When To Leave a Church And When NOT To

People leave churches for the craziest reasons.  It happens all the time: sheep shuffle from one church to another for a myriad of reasons.  As a pastor of a church where the revolving door revolves quite a bit, it deeply pains me to see people leave, and it causes me pause when people arrive having just left their church.  When should people leave their church?  Which of the myriad of reasons are valid, and which ones aren’t?  Jason Helopoulous has organized a number of valid and invalid reasons for leaving a church in a blog posted to Kevin DeYoung’s blog about a year ago now.  I think this is helpful and hopefully convicting.  Here’s a brief (and condensed) look at his outline:

Good Reasons for Moving On – The Four P’s
1. Providential moving (one town to another)
2. Planting another church (you’re part of the planting team)
3. Purity has been lost (the Word is no longer preached and taught)
4. Peace of the church is in jeopardy due to my presence (you’re a hindrance to the church)

Possible Reasons for Moving On – The Three S’s
1. Spouse (unbelieving spouse will attend another church with you)
2. Special Needs (you or your family has special needs that another church can better meet)
3. Special Gifts (you’ve been asked to use your gifts at another church and can’t at yours)

Reasons Often Used Which are Insufficient
1. Children’s Ministry
2. Buzz (leaving for the “hottest” church in town at the moment)
3. Youth Group
4. Church has changed
5. New Pastor
6. I’m Not Being Ministered to
7. Music
8. There are others…

Read the whole article here.

God Has (And Will) Restore His People from Exile

This is a condensed transcript of my July 17, 2011 sermon.

Our story starts in Eden where peace, harmony, and unhindered community with God prevailed.  Perfection.  But man rebelled and bought the lie that we could be like God, and as a result, man was expelled from the garden.  This would become the first of many exiles God’s people would experience in their history.  Ever since then, God’s people have been stuck in a vicious cycle.  It’s a cycle that is perpetuated by sin and rebellion.  God’s people sin; they suffer the consequences; they confess the sin and turn from it; and God restores them back to himself.  And then the cycle begins again with sin.  But as we saw last week, God is faithful – even when we’re not. Are there consequences for our sin? Yes…and sometimes the consequences are almost unbearable. But when we confess our sin – no matter what price we’ve paid for it – is God ready and willing to forgive us and restore us? Yes!  This has characterized His interaction with His people from the very beginning.

The bad news is that rebellion (idolatry) ALWAYS leads to consequences (exile).  But the good news is that repentance ALWAYS leads to restoration.

Picking up where we left off last time: God’s people desire a king.  They reject God as their king because they want a human king like everyone else, so God warns them about this and then gives them what they want.  Saul is the first king, but because of his sin and rebellion, God rejects him and appoints David.  David is more faithful than Saul as king, but he also gets himself caught in the vicious cycle of sin.  After he dies, his son, Solomon, becomes king, but according to 1 Kings 11, he drifts far away from the Lord – so much so that God tells him that because of his sin, the nation of Israel will be ripped apart. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:5-13 condensed).

True to His word, the Lord causes the nation to be split and idolatry prevails in both the northern and southern kingdoms.  God – in His faithfulness to His unfaithful people – sends prophets to warn His people of the coming exile from their land if they choose to continue in idolatry.  It seems as though God raised up prophets to counter-balance the idolatry and rebellion of Israel under the leadership of kings, and because of this, the prophets and kings were often engaged in bitter conflict.  The more rebellious and idolatrous the king, the more conflict there was between him and the prophet God raised up to speak.

As time went on, God’s people strayed further and further away from Him.  King Ahab (king of the Northern Kingdom) married a foreigner named Jezebel who brought Baal worship into their marriage and into the northern kingdom.  God called the prophet Elijah to speak on His behalf to King Ahab and the people.  In 1 Kings 18:21 we read, And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Because the people couldn’t decide who to serve, Elijah decided to sacrifice two bulls and challenge the prophets of Baal to a dual.  He tells the prophets of Baal to cry out to their god to devour their bull with fire. He does the same to His God, and of course, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the one true God – wins, and Elijah’s bull is consumed with fire.  In 1 Kings 18:39 it says, And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” Unfortunately, this didn’t last.  God’s people continued in their rebellious, idolatrous ways, and eventually, God’s patience ran out.

