2020 Theme - Living in a Broken World
At the turn of the 20th century (the year 1900) -optimism abounded in the western world. Technology & Science was on the verge of solving many problems that had plagued mankind for centuries. As medical knowledge increased diseases began to be cured and life spans slowly began to rise. Farming technology was leading to increased productivity and a decrease in hunger and starvation. Manufacturing provided cheap goods for everyone. Items such as clothing and shelter became more affordable as well as modern conveniences. Solutions to most of the problems of the previous century seemed to be within reach of mankind.
However, by the end of the 20th century (the term was “Y-2-K”) much of the optimism in the West had been greatly tempered by the reality of two World Wars (ironically the first War was deemed the “War to end all wars”). These wars (along with other conflicts) had combined for a record number of casualties - more deaths than in the previous 19 centuries of warfare combined. The century also witnessed some notoriously evil men coming to power. Men like Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Edi Amin, rulers of North Korea, and on and on you could go. Many of these men became leaders with via governing ideologies that were not just anti-Christian, but outright atheist in their core beliefs.
Not only had world events tempered this optimism but decay in the society in our own country was noticeably present. Divorce rates had skyrocketed bringing an increase in broken homes, abortion had become legal, drug abuse reached epidemic proportions, and crime in general (white and blue-collar) had increased substantially. Safe to say, by the end of the previous century, the optimism present in the year 1900, was greatly diminished.
Christians can look at these things from a different perspective. We recognize the problems at the close of the previous century are the same problems the world has always had: men and women have the same faults and weaknesses, they still sin and rebel, and we still turn our backs on God. In other words, we live in a broken world. And the sad fact is humanity can’t fix it. Only God has the answers. So as we begin this year Benjamin and Ed will be preaching lessons connected to this theme – lessons that address the problems and realities we face because we live in a “Broken World”. - Keith Parks
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17
On March 9, 2019, Rainer Schimpf was photographing a mass of sardines off South Africa’s coast when all of a sudden, he was halfway swallowed by a whale. Headfirst and to his waist, he was in the whale’s mouth! Within a couple of seconds, the whale spits him out.
WTVR.com reported the story as “Real-life ‘Jonah’ Escapes After Nearly Being Swallowed By Whale.” No doubt some in the religious realm were excited to finally have some proof of the possibility that a whale can swallow a human, and the human survive. Somehow this would give credence to the Biblical account of Jonah and the great fish.
Most of us grew up hearing the story of Jonah and the great fish, or whale or sea monster. Jonah was the cantankerous prophet who ran away from God and ended up being swallowed up and then thrown up by a whale. After Jonah’s time in the belly of the great fish, he proved obedient to the Word of God, preached to the people of Nineveh, and they repented.
It’s a great story, but is it true? Bible skeptics and even theologians have argued that this is too good to be true, too fantastical to be authentic and, therefore, it must be a “whale of a tale.” Some Bible believers, on the other hand, have searched for a modern story or some type of evidence that can lend credibility to Jonah and the great fish. So, when Rainer was halfway swallowed by the Bryde whale they were quick to point out that it was very plausible for a man to be swallowed whole by a whale-thus Jonah and the great fish had to be a real story.
True believers do not need external evidences of a halfway swallowed photographer in order to feel confident that Jonah indeed existed, that he was swallowed by a whale, and that he survived for three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17). Christians do not need to find a metaphorical meaning to the story, especially since Jesus presented the story as a factual and literal account (Matthew 12:40).
The Bible moment…
Just as with the creation of the universe or the resurrection of Jesus, Christians do not need similar examples to prove such things can happen. After all, these things are miracles! Miracles cannot be duplicated by nature, they are by definition supernatural. We wouldn’t expect these things to be randomly duplicated at various points in history. And, if God can create the heavens and the earth ex nihilo (out of nothing), then swallowing a prodigal prophet whole and then puking him on the shore three days and three nights later would be, for Him, easy! “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) “If God can do miracles, including submarining Jonah to a desired location, then He can handle whatever worries you today.”
“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.’” Genesis 3:14-15
Society loves origins. We are obsessed with: “Where did they come from?” “How did this all start?” “Why did the story end this way?” This is why movie makers and book writers have given us pre-quals. The Bible has given us the Protevangelium for the Greatest Story Ever Told. Here is today’s Bible moment…
The Spirit of God uses frightening imagery to describe the battle between good and evil, God and the devil, and man and sin when He spoke of the woman, her Seed, and the serpent. Man had been deceived by the devil who had appeared in the form of a serpent (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:9). Due to the serpent’s craftiness and man’s disobedience to God’s Word, sin reigned in the heart of man and separated man from God (Genesis 2:16-17; Isaiah 59:2). Even so, God looked at His children with love and spoke the Protevangelium.
Protevangelium comes from the Latin: proto-first, original; and Evangelium-gospel. Salvation comes through the Son Jesus the Christ and in Genesis 3:14-15 God promised mankind salvation from their sins. God pronounced a curse on the serpent that one day he would be defeated with a crushing blow to the head (Genesis 3:14-15). When Jesus was crucified the devil fulfilled part of the Protevangelium promise, “…and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15) However, the promise that provided hope to mankind was when God said, “…He [Jesus] will crush you [the devil] on the head…” (ibid). This was the first Gospel preached, and it was preached to Adam and Eve-Jesus the Son of God would one day come to offer salvation to mankind!
