Tuesday, December 6, 2016

the unveiling of the Word--part 2

The Word for today:
Daniel 2: 1-30
Yesterday, in part 1, we started with the definition of apocalypse, the specific literary genre of the books of Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament. From there we proceed to today's discussion of the Word, upon which all meaning depends.
mark this: Daniel 1:17
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.
The Bible student must at all times be cognizant of literary issues. The Bible is literature, and God utilized many of its various styles. He spoke through narrative (story), through history, through poetry. He spoke through figures of speech--metaphor, simile, analogy, symbol, parable--saying one thing in terms of another.
He employed various "voices"--humor, sarcasm, irony. Especially irony.
The reason he employed these "figures" is the very same reason writers use them today--because they communicate truth better than linear, "straightforward" prose. Otherwise, scripture would be reduced to something akin to the manual we get with a new car, or--God forbid!--the assembly instructions that come with a gas grill or a backyard swing set.
Linear expression does not fit the human condition, nor speak truth to the human heart. Thus Jesus, instead of talking about "evangelism" in the way a seminary textbook might, spoke of a sower sowing seed and fishers of men. Our Savior, you see, is the master poet. More than that, he is the seminal Word, from which all poetry issues and flows.
Thus in our Bibles, as in our lives, we walk through the valley of the shadow. We see through a glass darkly. But his word is a lamp unto our feet.
We remember, when we were students in English class, discussing what a poem "means." Though it can be helpful to analyze, it must be understood that any analysis is, de facto, a reduction of the poem's meaning--because the poem is more than the sum of its parts. We kill to dissect.
In scripture, the grandest utterance of literature, Jesus isn't just the poet, he himself is the poem. Theologians attempt to analyze him. But he resists dissection.
Jesus, in the end, doesn't have a "meaning," because he is meaning.
He told us this, way back in Exodus, when he revealed his name:
He is the irreducible. Things--in fact every thing--have their meaning in terms of him, but there are no terms other than himself by which he can be explained.
Thus it is left to scripture to ask this question:
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? (Isaiah 40:18)
And to provide the answer:
There is none besides you. (1 Samuel 2:2)

Monday, December 5, 2016

the unveiling of the Word--part 1

The Word for today:
Daniel 1
Today, in part 1, we begin with a specific literary definition. From there we will proceed, in part 2, to plumb the depths of the Word, the irreducible building block upon which our faith is based.
mark this: Daniel 2:28
There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.
The book of Daniel is an Old Testament counterpart to the book of Revelation.
The book of Daniel, like Revelation in the new Testament, is an apocalypse. (Isaiah 24-27 and the book of Zechariah are also apocalyptic.)
Apocalypse means an unveiling--specifically, a disclosure of that which was previously hidden or unknown. The word comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which has a meaning similar to the Latin word revelatio--from which the title of Revelation is derived.
Apocalyptic writing uses many figures of speech and symbols. When evil powers seemed dominant, these unveilings were given to show the real situation behind that which was apparent, and to indicate the eventual victory of righteousness upon the earth:
There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. (Daniel 2:28)
The Bible student should be respectful of literary issues because the Bible is literature. Thus, the more we know of literature writ large, the more we can know of scripture.  And the more we know of scripture writ large, the more we can know of the Word at the heart of it all.
(To be continued tomorrow.)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

