Something troubling is happening in the American church culture that needs to be addressed. I realize that not every assembly of God-fearing Christians are guilty, and maybe your congregation is different, but we need to consider Jesus’ words very carefully.
Jesus tells a story, in the book of Matthew, first telling a parable about ten virgins, then he moves on to a story about three servants. You remember the one: They were each given a measure of wealth, or “talents.” What did he call the last servant who buried the gold? “Unfaithful” or some translations, “wicked and slothful servant.”
Then Jesus moves on to the third parable about a king who separates the “sheep from the goats” based on what they did for “the least of these.” He carefully builds a story about those who saw the needs of the people around them and did nothing and those who dove in and met the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and in prison.
I believe we have the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison all around us. As a matter of fact, many of those in the following stories have unknowingly used those exact words, “I’m so thirsty for love.” Or, “I feel so in-prisoned.”
Let’s let that sit a moment. I’d like to tell you a couple of stories.
Her name is Penelope. She was sexually used and abused as a small child by her step-dad while her mother was in jail. Although she admired her real dad, he also was in and out of jail and prison nearly all her young life for drug and substance abuse reasons. She grew up, bouncing between homes, and usually would stay with the parent who had the fewest rules, or who was out of jail at the time. Each parent demonstrating a revolving door of lovers and illegal substances suppliers.
Home life as a teenager was a daily train-wreck. High school was a pure failure. Her few friends were drug users and partiers. From a very young age she was sexually active with any boy who would be nice to her. Nothing she ever did had any future or hope. Undoubtedly, by the time she was eighteen, she would be pregnant and addicted to various substances.
Ironically, she grew up around a “church” environment. Her mother attended when she could, although often showing up high, at least she would show up. Penelope sat through numerous meetings, and her spirit struggled with the story of hope, but couldn’t wrap her head around the truth.
Shortly before her 17th birthday, she sat with an old friend. An older couple had befriended her family, and chosen to love them as much as allowed. The man, as a friend, spent a tearful and heart-wrenching day with her, crying together and praying together. Finally, as if scales fell from her eyes, a new light came into her world, and something clicked. Finally, she understood the plea of Jesus to come, broken and bleeding to the cross for healing. She and the man prayed, and Penelope came to know Jesus in a real and passionate way, for the first time.
The man and his wife travel extensively and couldn’t stay in the area. But they went to the local church, and with tears, pleading that people from the church would love that little girl. “Please spend time with her.” “Please teach her about Jesus.” “Please show her what a stable and healthy home looks like.” “Teach her to bake cookies. Just show her love and spend time with her.”
“Yes,” they replied. “Yes, we will.”
The man and his wife left the area with hugs and love for Penelope and her broken family.
Days past. Weeks past. Months passed. Not one phone call. Not one visit. Not one word from anybody. Penelope was left to herself, alone, unloved and abandoned. In Penelope’s mind, she was unloved by God and abandoned by God. No one cared.
DIdn’t Penelope qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
Let me tell you another story. This is a story of a young man and his wife and three little children. The small family moved to a new area. They didn’t know anyone but he quickly found a job and apartment. His mother and father came for an extended visit and helped them find a wonderful local church. The church was full of people of all ages, and the truth of the gospel was taught every Sunday. The young man and his family hurt in their hearts for Godly friendships; being new in an area is hard. But friendships don’t come easily for new people. Work required the young man to be out of church about every-other Sunday.
After some time past, the young man’s father came to the pastor and youth pastor and pleaded. “Please love this little family. They can’t always attend, but they need love. Those little children still need to know God, and they need to grow up with Godly friends.”
The pastor and the youth pastor agreed and said they would take this family under their wing and love them.
The pastor and youth pastor, occasionally, would send invitations to Sunday and Wednesday services. But, not once, did either of them come to visit that little family. As a matter of fact, not one person from that assembly has ever darkened the door of that young man’s home after asking for love.
That congregation does not love them. They don’t know how to love outside the building they call the church – that’s not really love at all, is it? They are welcome to attend when there is a function at the building.
Doesn’t this small family qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
I want to tell you about a single mom with three small children. Let’s call her Nancy. Nancy has a colored background. Drugs, jail, abuse, and more. But she’s a loving mother, as best as she knows how.
She’s struggled with substance abuse for most of her adult years. We don’t need to get into the reasons why; everyone has reasons that are more painful than many of us can imagine.
