Sunday, September 24, 2017

there's nothing common about sense

The Word for today:
Proverbs 1
mark this: Proverbs 1:2-7
Here are proverbs that will help you recognize wisdom and good advice, and understand sayings with deep meaning.
They can teach you how to live intelligently and how to be honest, just, and fair.
They can make an inexperienced person clever and teach young people how to be resourceful.
These proverbs can even add to the knowledge of the wise and give guidance to the educated,
so that they can understand the hidden meanings of proverbs and the problems that the wise raise.
To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord.
When we started the Stand in the Rain blog, I flipped through the 3-year reading schedule to get a sense of the task ahead of me: to write a Bible teaching blog every day without exception for 1100 days in a row.
That may sound daunting to you, but not to me. That's what I do in life. What you do--roofing houses, or selling insurance over the phone--sounds daunting to me.
So as I looked over the schedule, my confidence grew.
We would be starting in Samuel: King David, are you kidding me?--let me at it!
Then on to Ephesians: the highest spiritual peak in scripture--can't wait!
Then to Job: my fellow sojourner, born for trouble. That would write itself!
And so it went as I skimmed the schedule. Until I got to Proverbs: Uh-oh.
I must confess that except for a few sections and some scattered verses, I've never liked Proverbs. I have been on a regular Bible reading schedule for a dozen years, and whenever I got to Proverbs, I'd rush through them almost as fast as I rushed through the genealogies in 1 Chronicles, or the allotment of the land in the back half of Joshua.
I mean, following the glories of the Psalms, they were so common.
Exactly.  Proverbs is a repository of good common sense, which I used to take for granted, until life (especially mine!) showed me that the phrase "common sense" is an oxymoron! Common sense isn't, and never has been, common.
Proverbs is the most down-to-earth book in the Bible, full of practical guidance for making your way in the world. It covers small questions as well as large: talking too much, visiting neighbors too often, being unbearably cheerful too early in the morning…
Much of Proverbs' practical advice makes no mention of God, and can seem quite secular. But if you take the book as a whole, it becomes obvious that a healthy respect for God is so much -- and so obviously -- a part of common sense that it hardly needs mentioning at every turn.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I'm sick of "love."

The Word for today:
Galatians 5:25-6:18
mark this:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Before we depart from Galatians, and because I'm in the mood, I want to talk about love. So here goes:
"Love, love, love, love, love, love, love."
In the minds of many, all you need is love. And all you need to know about the Bible is love--because, after all, God is love (1).
And love is the foremost fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Moreover, the greatest of these is love (2). The greatest of what? Who cares. All you need is love.
And you know what, they are right! But there's one problem. They learned what "love" means from a Hallmark card, but not from scripture.
I was in a church once where it was love this, love that, love the brother, love the other. It was a regular Hallmark orgy! They went to Bible studies and talked about love; they went to small groups and talked about love; they Facebook-ed their love to each other so much they almost short-circuited the world wide web!
But when they were asked by the pastor at their Sunday love-fest to please volunteer to help with a very active children's program on Wednesday nights for one hour, then their love suddenly lapsed.
Which freed them, of course, to get on Facebook during that hour each Wednesday to wax rhapsodic about the glories of love! And so they did, because love, after all, is a many-splendored thing.  I mean, to even begin to plumb its depths requires hours and hours of tweets, and texts, and now and then the old gold standard--the Hallmark card itself!
Excuse me whilst I retch.  I'm (if I may mis-apply the Song of Solomon declaration) sick of love (3).
The smarmy thing that generally passes for love in the world—and often in the church--is the furthest thing from Biblical love.
Instead, that lone Man on the cross -- and that uncompromising, “narrow-minded” guy who is always spouting off about the Bible and sin and about that lone Man on the cross -- is what the Bible calls love.
In a dark and dying world, love is bringing the message of hope and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Here's the distillation of the Bible's teaching on what true love looks like:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Note that Jesus wasn't talking about laying down one's death for his friends. He was talking about laying down one's life.
But that's asking a lot right off the bat, so let's start with a bite-sized piece:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one hour for his friends.
But according to your profile you have 843 friends? Then how about this:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one hour for the kids on Wednesday night.
I can't prove this, but it seems like every time the word "love" is spoken, an hour of the real thing gets subtracted from love's sum total.
At least I know that's true on Wednesday nights in Lockport, NY.
(1) 1 John 4:8, 16; (2) 1 Corinthians 13:8; (3) Song of Solomon 2:5, 5:8 / KJV

