Monday, August 29, 2016

on fire

The Word for today:
Malachi 2:10-3:5
mark this: Malachi 3:1-2 --
Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire.
Fire is a wonderful thing. It heats, it cooks, and it looks like magic.
Fire is an awful thing. It'll burn down the house and everybody in it.
Three of the key theophanies—appearances of God—in the early books of the Bible are in the guise of fire:
A smoking furnace and burning lamp (Gen. 15:7-17);
the burning bush (Exodus 3:2ff);
the pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21).
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery explains why fire is such a fitting expression of God:
"Just as fire is mysterious and immaterial, so too is God enigmatic and incorporeal. And just as fire is always flickering and changing its shape and cannot be held for examination, so is God always the indefinable who is beyond our grasp."
Fire is a moral neutral--like money, TV, the internet, or passion. Whether fire is good or bad depends on the purpose it is used for. The Bible shows fire used for two very different purposes:
1.) The fire of hell (punishment)--
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (Genesis 19:24)
2.) Refiner’s fire (discipline/purification)--
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:2-3)
Refiner's fire (discipline/purification) and the fire of hell (punishment) look alike, which makes it very difficult to tell the difference. Their similar appearance, for example, is the reason why Job's friends thought he was being punished, while we (as readers) know it was God's purpose to refine.
On the other hand, the LORD Jesus Christ faced the fire of hell when he died on the cross for our sins. He needed no refining.
No child of God—except for God’s Only Begotten Son—ever faces the fire of hell.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

you're already there

The Word for today:
Malachi 1:1-2:9
[Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi lived at the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Like them, his message was to those who had returned from exile in Babylon and were beginning to rebuild their shattered country, their shattered Temple, and their shattered lives.]
mark this: Malachi 1:2-3
"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."
In the opening lines of the book of Malachi, God says something which we might think is out of his character:
Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.
The reason we misunderstand the phrase is because we are looking at it through our own eyes. But if we were to look through God's eyes, we would not only learn about Esau, but about ourselves as well.
God sees the end from the beginning:
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done. (Isaiah 46:9-10)
He sees that the tendencies of Esau's heart will eventually bring him far from God. He sees that Esau will give rise to the evil nation of Edom.
Then he looks at Esau's twin brother, Jacob, with the same prophetic vision. The tendencies of Jacob's heart will bring him ever closer to God. He will give rise to Israel, a nation which will one day be devoted to God.
But that's about Jacob and Esau. Does the same principle apply to us?
It sure does. Those who trust in Christ are destined to be conformed to his image (1). I don't know about you, but I've got a long, long way to go before I arrive at Christ-likeness.
Time, however, doesn't obstruct God's view. Though we are in process, God sees the process completed, the eventuality fulfilled.
God never hated Esau in Genesis. And when Jesus died on the cross, he opened the way back to God for both Jacob and Esau. When we read, in John 3:16, that God so loved the world, that world included Esau.
But Esau, God knows, will not enter through God's only Door. He'll keep on going his own way, all the way through Edom to hell. Jacob will go God's Way, all the way through Israel to heaven.
From our point of view, we're still on the road. From God's point of view, we arrived yesterday.
(1) Romans 8:29

Saturday, August 27, 2016

he didn't issue uniforms

The Word for today:
Zechariah 14
I'm going to miss Zechariah. We've been standing in the rain with Zechariah now for a week and a half. I was just starting to catch his vision. I was finally tuning in to his frequency.
And I identified with him. He proves that God has a place on his team for crazy people!
I used an exclamation point on the end of that last sentence as a kind of camouflage. It serves to lighten up a sentence which isn't lightweight at all. If I take the exclamation point away, the sentence takes on density and weight:
He proves that God has a place on his team for crazy people.
That's really what I meant. I'm not as well-balanced as others seem to be. So I take courage from the company of loonies and dreamers that I encounter in the Word of God.
Where is that encouraging word coming from? Taking a step further into these pages, we come to realize that the word isn't emanating from Zechariah, but from Jesus:
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
This salvation was something the prophets wanted to know more about. They wondered what the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ's suffering and his great glory afterward. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
Deep down inside Zechariah, deep down inside the paper your Bible is printed on, is a voice. It found its way to the surface through Elijah, who was besieged by depression; through Jude, who was given to dark thoughts; through Peter, who could not govern his emotions.
That voice can find expression through a person like you, too. And through a person like me.
So come out from behind that exclamation point. We don't have to hide there any more. God doesn't require that we dress ourselves in feigned levity, false modesty, or saccharine sweetness.
We've been given a place on the team. But he didn't issue uniforms. He issued his Spirit and his voice, a voice of density and weight.
And he gave us his story to tell.

Friday, August 26, 2016

in the far corner of the lot

The Word for today:
Zechariah 12, 13
mark this: Zechariah 12:10
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
Would we recognize Jesus if he walked into the room right now?
Based on biblical evidence, I'm not so sure we would.
In the story of Joseph--point for point, a prophecy of the Christ--his brothers didn't recognize him when they met him. (1)
In Zechariah, we read that Israel will not recognize the crucified Jesus as their Messiah until latter days, which have not yet arrived:
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)
Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. (2)
The disciples on the road to Emmaus spoke with him for a long while, not recognizing him until, as he broke bread at the table, they saw the wounds in his hands. (3)
Joseph did not hide from his brothers behind a wig or sunglasses. And Jesus did not hide from Mary or the disciples.
I love Jesus, but certainly no more than Mary did. I know Jesus, but certainly not better than his brothers knew Joseph.
So I return to the opening question and aim it towards myself: Would I know Jesus if he walked into the room right now? The Bible says probably not.
Perhaps it isn't Jesus that we don't recognize. Perhaps it's the context we surround him with. We think of him as a male, thirty-three, with religion on his mind.
But what if he were 96, in a nursing home. What if he were she. What if he were fifteen on a park bench, texting. What if he were a roofer, or a salesman. Or the crazed fan next to you at the Bills game. What if he lined up next to you at the beginning of a 5k race?
He as much as tells us that we'll meet him in a scene with a different background:
'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:35-40)
When we meet Jesus, it most likely will be in a context least suspected. If you're looking for him at church, carefully consider the lady who babysits our kids so we can hear the sermon. Or the guy who parks the cars in the far corner of the church lot. Yeah, that guy--who laughs too loud and is known to enjoy a cigar out there, we're told.
Then check nursing homes and parks and gardens and prisons and Buffalo Bills games.
And enter a 5k race. Hey, you never know. But be sure to wait for the very last person to finish. In his kingdom, remember, the last shall be first. (4)
(1) Genesis 42; (2) John 20:15; (3) Luke 24; (4) Matthew 20:16

