Friday, June 24, 2016

It's Not About Noah - Genesis 6

My professor in preaching class once asked this question, “What is a sermon about?”
The first answer that came back was “It’s about the Bible.”
“Wrong,” he answered. “A sermon is from the Bible, but it isn’t about the Bible. A sermon is about what the Bible says you, to the people of our day.” 
It’s easy to get off subject and focus on details that don’t matter—the genealogy of Hebrew kings, the meaning of Hebrew terms, for example--and miss the obvious lessons of Bible stories to ourselves.  We preachers can go on and on about fine points of theology or who the Mesopotamians were.  It shows off our knowledge but does little else. But that doesn’t do us any good.  People often tried to get Jesus off message by getting into intellectual discussions— “Exactly who is my neighbor?”  “How many times do I have to forgive?” “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”  But Jesus always pulled them back to the real subject, that God wants us to obey Him, honor Him, and serve Him. We don’t have to answer all the questions.  We do need to keep focused on the message of the passage.
This is especially true in the story of Noah. As children we heard the story on flannel boards with cute animals, and a funny-looking boat.  How a story of the destruction of the world ever got reduced to a cute kid’s story is beyond me!  As adults, we get distracted by questions that have no answers. Who are the Nephilim?  Who are the Sons of God?” “What is gopher wood?”  “Did they have dinosaurs on the ark?” But what is important is this—that God destroyed the world for sin, that He provided a way of escape for those who obey, and that one man and his took that way and survived. 
But this passage is not about Noah. Noah is just the example. The real point of this story is to get us to ask certain questions about our own lives and times.
The first question is this---will God do it again?
The answer is no and yes.  No, if you mean God will send another flood to destroy the earth. God tells clearly that He won’t. That was a one-off.  But He also tells us that he will again bring universal destruction in the end. Not only that, the Bible is full of examples of God bringing localized destruction on the earth in the forms of fire, plagues, economic collapse, war, volcanoes, earthquakes, and a thousand other ways.  Unless we live in New Orleans, flood is probably the least of our worries. 
God continually destroys the world. He does this for the same reason that is people foresters have controlled burns. Disaster cleanses the world. When we begin to think that we have things perfect, and nothing needs to change, God shakes us up by bringing disaster. When we begin to feel proud and think we have it all together, God brings disaster in our individual lives.  He does this so we will know He is in charge.
 God is a jealous God. He demands our attention.  When we forget Him, and think we are capable of running things without Him, He brings destruction upon us, just to remind us that we don’t.  We ultimately survive in our life not by our wits or luck, but by our reliance and trust in Him. Civilizations fall, nations crumble, families die off, houses burn, and people die. But those who trust in God go on living, in this world and in the next.
Which brings us to the next question—will He do it again soon?
There is a pattern to His wrath.  Sometimes, sin gets completely out of hand, then the wrath of God boils over.  The Bible calls this “the fullness of time.”  The longer sin goes without destruction, the greater the destruction when it comes.  Once the measure of ungodliness is reached (and only God knows when that measure comes) then God’s wrath appears.
In Noah’s day the world was a mighty civilization. Yet it was not as mighty as ours today. They knew nothing of flight, concrete, air conditioning, radio waves, germs, internal combustion or the internet. They did not possess the ability we have to broadcast our sins by satellite over the world. 
Think of the world we live in—a man in Syria writes a blog in English, that inflames a man in Orlando to kill a hundred people. A company in California can broadcast pornography via the internet that gets into your child’s room in Rock Hill.  A man in Africa can steal from your bank account in America. A director in Hollywood can make a movie that is a love letter to violence to be viewed by teenagers in Europe.   None of this was possible in Noah’s time. 
We live in a day that doesn’t deny God so much and believe God is not necessary. We think we are becoming our own gods.  I mean that literally.  There are rich, smart, and influential people all over the world who literally think that technology will enable them to live forever.  They think they will learn to control the weather, beat climate change, bring world peace, and literally do magic by means of scientific advancement.  It is a growing faith called transhumanism—the believe that we are becoming godlike beings, merging with our technology to rule on earth for all eternity. Science fiction is merging with faith and producing wickedness we cannot imagine. Faced with this brave new world, we cannot help but wonder why God had withheld His wrath for so long. The corruption of our society is nearly complete. Can there be any doubt that our society is due for destruction?
