Noah Jr. & The Ark: An Earth Day Children’s Message


 

(The following is an Earth Day Children’s message delivered on April 22nd at Asbury Church)

I like to consider myself an out of the box type preacher, and sometimes the best way to do that is with props.     Some folks will loudly criticize the use of props in church, believing that you will only remember the prop and not the story.   If you know me, you know how strongly I disagree.  Seldom does a week pass where there isn’t some random object that takes front and center.

With that said, that group of “haters” would most certainly – and without any doubt – have a HUGE issue with the prop I used on Earth day.    Inside a paper bag, was a collection of two dozen Canadian Earth Worms in all their squirming beauty.    In an instant I had all the kids attention; especially the boys.

(Best Quote of the day?   “We have got the coolest pastor EVER!  He brings worms into church and plays street hockey with us after!” Could children’s ministry be that easy????)

With a mound of worms in one hand, I told my own twist on an old Jewish legend that was told to young children to remind them of the importance of taken care of the earth.

It was a story about Noah’s Ark.   We all know that Noah and his wife were on the ark, but there were more than those two on the ark.   Also on the ark were Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  They came with their wives.

One particular legend has it that they also had children that came with them on the ark.   Although the Bible isn’t clear on this, our story takes place with the youngest son of Ham,  Noah Jr.  who was named after his grandfather, of course.

As you can imagine building an ark is hard work.  Everyone worked hard in building and preparing the ark, but the kids probably worked the hardest.    There job was to haul the wood, and the supplies.   They were the manual labor while their parents did all the cool stuff, like measuring, sawing, and hammering.    Sadly, their job got even harder when it started raining

It was the kids that cleaned the stalls.  (Can you imagine the incredible amount of animal poop on the ark?)  They were also the ones to make sure that everyone ate what they were supposed to.   They were the ones to make sure the animals were clean.    They were the ones that made sure the wolves didn’t eat the rabbits, and the tigers didn’t make lunch out of the llamas. 

Of all the kids on board the ark, none took this responsibility more seriously than Noah Jr. Noah Jr was a special kid.   He loved animals more than any of the others.   He wanted to grow up and become a zoologist or zookeeper and take care of animals all on his own.    Seeing this, the adults gave Noah Jr. a great deal of responsibility.

On the day that the flood started, Noah Jr. was given the incredible responsibility of making sure all the animals were safely on the ark.   With a clipboard and a pen, he would check off the animals as they arrived.   

  • Llamas – check.  
  • Aardvarks – Check.  
  • Emus – check.

When he was thought he was all set, he took his clipboard to his grandfather and said they were ready. Noah Sr. scanned the list and said “I think you are missing the most important ones” and with a smile handed the clipboard back to the boy. Panicked the boy scrambled back to the cages.

  • Penguins – check.  
  • Sloths – check.  
  • Giraffes – check.

After a while he was convinced that his grandfather was wrong and went back with the clipboard.   “Grandpa, are you sure?” the boy asked respectfully.    “Yes, I am sure.   You are missing the most important pair” Noah told the boy. He immediately went back to his inventory.

  • Hippos- Check.  
  • Duck Billed Platypus – Check. (Playtipi?)
  • Panda Bears – Check.

He just couldn’t for the life of him figure out what he had missed.   He started to worry that his grandfather had finally gone crazy like all the townspeople had claimed.    He watched the rain grow heavier and heavier.   Finally in a panic and tears coming from the stress, he ran back to Noah Sr. and asked for help. Noah Sr., in a kind and loving voice, smiled at the boy.“I am not crazy, you have indeed forgotten the most important of all, but I will tell you for time is getting short.”

And do you know what was forgotten from the ark?

With the squirm firmly in hand, I raised the worms for the congregation to see.   The boy had forgotten the earth worms.  In a panic, the boy dashed down the gangplank of the ark, reached a patch of now wet grass and started digging.    Finally he scooped up some dirt and mud with a handful of worms and dashed back up and into the ark.   When he made in on board the ark was locked, and the worms safely stowed.

After a while, the boy went to his grandfather and asked why those worms were the most important….

Noah smiled, and said simply…  

“I don’t know why they are so important, that is between God and the worms.”

 ******************* 

They used to tell this story to the young children to remind them that like Noah’s grandchildren they had a responsibility.   They were to take care of the earth, and that included not only the big and beautiful animals like Giraffes and Elephants and people, but even the lowliest like the Canadian Earthworm…  

In the end, God has a plan for us all, and even for the worms.   God has plans, even if those incredibly wonderful plans are between them and God only.