The Northern Kingdom (called “Israel”) fell in 722 B.C.  Assyria attacked them and took the God’s people into exile “scattering them beyond the Euphrates” as God had warned them earlier.  The Southern Kingdom (called “Judah”) fell between 605 and 586 B.C. because idolatry prevailed there as well – even though prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied and warned them repeatedly.  The Babylonians attacked and took them into exile.  They also destroyed the temple in Jerusalem that had been built under Solomon’s leadership.  Because of their sin, all of God’s people were once again in exile and slavery. They had been removed from the land that God promised them – not because He was unfaithful, but because they were unfaithful.

Look at what God said through the prophet Jeremiah about the sin of His people and their eventual exile from the Promised Land: For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’—in doing evil! But how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. (Jeremiah 4:22-26)  When you compare this to the description of pre-creation chaos in Genesis 1:2, you get the picture that the sin of God’s people and their removal from the land God promised them was cataclysmic in nature. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep… (Genesis 1:2)

Through it all, God did not forget His covenant with His people. Why not?  Because God is faithful – even when we are not. In the midst of the exile, God speaks through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel reassuring His faithless people that even though they are unfaithful to Him, He will not be unfaithful to them.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Ezekiel 36:26-28
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

God promises – even when His people are in exile because of their idolatrous sin – that He will make a new covenant with His people.  This new covenant will involve an internalization of His Law.  He will put His Law in their minds and on their hearts – not just on stone, and they will know the Lord in a new and deeper way.  All the way back in the Old Testament, God is promising that He will one day send His Spirit to dwell in the hearts of all believers!  A second aspect of the New Covenant will be God’s provision for sin.  The sins of the people resulted in the curses of the Old Covenant (removal from the land).  However, as part of the New Covenant, God will forgive Israel’s wickedness and remember their sins no more. But how can a holy God overlook sin?  The answer is that God does not “overlook” sin.  It’s penalty will be paid for by a Substitute – His Only Son, Jesus Christ!

The great hope of Israel (and of all mankind) is Jesus, and Daniel – while in captivity in Babylon – sees this vision:  I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)  The great hope for Israel and for all mankind is the coming of the Messiah who will take the sins of all mankind on Himself and bring ultimate forgiveness and restoration…but I’m getting ahead of the story.  The climax of Jesus is coming up in a few weeks!

50 years after the temple in Jerusalem was leveled, God moves in King Cyrus’ heart to let God’s people return to their Promised Land to rebuild the temple.  What a moment that must have been for the Israelites, and what a testimony it is to God’s grace, forgiveness, and love.  This is their story…but it’s also ours.  God is Faithful to His people (then and now) – even when we’re not faithful to Him.  The bad news is that rebellion (idolatry) ALWAYS leads to consequences (exile).  But the good news is that repentance ALWAYS leads to restoration.  Are you suffering the consequences of sin in your life?  If so, repent and receive the restoration and renewal the Lord offers.

A Sobering Week

It’s been a sobering week for me.  On Tuesday, I was working out at the gym when suddenly a man on a treadmill in front of me fell off his machine and landed wedged between his machine and the one next to him.  Immediately, I – along with a few others who saw him fall – raced to his side.  He was unconscious, and after observing him closer, we discovered that not only was he not breathing, but we could not find a pulse.