Forget about the big picture--look at our personally. If your family and friends are wicked, then how do we even know we are not wicked, too? Community values keep us from doing bad things, but if our community is wicked, we are also corrupted.  In Noah’s day. People couldn’t tell right from wrong, because their whole community was corrupt. So the community had to be destroyed, to save the ones who were left.
This isn’t about Noah. It’s about you and me, and what is coming in our world.
Faced with this prospect, we should be asking this—where’s the ark?
The word” ark” means literally a box, not a boat. It was a place where they could hide until the destruction was over. It was built to be the one dry place in all the world. 
In the New Testament, Jesus is the ark.  Through Him, we are given a way of escape from the wrath to come, through His atoning death on the Cross. He cancels out the debt with His righteousness.  Anyone who finds refuge in the cross can have forgiveness for our sins.
Through Jesus, God has given us a place to stay dry.  By that, I mean a community of grace and acceptance where we may escape the wickedness of the world. It is the Body of Christ, the church.  Jesus is the ark, and His earthly body is the place of refuge.  We cannot escape on our own. We need each other to survive.
Noah and his family lived in a wicked community. If they had continued to live among wicked people, they would go down with them. But in the ark, the entered a community of people who were not defiled. The church is the place which God has built as an ark.
The church isn’t a perfect place, but then neither was Noah’s family. The church—the Body of Christ-- is just the place where God protects us. It’s the only shelter we have, and we need to be here.
The fourth question we need to ask is this--how strong is our ark?
Have you ever wondered why God told Noah to build the ark?  If God was going to create a worldwide flood, surely He could have just made the ark Himself.  It’s no trouble to God to build an ark, but it took Noah and His family hundreds of years.  Why didn’t God just make the ark at the same time He made the flood.  No doubt, he would have done a better job than Noah. 
But God insisted that Noah build his own ark.  Furthermore, He gave Noah detailed instructions to make it right. 
God expects us to take part in our own rescue.  Jesus has already rescued us ultimately. We are promised heaven. But living in a world doomed to wrath means we must follow His daily instructions and get it right.  When disaster comes in our lives, we don’t want to be on the open seas in a leaky life raft. We want to have a strong, sturdy ark which may accommodate our whole family. 
Suppose for a moment that God didn’t just speak to Noah. Suppose there were a hundred men who heard the command to build an ark. Fifty of those men just ignored it, thinking that it was a prank call. Thirty started, but got tired and gave up. Another ten decided that they had a better idea how it should be built, and built unseaworthy arks. Another five put windows on the side instead of the top.  Another four decided to use balsa wood instead of gopher wood. None of these others would make it. There was only one way to do it.   
Our ark might be afloat, but still be leaky.  If it is, then we are in for a miserable ride.  The church of our day is such a leaky boat.  We think that since Jesus has saved us, we don’t have to build anything.  But our lives, our families and our churches must be built right, and we must not skimp or save on the right materials.
We need prayer. We need God’s word.  We need to stay together. We need to be patient with ourselves and others. It took Noah hundreds of years to build his ark, what makes us think we can build it in a day or two?  We must be always working on being stronger, better, and godlier. God is patient with us, and provides what we need, but we must put out the effort.
The fifth question is this who can fit in our ark?
Noah didn’t just build it for himself and his family. The whole world had to go in it, too.
How will people be saved, if we can’t get them in the ark? Would you be happy to see your family, friends, and neighbors drown? We must be diligent about saving those we love from God’s wrath,
At the end of the Vietnam war, there was a frantic exodus to withdraw from South Vietnam, not only for Americans, for those loyal Vietnamese allies who supported the Americans.  The carrier USS Midway was parked off the coast to take on refugees. It was almost full.  Suddenly a small aircraft appeared in the sky, flown by Vietnamese Air Force major Buang-Yi, containing his wife and five children. They had flown out past the point of no return to land on the carrier, knowing they would be executed in by Communists if they returned.  The captain of the carrier, Captain Lawrence Chambers, made a controversial decision. He ordered his men to push dozens of Huey helicopters into the water, worth at several million dollars each, to clear the decks for landing.  In his judgment, these seven people were worth more than all the helicopters on the carrier.
What are the lives our friends, worth to us? We must keep this ark open.  One soul is worth more than all we have. 
