Saturday, August 4, 2012

Asking the Right Question

There are so many questions swirling mankind.  I was about to write "today," but the truth is, we have always been plagued by these questions...clear back to the first time we questioned God's goodness and failed in our answer.  Eve asked the question - is what God said really good?  Since the moment she answered "no," we have been consumed with the struggle of this issue.  Is it ok to do this?  Is it all right to do that?  What does God say about this?  What does God say about that?  Can I trust a God that doesn't appear to care? Where was God can fill in that blank. 

Some have answered these questions by deciding there is no God at all.  Some have declared that if there is a God, He obviously doesn't care about us.  Some have decided to take the things He has said and interpret them in their own way.  Others cling to the things God says, but they are like the clanging cymbals of 1 Corinthians 13...they do so without love. 

As is so often the case...we are asking all the wrong questions.

Wrong questions lead to wrong answers.  If I ask "why does 2+2=5?" it doesn't matter what answer I come up with.  I can rationalize, I can adjust numbers, I can turn my back on the theory of mathematics all together, but the truth is, I will never arrive at the right answer because I am asking a wrong question.  The only right answer to that question is "it doesn't."  To answer "it doesn't," however, completely changes the nature of the discussion.  It sets us on an entirely different path.

We need a different path. 

We need to stop asking what is permissible, what is not, is there a God, how could a love God do whatever, and come back to the question that is the crux of mankind:

"Who do you say that I am?"

Jesus asked Peter this question, and Peter answered "You are the Christ."  That was the right question and the right answer.  If you answer that Jesus is the Christ, you can start to put all the other pieces in place.  I once had a friend who went from being a vocal atheist to being a sold-out believer in Christ in a matter of moments.  At his baptism, he said "I can't say life is easier, but it is a whole lot clearer."  He was beginning to see that once you ask the right question and arrive at the right answer, all the other pieces begin to fall into place.

This morning, as I was in prayer, I was bringing to God a number of things that are troubling me - issues of the culture in which  I live, issues in the Church, friends of mine making poor choices, struggles and needs of our own family.   After praying through these things for around an hour, I turned on some worship music and began to worship Him.   As I worshiped, I was brought to a place of understanding that all these things fade away in the light of Who He Is, and that if I start there, I can have the proper perspective that He is greater than all these things.  His power, His might, and His glory in so much more than all these things. 

So I am saying don't pray?  Absolutely not.  I am saying that when I come back to the crucial question  - Who do I say He is - and answer - He is the CHRIST - that suddenly all these huge things don't seem so huge.  I am then caught up in who He is instead of how weak I am, and my life is infused with power as I am caught up in the Great Love Story that is our life in Christ.  In THAT place, my prayers go from being strained pleas for help to powerful declarations that God IS who He says HE is and He will DO what He says HE will do.  When I take the time to stop and declare who Christ truly is, there is power in my life, the power of Holy Spirit, which Christ Himself promised His believers. 

"Who do you say that I am, Sara?"

"You are the Christ, Jesus the Son of the Living God."

And all life starts from there...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's Too Late, Part 5

