Find the Rainbow in Every Storm

Topical Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31

These are challenging times. The stock market has been more volatile than in years. Winter weather alerts were extended to twenty-eight states. A new storm system caused 185 accidents last Monday in Iowa; winter weather has pummeled much of the Northeast.

The New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski’s home was burglarized while he was away at the Super Bowl. Clearly, no one is immune from calamity today.

A friend once sent me this encouraging note:

If you have the inner strength to:

  • Start the day without caffeine
  • Be cheerful and ignore aches and pains
  • Resist complaining about your troubles
  • Understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time
  • Overlook the times when loved ones take things out on you
  • Take criticism and blame without resentment
  • Face the world without lies and deceit
  • And conquer tension without medication . . .
  • Then you are most likely the family dog.

I was in a doctor’s office recently and found this note posted to his receptionist’s desk: “Lord, so far I have been good. I haven’t complained about anything or griped at anyone. I haven’t lied, cheated, or stolen. I haven’t had bad thoughts, or been guilty of greed, pride, or anger. But in a moment, I’m going to get out of bed, Lord, and I’m going to need all the help I can get.” That’s my prayer as well.

You and I are fallen people living in a fallen world. Success is not the avoidance of problems but learning how to redeem them. It is not a race run without stumbling, but a race completed by those who get up when they fall down. A famous CEO said on the news, “Leadership is solving problems—nothing else.” Faith is not the absence of fear—it is the decision to act when we’re afraid. It is learning to find the rainbow at the end of the storm.

Does a flood have you running for cover today? Are you camped out on an ark, trying to survive? Swimming in a rainstorm that won’t end? Why did this happen to you? How could God be loving and allow this, or even cause it? What do you do now?

We’re not the first to ask our questions, of course. But someone was. Let’s ask him for help today.

Meet Noah

Our story picks up from last week: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). “Favor” is the Old Testament’s word for “grace,” God’s love for his creation. He wanted to give this “favor” to all of mankind, but they would not accept his mercy. As we will soon see, they rejected every opportunity for salvation.

On the other hand, Noah positioned himself to receive such grace. Note that Noah “found” this favor—he did not earn it. Here’s how he “found” it: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (v. 9). His righteousness did not earn God’s favor, but it put Noah in position to receive what God wanted to give. He was by no means a perfect man—remember his drunkenness in Genesis 9. But he responded to God’s grace, for himself and his family. So can we.

Noah built his Ark for a hundred years in the face of ridicule and rejection: God “did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). Across these hundred years Noah did all he could to warn others. But everyone excepting his own family rejected his message and the grace of God.

And so, a flood obliterated all human life on the planet, except for Noah’s family, and every living organism (presumably excepting fish, which are not mentioned). This is the record Genesis has left us.

Did the Flood really happen?

You remember hearing about Noah’s Ark when you were a child. Colorful pictures of a wooden boat with a tent-like roof, smiling animals parading two-by-two, an elderly, benevolent grandfather watching over the scene with his family. The stuff of nursery walls and church preschool rooms. A nice children’s story.

Is there a fact behind the fable? A real, universal flood? A real ark? I took seven pages of notes on this subject in preparation for today’s message. To summarize them:

There are fossil deposits around the world which seem to indicate a catastrophic event which caused massive, nearly instantaneous death, probably by flooding. Skeletons have been found in fissures located in hills 140 to 300 feet in height, cemented by calcite which must have been deposited under water.

Historians have found 213 different flood traditions in cultures from all over the world. While there are marked differences in the details, all record a universal flood of cataclysmic proportions.

Noah’s Ark has been found to utilize exactly the right proportions for surviving such an event. The 70,000 individual animals and species on board would comprise no more than 50 percent of the available space, leaving room for people, food, and provisions.

And the Flood was clearly divine in origin and end: “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:7); “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).

If God created and ended the Flood, could he not superintend all that transpired in connection with it? Could he not transport the animals, keep them alive, and restore their habitats when they disembarked? Could he not return the earth to its antediluvian function so as to further his creative purpose for the Flood’s survivors?

Why the Flood?

