Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Something greater than the Temple is here."

The Word for today:
1 Kings 8:12-66

[The book of Hebrews in the New Testament develops the rich spiritual significance of the Tabernacle's design and furnishings. Why does Hebrews use the simple Tabernacle to illustrate these truths when it could have used the ornate Temple? We began to answer that question over the past two days, and will conclude our answer today.]

God proposed the Tabernacle:

(Artists' renderings;
night and day views)

Man proposed the Temple:

There was nothing wrong with the Temple. It was good. But God's idea--the Tabernacle--was great.

The Tabernacle (also known as the Tent of Meeting) was always in the midst of the nation Israel as they encamped and as they were on the move through the wilderness.

In John 1:14, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. "Dwelt," if literally translated, means "tabernacled" or "tented." Jesus is the tabernacle amongst us; our access to God.

In the same way, the Bible is like the tabernacle. It shows the Way for man to approach God. It’s portable, simple, and among us.

So the Word, the Word made flesh, and the Tabernacle--each were sent to be among us, showing us the Way to God.

Solomon, son of David, built a sumptuous palace, and lived in opulent splendor. But coming down the road, in a threadbare cloak, with 4 days’ growth and calloused carpenter’s hands, the ultimate Son of David faced the religious leaders and told them,
Something greater than Solomon is here (1); something greater than the Temple is here (2).

Then he was gone. At the center of 12 sons of Israel as they walked down the road, he was a picture of the Tabernacle in the midst of the 12 tribes of Israel as they made their way through the wilderness. God was among them, on his way to Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, where he would build his Father's house with just 3 nails.

(1) Matthew 12:42; (2) Matthew 12:6

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

pack light

The Word for today:
1 Kings 7:13 -- 8:11

[The book of Hebrews in the New Testament develops the rich spiritual significance of the Tabernacle's design and furnishings. Why does Hebrews use the simple Tabernacle to illustrate these truths when it could have used the ornate Temple? We began to answer that question yesterday, and will continue our answer today.]

God proposed the Tabernacle. Man proposed the Temple.

The Tabernacle was a tent. The Temple was a building.

The tabernacle was portable. The Temple was not.

There was nothing wrong with the Temple. It was good. But God's idea--the Tabernacle--was great.

Your relationship with God is ever-developing, ever-advancing. It's on the move.

Your relationship with God is one of response--he leads and we follow, wherever the Spirit might take us. The Tabernacle aptly depicts that responsiveness. It could be packed up and ready to go at a moment's notice, whenever the LORD went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (1).

But the Temple, affixed to the ground, cannot depict our "pilgrim's progress."

Moreover, Christianity itself is a movement. It is not an institution. It certainly is not a building.

Our relationships with God--individually and as a body--should be suffused with a sense of responsiveness, ever willing to pack up and go where the Spirit leads.

So listen for his directions. And pack light.

(1) Exodus 13:21-22

Monday, September 28, 2009

when beauty got in the way

The Word for today:
1 Kings 6:1 -- 7:12

[The book of Hebrews in the New Testament develops the rich spiritual significance of the tabernacle's design and furnishings. Why does Hebrews use the simple, portable tabernacle to illustrate these truths when it could have used the ornate Temple? We begin to answer that question today, and will continue our answer tomorrow.]

God proposed the Tabernacle. Man proposed the Temple.

The Tabernacle was simple. The Temple was ornate and complex.

There was nothing wrong with the Temple. It was good. But God's idea--the Tabernacle--was great.

The purpose, for both the Temple and the Tabernacle, was to illustrate that man's access to God was through sacrifice--ultimately the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

But the very splendor of the Temple focused attention on itself. The wonderful truths it was meant to convey got lost amidst its ornate and breath-taking decor. Its own beauty hindered its purpose.

And though the Tabernacle was exquisitely fashioned by Spirit-filled craftsman, it did not draw attention to itself. It showed us the way to God.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

the cornerstone

The Word for today:
1 Kings 5

mark these:
1 Kings 5:17--
Costly, precious stones were hewn and set in place for the foundation of the temple.
1 Peter 2:6--
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."

The Bible is sublime, sophisticated literature. Every poetic technique is employed to convey the character of God and his work of salvation.

So much of the Bible, so much about God, cannot be understood unless we enter into this poetic dimension.

But don't think of "poetry" as that smarmy, banal, insipid "roses are red violets are blue" stuff. Yuck! Biblical poetry conveys the power, majesty, bravery, humility, humor and love of Jesus.

Biblical poetry uses "metaphor" to convey God--who is spirit (1)--in concrete, physical terms that we can begin to understand. "Metaphor" is when we describe one thing in terms of another.

One of the metaphors the Bible uses to help us understand Jesus is "rock" or "stone." Throughout your Bible you will see Jesus described in this way.

The rock in the wilderness from which water gushed forth is Jesus. Says who? The Bible says so, in 1 Corinthians 10:4:
They all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.

Why describe Jesus as a rock? What's a rock like? I leave that to you. Think about it; turn it over in your mind.

In our reading today, costly and precious stone is used for the foundation of the temple (2). That was real stone, but it also is a metaphor for Jesus, who is the foundation of our faith and salvation:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Co 3:11)

We're also told that he's the stone the builders rejected, which became the cornerstone (3).

He's the Rock of our salvation! (4)

There are hundreds of metaphors, besides rock and stone, which the Bible uses to describe Jesus. Be on the lookout for them whenever you read your Bible.

(1) John 4:24; (2) 1 Kings 5:17; (3) 1 Peter 2:7; (4) Psalm 95:1

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The Word for today:
1 Kings 3 & 4

mark this: 3:5

If only God would promise to grant us wisdom, like he promised Solomon!

Well, he has:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (1)

So, go ahead, pray for wisdom. But before you do, prepare your prayer by contrasting Solomon with Jesus.

Solomon prayed for wisdom, and God commends him, because he could have prayed for riches, like many of us would if we were given Solomon's choices.

But what kind of wisdom did he pray for? He prayed for political wisdom. He wanted the ability to be a statesman. He wanted to know how to judge and rule over Israel and make great national decisions.

He prayed for wisdom concerning his own kingdom. He did not pray to fulfill his role in God's Kingdom. He did not pray for spiritual discernment. You can sense this lack of a spiritual dimension in Ecclesiastes. As practical wisdom for this life, Ecclesiastes is invaluable--and is rightfully included in scripture, because God is practical and wants us to maneuver successfully through the circumstances we face today. It is practical wisdom of the highest order, but it will not begin to convey anyone to the cross.

On the other hand, Jesus tells us to--
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (2) .
Jesus tells us to pray--
"Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (3)

Now, turn again to James 1:5:
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

So ask--but be like Jesus and pray a bigger prayer. Pray for all-encompassing wisdom, Kingdom of God wisdom, spiritual wisdom.

Don't ask for just a sliver of wisdom, when you can ask for the whole pie. He wants you to have it all.

(1) James 1:5; (2) Matthew 6:33; (3) Matthew 6:10;

Friday, September 25, 2009

the contender

The Word for today:
1 Kings 2

David came of age in the meadows and mountains, where he'd killed a bear and a lion in defense of his sheep. He'd been a fugitive, hunted by Saul and forced to hide in the caves and the desolate hills. As a man of war, his bravery and exploits were legendary in Israel.