Thursday, August 25, 2016

broken for the broken

The Word for today:
Zechariah 11
mark this: Zechariah 11:12-13
We--you and I--don't get mentioned much in Old Testament prophecy. But today we do, in a sad and happy and wistful way.
It's not an easy prophecy to follow, because it depends on irony. Irony is when the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.
We are told that Zechariah's severance pay was thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave:
Then I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"--the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter. (Zechariah 11:12-13)
We hear irony in "the lordly price at which I was priced by them." The thirty pieces, of course, was anything but lordly!
The only thing it would purchase was a field next to the potter's house--where so many broken, rejected pieces of pottery were thrown that the land was considered useless.
When we get to the New Testament, a disciple named Judas Iscariot will betray Jesus by informing the religious leaders of his whereabouts. There, where Judas said he would be, Jesus was seized. Then he was brought to trial. Soon thereafter he was crucified.
The money, Judas came to realize, was blood money; he had profited by betraying an innocent man. So he took the money and threw it back to the religious leaders. Then he hanged himself.
So tainted was this money that the religious leaders would not place it into the Temple treasury. They "laundered" the money--literally taking the blood off their hands--by purchasing the worthless potter's field as a burial ground for strangers:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. (Matthew 27:3-8)
So where are you and I in this prophecy? We're the broken and rejected vessels that the blood money purchased. We're the clay that the LORD God reclaimed, at the price of his blood, in order to renew and reshape us.
We appear in this prophecy, but it isn't about the clay. It isn't even about the blood.
It's about a potter, broken and rejected himself.
It's all about a potter, broken for the broken.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

don't get skewed

The Word for today:
Zechariah 9, 10
mark this: Zechariah 9:9-11
We must be careful not to limit Jesus to the Jesus we think we know. Towards that end, let's think about donkeys and charging white stallions.
In Zechariah 9:9, we see a picture of the Jesus we're accustomed to. He comes riding into town on a donkey, bearing salvation through a blood covenant. This is Jesus of the Gospels, who died to save our souls from the consequences of our sin. It is an astonishingly vivid prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Then, without transition, in the next verse we see another side of the same person:
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
That is Jesus of Revelation, the conquering King:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)
Jesus is a man of peace, one way or the other.  The first time he arrived, he purchased peace with God:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 5:1)
The second time he arrives, he will enforce the peace amongst men:
The hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants,
but his fury will be shown to his foes.
See, the LORD is coming with fire,
and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
he will bring down his anger with fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For with fire and with his sword
the LORD will execute judgment upon all men,
and many will be those slain by the LORD.  (Isaiah 66:14-16)
There might be too much donkey--and not enough war horse-- in your concept of Jesus. That skewed view is held by many in the church today.
Or there might be too much war horse and not enough donkey.  The church has, in other centuries, held that skewed view.
Don't get skewed by whatever age you live in or whatever church you attend.  Mount up, and travel all the way through scripture with the servant Jesus, with the conqueror Jesus.  From day to day, you will know his intentions by his ride.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

on better streets beyond

The Word for today:
Zechariah 8
mark this: Zechariah 8:5
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
Most everything I've learned about the Bible, I learned from J. Vernon McGee.  Most everything J. Vernon McGee learned about the Bible, he learned from G. Campbell Morgan and Cyrus I. Scofield. Most everything G. Campbell Morgan and Cyrus I. Scofield learned about the Bible, they learned from God.
So you can see that when I say the name 'G. Campbell Morgan,' we are in pretty fast company!
G. Campbell Morgan said that when he wanted to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God, he didn't go into a room where adults were praying but into the street where kids were playing.  Jesus said essentially the same thing in Matthew 18:3.
In Zechariah 8 we get a foretaste of the Millennium, which itself is a foretaste of Jesus' eternal Kingdom (commonly referred to as heaven).
The Bible only hints at what heaven will be like--probably because our imaginations are too feeble to comprehend more complete descriptions.  God's works, we are told, will be immeasurably more than all we imagine.  (1)
But don't let that stop you from imagining like a child and reading between the lines like an adult. Because when we do, we begin to get specific hints of heaven!
Let's look at one brief line from Zechariah 8:
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. (v.5)
What can we gather? First of all, it seems obvious that in the Millennium, crime will be eradicated, allowing children to play without fear. But don't stop there. Think of what life, in general, will be like without any crime. We are hardly capable of comprehending all the consequences.
What else is missing from Zechariah 8:5? Here's a hint: If my children were to play in the streets, it would mean that there were no cars out there any more. Now go ahead and begin to spin the consequences of that!
My favorite thing, when I was a kid on Gooding Street, was playing marbles.  (Since then, alas, I've lost them all!)
But I've got a feeling there's a big bag of them, just waiting, on better streets beyond.
(1) see Ephesians 3:20