The rest of the rainbow

Who doesn’t notice when a rainbow sets in the sky?

We know what causes rainbows. In grade school, our teachers taught us it has to do with light and water in the atmosphere, light bending and water reflecting.

This far from Genesis 9, you and I see rainbows with a different eye than Noah. That makes sense scientifically. No one sees the same rainbow. National Geographic taught me that we all have different antisolar points which means we all have different horizons. We may be looking at the same rainbow, but we’re seeing it from different perspectives.

That makes sense theologically as well.

God’s covenant with Noah, with the rainbow as its sign, was God’s sure promise Noah would never endure another flood. It then became our sign no one would ever endure one at all. It’s the same promise seen in a distinct light.

You can almost hear Noah saying to us, “You think you have it bad? Let me tell you what I had to go through before the rainbow!”

The rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Think of it as the signed copy of the agreement. In part, that’s what covenant implies in the Bible. It’s an important word.

Covenants aren’t one-sided. They are partnerships. From God’s covenant with Noah, we know God will not send a flood to destroy humanity. But what about Noah’s part of the agreement?

It has to do with God’s blessing after Noah and his family rode out the flood.

Noah built an altar and sacrificed an offering to God. The Lord blessed Noah and his sons and charged them to, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). When we hear that, I am sure the storyteller expects us to remember God’s similar charge to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1.

Now, let’s also recall how Noah’s story began. Genesis 6 introduces Noah as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (Genesis 6:9). That’s striking because the rest of humanity was anything but blameless.

Here is where I think we see Noah’s end of the deal.

After the flood, God told Noah to increase in number. Before the flood, we’re told that the number of people increased and they brought evil with them. God regretted even creating them.

So Noah’s covenant duty was to continue walking faithfully with God. Doing so would bring God’s peace to the world.

We know rainbows are actually full circles. Ever wonder why we only see half the circle as we gaze at a rainbow’s beauty? There’s a scientific explanation, of course. But could it also be that God reminds us of the promise made to Noah with one half? The rest of the circle we cannot see, then, is our promise to live in a way that brings peace, God’s peace to the world.

Stay blessed…john

The vision we need

Where there is no vision statement the people perish.

That is, of course, a modern interpretation of Proverbs 29:18. What was said initially was, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Our modern, business-oriented perspective confused us. For decades, the idea has been that the church needs better models of vision casting and implementation.

So, we crafted better vision and mission statements. It seemed like there was no end to what we were willing to learn from the corporate world. We hired staff members to get to work on fulfilling what we said we wanted to do.

Unfortunately, we didn’t account for a couple of things.

First, the corporate model is always adapting itself. It’s too focused on its bottom line to get stuck in logistical perpetuity. Ask anyone who has remained in any industry for an extended period of time. Things change fast in the business world.

You could rightly pick out unwise elements of the bent toward such haste to change. What could be worse than changing too quickly? What about being too slow to change?

I should rephrase what I said earlier. The church didn’t take on the corporate model of leadership and mission. Instead, the church took on a corporate model. The corporate model has changed several times throughout the decades.

Most of our churches have accustomed themselves to a particular way we learned many moons ago.

It’s strange to me the way we latched on to that model, that mode of thinking. In my running tally, there’s no competition. Robert and his rules are called upon far more than that of the Holy Spirit. Astronomically far.

That leads me to the second point.

We misread that proverb. Whoever wrote Proverbs 29:18 did not have in mind crafty taglines. The vision that Proverbs cites is that which God speaks.

If we aren’t comfortable hearing from God, how will we know where God wants to lead us? If we aren’t learning to hear from God, where do you think we’ll salvage a vision from?

King Cyrus decreed that the people of God in exile could return to Jerusalem. God had commanded Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1). This was a big deal; exile was over. Worship in the Temple would return.

To be sure, there were royal edicts to observe as the temple was rebuilt. But in the process, there’s a noteworthy line from Ezra 6. Verse 14 says, “So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo.”

The prophets could have been giving building measurements. God was pretty particular when it came to the dimensions of the tabernacle, after all. I see the prophets’ role another way. They weren’t offering advancements in building techniques.

They were offering vision.

That’s what our churches have always needed. As we continue to weather the pandemic, we may need an extra dose of that vision.

If we don’t seek God’s vision, what are our ministries going to be? What will be the point of our work? The proverb says that when we do not have vision from God we perish.

But just think of what can happen if we do seek God’s vision!

Stay blessed…john

Where does revival begin?

Preachers joke about sacred cows in the church today. These are topics or objects that are sure to spur contention if you mess around with them. Most times, as the name implies, these are things that shouldn’t be as important as they are. King Hezekiah took on sacred cows.

Actually, they were sacred poles, places of worship the people used to honor foreign gods. Literally, idols.

For a while, it was common for preachers to say to not make any changes in a new church for the first year. That made sense to a lot of people. Churches didn’t mind it too much either.

The struggle is what you let continue can be all the more difficult to adjust later. That’s what makes Hezekiah one of Israel’s greatest kings. He took a radical approach–radical to us, perhaps. In the first year, in the first month of his reign, he started shifting the culture of the people.

His transformation began with worship in God’s house.

He instructed the priests to sanctify the house of the Lord. For some time, they had been negligent in their duties. Their practices helped lead the people to forsake the Lord. Hezekiah recognized their unfaithfulness.

If that was going to change, it would begin in worship.

He wouldn’t use this language, but Hezekiah was preparing for revival, transformation. I use those terms interchangeably. That’s what his reforms brought. It was a new season for the people of God.

That inspires a lot of us right now because we’re hopeful the pandemic is coming to a finish. A new season is coming for us, too.

Sure, we understand there are precautions that need to remain, but we’re getting antsy. Little by little more people are getting vaccinated. Some are even starting to return to in-person worship.

Think of how many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t wait to go back to normal!” It feels like the time is coming soon.

It’s been my concern all along that our churches would go back to normal the first chance they got.

Normal?

Like no-new-people-coming-to-faith normal? What about what’s-in-it-for-me normal? Should we mention the-way-we’ve-always-done-it-and-can’t-understand-why-we’re-not-growing normal? Oh, and what about young-people-leaving-the-church normal? People-not-feeling-like-they-belong-normal?

Then there’s my favorite: can’t-get-the-church-to-pray normal.

Are we okay with all that?

I’m not.

Hezekiah’s example reminds me where transformation begins. It is not with new programs or pet projects. Committees can’t bring change. And we cannot fundraise our way to revival.

Transformation begins with our willingness to faithfully worship God. And this is not about music or liturgy! That is such an outdated bone of contention.

Faithful worship stems from openness to God.

Are we open to God changing our minds? our hearts? our methods? Are we open to God expanding the boundaries of who is included in our worship?

If we are, transformation can happen. If not, it’s back to normal.

Stay blessed…john