A second, more difficult issue is raised by the Flood: how could a God of love do this to his creation? Why would a God who is love (1 John 4:8) send the Flood which would wipe out nearly all of humanity? And why would he include the rest of his creation, animals and life forms which are obviously innocent of sin?

Consider these facts.

One: humanity was given an opportunity to accept his grace.

Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” to the world for the century he spent building the Ark.

Two: death is inevitable for sinners, whether it comes “naturally” or by divine intervention.

God’s word is blunt: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Death comes to all who sin, for “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Three: The Flood is not the only time in the Bible when God was forced to send his judgment against sinners.

The children of Israel were instructed to destroy the Canaanite civilizations which inhabited their Promised Land; Sodom and Gomorrah were reduced to ashes as well. If we cannot accept the Flood as divine in origin, we must discount much of the biblical description of God’s wrath and judgment against mankind.

Four: those who refuse to accept such judgment must obviously reject the doctrine of Hell.

And yet the eternal destiny of those who refuse God’s forgiving grace is taught clearly and consistently in Scripture. Critics of the Flood judgment eliminate much of God’s word with their rejection.

Five: the death of “innocent” animals and other life forms killed in the Flood was the necessary result of God’s judgment against humanity.

There was no physical way to kill only humans. All other animals would have died eventually, some in just a few days or hours (cf. the insects).

So, what can we learn from this tragedy?

The Flood warns us against sin and its consequences. For instance, consider Jesus’ warning: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36-41). From Noah to today, we have known that sin leads to death, and that no one is safe from God’s judgment.

God will never end humanity in this way again: “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). The Flood has made clear the effects of sin. Its purpose has been accomplished. Now we die individually for our sins, rather than collectively.

While the earth will not be destroyed by flood, it will come to its end one day: “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some of you understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:8-10).

We must be ready today: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11-14).

Those who awoke on the morning of Noah’s Flood did not know that their last day had dawned. When you woke up this morning, you had no such expectations for this day, either. Neither did those who died on 9/11. Neither will those who are living when the Lord returns and the world as we know it ends.

You may go to him today, or he may come for us all. We are one day closer to the end of history than we’ve ever been before. I don’t know that history will end today. But I don’t know that it won’t. And neither do you.


Noah’s Ark can be yours today. Just as Baby Moses was saved in an ark (the word for “basket” in Exodus 2:3 is the same as Noah’s “ark”), so you can be saved in the “ark” of Jesus’ grace. Note that only one door was available to all who entered Noah’s Ark. In the same way, there is only one way into the ark of our salvation: Jesus Christ our Lord (John 14:6).

Why only one door? Because only one is needed. Every animal and creature could fit through Noah’s door, just as every human on this planet can come to God through Christ. To come to God through Christ, you need only ask Jesus into your life. If you will confess your sin to him and make him your Lord, he will make you God’s child today.

And if he is, he will never leave you or forsake you. The end of Noah’s story is good news for us all: every storm ends with a rainbow. Whether you can see it or not. We’ve read the end of the Bible and know its outcome: we win. The sin which led to the Flood is nailed to Jesus’ tree. The wooden Ark led to a wooden cross. The rainbow of God’s mercy extends to the rainbow of Jesus’ love. There’s hope for us all.

A friend once sent me a true story titled, “Billy Graham’s New Suit.” In January of 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon given in his honor. He initially hesitated to accept because of his health struggles of recent years, but the civic leaders assured him, “We don’t expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you.” So he did.

After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum. He looked at the crowd and said, “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.

“Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn’t find it. The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’ Einstein nodded appreciatively.

“The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’ Einstein looked at him and said, ‘Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.'”

Dr. Graham continued, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a bit slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. Do you know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I’m going.”

Is there a rainbow at the end of your storm?

Grace is Greater than Guilt

Topical Scripture: Genesis 6:1–8

Bill Belichick will coach the New England Patriots in today’s Super Bowl, marking a record eighth time his team has made the championship game. An interesting statistic helps explain his genius: eighteen of his players were not drafted by any team in the NFL. This is a far higher number than for any other team.

Belichick is brilliant at spotting talent that will work within his system. His intellectual approach to the game is clearly working for his team.