      The next seven days provide great entertainment for the hecklers.  There is a steady stream of animals, some in sets of two, some in sets of seven.  What can the crazy man be thinking?  The mob grows bigger as word spreads.  The insults grow louder, and the violence grows stronger.  Rocks are thrown at the ark and at the animals.  Several attempts are made to rile up the creatures, and many times someone tries to shoot an arrow into the line of procession to take one out.  Somehow, though, every attempt is thwarted.  Several of the young boys try to run into the area around the ark to cause a problem.  But for some reason, they cannot come near the contraption.  Something stops them, though they cannot say what.  It is as if an invisible wall shields the ark and the work of the family.  So the mob contents itself with taunts, jeers, and mockery. 
            By the seventh day, the entire village has gathered.  It is rumored that the family will be going into the ark for good – a sight no one wants to miss!  Was this crazy family really going to lock itself in that monstrosity with all those animals?  The smell alone would kill them in a few days!  This is too much.  The entire village is laughing at this poor, pathetic band of self-proclaimed “righteous ones.”  All of mankind has turned out to watch the craziest family line in existence kill itself in this, the crowning act of their insanity. 
            Finally, the last of the animals are taken into the ark.  The women come outside to take one more look around.  They look to the crowd and see many old friends and family members, now turned enemies, laughing raucously at them.   In tears, they turn back and go into the ark for the last time.  Then the young men go in, each one determined not to give the mob the satisfaction of even one glance.  Ham, however, loses his resolve for a moment and flings one last fierce glare back at the crowd.  The villagers roar with pleasure.  Ham turns back around, disgusted with both himself and the mockers, and follows his brothers into the ark. 
            Finally only Noah is left outside the ark.  He stands alone outside the door, looking upon the crowd with grief and pity in his eyes.  The mob yells and throws things at him, but still he stands, simply staring.  His lips move as if he is talking to Someone.  With a sigh, he finally turns around and walks through the door of the ark, the last righteous man to see the earth as it is. 
            As the crowd stands laughing uproariously, a gust of wind like none they have ever experienced sweeps through them.  Some are physically knocked over, other simply cry out in surprise.  No one has felt such a wind before.  The wind sweeps through mankind straight towards the door of the ark, and with a fierce bang that resounds in the ears of every man, woman and child, the door swings shut.
            The crowd goes silent for a moment.  No one is certain what to do.  Then, slowly, jokes began to be made, and nervous laughter begins to rise again.  But even as they begin to recover from this phenomenon, the sky begins to darken as it never has before.  Clouds begin to gather together in massive, menacing walls.  The ground begins to shake, and someone shrieks as they see a trickle of water spring up from the ground.  A terror begins to grip the mob as everyone senses that something is happening.  Mothers grab their children, and men start looking up and pointing into the sky.  As mankind stands in horror, a single raindrop falls from the sky to the ground.  It is soon joined by another, then another and another, until finally, the walls of clouds begin to break open into torrents of raindrops.

                                              And when the rain starts falling it’s too late…