We pulled the man out from between the machines into the isle, and while one man began compressions on the man’s chest, I raced to the other side of the gym and found the AED (automated external defibrillator) and oxygen.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my glasses on, so it was hard for me to read the instructions, but the makers of this life-saving machine have made it pretty simple to operate.  With the help of another bystander, we were able to get the electrode pads placed correctly on the man’s chest.  Immediately, the machine gave the instruction for us to stand back as it assessed the man’s condition.  As we waited, I could see that the man’s heart had begun beating again.  The compressions had worked.  The voice in the machine said that no shock was necessary.

Our focus then turned to his breathing.  He still was not breathing, so we fumbled with the oxygen tank until we could feel that oxygen was coming out.  We turned it all the way up and placed the mask over the man’s mouth and nose.  We tried to stir him by shaking him and speaking loudly to him.  No one knew his name, so we all just yelled things like, “C’mon sir!  Wake up, sir!  Stay with us, sir!”  After about half a minute, the man’s eyes opened wide and he took a deep and long breath.  The breath he took nearly sat him straight up.  We grabbed him, laid him back down, and encouraged him to keep taking breaths.  He did.

After a few minutes of deep, labored breaths, the man spoke.  He said he was okay, but we quickly informed him what had happened.  All he could say in response was, “Oh boy!  Oh boy!”  He was able to tell us that he suffers from pulmonary hypertension and that he had passed out once before.  However, he informed us that he did not stop breathing nor did his heart stop beating that time.  We eventually sat him up against a wall so that he could breathe easier, and he was pretty stable by the time the paramedics arrived.  That’s when I walked away, shaken but thankful.

I’m thankful that so many people – strangers – were willing to do whatever it took to save this man’s life.  I’m thankful that the gym had an AED and oxygen tank readily available. (By the way, I immediately called my office administrator and had her price an AED for our church building).  I’m thankful that the man is alive, but I hope to never see him in the gym again as those with pulmonary hypertension are instructed to avoid strenuous physical activity.  And I’m thankful for my health.  I have wrestled with hypertension for much of my adult life, but thanks be to God, with a healthier diet and consistent exercise, it seems to be under control right now.

Ever since Tuesday, I have thought about what happened many times.  It was traumatic.  It was scary.  It was sobering to see a man dying right before my eyes.  Praise God he didn’t.  As the man left the gym that day, my prayers left with him.

God Is Faithful (Even When We’re Not)

This is a condensed transcript of my July 10, 2011 sermon.

We humans sure have a knack for messing things up, don’t we?!  I tried to avoid the Casey Anthony trial at all costs, but I broke down last week at the gym when I turned on the TV at the machine I was using and saw these words: “Breaking News: Sentencing To Come Any Minute.”  I decided to watch while working out, but I never made it to the actual sentencing because of all the legal maneuvering on both sides.  It made for a very long and boring workout!  All of the legalese reminded me of my three months on a grand jury a few years back. I was reminded of some of the horrific cases we were exposed to.  My time on the grand jury reinforced a deep theological truth I was taught early on in my Christian upbringing: we humans sure have a knack for messing things up.

I’m leading my congregation on an overview of the story of God and the story of God’s people in the Bible – because in all reality, it’s our story too.  A couple of weeks ago, we saw that the story of Cain (Adam and Eve’s son who killed brother) demonstrates clearly that humans – after the fall – have a terrible capacity to misdirect their lives.  Sadly, this is still true to this day.  Throughout the history of God’s people (beginning in the Old Testament), we have been stuck in a vicious cycle of sin, and unfortunately, this cycle continues with us.  But as we will see (and as we know from our own experience as well) God is faithful – even when we aren’t.  Are there consequences for our unfaithfulness?  Yes, as we will see.  But through it all, God remains faithful.

We pick up the story in Exodus 25 where God gives Moses instructions for the building of the tabernacle, which will be a portable sanctuary where God’s presence will reside with His people as they move toward the Promised Land.  As we have seen from the beginning, God has always intended to be present with His people, and the tabernacle is proof of this for the Israelites.  And because worship of God is what His people should be all about, God goes into great detail to describe exactly how He wants the tabernacle to look.  The great detail laid out in Exodus shows that the worship of God is not something that should be taken lightly by His people.  God continues to be faithful to His people by blessing them with His presence as they journey to the Promised Land…but His people do not reciprocate.

