Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why the Rainbow?

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Genesis 9:8-17
First, a little science lesson: Rainbows are formed when rays of the sun pass through drops of rain. The raindrops act as prisms refracting the true colors of the rays. These colors usually fade into white on entry into the earth’s atmosphere. That’s what rainbows are.

But it’s often our arrogance as modern human beings to think that if we can describe what something is made of--a rainbow, for example--we’ve described it completely. We think that we fully understand it. But knowing what rainbows are cannot tell us why rainbows are. 

Fortunately, we can know the answer to that question. It’s in God’s revealed Word in Scripture, particularly today’s first lesson, Genesis 9:8-17.

But before we get to the rainbow, we need to first talk about water. The Bible makes clear that, untamed by God or His agents, human beings, water can be a destructive thing. Just this past week, we received this picture from friends in northwest Ohio. It was taken from the front entryway of the church building and that lake with the rainbow over it is the church parking lot.




Even worse than that, water filled the church basement, including the kitchen and the Sunday School classrooms. Members of the congregation worked twelve hours just to get it out. Water has its place. It can cleanse and refresh. It can allow for shipping and boating and fun activities. But when water goes where it shouldn’t be, it’s chaos. 

In fact, Genesis 1 tells us that before God began creating the universe, all was a watery chaos. Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 

It was as God the Holy Spirit moved over this chaos that chaos was brought under control and God created what the Old Testament Hebrew called shalom, God’s peace and order, a creation with God at its head, human beings God’s overseers, and a creation that was at peace with humanity and itself. 

Of course, we know how long that lasted. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve into ignoring the will of God and chaos came tumbling in on every subsequent generation of human beings, on you and I who confess that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” 

And because human beings were created to be overseers of this earth, Romans 8:22 says that the whole of creation has been groaning to be set free from our sin. That freedom will finally come when the crucified and risen Jesus Christ returns. 

If it weren’t for God acting on our behalf in Christ, we would have no help from God in this life, no hope from God for the life to come. 

Jesus Christ bore our sin in His body on the cross and rose from the dead so that all who trust Him as their only help and hope have shalom with God...and will enjoy it perfectly in His new creation in eternity.  

The Bible’s first book, Genesis, tells us that God was enraged by the chaos human beings unleashed in His creation. Genesis 6:5-8: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth,and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” 

You and I can thank God for Noah. None of us would have been born and we wouldn’t have the opportunity for a renewed relationship with God if it weren’t for one person who trusted in God. 

Noah wasn’t perfect; he trusted in God. 

That’s part of what disciples are, you know: They’re imperfect people who trust in God and commit themselves to live and walk close with God, even when they’d rather walk other pathways. When the world would make it easier to walk other pathways. When they may ache to do what feels like the right thing, but that God says is the wrong thing.

Disciples dare to get close to God: to seek forgiveness and correction, to take direction, to soak up God’s infinite grace and love and peace. 

Noah was one single disciple and God used his faithfulness to change the course of human history. 

That raises a question for you and me: What plans for His creation does God have that can only be fulfilled by your being a disciple who walks closely with the Lord: who worships with God’s people, studies God’s word, shares the Good News, serves others in Christ’s name beyond the walls of this church? What kinds of disciples will we be? All of us who bear the name of Christ need to answer this question! 

I pray God will help me answer this question more faithfully in the future than I have in past.

God’s plan was simple. He would destroy the whole earth, while Noah and his family and all those animals would be sent by God to the ark. Then God allowed the chaos He had once subdued to fill the world and destroy everyone outside the ark. 

God let a world that had given itself over totally to evil to experience the consequences of its evil. 

And that raises another question: Given the current state of this planet...
  • when we give trophies to people whose narcissism we call courage...
  • when the Supreme Court labels what God calls sin “marriage”...
  • when thousands of babies die because they’re inconvenient...
  • when millions go hungry while millions of others of us scrape our leftovers into the garbage...
  • when violence and greed and misogyny seem to be the order of the day...
  • when injustices go unchecked and unnoticed...and 
  • when we Christians fail to keep our great commission, sharing the good news of new life through Jesus Christ and making disciples of those whose lives are mired in chaos...
given all of this...why isn’t God letting this evil generation, of which I am a part, of which we are a part, experience the consequences of our evil or our silence in the face of evil?

Why, I wonder, when I consider the evil in me, hasn't God destroyed me, as I deserve?

The answer can be found in the rainbow. Genesis 9:11: “[God told Noah and his sons] I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth….This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” 

God made a covenant that He would never destroy the entire earth with water. The world will one day come to an end. Several passages of Scripture say that the earth will be destroyed by fire. Many scientists, for different reasons, seem to agree.

But why? Why does God show us this grace? Why, I ask when I look at myself in prayer, hasn’t He just given up on me as a bad job, an experiment gone south? 