It’s not about Noah. It’s about saving lives today by introducing them to Jesus, and including them in our fellowship. 

Who's Your Daddy? - Genesis 4 and 5

Genesis 4: 16 through 5: 32 are passages that most of us like to skip over when we’re reading the bible. It contains two long genealogies—one of Cain and one of Seth, Adam’s third son. Seth’s list mentions incredibly long lifespans, including Methuselah, who lived 969 years. He fathered a son at 187 years--but that was nothing compared to Noah, who had three sons at 500!
 Other things distinguished Seth’s line besides extreme old age. Seth’s family was unusual in their devotion to God. Enoch “walked with God and was not,” one of two people who escaped physical death. (The other was Elijah.) 
God blessed Seth’s descendants in a way He didn’t bless the children of Cain. Both lived under the curse of Adam’s sin, but Cain’s descendants were doubly cursed by the sins of both Adam and Cain.  Cain’s sins added to Adam’s sin, making it worse for his children and grandchildren.
Your parents make a difference in your life. They either bless you by their love, example or forethought, or they curse you with abuse, neglect, or bad example.  We cannot, any of us, fully escape the influence of our ancestry. Our ancestors make a difference.
It makes a difference who your parents and grandparents were. We receive something from them all. If they do good and walk before God, then we receive good. If they do evil and don’t, then it makes it harder for us. Both the good and bad we do in turn are transmitted down to our children.
This principle can be overdone, of course.  Racists, elitists, blue-bloods, and don’t forget that we are all free moral agents, and choose our own fates. You can’t inherit salvation from your parents, neither can you blame your parents for what you do wrong.  But our parents affect us, nevertheless.
Many people are ancestor worshippers--I mean it, they worship them! They think their ancestors could do no wrong. But there’s a little Seth and Cain, and a whole lot of Adam in all of us. Your parents may have been Godly people, but if the only reason you believe in God is because your parents told you to, and you have no personal knowledge of Him, then you are not worshipping God, you are worshipping your parents!  Our real god is not the God we believe in, but what is our ultimate concern in life, the source of all our understanding. If we serve God only because our parents told us to, that’s dangerous. But if we have an example of our parents bowing before God, and we seek the same God they worshipped, then we may find Him. Every generation’s God must be their own. Our parent’s relationship with God may point us in the right direction, but we have to go seek Him ourselves.
If our parents don’t honor God, then it sets a bad example for us, and hurts us in the long run. It places a generational curse on our life that is difficult to overcome. 
A prison chaplain once told me that they offered Mother’s Day cards for the prisoners in a men’s prison. Nearly every one of the prisoners wanted one. They were glad to send cards to their mothers. 
They tried the same thing for Father’s Day. Strangely, very few prisoners wanted Father’s Day cards. It seemed that most of the prisoners either did not know their fathers, or they did not want to know them. Their fathers had been absent, abusive, or completely out of their lives. They wanted nothing to do with them. 
Isn’t it possible that there is a connection between them being in prison and the sins of their fathers? Isn’t it likely that many of these men would have had a different life if they had honored God and followed His ways?
Studies have shown that families who attend church together produce more successful children, that those who give their children a religious foundation produce healthier children. There is a much higher proportion of people who suffer from diseases at an early age among those who neglect their children’s spiritual upbringing. The children of those with good training are more socially aware and adept. It matters who your daddy is. 
 I know extended families where there is not a single successful marriage. I know families so filled with pride and self-worship that not one of them cares about the poor.  It is very difficult to come from such families and have a proper understanding about what it means to follow God.
This is not a message for children, to blame their problem on parents. This is a message to parents, to watch how you raise your children. Your children are affected by your treatment of God. Make sure that you do all you can to teach them right from wrong.
Even so, we can have a new God who is greater than our families. The question we need to ask of ourselves is not “Who’s my daddy?” but “Who’s my daddy now?” Am I basing my live on what my parents did, or on having a relationship with God right now?  He is more powerful in our lives than everything that has gone before.   
Looking at Cain and Seth’s generations, we may be tempted to read the wrong message about modern families into it—to think of one family as a “Cain” family and another as a “Seth” family. But we can’t do that. The sons of Seth married daughters of Cain and vise-versa, so we’re all a little Cain and a little Seth. Our common ancestry contains both good and bad.
