Forty Days and Forty Nights


Though judgment is certainly a theme in this event, there is a much greater theme, that of the saving grace of God.

Every single living thing that entered the ark, every person, every creature, went in response to God’s command, willingly, in faith. The burden of decision was God’s, not Noah’s, to close and seal the door. Being sealed in with “atonement” pitch, Noah and his family would be completely safe. The apostle Paul gave the same feeling, the same sense of security, to his readers when he wrote that who belong to Jesus are also sealed by the Holy Spirit, completely safe. God created a barrier between the ones He saved, and the ones who were swept up in His judgment, sparing both the agony of watching the other.

Did the flood cover the entire globe, or was the flood regional, destroying all human settlements and surrounding environments? It was fascinating to explore both possibilities:Those who defend a global flood offer the following reasons:

If the flood was local, God could simply have relocated Noah, and there would have been no reason to save two of every kind of animal.

  • The description seems to describe a universal event.
  • A local flood could not have lasted a full year since water seeks its lowest possible level; it would have dissipated.
  • There is some geological evidence, scattered throughout the world, of jumbled bone deposits at considerable heights, that could suggest something like a universal flood.

Those who support a more localized flood point out that

The Bible sometimes uses the word “world” to mean “all of humanity.” Biblical clues to the geographical limits of human habitation can be found in the place-names in the first 9 chapters of Genesis—they’re all in Mesopotamia. It isn’t until chapter 10 that other places beyond the Fertile Crescent are named.

  • Since there were major regions of earth not yet settled by humans—Antarctica and most likely the western hemisphere—there would be no need to destroy the whole earth. The limits of the spread of sin also define the limits of God’s judgment. The reason why God did not relocate Noah was so he could be God’s voice, warning of judgment and offering rescue through the ark.
  • The description could have been from Noah’s vantage—from horizon to horizon there was only water.
  • It would require four times the water now in existence to actually cover all of earth. If the flood was universal, it did not happen naturally, as the Genesis account would seem to describe.
  • The water of a global flood could not recede in the space of a year.

Whether regional or universal, if the Flood is a factual story, then it was a miraculous and supernatural event:

Remember that all the animals came into the ark seemingly willingly, in pairs, as God ordained.

  • Not a single death, injury, or illness is recorded during that time—an entire zoo!
  • Through the tumult of a forty-day storm, the ark remained intact and afloat.
  • The timing of the completion of the ark, the collection and storage of the supplies, the entry of the animals and the first drops of rain was impeccable.
  • God Himself shut and sealed the door.

The Flood, in whatever iteration, is a story told round the world. All of humankind seems to have a shared memory of God’s judgment by water. Ancient accounts of a destructive flood can be found in every corner of the planet. Tribes in new Guinea, India, Brazil, China, Norway, Mexico, and even First Nation peoples from North America all have a flood story.

Each story

  • Tells of a favored family (several stories mention eight people specifically).
  • The family survived on a boat.
  • Two-thirds of the stories attribute the disaster to humankind’s wickedness
  • Over one half of these stories end with the survivors landing on a mountain.

To date, anthropologists have collected between 250 to 300 such flood stories from various cultures.

Some commentators aver the Flood stories scattered throughout the world point to only one family repopulating the earth.

Interestingly, God’s invitation to come into the ark was the last recorded time God spoke to Noah. 371 days passed. Over a year of silence.

Long after the rain had stopped, they were still in the ark, tending the animals, watching their supplies get lower and lower. God had never told Noah what was to come next, after the flood. Chapter 7 concludes with an anxious sense of concern.

Did Noah start to wonder? Did he feel forgotten? Abandoned?


Noah’s Ark Upon the Waters – https://pixabay.com/photos/archenoah-ship-animals-art-flood-3008693/ ]

Tsunami


Chapter 7

Terrified screams, great flashes of lightning cracking the blackened sky, thick clouds roiling in turmoil, the deafening detonation of thunder as electricity blasted the trees, the ground, the buildings…the acrid smell of dust getting wet with the first hard drops of rain pelting the dry earth.

Then came the tsunami, seemingly from nowhere, and without warning, “on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” It was as though God pressed His divine thumb on the reset button, and the second day of creation was reversed in a great crashing deluge of mighty walls of water, and great slicing streams of icy sheets of water. The vaults God made, spoken of in the creation story, to separate the water above and the water below, exploded, and from behind them came foaming spumes of water bursting forth like lava.

The tsunamis of today are tracked with satellite images and seismometers. Warning is sent sometimes hours ahead of the tsunami, giving at least slender hope, some time to flee. But in Noah’s day? The sealing of the ark’s door was the only warning. Perhaps even as the door was closing, a distant rumble spoke of the approaching alluvion. A moment of horrific terror, and then the crash had come and gone, life erased.

It had to have been shocking, and awful, for the eight trembling people, and the panicked animals, as the ark bucked and wove through the pounding sea. Forty days and nights of steady downpour, sunlight blocked by the mighty hurricane, remindful of the beginning of all creation, when “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” The entire surface of the earth was covered, even the mountains. Every air-breathing creature died. The finality of the description at the end of this chapter removes any chance for escape,

Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.

Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.

People and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth.

This is hardly an adorable child’s tale, with smiling animals bobbing gently in the sunshine. This is an horrific account of devastation and destruction.