But somehow, through it all, Nancy came to church and found an anchor in her faith. She raised her children, as best as she knew how. Did she do everything right? Of course not. A woman addicted to pain medications, and other drugs, finds herself making bad choices in relationships, and priorities in her home. Drugs seem to rule the home; they control finances, they control time management, they control attitudes, and they control the decisions about the men who come through the doors. The choices are often wrong but driven only by a force, not of the Holy Spirit, but by the desire for the drugs.
But Nancy loves her children and tries to do the best she can for them. Over time, church became a place of judgment, pain, and conflict. She came to the church and asked for love. A man and his wife, who treated Nancy as their own daughter and her children as their grandchildren, went to the church on her behalf and asked for love. The man and his wife, along with Nancy and her children, invited the pastor and the elder, along with their wives, to a dinner at her house. At the dinner, Nancy pleaded with the pastor and elders to please love her family in their home as well as in the walls of the building. “Please spend time with us and teach us about Jesus. Please take my children and show them what it is like to live normal and healthy lives. Please take my son fishing and spend time with my daughter.” Only when they could find love in their home, then they could return to the meeting place to be loved. The pastor and elders agreed. Everyone prayed together and exchanged hugs and promises of time together and shared love.
Nancy’s kitchen window overlooked the church building. The road to the church passed her front door. Every person who attended the church had to pass by Nancy’s door to enter the church.
Days past. Weeks past. Months passed. Not one phone call. Not one visit. Not one word from anybody. The pastor and elder said they were welcome to attend but never invited her again. They never asked about the children or pulled into her driveway. They never called, they never asked, they never cared.
Doesn’t Nancy and her family qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
Lori is a petite woman, probably in her 50s now. As a small child, she grew up in a sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive home of unspeakable pain. She left home, unloved and abused but legally emancipated at the young age of 14. By the time she was 17 she had been in various relationships that gave her two babies, two more children came later. Her entire life has been one kind of pain after another. Physiological and physical problems have plagued her every step of the way.
She became addicted and dependent on piles of daily prescription drugs, each one exasperating the problems into more problems. However, somehow though the incredible grace of God, Lori found a relationship with Jesus in a way that should inspire each of us. Her day is filled with prayer, Bible reading and a sincere desire to connect with other Godly individuals. Hungry for more of Jesus, she attended church every time the doors where open.
Lori asks a lot of hard questions. “Why would God allow my children. . .?” “What does this passage in the scriptures mean?” “When will God answer my prayer?” “Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?” When the Bible study covers hard sections, she wants to understand, or at least she wants to try.
Lori wasn’t really accepted in the woman’s Bible studies. She asked too many questions. If Lori wasn’t there, they would talk about her drug problems and her embarrassing past, all in the name of prayer, of course. But rumors spread like wildfire and news travels fast to people who don’t need to know the indecent gritty details.
Soon Lori felt separated from the body. The women felt threatened by her, and the men gazed at her. Those who teach from prewritten curriculums couldn’t answer her questions and didn’t want to be intimated by a woman who could quote scriptures from her heart. Slowly she retreated from the church congregation.
Time brought more pain. She desperately thirsted for the love and relationships that the church promised. The “family” she so desperately needed pushed her out and abused her, even took advantage of her sexually, much the same way as her blood family had. She cried out to the paster and elders for love. “Please love me, even when I can’t bring myself to enter the doors.”
She was ignored. Without being inside the walls she was unnoticed and forgotten. Some probably glad she wasn’t there anymore to disrupt their plans.
Lori calls the man and his wife almost daily, asking questions about the scriptures and crying for some kind of family. She only wants an occasional hug. She just wants people who genuinely care with the love of Jesus. She only wants to know she is loved by the people of God. But she is ignored.
Doesn’t Lori qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
I could continue with these stories.
I could tell you about a broken and hurting single lady who’s sin was condemned before she knew the story of Jesus, she never returned.
I could tell you the story about a young man who dated a girl of poor reputation and was criticized and never returned.
I could tell you of a young man, who didn’t dress right and was told to go home and not to come back until he cleaned up his style.
I could tell you of an alcoholic woman who was kept at arms-length and found herself alone.
I could tell you of a drug-addicted young man who killed himself because he felt condemned and unloved.
I could tell you about broken homes, addictions, insatiable sexual appetites, abuse, jail, alcohol, and more, and more, and more. . .