Our minds are God’s greatest gifts to us. Our rational capacity is the only attribute which enables our superiority on this planet. Other animals have far better eyesight, hearing, strength, stamina, and so on. Our minds are our best friends or our worst enemies. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). What we think is what we become.

How do we keep our minds holy? What do we do when we don’t? No subject is more crucial to living in a way God can bless today. This morning we’ll investigate one of the most perplexing texts in the Bible and find that it is actually one of the most urgent, practical, and relevant passages in all of God’s word.

Admit your need of grace

Our passage begins with one of the more confusing sentences in all the Bible: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Genesis 6:1-2).

Who were these “sons of God” and “daughters of men”?

  • Some interpreters believe that the “sons of God” were angels (cf. Job 1:6; Psalm 29:1). But Jesus told us that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25).
  • Some believe the “sons of God” were kings, but the Bible never makes this connection.
  • An interesting approach suggests that the “sons of God” were descendants of Seth, the godly child of Adam and Eve, and the “daughters of men” were descendants of the evil Cain. But the text doesn’t say this.

I think the clues we need are found in the text immediately surrounding our passage. Scripture intends to be clear and was very clear to its original audience. So, we must ask ourselves, what did they understand these words to mean?

Genesis 2 says that God formed man from the ground, and woman from man (vv. 7, 23). So, calling men the “sons of God” and women the “daughters of men” was simply repeating what the readers of Genesis already knew, and what the rest of the Bible teaches as well.

The Bible refers to men as “sons of God” in nine different places (Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5, Psalm 73:15, Isaiah 43:6-7, Hosea 1:10, 11:1, Luke 3:38, 1 John 3:1-2, 10). The text here seems simply to refer to men and women. And nothing in these verses ties these “sons of God and daughters of men” specifically to the flood which follows. They were simply populating the earth as God had commanded them (Genesis 1:28).

Now we come to another confusing reference: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (v. 4).

They are among the children produced by the “sons of God and daughters of men,” but nothing in the text ties them specifically to the coming Flood. They are simply figures in the biblical narrative.

So, we have “sons of God and daughters of men,” probably men and women who are marrying and having children. Among them were mighty warriors and heroes in the ancient Near East. Perhaps you’re wondering how any of this could be urgent, practical, and relevant, how it could apply to our lives today. Let’s read on.

As our text proceeds, we move quickly from confusion to clarity, from ancient history to life today. Verse 5 comes home: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”

God reads our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows how sinful they can be. He knows that we don’t put our thoughts into action because of legal restraints and fear of being caught. But he knows what we would do if we could. Think about your thoughts for a moment, and you’ll see what God sees every moment of every day.

If we could project on a screen what has been in your mind the last twenty-four hours, what would the congregation see? How embarrassed and ashamed would you be? That’s what God sees every moment of every day.

Such sin “grieves” the Lord and fills his heart with pain (v. 6). He is holy and cannot countenance or condone our sin. He must bring it to judgment, as he did with the Flood.

But now the good news dawns on the black horizon: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8).

He “found” it—he didn’t earn it. He found “favor”—the Hebrew word means “to bend or stoop,” and describes the condescending and unmerited favor of a superior for an inferior. This is the Old Testament’s primary word for grace; this text is its first use in all of Scripture.

Through Noah, God extended this favor to the rest of mankind, as Noah warned the race of the coming judgment and Flood. Finally, God had to judge humanity, after mankind refused his grace and salvation. But only after he had given them every chance to be saved.

We are all in this passage, each of us a “son of God” or “daughter of men.” No matter how much “renown” we have earned in the eyes of others, each of us is guilty of sinful thoughts and hearts before the only Judge of the universe.

Will you admit that this text describes you? That you are as much in need of God’s “favor” as those who died in the Flood? That apart from God’s mercy you have no chance at heaven, no claim to salvation, no right to forgiveness? That your thoughts require God’s grace today?

Find his grace for your need

Since our thoughts determine our lives, it’s vital that we learn how to control them so that God can bless them. How?

First, seek the mind of Christ.

Consider these biblical imperatives:

  • “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 KJV).
  • “Holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Hebrews 3:1).
  • “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Make it your goal to think as Jesus thinks, to have his thoughts in your mind and heart. How?