The difference between Noah and everyone else was merely their response to God’s grace, according to this narrative. Everybody else scoffed, but Noah took God seriously. The difference between those who were saved and those who died in the flood was the difference between being in the ark and being outside it.

Those who were saved and those who died all went through the flood. But those who survived were those in the ark which sheltered them from the effects of God’s wrath and grief over sin. Those outside the ark, as well as those within, knew the ark existed and knew about God’s warning of a judgment to come. Some chose to ignore these facts, while Noah, his wife, and his sons with their wives, acted on them.

So it is today. God has said there is an inexorable end to sin—death.

As the Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross, it was as though He embodied a black hole with a gravitational force so powerful it sucked all sin out of humankind and held it within that one human frame. Then Jesus drank to the dregs the frightening power of God’s cleansing wrath. Jesus took on that inexorable end, death itself, and He conquered it, matter and antimatter cancelling each other in a brilliant flash of incalculable might. Even as it was accomplished, the very light was sucked from the sky, and the earth opened to spew out its dead.

Those who trust in Jesus are trusting in that mighty power, to be transformed in that same supernatural way. Those who decide to tend their options, to not trust in Jesus, according to this story, and to the Gospel as it’s told, are deciding to take their chances with the cleansing wrath of God. Knowing about the ark is not enough. You need to be in the ark.

One truth the Epic of the Flood seems to be saying is God’s judgment of sin is permanent and universal—the Flood wiped out all that had the breath of life. The ark inhabitants basically started over on a new earth. The apostle Peter tied the Flood event from the ancient past to God’s coming judgment by fire.

According to Peter, this future judgment will be very much the same, the heavens and earth will be completely destroyed and only those who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will enter into the new heavens and earth. It is a terrifying prophecy.


Hurrican Wilma – NASA, data imported by FleurDeOdile [Public domain]]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 3, Prayer, Power, Preaching


What would you call a really good day? Is it a day when everything goes perfectly, everything on your list gets done, everyone at work and at home is agreeable and cooperative, and somehow you have time for a good book and a bubble bath, or some t.v. time and your favorite drink? Is it a day without any trouble or setbacks? 

Or, is it a day when you meet every trouble and setback with grace and a gentle tongue, people at work and at home are terrible to you but you love them through it, forgiving them everything, where nothing on your list gets done but you praise and thank God for making you able to persevere, trusting Him with your agenda and your time? Hold onto those thoughts.

In the next few chapters, we’re going to see a cycle:

  1. It begins with prayer and prophesying (speaking forth the mind and counsel of God) which includes scripture.
  2. This leads to power, lives are changed, something notable happens.
  3. Which in turn leads to opposition, which sometimes comes in circumstances, and sometimes comes in persecution.
  4. Which drives Jesus’ followers back into prayer and the cycle begins again.

Each problem drives the believers on to the Lord

In our lives today, you and I have to cope with much the same kinds of things that are in these chapters—meeting people’s needs, dealing with people who don’t like us or what we represent, who want to stand in the way, dealing with discord in our churches and relationships, dealing with lies, suffering, injustice, and personal injury. The list goes on.

Then we ask God to give us wisdom through the Spirit, and He willJames told the church. When we make a decision and act on it, we have confidence in God’s approval of us and His guidance for us, though there may be further upset and resistance, because we know God’s love is unconditional, and His approval is not based on success or failure.

Every time you and I meet difficult circumstances, setbacks, pushback and the like in the Holy Spirit, the situation will always provide opportunities for growth for us, and for the people around us. At least, that’s how James wrote the opening lines of his letter to the churches.

James, who led the 1st century church in Jerusalem, had a great way of putting it:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

Consider troubles opportunities, knowing God allows trouble. It’s not always clear why. I think it’s true God is sometimes teaching you and me something, sometimes God is teaching one or another person who is watching us, or involved with the situation in some way. Sometimes, God is rescuing someone, might even be us. Sometimes bad things just happen, trouble happens, calamity and tragedy happen. We can’t forget it’s a broken planet simply swarming with broken people. Those jagged edges can cut deep.

Let’s not make light of it, or try to cover it over with a Band-Aid Bible verse! Horror, despair, gut-wrenching sorrow, despondency, rage over injustice, terror…these are no small thing.

Still, what we do know is that God is there in the midst, experiencing the pain with us, and offering Himself as both comfort to endure, and strength to persevere. As James said, “you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature.”

The believers needed good, strong teaching like that to help them through what was coming, for rememberthey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.

This chapter opens with Peter and John’s habit of going up to the temple for prayer every day, and also to pore over the scriptures. Jesus could easily have passed by this beggar every time he went to the temple. Remember, the beggar was over 40 years old, so he’d been begging here a long time, but Jesus had left him unhealed.

I have no idea if John and Peter were late to prayer, or had plenty of time, but I can tell this beggar’s request was an interruption to their day. These disciples had their hands full, with thousands of believers overnight needing teaching, shepherding, and literally feeding and housing. It’s hard enough cooking and cleaning, and providing for one family!

When the beggar asked for money, Peter and John both really looked at him. They took the time to slow down, and be fully present with this interruption in their very full day. They gave the man their undivided attention…and care.

“I don’t have what you want, but I do have something, that if you’re willing to receive it, is better.”  As Peter took the beggar’s hand, the power of the Holy Spirit flowed from him into the man, and restored his ankles and feet – for the first time in his long life the man felt strength.