Do these qualify for the status of “the least of these?”
When Jesus talked about the actions of caring for the “least of these,” he was not describing a condition to gain salvation. No, he was describing a condition resulting from salvation. You and I, every one of us, is no more qualified to be accepted by God, than the people in this story. Paul himself, the apostle who wrote most of our New Testament books, called himself the “chief of sinners.” Was he displaying false humility? Absolutely not! He had matured to the point where he recognized the unimaginable, boundless grace of God. He understood that he was equal to the worst of the human race – no better.
Until we see ourselves as filthy rags, we do not qualify for salvation. There are many, in church pews today, who take sides. We look across the aisle at “them and us.” They try not to be prideful, but they don’t suffer from the same battles of sin that “those people do.”
Jesus had some Pharisees near him one day. The Pharisees considered themselves to be nearly free of sin and quickly cleansed through lawful means, as soon as any sin was known. But Jesus spoke of the commandments and said: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He said something almost the same about murder.
Was Jesus raising the bar of the law and putting all mankind under sin? In a sense, yes. But more than that, he was proving to the self-righteous Pharisees that, they too, were equal to the worst of sinners. They’re no better.
The same is true for me. The same is true for you.
Penelope is loved by God and he has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Penelope qualifies as the least of these.
Nancy is loved by God and he has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Nancy qualifies as the least of these.
Lori is loved by God and he has commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Lori qualifies as the least of these.
If Penelope and Nancy and Lori are not worthy of my intense, selfless, sacrificial love, then I am not recognizing the sin in myself.
Let’s go back to the second parable, the parable of the talent. Why was the third servant called, “unfaithful” or “wicked?” It’s because he did nothing. He kept the gold. He protected it and kept it safe for his king. But he did nothing.
How many times do we see a person in need? I’m not talking about some random person on the street corner. I’m talking about somebody who God has put directly in your path in life. What do we do? Have you ever put your hand on their shoulder and said, “I’ll pray for you,” but don’t actually do anything? How dare you! You wicked and unfaithful servant! You’ve done nothing!
Have you ever gone fishing but didn’t think to take that little boy you see on Sunday morning in the front row? Have you ever gone out with your daughter for a girl’s night but didn’t invite the little girl from the back row because you don’t want that kind of influence around your kids?
I wonder how sterile we’ve made our lives, so we don’t have to touch the unclean anymore.
“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In the last few years I’ve really struggled with this word “Relationship” as it relates to Jesus. When I think of relationship I think of spending time together, talking, mutual advice, chatting about anything and nothing, seeing each other, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to hug, a body to hold. In the case of a marriage relationship the word relationship includes sexual intimacy, understanding the thoughts and feelings of each other, emotional and physical protection, admiration, emotional and physical closeness and so much more. But, our relationship with Jesus doesn’t consist of those things.
Now I realize that as soon as I say those words that many will argue that all of those things are true with Jesus. Yes, we can spend time with Him; Yes, we can talk with Him…. etc. But, even the most emphatic must agree that’s it’s not the same as a true, flesh and blood, friend.
As a Christian, I think the word relationship, as it’s applied in churches and amongst Christians, implies something that most, if not all of us, feel we’re missing – something. For me, it spurs feelings of guilt.
There must be something more I should be doing to make this feel more like a relationship. Maybe I need to spend more time talking to Him. Maybe I need to spend more time reading His book. Can you imagine if I met the girl of my dream, asked her to marry me, then handed her a book and told her that everything she needs to know about me is in the book? This is the extent of our relationship, and I expect her to bury herself in the book so she knows me more and more. Read it every day, and talk to me. I’m silent, but she can speak. Sometimes I’ll speak through my spirit. Then she will truly love me – she has to love me – she reads my book – right?
If that were true, online dating would be perfect – right?
If I feel something is lacking in this relationship then I need to spend more time and exert more energy improving this relationship. After all, He hasn’t gone anywhere, He has given me everything I need, He has provided His book, He has done it all. It must be me.
That’s depressing. Often when we’ve struggled, good friends have asked us, “how’s your relationship with God?”. What does that mean? How do I answer? Does that imply that I may or may not be doing enough? Maybe that’s why I struggle because I haven’t worked hard enough at my part of this relationship?
I’m guilty of using the phrase “relationship with Jesus” or “relationship with God”. I think it’s time to re-think the terminology.
