Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"I get it!"--the begetting of the begotten

The Word for today:
Acts 2:14-36
mark this: Acts 2:17
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
We enter into advanced study today. We will look at how, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, the life of Christ is replicated within the believer. We will also look at how sin is born. We will feature the word "begotten," a word often encountered (in the Bible's most famous verse) but not often explained.
If this all sounds a little misbegotten, then skip "school" for today. But we hope you'll skip right back tomorrow!
As you may know, I write about scripture day and night.
And I get a lot of feedback. Some of it concerns the particular topic I wrote about that day or that week. But most of the feedback I get is about my larger theme--Jesus. And most of it sounds like this…
"I get it! Jesus permeates every passage of scripture. And everyone, everything--whether "secular" or "sacred"--is defined by his/their relationship to him. He is the one issue we must settle in this life."
Or else it sounds like this:
"I'm reading what you're writing, but I just don't get the whole Jesus thing. I just don't get it."
I love it when the light of understanding enters heretofore dull eyes, when the Holy Spirit pulls the veil off "the eyes of the heart" and the Light shines through. I see a replay, in the spiritual realm, of the physical creation in Genesis 1.
God's will is that everyone should "get it," that everyone should be saved. In the Bible's opening verses, this was expressed as "Let there be Light!"
In the New Testament, God said it this way:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is patient toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Activating the Father's will, the Holy Spirit, who is hovering over the benighted land, goes forth to pull the veil off every eye that will see. And when that veil is taken away, we see the Light of the world. We "get it"--
To this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit... (2 Corinthians 3:14-17)
It is imperative to remember that the Light is always there to "be gotten."
So at the Father's direction and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, the unseen God was literally begotten:
And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
The ancient creed tells us that he was "begotten, not made." That means the eternal Word was translated into flesh so that man could comprehend God. This came about when two wills melded into one--the willing heart of a woman and the willing heart of God.
The begetting implies a uniqueness: This will never happen again (John 1:14) because there is nothing left to give. God already gave his all:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
If you "get it," if you comprehend and receive him, then Jesus' lives within you--as he physically lived within Mary, as he spiritually lived within Paul:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." (Galatians 2:20)
If you "get it," if you comprehend and receive him, then the begetter, as pictured for us in the life of Mary, is the Holy Spirit.
If you "get it," then unto you a child is born. ("A child is born" refers to the flesh which has a birthday.) And unto you a son (the eternal Son of God) is not born but given:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
 (Isaiah 9:6-7)
But if you should resist, the Spirit of God can not (because he will not) dispel the darkness; he can not (because you will not) uncover your enshrouded eyes or soften your encrusted heart. If you resist the Spirit, then you yourself have begotten the uniquely damning sin in scripture:
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:32)
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
If you resist the Spirit, you will have managed to dispel the Light: "Let there be darkness!" is your decree.
And there was darkness.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Holy Spirit: no one "gets" Jesus but by Him