Friday, September 22, 2017

it's not about who's the boss; it's about who's the Savior

The Word for today:
Galatians 4:8-5:1
mark this: Galatians 3:24
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
"The law" is a big subject in the Bible and it can be confusing. But it doesn't have to be.
First, let's boil "the law" down to the 10 Commandments. They are immutable (unchanging) standards. It doesn't matter what century or culture or church you're in; they're the law.
God often demonstrates his spiritual precepts in the physical realm, because a picture is worth a thousand words. Thus God has ordained certain immutable physical laws, as well. Let's take gravity, for instance.
You may go ahead and test gravity. Gravity will pass the test. You may defy gravity, and for a while you might seem to get away with it. (Witness the long jump in a track and field meet.) But...
The story is told of a man who jumped off the Empire State Building. When he went by the 50th floor, a man looked out the window and asked, "Well, how is it?"
The falling man replied, "So far, so good." That's because the 50th floor is not where the law enforces itself.
So in the end, we don't break the law; the law breaks us. Fifty more floors and the man found out that so far wasn't so good.
Our voting rights might engender the delusion that "law" respects our opinions. This is as much a madness as if we were to vote to suspend gravity. As the kids say, "Good luck with that."
God doesn't care what the USA, or Lithuania, or Argentina, or Peewee's Playhouse decide about the law. We can all draw up a constitution, but His Law is The Law of the land whether we acknowledge it or not.
That may sound harsh, as if God is interested in showing us who's boss. But that's not the point at all. The law wasn't given to show us who's boss; it was given to show us who's Savior:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
The law expresses what man ought to be. Man was weighed in the balances by the Ten Commandments and found wanting. Then--as if the 10 Commandments needed emphasis--our gentle Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, ratcheted up their severity to the nth degree:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." (Matthew 5:27-29)
Was Jesus condemning us to hell? Absolutely not! He was revealing to us that we sin, that we fall short of the glory of God (1)--that there is a wide gap between God and us. But he doesn't present a problem without a solution. He goes on to show us the bridge over the chasm:
I am the Way…
Jesus the Lawgiver in the Sermon on the Mount was pointing to Jesus the Savior on Mount Calvary. The law, then, did not pronounce my death sentence. Jesus' plan, from the foundation of the world, was to stand in our stead. Thus he was pronouncing his death sentence, instead.
The Law was never meant to save. James tells us that the law is just a mirror; it shows our faces are smudged. But we can't wash our faces with a mirror.
The Law was never able to save. Paul tells us the law is just a tutor, taking us by the hand to lead us to Christ.
So I thank God for the law, because I would never have found the cross without it.
(1) Romans 3:23

Thursday, September 21, 2017

We're winnin', Dad!

The Word for today:
Galatians 3:19-4:7
(Note: This article was first published on this date in 2011.)
mark this: Galatians 4:6
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
I was fired from my job yesterday.
I'd used a little too much force, I was told. When I see an obstacle, my tendency is to knock it down. But that's messy. What I should have done was paint it a different color and say it wasn't there anymore. That's not messy.
But I digress.
So, it's lucky for me that I've got this Bible blog. Without it, I wouldn't know what to do with myself today. I mean, I'm home alone and I can hear the clocks tick.
But the best thing about having this blog to write today is that it brought me to the verse that says we can call out "Abba, Father."
So that's what I did! I told Him that nothing got to me until early this morning when I was taking down all the pictures that I'd taped to the wall in my office. Among them was a picture of our son Frankie -- now our tall, handsome, all-state running star and all-around inspiration -- when he was only five years old, on the day of his first race. I have never forgotten what he told me that day.
And so as I packed the picture away, I made his long-ago remark my prayer: I looked straight up to my Father, just like Frankie had looked up to me that day, and I told Him--
"We're winnin', Dad!"
…Frankie was five years old when we entered him in his first race. It was the "Mr. Ed's 1-mile Fun Run" in Middleport, N.Y.  Most of the runners in the Fun Run were kids, along with some Moms and Dads. But none of them were as little as Frankie. He got right up on the starting line and crouched over like a sprinter about to come out of the starting blocks. It was Super Bowl Sunday, late in January, so he wore mittens and a hat. Taking it all in, he saw that most of the kids wore no gloves, so he took his off and handed them to me. Then the starter fired his pistol and the race had begun. Immediately, we were engulfed by the crowd of runners. In a minute, we were behind almost all. But Frankie never looked around at any of them as they passed us. His eyes were straight ahead of him the entire race, as he strained with purpose and effort.
It took a long time to run that mile. I ran three steps directly behind. He garnered a lot of notice along the way because of his size and determination. It was an out-and-back course; the runners turned at the midpoint and headed back towards us. As they approached, each of them offered words of encouragement. Some proffered a hand, thinking Frankie would reciprocate with a 'high-five,' but he never even noticed. His eyes were on the prize.
After the turnaround, we ran into the wind. Now it was cold. "Do you want your mittens, Frankie?" A slight, nearly imperceptible flick of his head meant 'No.'
Everyone was ahead of us now. I went a step in front of Frankie and a step to the side to shield him from the wind. When a particularly sharp gust turned my head his way, Frankie looked up to offer me some encouragement: "We're winnin', Dad," he called out, as he flipped that easy smile.
Just a couple years before that day, I'd found out about Jesus Christ and how he--a man after his Father's heart--set his face like flint (1) to carry my sin up a steep hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem. There, suspended between heaven and earth, he was a man with no direction home--rejected by his own here on earth; unfit for heaven when he became sin for us (2). For a moment he could not see his Father, because this was a course he had to finish alone. Then, with his last breath, he cried out, "Teleo!" And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (3).
Before I knew Him, teleo only meant it is finished; it's over. My natural eyes had seen just a forlorn figure, forsaken by man and God, defeated by empire and religion and spite.
But the day came when my new, blood-tipped ear (4) heard in that word the most astonishing faith that eternity will ever know. Now "It is finished" means "The debt is paid in full! We won, Dad!"
So some day, in Jesus' honor, in a dark hour when it makes no earthly sense to say so, make this your prayer:
Looking straight up to the Father you can't see, tell Him, "We're winnin', Dad!"
(1) Isaiah 50:7; (2) 2 Corinthians 5:21; (3) John 19:30; (4) see Exodus 29:20

