Yesterday, I finished my first semester of seminary. Thanks to so many of you for your prayers. A lot of people cautioned me when I started to be careful not to lose my faith. I'm not sure what seminaries they went to, but my faith has been well served by spending time in seminary.
As I told my wife, I have found my tribe.
Examining passages of the Bible I've read before, but in more depth, has really been eye opening. I put off this journey for two years, but after more and more requests to get in churches and preach and not feeling comfortable doing so, I finally decided I need to get serious. I spend a lot of time here and on radio talking about faith issues and I think seminary is helping provide a deeper understanding.
I'm also now more willing to accept invitations into churches on Sunday. I finally feel up to it and competent.
There is one observation from my first semester that I want to draw your attention to. And before I get all sorts of secular outrage, let me be up front that I'm only writing to those of you of faith. And I'll give you the conclusion before even starting: if you want to build a better America, build a better family. If you want to build a better family, build a better church.
I have concluded, from this first semester, that being a better Christian is, for me, the key to being a better American. If you'll allow me, let's go back to near the beginning.
In the sixth chapter of Genesis, we are introduced to Noah. He is found blameless in God's eyes. Note that this does not mean Noah is sinless. Noah is, in fact, a sinner. But he stands out from the rest of humanity as righteous. He tries to do what is right in God's eyes with all humanity around him doing what is right in their own eyes.
God tells Noah to build an ark. Interestingly, note that he tells Noah to build the ark before even telling Noah how it is to be used. In any event, God tells Noah to build the ark and pay attention to Genesis 6:18:
But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.
Then look at Genesis 7:1.
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.
Notice carefully that the "you" is singular. God did not find Noah's wife righteous. He did not find Noah's sons to be righteous. He did not find even Noah's sons' wives to be righteous. God found Noah righteous and his family was entitled to the blessings and protections because of this one righteous man.
I think there is an overlooked lesson in this. Fathers have ceded a lot in society, but the father needs to be a pillar for his family and the father needs to take a strong role in getting the family into church.
But there is more to it than that. The waters prevailed on the earth for 150 days. During that time Noah and his family stayed in the ark. Too many of us head into church on Sunday and that is it. We live as Christians for two to three hours on Sunday, then head off to NFL games on TV and a life separated from the church.
We need to focus more time on being Christians 24/7/365.
The Lord said, in Genesis 6:7, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them." In Genesis 3, it was man who had sinned. The animals and creeping things and the birds did not sin. But man's sin so polluted the world, God decided to reboot humanity through the one man he found righteous.
Look at the effects of man's sin. In Genesis 7:11-12, we read
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
This is a complete undoing and disordering of creation. In Genesis 1, God had separated the waters from the heavens. Then the waters, as collected, were separated into land and sea and the waters under the earth. Six chapters later, the effects of man's sins are to undo all of this. The waters spring up from the earth, the windows of the heavens are opened, and creation itself comes undone. All living things perish save for those in the ark.
And lest any of you have hesitancy on this point, I fully believe this is a literal story, not a metaphor or myth.
We are promised that God will not destroy the world again by flood. But the world will again end, and this time with finality into a new Heaven and a new Earth. The refuge from the sin of the world is now as it was then -- the refuge in the ark, or in the church.
And God's blessings flow through families. We can learn a lot from the story of Noah. We can learn that fathers need to be involved and need to be righteous before God. We can learn that families receive God's blessings not just as individuals, but as families. Families are so important.
Churches can learn that they must have a vested interest in strengthening families. Instead of spending 100% of their time on Vacation Bible School, churches should have a vested interest in parents having date nights and solid networks of babysitters.
If we want a better America, we need stronger families. And if we want stronger families, we need more churches not just focused on the individual's path to salvation, but on the family's path through a fallen world together.
Too many Protestant churches think once we've gotten to Christ they can move on. Instead, the church needs to realize God did not seal the door and let the ark drift with Noah's family in it. God ministered to that family the whole time in the ark. When Genesis 8:1 says God "remembered Noah," that word choice does not mean Noah and his family went out of God's mind and then back in to God's mind, but rather that Noah was never forgotten and left alone.
The church should not stop once a person has come to Christ, but should work to mature the Christian by remembering always the family.
"You've found Jesus, so here is what's next," should be a mission in churches so that mature Christians from stable God-centered families can go out and minister to others seeking refuge in the ark that is the church in this fallen, turbulent world.
And that, my friends, is the first semester. Thanks again for the prayers.