With the story of Noah and Noah Jr as a backdrop, I am sure that we all have heard the story of God putting the rainbow in the sky as a promise to never forsake or forget the world again.    Many people – adults included – believe that is a promise between God and humankind, but it’s not. 

The actual words from Genesis are this:   “I will set my rainbow in the sky, as a sign of my promise between ME AND THE EARTH”.

Obviously the world, the earth, and all of creation is important to God.  In the end, if it’s important to God…then it needs to be important to each of us.    There is no better reminder of that for us than the reminder of Earth Day on a Sunday.

For Earth Day and in the days that follow, I pray that each of us find some small thing to do to show God that we are willing to help take care of the earth too.    Maybe you pick up some trash outside.   Maybe you recycle.   Maybe you be really careful about wasting water or electricity.   As you do that talk to your family about ways you could change things or help make a difference.   

Did you know that one soda can will make it from your recycle bin, back to the grocer’s shelf in 90 days?   Better yet, if one can is recycled it saves enough power to run a television for three hours.    The average American family recycles 150 six packs worth of cans each year.    Imagine what we could do if people of faith started to see creation care as an even more important piece of their faith.

Heavenly father, we thank you for all the wonderful gifts and blessings that you have given to each of us.    Among those many gifts, today we celebrate the gift of our world and our planet.    Help us to realize all there is to enjoy around us, and help us to see how everything is precious in your eyes.

On this day set apart for caring for your planet, help us to remember that as Christians we are called to be stewards of all your gifts, and that includes the earth.   Help us to find ways to practice that stewardship not only today but every day…and for all the gifts you have given to us.

We ask that you continue to bless all of your children, young and old, and may each of us continue to grow in the awareness of your presence and your call in our lives.    In your name we pray, Amen.

 (Pic, by Racineur, Flickr.com, 7/7/2007, Creative Common License)

Are You Dating Jesus?


The Rev. Mark White, a Church of Christ preacher, has a great analogy for faith in contemporary times.    He likes to say, that people today are avoiding that true and life changing relationship with Jesus, and instead they are content to just date Him.

Perhaps he is right.   He suggests that we need to look at our relationship and ask ourselves are we truly doing anything more than dating Jesus.    

Getting Ready for the Date

On a date, you dress yourself up; comb your hair and try, with varying degrees of success, to set your best self forward.   When you are sure everything is order, you head off, at your set time and location. 

 Maybe that time and location is Sunday morning at 10am.   You arrive, hoping to relay this immaculate, refined impression and praying that all the flaws and imperfections are adequately hid. 

The First Date…

When you first meet the person you decide to date there is a tingle of excitement and anticipation.   In an attempt to size each other up, you make polite conversation.   There is no talk of anything deep, no politics, and no in-depth talk of religion or theology.   Below the surface of the conversation there is this intense desire to say and to show the right things.   What should I tell them?   What should I allow them to see?   What secrets should I share?

In the end, you enjoy the moment.   You enjoy the possibility of what this relationship has to offer.   You enjoy the time spent together.   You start to contemplate that maybe this is the right person.   You ask yourself; Is this the one, I can see myself with forever?    Was there that magic connection that every TV show and movie tells us we should have had?  

Should you keep your options open?    You, at that point, remember that relationships are hard, and you will most certainly ask yourself if this person is worth the risk, effort, and maybe even the hurt?    Are you willing to let go of all your insecurity and questions and trust this person, or do you continue to search out other possibilities and choices? 

Moving Beyond Dating…

All too often, as people of faith we get stuck dating Jesus, and missing out on the true relationship.      You move away from “simply dating” when you reach that moment when the light bulb goes off in your head.   You move out of the realm of “only dating” when you come to the realization, that there is no other place, in the entire world, that you need or want to be, than in the presence of that person.    Is Jesus where you want to be?

You move away from dating, when you realize the possibilities that you were once contemplating are replaced with near certainties.  You move away from dating, when you realize that the person before you is unique and one of a kind, and will push you to become a better person, or the person you were always meant to be.   You move away from dating when you realize that life without them is unthinkable.  For you, is a life without Jesus unthinkable?

When you move beyond dating, your willing to open up your full heart and soul to the other.   Conversations become more real and more revealing.   When you exchange dating for a relationship, you stop talking about yourself and spend all your attention and effort on learning and understanding them better.   Your focus changes from what feels good for you, to doing everything in your power to make them happy.   Eventually, you realize that this is the person for you, and you gladly and without reservations, give over the possibilities of something else, for that trust-filled, life changing commitment.  Is Jesus your focus? 

