The Flood of Salvation #2

Narrow-GateThe flood is a significant event in human history. In fact, ancient cultures have been telling this story of thousands of years. It’s not simply a Christian and Jewish folklore. It’s embedded in cultures around the world. That’s because all of humanity comes from the survivors of the flood. And that event, as tragic as it was, is nothing compared to the coming judgments that this world will see. However, just as God provided a way of safety from that judgement, so to did He provide that for the one to come. The flood story, as with all Old Testament salvation stories, were meant to point to something far greater. They point to the One who would save us, not from temporary tragedies, but from a spiritual impairment…from an eternal death.

In part one of this series I drew the connections between the flood story and salvation in Jesus by looking at the construction of the ark itself. Today’s correlation is somewhat different. While the first post was very positive and encouraging, I’m afraid this one is more dire. But even in the bleak reality of what we’re going to look at, there is always hope. Like with any warnings, it only benefits those who choose to take them seriously. And for those who do, there is always hope.

The flood affected the entire world. Every living creature would be impacted. We don’t know exactly how many people lived on the earth in Noah’s day, but common sense estimates would have to conclude that there were millions, if not billions. If read some scientists calculations that have placed it from 1 to 40 billion people based on lifespans and numbers of children from each of those listed in the chapters leading up to Genesis 6. Either way, there were a lot. The sad reality is, only a tiny fraction of those were saved.

…because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

1 Peter 3:20 (NIV)

Eight…out of millions or billions. Even if it were only thousands on the earth, eight would be such a small number. It’s not like God had a “Noah only club”. Noah preached for 120 years and, as 1 Peter says, God waited patiently for mankind to turn. Because of who God is, we know that He didn’t want to just save eight. God wants everyone on the boat. But only a small percentage will walk through the door.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

When Jesus spoke these words, He was expressing the heart of a savior. God in the flesh was laying out the path to life and bidding us to come and follow. It’s not like Noah’s ark or it’s door were hidden. They are in plain sight. It’s not like the door to eternal life is hidden either. Jesus made it as plain and obvious as anyone could. It’s Him. That’s it. Jesus is the person who is also the path. And instead of one man preaching righteousness and repentance and salvation through faith, we have an entire church with that same mission today. But just like in Noah’s day, the message is falling on so many deaf ears. Please don’t let that be true of you. And if you’ve already punched your boat pass by believing in Jesus, lets spend our lives getting more people on the boat.

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The Flood of Salvation #1

ark-doorThere are so many connection throughout the bible. Interwoven themes that lace old and new testaments and thousands of years of human history together. It is one thing that makes the Bible so believable and so reliable.

One of those common themes is salvation. The word salvation is used in different ways in the Bible when applied to different scenarios. For example, God can save someone from a present danger. David prayed many times for God to save him from his enemies who pursued him throughout various points in his life. Then there is the idea that we are in the process of being saved. This is commonly expressed as sanctification. The concept that God is transforming our nature to be more like His. In this particular notion, we are being saved from ourselves. Then there is the use of the word salvation applied to a spiritual sense. Salvation in this way means that we are being saved from God’s wrath. This is an eternal salvation, unlike the other two.

God has used many instruments to bring salvation to mankind, but every single one of them, whichever form of salvation we’re talking about, points to the ultimate means of salvation: Jesus Christ. In the next few posts, I am going to break down one of the most monumental occasions in human history, the great flood, and show how God worked salvation during this tragic experience, and how that points directly to the coming Messiah.

The flood story of the Bible takes place in Genesis 6 through 9. It’s an incredibly sad story and yet, at the same time, one that gives us a lot of hope. It’s set during an age much like the one we live in now. Rampant sexual immorality, people calling good things bad and bad things good, and outright disregard for God. The Bible describes mankind as wicked in the days of the flood.

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.

Genesis 6:5 (NIV)

With a world that evil, God needed to cleanse the earth. Fortunately, there was a man and his family who lived apart from the practices of those around them. Noah is referred to as a righteous man and a preacher. He is a man of great faith. Because of His faith, God is going to bring salvation to Noah and his family. As you’re probably familiar with, God instructs Noah to build an ark that will carry his entire family and animals from all over the world. It’s absolutely fascinating. This brings me to the first connection between the flood story and our salvation in Jesus. It is the theme of ONE.

