Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New You!

The Word for today:
Isaiah 38, 39

mark this: Isaiah 38:1-2

Did Isaiah the prophet, speaking the Word of God, make a mistake? It might look that way:
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover." Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD. (Isaiah 38:1-2)

But the prophets' pronouncements of judgment were spoken with the understanding that God would love for us to turn the tables!

God has prophets preach judgment so that repentance results. Repentance then removes the necessity for judgment. It is always to be understood that if we repent, He'll relent! (See Jeremiah 18:7-8; Jonah 3:10.)

Hezekiah's tearful, pleading prayer resulted in fifteen years added to his life. God literally turned back the clock!--
"'And this is the sign that the LORD will give you to prove he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun's shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!'" So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. (Isaiah 38:7-8)

Wouldn't it be great if we could turn back the clock? If we could start anew and do it right this time?

You can! That's the central prophecy of scripture!

You can turn back to God, just as surely as Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD.

Hezekiah's turning is a picture of what the Bible calls repentance. It's an acknowledgement that you are turning--turning from doing things your way; turning to God's way this time.

Q. What if I turn to God and screw up again tomorrow?
A. When you turn to God's way, that means you have turned to Jesus:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

If you've never turned from your way to God's Way--Jesus Christ--you can do it today. Then all the judgments pronounced by the prophets have been borne by Jesus Christ, paid in full at the cross.

So God will hold no sin to your account any more--no, not one.

Better yet, He doesn't just take away sin and leave you a blank slate. He also credits you with Jesus' perfect life and sinlessness:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And best of all, He sends the Holy Spirit to empower you to live out the life of Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:19-21)

God hopes with all His heart that you'll turn the tables on the judgments of the prophets. If you do, then you are born again. And He won't just dust you off and give you a new paint job. You'll be--through and through, from the inside out--a whole new you:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This isn't just reformation of the old you, leaving you cleaned up but still powerless against sin and the centripetal forces of self-centeredness.

This isn't reformation at all. We all tried that, and it never worked.

This isn't reformation. This is revolution. This is re-creation. This is resurrection.

This isn't just Happy New Year. This is Happy New You!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the real world, the real battle

The Word for today:
Isaiah 36, 37

mark this: Isaiah 37:14-15 --
Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD.

Scripture sometimes seems to lack a sense of the dramatic--or does it?

We read today of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers struck dead. Read carefully, or you will miss this miracle altogether. Scripture gives exactly one verse to its description:
And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. (Isaiah 37:36)

You'd think that something this remarkable deserves to be, well, more remarked upon!

And you'd be thinking correctly, because the real battle which defeated 185,000 soldiers is thoroughly described in verses 14-35 of chapter 37, where we hear the prayer of Hezekiah and the answer of the LORD through Isaiah, His prophet.

The real drama takes place in the real world. Hebrews 8:5 tells us that the physical world is just a copy and shadow of the spiritual world. The physical devastation of 185,000 soldiers is but an after-effect of the real battle which was waged through prayer. As an after-effect, it deserves but a verse.

E.M. Bounds, the great thinker and pray-er, wrote that "Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move God."

Join the battle. Don't worry too much about methods of prayer. Just get down in the trenches and fight. Prayer warriors are the infantry, the "grunts," of spiritual warfare. It's hard, dirty work, and nobody's getting rich or famous doing it.

But if you've tired of all the nonsense; if it's reality you're after; if you've had it with the pussyfooting and the preening and the posturing that passes for "spiritual," if you're through shadow-boxing, then pray.

Pray specifically for what you need. Pray for specific needs of specific people by their specific names. And don't get swept up in this current notion that prayer is all about praise and thanksgiving and meditation and confession. That pendulum has swung too far.

There's some of that and should be, but that's not the bulk of the warrior's prayer. When the warrior prays, he asks and keeps on asking until he gets an answer.

Fill your prayer with supplication and petition; ask away! Ask God to save souls and to save the day. Then keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. (Luke 11:9/AMP)

Let the blog writers write and the preachers preach and the singers sing. Let 'em all out-pretty one another.

But if you want to be worth 185,000 of the enemy in the service of the LORD Jesus Christ, pray.

The answer is up to God, but the asking is up to you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm the one Isaiah wrote about.

The Word for today:
Isaiah 33-35

mark this: Isaiah 35:5-6

John the Baptist knew his Bible.

But even John could get some of it mixed together and mixed up. So give yourself a break if images blend together as you read Isaiah.

The Stand in the Rain article which served as an introduction to Isaiah stated that "Isaiah can be challenging to read. Written in the most sublime Hebrew and bursting with shifting kaleidoscopic images, there can be nearly too much for the reader to take it all in."

Consider the challenges: How to present the eternal Word of God within the confines of time? within the limits of the Hebrew language? How to present the Lamb of God --who is the conquering Lion of Judah at the same time?

The mind races and reels and staggers at the linguistic calculus--impossible, but for the Spirit.