keep & kept

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Jude 17-25
mark this: v. 24-25 --
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
God is in the keeping business.
The entirety of Scripture records not only His relentless pursuit of mankind, but also His consuming desire to keep us as well.
Two words: "shamar" and "tereo" litter the Old and New Testament, respectively. They both carry the same basic meaning; they mean to:
- attend to carefully, take care of
- guard
- keep one in the state in which he is
- reserve
From the Garden of Eden, to the restoration of all things, God remains in the keeping business--
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard (shamar) the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
Whereas I once saw the flaming sword as a huge "stay out" sign, I now see it as I should, "keep open." God has mercifully left that angel and that sword not only to keep pollution (sinful man) out, but also to keep the way open to redeemed man. Despite our rebellion, God has made sure the way to eternal life stays attended, guarded and reserved.
The rest of the Bible tells the story of God attending, guarding, and preserving, first a man (Abraham) and then a nation (Israel) until the time of the One to come. Jesus Christ is given to mankind to actually reopen that path to eternal life (John 14:6).
He then promises His presence and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to act as the ultimate Keeper in our lives, and that's what leads us to the verse we started with, Jude 24-25. You and I may be lots of things-- dictated by the times and events and circumstances of our lives. But one thing that is even more true of everyone who is in Jesus Christ: we are guarded, we are preserved, we have eternal life reserved for us. We are kept.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

a world soon to be born, again

The Word for today:
Jude 1-16
Hey, Jude…who are you?
Jude was Jesus’ half-brother--they had the same mother--and a full brother to James (see Matt. 13:55).
Apparently neither Jude nor James believed in Jesus until after His resurrection (cf. Mark 3:21). Therefore neither of them identifies himself as Jesus’ brother, but as “servants of Jesus Christ,” recognizing that Jesus is now the glorified Christ--and that human relationship to Him is not meaningful in any way. They had come to Christ as sinners, accepting Him as Savior just as anyone else—including Mary--does. (cf. Luke 1:47)
The book of Jude was supposed to be about something else, until the Holy Spirit changed the subject. Jude had something else in mind for the book of Jude, but the Author wanted Jude to write a reminder that faith fights:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude picks up right where 2 Peter left us, warning about false teachers in the church:
“For there are certain men crept in unawares…” (1:4; cf. 1 John 2:19)
It is imperative that we heed this warning, because
1. The church has been harmed far more from the inside than from the outside;
2. Jesus was betrayed by an insider to His own nation, who then handed Him over to the Roman outsiders.
Beware the darkness.
The powerfully poetic Jude captures the bleak, blank destiny reserved for the false teachers:
…shepherds that without fear feed themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn leaves without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;
Wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved forever.
Where are we, today, "located" in the Bible?
We are in “Acts 29”—somewhere between Acts 28:31 and Revelation 1:1.
I personally feel we are in these very last verses just prior to Revelation. I’m not certain that Jesus Christ is coming back soon, but I know He will come back, on that day of our Father’s choosing.
It’s right around here, in these closing verses of Jude, that I feel today's waves swelling and today’s winds blowing where the Spirit wills--as He broods over a world soon to be born, again.

Friday, December 2, 2016

the fire's in the water

The Word for today:
2 Peter 3:11-18
I'm not a scientist, but I have respect for science. Science, rightly understood, is the study of God's hand; just as theology, rightly understood, is the study of God's heart.
Hand and heart do not pull against each other.
I look at the stars and I think of how big God is; I look at a meadow in June and I think of how sensually extravagant he is. I look at my wife and I think of how utterly exquisite his artistry is. I see puppies and I sense his sense of humor. I watch my sons train and compete in footraces, and I glimpse his nobility and his sense of adventure; even, dare I say, his image before it was marred.
And after I look at his handiwork, I can look to scripture for its self-contained scientific secrets!
They pop up everywhere in the Bible. Like scripture's spiritual truths, its scientific truths are concealed to the skeptic and the naysayer. But those with a willingness to see--with ears to hear--will behold, between the lines of scripture, the inner workings of time and space.  So let's take a look inside...
For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.  (2 Peter 3:5-7)
Alright, how can the earth be burned up when it's mostly water? "Science" scoffed at this obvious biblical gaffe, right up until it was discovered that the fire is in the water. A close reading of the passage suggests there are resident forces within the world which could destroy it. We know today that water is made up of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen, both of them gases that can be very explosive. Just as scripture says, the water contains the fire.
The water molecule and the other elements--storehouses of nearly unlimited potential energy--will someday melt. They will come untied, and when they do every atom will be a bomb and the earth will dissolve as it consumes itself.
The Bible sounded preposterous to "science" up until the unleashing of the atom in the 1940's under the direction of Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Einstein. The world, as it whistles past the graveyard, isn't laughing at 2 Peter anymore.
An Update:
As we speak, the elements are being maintained by the same Word which created them in the first place:
For by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  (Hebrews 1:3)
But there's a day on the way, called "the day of the LORD," when Jesus Christ is going to release his grip on the elements that form our world:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  (2 Peter 3:10)
And that, as they say, will be that.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