The early Church saw the world mired in evil and wondered why Jesus hadn’t returned to establish God’s new heaven and earth. When, they wondered, would God deliver them from this mess? 

The apostle Peter responded to their questions: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9] 

There are some today who misappropriate the rainbow. Some say that it’s a symbol of equality. And while God does love all people equally and seeks all people to come to faith in Christ to be saved from sin and death, God hasn’t made the rainbow a symbol of equality. 


Some even say that the rainbow symbolizes God’s endorsement of sin. Hardly. Sin is serious business. So serious, in fact that the rightful punishment for sin--any sin--is death. 

But Christ carried the weight of our sin on the cross so that all who repent and believe in Him have the power of sin over their lives removed and have life with God. God doesn’t give the rainbow to endorse our sin.

Instead, God says that the rainbow reminds Him of His promises to us. 

It’s also given as a reminder to those of us who are Christian. It tells us: Don’t give in to despair. God has control of things, even when they seem out of control. And don’t give up on your neighbor, even if he or she derides God and dismisses their need for a relationship with Christ. 

Listen: If you can be transformed from an enemy of God to a friend of God because of what Christ has done for you and because of your faith in Christ, then your neighbor can be transformed as well. 

The rainbow reminds us that God wants to deliver all people from the evil of this world, forgive their sins, and give them everlasting life. 

Our job as disciples of Jesus Christ is to pray for our neighbors, share Christ with our neighbors, serve our neighbor as though they were Christ, give ourselves to the good of our neighbor as if we were Christ. 

Just as God used Noah, God can use you to bring His life and message to the world. You have the rainbow as His guarantee. 

So, after we’ve received Christ’s body and blood again this week, been fortified by the blessings of God and the fellowship of the saints, our job this week and every week is to be Christ’s ambassadors, inviting all to trust in Christ and live. Let’s get to it! Amen






Sunday, July 26, 2015

When should you stop praying for something? [Spoiler: Almost never]

In his classic book on prayer, Ole Hallesby gives great advice on what and whether to keep praying about a desire of our heart. After all, if we've been praying for something for awhile and nothing seems to be happening, we might wonder, "Is what I'm asking for wrong? Has God already told me, 'No.'"? (And no can be an answer from God to our prayers.)

But if we love God and still desire the thing for which we've been praying, Hallesby suggests, we should keep praying, even if we've been praying about a particular subject for a long time. We should continue praying with a willingness to accept any answer God gives when it becomes clear to us and with one desire taking an even higher place than the thing for which we've been praying.

He says that we should tell God, in our own words and from the heart, "Grant this request only if it will bring You glory." Our one prevailing desire should be the glory of God.

One might pray: "This is what I'm seeking, God, for so-and-so or for myself. I could be wrong in asking for it. If I am, I trust You to show me. But for now, in case You're delaying a response in order to orchestrate events or to build my character or someone else's character, until we're ready to receive Your blessing, I keep offering this petition. Your will be done and, please, grant this petition if it will bring You glory."

And of course, such a petition, like all prayer petitions, needs to be offered in the name of Jesus, the only way to God's Father heart. Praying in Jesus' name is not a formula for "prayer success." Praying in Jesus' name is an authentic plea on the petitioner's part that what is prayed for will be consistent with the will and honor of God as revealed in Jesus.

I like Hallesby's advice. It's Biblical. Jesus commends persevering prayer. In Romans 8, Paul talks about how we don't really know how to pray as we ought, but we're called to trustingly commend our prayers to God, believing that the Holy Spirit can turn them into the God-honoring petitions that, in our spirits, we want to offer. And the Bible teaches that believers are to do all things to the glory of God, not their own.

Speaking personally, there are some prayer petitions I've experienced lifting up to God regularly for a decade or more, with no answer. In those petitioning years, sometimes I wondered if I should stop. Or, if my petitions were selfish. Or, if they were trite or deemed unnecessary by God. Or, if I was being immature in offering them. Or, if my petitions would somehow not bring God glory.

But believing that there was something God-honoring about them, I kept praying these petitions, all along submitting to God's will and asking God to grant them only if they brought Him glory.

When, after years of praying petitions like that--whether, as I say, for ourselves or for others doesn't matter--we finally experience God's positive answers, as I have, it's a humbling experience. You know you didn't accomplish the blessing that could come from God alone and you know that, in this granted petition, God is being glorified.

In other instances, I've gotten to the point where I was convinced that I needed to stop praying for some things, that God had said, "No" and I must accept that.

And in still other instances---inexplicable, tragic, and sad, people for whom I and others have fervently prayed, have died. The depths of sadness experienced by Christians who lose loved ones or friends after offering desperate prayers is a grief non-believers, with their resignation to the fates of this dying world, cannot understand. It represents one of the most haunting struggles of the Christian life, especially when someone we care about dies and our prayers didn't result in God bringing them healing in this world. We wonder why. Our faith can be shaken.