We are challenged as readers--and we are this side of the cross. Imagine being over there on that side.

John the Baptist was on the other side of the cross with Jesus. And the same spiritual, political, and religious forces which would crucify Jesus would decapitate John first.

He is representative of all of us as we try to understand all that Jesus was and is and is to be. How to ascertain the infinite through a finite mind, confined by language and time? Impossible, but for the Spirit.

So John did what you and I are going to do some day with many of the Bible questions we have. He sent his followers to ask the Teacher! --
"Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" (Matthew 11:3)

John had introduced Christ as one who would bring fierce judgment, who would "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12)

He was confused by the turn of events: he was imprisoned, and Christ was carrying on a ministry of healing, not judgment--in Galilee; not in Jerusalem, the city of the King. John wondered if he had misunderstood Jesus' agenda.

The Teacher told the messengers to remind John of this passage from Isaiah:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Jesus employed the Word of God to assure John that, "I'm the one Isaiah wrote about."

That's all John wanted, and needed, to hear.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Keep the spotlight on Jesus--and paint the porch!

The Word for today:
Isaiah 30:18-32:20

mark this: Isaiah 28:10
& this: Isaiah 31:1
& this: Isaiah 30:18

New Year's is such a comedown after Christmas.

Christmas in many homes still shines the spotlight on the Savior of the world.

But New Year's Day shines it right back on ourselves. It becomes all about what I'm going to do:
Resolved, for 2010--
1. I'm going to quit smoking.
2. I'm going to lose weight.
3. I'm going to exercise four times a week.
4. I'm going to bed earlier.
5. I'm going to watch less TV.
6. I'm going to paint the porch.

My advice is to save that list. Then you won't have to write it all down again next year. You can just cross out '2010' and write '2011.' Because the list will likely remain the same.

Reading through these last few chapters in Isaiah as we've approached the end of this year, I've made a short list of resolutions that swing the spotlight back on Jesus:

I purpose in my heart (1) that during 2010--
1. I will Stand in the Rain. (Isaiah 28:10)
2. I will look to God first. (Isaiah 31:1)
3. I will wait for God. (Isaiah 30:18)
4. I'm going to paint the porch, pre-Rapture.

1. I will 'Stand in the Rain.'
The greatest sin of Christianity is not hypocrisy or faithlessness. It's ignorance of the Word of God. Most have not read it. Fewer have systematically studied it. 'Stand in the Rain' is designed so that in three short years you will have read your Bible and systematically studied it from front to finish, guided by experienced Bible teachers. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to talk less and listen to God more. Many of us want to take a seminar or some two-week course which will provide the answer to our problems. That course doesn't exist. There is only one way to grow as a Christian. We grow like a plant grows, by letting the "rain"--God's Word--fall down upon us every day. God promises that His Word will achieve growth. This was the intention of Stand in the Rain from the start:
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Isaiah teaches us that our growth is gradual--
"For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little." (Isaiah 28:10) That's the biblical pace of growth. And it's exactly the pace we've set for "Stand in the Rain."

2. I will look to God first.
Where do you go for help? Do you look to your psychiatrist or the anti-depressant she gave you? Do you try to outwork your problems, or outrun them? Or do you type them into Google, 'cause Google knows all?

Scripture advises us to look to God first. That is not our natural inclination, but as the Spirit gains ascendancy over the old ways we used to rely on, we are to use the eyes of our hearts (2) to look to Him first:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the LORD.
(Isaiah 31:1)

3. I will wait for God.
Don't be in a hurry. Learn to wait upon the LORD. We are told that those who wait on the LORD will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). You cannot rush God. He is in no hurry. Maybe things aren't working out the way we think they should; perhaps we'd like to re-arrange them. But let God work them out. He orchestrates things so beautifully, bringing each note into the symphony just as it should be played, just when it should be played:

Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him. (Isaiah 30:18)

You could make your own list of biblically-inspired revolutions that is as good as this list. Just make sure that the spotlight stays on Jesus.

And for heaven's sake, paint that porch!

(1) Daniel 1:8; (2) Ephesians 1:18

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Isaiah 30:9-11 (ESV)
"They are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, "Do not see" and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."

My son Aiden has really strong feelings about what he can do, independent of my wife or me. And for some strange reason, he thinks his accomplishments are more significant if we don't see the process. So often I will walk into a room where he is working, or playing, or drawing and he will shout out "don't come in here Dad!" Evidently he's in the midst of something really important ( e.g. putting on his shoes, arranging the letters on the fridge into words, or just sneaking around), and he wants that to go unnoticed. He often says "Don't SEE me, Dad!"