the cross is in the shape of a big '+' sign

The Word for today:
2 Peter 3:1-10
The writings of the Apostle Peter present a man in direct contrast to his reputation.
We think of him as the impulsive oaf with a big heart and a big foot in his mouth. But his writings shatter that image. He seems, to me, to be the most underestimated author in scripture.
We must slow way down to even begin to digest all that is so rapidly passing before our eyes as we read Peter's words. The classic instance of this informational overload can be found in the first few verses of 1 Peter, where we are confronted, all at once, with the great doctrines of election, foreknowledge, sanctification, obedience, the blood of Christ, the Trinity, the grace of God, salvation, revelation, glory, faith, and hope.
Over the next few days, we hope to highlight some of the wide-ranging insights of this brilliant thinker with the common touch...
Know Him.
The last words of Peter and Paul (in 2 Peter and 2 Timothy) warned of the gathering apostasy—a falling away from the faith. Peter warns of heresy among teachers; Paul warns of heresy among the laity. Both apostles anchor the survival of the church on the Word of God—not only to know about Christ but to know Him. (2 Peter 3:18; see John 17:3)
Subtract…and Add.
The righteousness of God was made over to us when we trusted Christ as Savior. He not only subtracted our sins but added to us His righteousness. This is, sad to say, the most overlooked concept in Christendom. We must remember that the cross is in the shape of a big '+' sign. (1:1; see also--and chew and digest--2 Corinthians 5:21)
Lot—the weakest saint—was taken out of sinful Sodom. Another type (a prophetic picture) of the church being taken out ("rapture") before the Great Tribulation. (2:7)
The coming apostasy—
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. (2 Peter 2:1-2)
False teachers will deny Jesus Christ. (see 2 Peter 2:1-2, directly above)
“Some people” would have you believe that Jesus died for just “some people”…
Jesus didn’t die for some people. He died for them all:
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (3:9)
“He didn’t choose everybody,” they will tell you. That cannot be found in Scripture. His invitation to “whosoever will” is to “Come unto me” (Matt. 11:28). The invitation is to everyone, but there must be a response, and the response is your responsibility, and mine.
When they say you’re not good enough to get to heaven, they’re right. But if they say He’s not good enough to bring you there with Him, they are dead wrong.
This common man, it turns out, had not only a big heart but a big head. Which just goes to show that anybody--even you, and even I--who spends time with Jesus comes away better and brighter than before:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
Peter and you and I gain not only the righteousness of God, but the mind of Christ as well! (1) So let's always remember to remember that--
the cross is in the shape of a big '+' sign
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:16