The only things that make such a tragedy bearable are (1) the promise of Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, to be with His people always in our time on earth, sustaining us, bringing other believers alongside us to bring Christ's love to us, AND (2) the promise of resurrection life in God's perfect kingdom for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ as their God and Savior.

All of the sadness of this world, all our grief in this world, I believe, will one day be explained in the world to come when we live in the direct presence of God.

More than that, we have the promise that God will dry the tears of our earthly griefs; mourning, death, and loss will be gone forever. We will more fully understand the wise words of the apostle Paul, when he says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:13).

But as we continue to live on this earth, I think Hallesby's suggestion stands.

You should keep praying that petition that's on your heart.

If you seek to be a faithful follower of Jesus and it hits you to pray for something, there's a good chance you should keep praying for it.

God may answer the prayer in ways you can't imagine. After all, when we pray, we don't command God as to how He answers our requests; we submit to His sovereignty, to His will.

That's why Hallesby tells us that when we're not sure about our petition, but feel compelled to offer it anyway, we should tell God with authentic submission: "Grant this request only if it will bring You glory."

I'm definitely in the keep-on-praying camp.

Amen!




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Long Ago and Far Away by James Taylor



"And in between what might have been and what has come to pass,
"A misbegotten guess alas"

Friday, July 24, 2015

Not perfectionism, closeness to God

"When the desire to live all of life from the perspective of faith is built upon God's love and forgiveness for us disclosed in Jesus Christ, the self-imposed expectation of spiritual perfection dims and finally disappears. Disciples don't expect to be perfect. They simply expect to live close to God." (Pr. Michael Foss, Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing Church)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Some thoughts from a few days ago (and the Weight of the World)

Shared this on the congregational Facebook site:
Maybe your father or mother didn't love you as they should have, but through Jesus Christ, we can know a Father Who loves us enough to affirm our value with the sacrifice of His only Son, discipline and refashion us in His image, redeem us from the grave, and promise to hear us whenever we call on Him, trusting in Christ. Let Him heal your hurts, guide your steps, and be your God and King.
The late, great (and often troubled) Larry Norman, the pioneer of what became contemporary Christian music, hit on this point, a tough one to remember, in his song, The Weight of the World.

I know of at least two cover versions.

One is by the duo Lost and Found.

The other is by Ringo Starr, who eliminates the reference to God in it. I guess my reaction to that deletion is that if Starr couldn't sing about the God revealed to the world in Christ with any conviction, it's just as well that he didn't reference God when he recorded the tune. He also probably should have not recorded it altogether, because turning to the God revealed in Christ is the whole point of Norman's song.

I wish that the person who presented this on Youtube had edited out the beginning of the next song in Norman's apparent medley. It would have been easy enough to do, I guess. But I put this on here because there are so few samples of Norman's performances around. The power of his songs wasn't in his voice or his instrumental virtuosity, but the way he funneled his experiences and quirkiness into songs that honored God and touched people.

Be still and know that God is God


Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
Posted by Institute of Lutheran Theology on Thursday, July 23, 2015

This Never Happened Before by Paul McCartney

From the movie, The Lake House.

It's not in London, Ontario either

Over on Facebook I mentioned this:
The only tickets left for U2's current tour are those for the London show on November 3. Guess I won't see them this time around.
Steve, high school and college friend, sympathetically responded:
Mark, too bad November 3 doesn't work for you since London, Ohio is so close  smile emoticon
 Smart aleck!

I like London, Ohio and all, but don't think that the tour is likely to show up there. If it does, you can thank my buddy Steve for getting the ball rolling.



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Only Our Hearts by Paul McCartney

I know that I put this on the blog just twelve days ago. But the song has become my latest obsession. I play it several times whenever I'm en route somewhere these days. Below I've also printed the lyrics.

By the way, in the line, "we're gonna spend it together," the "it" is undefined. But I assume he means spending life together. Nonetheless, I love this, yet another wonderful McCartney ballad.



If only my love was here
I'd be taking the time to feel it
Washing over my body and soul
If only my love, only my love was here.

I wish that my heart was strong
I'd be letting it beat much faster
At the thought of you holding me near
I wish that my heart, wish that my heart was strong.

Hoping to be where you are
I'm longing to be your lover
Don't want to ever be far
Apart from you, my love.

But only our hearts will know
If we're gonna spend it together
Holding on to the dreams that we share
Only our hearts know how much love is there.

Hoping to be where you are
I'm longing to be your lover
I don't wanna ever be far
Apart from you, my love.

But only our hearts will know
If were gonna spend it together
Holding on to the love that we share
Only our hearts know how much love is there
Yes, only our hearts know how much love is there.

Songwriters
PAUL MCCARTNEY

Published by
Lyrics © MPL COMMUNICATIONS INC