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Too Late, Part 4

It is the end of the day.  The women wait in expectation.  It would be unusual to see the men come back to the tents until later in the night, but there is something different in the air.  The four wives, drawn together by a common faith, gather by Noah’s tent, waiting for something to happen, though they know not what. 
            Before them stands a majestic sight.  The ark, now in the final stages of construction, is overwhelming.  None of them had ever seen something so large.  New tools had been invented to build something of this size.  It was incomprehensible to them that this monstrous object could ever float, but they had learned much about trusting the Lord over the past century.  As they stand staring up at the ark, the four men walk up to them.  Noah speaks, and though his exhaustion is clear, there is a new glimmer of excitement in his eyes.
            “My wife, my daughters.  We have news.  It is finished.”
            The eyes of all four women widen in disbelief.  Finished?  Actually finished?  After all this time, it is hard to believe that the end has come at last…and the implications of a finished ark were almost too much to comprehend.  If the ark is complete, then the time of judgment must be near.
            Noah continues speaking.  “I have heard again from the Lord.  It is time to begin gathering the animals.  We must gather two of every animal on earth, one male and one female. Shem, Ham, Japheth and I will take care of gathering the creatures.  You four must go into the ark and prepare it for a long journey.  Make enough food for all of us and for the animals for a long, long time.  The floodwaters will come for forty days and forty nights, but I do not know how long after that we will be able to leave the ark.  We must be prepared.  Go and prepare a place for the food, the animals, and for us.  We will begin bringing the animals aboard almost immediately.  We have only seven days.”
            Japheth’s wife gasps.  “Seven days?!  How are we to get everything ready in seven days?  How are you going to be able to gather every living creature there is in just seven days?  Are you sure you heard right?”
            Noah gives his daughter-in-law a weary smile. “If I don’t know how to hear from the Lord by this point, we are all in a great deal of trouble.  He has given us seven days.  This means all can be done in seven days.  Have faith, daughter.” 
            Ham’s wife bursts into tears.  “So this is really, truly happening?  Everyone we know is going to die?  My brothers?  My sisters?  My childhood friends?”
            Noah looks upon her sadly. “Yes, my dear, I am afraid so.  Every man has had the same opportunity that we have had to follow the Lord.  Every man has chosen to turn away.  We are the remnant, the hope of mankind.”
            Shem speaks up.  “We knew this day would come.  Dwelling on it won’t help us.  We must start working right away.  Father, don’t forget to tell them to prepare the place of sacrifice.”
            “Yes, Shem, thank you.  I nearly forgot.  There must be space and food for two of every kind of unclean creature.  For the clean creatures, there must be enough for seven of each kind.  We are to take seven of each of the clean animals, a male and its mate.  We will need more of these, for we are to continue sacrifices in the ark.”
            Noah’s wife, recovering from the initial shock of realizing the time has come, snaps into action.  “We had better get started.  Daughters, gather everything from the tents.  We are moving into the ark.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It's Too Late, Part 3