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

every word must rhyme

The Word for today:
2 Peter 2
mark this: 2 Peter 2:1-3 --
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
and this: 2 Peter 1:20 --
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.
Each of us has a spiritual gift, and today's reading bears directly on mine. So permit me, if you will, to pronounce my personal manifesto.
I'm not a big deal in this world. But on the eternal plane I'm somebody to be reckoned with, because principalities and powers are shaken to their core when, at the command of Jesus, any one of us unsheathes the Sword of the Spirit in this desert.
That may sound like swagger to you, but saying it doesn't sound like swagger to me, because I know who I am and what I am capable of,
which is next to nothing. But I also know that insofar as I am true to my gift and calling, I am a force in the kingdom of God.
And thus far, by the grace of God, I've stayed true to that gift. I can't say, like Paul could, that I have finished the race (1). But I can say that I remain, at this hour, on course towards achieving this one thing:
to make it understood that every word in this one great poem we call the Bible rhymes with its every other word
That's why I don't often teach topical Bible courses, or courses on one book at a time. I teach whole-Bible courses, because the Bible, when taught whole, enforces an inherent discipline, forcing a teacher to make sure that nothing stands in contradiction to things taught before. The Bible, when considered as an indivisible entity, maintains a perfect balance that no single verse, or chapter, or book, or even testament, was ever designed to maintain.
For example, I have been approached to teach courses on Revelation, because everybody, it seems, wants to know about Revelation. But I've declined.
I've declined because the book of Revelation does not hold itself accountable. What that means is that I can (as many do) teach Revelation and, within its own context, make it say anything I want it to say. But if we teach whole-Bible courses (like the three-year Stand in the Rain course which you're now in the middle of) then what I teach in Revelation has to match up with what I taught in Zephaniah, Matthew, Jude and Obadiah;
they have to "rhyme" with each other. Unless and until they do, they invalidate one another.
Some teach almost specifically from the New Testament. That way, they don't have to account for--or field questions concerning--the God of the Old Testament. Thus they can (and do) teach any kind of Jesus they dream up. They teach a truncated Jesus, a skewed Jesus, a top-heavy Jesus, a bottom-heavy Jesus, a shriveled Jesus, an enervated Jesus, an emasculated Jesus. They'll introduce you to a Jesus of many curious colors, but the Jesus you won't meet is the real one, the Jesus who rhymes with every jot and tittle of God's every word, which He said he would:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
The principal that informs my particular gift is found right here in 2 Peter:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
People often take that to mean that no person can, individually, understand scripture. I don't think it means that at all, because there have been crucial moments in church history where the interpretation of one man, standing in the face of universal opposition, rescued an essential doctrine from oblivion. The classic example is Martin Luther, who almost single-handedly rescued the central tenet of soteriology--that justification is sola fide, by faith alone--which had been lost and buried in the medieval church.
"No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" means that no verse or book--no utterance of the prophets who spoke for God--can be interpreted without reference to every other verse and book in scripture.
It makes perfect sense that each verse must fit into the whole. It can (and often does) create nonsense when preachers and teachers force the whole to fit into a few pet verses. Such teaching is either ignorant of the rest of the Bible (which is usually the case); or is self-serving; or is, for some ulterior and pernicious motive, intentionally misleading.
Thanks for reading this far. This is of vital importance to me. In fact, 2 Peter 1:20 is my creed. I work long and hard at Bible exposition and as I do, I constantly hold my work up to the standard this verse pronounces.
There are about 40 human authors of scripture, who wrote over a span of about 1500 years. But they are, they must be, of just one voice--the single voice of the Holy Spirit who authored the whole:
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
Thus the voice we hear in Nahum must be the voice in Ephesians must be the voice in Judges must be the voice in Psalms must be the voice in 2 Peter. Jesus spoke about this in one of scripture's most wonder-filled figures of speech:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:2; John 10:5)
I leave you with one pithy truth that I try to make sure every student of mine understands. You can never be duped by the false teachers--the ones Peter so urgently warns us about in 2 Peter 2:1-3 (above)--if you cut out this little Q & A and store it in your wallet, or purse, or Bible, or heart, or head:
Q. What does (write any single Bible book or verse here) mean?
A. Anything you want it to mean.
Q. What does the whole Bible--all 66 books / all 31,173 verses--mean?
A. Jesus, and nothing else.
I hope to stay true to my calling. If I do not, I count on you to write me and tell me I've fallen out of rhyme with God's Word.
And if--with your help--I manage to maintain harmony with the one clear voice of scripture, it will not mean a great deal to the world. But the angels will applaud and maybe, just maybe, Jesus will commend.
And there is, whatever our gift, no higher purpose or calling than the pursuit of his commendation.
(1) 2 Timothy 4:7