You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.

Genesis 6:16 (NASB)

There is one ark and on that ark, there is one window and one door. The theme of ONE is so prevalent throughout the Bible narrative and yet it is so hotly contested by people today. There was one ark on which people and animals could be delivered from the coming peril. There was one door and one way into that ark. And there was one window through which to view the world. Humanity has always been plagued with this desire to build their own ark, to their own specifications, on their own terms. The ark that is Jesus, does not “fit their mold” of religion or lack there of. Many people are afraid of the idea of one way to be saved. But those is Noah’s day didn’t get to argue with God or pick their own means of being saved. God provided that way. It was huge and obvious and everyone knew the way in. There was one door, wide open, with a giant invitation.

The Bible tells us that Noah spent his life preaching salvation to the world, in the years leading up to the flood. Even though Noah and his family were the target of the ark’s construction, they were not the only one’s offered salvation. Noah spent 120 years building and preaching, building and preaching, and yet, no one came. But the offer still remained. for 120 years it remained. The one ark, a giant beacon of hope and salvation, stood out for the world to gaze upon. And they shunned it and scoffed at it. Jesus is that one ark.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (ESV)

Jesus is the epitome of the concept of ONE. God provided us yet again, with a giant beautiful beacon of hope and life. He did so by putting on human flesh and dying for the evil that is in all of us. In Jesus, God built the ark Himself. While Noah’s ark could be used to save humanity and animal life from a cataclysmic event, it could never redeem their souls. That kind of ark would have to be built by God. And not only is Jesus that ark, faith in Him is the door by which we enter the ark, and His life and teachings are the window to how we see the world and others.

The theme of ONE is the most inclusive offer that a good God could make. It removes confusion. The ark, and the ark that is Jesus, is a message to mankind to stop trying to build your own leaky boat and come to the one God has built for you. Lay down your burdens and attempts to appease God and get on the boat. The door is wide open. The only ID you have to show at the door is that of your faith in the savior of the world.

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (HCSB)

Memory or Life?

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What use are bible verses if they don’t become practical in our lives? We can memorize, share, read, or even preach them, but if they fail to become reality through use, they have benefited us not. Advice unheated may as well have fallen on deaf ears. Principles unpracticed will not build character. The Bible is alive. It’s full of weapons against depression, addiction, pride, and every destructive thing that would harm the individual and humanity as a whole. Knowing that does little. Living that changes everything.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires

Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

Knowing the word of God is the obvious first step in living out the word of God. My four year old daughter has seven bible verses memorized. It’s incredible. But if she doesn’t allow those to impact her life as she grows, then they will be like anything else she learns in life. It is easy to gain knowledge but much more difficult to allow that knowledge to forge a lifestyle.

I’ve preached messages on the peace of God and joy in difficult times. But I will be the first to admit, that I still have a hard time being a peace and joyful at all times. Our kids have been sick on and off for over six months. We’ve seen E. Coli, Walking Pneumonia, Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, Colds, and more. It’s been really really hard. At times, my wife and I have felt desperate. We have had to choose peace and joy through it all. Sometimes each day. Some days, I have completely failed. It wasn’t because the peace of God wasn’t extended to me, it’s because I didn’t choose to rest in that peace.

For all of us, the difference between a life change and more head knowledge is a simple choice. Even if we don’t trust God, He is still every bit trustworthy. We don’t benefit from the rest and hope that comes from that trust because we don’t choose to. We can choose to love, choose kindness, choose selflessness, choose joy, and choose faith. That’s the beauty of freewill. The Holy Spirit won’t ever force us to change, only if we choose to. When we do choose to change and grow, there are no limits to what the Holy Spirit can do in and through us.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Prayer Warriors

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“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

                                                                        Matthew 26:36-41 (ESV)

When my wife and I started dating we used to stay up all hours of the night watching movies or just talking. There were several occasions I can recall driving her home and knowing that I only had a few hours before I had to be ready to head to work that morning. But it was worth it. The sleep was not that important compared to spending the time with her. From the day we had started talking to one another, we never wanted to spend much time apart. The first time we hung out, a lunch date turned into nine hours of talking, reading silly books at a local bookstore, running to the pet store, and going to see what turned out to be a pretty lame movie. I’m not telling you my sappy love story to try to impress or brag but because this is what love can look like. I’m not for a moment pretending that we have it all figured out. We have our ‘stuff’. But what we do have, and really always have had, is connectivity.