Truly, what has Jesus asked us to do while we wait for His return? Abide? Obey? Anything else?
Okay, let’s come at this from another angle.
Jesus calls us His bride. He is returning for a pure and spotless bride. Much of his Last Supper conversation uses marriage proposal language. In the tradition of Jesus’ day the groom would propose to the girl; then, if she accepts, he will go back to his father’s house and prepare a house for his bride. Then, on the day appointed (could be months or even years), he would return for his bride. Often the bride would not even know what day he would return. She would always be watching and listening. He would return, often blowing trumpets, certainly with all the noisy music he could muster, to marry his bride and take her back to his home.
“Relationship” in this context is probably the wrong word. Yes, they’re engaged, betrothed in their terminology, but she might not know him at all. That day, when the father of the bride and the father of the groom made an agreement, and the boy proposed to the girl, it might be the first time they ever met each other. They certainly didn’t date or court, or have a relationship. He proposes. She accepts. He builds a home for them. She prepares herself to be a bride. He ultimately returns for her. – Then the relationship begins. There will be, in their tradition, a wedding ceremony, a party, and a consummation; then they will live happily ever after – as a relationship where they can spend time together, talking, mutual advice, chatting about anything and nothing, seeing each other, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to hug, a body to hold, intimacy, understanding the thoughts and feelings of each other, emotional and physical protection, admiration, emotional and physical closeness and so much more.
Is it possible the true relationship with Jesus starts after He takes us home? Is it possible that we are currently betrothed or engaged or could we even use the words “bought with a price”? Then, if we view this relationship as an engagement, or commitment to be married, then this changes our perspective on our relationship. Now I’m trusting Him. I’m waiting for Him. My life belongs to Him. I am not free to enter into worldly or unhealthy activities. I must prepare myself to be a bride, by learning how to please my groom. By keeping myself pure, clean, and ready for His return. Now I can simply abide and obey. Now I can look forward to a true relationship.
Considering that, it would be normal to feel that something is missing in my “relationship”. Certainly, a lot is missing. That’s true of any bride waiting to marry her groom. Waiting in anticipation of the day when their relationship is consummated. Waiting for more closeness, more intimacy, more understanding. My relationship with Jesus isn’t complete yet. Not even close. Yes, we’ve met. He has given me his marriage proposal. He has given me His life, His blood, and His promise. I have accepted His proposal. I have promised my life. But relationship?
In my Father’s house are many mansions (dwelling places); if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.
I stopped and pulled on Maria’s elbow. “Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies.” Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.
The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.
On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.
And that’s when we heard the scream.
Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I will never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the force of the Abba cry passages in the New Testament, ones I had memorized in Vacation Bible School. And I was surprised by how little I had gotten it until now. . . .
Little Maxim’s scream changed everything—more, I think, than did the judge’s verdict and the notarized paperwork. It was the moment, in his recognizing that he would be heard, that he went from being an orphan to being a son. It was also the moment I became a father, in fact if not in law. We both recognized that something was wrong, because suddenly, life as it had been seemed terribly disordered.
Up to that time, I had read the Abba cry passages in Romans and Galatians the same way I had heard them preached: as a gurgle of familiarity, the spiritual equivalent of an infant cooing “Papa” or “Daddy.” Relational intimacy is surely present in the texts—hence Paul’s choice of such a personal word as Abba—but this definitely isn’t sentimental. After all, Scripture tells us that Jesus’ Spirit lets our hearts cry “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6). Jesus cries “Abba, Father” as he screams “with loud cries and tears” for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane (Heb. 5:7; Mark 14:36). Similarly, the doctrine of adoption shows us that we “groan” with the creation itself “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). It is the scream of the crucified.
This question comes up almost on a daily basis. If there is one scripture that everyone is familiar with it is Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
What most people are saying is don’t remind me of the fact that I’m transgressing Gods law. If you were to tell them that the Bible says this or that most people will take offense to what you say. This is because you bring conviction to their life.
You are exposing hidden sin and bringing it into the light. It says in John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. When you expose the truth and people are reminded of their inter-self or their dark side, they try to ignore it. Also, it exposes their true heart to others around them. This makes them feel very uneasy. So they will try to justify themselves by quoting pieces of scripture no matter how far out of context it is.