My daughter Catherine loves her daddy, but she can't stand his beard. And while some people are the shave everyday type, that is not me. I like to actually see the stubble I am shaving off. So I will go a day or two between shavings, which means I never get razor burn! But for Catherine, that drives her crazy. Every time I kiss her goodnight or goodbye, whether on the cheek or the forehead or even the top of her head, she always says the same thing: "Dad, your beard is TOO rough!" No matter how lightly I kiss her, her reaction is always the same. That's why I make it a point to let her feel my cheek right after I have shaved. For that half of the day, she will come up and rub it and say, "That's so smooth Dad." I might even get a kiss from her.

Here in Isaiah 30, I find the people of Judah saying the same kind of things that my children often say, only they are much more childish than Aiden or Catherine. They are basically telling God's messengers "Don't see us!" and "Tell us only smooth things." They are not at all interested in what God has to say, they want nothing to do with Him, and only to escape from the consequences of their disobedience. That is a sad example of not only what happened back then, but also of what is very popular today: A smooth, easy religion that is never too rough or unpleasant, where somehow an all seeing, omniscient God doesn't see the evil things we do or think or say.

You will hear this idea touted all around the world, whether broadcast on Oprah or printed in the editorial room of any major newspaper or magazine. You will find it in any church that has put aside, or softened the message of Jesus Christ, in order to make it more paletable for the masses. This religion teaches that God never punishes or rebukes or even cares about our wrongs and only exists to help us live more fulfilled lives. It tells us that all dogs, or at least people, go to Heaven, that there is no Hell, that every religion is the same, and that the 10 commandments were just suggestions. It preaches that Jesus was a good man, just like Buddha, Muhammad and ourselves. There is certainly no room for the cross or even any kind of self-denial or sacrifice.

This tendency to worship what is smooth and easy may be the number one enemy of our souls in America. So often we really think this way. So often we are under the delusion that God somehow doesn't see our sin. But we are wrong.

The truth is that God "knows our deeds." (Rev. 3:15) Nothing is hidden from Him, not a single thought, motivation, attitude, word, or action. There is no place where we can hide from Him.

The truth is, God's true message will never be popular with the majority. Jesus Himself said: wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Mt. 7:13-14)

Do I really believe this? Am I okay with not being in the majority opinion? Am I okay that for most people in the world, and even sometimes for believers, God's word is "rough?" It often confronts us with the last thing we want to hear- the truth. May we never settle for anything less.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

you can't have one without the other

The Word for today:
Isaiah 28

mark this: Isaiah 28:21

Judgment is God’s strange (unfamiliar, foreign) work:
For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
(Isaiah 28:21/KJV)

Lamentations 3:33 tells us that God does not afflict willingly. The Amplified Bible translates the verse more literally: God does not afflict from his heart.

In 2 Peter 3:9, we read that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

But judge He does, for judge He must--because judgment is a necessary component of salvation. Judgment is as necessary a part of salvation as forgiveness is.

Consider: if God had not judged Egypt and Pharaoh--drowning them in the Red Sea--then Israel could not have been saved. Their sins were forgiven at Passover. Their deliverance wasn't complete until the judgment of Egypt at the Red Sea.

Satan's #1 strategy is to convince the world that God loves too much to judge. This strategy worked against Eve in the Garden of Eden, so Satan has used it ever since:

Eve: "God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, lest you die.'"
Serpent: "You will not surely die." (Genesis 3:3-4)

Satan has made great strides in convincing the world that God will capitulate to His loving, grace-filled heart. The child of God is to remember that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).

God will not capitulate, nor compromise his character, no matter the cost.

So to the cross He went, because sin exacts a price that will not go unpaid.

The reason Jesus is both Judge and Savior is because you can't have one without the other.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas with Emmanuel & Isaiah

The Word for today:
Isaiah 26, 27

O come, O come, Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14)
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
(Isaiah 11:1)
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
(Isaiah 9:2; Luke 1:78-79)
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
(Isaiah 22:22)
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
(Isaiah 11:2)
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel--which means, "God with us."
(Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
(Isaiah 11:1)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Isaiah 9:2/Luke 1:78-79 KJV)

The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.
(Isaiah 22:22)

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11:2)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

only with your eyes

The Word for today:
Isaiah 24, 25

mark this: Isaiah 24:1--
Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
and this: Isaiah 25:9--
In that day the people will proclaim, "This is our God. We trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, in whom we trusted. Rejoice in the salvation he brings!"
and this: Psalm 91:7-8
A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.

As chapter 24 opens, Isaiah takes a definite turn.

We saw nations dealt with individually in chapters 13 through 23:
Babylon in chapters 13-14;
Moab in 15-16;
Damascus in 17;
Ethiopia in 18;
Egypt in 19-20;
Babylon (again), Edom, and Arabia in 21;
the Valley of Vision in 22;
Tyre in 23.

But in chapter 24 the whole world (1) is in view and undergoes what Jesus described as "great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be (2).

During this period the whole world will be shaken and sifted to see if a kernel of faith remains; twisted and squeezed like a hand towel to see if there's a drop of faith left in the fabric:
Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. (3)

But those of you who have cast your lot with Jesus will never know that day:
You have obeyed my teaching about not giving up your faith. So I will keep you from the time of trouble that will come to the whole world to test those who live on earth (4).