If you think that you were blessed with great ancestors, then please think again. You are only remembering the best of your ancestry. Your parents and your lineage was not perfect, nor was it always right. In the end, God doesn’t judge you for what your parents did, but if you ignore the sins of your parents, and think you are more worthy in God’s eyes, because of your last name, then you are wrong. God will judge each of us by what we do ourselves. 
The difference between Seth’s and Cain’s line is found in Genesis. We are told that after Cain went into exile people began to call on the name of the Lord. Calling on God’s name as a family is more important than wealth, position, or power. In the end, it is all that matters.   
Cain’s line accomplished some great things, too. Enoch (This is a different Enoch from the one who didn’t die) founded the first city.  Lamech’s sons-Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain all accomplished great things, in spite of the fact that their father was an unrepentant murderer. Jabal invented the nomadic herdsman lifestyle, which was the dominant way of living in the Middle-East, and still is in many places. Jubal was a musician who invented musical instruments. Tubal-Cain invented working with metals. You couldn’t have modern society without the work of these three men.   Cain’s descendants were city planners, kings, artisans, musicians, and ranchers—but none of them had any male descendants to pass on works to others. Though they made contributions, their families were all wiped out in Noah’s flood. You can have all the good things of earth, but that doesn’t mean anything if you survive without godliness, you are lost.
All of us fathers want to leave a legacy for our children, but most of what we leave will wind up like the sons of Cain. We create businesses and wealth and some disaster ruins it, or our kids misuse it. We educate our children, and everything they learn winds up useless. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal may have done great things, but what good did it do them when the flood waters carried their kids away? Death came to their children and their names. 
But Seth’s line kept going. Seth produced the future, not Cain. 
Parents, you have an awesome responsibility.   Teach your children to honor God. Don’t let anything keep you from that. Honoring God produces good fruit—maybe not in one generation, maybe not in two, but in the end, it is the meek before God who inherit the earth and find the future. 
But when a person chooses to follow God, you choose a new daddy. The generational curse is broken. No matter what our upbringing, we can improve on it, if we choose to do the right thing. If your father was abusive, you don’t have to be abusive. If you mother was anxious and afraid, you don’t have to live that way. You have a choice. You can change and improve on your ancestry. Other people from the worst families with the worst upbringing will choose the right way. You can change your ways and it affects everyone.
 It is interesting that in all these listings of sons there is only one daughter mentioned. Her name is Naamah, the sister of Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain. We cannot know for sure why she is mentioned. However, there is a Rabbinic tradition that may possibly explain it. According to the ancient Rabbis, she became the wife of Noah. Now, the Bible doesn’t say this, and we cannot say it with any certainty, but for the moment let us assume that this tradition is correct. If it were so, then Naamah would have been the only one who survived in the family. Naamah would have been the mother of Ham, Shem, and Jephthah, Noah’s children. She would be the second mother of all people, the second Eve. Through her, the line of most of the human race would be descended. Her brothers may have distinguished themselves by all kinds of worldly accomplishments, but their descendants were wiped out. Naamah would carry the legacy when she and Noah founded the last Godly family.
You can change your family legacy when you call upon the name of the Lord, and choose to obey Him.  Changing our ways affects our kids. You may have grown up in a godless place, but choosing God can give you a future and a hope.
You may have lived a bad life up till now, but a change in life means a change in legacy.
Paul Harvey once told the story of a bookkeeper in Chicago who was a member of Al Capone’s mob.  Eventually he suffered from a terrible attack of conscience. He did not want his children to live like he did. He went to the police and turned state’s evidence against Capone. His testimony helped convict Capone of tax fraud. It also sent him to prison. He said he did it in the hopes that his son would forgive him, and choose a better way.
His son did choose a better life. He became a pilot--one of the most decorated in World War II. Today the name of his son, Edward O’Hare, is the name of Chicago’s airport.  His name is known to millions around the world, and his legacy through that name lives on.

How do we change our name? By getting a new Daddy. God believes in second chances. He delights in helping us break our bad legacies. Jesus came to earth to change people and families. He gave us forgiveness for sin, so we can go out and live better lives. You may be the first in your family to find Him, but that doesn’t mean you will be the last.  Jesus breaks the curse of Adam and the power of all generational sin. Give your life to Jesus, and begin a new path today.