Lets take a close look at what the Bible has to say about judging one another:
Lets start with Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. (2) For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (3) And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (4) Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? (5) Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
In Matthew 7:1 We are told that we should not judge. Most people stop reading there because this allows them to prove their point. However if you continue reading to Matthew 7:5 it tells us that in order to judge someone else make sure that you are right with God first, then you can judge them.
Here in John we are told that we need to judge. John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. At first glance this seems to contradict itself. However, if you read it carefully you will understand the whole point of judging one another.
First we are told that we are not to judge by the appearance. Again this does not mean that a person dressed in ragged clothes is to be judge by them. This point out that a poor person who cannot afford the luxuries of this world should not be looked down upon. Secondly we are told that we should judge a person by using righteous judgment. What is righteous judgment?
Remember that no man is righteous, but God is righteous. So if we are to judge another person we are to use righteous judgment and not our own thoughts and ideas. We are to use the word of God as a measuring stick to tell right from wrong!
For instance if someone was committing adultery the conversation could go something like this:
person 1: Do you know that you should not be living in adultery?
person 2: You have no right to judge me, the Bible says that you should not judge someone.
If we are not to judge, then person number 2 is right. Because most people don’t have a full understanding of the scripture the conversation will end there.
However, person number 1 should reply:
person 1: I am not judging you, but the word of God is judging you. The Bible says that you should not live in adultery. Exodus 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
By putting the phrase in the correct context, person 1 is not judging person 2 but the Holy word of God is the standard for which person 2 broke Gods commandment.
1st Corinthians chapter 5 also tells us that we are to use the word of God to determine if we should fellowship with people or not.
1Corinthians 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: (10) Yet not altogether the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. (11) But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. (12) For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? (13) But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
If we were not to judge, how could we determine if someone was a fornicator, covetous, an idolater, a railer, a drunkard, or an extortioner? At sometime you have to say, I should not fellowship with that person because he or she is a drunkard. We must judge that persons life, in order to come to the conclusion that they are a drunkard.
If you were not allowed to judge then you would never not fellowship with someone who is a drunkard. This idea of not judging gives people an “easy out”. You can do anything, go anywhere with anyone you like. This is pleasing to the non Christian or a person who calls themselves a Christian but their life does not bear fruit.
Continuing in 1Corinthians 10:15 I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. Again Paul is telling us to judge what he is saying. If we are not to judge then this verse would not make any sense.
Once again 1Corinthians 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? Again we are to judge using the word of God.
Luke 12:57 Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? Here we are to judge what is right. In order to determine what is right we need to look into God’s word and weight the deeds and actions against the Holy Word of God. We are not to determine by our own knowledge but refer to the Bible.
1Corinthians 11:13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Once again we are told to judge, to reason within our self. To find righteous judgment you need to refer to the Bible.
We as Christians are commanded to “1. To decide 2. To determine” what is “right” and “wrong” according to the word of God.
If you do not “judge” – “right” from “wrong” – you are traveling a blazing “one-way” course to “perversion” and “degradation” that will eventually land you in a “lake of fire”! read Revelation 21:8
A lot of Christians read Matthew 7:1 and say, “See, we’re not supposed to judge between right and wrong”. And any sense of declaring someone, especially other Christians, to be wrong, is “judging” that person.
There are some serious problems with this interpretation. . .
For instance, if you keep reading Matthew 7, you’ll soon read in verse 15:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15
Notice these false prophets “come to you in sheep’s clothing”– in other words they are “masquerading” as Christians! And yet, according to the Lord Jesus Christ – “they are ravening wolves.” According to the Lord Jesus Christ – Beware: some “so-called” Christians – are “ravening wolves”!
How can we tell the “sheep” from the “wolves” unless we “judge” or “determine”?
How can we do as our Lord commanded and “beware of false prophets” unless we “judge” them by the word of God?
If we do not “judge” or “decide” their error by the word of God, how do we even know they are in error?
Just because someone “sings” about the Lord Jesus Christ, are we to not “judge” their “songs”, “conversation”, and “testimony”? Because someone professes to be a Christian should we accept whatever they say and do as “right” and “pleasing to God”?
** Note all references are taken from the King James Version.
While researching and preparing for my next Simon book I wanted an opportunity to see Noah’s Ark at the Ark Encounter. As our travels took us through Cincinnati, Ohio it was the perfect time to stop and see it.
As you enter the parking lot you have to search to find it. I don’t mean it’s hard to find, it’s just a long ways from the parking area. Keep in mind that they are building this property to be a type of amusement park, not just an ark. The parking area is a long way from the ark, however they provide shuttle buses that are never more than a couple of minutes wait.