     A woman walks out of a tent pitched near the ark and shouts, “The meal is ready!”  She knows there will be no stopping to eat – her husband and sons will simply run over and grab something to take back with them.  It has been that way since the beginning of the actual construction of the ark.  She cannot remember the last time her whole family sat down to eat together.  The only time the men stopped was on the Seventh Day, and they were often so tired on this day that they simply slept.  If they weren’t sleeping, her boys were making up for lost time with their wives.  She smiles as she looks over at her daughters-in-law in tents nearby, working on food and clothes, supporting the men in their venture.  She thanks the Lord again for giving her such blessings for daughters.  It was so hard to find pure and holy women these days – and yet the Lord had brought just such women for her sons. 
            Shem’s wife walks over to talk with Noah’s wife.  Both ignore the jeers and insults being shouted from the nearby mob.  They were used to it by now.  They know there is no fighting the mob – the best they can do is ignore them and trust in the Lord.
            “Hello, Mother.  Is the noon meal ready, then?”
            “Yes, my dear, although we will be hard put to get any of them to stop and eat anything.  Sometimes I worry they will work themselves to death over this ark.”
            “Don’t worry, Mother.  They will stop when they cannot go any longer…Mother, how much longer do you think this will take?  The ark, I mean.  Has the Lord given Father any sort of indication as to when the destruction will come?”
            “No, Daughter, not yet.  I believe nothing will happen until the ark is complete.  The Lord has promised to protect us in the coming judgment.  He will not allow anything to happen until it is finished.”
            “I must confess something, Mother.  I am afraid of the destruction.  I am afraid of what will happen when the floodwaters come.  I mean, will we really be the last of mankind to survive?  What happens to all the others?  And how are we to rebuild, with only eight of us?”
            “Have faith, my Daughter.  Remember, the world began with only two – and their second son was killed before he could start his line.  The Lord can rebuild entire civilizations with only the eight of us – or even the six of you, as I am past childbearing years.  As for what happens to everyone else…we only know what the Lord told Noah.  Every creature will be destroyed except for those we bring into the ark.  That includes all of mankind except the eight of us.  We must trust that the Lord knows what He is doing.  Perhaps this destruction is actually his mercy.  If mankind was allowed to continue the way it is going, it would surely kill itself in the process.  There is no righteousness left in the world.  These floodwaters may be the last hope of Adam’s race.” 
            “I know, Mother.  I just hurt for all those others.”
            “You have a kind, compassionate heart.  It will hurt to see them go.  Keep praying for them.  It may be that some can still turn back to the Lord and come under His mercy before the end.  And trust in the Lord above all other things.  Look, here comes your husband.  Go to him with food.  He needs your support right now.”
            The women had not always been so supportive of the ark project.  When Noah first came home and told his wife what the Lord had told him, she burst into to tears and fled the house for two days.  Once she had come back, the two had argued incessantly about the matter for weeks. 
            “Noah, this is insane.  What do you mean, a flood?  Water stays in one place.  That is what water does.  God is a God of order.  He’s not going to disrupt the natural order of things just to teach a few degenerates a lesson.”
            “It’s not a lesson, my love. It’s a major shift in the course of mankind.  Everyone but the eight of us will die.  And who are we to say what the Lord will do?  It is also the natural order of things for men to die, but you know as well as I do that my ancestor Enoch never did.”
            “But total destruction of every creature on earth…Noah…”
            “I know, I know.  But we must trust the Lord in what He says.  I have no doubts about what He told me.  And I must gather the boys and start on this ark right away.”
            “That’s another thing, Noah.  This ark.  How on earth are we to build anything so big?  No one had ever seen anything as big as you are saying.  What can you be thinking?”
            “These thoughts are not mine, my dear.  They are the Lord’s.  If He says to build an ark 450 feet long, then that’s what we will do.  He will provide for us, I know that for sure.”
            “But Noah, the village already hates us.  We are the most hated family on the face of the earth. Our line has been at odds with the world for generations.  This will only make things worse. How will this make us look?  How will we be treated?”
            “Does it truly matter?  In the end, it is only what God thinks of us that matters.  Everything else will fade away.  These people will be dead in a few years while we will still be alive – what on earth does it matter what they think?”
            “Noah, I just don’t think…”
            “Nowhere in the instructions did the Lord say this would be easy.  He has not promised us anything but that we will be saved.  I have no doubt that this will be the hardest task of our lives.  If you leave, I understand that.  That is your choice.  But as for me, the choice is made.  I will serve the Lord.  I will do what He says to do.”
            “But Noah, a flood…”
            Around and around they went, Noah’s wife coming up with more reasons why this was a ridiculous plan, Noah standing firm on what the Lord had told him.  It had been the greatest test of their marriage.  Noah’s wife had almost left him more than once, one time going so far as to pack a bag and start walking.  However, in her heart she knew Noah was right.  In her heart, she knew she must trust her husband’s leadership and his relationship with the Lord.  Over time, God softened her heart, and in the end, she accepted Noah at his word and the Lord at His. 
            Noah’s sons had each had similar encounters with their wives.  The women cried, screamed, refused to cooperate, sulked, and fought what was happening in every way they could.  Ham’s wife had taken it the hardest.  While she was a pure and righteous woman, she was the most social of the three wives, and the thought that her friends were going to die was more than she could stand.  She had actually gone to live with her sister for a month, fully intending to stay as long as Ham persisted in what she called “this madness.”  But God worked on her heart, and eventually, she saw the truth in what Noah was saying.  She had finally come into an acceptance of what was to happen, and with a tearstained face, she had returned to her husband’s family and taken her place by her husband’s side.  In the end, each woman had to choose: who would they follow?  Their own fears or the God that had never forsaken them?  And in the end, it was the Lord they each chose.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's Too Late, Part 2