It was quite a spectacle, no decorum, unfettered joy, cranked-to-11 praises – I love Sunday morning worship at my church, because everyone sings at the top of their lungs, with great gusto. It’s that kind of all-out praising this man gave God! So, no wonder a crowd gathered, giving Peter his chance to preach.

And preach he did!! He was even more pointed than in the last chapter. He hammered them with hard truth, truth that hurt. But, I think they were ready for it, just like the people in chapter 2. Just like when God knows I’m ready to see something about myself that I couldn’t have handled before, because I was too fragile. But now, now that it’s revealed, I remember, “Ah yes, God knows I’m ready to hear this, and to grow.”

So, here’s parts one and two: Peter has prayed over the man, now he’s preaching (prophesying, remember, whole counsel of God), then the Lord’s wild, wonder-working power comes, and something notable happened. Stay tuned for parts three and four to come!


[Help | Image by Лечение Наркомании from Pixabay ]

Right!…What’s an Ark?


The Ark

Years ago a well-known comedian imagined what that first conversation God had with Noah must have been like.

It is absolutely fascinating to find millennia old blueprints for a massive ocean liner in the Bible, but there it is. God commenced with precise and explicit instructions, down to the cubit. In fact, the dimensions and seaworthiness of the ark were once tested on a smaller scale and sure enough, the ark could have stayed afloat with all that weight aboard. Still, whether you accept the ark of antiquity as a real artifact, or an ancient legend, the ark does serve as a symbol or type, pointing to something else.

  1. It was made of gopher wood. No one today knows what type of wood that is, but the word “gopher” holds meaning. “Gopher” and the word “pitch” which occurs in this passage, is the same Hebrew word used later in Exodus to mean “atonement.” All three of these words come from the same basic Hebrew root, which means “to cover.” Thus, the ark was made from “atonement wood,” and it was made water-proof with “atonement pitch.”

You can see where this headed. The ark of the covenant, described in Exodus, had an “atonement cover,” also called the “mercy seat” of God, which leads to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who carried, in a mysterious way, all believers with Him as He brought His own through death and into the newness of eternal life.

So, Noah persevered in faith, and expressed his faith in his willingness to continue building, and to continue explaining what he was doing to whomever would listen. He and his family must have often felt discouraged, and felt tempted to give up. This was not an immediate rescue. What God asked of Noah was going to take a long time, involving hardship, sacrifice, focus and perseverance. Let’s look at the numbers,

  • In Genesis 5:32, we find out Noah was 500 years old when his sons were born (whether they were triplets, or born close together, we don’t know).
  • In Genesis 6:30, God began the countdown at 120 years.
  • In Genesis 7:6, we discover Noah was 600 years old when the Flood came.

If we take the story at face value, then Noah started his work alone, at 480 years old, or possibly his father and grandfather joined him, in those earlier years, though they were certainly very old men by that point. (For a fascinating prophecy, embedded in the meaning of Noah’s ancestors’ names, see “His Death Shall Bring It”)

After about twenty years, Noah’s sons were born, and they grew up in their unusual family, building the ark as their after-school activity.

For another hundred years Noah, his wife, and their small family were a tiny island of godliness in a sea of godlessness. Noah’s sons joined with their father in this long, hard walk of obedience, patiently sharing their faith, and God’s plan of rescue. They stockpiled vast quantities of food. They became naturalists, observing and capturing every kind of creature, making sure they had a viable breeding pair of each. They created habitats for these creatures within the ark, and prepared for the long sojourn they would be spending together.

And, Noah preached to all who would listen. Imagine how he might have felt, as a preacher and teacher, when the only people who consistently listened, and ended up believing, were his own family and no others. Even after 100 years of solid, faithful ministry


[Glass Ark | Pixabay]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 2, Babel Reversed

There are times when something in scripture happens and you see the whole arc of God’s movement, from Genesis to Revelation.

This chapter is one of those occasions.

Cast your mind back to Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel. It’s the last ancient story before we get to Abraham’s account. The editors who curated all the material in what we call the Old Testament arranged these ancient stories to explain why the world is as it is, and what God is doing about it. This last story explains the dispersion of peoples, and the reason behind global diversity and conflict among nations.

There was a time when humanity was unified, but their end goal was self-aggrandizement over and above God. We are experiencing today some of the global effects of human self-glorification apart from the Spirit of Christ. Developing nations end up being taken advantage of in awful ways, developed nations take what they can get. The earth is truly groaning under the burden of human wrongdoing, and wrong-being.

God’s long-range plan to bring health, life, peace, and joy back to the planet itself as well as humankind began with Abraham and is still in the stages of development today, with the resurrected Jesus at work through His beloved ones.

So, back to the Tower of Babel.

In the Tower of Babel story, unified humankind spoke one language and had one purpose: to build a human monument that would reach into heaven, uniting heaven and earth, God and humanity, and bringing human beings to the same level as God.

In truth, this is God’s plan as well.

But, just as God had prohibited the first human beings from eating from the Tree of Life, once they had chosen their course away from God’s guidance, so now, God would prohibit the completion of the Tower. The reason was the same. Humankind, in our current iteration, is in no condition to occupy the realm of God with God. Our inner beings are not made of the stuff of pure love and pure light, for since God is light, then we bring some darkness with us, and light always overcomes darkness. Until we have been changed, the full presence of God is no place for us. We simply wouldn’t survive it.