When we arrived in our RV I took a few minutes to survey the view. The ark sat about a half-mile from our parking spot on an opposite hill. I tried to imagine the thoughts of the folks in Noah’s day who would see that boat from a far hill. Although there were significant cities in those days, and appreciable technology, nothing would compare to the magnificent size of this “building”. Certainly, they had boats, and even ships, but this would be more like a giant barn or enclosed city.
The bus ride to the ark was quick and comfortable in the heated and air-conditioned (we needed both throughout the day) transit bus. The road to the ark winds up and down through the hills on each side of the valley. The road is nice but poorly planned. The buses are not able to cross each other except on the limited straight sections. There is even a bridge across a gully and stream that is only wide enough for one bus. It’s no big issue, they seemed to have worked out a system and communicate via radio to handle the traffic problems.
Approaching the ark was an emotional experience for me. I can’t find the words to describe the size. Yes, I can tell you the dimensions, but numbers don’t describe the enormity of this ship. It’s not what I imagined at all. Words escape me but the experience was breathtaking. As you converge on the ship you can look up and it towers over you like an overhanging giant stadium. This wooden vessel can’t be absorbed with the eyes from any perspective. It has to be examined in sections. The bow of the ship looms taller than a five-story building and the length is more than one-and-a-half football fields. The top deck is large enough to carry three space shuttles nose-to-tail with room to spare. Just to walk the length was a time-consuming event. Again, I can’t put this into words to help you grasp the sheer massiveness of the ship.
Stepping inside I was somewhat less in awe. Yes, impressive and professionally done, but the reality of the awesome size wasn’t as noticeable inside. As you climb the ramp and enter the main body of the ship you’re besieged by photographers who want to take your picture so you can pay an exorbitant price later to have your photo superimposed in front of the ship. I felt it was cheesy and irritating to be ambushed in this way.
In my typical introvert way, I found my way quickly to the lower bow of the ship. The crowds were headed in one direction, I was running for solitude. In this isolation, I found the awesomeness of the ship again for just a moment. In the darkness of this tiny space was a sound system that imitated the crashing of the sea, the fearful noise of creaking boards, and the crashing of the storm above. I found myself relating to what Noah’s sons might have felt: fear, loneliness, and despair; cold, dark and noisy, floating around in the great unknown; no understanding of the future, no hope for the past.
Moving from my private seclusion I again joined the crowds to view row upon row of hand-made wooden animal cages. The cages, presumably built mostly from bamboo were of various sizes and held many exotic and long-past extinct animals. Again, the recorded sounds were realistic and eerie. Alongside the cages, above, and everywhere possible were rows of clay freshwater canisters and bundles of various feeds. The lower deck seemed to somewhat realistically characterize the enormous amount of work that would have been involved in managing the thousands of animals on board.
As we worked our way to the second deck the inside of this awesome ship become more of a museum than Noah’s Ark. Excellent detail, but no longer maintained much of the feel of the enormity and purpose of the original ship. The two upper decks were very interesting, but if you come when there are larger crowds the museum exhibits would be very difficult to enjoy. We had, what I would consider, a maximum crowd to enjoy and read the exhibits. At this point, most pre-teen children would have a marginal interest. However, a teenager, especially one who has a healthy education in natural science and Biblical study, would find most of these exhibits educational, compelling, and professionally designed.
There was a special place for me that I spent a great deal of time contemplating. It was a particularly emotional place that I didn’t expect. The Door. God said to Noah, “You shall set the door of the ship in its side”. The metaphor of the “Door” is used frequently in the Bible. Yet, the reality of this door really hit me when I stood there. Jesus said “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved. . .” As I surveyed that great wooden door on the side of Noah’s ship I considered Jesus words. “I am the door”. That great ship was for the salvation of mankind. In the same way, Jesus is the salvation of mankind. Yet, the book of Genesis tells us that there came a day, after Noah and his family were safely on board, that Yahweh God shut the door. I stood there in tears before that giant wooden deleth [Hebrew: door] and considered the woeful screams of the people outside when the destruction began. Imagine the water crashing against the sides of that great ship while men, women, and children, in panic, pounded on the door. Yet it was too late, the door was shut and sealed by the hand of God himself.
