What Every Rainbow Says to Us

Genesis 9:1-17double rainbow

Three moms that lived through the pain of watching their sons drift away from God, wrote a book in 2002 called: Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them. One of the moms, named Heather Kopp, wrote about her wayward son, Noah.  Her son had to submit to weekly drug testing to keep off of drugs. He didn’t seem to know who he was or where he was going… particularly in the spiritual realm. Heather wrote: “Once your baby—no matter how old he is—is lost, so are you.”

She then tells a story of an event that gave her some hope in the midst of the lost state she found herself:   “One recent night I asked Noah how it went the night before.  He said it was okay. Except for the part where everybody else got high before the movie and then again after the movie while he waited outside the car.  I told him I was sorry. And I was proud of him.  “But God spoke to me,” he announced.

“Really?” (This was not typical.)

“Yeah,” he said. “While I was standing around outside waiting for those guys to get high, I saw a double rainbow.”

He wasn’t really able to articulate what God seemed to be saying through the double rainbow, but I wasn’t going to push. I reached up to ruffle his hair, and, surprisingly, he let me. Then he trotted off to the shower, a little boy inside a man-size body.  I kept thinking about that double rainbow all day. Maybe it was God’s way of saying to my Noah, “Hey, you. Look at this cool rainbow. There’s beauty in life I don’t want you to miss. And no amount of dope will make it more beautiful.”
And maybe Noah’s telling me about it was God’s way of saying to me, “Remember my promises. No matter how far he wanders away from you, he’s never out of my sight.”  (Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them, p. 5.)

How ironic that God spoke to a twentieth century Noah through a rainbow.  And that it indirectly spoke to his mom as well… granting her a message of hope.

In chapter 9 of Genesis, God makes a promise to the Biblical Noah in regard to His judgment of mankind.  “I will establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” (9:11)  Often when God makes a promise to us (one He wants us to be sure to remember) He creates a physical sign to memorialize it.  The sign of this Noahic covenant is the rainbow… a multicolored reminder of many attributes of God.  The next time you see it raining… and can see that the sun is shining as well… run outside to see the spectacle of God’s bow hung in the sky… and then remember a few things.

1)  Remember God’s Restraint.

The Hebrew term in verse 13 is the same term used when referring to a bow in archery. God is telling Noah, that in regards to judgment with flood, I’m hanging up my bow.  “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.”  (9:16)  When we see evil continue to run rampant on this earth, it is tempting to think that God might be powerless to stop it.  What it should tell us is: God is extremely powerful in His restraint!  Praise God for the cease-fire!

2)  Remember God’s faithfulness

“When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (9:16)  God’s bow reminds us of God’s faithfulness because He has kept his word to us.  Despite the sinfulness of man, He has not caused the world to be flooded again.  Every rainbow HE looks upon today remind Him to be faithful to His promise (though He hardly needs a reminder).  Every rainbow WE look upon today should remind us that HE is indeed a faithful God.  (We do need the reminder.)

3)  Remember God’s patience.

Our twentieth century Noah (in the above story) didn’t quite know what God was saying through the rainbow, but he knew God was saying something.  Perhaps the rainbow was a symbol to Him of His patience toward him.  For although the sign of the rainbow states that God has withheld further judgment on the earth by flood, there is coming a judgment by fire.  “…the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  … But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (1 Peter 3:6,7 & 10.)  The rainbow reminds us that God isn’t winking at sin, but being patient with sinners.  There will be a day when the justice of God will have to be satisfied.

4)  Remember His Majesty

Remember when you saw your first rainbow?  Remember that feeling of awe?  Then you have a sense of the wonder that Noah must have felt.  It came at the end of a rough 40 days and 40 nights.  The rainbow was have been overwhelming to his senses!  And although it was a sign of the covenant to him, it also represented God’s majesty to him.  That element of the rainbow’s symbolism is found not only here in Genesis, but also in the book of Revelation (4:3) and Ezekiel.  Ezekiel describes his vision of Divine Glory in this manner:  “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.  Such was the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 1:28)  Stand in awe of His majesty!

Where do the storms of life find you today?  Are you kind of like the mom of our 21st Century Noah?  Trying to maintain your faith as the flood waters continue to rise in your life?  There is hope beyond the disaster that has flooded your world.  Remember God is a God of restraint, faithfulness, patience and majesty.  And every rainy day or so… He likes to remind us.

Seeing People through Fresh Lenses

Genesis 1:26-27glasses

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sea and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”

Are you a people person?  40 – 60% of the population report that they are shy… so chances are great that you aren’t.    Shy people are often introverts (though there are shy extroverts, of which I am probably one.)  (http://psychcentral.com/lib/facts-about-shyness/000138)   Not being a people person it can be our tendency to look inward first and then outward.  We will never see people… really see people… with this type of vision.