Are You Simply Dating Jesus?

As people of faith, that is the relationship and commitment we need to be in with Jesus.   Sadly, as in the case of our romantic lives, something keeps us from surrendering to that commitment.   Maybe we don’t trust what we are feeling.   Maybe it is the life time of bad relationships behind us.   Maybe we are simply afraid of the implications, and fear the commitment.    Hopefully, I can convince you that this leap…this leap of the heart is worth taking, and it’s worth taking today.   

Dating Jesus is Scary…

All relationships are scary.   You never know if you are making a mistake or the person before you is the right one.   How do we know that Christ is the answer?   How do we know for sure?    How do we jump in the pool fully, as opposed to only walking up to the side, and dipping our big toe in?  How do we do all of this?

I heard a story once, about an elderly pastor who was meeting with an engaged couple for some pre-wedding counseling.    The sessions were normal in every regard, but the pastor had some aching suspicions that something wasn’t quite right.   

His concerns were confirmed when after a meeting; the young man approached the pastor, by himself.    He wanted to know how he could know for sure that she was the one.    He wanted to know how he could know for sure that his beautiful fiancé was the person that God intended for him to spend the rest of his life with.

The elderly pastor smiled, gripped the young man’s shoulders and said if you wanted the answer to that question, he needed to meet him at the beach the next morning, at 5:00am.   There, he promised, his questions, fears, and hesitations would all be resolved.   The young man thought to himself that 5:00am was way too early, and hesitated.     To his apparent hesitation, the old pastor simply asked: Isn’t your fiancé worth one lost morning of sleep? 

(Note:  There is only one family that I know of that gets up before 5:00AM, and although I love them to death, I have to unabashedly declare that they are crazy…   Nothing good happens at 5:00am, and I have these deep down convictions that God created us to enjoy slumber [except on Sunday’s of course] 5:00am?  Crazy talk.) 

So that next morning, at 4:30am, the young man hauled myself out of bed, showered, and put on a shirt and tie, and headed to the beach.    There off in the distance was the pastor, in shorts, no shoes, and a t-shirt.   Instantly, he started to regret his choice of attire.

Greeting the pastor, he was immediately met with a question;  “Do you still want to know how you know for sure?”   “Of course” replied the young man.    Then the pastor, again with the smile, instructed him to follow him.   Without hesitation, the pastor walked out to the ocean and stood with waves crashing about his waist.    “Don’t hesitate,” the pastor called out, “Just head on in, shoes, shirt, tie and all”.    After a minute or two of hesitation, the young man did just that.  He joined the pastor by his side. 

“There are two ways to know,” he said.   “The first is to throw caution to wind, and throw all the hesitations away.”   We can’t worry about the silly things, like whether or not we are dressed right, or have the right shoes on.   The only thing that matters is the relationship. 

The young man, thought the answer rather hokey, especially as he stood in soon to be ruined loafers, when he asked about the second way to know. 

The pastor’s smile grew larger.    He asked him if he was sure he wanted to find out.    “Of course,” yelled the young man, “I am standing in the Atlantic Ocean in a suit and tie, I want to know!”.   With that the old pastor told the young man to turn around.   Without hesitation, he did just that.  

As the young man eyed the horizon to determine the great philosophical lesson of the moment, the old frail pastor sprang towards him.   In an instant the Pastor grabbed his shoulders and with all his might forced the young man’s head under water, in an almost bizarre backwards baptism.   The young man, head underwater was flailing his arms and trying with all his might to break the pastor’s hold.    With all his strength the old man, held the younger under the water for what seemed like an eternity.

Eventually the old man eased his grip, and the other surfaced choking up water.  When he had regained his composure, the young man demanded in an angry scream why the older would do something so crazy.

“When you were under water, what were you thinking?”, the pastor calmly asked.

“I was mad, I was confused, I was angry” 

“What did you want?”

“I wanted to get out of the water!”, he replied.

 “More than that, what did you want?”

“I wanted to catch my breath, I wanted to breathe”, came his answer.

With his smile the largest it had been, he grabbed the young man’s shoulders and said; “when you want another, as fully and as badly, as you wanted to breathe two seconds ago, that’s how you will know.  That’s when you know for sure that its real.   That is love.

There are many parables in our Bible to tell us what it is like to discover God’s kingdom.    There are countless stories that tell us, how individual lives are changed.   Beyond the Bible, we all have anecdotes or memories, of how different life was before one came to grips with our faith, and how radically changed lives can become.    Despite this, and oh so sadly, many of us are still just dating Jesus.   We are just toying with idea of him, until we find ourselves wanting him as fully and as badly, as we want everything else…even life and breath.  How badly do you want Jesus?   There are few more important questions than that.