On that day--the day of the LORD (5)--sin and death will be defeated, and the teardrop wiped away:
He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces (6).

The Great Tribulation will be the death throes of death. But it will not touch you whose salvation is Jesus, who will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." (7)

Because Jesus already went through the Great Tribulation for you,
A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked. (8)

Because Jesus already went through the Great Tribulation for you,
It will be said on that day, "This is our God. We trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, in whom we trusted. Rejoice in the salvation he brings!" (9)

(1) Revelation 3:10; (2) Matthew 24:21; (3) Isaiah 24:1; (4) Revelation 3:10/NCV; (5) Isaiah 13:9; (6) Isaiah 25:8; (7) Psalm 91:2; (8) Psalm 91:7-8; (9) Isaiah 25:9

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

it was sad when the great ship went down

The Word for today:
Isaiah 22:15-23:18

mark this: Isaiah 23:8-11 --
Who has purposed this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth...
He has stretched out his hand over the sea; he has shaken the kingdoms;
the LORD has given command.

Long ago and far away?

Is that the way we're to read the prophets? Are these messages to people of the past?

They were then. But they're aimed squarely at us now.

Today, in Isaiah 23, we'll be reading about the fall of Tyre. So what's that got to do with the USA--with you and me, in the 21st century?

Let's apply some deductive reasoning as we review some Biblical principles:

The prophet speaks to the people from God.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, we must deduce that the voice declaring these judgments is none other than the voice of Jesus.

The LORD God is no respecter of persons. (1)
God judged Israel, the apple of His eye; and God judged Jesus, His one and only Son.
Therefore, we must deduce that God will judge us as we sin the same sins that took Israel into captivity and Jesus to the cross.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (2)
He said what he meant and meant what He said--then.
Therefore, we must deduce that He's saying what he means and meaning what He says--now.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
The prophets speak a horrific, fear-inducing vision.
Therefore, we must deduce that God wants us to wise up!

You've heard the prophetic voice before. You've heard it excoriate the Pharisees. You've heard it command the natural realm, calming the sea. You've heard it command the spiritual realm; driving out demons, ordering Satan to get out of His sight.

Only time and space--history and geography--separate the United States from the commercial behemoth called Tyre which we read about in Isaiah 23. Essentially, we are they. They were merchants on many waters, the merchant of the nations. With unparallelled revenues, they were the stronghold of the sea.

When I was a kid, we sang a song at summer camp. It went like this:

Oh they built the ship Titanic
to sail the ocean blue.
And they thought they built a ship
that the water wouldn't go through.

But the good Lord raised his hand--
said, "This ship will never stand."
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Isaiah 23:11 shows the hand of the LORD, stretched out over the sea, commanding that the kingdoms be shaken.

It was sad when the great ship went down.

(1) Acts 10:34; (2) Hebrews 13:8; (3) Proverbs 9:10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Word for today:
Isaiah 20:1 - 22:14

My favorite rock 'n' roll song is from the sixties.
The song's lyrics are by (gotta be!) Bob Dylan, rock's greatest lyricist.
The best version of this song is by (gotta be!) Jimi Hendrix, rock's greatest guitarist.

It figures that during rock's greatest era, rock's greatest writer and rock's greatest musician should be able to cook up a decent song. They did:
All Along The Watchtower

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
none of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"there are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
while all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
When you read Isaiah 21 today, you'll be reading the words and images Dylan ripped off to "create" this song. I hope he tithed the royalties.

When you read Isaiah 21 today, you'll be encompassed by the vibe that Hendrix ripped off to "create" this song. Trust me, Hendrix did not tithe the royalties.

The song ends where Isaiah 21 begins, with a howling wind...
As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it comes from the wilderness, from a terrible land. (21:1)

...while there's a party going on:
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink. (21:5)

Amidst the celebration, a note of urgent alarm:
Arise, O princes, oil the shield! ( 21:5)

And a warning:
Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees. (21:6)

There's a sign:
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, let him listen diligently, very diligently. (21:7)

And its fulfillment:
Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord, continually by day, and at my post I am stationed whole nights.
And behold, here come riders, horsemen in pairs!

And its interpretation:
Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.

And even a growling lion:
A lion, my Lord! (21:8/NKJV)

You might not like rock 'n' roll. Maybe for you it's strictly classical or jazz or gospel. Whatever it is, it will have lasting merit only insofar as it echoes God's heart of hearts.

You might not like art. Maybe it's women where you find inspiring beauty. On your next girl-watching foray, consider that all--all--feminine beauty emanated from Eve. OK, you should breathe now.

Perhaps women aren't your cup o' tea. Pity. Maybe you like empirical sciences. Science, rightly understood, is but a truthful description of the inner workings of His creation.