But Solomon grew up in the royal palace, in soft circumstances, a child of privilege and preferential treatment. Jesus implied as much when he mentioned the florid splendor of the soft clothing worn by those in kings' palaces (1). And David found it necessary to urge Solomon to act like a man (2).

Solomon means "peace," and for a while peace and achievement and splendor marked his reign. But it was peace and prosperity won by another, by his father. He'd had it handed to him.

Jesus has handed us peace that surpasses understanding (3). We are rich, blessed with all spiritual blessings (4). But don't languish in your lavish inheritance like Solomon did, ending up with only the tarnished crown of a crumbling kingdom to give his son.

Jesus worked in the hot Galilean sun with heavy hammers, stone, boards, and beams. His hands were calloused, his shoulders strong. Upon leaving his home to wield the sword of the Spirit against all the power that spiritual darkness could bring to bear, he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he fasted and was tested. He gathered about him a band of simple, rugged men--commercial fisherman and tax collectors. They lived in the fields, with no place to lay their heads, until the Spirit impelled him to Jerusalem, there to carry the heavy wooden beams with which he built his Father's house.

I came late to this battle. I was never a young man in the faith. But to those of you who are, will you listen very carefully. What I'm about to say will cost you, it will exact its price. But the commendation of Jesus Christ awaits you, if you will...

Learn to fight; to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (5). Wield it powerfully in defense of the faith and in defense of the faithful.

Live sparely, training to run the race of faith (6).

Run to win (7). Finish the course that Solomon could not.

Our churches do not lack for mild-mannered Christians. What's needed are those who will earnestly contend for the faith (8). Be stalwart; a rock, a contender--by the Spirit that was in David; by the Jesus in you.

(1) Matthew 11:8 and Luke 12:27; (2)1 Kings 2:2; (3) Philippians 4:7; (4) Ephesians 1:3;(5) Ephesians 6:17; (6) 2 Timothy 4:7; (7) 1 Corinthians 9:23-27; (8) Jude 1:3

Thursday, September 24, 2009

6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143

The Word for today:
1 Kings 1

We don't know what to make of Solomon, or what became of him.

Song of Solomon is sublime. Proverbs is wise. Ecclesiastes shows the man who wrote Proverbs and Song of Solomon as he unravels.

Things just seemed to preoccupy his heart. Then those preoccupations moved God from the center off to the side.

I like Solomon. I don't feel the kinship with him that I do with David, but I understand how a man, close to God, could one day wake up a rank idolater, given to indulgences, passions, preoccupations, and possessiveness of every kind. It's really a short step from here to there. For each of us, sin crouches at the door (Genesis 4:7).

We are all so close to letting side issues become central in our hearts. Solomon let sin build upon sin until God was crowded out of his heart. As far as we know, he didn't turn back.

Sad to say, but some Bible characters are examples in reverse. They teach us what not to be.

This week our pastor taught us that the penitential Psalms are these:
6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.

The fundamental difference between David and Solomon are those 7 Psalms.

Get to know Solomon as we go through the Bible. Get to know him in 1 Kings, in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Get to know what made him tick, and get to know what caused him to come unglued.

Turn to scripture's greatest cry of repentance, Psalm 51. Write these numbers at the top of that page: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143. Make David's pattern of repentance a pattern of your life as well.

Repentance turns the unbeliever to the cross, where he is born again, a new creation in Christ. Repentance turns the believer back to the cross, to the wellspring of his new life, to remind him what--and more importantly Who--his new life is made of.

6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

it had to be you

The Word for today:
Psalm 72

mark this: 72:12-15

I teach year-long Bible classes. People kid me because I always name my classes. But I think long and carefully about the name for each new class. Each year the content varies, but the syllabus--see Luke 24:27-- is always the same: that the entire purpose of scripture's every word is the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1).

Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the process occurs when Christ, in the flesh, is at long last revealed; when the towering prophet, John the Baptist, points to Jesus, saying,
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

So this year we called our class "Behold." Then Shelley came up with a simple logo that we use for our class notebooks, website, and promotional materials:

It's the perfect visual for the process of elimination which the Bible uses to reveal the Messiah to Israel. The field is narrowed and narrowed and narrowed until finally--Behold!--there can be only one.

The scriptures, through name & genealogy, through prophecy and covenant and character and even curse, perform this ongoing process of elimination. The process leaves only one person who is qualified to be the Messiah/Christ. [Christ and Messiah are the same word in the Greek and Hebrew languages, respectively. "Christ," then, is not a name like "Smith" or "Jones." "Christ" is a title, like "King." It is helpful to refer, as the Bible often does, to "Christ Jesus," for that gives the proper relationship between his title, Christ, and his name, Jesus. It is even more helpful to refer to him as "Messiah Jesus." Referring to him in that way gives us a handle on the unique significance of his title and his name.]
The first verse of the New Testament is a list of names. To the disciplined and systematic Bible student there is nothing more thrilling than this--
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham
--because that line is the summation of the entire point of the Old Testament!

A name doesn't tell who I am as much as it tells who I am not. I am Franklyn Pfeil. Knowing that, you still don't know exactly who I am, because I can probably google a few more of 'me' (perish the thought!) But you know from my name that of the world's 7 billion people, there are very close to 7 billion that I am not! So, it's not what's in a name--it's what's not in a name.

Jesus called Himself Son of Man. In fact, it was his favorite self-reference. The title has bottomless depths of meaning. One thing it signifies is that he is in line to fulfill the "seed of the woman" prophecy in Genesis 3:15.
So who does that name eliminate? Couldn't "seed of the woman" or "Son of Man" be any person? Certainly, but "Son of Man" is the biggest eliminator of all--because it meant that the Messiah would be a human being, eliminating countless gazillions of angels and other spiritual entities.

He had to be a Son of Abraham, eliminating a significant percentage of the world's peoples(Gen. 18:18).

Of Abraham's sons, he had to come through Isaac, not Ishmael. So another great chunk of humanity is out of the picture.

Of Isaac's sons, he had to come through Jacob, not Esau.
Jacob was also called "Israel." "Israel," seen genealogically, is the small pool of people where Messiah could come from. That's all Israel is. Thus, with just a few names, we have gone from the nearly infinite number of possibilities in the universe to just a relative few--from a nation which was soon to be enslaved in Egypt.

And of the twelve tribes of Israel, Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10). The concentric circles are getting smaller. The target is coming into view.

Of Judah's descendants, he would come through David (2 Sam .7). While Jesus' favorite self-reference, as mentioned, was "Son of Man," the people--the man on the street--referred to Messiah as "Son of David." It was Son of David that the multitudes were looking for (Matthew 12:23; 21:9).

Even amongst David's sons there was further elimination: he would not come through the line of Solomon, because of a curse on that branch of the family (see Jeremiah 22:30).

He would be born in a little town named Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2)

He would be born a designated number of years following the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (see Daniel 9)--which had been destroyed at the time of Israel's exile to Babylon.

Furthermore, he would calm the seas and heal the sick. (Isaiah, Psalms, etc.) [Please note that some of today's references are not exacting, because there are just so many of them! So when I say "Isaiah" or "Moses" or "Psalms" as a reference, that's the point!--the Bible is shot through with these references.]