Golden Calf

In Exodus 32:1-4 we read, When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.  And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

In an unthinkable act of rebellion and faithlessness, God’s people directly violated the first two commandments that they had just been given by the Lord: 1) You shall have no other gods before me. 2) You shall not make for yourself a carved image.  God had been so faithful to His people.  He had freed them from slavery, set them on their way to their own land, and promised to dwell among them via the tabernacle, but they were not faithful in return. And this is our story too. God is faithful – even when we’re not.

God’s anger burned against His people for their betrayal. Three thousand people perished at the swords of the Levites, and God sent a plague on the rest of the people for their sin. The consequences were devastating, BUT the Lord forgave them of their sin and renewed His covenant with them once again. And God said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” (Exodus 34:10)  In spite of the people’s sin, God makes good on His promise to be present with them even after their great betrayal with the golden calf.

Self-Confidence Leads To A Devastating Defeat at Ai

Moses dies, and Joshua is placed in charge of leading God’s people into the land that God promised their forefathers.  The conquest begins with God renewing His promise and covenant with His people.  He tells them that if they are faithful to Him and His word that they will be successful in their conquest and will be prosperous in the land.  But, after God’s great victory at mighty Jericho, the people get confident and apathetic toward the Lord and decide to take on the next battle at tiny Ai on their own.  They don’t wait for God’s strategy; instead they pursue their own strategy and attack, and in so doing, they suffer an astonishing loss of life.  Their disobedience cost them (as it does with us)…but God was still faithful.  They repented, He forgave them, and they eventually conquered Ai – this time under His direction.

Over time, Israel becomes established in the land that God promised them. God leads them to mighty victory after victory, and they gain more and more land, but Judges 2:12 reveals where the hearts of the people were after much of the conquest was over: They abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. The cycle of sin and rebellion, repentance and forgiveness continued – even after ALL that the Lord had done for them. Because of this, they experience the hand of discipline from the Lord, but we also see that the Lord does not give up on them – nor does He give up on us in spite of our sin and rebellion.

Rejection of God As King

God appoints judges through whom He rules and leads His people. Some judges are good. Some are not. Sometimes the people listen to the judges. Sometimes they don’t…but God remains faithful to His people. His presence remains with them, and He continues to bless them – so that they will be a blessing to others.  But, the book of Judges closes with these sad words:  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

In 1 Samuel, we’re introduced to the last judge: Samuel.  He’s the last judge because the people of God decide they no longer want to be ruled by judges…they want a king – just like everyone else.  Instead of recognizing God as their king and submitting to His rule through the judges He appoints, they decide they want a human king so that they will be like all the other nations around them.  Shockingly, God tells Samuel to let the people have what they want.  However, He tells Samuel to warn the people of what a human king will do to them.  Samuel does, but even after his dire warning recorded in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, the people persist in their desire for a king.  So, God agrees to give them what they want – on one condition: He chooses the king.  God’s faithfulness is evident amidst the unfaithfulness of His people in that when God chooses Saul to be king, He places His Spirit in him.  God gives the people what they want even though He knows that it will be bad for them…and then He still blesses them by filling their human king with His Spirit!  God truly is faithful to us – even when we’re not.

David and Solomon: The Unfaithfulness Grows

As the children’s Bible I used to read to my kids so pithily states, “Saul started off as a good king, but he quickly became bad.” That pretty much sums up Saul in a nutshell.  His disobedience led to God removing His Spirit from Him and placing it in a small shepherd boy named David.  After years of fighting off King Saul’s murderous attempts, King David assumes the throne.  He was a more faithful king than Saul, but he did not obey the Lord as He was instructed.  He had multiple wives and committed adultery which led to murder.  The Lord declared that the “sword shall never depart” from his house, and because of David’s sin, his family was riddled with strife.