This is, in fact, the very truth God explained to Moses when he longed to see God. God said to Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Yet, this is not where God has left it, with us. God’s plan, all along, has been to dwell with His people, and for the Lord’s beloved ones to dwell with Him. That’s how it was in the Garden of Eden, the first story of us with God. And that’s how it will be in the Beautiful Garden described in the last chapters of Revelation. In between the first and last book, the Alpha and Omega of the Bible, is God methodically working towards that goal. You might even say humanity spiritually intuited God’s plan from the first, with a deep, visceral longing for Paradise, hence the plan to bake bricks and build a tower.

So, God called Abraham, and brought forth a nation through him. God settled His glory among His people, that He might live among them, and they might have the experience of being with Him. Then, God telescoped Himself into the tiny form of a baby, inside His mother, and came forth into the world to literally live among people, and people to live with Him, side by side, on the same level. See where we’re going? After His resurrection and ascension, Jesus sent His Spirit to live inside the people who receive Him. That’s an amazingly intimate experience of closeness with God. But, it is not the endgame.

No, the endgame is that we be made of the same stuff as pure love and pure light that we can be with God in God’s realm, a miracle no less astounding than God making Himself to be of our substance that God could be in our realm with us. The final stages of this plan are still under production, but it is coming.

And now we are at that moment when the Upper Room thundered and shook with the sheer power of God’s Spirit.

  1. Wind: In Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the apostles’ day, the word for “spirit” and the word for “wind” or “breath” were the same. The wind was a symbol of invisible power, just as Jesus had described to Nicodemus.
  2. Fire: The wind was for everyone, but the flames were personal:
  3. God’s purity: God the refiner’s fire that purifies all that comes in contact with Him.
  4. God’s presence: God’s Shekinah, the pillar of fire and cloud.
  5. God’s passion: As we even say today, “That person is really on fire!”

 And as the Holy Spirit came upon those in the Upper Room, the Spirit of Christ, Messiah Jesus,

  1. Baptized: When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit appeared above Him, descending from heaven in the form of dove, resting above His head. Now, in this moment when tongues of flame came to rest on each person’s head, all these believers were baptized into the body of Christ.
  2. Filled: For all believers, this was and is the bringing to new life that Jesus speaks of, rebirth. The baptism of the Spirit happens at the moment a person receives the Lord Jesus by faith in Him. The fullness of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ, and I have become a part of the Body of Christ.

The baptism is once and for all, but fullness is repeated as you and I trust God for new power to serve Him and to witness, The baptism involves all believers in the sense that in that one-time event each new believer is added to the body of Christ. The filling of the Spirit is personal and individual.

And, after that first electrifying surge of power, the Spirit spoke through each one of those 120 gathered there, women and men.

 The word translated “tongues” and “language” is “dialektos” in Greek, meaning the language or dialect of a country or district. Everyone was speaking in actual languages, in the dialects and language groups of the nationalities gathered in Jerusalem for the feast.

This sign was a reversal of God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel.

Tower of Babel Baptism of the Spirit
The whole world had one language, so God confused the one language to become many languages. The whole world had many languages, so God gave the believers the ability to speak in all those languages.
God sent the people confusion that they would no longer understand each other’s words or meaning. Six times the text emphasizes how everyone marveled that they heard and understood in their own language.
God scattered the previously unified people over the whole earth, putting into disarray their construction of an earthly tower reaching into heaven. Though they were 120 different people, women and men, speaking in every known language, they proclaimed a unified message of spiritual rebirth, that they might enter heaven.
The goal of humankind, “Let us make a name for ourselves.” The message of the Spirit, “These are the wonders of God.”
The end result was an abandoned tower, and a confused people scattering from each other. The end result was a massive conversion of thousands joining the one Body of Christ through the baptism and infilling of the one Holy Spirit.

God’s judgment scattered and separated those people then, now He was uniting His people in the Spirit. At Babel no one could understand anyone else, but at Pentecost everyone could understand and hear God’s praises. Now, finally, humanity was ready to begin final preparations for entering the realm of God and seeing God face to face—as the apostle John later exultingly wrote,

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

1 John 3:1-3

The Creation | https://www.needpix.com/photo/download/993962/genesis-mosaic-iconography-russian-church-religion-orthodox-tamassos-bishop-episkopeio-cyprus

What’s It All Mean?

If you and I are going to grow in God-likeness, our hearts will also have to be broken over corruption and pollution.

Like the people of Noah’s day, it’s easy to become inured when the culture all around us not only dismisses corruption, but celebrates it, not only dismisses pollution but justifies it. We become used to taking what isn’t right in our stride, making excuses and rationales for it in our own lives, just as the rest of our society is doing in their lives. We begin to expect dysfunctional habits, thoughts, emotions, ways of coping with a broken and perverse world, exploitative strategies to get our objectives accomplished, other people’s selfishness and self-centeredness in relationships, and so on.

Being counter cultural, particularly on this issue of right and wrong, good and evil, is a risky, difficult proposition. We will find ourselves having to explain our story to an often hostile and suspicious audience. We may find ourselves misunderstood, on occasion, mocked, shunned, taken advantage of, maybe even victimized and reviled. Faith in action requires patient perseverance, and a rock-solid belief that, suffering to the contrary, if this is what God is asking of us, the only right thing to do is to keep doing it, to ask forgiveness when we falter, and to ask for God’s supernatural strength through His Spirit within us.