Second, admit what is impure.

When we see ourselves in his light, we see all that is wrong in our minds and hearts. What next? “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:5-10).

Do a mental inventory this morning. Do you find sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lies? Get rid of the impure, so you can replace it with the pure. It doesn’t take much poison to pollute a bottle of drinking water.

Conduct this mental inventory every day before the Father. Ask the Spirit to show you the thoughts which must be removed. Spit out the poison before you swallow it into your soul.

Third, give your guilt to his grace.

When you find sin in your mind and life, and you confess it, the residual which remains behind is guilt. Guilt is not of God. Jesus condemned sin, never sinners.

Guilt is how the enemy punishes us when we fall into the temptation he lays before us. And it is the way we punish ourselves when God forgives us. We don’t want to be in debt to anyone, not even the Lord. If he won’t punish our sin, we’ll do it for him. We’ll carry guilt in our souls until we finally think we’ve paid its price. Some of us never finish paying that debt.

So, confess your sinful mind and life to God and claim his forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Rejoice in the fact that he has separated your sin from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), throwing it into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Trust his promise: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).

If he doesn’t remember our sins, why should we? The next time guilt attacks you, fight back. Claim the forgiveness you received when you confessed that sin, and say that the sin is gone, its debt paid, its guilt gone. The next time the guilt attacks, say it again. And again and again, until the guilt finally leaves. Give your guilt to his grace and find his favor today.

Last, fill your thoughts with God.

The Bible commands us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Spend time each morning and through the day in prayer and Bible study. Think about God often and practice his presence throughout the day. Stay connected to the source of your life, and you will have his pure and holy thoughts in your mind.


Anne Graham Lotz is not only Billy Graham’s daughter—she is also one of the most anointed communicators of biblical truth I have ever heard. My wife and I have been privileged to be her friend for many years and to share a speaking platform with her several times.

Anne’s ministry produces a daily devotional taken from her writings. I read it each morning and commend it to you most highly. This week, one of her devotionals noted:

“The One Who called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to fully bless him if he would follow Him in a life of faith is the same Person Who today calls us out of the world and promises to bless us if we follow Him in a life of faith.

“The One Who delivered His children from bondage to slavery in Egypt with a titanic display of power is the same Person Who was crucified then rose from the dead to deliver His children today from the bondage of sin.

“The One Who halted the entire invasion of Canaan by the Israelites while He extended His grace to one Canaanite prostitute is the same Person today Who stops to care for and extend His grace to sinners.

“The One Who answered Elijah’s prayer and sent down the fire to consume the sacrifice on Mount Carmel and then sent down the rain to end the three-year drought in Israel is the same Person today Who hears and answers prayer.”

His grace is always greater than our guilt. Why do you need this fact today?

How I Perfected Humility

Topical Scripture: Genesis 11:1-9

A major in the military was promoted to colonel and received a fancy new office. As he entered it for the first time, sitting in the nice new chair, a knock came at the door. He said “Come in,” then quickly picked up the telephone as a corporal walked in.

“Just a minute,” the colonel said to the corporal. “I have to finish this telephone call.” Then the colonel began speaking into the mouthpiece: “Sorry about the interruption, General. Yes, sir, I will take care of that. Yes, I’ll call the President after I finish talking with you, General.”

The colonel ceremoniously put the telephone down, turned to the corporal, and said, “What can I do for you?” The corporal replied, “Well, Colonel, I just came in to connect your telephone.”

Pride is the genesis of all our sins. Unfortunately for those of us who attend worship services on Sundays, we learn how to mask our pride before others. How I Perfected Humility is the title of our next book.

But beware: “You will be as God” is the first temptation in human history (Genesis 3:5) and the heart of all the others. We build our Towers of Babel that we might “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).

But the opposite results. Pride turned Adam and Eve against each other. Cain felt himself inferior to his brother, so he murdered him. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery for the same reason. The religious and secular authorities crucified Jesus out of jealousy for their own power and status. Whenever we try to supplant God, we end up scattering ourselves over the earth.

What was your last problem with someone? Was pride in the middle of it? In what way do you feel isolated, alienated, “scattered” from those you care about? Mother Teresa said the greatest epidemic of our Western culture is not AIDS or leprosy, but loneliness. As we continue our walk through Genesis, today we’ll find its cure.