He would offer himself as a sacrifice, paying the wages of sin not his own. (See Isaiah 53 and all of Leviticus and all of the Mosaic system of sacrifice). He would die by a means of death unknown at the time. Capital punishment in Israel was by stoning. They didn't have a name for whatever was going on in Psalm 22, but it was not stoning. It remained for the nation of Rome (not yet in existence at the time of the writing of Psalm 22) to invent what we now call crucifixion.

Himself without sin, death had no claim on him. So, three days later, he was alive again. (Psalm 16, Psalm 72:15, Hosea 6:2, Psalm 22:22, Jonah, the entire Old Testament...)

The Bible so obviously, so meticulously, so systematically whittles it down to just one: Jesus, of Nazareth of Galilee, circa 0 to 33 A.D.
Scripture placed a target on his back. The targeted one then carried his cross to Golgotha-- ground zero of the universe, of creation, time, space, and eternity; to Golgotha, where the heart of the heart of God was revealed.

We don't know his birthday. We celebrate Christmas, but the Bible gives us no real indication of even the month of his birth.

What we do know is his deathday. The Lamb of God had to be offered on Passover. The Passover prophecy tell us precisely which day the great Messiah would suffer for our sins. But it tells us much more: it tells us there are 364 days when Messiah would not die, could not die.

Through covenant and genealogy, God boiled it down to a handful of people. Through prophecy, he boiled it down to a scant few years, a sliver in time. Through the system of sacrificial offerings, he boiled it down to 1/365th of the year. And then, through prophecy and the system of feasts, he said that the man who fulfilled all of the above would also fulfill the ultimate identifier: he would rise from the dead.

Psalm 72 shows what conditions will prevail when Messiah rules the earth:
He will deliver the needy when he cries, The poor also, and him who has no helper.
He will save the souls of the needy.
He will redeem their life from oppression and violence;
And He shall live

See that last line? That's the ultimate identifier--and the ultimate eliminator.

Because after the Bible's process of elimination established the identity of the unique Lamb of God, the Lamb of God shouldered a cross which eliminated your death.

Let's not skip the genealogies, or the Levitical sacrificial offerings, or the calendar of feasts, the construction of the tabernacle, the histories of kings and exiles, the so-called (by man, not by God) 'minor prophets.'
They are pictures of the great Giver, who is the great Eliminator--Messiah Jesus.

For he gives and he takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.

Worse Than Wide Right

Psalm 72
Growing up in Western New York, I am very accustomed to failure and disappointment. First the Buffalo Braves (NBA) left, then we lost Bethlehem Steel (20, 000 jobs), then there was that failed attempt to bring a Major League Baseball team here. Next there was Wide Right, three more Superbowl losses, finally then the Sabres chipped in with No Goal! For some reason, we cannot build a second Peace Bridge to Canada, we cannot develop our harbor, we cannot get a Bass Pro to come to town. My goodness, it took us 11 years to demolish the Aud! As the old saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style."

Today's Psalm is dedicated to one of the biggest failures in all of Scripture. Apart from Judas Iscariot, I don't know of a more tragic figure in all of human history. Not only did he make a complete shipwreck of his life, it was the misuse of all his immense talents, skills, gifts and wisdom that brought about his own destruction.

This psalm is really a prayer for & by King Solomon, and what a prayer it is. He is asking God to give the king and his kingdom righteousness, justice, peace, prosperity, protection, and a long lasting legacy. These are all good things. These are the kinds of prayers that we would pray for our own nation.

But when you consider Solomon's life, this prayer turns into a lament for all that could have been. Solomon had everything going for him (see Ecclesiastes 1 & 2).
God met personally with Solomon, and gave him riches, honor, long life and a wise and discerning heart(1 Kings 3:1-14). But Solomon, even after a very promising start, ended up a failure, far from God and everything this psalm speaks about.

He went from a wise judge(1 King 3:27) to losing all judgment when it came to his allegiances (1 Kings 11:3-6)

He experienced unparalleled peace and prosperity in Israel, but underlying all of this, his actions were setting the stage for Jeroboam to plot revolt(1 Kings 11:26) and ultimately plunge his kingdom into civil war.

He established a worldwide legacy for his wisdom (1 Kings 10) and yet could not pass on any of that wisdom to his own son and successor Rehoboam, who was one of the biggest boneheads in all the Bible (see 1 Kings 12)

He wrote some of the most wise and beautiful writings in all of human history (Proverbs, Eccleasianstes, Song of Songs) and then proceeded to break all his wise sayings and make a mockery of love. (Having 700 wives and 300 concubines will do that to a man.)

What Solomon needed was not more money or power or wisdom. What Solomon needed was a Savior. And through Jesus, this same psalm turns into a promised made and kept. This psalm, like the rest of the entire Scripture, is Messianic- all about Jesus Christ. This psalm gives us hope, because it introduces the One King who's judgments are perfect, who is the Prince of Peace, who has redeemed us by His precious blood, who has be granted all authority in Heaven and Earth.

He alone cannot fail. Today, would you go to him with all your failure and all you mistakes, and ask that He makes "all things new" (Rev. 21:5)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

this is your song

The Word for today:
Psalms 70 & 71

I cry at Psalm 88.

I take courage in Psalm 23.

I avert my eyes from Psalm 22.

I share the shame in Psalm 51.

I thirst in Psalm 63.

Having entered Psalm 91, I am held in its sway, unwilling to leave it.

All of creation sings Psalm 103 in flawless unison, in harmony so perfect as to be one voice.

Psalm 119--all 176 verses--is a long list of my priority. That's right, my single priority.

Psalm 139 is too personal for me to share.


I have an old Gideon Bible, an old KJV. Its cover came off, so cover and pages are now joined by a rubber band. I get a kick out of it, because much of the Bible back then, ten years ago, was uncharted territory. I don't know where I was or what I was up to, but in big letters next to Psalm 71, it says this:

"I love Psalm 71."

That's it. No explanation, just gushing love.

I run every day, no matter the month of the year or my season in life. I know a lot of runners. Many of them run with MP3's. Many of them listen to a pre-set selection as they run. Out of 5000 songs, they pick a dozen--the same dozen every day--and when the set is over, so is that day's run.

There are 150 Psalms. Every one of them is somebody's favorite song.

Listen to all of them, but it's OK to play favorites. Play 'em again and again and again. Play 'em 'til you run out of time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jesus Christ on Every Page

Psalm 69

In college, I once had the privelege of reading that great passage from Isaiah 53 as part of a "theater project." I tried to set some atmoshpere with some props and background music, but that really did not work out. I was a bit nervous about doing the scripture justice before a non-Christian audience. I sweated my way through the "performance," received some polite applause and sat down at my seat, relieved.

The next conversation I had still is a highlight in my college memories of the power of God's word, especially in the eyes of non-believer. I was not sure where my teacher was coming from, only I knew that it was not exactly from a Christian perspective. Right away she had a few questions in front of the rest of the class.

"I thought that Isaiah was in the Old Testament, right?"

"Yes" I replied.

"But that passage is about Jesus."

"Right" I said.

