Three Stories about First Things


“Today was the first time I ever heard what you taught.”

The lecture-discussion had ended. As usual I left the last few minutes for student questions. After a brief silence one young woman spoke. Sad and downcast, she began, “I have been attending church for years. Today was the first time I ever heard what you taught. Why have I had to wait until this class to hear what should have been taught to me many times over?”

As I looked around the room, pondering her question, I saw many students shaking their heads up and down. My first reaction was sorrow for the students; my second reaction was despondency for America’s pulpits. My Old Testament Survey class had been considering the important differences between Genesis and cultural mythologies of Moses’ day. Students were discovering that the Hebraic view of the world was very different than that of Israel’s neighbors. The most important human questions about purpose, ethics, authority, and knowledge were diametrically opposed to other worldviews. The nation of Israel was not to follow the culture from which they were leaving (Egypt) or the one where they were going (Canaan). Yahweh said in Leviticus 18 the Hebrew way of life was to be distinctive.

“The starting point should not begin with the federal government”

In another setting, distinctiveness took a different turn. A group of post-bachelor fellows were engaged with me in an exploration of urban apologetics. That week the group had listened to presenters from the local welfare office explain how federal funding benefited those in need. I asked them to list all the inquiries they had from their experience. With enthusiasm, they documented a white board full of well intentioned questions. These young people wanted to help others. After exhausting their list, I stated with some melancholy, “You are approaching the issue from the wrong direction.” Question marks filled their wide eyes. I continued, “The starting point for Christians helping people should not begin with the federal government but with the family and church.” Beginning in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy I traced the Hebrew origins of help. Government far removed is no match for the help of someone living next door.

“Everyone believes something, and it matters”

The very next Saturday morning a group of teaching elders assembled; they had asked me to teach them how to teach Genesis. We began to discuss how to translate First Testament truths to a 21st century audience. Over and over we discovered together that the questions posed by any generation are the same. The audience may change, the culture may change, the connection points may change, but the message never changes. Genesis was written about 3500 years ago; yet God’s distinctive message is the same now as it was then. One pastor asked, “How should I preach Genesis principles to the atheist hospital intern, the ex-offender just out of jail, a mother on welfare, and a Christian college faculty member all at the same time? If God’s Word transcends cultures how do I communicate those same ideas across three millennia?” We had been discussing how Genesis 1-11 answers the most basic human questions. So I suggested this big idea for his first message: everyone believes something, and it matters.

The first questions everyone asks about life have their answers found in The First Testament (Old Testament).

Mark loves teaching these principles to his Old Testament Survey class at Crossroads Bible College.


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