Those people who had rejected the warnings of Noah would die terrible deaths. Their screams would have been heard inside. Not strangers, these are the workmen who toiled alongside Noah, many would have been family and friends. Yet, they did not heed his words. How long until the screams fell silent that eerie night? How long before their ears were no longer assaulted by the pleading of their loved ones? How long before the mothers who could no longer hold their crying babies above the water would lower their arms and submit to the death of the cold water?
At that door I considered not only the deaths of thousands, even millions of souls that terrible day, but I considered the eternal deaths of billions today when God will again close the door. The day will come, the day is coming soon, that God will no longer strive with mankind. The day will come when it’s too late. No amount of screams, no amount of pleading will open that door again.
What side of the door are you on? Do you care? You will.
One interesting side note: The Hebrew word for Ark used in the bible is “ta-va”. This word is used twice in the Hebrew Torah [Bible], first for Noah’s Ark and the second is the basket that carried Moses down the river to safety. Both were used exclusively for the salvation of God’s people. This could be a whole article all by itself.
We returned to our RV shortly after noon and felt we had seen much of the Ark and its exhibits. We couldn’t leave the parking lot because our motorcoach is much too large to navigate the tight parking spaces. We didn’t mind, we enjoyed lunch, I took a nap, and then I returned to the ship for a second tour, this time without Amy. This gave me an opportunity to roam the grounds, to snoop around and take the time to absorb the magnitude of this great ship. I spent a great deal of time outside, under and around just trying to envisage the eminence of this floating wooden engineering phenomenon. I returned to many of the more extensive exhibits that Amy wasn’t interested in. In addition, I returned to the Door.
I invested many long moments contemplating the magnitude of that door. Not the magnitude of the physical door of this ship, honestly I don’t think this door was very well done. The door of this ship in Kentucky could have been closed by any man. I was only contemplating the magnitude of what that door signifies. The metaphor of that massive wooden door from the book of Genesis is sobering.
I Finally returned to the motorcoach and soon the parking lot opened enough to allow us to wiggle out. We had to move some directional orange cones and find our own way out, the exit drive was not designed for large vehicles. But we are used to making our own path.
The cost of the Ark is $40 per person plus an insulting parking fee of $10 for cars (or $15 for an RV). I feel that price is overinflated and unrealistic. Maybe someday when they have a full amusement park for children this could be acceptable, but for someone on a modest income, this price is painfully steep for what you see. There is no question that the ark is breathtaking and professionally done. Don’t mistake this for just another Christian museum, this is a money-making operation and the opportunities for you to spend a significant amount of your money, even after the $40 admission, is plenteous.
One last critique, although not offensive in any way, this is advertised as a fully wooden structure. I guess I had an expectation of a duplication of how Noah might have actually built this enormous boat. This structure is a heavy steel commercial building, made to look like a wooden ship. The wood boards cover everything yet most of the wood is not structural in any way. I had hoped it would be more realistic in construction, but I’m sure that would be a legal impossibility. This building had to meet modern commercial building codes and is expected to last many lifetimes. Noah’s boat only needed to last through one terrible storm over the course of about one year.
I have to give a huge thank you to a friend who helped us make this visit a reality. I thank God for men like Ken Ham who had the vision, resources and connections to make this possible. But more than that, I thank God who found the mercy to save the family of Noah and provide life to a dying and sinful world. God again has shown great mercy through his own Son Jesus who is the “Door” and the way of life. Only those who enter eternal life through Jesus will find life. All others will find only death – eternally. Please heed the voice of Noah and turn from your wickedness and cry out to Jesus who is “The Way, the Truth, and Life, no man comes to the Father except by Me [Jesus]”.
The angels rejoiced that warm spring day as a penniless child opened her heart to Jesus. But the child was ignored by the house of worship, for an impoverished child has no place in the modern church of human worship. Those who are hungry and naked are not welcome in the hearts of those who worship in those hallowed halls. Oh, but place an ounce of gold in her hand and the cathedrals would have welcomed her with open arms into their game of churchianity. Angels rejoice for they perceive with the eyes of God, but the congregation with eyes of carnal man.
In the wisdom of God a great pearl, formed by a mote of great pain, was hidden inside that child that no congregation of human eyes could discern. God used those sands of affliction to polish and perfect a pearl of great value.
On that day, before the Kingdom throne, we will not be judged for our ability to prosper with greed and gold but our ability to seek and buy the pearl of a great price.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.