This is no less true for the church. As the Body of Christ, we are to be vulnerable and transparent with each other because we have worked hard to make the Body a safe place to be our true selves with each other; because we are striving together to be the living illustration of Jesus’ love and grace; because we know that it is really sin which kills and God’s cleansing which brings life.

Doing this gets even tougher when we aren’t all on the same page about what actually -is- right or wrong, good or bad, faithful or faithless and so on. I fall back on the idea that we know already we’re going to make mistakes, so better to err on the side of love, mercy and grace, than on the side of condemnation, judgment, and contempt as we try to hammer out something we all can agree on.

Over the years, I have listened to people wonder out loud whether the Lord is returning soon.

Don’t the times seem evil, they say, doesn’t it seem like these are the days of Noah? But, how can they be? Has the world really reached a place of such desperate evil that only eight people are left to save? Is our today comparatively worse than, say, the era of the World Wars? Or the days of the despotic Roman emperors, Caligula and Nero? There is no question evil abounds. But are these really like the days of Noah?

Jesus told believers to be both observant and ready, without trying to pinpoint the time of His return. Noah and his family carried themselves in just such a way for over a hundred years, not knowing exactly when the Flood would come until the day it was to happen.

We know Jesus will return in glory. In the meantime, we are to walk faithfully with God, listening for His voice, responding to His word with reverence, and patiently persevere.

In the same way Noah and his family had trouble, so Jesus explained all believers will have trouble in this world.

Jesus indicated the world will hate believers, because the world hates the Lord Jesus Christ. But fear not, Jesus said, for I have overcome the world. Later, Peter would explain to the beleaguered believers scattered throughout the diaspora, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”

We are to expect this kind of trouble, because there are two currents of life, the Way of Cain, and the Way of Seth (Jesus), flowing in opposite directions. Wherever these two currents intersect, there will be troubled waters.

Because we know this is inevitable, we cope by reminding ourselves we are participating in a real and visceral way in the Lord’s experience. It is in an honor to follow in His footsteps, and a good sign we are on the right path. It is not for nothing! One day, we know without a doubt, His glory will be revealed, whether that be upon His glorious return, or that be in His display of His glory within us as we continue to live by faith.

To a certain extent, all of the people of that day experienced God’s grace for a while, because there was time between God’s pronouncement of judgment and the actual destruction of the world.

All during that time Noah was building the ark in plain view, and teaching everyone about the coming Flood. That was an era of grace. Such an era exists today, as well, beginning from the time Jesus rose from the dead and continuing to the day He returns.

Just as Noah lived counter culturally, doing work that made no sense to others, and creating a financial sacrifice for the whole family

Just as Noah and his family were daily occupied with God’s work, and took time to explain not only what they were doing but why

Just as Noah believed God though he did not see the Flood forming, and had no point of reference to understand just how wicked his world had become

…that is how the church is called to be today.  

The church is countercultural. It should be a place notably different than the rest of the world, in how we do things, what things we do, how we interact with each other, and what voices we listen to.

We, as the Body of Christ, are to be specially attuned to God’s voice, God’s direction, and about God’s work, explaining to all what we are doing and why.

Not for their sake, or even our own. But for God’s sake, that He might have His people saved from ruin.


[Hands – https://www.needpix.com/photo/download/1183105/hands-cohesion-together-human-support-help-community-trust-friendship ]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 2, The Holy Spirit


Have you ever been going along and everything is working, you have a lot on your plate, but you’re getting it all done, problems come up, but you can meet the problems, you have about 60 balls in the air, it’s hard, but somehow you’re juggling them, when, out of the clear blue sky, whammo, a cannonball blows half your head off, and you just know you are going to die.  

Maybe you are suddenly facing a colossal loss.  Maybe you have been caught out in some terrible wrongdoing.  Maybe one of your deepest secrets has just been exposed. Maybe someone who really knows you, whom you love and trust, said something to you that absolutely crushes your heart and spirit. 

Whatever it is, as you were humming along perfectly happy, a huge hole ripped into you.

At that moment of brokenness and vulnerability, that chaos, God’s Spirit can begin to work.

So it was with those in the Upper Room, shredded with grief over the loss of their beloved Jesus. The roller coaster of emotion, from the cross, to the grave, to His astounding resurrection, and the sweet, sweet days of being with Him again, and then the shocking, and seemingly sudden, ascension, where He truly had left them bereft.

He had told them to wait. Go to the Upper Room, He had said, the room where He and His followers had eaten of their last Passover meal together, the room where they had laughed, and sung, and drunk wine together, until He had lifted that last cup, the Cup of Hallel, the Hallelujah cup, representing the world to come, and said, “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

So, stunned, numb, they had taken themselves to Jerusalem, taken step after heavy step up the stairs to that room full of remembered love and joy, and anticipation. And, there they had sat. And prayed.

It was the time of Pentecost, similar to our Thanksgiving, the first ingathering of the wheat harvest.  Jerusalem was filled with about a million people, or maybe even more, from all over the known world to celebrate this Feast together at the temple.