The mockers stand at the edge of the yard, shouting jeers at the village idiot.  They laugh deep, wicked laughs as they guzzle down their wine.  By this point, Noah and his family had no friends, no support left among the people.  At one point, there were those who defended them, mostly from a sense of loyalty, some out of pity for someone who had obviously lost his mind.  They all hoped it was just a phase that would pass.  As time wore on, however, it became obvious that Noah and his family had no intentions of giving up this idiocy.  Slowly, one by one, the defenders had drifted away, and now the only ones that paid any attention at all were the scoffers who made it a daily habit to ridicule the family. 
“Got all those measurements right, Noah?  Would hate to see your God strike you down.  After all, he’s apparently in the destruction business.” 
“Seen any of that water yet?  By the way, how do you expect the water to ‘flood’ as you say?  Is it just going to come walking out of the ocean?  How’s this happening, holy man?”
“So we’re not good enough, is that it?  Well, if this God of yours won’t let me have a good time, the hell with him, I say.  What a fool!  Spending a life pursuing a God that just wants to take all your fun away!”
One of the young boys waits for Ham to finish measuring a plank of wood.  Ham has worked on this plank three hours, honing exactly to God’s instructions.  It is perfect, a work of hard labor.  Ham finally finishes and puts it down with a tired smile, turning around to start on the next plank.  The boy, acting on a dare, runs into the yard and steals the plank, running back to the mockers and waving it around in victory.  The men all laugh and clap the young boy on the back as Ham whirls around, his face falling as he realizes his work is lost.  Now he must start all over.  He takes two steps towards the crowd, determined to finally teach these heretics a lesson.  Just then, he feels a firm hand on his arm.  He turns around and sees the sad but determined eyes of his father looking up at him. 
            “No, my son.  No revenge.  It’s not ours to take.”
            “But Father!  For decades they have gathered to mock us!  When will we be avenged?”
“Vengeance belongs to the Lord, my son.  You must have patience.”
“I’m so tired of this, Father.  When will the Lord come?  When will He come and make things right, as you have said He would?”
“When the time is right, Ham.  When the time is right.  Give your anger to the Lord.  He will take it from you.  Trust Him.”
“I’m so tired, Father.  I’m so tired of working here, day and night.  I’m so tired being mocked every day.  I hate going into the village any more – mothers draw their children away from me, and people part in the street so as not to come near me.  And the yelling!  People yelling insults as I pass!  Why must we put up with all this?”       
“Because we choose to serve the Lord most High, and they do not.  Wait on the Lord.  He will do as He says, and then it will be up to us to start over for mankind.”
Shem walks over as this conversation is going on to join in. “I, too, am tired, Ham.  We all are.  Some days it is hard to make myself come to the yard.  Sometimes it is hard to look my wife in the face, knowing what all this is putting her through.  But in the end, God will make it all right.  I just keep clinging to that.  I have nothing else to cling to at this point.  Whether I live to see it or not, God will make it all right.  Have faith, brother.”
Ham sighs in resignation.  “I know, I know.  It’s just so hard.”
Noah smiles and says, “We, mankind, have made it hard.  It did not start out that way.  Remember the stories of your ancestors.  They are true.  God loves us, and it is not Him that makes it hard.  Now He has provided a way of redemption, a way to start over.  When the time comes, He will show His love and mercy to us in fantastic ways.  Did He not remove us from the garden so we would not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in our sin?  Has He not provided us with the means to work the land and feed ourselves?  He has always provided for us, and He always will.  The Lord keeps His word.  Have faith, my son.”
Japheth comes walking up and says, “If we’re going to get that side finished today, we need to get moving.  Ham, I’ll help you redo that plank.  We’ll have it done in no time.  Don’t worry.”
The four men, tied together by a legacy of faith, turn back to their work, turning their backs on the jeers roaring out from behind them. 

            Vandalism had been a problem over the past century.  Many times Noah and his sons had come to work in the early hours only to find that they had to repair massive damage from the previous night.  The village men seemed to find joy in being destructive.  Then again, these were violent times.  Vandalism, violence, murder – all these and more were part of daily life now.  You couldn’t walk down the street without fear of being accosted.  It got worse as the day went on and the drunkenness ran deeper.  Men – and not just a few women – started drinking when the sun was high and didn’t stop until they passed out deep into the night.  The result was all sorts of violence and evil.  
     Violence ran deep even in those who did not drink too much.  Overall, mankind had become a volatile, murderous race.  And the murderous attitude of the people found the perfect target in the local crazy family, Noah and his sons.  As the righteous ones pursued God’s directions, they were often subject to attacks and beatings.  About 20 years into the project, Japheth didn’t come back from what was supposed to be a short errand into the village for supplies.  His father and brothers had eventually found him abandoned on the outskirts of town, beaten almost to death.  It was three months before Japheth was able to rejoin the project, and the loss of manpower created an even bigger delay.  From then on, none of the four men went anywhere alone, and their wives were no longer allowed to go anywhere without male protection.  Rape had also become rampant, and Noah’s family knew it was only by the grace and protection of the Lord that their women had been spared this horror.