His son, Solomon, followed as the next king, and even though he came from a family where the sword would never depart, God was faithful to Israel and unified them under his reign.  During Solomon’s tenure as king, there was a cohesive government in place, peace ruled the land, and a temple for the Lord was built.  However, the problem was that Israel was supposed to draw all other nations to God, but under Solomon’s rule, Israel seemed more interested in national pride and building their empire than in drawing other nations to the Lord.  Solomon also fulfilled Samuel’s warning from 1 Samuel 8 that the king would “take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.”  In 1 Kings 5:13-14 we read, King Solomon drafted forced labor out of all Israel, and the draft numbered 30,000 men. And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the draft. Solomon lived in excess and forced God’s people to serve him. Rather than trusting in the Lord, Solomon made alliances with foreign kings (and foreign women) to secure Israel’s safety.

Through It All, God Is Still Faithful

King Solomon was unfaithful to God in many ways, yet God remained faithful to His people.  During Solomon’s reign, he oversaw the building of the Lord’s temple, and eventhough faithlessness to the Lord was rampant in Israel under his rule, notice what happened once the temple was completed: When the priests came out of the Holy Place, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)

God STILL blessed His people with His presence!  His design from the beginning has been to dwell among His people, and even in the midst of their devastating unfaithfulness, He was still faithful.  This is the God we serve.  He still desires to be with His people – so much so that He came and lived among us in the form of Jesus Christ – Immanuel, God with us.   While we were yet sinners, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, Christ lived.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  While we were yet sinners, Christ arose.  While we were yet sinners, Christ redeemed us.  While we were yet sinners, God sent His Spirit to fill us and live in and thru us.

God has always been faithful to His people – even when they’re not.  And He’s faithful to us today – even when we’re not.  This is His story…and it’s ours too!

This Is Your Story!

This is a condensed transcript of my June 26, 2011 sermon.

What’s your story?  Or better yet: What story are you living?  What story are you allowing to define you? As followers of Jesus, we share the same history…the same story.  But are we allowing it to shape us?  If not, we will be susceptible to other stories shaping us, and we will not live in the victory, experience the peace, nor be a blessing like God has designed us to be.

The Bible is the story of us.  It’s our story.  The history of God’s people is our history too, and knowing this is vital to our present and future.  As I get older, I have a growing desire to know where I came from, and so the last time my parents visited, I asked them to tell us about their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.  I wanted my kids to hear this too so that they would know where they came from as well.  They heard my dad tell about how his dad had fought in World War II and watched as Mussolini was hanged.  They heard my mom share how her dad was a driver for the first public bus company in Ohio.  He drove a bus that was made of wood!  My dad revealed that his grandfather was a baptist minister – something that greatly interested me seeing that this is what I am too!  I believe that it’s vital for us and our children to know from whom we’ve come in order to help us know why we are who we are.

More importantly, I believe that it is essential for us to know and understand the story of God and His people as chronicled in the Bible. All human beings have been created by God and made in His image, and as we will see, God desires to be in relationship with His image-bearers.  The Old Testament records God’s loving and relentless pursuit of His chosen people and His desire for His people to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.  The New Testament reveals God’s ultimate love for all people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who paid the penalty for man’s sin once and for all…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Because this story is so important, let me start at the beginning.

The Beginning

In the beginning, God created… These are the first words of the Bible, and they serve as the opening scene of the opening act of our story.  God created the world and then He created man – the only beings made in His image.  Man is given the mandate to rule, which is displayed in Adam (the first man) given the task of naming the animals.  God says that if man obeys His mandate and does what they’ve been purposed to do, they will be blessed. However, if man chooses instead to throw off the purpose and reign of God by disobeying Him, then the result will be curses and death.  Of course, like with any good story, a major conflict occurs.  Sin makes it’s nasty appearance through a corrupted created being named Satan.  He tempts Adam and Eve to throw off God’s reign in their lives, and sadly, they give in.  Their mutiny against God’s reign resulted in God’s perfect creation being destroyed.  This was not just true for man but for ALL creation.  Everything God created was wrecked by sin.  The Bible says that because of sin, all creation is “groaning” under the weight of sin.  This is our story; it’s a story marred by sin and rebellion toward our Creator.