"That's wild" she said and then moved on to the next victim of dreaded theater project.

The whole Bible is the Word of God and therefor the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments, is really the story of Jesus Christ. My theater teacher, in this case, saw that truth. But sadly many Christians miss it. We think somehow that the Old Testament has not much to do with us or our relationship with Christ. We somehow think that all we need is the New Testament books. We are mistaken.

Isaiah 53 is perhaps the clearest passage we have of Christ's sufferings in the Old Testatment. I would say that this Psalm would come in second (tied with Psalm 22). Many of its verses or ideas are quoted or referenced in the New Testament. This Psalm beautifully describes the trials and sufferings of King David, who was an ancestor and a prototype of Jesus Christ

But even as great and beloved as David was, we see the superiority of Jesus in this Psalm. There are many similarities, but also some key differences:
- Both these men found themselves in a desparate situation [v. 1-2]
- Both felt for a time forsaken by God [v. 3, Mt. 27:46]
- Both had fierce enemies, despite being innocent [v.4, Lk. 23:41]
- Both endured scorn and shame for God's sake[v. 7, Lk. 22:63]
- Both felt alienated from their own family [v. 8, Jn. 7:5]
- Both were passionate for God & His holy name [v. 9, Jn. 2:16]
- Both were made fun of [v. 11, Mk. 5:40]
- Both were offered nasty drinks in the time of their pain [v. 20, Mk. 15:36]

But David was a sinner[v.5], and Jesus was without sin [Heb. 4:15]
- David was ultimately rescued[v. 18], but Jesus willingly gave up His life [Jn. 10:18]
- David prayed for vengence [vs. 22-23], Jesus prayed for forgiveness [Lk. 23:34]
- David asked for his enemies to be deserted [v. 25], Jesus himself was deserted [Mk. 14:50]
- David prayed for their damnation [v. 27], Jesus's death brings salvation [1 Co. 15:3]
- David requested that they be blotted out of the book of Life, Jesus Himself has written our names into the Book of Life [Rev. 21:27]

David was a great man of God, but he, like everyone else in history pales in comparison to the Son of God- Jesus Christ. Don't miss His story, on every page of Scripture!

like trees walking

The Word for today:
Psalm 69

{Today, your friendly blogger will write about the first day of Sunday school following a summer sabbatical. Pastor Joe will blog more specifically on Psalm 69.}

I hadn't taught in months and I was pumped, ramped, and amped for the first day of Sunday school. When the time arrived, I opened my Bible, adjusted a microphone, and was raring to go--ready to teach everything I know to everybody; to peer into the sun of righteousness and never blink; to look into the ark of the covenant and live to tell about it; to ride the whirlwind with Elijah and launch into ever deeper water with Ezekiel, to go the extra mile, to walk in the Spirit down the road to Emmaus...
Easy, Trigger, I told myself. Take a deep breath, don't get ahead of yourself, and remember that sometimes you've got to get them to see trees walking before they can see Jesus.

Say what?

I inhaled slowly, deeply, as I looked out over the students. There were teenagers mixed in with grandfathers mixed in with young Moms. There were doctors and secretaries, teachers and students, businessmen and laborers, ties and t-shirts, blue and white collars.

Some of them were ready--Bibles opened, pencils poised in the air--to be immersed, inundated, saturated, and baptized in scripture's deeper waters. Some of them didn't look like they could even swim. Give 'em Jesus, just give 'em Jesus, I reminded myself. He'll relate on every level.

Shelley, who'd been scurrying to get binders and class notes to every student. then scurried to the front of the room to focus the projector. When I refer to a verse of scripture, her lightning-like fingers make a few computer keystrokes and--presto--the verse is on the wall. Very often, scary often, she'll anticipate a verse before it arrives in my mind, and it's on the wall before I speak it.

"Ready, Shellster?" She nods. So I gather their attention, and say a short prayer.

"Please turn to Genesis 1:1." It's on!

Biblical clarity doesn't always arrive all at once. Jesus knows that. He even gave Sunday school teachers and students a miracle all our own! You'll find it in Mark 8:22-25. I know it's meant to encourage teachers, because Jesus "took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town." The tutor in biblical times (see Galatians 3:24) led the students by the hand to school.

And I know it's meant to encourage Bible students, because the man recovered his sight in stages--a little at a time, just like we learn! After the first stage of Jesus' treatment, the man looked around and said that people looked "like trees walking." So Jesus administered further treatment. This time the man saw clearly. Jesus the Healer could have healed him all at once. But Jesus the Teacher took him by the hand and clarified the truth one stage at a time.

Too soon the hour reached its end. As I packed up my things, I overheard a couple of Bible veterans, talking scripture as they were leaving. Two teenage boys were still in their chairs, poring over their Bibles together. In my neck of the woods, when students leave a late September Sunday school class discussing scripture and not the Buffalo Bills, it's been a good day.

Somehow Jesus had met each one of them. And from right where they happened to be, he'd led each one individually--by the hand, so to speak--to a greater clarity.

The man in Mark 8 who saw men as trees walking saw Jesus, at first, in the same way. Jesus was blurry, indistinct, his features muted and melted together.

If it looks that way to you, if you sense that Jesus is out of focus, I urge you to attend a good Sunday school class. Find a real Bible-honoring church and they will have one that's right for you.

You might not have been to Sunday school since you were fourteen. Or you might be fourteen. Whoever you are, a welcoming hand's been held out to you. Take it. Focus.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the face of God, with a job to do

The Word for today: Psalms 66 & 67 mark these: Psalm 67:1-2 -- May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 2 Corinthians 4:6 -- For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. What is a face? Is it something to just look at? Or does it have a job to do? Scripture tells us that a face has work to do. A face is like a projector (1); it shows us what's going on inside. God wears his heart on his sleeve, so to speak. He makes his heart plain to see. We see God's heart in Jesus. When God was sad, Jesus cried (2). When God was angry, Jesus withered and blistered the opposition, cleared their polluted temple, and told them just what they could do with their pious pretense. When God was happy, Jesus was overjoyed (3). Jesus is the express image of God (4). What does that mean? It means that Jesus expresses God so that we can understand Him: God made his face to shine upon us, so that his way may be known on earth, his saving power among all nations (5). The "incarnation"--when God the Son was born a man at Bethlehem--was God's expression of himself in terms we could understand. What better way to express your heart than to give it a face? And what better way to express your Word? So the Word of God became flesh and dwelt amongst us (6). We couldn't understand God's Word until he put it in human terms--Jesus. Deep inside everyone who trusts in Jesus lives God himself--God the Spirit. But the people in your neighborhood and at your school can't see God except when they see another incarnation--the body of Christ, which is the church (7)--which is made up of you and me. So you and I--the church--are the only Jesus they can see. We are the face of God. As the face of God, we've got a job to do: Let your light so shine, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (8). By the way, you're getting better looking every day! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (1) see 2 Corinthians 4:6 (above); (2) John 11:35; (3) Luke 10:21; (4) Hebrews 1:3; (5) see Psalm 67:1-2 (above); (6) John 1:14; (7) Colossians 1:24; (8) Matthew 5:16

The Lord gave his Word

The Word for today:
Psalm 68:19-35

mark this: 68:11--
The Lord gave the Word.