I don’t know about you, but much of my life in pursuit of Christ has been a long shot from a good friendship and marriage. I have been a lousy friend to Him. In fact, if I were to treat my wife or any of my friends the way I have shown friendship to Jesus, they all would have dropped me long ago. Praise God that His friendship and devotion more than makes up for my failures. But that doesn’t allow me any excuse to not do my part. The connection I have with my wife should mirror the one that I have with Jesus. The connectivity and intimacy that I’m talking about can only be established through prayer.

The life of Jesus shows us what it’s like to want to be with God, even in seclusion. Never once does it say that Jesus prayed when He had a chance or when something came up. It doesn’t say that He set aside 10-15 minutes of morning and evenings to say His prayers. It doesn’t talk about having a little bit of quiet time with the Lord. Jesus’ life was a life of connectivity and intimacy. Jesus had a life of prayer, and He wants the same for us.

“And he (Jesus) came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?”

Matthew 26:40 (ESV) [my emphasis]

My flesh says, “Give them a break Jesus.” They didn’t know what was about to happen plus they’ve been up all night already. But that’s just it. Our life in prayer, and in the Spirit, isn’t about our convenience, doing it when we feel like it, or knowing what lies ahead. If anything, prayer is not convenient, but just like spending time with my wife, I do it because I want to regardless of convenience. It was never convenient to stay up till 3 am and then go to work at 6:30 am. But I did it because I wanted to be with her. The same is true with prayer. We do it as often as we can no matter the time of day or what is going on because we want to be with God. More than that, we know we need to be with God.

What does it look like to live a life of prayer? We are at war for our entire life, but what does that exactly mean? What is at stake in this war? Can we really be so connected to Jesus? These questions and more are discussed in chapter nine of my book Questioned by Christ. You can check it out on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles.

God bless brothers and sisters!

The Curse of Tenderness

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I have found that it is the tenderhearted people in this world that get hurt the most. Why? Because they believe the best in everyone. They endure the longest and stick with people the most. Tenderhearted people cling to hope, even if things never change. They show grace to others so willingly, even when they themselves don’t receive it in return. Tenderhearted people lay their heart out for those they love, and often, even for those they don’t know. They are vulnerable like no one else. And that fact can subject them to an emotion melee. Because so much in life tries to drain the tenderness out of people.

I admit that the title of this post is simply meant to shock. I don’t believe that tenderness is a curse. It’s actually an attribute of a godly person. Everyone should be tenderhearted. That’s the Lord’s design for His creation. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

Tenderness has to be fought for. That may sound contrary. A tender person fighting for something…you better believe it. Many opportunities will arise for the heart to become hardened. The longer we live, the easier it is for callouses to form on our heart. We suffer loss, abuse, failure, unforgiveness, and so much more. Each time a callous could form if we let it.

So how does the heart stay tender? Love. A deep and sincere love. The tender heart will still experience pain but that doesn’t have to remove the tenderness. To all my tenderhearted brothers and sisters out there: don’t give up. The world needs you. Don’t allow life’s circumstances to change you. Remain tender even when it hurts the most, because you are demonstrating an attribute of God to a world that so desperately needs Him. Allow yourself to be hurt, time and time again, because the reward and the impact of your love is far greater than the pain you will feel. Continue showing grace even when you don’t receive it. Grace was never ours to withhold. If you find yourself getting a little calloused, seek some time alone with Jesus and let Him smooth off the rough edges. Confide in others. You’re not meant to go this life alone. The love of a friend can help keep your heart tender. Continue to love deeply and sincerely because Someone up above loves you even more deeply and sincerely.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32 (NASB)

Arguing with God

Two Angels Guiding Lot and His Daughters from Sodom 19th-Century Print

It fascinates me that no matter how good God is to us, humanity will inevitably find something to argue with Him about. It plagues us from birth. I have lost count of how many times my children complain about even good things. For example, I buy them a gift or give them a treat, but it’s not good enough for them. Maybe I take them out to dinner or we have a movie night at home but it’s not the exact place they wanted to go to or the movie they were just ‘dying’ to see. I’m sure I was the same way when I was little. You’d have to ask my mom. All little kids are that way to varying degrees. Sadly, many people don’t ever grow out of it either.

