. Noah was the solution.

God spells it out in verses 17 and 18:

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. But I will establish my covenant with you…

To tell the flood story with Noah as a minor character is to miss the story entirely. Yes, God flooded the world and killed all who lived in it, but Noah gave humanity a better way forward. He was the breakthrough God was looking for. In a world filled with wickedness, evil, corruption, and violence, there stood Noah, “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time.” (6:9)

The story of scripture is about a partnership between God and us. Israel was established through Abraham, delivered through Moses, held in check by Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and found total redemption through Jesus. Esther led. Habakkuk prayed. David wrote. Paul preached. Peter healed. 

Now you and I take the reigns. Which way will we steer humanity: toward wickedness, evil, corruption, and violence, or toward righteousness, peace, and love? 

The world looks bad most days, but it doesn’t need another flood; it needs another Noah. 

If you’re overwhelmed by the pain you see in the world, what are you going to do about it? How will you, like Noah, show us a better way forward?

Sex, Beer, and Cigarettes

You know a non-believer when you see one. Just look for the signs:

Sex. Beer. Cigarettes. Cussing.

True believers are easy to spot too:

Abstinence. Non-alchoholic beverages. Tar-free lungs. Gosh, darn, and shucks.

God hates those who do the former and loves those who do the latter. Trust and obey or meet your doom. End of discussion.

ned_flandersThat was – and in some ways continues to be – the message. Eventually, though,  it starts to feel a little arbitrary. Like God made up certain rules just for the
“h-e-double-hockey-sticks” of it. Do his rules even serve a purpose?

Yes.

In Genesis 6 we read that the “sons of God” married the “daughters of men,” and total chaos ensued. The “sons of God” – heavenly creatures who roamed the earth – took any woman they wanted.

No limits.

No boundaries.

The Nephilim were there too. They were giants. Nephilim comes from a Hebrew word that indicates a violent fall – as in they experienced a violent fall the way angels might who are cast out of heaven.

Violence. Disruption. Chaos.

In verse three God is fed up:

“The Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever. For they are mortal. Their days will be one hundred twenty years.'”

Humans are mortal. They have limits. Hooking up with heavenly creatures – striving for immortality – that’s against God’s created order. “QUIT TRYING TO BE ME!” God says.

So God proclaims humans will live no more than 120 years. Gone are the days of 777-year-long lives like Lamech or 969-year lives like Methuselah. Clearly, we cannot handle such long lives without disrupting the whole thing. We get 120, tops.

Our lifespan was given a limit because God’s concern was not just for humanity, but for creation as a whole. The created order – heaven and earth, man and animals, land and sky and sea – was in complete DIS-order. The earth was not thriving as God always dreamed, like in the Garden of Eden.

GOD’S RESPONSE

According to Genesis 6, when you and I step outside God’s created design, God’s response is not anger, but rather grief. In the flood narrative, God saw what creation had become, and he was troubled, grieved, sad.

Troubled like a parent watching their teenage daughter self-destruct. Grieved like a child watching his older brother smash his LEGO creation. Sad like a jilted groom standing alone at the altar.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Created order became chaotic madness, so he destroyed it and started over.

After the flood, Noah died and God gave Abraham a specific promise with a specific command – circumcision – to identify God’s chosen people.

Then he gave Moses 614 commands for what it means to be Israelites, a nation set apart from the others.

Then he gave Jesus specific instructions for redeeming all of creation. Instructions like healing the blind and the lame and the deaf and the hard-hearted. Instructions like turning religious legalism on its head, making room for all those left out in the margins. Instructions like making the Kingdom of God just as alive on earth as it is in heaven. Instructions like denying oneself to the furthest extreme in order to make all of the created order better.

Then he gave the Church specific instructions for what it means to live like the people of God in light of Jesus.

SO WHAT’S IT ALL FOR?

All these instructions are moving perpetually toward the same destination – a return to the Garden. A return to the place where all of creation – including humans – lived in an eternal state of shalom with God. Each piece of the created order cared for the next. There was beauty. There was trust. There was generosity. There was love.

So when we read that too much wine is a bad thing, it’s not arbitrary. Neither is promiscuous sex. Neither is financial irresponsibility. Neither is a harsh tongue. Neither is selfishness, the pursuit of wealth, gluttony, or disobeying ones parents.

God’s limits are all part of the design moving the whole creation toward a better place.

And that’s a gosh darn good way to live.