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

how to fall from grace--and how to get back up!

The Word for today:
Galatians 3:1-18
mark this: Galatians 3:1
O foolish Galatians! Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
and this: Galatians 5:4
For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God's grace.
and this: Galatians 2:20-21
The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God,  for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
"Falling from grace" is a widely misunderstood Bible phrase, usually associated with Adam and Eve. But the term, found only in Galatians 5:4, does not apply to Adam and Eve.
Q. If they did not fall from grace, where did they fall from?
A. Some say they fell from "innocence." The Bible, however, does not use that word to describe them. The biblical explanation is that Adam and Eve didn't fall down, they fell short:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Q. So if Adam and Eve fell short of glory, who is it who falls from grace?
A. Franklyn and the Galatians.
(We know that doesn't sound as cool as "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" or "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles," let alone the coolest of all, "Gladys Knight and the Pips"--but it correctly answers the question.)
Only saved believers are in "the state of grace" to fall from! The ringing indictment of Galatians 3:1--O foolish Galatians!--is Paul sounding an urgent alarm to believers who are reverting to their "works" (human effort) instead of faith in God's finished work on the cross.
Falling from grace has nothing to do with salvation! That was settled back at the cross, where we died with Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20a)
Falling from grace is about getting all the way past the cross by trusting God--and then deciding to take it the rest of the way on our own.
We--the Galatians and I, and sometimes you too--repetitively fall in and out of grace. Whenever we fall, we must grab on to grace and get back up! So here are some tips (from an experienced "faller") on how to get back to grace:
Remember that grace is only for the undeserving! If you think you deserve "it" because you've been a good scout this week, then "it" ain't grace!
Let me say it another way, in even more graphic terms: Heaven will be filled with the undeserving (the recipients of grace). Hell, on the other hand, will be populated by the deserving--those who chose to get what they "deserve."
The believer's standing with God is not based on what we deserve, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. We cannot add--or subtract--from that. The great teaching of Galatians is that we are saved by grace and we are to live by grace.
Always remember that the only thing we can offer to God is the gift God already gave us:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son… (John 3:16)
So we bring only the Lamb of God and His finished work--like Abel did:
After some time Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the Lord. Then Abel brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it, and gave the best parts of it as an offering. The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. (Genesis 4:3-5)
Because if we try to bring evidence of our own work, like Cain did, we nullify the free gift of God and fall from grace:
The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21)
There.  That should en-Abel you to get back up.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