Often in scripture when God is doing a new thing or proclaiming a new message He gives a sign that this is from Him, so God accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit with three signs.

Acts 2:2 First Symbol, Wind

In Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the apostles’ day, the word for “spirit” and the word for “wind” or “breath” were the same. Must have been like a gale, or a hurricane! All the people in the streets could hear the sound of the wind. 

In Geneses 1 think of God’s divine life-giving breath moving over the void at the beginning of creation, out of which came all life. Genesis 2 God formed ha-adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into this person’s form, and the human became a living being.  Apart from the breath of God, the source of life, ha-adam was just a pile of dust

Ezekiel watched as a God breathed over a valley of dried bones and transformed the bones into a vast army of living people.

In John’s gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus “The Spirit gives birth to spirit.  No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus was saying new life or spiritual life, that all people need, must be breathed into them by God’s breath or spirit just like the first time, from above. Apparently, people can be alive physically but dead spiritually. God must breath His Spirit into a person for her to come alive in her spirit.

The coming of the Holy Spirit like a violent wind symbolized the creative power of God bringing in a new age of women and men brought to spiritual life. 

Acts 2:3 Second Symbol, Light

Pentecost, Pixabay

The wind was for everyone, but the flames were personal. Each person could see the others’ flame, but not her own. Seeing the flame on others helped to explain his own experience of inner transformation, passion, excitement, that wild, wonder-working power of God.

Scripture often uses fire as a symbol of God’s holiness, and of God’s presence. In Genesis God made a covenant with Abraham, passing through the sacrifice Abraham prepared, in the form of a fire. God called out to Moses from a bush that appeared to be in flames, but it wasn’t burning.

God touched Isaiah’s unclean lips with a coal from the altar’s fire, making his mouth pure to speak God’s word.

If you think about fire, you can see how the symbolism works:

1) Fire produces light, and light always illumines dark places. The Bible is just thick with examples of this metaphor of God’s light providing guidance, revelation, wisdom, and clarity. But it’s a metaphor that cuts both ways. If you are in the shadows, and you’d like to stay there, the light becomes an unwelcome exposure of what you’d like to keep hidden.

2) Fire produces warmth, though this metaphor cuts both ways, too. For some, this is the warmth of love and acceptance, the warmth of encouragement and inspiration. For others, this is a warmth that’s way too hot, what the prophets liked to call the “refiner’s fire.”

Psalm 19 does a great job with this metaphor, by the way.

Acts 2:4 Third Symbol, Speech

All those gathered in the upper room began to speak in other languages “as the Spirit enabled them.”  These were not ecstatic utterances but actual languages, in the dialects and language groups of the nationalities then in Jerusalem for the feast. 

Luke’s account doesn’t emphasize the miracle so much as the result. The people heard.  In fact, Acts 2 says “hear” or “heard” six times.  This is the first of countless encouragements Jesus gave to His followers as they began to live out the commission He’d given them.

So, why did Peter choose Joel’s prophecy to explain what was happening? Yes, yes, he was saying what the Spirit was giving him to say. But, why Joel, in particular?

Because of who were in that upper room, praying and waiting. Because of who were pouring out into the streets of Jerusalem, publicly prophesying and evangelizing in foreign languages.

Pentecost | Juan Bautista Mayno [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Women

Along with inaugurating a new era in which God would literally dwell among, and within, His people, Jesus was inaugurating a new era in which women and men would realize the equality of partnership God had originally intended. No longer would the Fall’s affect be a necessary experience. Jesus had indeed and in literal fact restored and reconciled all to Himself.


[Pentecost, Pixabay]

Noah


It’s all I had left,” she said.

Noah looked at the simple crockery bowl, one of his wife’s latest works, lovingly shaped, and burnished to a rich russet glow. Almost as an afterthought, a small mound of greens mixed with millet gently steamed from its middle. Beside it were three small barley loaves, resting in a tiny stack.

Noah’s wife was pregnant with their first child, and as her time drew closer, they both felt a growing mixture of excitement and fear. She had asked a neighbor to help them with the delivery, a woman trained in midwifery, who had even delivered a number of the Nephilim infants, recently, which had caused quite a stir in their small community.

In the meantime, Noah’s wife had been preparing their small home for their new arrival, weaving swaddling clothes, shaping a small bassinette with reeds, and tending their vegetable garden. This last was planted in the community land by the river, where the women washed their clothes and dishes, drew water, bathed their children, and fished. As the baby within her had grown, Noah’s wife had found her energy ebbing, and her ability to work lessened. Even tending their simple garden had become almost beyond her ability.

The women, noticing her struggle, had taken advantage of their opportunity. They moved into her spot by the river, they took the best from her garden, they quietly lifted her loveliest pottery, and her finest woven cloth. There was little she could do, in her compromised physical condition.

Noah lifted his tired eyes to his beloved, and saw her own weariness and discouragement. Picking up one of the small buns, he broke it in two and gave the larger piece to his young wife. “Never mind,” he said, with his kind and gentle smile. “Thank you, O Lord, King of the Universe, for this meal before us, fruit of the earth You created.

The center of attention in this whole story is the man Noah, and the family who accompanied him into the ark.

Imagine being Noah in his day. What was it like to be the only man of faith in all the world? What was it like to see the evil around him and not engage in any of the allurements and temptations that world had to offer, to indulge his every appetite, to be callous and heartless, to be openly selfish, self-absorbed, self-promoting, self-protecting, and to be congratulated for it?