The Word for today:
Acts 2:1-13
mark this: 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
In Acts chapter 2, a pivotal event known as "Pentecost" is described. (Pentecost means the "Fiftieth Day" after Passover.)
There were forty days between Jesus' crucifixion (at Passover) and His ascension into heaven (1:3). Then there were ten days between the ascension and Pentecost, during which time the apostles were directed by Jesus to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit--"the Promise of My Father." (See Acts 1:4, 8; Luke 24:49).
"The Promise of My Father."
From the earliest chapters of the Bible, a Savior is promised. He is the Seed of the Woman, promised to Eve. He is the Son through whom all the earth will be blessed, as promised to Abraham. He is the direct descendant of David, who will rule forever from David's throne. The Promised Son is the great theme, the grand scheme of the Old Testament.
But when was the Spirit promised to us? Over the next few days, Stand in the Rain will take a whirlwind tour through scripture in search of the "Promise of My Father." We invite you to come along…
The Trinity is a tricky concept. People get it mixed up all the time. I once said, in a Bible class, that the Trinity is "three Gods in one person." Rest assured that my students nearly jumped out of their seats as they straightened out my misstatement:
"No! You mean 'one God in three persons!' " Which is exactly what I meant, despite the way it came out!
Well, the Holy Spirit makes sure that what God thinks is what comes out! As the Author of the Bible, He has conveyed God's counsel to us; he takes the things of Christ and shows them unto us (John 16:14-15). He makes the Word of God (the Bible) and the Word made flesh (Jesus) real to us. He makes them come alive.
The Three are so inextricably bound together that they are One. To explain this, we grope for metaphors and analogies, which always fall short:
To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? (Isaiah 40:18)
But when metaphor and analogy are all we've got, that's what we must use. So, here goes:
I sometimes think of the Trinity as the indispensable elements of a smile.
A mind, unseen, issues the directive to smile. This can be equated with God the Father, who remains unseen to this day:
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)
What is seen is the incarnation of the eternal Son. He is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:3). He responds to his Father's direction. He smiles (or cries, etc.) according to God's will.
(Though Jesus responds to God's directives, there is no "rank" in the Trinity. There is a "chain of command," but each Person's role is as indispensable as the others'.  Better, then, to think of the Trinity as a Harmony, not a hierarchy. It must also be understood that God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). In the Kingdom of heaven, our notions of "greater" and "lesser" are turned upside down: the last shall be first, the greatest is the one who serves, etc.)
As Jesus puts God's will into action, it is the Holy Spirit who conveys Jesus to us. He emanates from Jesus, getting him through to us. The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son."
Unless the Son obeys, God's smile is unseen. Unless the Spirit illuminates it, God's smile is uncomprehended.
All right, enough of my illustration. Let's find a picture of Trinity in the Bible. It won't take long to locate, because it's the first thing we ever glimpse in scripture:
(verse 1) In the beginning, God…
(verse 2) And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters…
(verse 3) And God said, "Let there be Light…"
The Light of the World is, of course, Jesus. But does this mean Jesus was created in verse three by the Father?
No way! Jesus is the eternal Son, as eternal as the Father. God hadn't lived in darkness all this time! When God says, "Let there be Light," it's a directive to the Spirit to proceed--to shine, to illuminate, to reveal, to unveil Jesus!
And there was light  (verse 4).  The Spirit's work is effective. The Light was made apparent--real--to us. So in the Bible's first three verses we have "The Revelation (the unveiling) of Jesus Christ." (And you thought you'd have to wait until the end.)
The Light is always shining, but he is uncomprehended…
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5)
Unless he is illuminated…
In your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)
We will return tomorrow to chase the Holy Spirit, "the Promise of My Father," all the way through scripture.
But until then, remember two scriptures which must go hand in hand:
1. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one gets to the Father but by Him. (John 14:6)
2. No one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
The Holy Spirit reveals the Way (1). No one gets to the Father but by Jesus, and no one "gets" Jesus but by the Holy Spirit.
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 1:16-17; Isaiah 40:13-14

Monday, May 22, 2017

What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

The Word for today:
Acts 1:12-26
mark this: Acts 1:1
In the former treatise, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…
Let's start with a trick question: Who wrote the most words in the New Testament?
If you look at your Bible's Table of Contents, you will see that the Apostle Paul wrote 14 of the 27 New Testament books (1). Obviously, the answer must be Paul.
Wrong. Paul wrote 37,360 words.
Then it must be John. He wrote a gospel, three epistles, and Revelation.
Wrong. John wrote 28,092 words.
The answer to today's trick question is Luke! He is the author of the books of Luke and Acts, which include a total of 37, 933 words. (Sitting on my front porch yesterday, waiting for the Rapture, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I counted every word!)
Luke/Acts should probably be thought of as two parts of a single entity, in the same way that we think of head and body as two parts of a single whole.  (We rarely, if ever, think of one without the other!)
The gospel of Luke is about the Head, Jesus. The book of Acts is about the Body of Christ--the church. The two are one. They must be, for neither can "act" without the other.
In fact, Jesus told them not to even bother trying to act until they were connected to the Head by being baptized into his body (at Pentecost)--
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, he said, "You heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
(Acts 1:4-5)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.
(1 Corinthians 12:13)
And he is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)
As the second volume in a two-part work by Luke, this book probably had no separate title. Sometimes you will see it referred to as just "Acts." And sometimes you will see it referred to as "the Acts of the Apostles." Actually both of those titles aren't quite right, because they left out the Head. Unless we put "Jesus" in the title, we decapitate the body!
The key to understanding the purpose of the book is found in the very first verse:
In the former treatise, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…
The “former treatise” is the Gospel of Luke. In the gospels, Jesus began both to do and teach. In Acts, Jesus continues to do and to teach--through his body, the church.
So the best title for this formally untitled book would be "The Acts of Jesus Christ." Thinking of it that way makes sense of this astonishing scripture:
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
(John 21:25, which directly precedes Acts 1:1 in scripture)
Luke and Acts are one, just as Head and body are one.
So then they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mark 10:8-9)
(1) Biblical scholars disagree over the authorship of the book of Hebrews. For the purpose of our word count, we have assumed that Paul wrote Hebrews.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