I'm not a big deal, or even a medium deal. I struggle to write these meager sentences. I didn't grow into much wisdom, or stature, or favor with man. I bet you aren't a real big deal either.

But here's the Good News: you and I are a big deal to God.

I can't get enough of many of the Psalms, and Psalm 68 is one of them. I'll never forget the first time I read Psalm 68. There's a great ceremony, a procession of mighty princes into God's sanctuary--the princes of Judah, the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali!

But here's the part I'll never forget: There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead (1).

I've known disgrace. Certainly I know sin. I've known years--entire years--when I could not summon a single reason to smile.

If you're little like Benjamin, or lonely, or bound--in addiction, depression, or circumstances beyond your control--re-read this Psalm. This one's for you. Because when the Lord gave the Word (2), the world turned upside down, so that many who are first shall be last, and the last first (3).

When the Word became flesh (4), he was just another baby in out-of-the-way Bethlehem. But he stayed true. He lived true. He died staying true. And he was too true for death to contain.

So he ascended on high, leading a host of captives (6). The lonely weren't lonely anymore. They have a Father and a family now. The prisoners were set free (7).

Follow him. He's been everywhere. He was born in a stable, where the sacrificial lambs stayed. But he didn't stay down. He climbed a high hill. He was lifted up on a cross, suspended between man and God. Then he ascended on high.

And you can too. All because the Lord gave his Word.

(1) Psalm 68:27; (2) Psalm 68:11; (3) Matthew 19:30; (4) John 1:14; (5) Isaiah 11:6; (6) Psalm 68:18; (7) Psalm 68:5-6; (8)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

nearing the cross, step by step

The Word for today:
Psalm 68:1-18

[Note: Today, Stand in the Rain will take the opportunity to reply to a specific question we were asked--in order to explain the important scriptural principle of progressive revelation.]

Q. Psalm 63:11 says, "But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God's name will praise him, while the mouth's of liars will be silenced." But James chapter 5:12 tells us not to swear an oath at all--just state what you mean so as to not diminish what you are saying: "Above all, my brothers, do not swear - not by heaven or earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned." - - - Please help us out here.

A. Wow. That's an all-encompassing question. So, first we must lay down some general principles:

1. The Bible doesn't contradict itself if verses are taken in their context. But oftentimes the context isn't just a paragraph or two, or even the whole book in which the verse is found. Sometimes, "the context" is the entire Bible! The context needed to answer your question is an example of this principle. That's why your question is all-encompassing.

2. The Bible progressively reveals truth, as it leads us nearer and nearer to its heart--the cross. Ultimate truth, held in God's mind, has never changed. But God reveals truth in stages, in order to be understood. One piece of the truth had to be revealed in order for the next piece to be understood, in order for the next piece, in order for the next piece. (In the New Testament, for example, God reveals "mysteries." (1) They are not mysteries now, because they've been revealed. But at the time they were mysteries, because they were not revealed in the Old Testament.

So truth is on it's way, but not all at once.

I now know a lot of things I did not know as a child, and I act differently because of what I now know. But that does not mean that I, as a man, am in contradiction to that child. As I grew up my understanding grew up, and now I know better. Paul speaks of progressive understanding in the last part of 1 Corinthians 13:
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Now, back to the specific question--

Q. Psalm 63:11 says, "But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God's name will praise him, while the mouth's of liars will be silenced." But James 5:12 tells us not to swear an oath at all--just state what you mean so as to not diminish what you are saying: "Above all, my brothers, do not swear - not by heaven or earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned." - - - Please help us out here.

A. Let's follow the idea of "swearing" (an oath, not profanity) through scripture, and we will sense the progressive unveiling of truth. Let's look at Deuteronomy, one of the earliest books in the Bible:
Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you. (
Deuteronomy 6:13-14)

These verses show us a picture of Israel when it was being established as a monotheistic nation (believing in one God) in contrast to the polytheistic (many-god) nations all around them.
The issue in these verses is not the swearing of oaths, though that is mentioned. The issue being developed is that there is but one God and his name is "Jehovah" (2). God's intention here--first things first--is to get them to direct their religious practices, such as oath-taking, towards the one true God. Later on he will work on the religious practices themselves.

God does not mind showing us these "baby pictures" of Israel as they grow up. They weren't where they were ultimately going, but they were learning to walk, so to speak.

We see this same willingness of the Bible to factually depict relationships. David's life and his growing relationship with God are recorded truthfully, 'warts and all.' Certainly, not everything in his life conforms to God's ultimate truths.

One of the wonderful things to be seen in David's relationship with the LORD is that God understands that as we learn to walk we will sometimes fall down. God's concern isn't primarily with the falling, but with the getting up! David fell in Psalm 51, but he gets up and his soul is following hard after God in Psalm 63. God, through the cross of Christ, will forgive and forever forget the sin.
But in his Father's heart, he will forever cherish--and replay--the memory of that child picking himself up and ever more passionately following hard after God's heart.

David in Psalm 63:11 is acting on the truth he's been given in the writings of Moses. He is not contradicting the Bible he had. Remember that the "Bible" David had consisted of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth--and some of the Psalms that were written in his journal! That's all.

When Jesus comes along, he furthers our understanding about many things, including oaths:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

Then James (as you so aptly noted in your question) quotes his half-brother Jesus in this regard (3). So on the issue of oath-taking, that is where we stand today.

David lived in the age of law; which was preparing the world for the age of the Holy Spirit in which we now live; which is preparing the world for the age of glory to come.

Until then, we are undergoing development, too, learning to walk in the Spirit (4). As we do, we fall, we get up, and we keep on following.
Someday, it wouldn't surprise me if God shows some of the "home movies" of when we learned to walk in the Spirit--just as we've been shown the learning process of the children of Israel in scripture.

It was necessary to draw from a lot of the Bible to answer this excellent question--which illustrates that the context of any Bible verse is the whole Bible.

That's why we "stand in the rain"--all the way from Genesis to Revelation.

(1) Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 15:51; Ephesian 3:9; Colossians 1:26; et al.; (2) "Jehovah," also pronounced "Yahweh," is rendered "LORD" (all capitals) in most English Bibles; (3) James 5:12; (4) Romans 8:1,4; 2 Corinthians 12:18; Galatians 5:16, 25.

Friday, September 18, 2009

All Nations, Under God

Psalm 66 & 67

The other day my son Aiden was asking about where Jesus lived on our planet. I told him about Israel and then he wanted to see it on a world map. I found it, but to try to point it out to him was difficult, seeing as it could have been covered by half of a Cheerio. Israel is so tiny- about 8,500 square miles, which makes it smaller than every state except Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island.

That's what makes God's choice of Israel so odd to people, both then and now. That of all nations, God would choose this little slice of land, one that has been continually surrounded by much larger and stronger and more prosperous nations since its beginning. So when you read the language of Psalms 66 & 67 it is mind boggling that a person from tiny Israel would speak these "global" words:

"All the earth will shout. All the earth will bow down. All mankind benefits directly from God's works. All peoples are to praise God. Gods ways will be known all over the earth and His salvation among all nations. The nations will be glad because He is the Ruler and Guide of all of them. The ends of the earth will fear Him."

Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament, which focuses so much around the Jewish people and their land, is a book full of God's plan for the entire world. Consider God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that though him "all peoples will be blessed." Look at Exodus 19:5-6 and see how Israel is to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" - the means that God uses to reach the entire world. God's heart is always bigger than our locality or region or state or nation!

I am grateful to God for His commitment to the entire planet. He calls us to "go and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19)" because He is already committed to have people "from every nation, tribe, people and language (Rev. 7:9)" as part of His Kingdom.

Remember that the Gospel is in fact good news. All over the world, people are in desperate need of its message: whether it is the Hindu who is being crushed by the caste system or the animist who lives in dread of the spirit world or the Atheist who has no reason for any hope at all or the Muslim who can never measure up to what he is supposed to believe or to the nominal "Christian" who's everyday life is devoid of Christ. All humanity is in bondage to sin, and Christ alone can set us free. The best news that a human being can know is Jesus.

Despite its humble beginnings, Israel is God's chosen nation. Despite His humble beginnings, Jesus Christ is God's chosen Messiah. And despite our humble beginnings, the Gospel that God has entrusted us is the Greatest News the world could every hear. Make His message known!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

shine, Jesus, shine--and sparkle!

The Word for today:
Psalms 64 & 65

mark this: Psalm 65:5-7

Matthew 8:26 --

O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,

who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,

who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves.
"You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Yesterday, in Psalm 63, and the day before in Psalm 62, we saw a God we could cling to. We got up close and personal.

How deeply loving God is! My Savior, my Forgiver, sometimes even--dare I say it--my Friend; ever and always the Love of my life. There are moments in the Psalms where it's just the two of us:
God alone is my hope, my rock, my salvation;
my fortress, my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge
(from Psalm 62:5-7).

Then turn the page and God is no longer on the personal level, but on the universal level--as the Lord of all creation, as Master over its elements,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,

who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,

who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves
(from Psalm 65:5-7; see Matthew 8:26).

Find him today on every level you can: is he your Savior? Then make sure he's the Lord of your life as well. Do you cling to him? Then make sure you revere him as well.

The miner takes an uncut diamond from the earth. The jeweler cuts it at angles in order to create various planes called facets. Each of these many facets, when the diamond on a ring moves ever so slighty, will catch and reflect the light, so that the gem doesn't just shine but sparkles.

Jesus shines in each of his innumerable facets.
He shines on a personal level, when it's just me and him--as my Savior, my Healer, the Love of my life, my Teacher, my Friend...
He shines on the universal level--as the Lord of Creation, the Mighty Warrior, the Prince of Peace...

But it's when we get to know him as all of these--and all of these at once--that Jesus doesn't just shine, he sparkles!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

this time, fall in love

The Word for today:
Psalm 63

mark this: 63:8--
My soul follows hard after thee. (KJV)

I've got this blog to write today, because I promised a lot of people that I'd keep after it.

But what do you say about Psalm 63--about love such as this? It's slightly unsettling to be in the presence of the relationship, the desire, in these lines. I feel like the third wheel, even a wee bit creepy and voyeuristic.

David thirsts, faints, beholds, praises, blesses, overtly expresses, and meditates. He is satisfied, he is joyful, he is upheld by the right hand of God.

He clings, he lingers, he follows hard after God.

This is the man after God's own heart (1).

I return, in the course of a year, many times to Psalm 63, to get a preview of where my relationship with Jesus is heading. I am not there yet, but I'm after it, and I'm closer than I was yesterday.

But we must leave this love story now. There's a time to read love stories, and there's a time to live out a love story of your own.

Everything in the Bible, and everything in creation, in history, in space, in time and in timelessness--all of it leads to the cross of Jesus Christ. And the reason for that cross was to restore the loving relationship with God that we were meant for, the kind we see in Psalm 63.

So here's the shortest Bible course ever taught:
God's heart was broken in the Garden, it bled on the cross, and was whole again in Psalm 63.

The Bible is about the heart of God. You and I and David are just following hard after.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that there is a bit--a little bit--about you and me in Scripture:
before the cross, we'd fallen in sin. After the cross, we fell in love.

So fall in love, and keep on falling.

(1) 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Harp Hero

Psalm 62

Another great Psalm written by David, but don't forget the musical arranger to this brilliant composition, one Jeduthun. Remember that the ascription (the stuff before the first verse in many Psalms)is just as inspired as the rest of the Bible. This fellow Jeduthun is easily skipped over by the casual reader, but he is in there for a reason.

Today, a very popular video game is called Guitar Hero. It has sold millions of units and allows people (mainly teenage boys) to think that they are skilled at guitar when really all they are is skilled at rapid button pressing. Jeduthun was the original Guitar Hero er, I mean, Harp Hero. Only he actually had real talent. He is the musical composer of at least 3 Psalms (39, 62 & 77) and most likely more, as he was one of the "directors of music" that are not mentioned by name 38 times in the Psalms.

From 1st Chronicles, we learn that he was also named Ethan (6:4). He was a chief musician for King David, in charge of the trumpets and cymbals (16:41-42). We also a seer/prophet who used a harp to proclaim the word of the Lord (25:1-3). That is quite the resume. Furthermore, if you look up 2nd Chronicles 5, you will find that amazing account of the dedication of Solomon's Temple when the LORD God filled the entire place with His glory. And right there in verses 12 & 13, there's our friend Jeduthun, leading the trumpets, cymbals and voices as they worship the Living God.

What a beautiful illustration for us. We too sing and make music for a King. He, like David, does all the writing- the words are His. But in His mercy He allows us to sing His song in our own unique tune and arrangement. Every Christian has the joy and duty of being a modern day Jeduthun- sing loudly for Him!

pour out your heart

The Word for today:
Psalms 61 & 62

Mark this: 62:8--
Trust in him at all times;
Pour out your hearts to him.

I and my family are blessed in about a zillion ways that I know of--and, I suspect, in a zillion ways I'm unaware of.

One of our great blessings is that we go to a real Bible church. It's not too big and it's not too small. It's just right.

We have musicians who sing/play real Bible songs, old and new, with Spirit-driven giftedness. We have Sunday school teachers who tell real Bible stories to the kids, loving them to pieces as they do.

Adult Sunday school classes are short on worldly philosophy and long on Jesus, the real Jesus-- not the movie Jesus but the biblical Jesus: the lamb slain from the foundation of the world; the creator of the universe; the sinless Son of God, born of a virgin, who performed miracles, taught the precepts of his kingdom, and died on the cross to save us from our sins; who rose from the dead; who lives forever to keep us saved; who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom will never end.

We have a youth pastor who delights in life, carrying a big red Bible in a banana box wherever he goes. You read that correctly. He carries his big Bible in a banana box--along with sundry other items he'll be needing that day--like candy, shoestrings, a measuring cup. (How the rest of us manage to get through the day without a measuring cup is hard for him to fathom.) Best of all, my teenage sons note that he not only carries the Bible, but opens it often and avidly, and teaches from it with reverence, enthusiasm, and skill.

We have a senior pastor who does the heavy lifting--lifting all our spirits as he lifts up Jesus. He boils complex things down for us so we can understand. Right now he is teaching us that prayer is not just about asking for things all the time. Prayer is about connecting with God, it's about expressing your heart to God, it's about a relationship with God in the making.