Diagnose the problem

First, we must be clear about the problem theologically. The Scriptures use several words for “pride.” At their heart, they all mean “to be lifted up.” Pride is good when it lifts up God, when we glorify him and tell him that we are proud to be his children. Pride is good when it lifts up others, when we tell our children that we are proud of them.

Pride is sin when it lifts us up, when we exalt ourselves over God and others. When we put our personal agendas ahead of loving God and our neighbor, when we live to impress people with ourselves more than with God, when we define success by popularity and possessions more than by obedience to God and service to others, we build our own Tower today. If I am teaching this message to impress you with myself, I’m laying bricks for my own Babel.

Why is such self-exaltation and self-promotion such a sin?

  • It supplants God: “Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2).
  • It causes us to hurt others, to make them a means to our end: “In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises” (Psalm 10:2); “Pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence” (Psalm 73:6). When we come first, everyone else comes second and is a means to our end.
  • It hurts us: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2); “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Self-reliance always leads to failure, for we are failed human beings.
  • And so it leads to the judgment of God, at Babel and where you live: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (Proverbs 21:4).
  • Why do we put ourselves before God and others?

The “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature. We all want to be God, to be “president of the universe,” as John Claypool admitted.

In addition, pride and power are the expectations of our culture. How does our society define success? Performance, achievement, drive, initiative. The “self-made man.” When last was a truly humble person elevated as a role model for our youth? We are to be driven, perfectionistic, prideful, or we are not a success.

Most of all, pride covers our perceived inadequacies. We know our failures and weaknesses. Rather than admit them, we compensate for them. We act in prideful ways, to convince others that we are what we pretend to be.

Who is susceptible?

  • Religious leaders: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector'” (Luke 18:11).
  • Religious people: Job is described at the beginning of the story as “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Yet he later claimed, “I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt” (Job 33:9). If it happened to Job, it can happen to us.
  • Followers of Jesus: Paul chastised the Corinthian Christians, “Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you” (1 Corinthians 4:18).
  • Churches: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
  • Anyone who believes that he or she is not.

Study the disease

Next, we come at the issue biblically. What do we do with this alienating, isolating impulse which has created an epidemic of loneliness in our world? Let’s walk through our story together.

Our text begins, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech” (v. 1a). We are now six generations from Noah; as many as 30,000 people are alive on the earth. They have “one lip” and “one speech” so far, as we might expect.

“As men moved eastward,” out into the uninhabited world, “they found a plain in Shinar and settled there” (v. 2). This is the flatlands between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, in the heart of modern-day Iraq. The area was especially fertile in those days, so that grain harvests typically yielded 200 to 300-fold, and palm trees grew all over the land. They had no enemies as yet, and so did not need to settle in mountains where they could protect themselves. So this was a perfect location.

“They said to each other” (v. 3a), no exceptions or dissenters. “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly” (v. 3b), literally “burn them to a burning,” making them stronger than sun-baked bricks. They used “tar for mortar” (v. 3c), a kind of bitumen found throughout the region which literally glued the bricks together. Millions of these ancient bricks have been found; they are typically a foot square and two to three inches thick and are perfect for building tall structures.

They had this purpose in mind: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (v. 4a). Today we still use their phrase “make a name for ourselves.” We already “have” a name, given by our parents. We “make” a name by our own efforts and success. In this way we seek to leave a legacy, a permanent mark on this world, lest we be “scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4b).

Remains of their tower still exist. It was designed to be approximately 300 feet square at the base, with seven levels of decreasing size, and was intended to reach 290 to 300 feet in height. Think of a football field cubed, and you’ll have the idea. It was by far the largest building in the ancient world for generations.

But compared to the greatness of God it was so tiny that he had to “come down” to look at it (v. 5).

He knew that such pride would lead only to further rebellion and destruction, so he chose to “confuse their language” and defeat their plans (v. 7). And then he “scattered them from there over all the earth” (v. 8), the very thing they tried to prevent by their own egotistical actions. He could have crushed them, destroyed them with fire, or devastated them with disease. This was an act of grace, to keep us from hurting ourselves further.