You might not like science. Maybe it's theology your into. Theology, rightly understood, is but a truthful description of the redemption--the re-creation--wrought at the cross and confirmed by His resurrection.

We emanate from his breath. (1) We, at best, are only re-breathing his genius.

There's nor a song, nor a painting, nor a poem; nor a discovery, nor a patent, nor an invention; nor a sermon, nor a blog that hasn't re-gifted a talent received from the hand of God.

Even love, love itself, is merely re-gifted:
We love Him because He first loved us. (2)

You might as well give it to somebody else. It wasn't yours to begin with.

(1) Genesis 2:7; John 20:22; (2) 1 John 4:19

Monday, December 21, 2009

in thy dark streets shineth

The Word for today:
Isaiah 17-19

I used to be a student of literature. I read it all; the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Around and about my 40th year, I fell in love with Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

It was then that I forsook every other book. I didn't know it at the time, because it was never my intention to leave all else behind. But every other love grew pale by comparison. Yet even now, just a turn of the corner or a turn of the calendar page stirs up a line I thought I'd lost.

I pick up my sons after school and take them into the city, into Lockport, to run on these wintry afternoons. The houses block the wind in a city, making it far more hospitable for the runner. This morning Frankie reminded me to pick them up by 3:30, "Because today is the darkest day of the year, Dad. It's dark by 5:00." Then they were out the door and on the school bus.

Two of my favorite lines from all those forsaken books and poems came to mind as I watched them board their bus. In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost is drawn to the unfathomable:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

In "The Great Gatsby," Daisy Buchanan notes an unrequited longing:
"Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it!"

Israel's darkest days are noted by the prophets. We are in the midst of them in this portion of Isaiah.

But that's not how this ends. Beginning with chapter 40, the Light of the World will break forth upon these pages.

That pattern prevails across the pages of scripture, from the very beginning in Genesis 1:
Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And then God said, Let there be light.

Darkness is perpetually overtaken by the light:
And the evening and the morning were the first day; and the evening and the morning were the second day; and the third day; and the fourth; the fifth; sixth.

The night of sin--so pitilessly and relentlessly denounced by the prophets--is overtaken, on the last page of the last book of the prophets, when the Sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings. (Malachi 4:2)

The establishment of this biblical pattern is but a foreshadow of the One in whom all things consist. (Colossians 1:17)

The prophecy of judgment and the promise of forgiveness conjoined as God took the punishment for sin out on Himself:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

All things merged in Him. God's hatred of sin was visited upon Jesus as God forged His righteousness in us:
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The darkest day and the brightest day met in Him, then.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him, tonight.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Word for today:
Isaiah 14:24 - 16:14

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls sat untouched for approximately 2,000 years. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon the most important archaeological find in history...

They were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. This is an arid region 13 miles east of Jerusalem and 1,300 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea Scrolls are comprised of the remains of approximately 825 to 870 separate scrolls

Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?
Fragments of every book of the Old Testament have been discovered (except for the book of Esther.) The virtually intact Isaiah Scroll, which contains some of the most dramatic Messianic prophecy, is 1,000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah.

Dramatic Evidence for the Reliability of Messianic Prophecy

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide absolute evidence that Messianic prophecies contained in today’s Old Testament are the same Messianic prophecies that existed prior to the time Jesus walked on this earth.

"The Great Isaiah Scroll"
The Great Isaiah Scroll contains the entire book of Isaiah that we read today -- all 66 chapters!

Isaiah 53
The Dead Sea Scrolls have provided phenomenal evidence for the credibility of biblical scripture. Scholars have discovered a handful of spelling and tense-oriented scribal errors, but nothing of significance. Following is an English translation, literally rendered, of Isaiah 53 from the Great Isaiah Scroll. Remember, this text was dated 100 to 335 years before the birth of Jesus Christ!

Who has believed our report and the arm of YHWH to whom has it been revealed And he shall come up like a suckling before him
6. and as a root from dry ground there is no form to him and no beauty [+to him+] and in his being seen and there is no appearance
7. that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and knowing grief
8. and as though hiding faces from him he was despised and we did not esteem him. Surely our griefs he
9. is bearing and our sorrows he carried them and we esteemed him beaten and struck by God
10. and afflicted. and he is wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities, the correction
11. of our peace was upon him and by his wounds he has healed us. All of us like sheep have wandered each man to his own way
12. we have turned and YHWH has caused to light on him the iniquity of all of us He was oppressed and he was afflicted and he did not
13. open his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter he is brought and as a ewe before her shearers is made dumb he did not open
14. his mouth. From prison and from judgment he was taken and his generation who shall discuss it because he was cut off from the land of
15. the living. Because from the transgressions of his people a wound was to him
16. And they gave wicked ones to be his grave and [a scribbled word probably accusative sign "eth"] rich ones in his death
17. although he worked no violence neither deceit in his mouth And YHWH was pleased to crush him and He has caused him grief.
18. If you will appoint his soul a sin offering he will see his seed and he will lengthen his days and the pleasure of YHWH
19. in his hand will advance. Of the toil of his soul he shall see {+light+} and he shall be satisfied and by his knowledge shall he make righteous
20. even my righteous servant for many and their iniquities he will bear. Therefore I will apportion to him among the great ones
21. and with the mighty ones he shall divide the spoil because he laid bare to death his soul and with the transgressors
22. he was numbered, and he, the sins of many, he bore, and for their transgressions he entreated.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

a glimpse behind the curtain at the genesis of sin

The Word for today:
Isaiah 13:1 - 14:23

Mark this: Isaiah 14:12-14 --

How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!