Yesterday he taught the acronym ACTS--a pattern that's been proven to activate more well-rounded prayer:
Adoration (praise)
Supplication (the "asking" part of prayer).

Then he reminded us that the Psalms are the Bible's prayer book. Between the lines of the Psalms we can feel the passion, power, and personality of prayer. We can see the relationship between God and David grow before our very eyes as David pours out his heart in prayer.

I don't know who you are or where you are. But wherever you happen to be, find a real Bible church with real Bible teachers and pastors, who pray real Bible prayers to God the Father through the real Jesus, the biblical Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit--the Spirit which infuses the prayers of the Psalms.

Sit outside in the parking lot on a Sunday morning. Are they carrying Bibles through those doors? If not, go home. If they are, go inside. Are they referring to those Bibles in Sunday school and in the sermon?

And if, while you're surveying the scene, you see a man carrying a big red Bible in a banana box, then look no further. You've found a real Bible church!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Look Mom! I'm Standing in the Rain!

Psalms 58, 59 & 60

If Charlie Kephart can do it, so can I! I decided to join him and Stand in the Rain. I am excited at the opportunity to join with my brothers & sisters in Christ as we journey together in GOD's Word. I plan on writting in every few days or so to complement the great job Franklyn is already doing. So here goes.

Wow! What a place to start! Great idea to begin with the Psalms. As I read these three, I was struck by the very vivid language and images that David used in these three Psalms. These are not polished press releases sent out by David's public relations team, these are the very words and feelings straight from his heart, totally unfiltered and unedited. I love his honesty and the fact that God's Word is full of real people with real emotions and real problems. We can learn a lesson on putting away the masks and facades we wear from this.

In the midst of these three psalms, we encounter some of David's pain and difficulties. We see his intense frustration with wicked men carrying out their wicked plans. We hear his pleas for help as he is being hunted down by King Saul. We listen to his feelings of helplessness as he faces defeat in battle. In all of this he uses vivid word pictures to convey his raw emotions. His enemies are poisonous and untamed snakes; they are snarling dogs that "belch out with their mouth." (1) And David uses some choice words in his call for justice against the wicked. He prays that God will knock them toothless, that He will melt them away like a snail, that He will poke fun at them and consume them.

In all of this, David is learning some important lessons. In Psalm 58 he learns that despite how things appear, God is the Righteous Judge who will hold the entire world accountable.
In Psalm 59 David learns that God is our Strenght and Defense. He is our place of refuge in an unfair world. And in Psalm 60, David learns just how weak the help of man is, but how with God he is able to "do vailiantly."

(1)Psalm 59:7 KJV

God raises a banner

The Word for today:
Psalm 60

mark this: 60:4-5 --
But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow.
Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love may be delivered.

Many of the Psalms contain an "ascription" (1) at the beginning. Don't neglect to read these. They are part of the inspired text of the Bible.
The ascription tells us by whom the Psalm was written--or for whom, to whom, about whom, about what.

The ascription for Psalm 60 tells us that this Psalm is "for teaching." So what is it that we are to learn? What is Psalm 60 teaching us?

Psalm 60 presents a battle scene, with Israel in a desperate situation, fighting for their lives. Worst of all, it seems that God has deserted their cause.

But just when the people think that all is lost, God Himself raises a banner way up high (2).

Psalm 60 is teaching us that God hasn't rejected us. In fact, when God seems far away and disinterested in our struggles it's almost always because we have stopped looking for his guidance and direction.

So what does he do when we stop looking his way? He grabs a pole and attaches a banner or flag to it. God himself holds it up high to attract our attention.

He's calling out to us: "No, no; don't go that way! Go this way! I'm over here! Rally around me! I'll lead you to safety."

When God wanted to show us the way out of our ultimate struggles--out of sin and death--he lifted up a banner. But it was not a banner made of brightly colored cloth. God's banner was made of the most remarkable thing!--
His banner over me is love (3).

And what a love this was--the most amazing, mind-boggling, perfect, never-ending love.

The banner called out, "This is the way! Come this way, and I'll get you out of here alive. Don't lose sight of me, and I'll get you home!"

Just before Jesus died on the cross, he told us that he would be lifted up in order to draw our attention and show us the way:
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (4).

Look up. See that banner? That's what love looks like.

(1) also called "superscription"; (2) Psalm 60:4; (3) Song of Solomon 2:4; (4) John 12:32

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"to judge, to save"

The Word for today:
Psalms 58, 59

mark this: 58:11

Q. In the Psalms, David often prays for God to judge his enemies. Is that a bad thing for David to pray?
A. No. Without judgment, there is no salvation. Unless Jesus is Judge, he can't be our Savior.
Q. How's that work?
A. Here's an example:
The judgment of Pharaoh's army, drowned in the sea, was the salvation of the children of Israel (1). The very same thing that was salvation for one was judgment for the other (2).

Here's how Psalm 76 explains it:
From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet--
when you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land

But the picture of the salvation of Israel at the Red Sea was just a foretaste of the cross--when God judged Jesus in order to save us. There is no salvation without judgment.

Jesus came the first time as the Suffering Servant (4), in order to save us from our sins. He will come a second time as Judge (5), in order to save us from our enemies.

Whether Suffering Servant or Judge, he's our Savior.

(1) see Exodus 14; (2) see 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (3) Psalm 76:8-9; (4) see Isaiah 52:13-53:12; (5) John 5:22-27

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.

The Word for today:
Psalms 56, 57

mark this: 56:3--
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.

When you follow God's way, when you stand for his truth, when you live a life pleasing to him, you will encounter enemies and obstacles and opposition. The person who proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ and backs up his words with a life in alignment with Jesus' teachings is a threat to the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (1).

David's enemies are relentless:
All day long, David writes in Psalm 56, they twist my words;
they are always plotting to harm me.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
eager to take my life

In Psalm 57, David is in the midst of lions;
among ravenous beasts--
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords

In the world's most famous poem--Psalm 23--David, in the presence of his enemies, is walking through a dark, frightening place. But he fears no evil, because God is with him.

You will encounter lions and Goliaths. But they are more afraid of Jesus than you are of them. The Lion of Judah (4) is bigger, stronger, and braver than any lion or giant you will ever face.

(1) Ephesians 6:12; (2) Psalm 56:5-6; (3) Psalm 57:4; (4) Revelation 5:5

Friday, September 11, 2009

the enemy within

The Word for today:
Psalm 55

mark this: 55:12-14

Psalms 52 through 55 present pictures of the enemies of our souls.

Yesterday we saw that Psalms 52, 53, and 54 were pictures of the deceiver in our midst, energized and directed by the spirit of antichrist.

The deceiver in the midst of the Garden of Eden was in the guise of a serpent.

The deceiver in the midst of King David's court was Ahithophel, the brilliant political strategist who deserted David, joining David's son Absalom in civil war. Like the serpent in the garden, Ahithophel's words were smooth as butter. But war is in his heart (1).

The deceiver in the upper room, at Jesus' Last Supper, was Judas Iscariot. Judas' betrayal was the unkindest cut of all:
If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.