What was it like for his wife, to be married to such a man in a vicious world where the “sons of God” took the women that pleased them? Did she pray God would not grant her daughters who would be ravaged? Was she herself a rather plain and unassuming woman, who wouldn’t draw their attention, anyway?

What was it like for them both as they tried to raise their sons in a home that called on God’s name, seeking to honor God and live in a way that glorified God? How many times might they have reached out to the people around them only to be deceived, betrayed, taken advantage of, mocked, vilified, ostracized?

For Noah really was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time.” The word righteous in Hebrew, “saddiq” means “to conform to a standard.” Since Noah conformed to God’s standard, he met with God’s approval. This doesn’t mean Noah was without sin. Whether by nature or by nurture, Noah had been born into the same fallen situation, just like everyone else. So, what made him different? The writer of Hebrews explained that it was Noah’s faith in God. He had a “holy fear” of God, rejecting the world’s way of living, and instead “walked faithfully with God.”

The only kind of righteousness Scripture talks about is God’s righteousness given to those who have faith in Him. This kind of righteousness is not a result of good deeds, or of your best efforts put forth to try to please God. This righteousness comes by believing God. That is the kind that Noah had. Noah believed God, and because of his faith, Noah obeyed everything God asked of him.

Even though it seems like Noah building the ark is what saved his family, there’s a deeper truth embedded in what the writer of Hebrews was explaining, and what the writer of Genesis was describing. Noah believed in God, and he had a relationship with God. Noah was listening for God’s voice, and heard what God had to say. Noah had “holy fear,” a reverence for God, which motivated him to follow through with the incongruously strange and risky project (financially, as well as in that community) of building a giant boat. Because Noah reverenced God, had faith in God, walked with God, and obeyed God, the ark was built and his family was preserved, a tiny remnant of the human race, from judgment.

Instead of coming under God’s judgment, Noah came under God’s grace. It was God’s grace towards Noah through Noah’s faith. Salvation has always been by grace, through faith, while understanding that genuine faith always results in action. Because Noah walked with God, God gave him work to do, and Noah was obedient in everything: his faith was expressed in his willingness to follow through with what God asked of him.


[Buns: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/856376 ]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 1, Proof of Truth


One of my favorite books opens with the true story of an attempted murder case against a guy named James Dixon. Dixon was arguing with his girlfriend through the front door, so someone called the cops to break it up. When the police officer arrived, the girl’s father came to the door, there was a fight, the officer intervened, a shot was fired…and the cop staggered away with a bullet in his midsection. The police officer earned a medal for bravery, and Dixon’s fingerprints were all over a gun found nearby in the bushes. There were eye witnesses, a motive, a wounded cop, and James Dixon had already been convicted of shooting someone else. He plea bargained out, which meant Dixon pled guilty for a shorter sentence. 

An airtight case, right?

Maybe!

The author decided to investigate for himself, approaching the case with an open mind.

Remember that Luke was writing a factual account of what had actually happened. He wanted to set the record straight and was counting on Theophilus to approach the evidence with an open mind.

So, he began with the evidence of Jesus physical resurrection and instruction to His followers, providing the foundation for what those followers were witnessing to. Jesus taught His followers in two ways: show ‘n’ tell and talking.

First Jesus showed them the truth of the resurrection in a real body: He gave them many infallible proofs of His physical, actual resurrection. The reason Jesus knew they needed many convincing proofs that He was alive is that they were completely convinced that He had died. 

There was no question in their minds. They had seen His agony, hear His death rattle, and had witnessed the water and blood pouring out of His pierced side. His stiff, dead body had come off that cross, 75 pounds of embalming spices rubbed into him, wrapped tight in a shroud and interred in a tomb. They knew as deep as a person could know anything that Jesus was dead.

So, Jesus took pains to show them He was visible, touchable, they could feel His breath when He blew on them, He put together a fire, cooked, ate, hollered over the water to the disciples when they were fishing.

Now, there were some freaky things, too. Evidently, Jesus had a different kind of body that could be invisible and could go through walls and locked doors, but that was still concrete and physical. The apostles would later teach this is the kind of body that you and I are going to have one day.[1]  

One of the most convincing proofs of Jesus’ resurrection was His opponents’ response. There were many who wanted to discredit Jesus and His followers, yet here was their best shot:

  1. The claimed Jesus was a sorcerer because they couldn’t discount His miracles.
  2. They claimed His body had been stolen because they couldn’t discount that His tomb was empty, and they couldn’t discount that He had really died.
  3. They could not get any of the over five hundred people who witnessed the resurrected Christ to recant – all were willing to die for what they knew was true.

Christianity is based on historical fact

  1. The resurrection is a fact with many convincing proofs.
  2. The resurrection proves the deity of Messiah Jesus.
  3. Because He is God, Jesus always speaks the truth.
  4. So, you and I can trust what He says.

And that is what Jesus did most of all, talk to His disciples, explaining the scriptures from the beginning all the way to the end, and how they pertained to Himself.

What we believe is true, what we believe so deeply we actually say we know is true, will affect how we live, how we see ourselves and others, how we view the earth, what philosophy of life we’ll espouse, and so on.

Like, what about the opening story for this post? Did you keep an open mind on that?