Crude, Pump Price, and You!


This morning during my morning routine, a caller to WKBK-1290 got me to thinking again.   As I made my way to work over the next hour, I found myself thinking about that call, and decided to fire off the below email to Danny Mitchell at the station…

 Danny,

I heard your broadcast this morning where a listener called challenging how barrel prices related to changes at the pump.   He did the simple math of $82 barrels divided by 42 gallons of crude suggested that something was out of whack with paying $3.20 per gallon at the pump.

As the manager of a group whose responsibility it is to forecast the automotive industry, crude oil prices and gas prices are always high on our radar.    As a determiner of what kind of vehicle gets purchased (high or low mileage), and how frequently people drive (less miles equals less service), gas and oil price is a good indicator of the future of the industry.   Having watched these figures for years, I can assure folks the math works, albeit not as simply as we would all like.

According to the American Institute of Petroleum, 45% of the barrel of crude becomes gas.  Today a 42 gallon barrel of crude will produce only about 19 gallons of gas.   From that same barrel, diesel, petroleum products used in manufacturing, jet fuel, propane and asphalt are among some of the products that are refined.     So in the end, 19 gallons of gas are produced from a barrel and assigned a cost of roughly $37 ($82/barrel times 45%)

The Department of Energy estimates that roughly 60-70% of pump price is directly related to crude price.   If the cost of crude is $1.95/gallon ($37 divided by 19 gallons), one would expect the pump price to be at about $2.80-$3.25 per gallon.   Interestingly enough, AAA reported a national average of $3.25 today.

Above the price of crude, the D.O.E. estimates 14% of the price of gas is found in refining costs, 8% in distribution and marketing, and about approximately 15% in taxes.   There are also a few pennies that should be assigned to service station profit. All of these are continually fluctuating and lead to some of the changes  in day to day gas prices.  

(Department of Energy, 2011)

If there is any component of pump price that should cause us all to get angry it is what is called the speculative premium.    There is a cost to find, extract, and sell crude oil, but it is nowhere near the $80-100 per barrel.   Just two months ago, Goldman Sachs and the Wall Street Journal reported that market speculation (via forward contracts, hedges, and futures, etc) added $20-30 per barrel.   Some say it upwards of $60 per barrel. Gaining control of that one piece would lower pump price to something more akin to $1.80/gallon (using the $20.00 estimate).

Beyond the Wall Street component, there are countless other factors which we must take into account.   A simple “drill baby drill” approach, or a one, black and white answer is not enough.    No one person/company/entity is to blame for oil prices.  It would be naive to even think so.  If we want someone to blame we can certainly point fingers at the Exxon’s of the world, but also need to take some ownership ourselves.   We drive inefficient vehicles.    We fight for legislation that makes drilling in the US more costly.   We fight wars in oil rich areas leading to instability in price.   We subsidize Oil companies via tax breaks.   We don’t mandate cleaner fuel standards.    We have outdated refining capabilities in the US.

Some on both sides of the political or ideological fence would tell you there is an easy solution, but frankly there is none.     No matter what Sarah Palin or Barak Obama would have believe it’s not a quick fix.  We are called to be stewards to all the resources entrusted into our care and sadly, we have been anything but.   As seen in many aspects of our government, our politics, our consumerism, and our community, we are too eager to point fingers and cast blame.

We all need to consider this when we turn the key on our gas guzzler, and drive a quarter mile down the road to buy milk!

Thanks and as always a big enjoyer of your show.  Go Bronx Bombers!

I hope that where ever this new economic crisis takes us over the next few weeks and months, I hope that there can be some positive that comes out.    I hope that we can stop embracing the stubborn, one size fits all, my way or the highway, and realize that there are no quick answers, and no easy ways out.   Not everything is a conspiracy, and we can’t discredit someone simply because they are a democrat or a republican.    We need to start embracing the fact that we are all part of the problem, and some how we all got to be part of the solution.  This is especially important for people of faith to embrace, as it is integral to our very understanding of the nature of stewardship. 

Sources:

Oil Prices as An Indicator of Automotive Market

Department of Energy

The Speculative Premium of Oil

AAA Report on National Gas Price Averages

Its important to note that depending on who you ask there are 100 ways to estimate pump prices.   This is by no means the only.   I would be curious to hear your comments on this at pastorscott2007@yahoo.com

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