The Bible moment…
Even though theologians define Protevangelium as the first Gospel, there is one Gospel. The message of salvation was prophesied in Genesis and pointed to the future fulfillment in Christ. God so loved us that He had the forethought to have a plan to save mankind, to make provision for our sins, and to eventually send His Son to die on our behalf (John 3:16, 36).
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them created mankind.” Genesis 1:27
Imago Dei refers to the unique imprint God placed upon humanity, identifying people as a special creation-Imago Dei is Latin for the “image of God.” The Bible moment…
The fact that humans are made in the image of God is one of the most important biblical revelations for Christians, but most viciously attacked by non-believers.
The questions we must deal with if indeed we are created in the image of God, and He has placed His unique imprint upon us, why the endless murders, rapes, stabbings, massacres, and other forms of violence? How can humans be created in the image of God when we commit such evil acts of violence toward each other? How do we explain our lust for power, the destruction of our fellow man, the building up of our military might, and escalation of wars? In the face of such violent humanity, how can we say we are superior to the animal kingdom?
There are two things to note about being created in the image of God: Humans have a spirit, and the ability to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.
Our human spirit provides evidence that God’s traits like love, justice and freedom to choose are alive in us-thus making us different than animals. The human spirit enables us to reason, have emotions, such as love and anger and to understand that we have value.
Another quality we share with God is the moral ability to recognize good and evil, which God demonstrated through Adam and Eve from the beginning. So as free moral agents we can act freely in a morally good or evil way. We can choose either to shine forth “the moral image of God or flat out reject it, but either way, the ability to make the choice reveals our underlying similarity to our Creator.” 
It should be emphasized that humans are different than the rest of creation; the immense gulf separating self-realization from consciousness and morality from amorality speak to the strong evidence that we are indeed made in the image of God.
The Bible moment…
When Adam looked for a mate, he quickly understood that he would not be able to find one suitable among the animal kingdom. Among all of creation, we are uniquely made Imago Dei. What a privilege to be created in the image of God. There was a time in creation when the Godhead spoke, “Let US make man in OUR image…and let them rule over the animals…” (Genesis 1:26-27) Mankind is far superior, created with greater value, for nobler purposes, and with the greatest potential than the rest of God’s creation. You are worthy, you are important, you are created in the image of God!
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
Science can’t account for that. The Bible moment…
When scientists speak about the creation of the world, the universe for that matter, they often refer to initial singularity. This is the point, they say when the entire universe and time itself exploded into being. And scientist can’t account for that. They don’t know when or how it happened.
Many journals have been written about the origin of the universe, questions have been posted and no real answers have been given. Has the universe always existed, or did it have a beginning? If it did have a beginning, what caused it to come into existence?
NASA describes the Universe at one second after the Big Bang this way: “According to the theories of physics, if we were to look at the universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is a 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Thomas Kitching, writer for The Conversation noted, "In this early stage, the universe was extremely bright and at frequencies of light that humans cannot see.”
So, what about the beginning of time? Scientists have theorized that the universe originated with the Big Bang and, they arrive at this theory by light travel. They say that by looking at the speed of light and going back in time the Universe must have exploded into existence about 30 billion years ago. But what about time? What about the energy or force that made the Bang!? Scientists of all shades cannot come up with a working theory. Stephen Hawking a world-renown theoretical physicist lectured, “Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined because there's no way one could measure what happened at them.”
While science grapples with the difficulties of the origin of time, the Universe and life, the very first verse of the Bible explain it all in ten simple words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) God created the Universe out of nothing. OUT OF NOTHING! – ex nihlo.
One day science will accept what the Scriptures teach about the origins of everything. Robert Jastrow, an American astronomer, and planetary physicist and NASA scientist wrote, “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
The Bible Moment, as Christians we love the truth, no matter the origin. Not all science is a lie, but all Bible is the truth. “Thy Word is truth.” (John 17:17)
The scene is that of a deer panting and looking for water during a drought. At one time the deer drank until it was satisfied with the pristine and crystal clear waters of the streams of water, but now the water is dried up and the deer pants and longs for it. The 42nd Psalm describes the child of God in exile and full of melancholy, but not necessarily sad because he is in exile. He is heartbroken because he cannot go to the house of God.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2)
The Psalmist says that at one time he used to lead the worship service in the temple and all he can do now is cry day and night. His enemies taunt and make fun of him as they see his devotion to God.
“My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:3-4, 10)
For whatever reason, the psalmist is in exile and cannot worship God in the temple with other people. While he could worship in the wilderness by himself, and he could sing and pray in the woods among nature, his deep sadness originated from the fact that he could not go to the House of the Lord and be with other saints. We should have the same desire to be in the House of the Lord, and it should cause us great sadness when we cannot be with God’s children. We should be like the deer who pants for the water.