Chasing Heaven [Genesis 11]
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Chasing Heaven – 01.01.2023
You made it. It’s the Sunday after Christmas. I suppose you could say this is the Sunday after New Years too. The major holidays are done, perhaps we still have a few smaller family get togethers left, but the bulk of the work is done – the season has passed, and a new season begins – the season of leftovers. You all know the process. We’ve eaten all the good stuff – and now we pick at what’s left. First, we check the counter – nothing good. Then we check the fridge – still nothing. Cupboards, pantry – nah, not really anything interesting. What do we do now? Lower your standards and repeat. If Christmas is the season to be jolly – then after Christmas is the season to pretend we’re not disappointed it’s all over. You know how it goes – the batteries are dead, the movies have all been watched, the games have been broken, or lost their interest. After all that – we’re still not satisfied. Maybe you’re not there yet – it has only been a few days. Maybe you’re still feeling pretty good, but for how long? Few more days? Weeks? A month? We reach the peek of satisfaction, the highest level of contentment and happiness in this life and then what?
I remember one year, I think I was 9 or 10 years old. I got a Gameboy for Christmas. It was a Gameboy pocket – they don’t even make them anymore. For the older generation – a Gameboy is like a really tiny tv, that you carry around and it plays games. For the younger generation – a Gameboy is like a really giant phone that only plays one game at a time with terrible graphics. I remember I got the Gameboy and I got one game. Pokemon, blue version. I was so excited. Soon as I got it open, I put the batteries in and turned it on – I have no memories of anything else for that entire day. I stared at that tiny black and white screen for hours. I burned through the batteries on the first day. Sitting on the steps next to Christmas tree, must have been six hours. And when the batteries died, it was like coming out of hibernation. Woah, there are other people in the world? Wha- how do I get more batteries? What do you mean all the stores are closed on Christmas – what are they thinking? Didn’t they think I might need extra batteries today? I was having so much fun with my new toy, but like all the festivities of the holidays – it didn’t last. It’s a flash of joy in an otherwise very chaotic season. But the batteries are dead, the packages open, the wrapping paper is everywhere and you really should get started on that mountain of dishes you’ve just created while all the family was here. The post-holiday season is a whole beast in and of itself. Not only is today the Sunday after Christmas – it’s New Year’s Day. Once every seven or eight years this happens – what a rare opportunity! Not just post holiday blues, but new years resolutions! Next week we’re launching into a new series where we are finishing up the book of Acts – but today, today is a special opportunity. Today we’re going to be taking a look at the story of the tower of Babel.
For those of you who know the story, you might be thinking – that’s a strange choice for the Sunday after Christmas. The tower of babel just one week after Christmas? Pastor JJ are you sure? What does that have to do with New Years? But stick with me, because I promise, I’m going somewhere with all this. The tower of babel comes out of Genesis, the very first book in the bible, and it’s pretty early in the story. It’s just a few chapters after Noah and the ark, and we get to verse 1. [read it]. Now usually when we tell this story, the people who want to build the tower are portrayed as evil, conniving wicked people – and you can see where they are coming from. So far they all speak the same language – which sounds pretty horrible to me. In verse four they say, [read it]. It keeps going, [read 5-6]. Is anybody else confused? Oh no, look, they are united, they are doing amazing things, and then nothing will be impossible for them. How… terrible? Let me ask the obvious question – why is it bad for humans to be united? Why is God upset that humans are going to do amazing things? And why do we get away with it now? You might say “well, the people of babel wanted to be famous and that’s wrong for some reason. It’s prideful to want to be famous.” But let’s not forget we live in a country that has an entire city dedicated to making people famous on tv, it rhymes with shmollywood. The multi-billion dollar industry where we literally stick giant pictures of peoples faces on giant boards all over the country. Do we honestly think babel was more prideful then us?
I have a suspicion that there’s more to it than that. I think the reason God didn’t want the tower to be built is that God knows that humanities quest for greatness does more damage than good. Think about this – every great thing humans have ever done has a dark side. The pyramids in Egypt, epic monuments to what humans can do… as long as we forget that thousands of slaves died putting them together. The great wall of China is literally filled with graves of the workers who died among the bricks and they just kept building on top of them. At best the greatest things humans have ever done was done while ignoring the needs of those around them. Like going to the moon while there are still starving children in the country. At worst, they took the needy and enslaved them and forced them to help create these “great” things. Now I’m not trying to be negative, and I certainly don’t want to depress anybody. But I think babel was a warning that we are spinning our wheels for no good reason. We have this sense that we have done great things, but the best we can come up with is a lie. A false sense of accomplishment. Even though our world has more than enough to go around – we only seem to elevate ourselves by pushing others down. The human system relies heavily on ignorance, turning a blind eye or just straight up oppression of others. This world, this life, this advancement – it’s just not real. We get to the top, by ignoring others, hurting those closest to us, we get there – and then what?
So we look at the project of Babel, and in the modern world we might think – actually, that sounds lovely. Everybody working together to do great things. But history has shown us that when humans build off their own egos – oppression is born. And so then, in verse 7, God’s going to do something about it. It says, [read 7-9]. Apparently the word babel sounds a lot like a hebrew word for “confusion.” But, and here’s the cool part, babel sounds like the Hebrew word for “confusion”, but it also sounds like the word babili which means the gate of God. And this is actually really common in the Old Testament Hebrew language, they use words that sound similar to sort of create a play on words and give you a deeper level. The truth is that the highest level humanity can achieve, the gate of God, is not good enough. It confuses us, and gives us this false sense of accomplishment. We work and we build and we gather stuff, and we puff up and we beat chest and at the end of the day – without God, all of it is for nothing.