of angels and gospels

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Galatians 2
mark this- Galatians 1:8
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
In our lives, each one of us has some "not so proud moments" that we'd rather forget about. One of my career low-lights come from a White Elephant gift exchange gone horribly wrong. I was in a college at the time, and this took place in a small group of about 15-20. (If you've never participated in a White Elephant- do yourself a favor and stay far away!)
There were lots of decent gifts for the taking: games, candy, gift cards. But for some strange reason, I had my heart dead set on the Sea Monkeys. I picked them up early, and thought I was safe, because no one else seemed to want them. I was already planning out how and where I could hatch these glorified brine shrimp, when all of the sudden the final person decided to forgo all of the more appealing prizes, and went straight for my Sea Monkeys. That made me a bit upset, but I at least had the opportunity to open up a small wrapped box and maybe get something decent. To my shock and utter horror, the present that I was stuck with was none other than a small, porcelain baby angel.
I have a very low tolerance for cheesy and sentimental "Christian paraphernalia," especially when that junk is decidedly un-biblical. As I look throughout the Bible, it's become very clear to me that there are not any "chubby naked babies with wings." So in my frustration I took that porcelain angel, and wrenched off its wings, head and left foot. I felt vindicated doing so, even though the poor girl who brought the original gift was right there in the room. (She was speechless- I tend to have that effect on people.) Looking back, I am sure that my rage had less to do with my righteous indignation and more to do with my lack of Sea Monkeys.
So I will admit, as we come to today's reading, that episode left me with somewhat of a bias against angels. But from what Paul wrote in Galatians and what has happened in history since, maybe we all need to hold a bit more caution. As we learned from yesterday's reading, the people of Galatia were in danger of abandoning the true Gospel. The had allowed outside forces to infiltrate and water down the Gospel. That's a big deal, hence the harsh words from Paul.
He gives them (and us) a key truth: A different gospel is really no gospel at all. Or, to put it in other words: As soon as you change the good news it ceases to be good news. Once the Galatians tried to add to the message of Jesus Christ, once they made keeping the Jewish Law in order to be saved a requirement, they left the true Gospel behind.
No one has the authority to change or add to the gospel- no apostle, no human, not even an angel. Consequently, any kind of person, be they king, pope, bishop, pastor, politician, prophet, blogger, or historian who attempts to add or alter the message of Christ is merely heaping condemnation upon themselves. So what then is that message?
Try 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 first:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...
If that's too long for your liking, try 2 Corinthians 5:21:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
For nearly 2000 years, all kinds of people have tried to add all sorts of stuff to the Gospel. Hundreds of heresies have come and gone, all kinds of religious fads have gained prominence, only to fall out of favor. Other falsehoods seem to hold on much more tenaciously. But no matter how many adherents they gain, their basic premise is wrong. Even if an actual angel appeared to Muhammad (Islam) or Joseph Smith (Mormonism), that angel could not trump or override the  "the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (1)."
There is only one message that convicts, converts and saves sinners; follow Paul's advice by accepting no imitation.
(1) Jude 3

Monday, September 18, 2017

what a mess!

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Galatians 1
mark this- Galatians 1:6-7
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ."
Whether it was your kitchen, or your car, or your office, or your back yard, each one of us has experienced a situation where we left a certain area in pristine condition, left, and then returned to find a huge, unexpected mess. Whether caused by a dog, or a flood, or an errant bowl of chili, it's a terrible feeling. I got my first taste of this several years ago, in the early stages of toilet-training our son. We tucked him real nice & clean in on a warm summer night thinking our job was done. The next morning, we were in for a pleasant surprise. During the night he managed to remove his diaper and leave all sorts of surprises for us- all over his bedding, clothes, & blankets.
What a mess!
What a mess indeed! This is exactly what is going on here in the letter to the Galatians. Paul had figuratively tucked them in safe and sound, only to find a royal mess upon his return. So everything is set? Not at all! Let's recount some background information:
- Galatia was not a city, but a Roman province in Asia Minor (what is modern day Turkey.)
- This area was so important in the early church. Center of correspondence of the letters.
- Paul was born nearby, and he had been to Galatia well before this letter was written. He ministered there and brought the Gospel. He saw the people receive it with great joy. He left the Gospel in good hands and moved on, to proclaim the Gospel to other areas (1).
But soon he gets a report back that these church plants in Galatia have some huge issues. Evidently a group of false teachers within the church know as the Judaizers , have brought some serious upheaval & confusion to the faithful of the entire area. And we see Paul cutting the usual pleasantries, like an angry parent, as he demands: "What in the world is going on!?!"
Throughout the entire letter, some very strong language used- ‘astonished…deserting…eternally condemned’ (And that's just from the first chapter!) The Judaizers had infiltrated and attempted to alter the true gospel by adding new requirements -- keeping the law, circumcision, adherence to Jewish rules & traditions. They basically required those who wanted to be Christians to become Jews first.
Of course they were dead wrong, but Paul is even more heartbroken at the fact that his spiritual children were so quickly and easily deceived. There are many more strong words to come! Over the next week we will see how this plays out...
(1) Acts 13:13- 14:23