How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'

Satan doesn't hold any particular fascination for me. He's another sinner, like I am--no more, no less.

What does interest me is where sin springs from, because if I know where it's coming from, I won't be blindsided by it.

The genesis of sin is more clearly seen in Isaiah 14 than anywhere else in scripture. Sin's basic formula is this: For you have said in your heart, "I will." Sin is setting one's will against the will of God.

I need not be on the lookout for Satan. Satan's will won't trip me up. Satan's sin is his own.
The wellspring of my sin lies at the very door of my own heart::
Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (1)

Satan said, "I will."
But Jesus said, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (2)

Sin crouches at the door, like a lion seeking someone to devour (3). You open yourself up to sin when your heart says "I will."
Jesus stands at the door, hoping to be asked in for supper! (4) You open that door when you say in your heart, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (5)

(1) Genesis 4:7; (2) Luke 22:42; (3) 1 Peter 5:8; (4) Revelation 3:20; (5) Matthew 6:10

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fill 'er Up

Isaiah 11 & 12

Life is full of filling and emptying. Every day, ever hour, every minute we are either filling something or emptying it (e.g. your lungs!). Bathtubs, coffee mugs, stomachs, dishwashers, gas tanks, laundry machines, bank accounts- the list goes on and on! And this pattern of fullness and emptiness is also central in the Word of God.

In the creation account (Genesis 1) God creates and separates space (days 1-3) and then fills in those spaces with His creation (days 4-6). He brings fullness out of emptiness.
God then passes this same mandate to mankind telling Adam to "fill the earth and subdue it (v. 28)."

Later, during the days of Noah, the earth becomes so "full of violence" and causes God's heart to be "filled with pain," so God fills the earth with waters of His judgement (Gen. 6:7 & 13).

At very important moments in the history of Israel, God's glory comes and fills first the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34) and later the Temple (1 Ki. 8:11).

Here in the book of Isaiah, we have already had our share of fullness and emptiness.
The people of Judah have be full, but full of all the wrong stuff: superstition, divination, unmerited wealth, and idolatry (2:6-8).
But then Isaiah has that amazing encounter with the Living God, and the Seraphim declare
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory." (6:3)

Humanity as a whole has rejected God and therefore embraced emptiness, because it is impossible to have real fullness without Him. But that is not the end of the story, and here God makes an amazing promise, that is echoed later in Habakkuk:

Isaiah 11:9b
"for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea."

Habakkuk 2:14
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea.

That is the plan. God is working "to reconcile to Himself all things (Col. 1:20)."
These verses are not mere hopes or sentiments- they are the promises of God and therefore reality. And in order to see them through, God Himself did his part of emptying and filling.

In Philippians 2, we see the extent of which Jesus Christ emptied Himself of the privileges of deity and instead He: made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

With His last words on the cross he said "It is finished! (John 19:30)." The same word would be put on a bill or receipt, meaning "Paid in full!"

Maybe your life is empty. You can try everything under the sun (see Solomon, King) but it will not ultimately satisfy. Maybe your life is too full. Full of activity, full of pride, full of yourself. In either case, the solution is the same-Jesus Christ. And your life will be a foreshadowing of that great verse- filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

hang a shining star upon the highest bough

The Word for today:
Isaiah 10:5-34

Regular readers of the Stand in the Rain blog might be wondering whatever happened to Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:1-7.

But by now you must know we wouldn't let those pictures of Jesus go by unnoticed.

We set them aside, so we could tuck them inside this Christmas card for you...

Here's a remarkable picture of the great light that shone down upon us just before baby Jesus arrived:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2/Matthew 4:16)

Here's a baby picture of Jesus--and some of the names we came up with for him:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;
and the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,
upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
to order it and establish it with judgment and justice
from that time forward, even forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7/John 3:16)

Here's another of the names--probably our fave--that we thought about for him:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel--which means, "God with us." (Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23)

We hope these pictures leave you with a sense of the wonder of it all. Along with them, we send our very deepest regards for you and yours.

Have a merry Christmas. Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

God's plan will prevail

Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
propose your plan, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.

(Isaiah 8:10)

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

(1 John 5:4-5)

The world can be a scary place: global warming, economic meltdown, pandemics, terrorist's threats, governmental control, persecution. The world system can use all these issues to scare and control us.