the game plan

Acts 1 8 2014
(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Acts 1:1-11
mark this: Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
What a blessing the church of Jesus Christ has been given in this book- Acts. It's been sometimes called the Acts of the Apostles, which is true in some sense. But a much more accurate title would be the Acts of the Holy Spirit. He saturates this book- from chapter 1 to chapter 28, and beyond. He is the One promised in today's reading. He comes into the lives of Christ's disciples in power on the day of Pentecost in chapter 2, and then again to Gentile believers as the message spreads (1) . People such as Peter, Stephen, Barnabas, and Paul are all said to be full "of the Spirit."(2).
The Holy Spirit speaks and leads and directs all of the actions of the "movers & shakers" in this book. He reveals truth to Peter in the matter of of Ananias and Sapphira. He empowers Stephen to speak boldly. He leads Phillip's very travels- sending him to share the Gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, and then whisking him away suddenly. The Spirit compels Peter to include non-Jews in the church. He personally chooses Paul and Barnabas for their missionary work. He navigates the church trough its first theological crisis. The Spirit even directs Paul where to go and not to go with the Gospel message. (3)
In short, this book is saturated in the Holy Spirit, as He leads, rebukes, opens some doors and closes others. We cannot come away from Acts thinking that the apostles, by their "own power or godliness (4)" somehow established God's Kingdom. Here in today's reading, the Lord Jesus lays out His game plan and His method: He ascends to the Father. The Holy Spirit comes in power. The Spirit-filled disciples are Christ's witnesses. The message spreads from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. That is precisely what happens in the next 27 chapters of Acts.
I cannot wait to explore this book together- all the ups and downs, twists and turns, joys and sufferings- because this is no mere human endeavor. Today, we get to see the game plan. The rest of the time, we see the Holy Spirit make it reality. Never forget that all of this is God's idea. Nothing can be more encouraging than to see flawed and ordinary people doing amazing things because it is not them, but the Spirit of Jesus Christ who carries it out! Nothing prevents any of us to join in their company because it isn't us, but the Holy Spirit who sees things through.
(1) Acts 8:15-17, 10:44-48
(2) Acts 4:8, 6:5, 11:24, 13:9,
(3) Acts 5:3-9, 6:10, 8:29 & 39, 11:12, 13:2, 15:28, 16:6
(4) Acts 3:12

Saturday, May 20, 2017

the Director

The Word for today:
Psalms 11, 12
When Bin Laden and his henchmen took the Twin Towers down, I'd seen that scene before:
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent,
watching in secret for his victims.
He lies in wait like a lion in cover;
he lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed; they collapse, they fall.
 (Psalms 10:8-10)
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?
 (Psalms 11:2-3)
And I knew what prayer to pray:
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

(Psalms 10:17-18)
And I knew what would become of Bin Laden:
The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.
On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur.
 (Psalms 11:5-6)
The Word of God is always ahead of tomorrow. So turn to its pages when you need to put this present darkness (1) in its proper perspective. All things will unfold exactly as the prescient, omniscient pages of your Bible have decreed.
History is the handmaiden, the vassal, of Scripture. The Word of God doesn't reflect history; it directs history, it creates history.
In the beginning, the Word created space. In the now, the Word is creating time. We think of prophecy as a fore-telling. Better to think of it as a command from the King.
(1) Ephesians 6:12/RSV