Now I’m not asking you to fight against personality, but I am hoping today to give you a fresh set of glasses.  Did you know that the people you will meet today have been created in the image of God?

C. S. Lewis once remarked:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Wow!  The people you come in contact with today:  “the holiest objects presented to your senses.”  Your spouse.  Your kids.  Your co-workers.  Your service station attendant.  Your barista.

We may never overcome cronic shyness.  That’s okay.  But can we sharpen our vision of our neighbor and love them as ourselves?

Seminary professor and author Robert Pyne shares an intimate story about his oldest son, Steve:

“Steve had open-heart surgery when he was just eight months old. Unfortunately, some countries, doctors, and even some parents would not have allowed him to have that operation, even though it was necessary to save his life. Steve has Down Syndrome, and too many people think that lives like his are not worth saving.My temptation as a proud dad has always been to talk about the things that Steve enjoys doing, how quickly he learned to read, or how sincerely he loves the Lord, to try to convince others that his very happy life was worth saving. On the other hand, my job as a theologian is to say simply this: His life was worth saving because he has inherent dignity as a human being in the image of God. The same is true of little boys who never will learn to read and those whose lives don’t look happy at all.” (Humanity and Sin, pp. 69, 70.)

I have a friend named Kate that started a “Nice” movement.  It is an effort to treat others around us with dignity and respect.  She challenged me to not be negative about anyone for 3 months.  I have failed miserably.  But with each new sun I am challenged not just by Kate, but by the Lord himself.

I live in a world He has created, among people that he has created.  It is my job to see them with “theologically” correct glasses.  Maybe then… and only then… will I see less of me.  And even more of Him!

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Related article from Christianity Today:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2014/may/female-and-made-in-my-fathers-image.html?paging=off

The God Who Sees Me

oasisGenesis 16:1-16

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her:  ‘You are the God who sees me, for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Hi!  It has been a while since my last post, but I have been settling into my new position at Grace Bible Church in Lucas, Ohio.  It has been a wonderful experience and I have been blessed beyond measure with the kindnesses of these people.  I finally got around to updating my website page.  I changed my banner to a picture of a goldfinch.  (They are swarming my birdfeeder right now.  Didn’t see any of these of TN.)  I also got around to changing my address and time zone from Middle Tennessee to Middle Ohio.

It is amazing after a move how many times you have to update and change your address to inform others of the change.  There may be many readers of this blog that were not even aware of the change.  One thing for sure:  My Heavenly Father was aware.  And He was there to oversee every step Janine and I took on this pilgrimage northward.

Today’s passage is from Genesis 16.  Hagar is fleeing the wrath of Sarai.  She is partially wrong… partially wronged.  (Aren’t we all at times?)  But whatever the degree of fault or innocence… she was genuinely hurting.  She stops by a spring in the desert in her effort to escape her situation and “The angel of the Lord” meets her there.  Isn’t that like the Lord to meet us at the sight of our own humiliation?  That day, she is refreshed by more than the cool water of the spring that day… but by a visitation of the Divine.  “You are the God who sees me!” she cries out!

I remember hearing the story of a pastor who was caught in the midst of turmoil in his church.  One day when he could not take the pressure and pain any longer, he went into his back yard, waved a handkerchief toward the sky and exclaimed:  “God!  Did you forget where you put me?”  Job in the midst of his affliction once asked:  “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (3:23)  Calamity and adversity can cause one to feel invisible… even to the eyes of the Almighty.

I want to take the next few blogs to draw you closer to a spring in the desert.  I sincerely hope my words will be a refreshment to your soul as you stop to search for answers and to collect yourself for the rest of your journey.  I know that my words will not change any of the  circumstances that have brought you to this place.  But I want to remind you of the God who sees.  Sometimes it is knowing you are not hidden from God that can make all the difference.

 

 

“Sir, Will You Please Run With Me?”

Marine KerrEphesians 6:21-22

“But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts.” (Emphasis on the word “comfort” is mine.)

Just read the story and saw the picture (see left) of Lance Cpl. Myles Kerr and his memorable run in the Jeff Drenth Memorial 5K footrace in Charlevoix, Michigan last weekend.  He didn’t technically “win.”  He came in dead last in his age group.  But he is a true winner in my book.

When 9-year-old Boden Fuchs  began to struggle in the race and then became separated from his group… he spotted the Marine.  Boden asked Kerr, “Sir, will you please run with me?” Kerr agreed to run with him and stuck with him until he completed the race.  Kerr finished at 35:43 minutes (five seconds behind Boden).  He may have lost the race, but he won over many heart.  The above picture received over 200,000 Facebook likes and was shared close to 10,000 times.