As a result, the place is called “Babel” (from which we get “Babylon”), an ironic word play. The Assyrians used the word for “gate of god”; the Hebrews used it for “confusion.” Whenever we try to build the former, the latter results.

Accept the cure

Finally, we consider the issue practically. How does our story help us with our problem? It suggests these clear steps.

First, refuse self-exaltation:

  • “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7).
  • “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).
  • “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21).
  • “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2).

Know that everything which tempts you to self-exaltation is the sin of pride. As Oswald Chambers says, “Beware of anything that puts you in the superior person’s place.” You’re only building a Tower of Babel, and your plans will be defeated.

Second, see yourself as the valuable child of God: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. . . . If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26, 29). When you know your worth before God, you won’t be so motivated to seek it from us.

Bill Glass, the former NFL star and now prison ministry leader, says that the most common denominator behind bars is the absence of a father. We each need to know that our father loves us, that he likes us, and that he wants us. Your Father loves you, likes you, and wants you. Don’t measure yourself by the size of the towers you’re building, but the God who loves you.

Third, seek to glorify God in all you do. When we seek his glory, we cannot seek our own at the same time. J. I. Packer was right: it is impossible at the same time to convince you that I am a great preacher and that Jesus is a great Savior. Measure your success today by the degree to which other people think more of God because of you. Ask how you can glorify him with your abilities, gifts, resources, and accomplishments. How can you turn someone toward him this week?

Last, value humility as the path to God. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who know their need of God, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3; cf. NEB). Martin Luther was right: “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” Ask God to help you stay humble before him, surrendered to his will, seeking his glory alone. Every day of his life, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones prayed the same prayer, “Lord, keep me from pride.” When last did you make this your prayer?


We’ve considered our subject theologically, biblically, and practically. Let’s close not with our heads but our hearts. In various trips to England I have been given the opportunity to stand in a number of elevated pulpits, as is the style on the Continent. They remind me of a young preacher just out of seminary, climbing the steps to the pulpit for his first Sunday in his first church.

Head held high, notes and Bible in hand, he was proud and dignified. But he tripped on the last step, Bible and notes flying. He tried to shuffle them back into order, but he was too embarrassed to think. He tried to preach his sermon but stammered and stuttered. Finally he quit, shoved his disheveled notes into his Bible, and descended the steps, head down.

An elderly woman on the first pew said to him, “Young man, if you’d gone up the steps the way you came down, you’d have gone down the way you went up.”

C. S. Lewis, as usual, says it better than I can: “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

“If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed” (Mere Christianity).

Do you think you are humble today?

How to Live for a Legacy

Topical Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9

The Winter Olympics end today. By its conclusion, there will have been 105 events in fifteen sports, the first Winter Olympics to surpass one hundred medal events. Nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries have been competing.

Through it all, the one common denominator for American television viewers has been Mike Tirico, NBC’s primetime host. He also became the main studio host for NBC’s coverage of the NFL last year. In both roles, he replaced veteran sportscaster Bob Costas, who hosted eleven Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Here’s what makes their connection so unusual: Tirico was the first student to receive the Bob Costas Scholarship at Syracuse University, Costas’s alma mater, back in 1987. Costas could have had no idea 31 years ago that a student who went to school because of his scholarship would one day succeed him on arguably the largest sports television stage in the world.

You cannot know the future, but you can prepare for it. You cannot define your legacy, but you can live in such a way that those who do are marked by the Christ who lives in you.

You can be faithful to God today and trust him to use your faithfulness tomorrow. As we continue walking through the Book of Genesis, this week we come to one of the greatest role models of faith in all of human history. Let’s learn from Abram how to trust and serve the God of Abram.

As we do, we’ll learn this fact: you cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.

Why Abram?

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1).

There is absolutely no indication that this future father to more than half of the world’s religious population did anything to earn this call on his life. He didn’t graduate from Harvard Law on his way to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or Yale Law, and years of political achievement on the way to becoming president. He didn’t win two Super Bowls on the way to being the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, or rise to become the best assistant in the league before being named the Dallas Mavericks’ head coach.