Friday, May 19, 2017

what the stars are saying -- part 2

star wonder
The Word for today: 
Psalms 9, 10
mark this: Psalm 8:3-4
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him, 
And the son of man that You care for him?
Why are there so many stars? What is the cosmos doing out there? Is it just "taking up space?"
Certainly the stars have a physical purpose. The gravitational constant depends on their presence! But the stars have another purpose. In fact, they have a story to tell:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. 
(Psalms 19:1-4)
What are the stars telling us? Yesterday, we provided some background for that question. Today, we'll offer an answer.
The awesomeness of creation has been the subject of famous biblical poems like Job 38, Psalms 19, 33, 136, and Isaiah 45. Isaiah 40 references creation repeatedly, culminating in this expression:
"To whom can you compare me? Whom do I resemble?"
says the Holy One.
Look up at the sky!
Who created all these heavenly lights?
He is the one who leads out their ranks;
he calls them all by name.

Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,
not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:25-26)
The power and the splendor, the majesty and the infinite reach of God's creation give us pause. It causes each of us to wonder, "Why in the world would he bother with me?"--
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him, 
And the son of man that You care for him? (Psalms 8:3-4)
Some look for answers in the stars. But the stars weren't made to provide answers. Indeed, they clearly show us that we don't have all the answers.  More than anything else, the stars were made to make us wonder:
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
"Awesome wonder" will prevail in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the only rational response to a God who will never be contained by his ever expanding creation:
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:7)
Our perceptions of him might sometimes get stuck in neutral, but it must be understood that God is never confined by our perception! Puny faith and tiny intellects don't leash the Lion of Judah. They only shackle us.
God is never contained and never confined. That's the story the stars are telling.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

what the stars are saying -- part 1

The Word for today:
Psalms 7, 8
mark this: Psalm 8:3-4 
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Why are there so many stars? What is the cosmos doing out there? Is it just "taking up space?"
Certainly the stars have a physical purpose. The gravitational constant depends on their presence! But the stars have another purpose. In fact, they have a story to tell:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
(Psalms 19:1-4)
Over the next couple of days, Stand in the Rain will listen for what the stars are saying...
We saw last week, in Luke 24, that Jesus holds the Bible together, giving it shape and coherence and meaning.
He also holds the cosmos together:
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)
Certainly he holds my life together:
In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)
He is everywhere, all the time. Astride the cosmos, he is bigger than the universe he built. His creation cannot contain him:
"Am I only a God nearby," declares the LORD, "and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the LORD. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 23:23-24)
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!"
(1 Kings 8:27)
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:7-10)
Stephen Hawking, generally considered the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein, says in the best-selling "A Brief History of Time" that our galaxy is an average-sized spiral galaxy that looks to other galaxies like a swirl in a pastry roll and that it is over 100,000 light years across--about 6 hundred trillion miles. He says, "We now know that our galaxy is only one of some hundred thousand million that can be seen using modern telescopes, each galaxy itself containing some hundred thousand million stars."
It is commonly held that the average distance between these hundred thousand million galaxies (each six hundred trillion miles across and containing one hundred thousand million stars) is three million light years! On top of that, the work of Edwin Hubble, based on the Doppler Effect, has shown that all red-spectrumed galaxies are moving away from us--and that nearly all are red. Thus, the universe is constantly expanding. Some estimates say that the most distant galaxy is eight billion light years away--and racing away at two hundred million miles an hour.
Moreover, God created every speck of dust in the hundred thousand million galaxies of the universe. "He created every atom--the sub-microscopic solar systems with their quarks and leptons and electrons and neutrinos--all of which have no measurable size."  (1)
So it would seem, according to our best current evidence, that physical creation is infinitely expanding, and made up of infinitely smaller building blocks...
("The Story the Stars are Telling" will continue tomorrow. We hope to see you then.)
(1) from "Genesis: Beginning and Blessing" by R. Kent Hughes