I was listening to a podcast on Genesis 19 a few weeks ago and it dawned on me that I was seeing the same thing play out in the bible that I see at home with my kiddos, only on a much grander scale. Lot and his family were essentially arguing with God’s goodness. In this chapter. Angels are there to rescue a man named Lot, and his family before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were beyond wicked. And Lot and his family, while not blameless by any means, must have been set apart from the wicked people around them. So God wants to save them, and they actually argue with how He wants to do it.

First, they all lingered and didn’t take God’s message seriously (Genesis 19:14-16). The angels literally had to drag them out of the city to be saved. Once out of the city, they even argued about where God was sending them (Genesis 19:18-20). It was the equivalent of saying, “I don’t really care that you want to save me and I really don’t like how you want to save me.”

That story line has been repeated in every generation. Think about it. Anyone who rejects the message of the gospel are arguing with the fact that they need saved and also the method by which God wants to save us. Non Christians see the gospel message as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). Why would someone need to die so I could be saved? Why do I even need to be saved? Lot may have battled with similar questions. We know at least that Lot’s wife longed for some part of her city. Why else would she look back as she was fleeing. For Lot, God came to rescue him from disaster and death. For us, God did the same in Jesus Christ. But so many people aren’t taking the message of the gospel seriously. How many people do you know are lingering and not acting? How many times have you heard someone say that the gospel is close minded? How could God only make one way to be saved? How about the fact that God made a way to be saved? Why isn’t that good enough for the majority of people in this world? Why isn’t that seen as absolutely incredible by more people? I would venture to say that it’s because we like to make our own options.

We like to create our own reality and have things on our own terms. This applies to far more than eternal salvation, it applies to our day in and day out living. We want to be blessed in certain ways. We want to be rescued in certain ways. When our own perceptions and expectations aren’t met, we grumble. A key struggle to life is finding that place of contentment, where we can trust in the goodness of God, especially when our expectations are not being met. The place where we can rely on His greater wisdom. The place where we can truly believe that He cares for more for us than we do for ourselves. We are better off in His hands rather than our own. Left to their own doing, Lot and his family would have burned with the rest of the city. We would all make an equal mess of our own lives in the absence of our Makers hands.

The Bible is riddled with examples of God bringing redemption through unfamiliar and unusual means. Joseph saving Israel through his own slavery, Gideon’s army being reduced to minuscule numbers, God raining down manna from heaven during the wilderness journey, a young man defeating the fiercest warrior with a sling and stones, parting a sea in order to walk through on dry ground, and marching around a massive wall to bring it tumbling down, just to name a few. God specializes in the unexpected. But so many of us cling so hard to our expectations rather than relying on God’s faithfulness.

But God is good. No matter your present circumstances. God is faithful. Even though you may not see Him working. God’s heart is for you. Always, no matter what.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8 (ESV)

 

Tough Questions #3: How can Christians claim that their religion is the only true one when there are so many in the world?

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…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…

1 Peter 3:15 (NASB)

I have been asked many really challenging questions, that also happen to be very good questions. I think at one time or another, most people have asked themselves, or others, tough questions about faith. We all have to resolve in our own hearts what we believe and why we believe it. Christianity is no different. Throughout my childhood years I was exposed to only the christian faith. That never stopped me from wondering. God made us to wonder, and explore, and to discover. That tendency is meant to draw us closer to Him. As I got older, I learned about other religions and world views. I thought many of them to be fascinating, mythical, but never reality. Many religions are full of really cool traditions and have good teachings, but when it came down to it, they were all missing what was most important.

I am a high school teacher. So I have about 130 inquisitive teens every day pass through my classroom. That means I hear questions similar to the one that this post is based on. I have the honor of sponsoring a Christian club at my High School and at times, I’ve had kids come in to ask us what makes us different. For anyone to cling to a faith or creed, they must believe it with such intensity that everything else in their world becomes subject to it. That draws questions, and sometimes ridicule. Especially in the world we live in today. So many cultures are about ‘open-mindedness’ and being ‘all-inclusive’. For anyone to claim that what they believes is true, makes everything contrary to that belief out to be false. I’ve heard many objectors use this as the foundation of their argument against the Christian faith. What many of them don’t realize is, that all religions are exclusive, and so is truth. In fact, atheists are exclusive too. They believe that no God exists. This means that they believe everyone who believes in God is wrong. Christians get a bad rap, but everyone, besides maybe agnostics (because they don’t know what to believe) are claiming that their reality is the only reality. However, only one can actually be right. People who claim opposing truths cannot simultaneously be correct.