He has no resume, no list of achievements, no merit with God. Neither do we. Our lofty achievements can no more impress the omnipotent God of the universe than my singing voice will make me the next American Idol.

This man was in no sense perfect. Sometimes he lived up to his calling, as when he interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah and offered Isaac to God. Sometimes he failed miserably, as when he tried to pass off his wife as his sister, or fathered children with her servant girl.

His is the pattern of Scripture. Noah saved the human race, then planted a vineyard and got drunk; Moses ran from Egyptian authorities for forty years before returning to free his people from them; Bathsheba overshadows Goliath on David’s resume; Peter denied Christ before he preached his gospel; Saul murdered Christians before he ministered to them.

I did absolutely nothing to warrant hearing the gospel when the bus ministry of College Park Baptist Church in Houston knocked at my door. I won no competitions for their attention, had no status in the community which would cause them to seek me out. I simply opened the door when they knocked on it.

What did you do to earn the right to be born in America and not Ethiopia? To have parents who loved you rather than abusing you? Were you any more moral than those who died on 9/11 or at Stoneman Douglas High School? I’ve flown on airplanes around the world and spoken at high schools around the country; the fact that I’ve never been harmed in one has absolutely nothing to do with me.

If God could call Abram, what’s to keep him from calling you?

How to be Abram

Why Abram? What did he bring to the table? Just this: when God said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1), “Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (v. 4). As Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” As the King James puts it, “he went out, not knowing whither he went.”

Why is such blind obedience essential to the blessing of God? Is it that this kind of unconditional faith earns God’s favor? No: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). We do nothing to earn God’s call.

Why then? Because God honors the freedom he gave us and will not lead us where we will not go.

He will not make any of us leave Haran for a Promised Land. He won’t make you trust him with your dating relationship, or marriage, or money, or time. His will for your life is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2); he has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What he said to Abram he says to you today: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (v. 2); “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (v. 3b).

A single day lived completely in the will of God bears eternal harvest.

When we give his word to our world, that word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). When you teach his word in a Bible study class, or speak it to a friend, or obey it in your personal life, it cannot fail to change the world.

When we perform an act of kindness in his name, we will one day hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34–36, 40).

These promises have no conditions. They do not depend on the money you make, or the home you own, or the status you’ve achieved.

The wealthiest man in your city is no more important to God than his gardener. Name the last five Nobel Peace Prize winners, or the Super Bowl champions of two years ago, or the World Series champions last year, or the monarch of Great Britain before Queen Elizabeth II.

If you think that your value on earth or in heaven is tied to the world’s assessment, you’re mistaken. No human can bless “all peoples on earth” or make a significant difference in time and eternity. Only God working through us can do that.

Every one of us can change the world. But only if we seek his will and surrender to his voice. Only if we go out not knowing.

But he cannot lead you if you won’t follow. If you’re building towers to glorify yourself instead of altars to glorify God, he’ll tear them down. He will not share his glory, because that would be idolatry, the worst cancer of our souls. He loves us too much to let us trust and serve anyone but the one true God and Lord.


Where do we begin? Where Abram began. When last did you tell God you would “go out not knowing”?

I will be on an airplane again this weekend and have been thinking about that familiar experience as a metaphor for today’s message. You and I are on an airplane that’s ready for takeoff today. Who’s behind the controls? You are unless you’ve consciously turned them over to the true Pilot of the universe. Unless you’ve decided to let him fly the airplane anywhere he wants.

How can you turn the plane over to him?

First, meet the Pilot personally. He cannot fly the plane unless he’s on board. Ask him to forgive your sins and failures and invite him into your life as your Lord. You must know him before you can follow him.

Now, let go of the controls yourself. He won’t fight you for them. Admit the areas of your life which you’ve not surrendered to him—your time, ambitions, relationships, money, sins.

Give him the wheel at the start of every flight. Never take off at the beginning of a day without first giving that day’s flight to his control. Begin every morning by yielding that day to his Spirit. Ask him to “fill” and control you, to be in charge. When you push him out of the cockpit, admit your rebellion immediately and invite him back.

Living in the Lordship of Jesus is so simple that all of us can do it. And so important that all of us must.

Who is flying the airplane of your life and legacy today?