The initial sin of Adam and Eve begins to ripple out, and it’s effects are widespread and devastating.  When the gates of Eden close behind Adam and Eve, they do not cease to be what God has created.  They remain in the image of God, but how they are human is deeply affected.  So too is it with us.  Our sin and rebellion deeply impacts how we live our lives and carry out God’s purpose for us as well.  Adam and Eve go on living, and Eve gives birth (painfully because of the curse) to two healthy sons. They are a family – just as God designed things before the fall.  But as we move through their story (which is part of our story too), we soon see that the terrible change in the story is apparent.

Sin Spreads

Cain, one of Adam and Eve’s sons, commits an abhorrent sin: he kills his brother. Eventually, Cain has his own son and names him Enoch, which marks the beginning of another family as God has designed it, but the story of Cain and his family demonstrates clearly that humans – after the fall – have a terrible capacity to misdirect their lives.  Cain builds a large city and names it after his son, Enoch.  But, he is corrupt and so his corruption is at the foundation of the city.  In Genesis 6:11-12, a summary is given of where things stand not long after the sin of Adam and Eve:   Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. Corruption and violence reign the world, so God decides to start again.  But, because of His love and mercy for His created image-bearers, He decides to save a people and protect them with His presence.

God’s Judgment and Mercy

The God of our story is a God of justice, but He’s also a God of redemption and rescue, rescuing His people from sin and its effects.  God chooses to save a man named Noah – along with his family – from His coming judgment and wrath upon the earth.  God instructs Noah to build an enormous boat that will protect him, his family, and two of every living creature on earth from the onslaught of water.  After the flood subsides, God renews his covenant with man through Noah, and in so doing, He fulfills what He always intended for creation – to rule and to be in relationship with Him.  In Genesis 9:1-3, it says, And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

God Helps Man Fill The Earth

Sadly, Noah’s descendants did not “fill the earth” as God instructed.  They decided to stay put and go up rather than out. In ancient Mesopotamia, people would build towers as part of their temples devoted to false gods.  Most towers had a large staircase which led to a room at the top.  This room contained a bed, a table, and fresh food so that the god could rest before he come down to earth.  Most likely, this was the kind of tower that the people built in the account of the tower of Babel.  In Genesis 11:4, the people say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” This was done in direct defiance of God’s covenant to fill the earth.  The people didn’t want to, so they built a large city and erected a tower, hoping to make God happy with them.  He was not.  Genesis 11:5-9 says, And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

God Renews His Covenant Again

So, finally, mankind is dispersed all over the earth as God designed it.  God then renews His covenant with mankind through one man: Abraham.  God tells Abraham to give up everything that the people of Babel were not willing to give up…and he does! Genesis 12:1-3 says, Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God renews His covenant with Abraham, but notice that God tells Abraham that He will bless Him so that he and his descendants will be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”  God’s design from the beginning is to bless His created image-bearers with his presence and love, and even though sin is now rampant, God’s purposes will not be thwarted.

This is our story. It’s a story that begins with a loving Creator.  It’s a story that has been marred and twisted by sin.  But it’s a story that is overwhelmed by the love and redemption of the Creator for His image-bearing creation (us!).  In the coming weeks, I’ll explore more of the story with you, and we’ll see over and over again that our story is shaped by a God who loves us and will go to unbelievable lengths to rescue us from our sin.  Will you allow this story to shape you?

Artwork: #1 by Regis Friend-Cassidy; #2 by James Schlavin.