And what was the response of Kerr after all the praise?  He sent out a tweet that read:  “I was just doing what any man would do, but thank you!”— Myles M. Kerr (@Myles_Kerr)

Wow!  His actions remind me of the NT virtue of encouragement.  The Greek word is parakeleo.  It comes from “para” meaning “alongside” and from “keleo” meaning “to call.”  This strong and rich adjective can mean many things: comfort, exhortation, admonishment, instruction, teaching, begging, beseeching and, of course, encouragement.  In the above verse from Ephesians, Paul sent Tychicus to parakeleo… to come alongside… the Ephesians.  What an awesome word picture this is!

In fact, in the upper room, when Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit, he refers to Him as the parakeletos… often translated, the “Helper” or the “Comforter.”  The Holy Spirit, much like the marine mentioned above, runs alongside us… exhorting us… begging us.. instructing us… comforting us… encouraging us… to keep running and to finish our race.

And if I am reading Ephesians correctly… it is a quality that we are to display ourselves.  Like Tychicus, when we hear:  “Sir, (or Ma’am), would you run with me?” we are to break off, adjust our pace to cadence, and help the struggling runner to complete their race.  Not for glory or praise, but because it is what “any man (or woman) would do.”

Know anybody that needs you to run with them today?   A teenager?  A close friend?  A widow?  Come along side them… and let them know they are not alone!  We are all in this race together!

And then realize that you are not alone either… the Comforter runs beside you… encouraging and leading you to the finish line and home!

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Discouraged in Sin City

vegasActs 18:1-22

This blog will complete our trip with Paul and Silas on what has been called “The Second Missionary Journey.”

Paul begins Mission Corinth… discouraged.  His second journey had netted little by way of results.  He was fatigued… having just walked 53 miles from Athens to Corinth.  He has yet to stay in one city that long.  Converts were scarce in three of the four venues thus far.  And he is alone when he wanders into Corinth.

If there is anything harder than reaching Athenians with their intellectual pursuits it is reaching Corinthians with their lustful ones.

For Paul has just entered the red light district of the ancient world.  Central to their pagan worship was worship of the love goddess, Aphrodite.  Illicit sex was rampant with worship including state run prostitution. If you’ve ever walked through a wild alcoholic party, you’ve walked down main street Corinth.

This was challenging for Paul.  It is one thing to argue for the defense of the Gospel in a debate club and quite another to attempt it at a drunken gala.

And for the first time, I see in the Scriptures, Paul was a little scared:  In First Corinthians 2, he is honest: “When I came to you, … I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling;” {1 Cor 2:1a, 2:3 RSV}. Paul was tired, stressed and a little frightened as he rolled into Corinth.  He could use a little encouragement.

Heard the story of a band that had what they thought was one die hard fan.   They were performing in a park before an audience that had gradually dwindled down to one lone man.  After pounding out more songs, one of the tired musicians finally suggested to the music lover that if he left they could all go home.

“Do whatever you want,” said the man.  “I’m just waiting around so I can put away the chairs.” (“All in a Day’s Work,” Reader’s Digest, August 2007, p. 54.)

Do you ever get the feeling that no one is listening to your music?  If only someone could lend you a little encouragement.  But where do you go to find encouragement?     Where is the reassuring voice that everything is going to be alright… that despite the trying times that God is with you and will see you through?

Paul found encouragement the same way we can.

1.  Encouragement through ministry friends.

Verses 2 & 3 of Acts 18 say:

2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Fellow Christians with the same ministry goals and the same secular vocation!  What a find for Paul!  Or perhaps the Lord knew what he needed in just the right time.

You will have a lot of friendships in your lifetime, not all of them will be, or should be, with just believers.  But friendships with Jesus as your focus will be among the most encouraging.

2.  Encouragement through Small Victories

Corinth was tough… but not impenetrable.  Verses 7 & 8 say:

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

After initial rejection… there is some response.  Paul couldn’t convince the majority of the synagogue, but he did convert the head guy.  Crispus and his whole family came to know the Lord.  The ruler of the synagogue!  Small victories like that keep you going.  What small victories are you overlooking in your life?

3.  Encouragement through Prayer.

Sometimes when you friends and small victories can’t help, you need to run to the Father.  He knows what to say to get you back on your feet.

God speaks to Paul during this trying time:  “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  (v.9b-10)

Simple direct words for the discouraged:  “Don’t be afraid.”  “Keep going.”  “I am with you.”  “I am not finished with My work that I want to get done through you.”

Paul kept at it.  His band of missionaries played on in the midst of a hostile environment.  And guess what?  For all of Paul’s fear and trembling… He spends more time in Corinth than any other place on the second journey! (1 year and six months)  He settles in and does significant work for the Kingdom.  The scariest city ends up being one of the most fruitful.

Where does God have you right now?  Frightened?  Hang in there… God still has many people in this city.  Keep going.  He’s not finished with you yet.

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.