But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God

As we saw yesterday, this pattern will persist when the Antichrist will betray the nation of Israel. He will pretend to be their friend, will make a covenant with them and then will betray them.

So we see evidence of this pattern yesterday and tomorrow. But what about today?

The deceiver is in our midst today--just as he was in the Garden of Eden, in King David's court, and in the upper room. There are churches with steeples, and even crosses atop those steeples, which deny the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ:
There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them (3);
and which deny the power of God's Holy Spirit:
having the appearance of godliness, but denying the power thereof (4).

The most harmful enemies of the church have not attacked from outside her walls. They have craftily, subtly betrayed God from within. That is why we must diligently and constantly study God's Word--or else we, like Eve, will be deceived by smooth words, subtly twisted.

(1) Psalm 55:21; (2) Psalm 55:12-14; (3) 2 Peter 2:1; (4) 2 Timothy 3:5

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Guise of the Deceiver

The Word for today:
Psalms 52, 53, 54

mark this: Psalm 53:1

Psalms 52 through 55 contain shadowy references to the Antichrist, a person (1) who will appear and deceive the nations in the days just before the return of Jesus. This person will lie to the people about God and about Christ--exactly as Satan, appearing as a serpent, lied about God to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan's lies and deceiving schemes have never changed.

Through God's Word in the Old Testament, we knew a great deal about Christ before He appeared in person. Just so, the spirit of antichrist, now abroad in the world, is proclaiming Antichrist's doctrine prior to his actual appearance. His word and works are already on display, for all to see.

The spirit of antichrist (2) is just what it sounds like--a pervasive force opposed to Jesus Christ. Persistent and powerful voices in media, government, education, commerce, religion, so-called science, philosophy, law, and the arts are wed in conspiracy to deny God:
The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity. (Psalm 53:1)

He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)

{We will consider more about this matter when we look at Psalm 55 tomorrow. In the meantime, the Bible student should familiarize himself with the references listed below from 1 and 2 John. The upper and lower case instances of 'a(A)ntichrist' should be visually noted.}

(1) Antichrist, the person, has not yet appeared. He is denoted with the upper-case 'Antichrist' in 1 John 2:18.
(2) The spirit of antichrist, now in the world, is denoted with the lower-case 'antichrist' in 1 John 2:18, 4:3 and 2 John 1:7.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Count on the LORD

The Word for today:
2 Samuel 24

mark this: 24:10

Numbers. Statistics. How many. How much.

In a disappointing episode--a lapse of faith--David commands that the number of soldiers in his army be counted. When the tally was complete, there were well over a million soldiers at David's command.

David was not counting on the LORD here. He was counting on the might of his army.

But we are to place our confidence in the LORD:
Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,

but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight

Years and years before, facing the giant with only a sling and five smooth stones, David trusted in the LORD and not in his own strength. You don’t feel the need of God when you have one million men. When you have only a slingshot and five stones, you know you need Him.

If we're going to count, let's count on the LORD.

(1) Jeremiah 9:23-24

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

God forgets our sins--and publishes our poems!

The Word for today:
2 Samuel 23

mark this: 23:1-4

There is a storybook quality to the Bible for the child of God--for all who decide to go God's Way (1), following Jesus.

Underneath all of its spiritual and moral heaviness, behind its relentless display of our dark sins, shines a warm, guiding Light:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (2).

The child of God, turning the pages of his storyook Bible, finds that...

Our Father is kind and compassionate:
As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (3).

Our eldest Brother is brave and heroic:
He went out to search for us when we were lost. He found us and carried us home:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul (4).

And the selfless, whispering Holy Spirit--God's Promise to never leave us or forsake us (5), leads us in paths of righteousness for his name's sake (6).

Because of Jesus' work at the cross, God has not dealt with us according to our sins, or punished us according to our iniquities (7). The Good News--the gospel of Jesus Christ--is that God has chosen to forget our sins (8) and remember only the good things. He sees just the Jesus in us (9).

David is here called the sweet psalmist of Israel. God has forgotten David's sins, but recorded his poems in the Bible so that they will be forever read; the story of scripture is that the bad will come untrue, while the good will prevail.

And some day--some golden someday--we will see our fearless and valiant Brother, who found us and carried us home.

(1) see John 14:6; (2) John 1:5; (3) Psalm 103: 13-14; (4) Psalm 23:1-3; (5) see Joshua 1:5; Matthew 28:20; Luke 24:49; Acts 2:33; (6) Psalm 23:3; (7) Psalm 103:10; (8) Isaiah 38:17; (9) 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Monday, September 7, 2009

like a Rock

The Word for today:
2 Samuel 22

mark this: 22:2-4

In the Bible, relationship with God is life: those who are saved will forever be with God!

The unsaved don't die in the sense that they cease to exist. They continue to exist forever, but they die in the Biblical sense--they are forever separated from God.

Life, then, does not consist of breath or consciousness. Life consists of God.

When we have a right relationship with God restored through faith in Jesus Christ, we are enabled to really live.

David, the great poet, recognized God in all the experiences of life. Our chapter today--nearly word for word the same as Psalm 18--celebrates David's deliverance from his enemies and from death:
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.
Through faith in Christ, we also have been rescued from spiritual death at the hands of our enemies.

The more we study the Bible, the richer and deeper its words become. "The LORD is my rock" has some poetic meaning to the person unfamiliar with scripture; a rock is permanent, unmovable. But the Bible student who has followed the Rock, Jesus Christ (1), as He rolls all the way through the Bible--from Genesis to Gethsemane to Golgotha to glory--is blessed with a richness of meaning far, far beyond the mere natural understanding of a physical object.

So call upon the LORD Jesus Christ, the Rock. Build your life upon Him (2). So shall you be saved from your enemies.

(1) see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; (2) see Matthew 7:24-25

Sunday, September 6, 2009

no respecter of nations

The Word for today:
2 Samuel 21

mark this: 21:1

I don't fear what other nations might do as much as I fear what God might do.

What I fear in America are the choices of Americans--choices in lifestyle; choices in the voting booth. I fear our choices concerning God's standards, God's Word, God's Son.

America in so many ways has chosen to withdraw from God. What I fear is that God, no longer able to acquiesce to our choices, will have to withdraw His hand of blessing and protection over our nation.

What I fear is that God will keep His Word. In fact, I know He will.

Our scripture today indicates that God deals with nations. God judges nations. God holds nations responsible--it does not make any difference what nation it is. God judged Egypt. God judged Babylon. God judged Assyria, Greece, and Rome. And God will judge America.

His judgment, as indicated in our passage today, need not be dramatic. It wasn't lightning and thunder, fire and brimstone, earthquake or plague which overtook Israel. It was not something at all. It was a famine--a lack of something--which overtook Israel. God had withdrawn His blessing.

I certainly do not know if God's hand of blessing over America has been withdrawn. What I know from scripture is that God is no respecter of persons (1): if he judges Sally, he'll judge Sue. And He is no respecter of nations: if He judges Israel, He'll judge America, too.

He judged His very own Son--the apple of His eye (2)--when my sins were placed upon Him at the cross.

Any sins--personal or national--not placed upon Jesus through faith will be judged. God's Word says so.

(1) Acts 10:34; (2) Zechariah 2:8