As it turns out, Dixon was innocent. 

A bullet had been fired from the gun with his fingerprints, but it was a different bullet than the one in the police officer’s midriff. Dixon had hidden the gun before he went to his girlfriend’s house. 

There were powder burns inside the officer’s shirt pocket, not outside.  Dixon’s rap sheet actually showed that he had been wrongly convicted of the previous shooting, and was freed after three years in prison. The officer had been showing off his illegal gun, made to look like a pen, just two weeks earlier.

Dixon had plea bargained, though he knew he was innocent, because he had already spent 362 days in jail and he was offered a year’s sentence if he pled guilty – he could go home in three days or risk 20 more years in jail.

To get it right, it took an open-minded investigator, willing to wait for the evidence and think clearly. 

What is God calling you to be open-minded about, to take some time to think and pray through before you go any further?


[1] I’m not making this up! Read passages like 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 John 3:2-3 and you’ll see what I mean


[Jesus After Resurrection – The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org]

Perversion

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:5

In thinking about the conditions the Flood story conveys about humanity, our own culture may not seem quite so grim today! And yet, this is one of the truths this ancient account imparts–the nature of what the Bible calls sin. Scripture explains that sin defiles, sin damages, and sin grieves and offends the heart of God.

Consider how God described the effects of sin to Cain. First, sin begins as a tendril of temptation, weaving and winding its way through the heart. When allowed to grow into full bloom, urged on, and then given into, that temptation becomes sin, and the heart containing it becomes corrupt.

But, it doesn’t stop there. For, sin spreads into the people connected with the original sinner. We can’t contain it, or quarantine it, it is as though sin has a radioactive power that passes through all barriers. Sin will seep even into the physical environment inhabited by the sinners, as God revealed to Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” Our beautiful earth, groaning under the effects of disease and pollution.

Just three chapters later, and the Hebrew words used to describe how swiftly sin had corrupted everything in its path are “shachat:” meaning “morally putrid, totally decayed, spiritually gangrenous, destroyed and wasted.” And “chamas,” which means “seeking to gain through assault, physical attack, cheating and/or oppression.” That’s what Jesus’ warning was about, thousands of years later. He contended that society will return to a similar condition of “shachat” and  “chamas” at the time of the end.

If we understand the nature of sin and its corrupting power in this way, then we can understand the Nephilim as a signal of the people of Noah’s day reaching a degree of depravity that threatened to irreversibly contaminate the whole earth.

The Nephilim were the ultimate example of the spiritual and physical perversion and degeneration of the human race, which brought about God’s judgment. The Flood was not only God’s way of cleansing sinful humankind, but also His way of fulfilling His promise to bring salvation through the seed of the woman. We understand from the story that had this degeneracy gone unchecked, the godly remnant, now reduced to eight people, would have ceased to exist.

Noah’s world had become so evil, corruption had become so widespread and complete, that God pronounced total destruction as the only solution—which is one way to understand God’s statements in Genesis 6:3, 7, and 17, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years…I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground…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.”       

Viewed this way, God was saying human beings, having been denied access to the Tree of Life, die. Therefore, God would set the time of 120 years from His announcement to the date when He would bring this antediluvian chapter of human history to a close.           

There is another way to understand verse 3, the more traditional interpretation: After the Flood, God would set the number of years a person could live to the maximum of 120, rather than allowing human individuals to live to nearly a thousand years. In this way, they (we) would not be afforded the time to develop evil to such a pitch. 

Either way, God made clear, early in the Bible, He will not tolerate sin indefinitely, and His judgment shows that who we are and what we do matters. Seen in this light, we are given to understand if God did not judge wickedness and corruption, it would mean that God was indifferent to the existence of right and wrong, good and evil. On the contrary, as the Epic of the Flood emphatically relates, God is not indifferent. God’s wrath, grief, and intense pain over evil is the necessary and only right response.

  • God’s judgment never goes beyond the boundaries of sin’s damage. Throughout the Bible the limits of defilement also define the limits of God’s judgment.
  • God is just. So His judgments are just, He gives what is deserved. The consequence for sin, which is death, is the deserved judgment. It is God’s mercy offering rebirth, renewal, and restoration which is totally undeserved. 
  • Sin’s punishment was, and will be, no greater than sin itself, and not one innocent person was, or will ever be, judged against.
  • God’s motives are mercy and love. He rights what has been made wrong when He judges, and He provides a way of protection and rescue for all those who come to Him for forgiveness.

It is a complex concept to hold onto. Somehow, God’s pure and perfect justice will right every wrong and will champion every victim. Yet, at the same time, God’s pure and perfect mercy will forgive every repentant perpetrator, even the basest agent of evil whose heart is pierced with conviction and calls out to God for forgiveness will be fully, lovingly forgiven. How? 

God’s wrath has a cleansing, purifying aspect to it, to cleanse the universe of the corruption of sin. In some way, God promises that when all the weeping is done, over both the agony of victimization, and sickening horror over the agency of evil, the Lord will wipe every tear away. With unimaginable power, God’s pure and perfect wrath, a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap, as Malachi put it, will cleanse the entire cosmos one day, so that all evil is no more. The Flood was a prophetic precursor, for God had determined to rid the earth of corruption, to allow a healthy new start.


[Flood: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/berlin-potsdam-place-high-water-1156844/ ]

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