Let me show you what I mean. [pull out cell phone.] This is an amazing piece of technology. Right? I can, any time I want, send words that I type out into space, and those words go to another one of these on the other side of the country, on the other side of the planet and it takes seconds. With a good connection, it takes less than a second. Better than that, I can take a video of me typing those magic words and send the video, in color, with sound, into space and then back from space to the other person just as quick. And the games! The mind-numbing games. Anybody here remember candy crush? Or wordle? That one’s really popular. I mean, I haven’t been bored in like ten years. How can we possibly be bored? If I stand in the same place for more than ten seconds, I can get my phone out. This thing is like a miracle of technology. But take a look at the younger generation. They’ve grown up with these phones. And a lot of us did not grow up with these phones. They have better technology than we did, that’s just a reality. The younger generation has better technology and more comfortable lives. But are they happier than we were? No! They are miserable. I have never seen a young person hold a phone and say, “This is amazing! This is a miracle of technology and we are just so blessed and lucky to have it.” No, they are always so angry. This is a piece of junk, I hate Verizon. This phone is terrible, I can’t wait until the iphone 37 comes out. The truth is, there is nothing in this life that will actually satisfy us. This world is great with distraction, but not satisfaction. We reach the highest level and it’s just not good enough. We are more comfortable, more powerful, more influential, louder than ever before – but what has really changed? How many famous people in our world need to get to the highest level and then fall before we realize that it’s not the highest level. There a movie called “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and the main character, played by Ryan Gosling, at one point he says, “I’m wildly unhappy, and I’m trying to buy it, and I can’t.” It was such a profound moment because they were saying the quiet part out loud. The truth that no one in media or marketing or popular culture wants to say, the truth we all know and spend so much of our life trying to ignore – the truth is that the greatest this world has to offer is not good enough.
Here’s the secret – we are chasing the wrong thing. We think this world was created for us. We trick ourselves. We try to find satisfaction in a world of distraction. But like a dog chasing her tail, even if you catch it – you only find pain. Even if you achieve what the world calls happiness, it doesn’t last. The truth is we were created by God, for HIS glory. God didn’t create us for our glory. God didn’t create us for monuments or sky-scrapers. God created us for HIS glory. That He might be seen in our lives. The reason we cannot find lasting satisfaction in this life is that we were not created for just this life. You were created with a shred of eternity in your soul. A glimpse into a future we’ve never seen. In the beginning, God was doing just fine. He wasn’t incomplete. He wasn’t unhappy. He created because he wanted to. There’s no obligation, God chooses to love you. God created us for HIS glory.
So here’s my favorite part – so what? Why does this matter, what are we supposed to do with all this? There are two responses to this realization. First, set your sights on heaven. Don’t look for fulfillment on this planet. Dream a little bigger, aim a little higher. I’m not saying you can’t be happy in this life. There is so much to enjoy in this life, so many good things. But never confuse the temporary with the eternal. Don’t trade in eternal life for a few fleeting moments of instant gratification. No, no, no - set your sights on heaven. Don’t build up your treasure here, where it all turns to dust. Store your treasure in heaven. Remember the difference between distraction and satisfaction. I saw a post a while back where two people were talking. And one person was talking to another person about jogging. And the first person says, “I don’t like running. It doesn’t make me feel good.” And the second person, the runner, says, “I totally get that. There’s a lot of days when I don’t feel like running either.” And the first person responds, “well, then – if you don’t like it, if you don’t want to why do you do it?” And the runner responds “because “wanting to” is not the reason I do it.” Ask yourself this question, do you live your life with the goal: “I will only do things I want to do.” Or will you live your life with the goal “I will only do things that glorify God. Even if I don’t want to do them.”
That leads us to the second piece. First, set your sights on heaven, and then Glorify God with your life. When we realize that God created us for HIS glory – we can work together with God. Glorify God with your life, don’t try to glorify yourself – it won’t work. Live a life God would be proud of. I say this a lot, because it’s true and I don’t think you believe it – but you have been created with a purpose. You are uniquely and perfectly placed. Every gift, every imperfection, every good and every bad can be used by God for God’s purpose. It’s kind of awesome to think about – but you have been chosen to be a part of the transformation of the world. We are all different and that’s a very good thing. I’m good at this stuff, but I have my limitations. As charming as I might think I am – there will always be someone that I can’t reach, but you can. We need each other to transform the world. Glorify God with your life. When you hand over the reigns, and you start living for God instead of for what you want, you take the first step on a path to eternity. Towards satisfaction instead of just distraction.
Years ago, I was teaching Junior High Youth group on a Sunday afternoon. And I was talking to the kids about heaven. I was reading Revelations 21, you might remember it – God will wipe away every tear, there will be no more sorrow, no more pain, no more evil in the world. And I told them – our job as the church is to work hard to love God, and love our neighbor to create a world with no more sorrow, and no more pain, no more evil just like it says. And the bible tells us that someday Jesus will come back, and he will create that world. And one of the boys raised his hand and asked, “Well, what if we work together and we create that world before Jesus comes back?” And I was blown away by the hope.
What if we stopped chasing the impressive towers of this world, and starting chasing the kingdom of God? I can’t think of a better way to Glorify God with my life, than doing everything in our power to fix the world for Jesus comes back. And so I’ll leave you with this, May you chase after the promise of heaven, not the distractions of earth. And May you glorify God with every piece of your life. Amen.