So what determines how I react, how I live? Where do I put my trust? Am I driven by fear or am I driven by faith?

Isaiah 8:10 and a "sister" passage from 1 John (above) give us assurance that regardless of how the enemies of the cross shall come together and threaten to undo us, they shall not prevail, "for God is with us."

He will protect His people. When those of us who have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are faced with threats from the world, we have an assurance that those plans and powers shall not ultimately prevail, "for God is with us."

The LORD has commanded us not to walk as the world walks, not to cry out danger when the world cries out danger, not to fear what the world fears, not to call evil "good" and good "evil" as the world does, but to believe in God and be obedient to his Word. He is our strong tower (1); He will never leave us nor forsake us (2); He is our great salvation (3).

He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is he who has overcome the world and is not a victim of its schemes.

(1) Psalm 61:3; (2) Joshua 1:5; (3) Hebrews 2:3

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blind, Deaf & Dull

Isaiah 6:10 (ESV)

"Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes"

It is difficult to find good TV shows for children today.
One third of the stuff out there is shameless promotion from a company that wants you to purchase its merchandise. (Yu Gi Oh, Sonic, Dora, Bratz)
A second third has too much violence or mystical mumbo jumbo (pretty much anything made in Japan) And of the remaining shows, most either highlight bad attitudes or are just too annoying for any parent to take. I even find all the wonderful shows that I loved as a child are not that suitable for my children, at least yet (Think Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, the 3 Stooges, Pee-Wee's Playhouse)

Veggie Tales can only last so long! So since we are not hip to modern TV features (i.e. DVR or TiVo or On Demand) we find ourselves at the local library more and more, picking out the few videos that won't hype up the kids or drive us crazy. There are not that many.

But one series that seems to be calm enough for the kids is a British cartoon called Kipper. There are no sales pitches, no eastern-religion, no violence or bad attitudes, and most important of all, it's not Barney. Its just the ordinary happenings of an orange beagle and his friends, and I mean ordinary.

One eight minute episode is entitled "Nothing Ever Happens" and showcases Kipper saying at least five times:
"What a boring day. Nothing ever happens. I mean nothing ever, really, happens"

This is great- a cartoon about being bored. But as the episode goes on, all sorts of crazy things are happening right around Kipper, only he's not paying any attention. Instead he just goes on saying what a boring day it is, oblivious of all the excitement that's right next to him.

In Isaiah 6:10 we see God's first post-vision message to Isaiah for the people of Judah and it's not a fun one. (But since when was the truth popular?) He is to declare to the people the fact that they will not hear or respond to God's message because they are spiritually blind, deaf and dull. Ouch. That's not what we want to hear. But before we can be hit with the Good News, we need to understand just how bad it is and how bad we are.
That total deficiency in perceiving and understand spiritual matters comes standard in human beings. We are born with our default setting to "off" when it comes to God. We don't naturally perceive Him or listen to Him or respond to Him. We are not just in need of some fine tuning. Its not just a matter of turning up our hearing aides or getting a stronger prescription for our glasses. We are "dead in [our] transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1)"

Even for Christians who, through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, are made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5), it is easy for us to revert back to the not hearing/seeing/responding setting. And when that happens, we find ourselves not only aloof from the things of God, but also just plain bored. We wonder when God is going to show up, and act, and respond to our prayers, and give us direction, and help us. We want some sign or proof that God is at work, and then complain when we can't sense that.

In many ways, we end up saying or at least thinking the same as our friend Kipper:
"Nothing ever happens. I mean nothing ever, really, happens"

I think the real problem is not with our surroundings or circumstances, it's with our perception. God is always at work, Jesus continues to intercede for us at the right hand of the throne, the Holy Spirit does not take a day off, God's Kingdom continues to advance. But we are often blind or deaf or dull to that. Instead, our prayer should continue to be for Jesus Christ to once again touch our blind eyes, to loose our deaf ears and to revive our dull hearts (Lk. 4:20)

Remember: Most bored people are really just boring! But Jesus Christ is the only original thought that this tired world has ever known. He has come to make all things new (Rev. 21:5).

Lord, give us new eyes and ears and hearts to perceive You!

Monday, December 14, 2009

high and lifted up

"The Vision of Isaiah"
--Luke Allsbrook, 2006

The Word for today:
Isaiah 6

mark this:
Isaiah 6:1 --
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

I've been to Bible classes where a bunch of people who don't know shinola about the Bible sit around and weigh in with unstudied, unprepared anecdotes and reflections which touch on scripture tangentially if at all.  Faux piety abounds.  It's funny how people can fill twenty minutes with delarations and examples of how humble they happen to be.

I've heard salvation testimonies which are long on "a wretch like me," but short on the Savior.  I've heard myself give testimonies like that.

I wish that we could all meet "1800."