Today, I want to offer a simple response to anyone who wonders how Christians can claim that what they believe is the only truth. Keep in mind, by being a Christian you are denying the reality and truthfulness of any other religion. Just on that basis, you are potentially insulting nearly 5 billion people (69%) around the world. It seems inevitable that you will come across someone wanting to know the answer to this question. If you are one of those 5 billion people, I hope this is helpful for you.

  1. Fulfilled Prophecy: For a claim to be true, it must be supported by evidence that can not be disputed. All religions have their stories and their proverbs, but only one has hundreds of prophetic statements that have come true. Not only have they come true, but they have come true in one person. There are over 350 specific prophecies that Jesus Christ fulfilled. Keep in mind that these prophecies came hundreds of years before His arrival on planet Earth. The odds against one person fulfilling just eight of those prophecies are astronomical. They equate to one in ten to the 21st power (1021). Here is an illustration that reflects that number. Cover the entire Earth’s land mass with silver dollar coins 120 feet high. Then, mark one of those dollars and randomly bury it. After that, ask a person to travel the Earth and find that marked dollar…while blindfolded. If that’s the probability for 8 prophecies, just imagine what it would be for over 350! Someone who did that has to be who they say they are. And Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.
  2. Confirmation: A lot of religions claim that their main figure was miraculous in some way. Buddhist believe that the words of Buddha were divine. Muslims believe that Muhammad was a messenger of Allah. Mormons believe in the divine nature of Joseph Smith and that he completed the gospel. The hang up for all of these religions is that none of them have any form of confirmation that their central figure was who they said they were. None of them proved, in a sense, that they were divine or following a divine calling. Jesus, on the other hand, confirmed His mission and identity with many miracles. Jesus literally raised people from the dead, gave blind people their sight, cleansed people of the nasty disease of leprosy, and even calmed a storm and sea. That’s just a few of His extensive resume. But not only does Jesus confirm Christianity, so does the authenticity of the Bible itself. The places, the people, the events, and so much more have been supported by archaeology and science. It was written by 40 men over a period of 1500 years and all subjects, prophecies, and evidence agree. It was written in three very different languages by people who lived on three different continents. The authors of the Bible lived in very different time periods, very different places, and had different occupations but all focused on the same story line: God’s redemption of mankind. For a book to be so congruent and so accurate with that background is nothing short of miraculous.
  3. Resurrection: The Bible and history gives us tons of evidence that Jesus was real, that He lived among us, and indeed, lived a miraculous life. Few things set Jesus apart like His resurrection from the dead. No other religion can claim this. And this isn’t some mythical belief among religious zealots. Jesus was seen alive by more than 500 people after He had been crucified and laid in a tomb. With that kind of evidence, it’s an impossible event to disprove. Most cases are resolved on the testimony of two or more witnesses, let alone 500 plus. And these weren’t all His followers either. So the witnesses can’t be designated as biased. Jesus lives, and none of the other religious figures do.

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

Luke 24:44 (ESV) [my emphasis]

Of all the religions in the world, only one has been confirmed by prophecy, miracles, and a resurrection from the dead. Only one religion in the world is about God reaching down to His creation out of love. Every other faith centers on humanity’s attempt to reach God, which is impossible. Only one religion defines humanity’s struggle and hurt and brokenness and simultaneously provides the solution. Only one religion in the world is so well documented and factually accurate.  If you’d like a more in depth look at this topic, I would suggest reading The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist who set out to disprove Christianity, and instead, found the overwhelming evidence for faith. I would also suggest Jesus Among Other gods by Ravi Zacharias. This man will blow your mind!

Christianity is not blind faith. It’s real, and it’s powerful. And Jesus has been changing lives for thousands of years. Since the beginning of time actually. Just as He has in mine.

Peace brothers and sisters.