Build an Ark

     “These are the times that try men’s souls!” the author famously wrote, and though these words were written back in what we would classify as the “good old days,” they seem to be especially true in our present world.  America is at a low point in its confidence in its government, its leaders, and even its citizenry.  One need only to listen to a few politicians (from our president to our local dog catcher) or cable news commentaries to quickly determine that truth has been thrown out the window in favor of unsubstantiated claims and impossible promises…all for the primary goals of winning/retaining office or advancing an agenda.  It is a general curse; both major political parties have been captured by the lunatic fringes whose mantras denounce democratic communication and compromise.  The result has been a paralyzed government unable to see to the needs of its constituents and unable to break the political logjam.
    Although we point condemning fingers at government and rant about the inability of our leaders to manage the ship of state in a responsible manner, the fact is, government is a reflection of its citizenry, and just as government has perfected the skill of dodging responsibility, we the citizens have raised the art of passing the buck to a level that probably makes our politicians green with envy.  Being no longer responsible for our actions, we label alcoholism and drug use as “illnesses” which we somehow contract.  If we accidentally shoot ourselves in the foot, we blame the bullet.  Violent actions on our highways are now described as “road rage” which of course is caused by some sort of terrible stress we happened to be suffering at the time.  Social rudeness, vulgarity, and aggression are labeled as freedoms of speech and expression, and anyone who objects to these “expressions” is branded as repressive and narrow-minded.
    If we claim to be Christian and subscribe to the fundamental doctrines as presented in the Bible, what do we do when we see our society crumbling around us?  It is not a matter of persecution…a majority of non-church goers consider Christians as nice people who make good neighbors but are hard to find on Sunday mornings.  You know, nice, but relatively harmless, and definitely not dangerous.  However, the concept of danger is an integral part of our society in this current age, and with good reason.  Our society has become increasingly violent, and the general philosophy concerning violence is to fight fire with fire.  Think about the recent shootings in...well, you name it...they seem to be occurring with increased frequency across the country.  What were the results in each event?  An uptick in the sale of weapons in the area.  We are reaching the point where we perceive any stranger as a potential threat and act accordingly.  We are vigilant wherever we go, be it a Walmart, a gas station, or a restaurant.
     In Genesis 6: 11-22 we read the story of Noah and his building of the ark.  The scriptures state that with the ark, Noah was able to save himself and his family when his world as he knew it was destroyed.  I am convinced that for us to survive in the 21st century, we, too, have to build arks.  They should not be arks made of gopherwood and pitch, but rather spiritual arks which achieve the same goal as the original ark of wood…save our families.
     It is interesting to read the account of the building of the ark because it offers a pattern for our spiritual arks today. God was very specific in the instructions for the building of the boat.  The length, width, height, materials, and design of the ark were exactly determined.  I was amazed to notice that the original word for “pitch” as used in Genesis 6:14, is also found in Leviticus, but there it is translated “atonement.”  The word “atonement” means “satisfaction given for wrong doing,” meaning a payment to correct a wrong that was done.  The New Testament states that Jesus’s blood was the atonement for our sins, meaning that his blood removed our sins.  Think about this…without the pitch (atonement) the ark never would have floated.  Pitch is a natural substance that was used for centuries in wooden boats to seal the wood from leakage.  Today we have massive churches which appear to be great arks of safety, and yet they do not accept the concept of atonement through the blood of Jesus Christ or the receiving of His spirit (Holy Ghost) as specifically described in the book of Acts of the Apostles. As a result, these modern, great arks will never float when the flood waters (which can be best described as all the negative influences which prevail in our current world) begin to rise, and the trusting souls therein will perish.
    For our spiritual arks to float, they must be sealed with spiritual pitch, and herein lies our quandary.  We try to skimp on the use of our spiritual pitch.  Somehow, I cannot imagine Noah walking through the ark and, upon seeing a wooden seam sealed with the protecting pitch, asking himself, “I wonder if the ark will still float if I remove this bit of pitch?”  Suppose in his curiosity he removed the strip of pitch, and, sure enough, water began to come into the boat.  But it was only a little bit of water, so, unconcerned, he wandered off.  Because he had some other use for the pitch, he began to remove more strips, each time letting in some additional flood water, but each time the amount of water seemed insignificant.  The problem with this scenario is as the small bits of water accumulated, the ark would have sunk further into the flood waters, and its ability to weather the heavy storms would have been sharply diminished.
    This is exactly the same dilemma we face in our churches today.  Though our churches may appear to be sealed with the “pitch” of the Holy Ghost, we who are in the ark of safety seem determined to see how many strips of pitch we can remove and stay afloat. Each small strip we remove and each worldly influence which we permit inside the church seem so insignificant at the time that we justify our actions by saying, “I don’t see any scripture against that!”  Yet with each bit of pitch removed, the integrity of the ship is compromised to the point that when a great storm arises, we may not be able to stay afloat.
    The following examples can be written off as the rambling of a man hopeless trapped in the past, so I ask you in advance to forgive me   Our church has a second level balcony in the main auditorium, and I have visited that lofty area only a couple of times.  In this particular recent service, I went to the upper deck for some reason and spent a few minutes watching the service.  My eyes wandered over the audience below and I was astounded at the number of little glowing screens scattered throughout the seating area.  There were a few adults with their iPods (I’m sure they had Bible apps!) and the usual teenagers on their cell phones, but the majority were small children playing video games, totally oblivious to the service in progress.  My mind flashed back to the days of my early childhood when I watched services although I did not understand what was going on.  I still remember how, when those worshipping saints shouted the victory, the dust would rise from the seams in the wooden floor, and I learned that, when our pastor closed his Bible, he was about finished. Years later, when as a teenager I gave my heart to God, I did so on the basis of those early experiences.  I have to wonder…at what point in a child’s development do you take away their video games and tell them from that moment on he/she needs to pay attention in church.  Additionally, when you finally pronounce that judgement upon your child, what are the chances of the child following your instruction?  I think…slim.  It's already too late.
    In another service recently, I was at the altar after the sermon praying with someone.  There were many others praying, tears were flowing, and loud praise was rising.  I happened to glance around and noticed two cute little girls, probably five or six years old bouncing around the altar area taking in the action with wide eyes and lots of excited whispering.  For a second, my teacher spirit rose up in me, and I was about to tell them to sit down and be quiet.  But I caught myself and determined, “No, they need to see this.”  Though they may not have understood what was happening, God can plant a seed of remembrance in their minds, and, who knows?  Some day in the future they may be drawn in earnest to an altar.
    In Hebrew 11:7 we read that “By faith Noah, being warned of God…moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”  Noah followed the instruction of God explicitly and in doing so served as a pattern for us.  If we have an ark…it is no time to be removing the pitch.