Kent Hughes is one of my favorite preachers.  I've listened to perhaps 200 of his sermons via the internet.  In fact, between old J. Vernon McGee ("Thru the Bible") and Kent Hughes, you could take all the bad stuff on the internet and it wouldn't add up to all of the good stuff I've heard from just two guys.

Hughes tells this story:
I once heard E. V. Hill, the pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, tell of the ministry of an elderly woman in his church whom they all called 1800 because no one new how old she was.  1800 was hard on unsuspecting preachers because she would sit in the front row, and as soon as the preacher began she would say, "Get him up!" (referring to Christ).  After a few minutes, if she did not think there was enough of Christ in the sermon, she would again shout, "Get him up!"  If a preacher did not "Get him up" he was in for a long hard day!
Another of my favorite Bible expositors is Tim Keller.  Whereas Doc McGee is a homespun genius; and Kent Hughes is studious and refined, like dynamite is refined!; Keller is urbane, cutting through the spirit of this age with the sword of the Spirit of God.

Keller teaches this principle:
If we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the overarching Bible story (about Christ), we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to 'try harder' rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ.
There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words. is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done?
If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me: I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him.
Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment.failure, criticism. hardship).
The Bible is not a collection of "Aesop's Fables", it is not a book of virtues. It is a story about how God saves us.

I've just introduced you to three of my favorite Bible teacher/preachers--J. Vernon McGee, Kent Hughes, and Tim Keller.

But the person I want you to remember is 1800:  "Get him up!"

If the sermon or the teaching or this blog degenerates into mere lecturing about what you should do, then find another teacher who makes it all about what Jesus has done.

And if your own Bible reading has degenerated into lifeless moralizing about what you should do, instead of being about the resurrection power of the living Christ, then may 1800 haunt your every dream and leave you sleepless until you get it right--

until you "Get him up!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A primer on the prophets (part 2 of 2)

The Word for today:
Isaiah 5

The Prophet Jeremiah Mourning over the Destruction of Jerusalem
--by Rembrandt, 1630

The poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) belong to the golden age of the nation.

The prophetical books (from Isaiah through the rest of the Old Testament) belong to the dark days of Israel’s history:
Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets." (2Kings 17:13)

The period of the prophets in Israel is relatively short compared to the history of Israel as a whole--just five hundred years from the ninth to the fourth century B.C.  These were times of idolatry and apostasy which resulted in the exiles to Assyria and Babylon. 
Then the voices of the prophets were silenced for 400 years--until John the Baptist.

The office of prophet was instituted in Samuel’s time. Later, at the close of Solomon's reign (see 1 Kings 12) the 10 northern tribes severed from the southern tribes.  As a political measure, to keep the 2 kingdoms separate, the Northern Kingdom ("Israel") adopted as their national religion calf-worship, the religion of Egypt. Soon afterward they added Baal-worship, which began to get a hold on the Southern Kingdom ("Judah").
At this crisis--when God's name was disappearing from the minds of men, and God's plans for the ultimate redemption of the world were coming to naught--the prophets appeared.

Prophets classified by length of book--
There are 17 books of the prophets, but only 16 writing prophets (Jeremiah also wrote Lamentations).
They are spoken of as the " major" (Isaiah to Daniel) prophets and the "minor" (Hosea through Malachi) prophets. This designation has nothing to do with importance. It has only to do with the relative sizes of the books.

Prophets classifid by time--
6 lived in the time (734-721 B.C.) of Israel’s destruction by Assyria – Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah.
7 lived in the time (606-586 B.C.)of Judah’s destruction by Babylon – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.
3 lived in the time of the Restoration to their own land – Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Prophets classified by intended "audience"--
3 to Israel – Amos, Hosea, Ezekiel.
2 to Nineveh – Jonah, Nahum.
1 to Babylon – Daniel.
1 to Edom – Obadiah.
9 to Judah – Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

The prophet was never sent while the nation was walking in obedience to God, so all of the writings are rebukes.  The prophets were the most unpopular men of their day.  Truth is seldom popular with the sinner.

Most of the prophets were slain (Luke 11:47; Acts 7:52; 1 Thesssalonians 2:15).

Isaiah was sawn in half (see Hebrews 11:37).

Jesus Christ was crucified.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A primer on the prophets (part 1 of 2)

The Word for today:
Isaiah 2 - 4

The Prophet
Emil Nolde, 1912

mark this:
  Isaiah 2:5 --
O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the Lord.

The prophet speaks for another.  Moses, for example, was God's prophet, while Aaron was Moses' prophet. (See Exodus 7:1).

The prophet speaks for God to the people. Prophets were not a hereditary class. Each one got his call directly from God. They were called from different vocations. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were priests. Isaiah, Daniel, and Zephaniah were related to the royal families. Amos was a shepherd. The background of many of the prophets is unknown.
(The priest speaks for the people to God. They were a hereditary class, from the tribe of Levi.)

Forth-tellers and fore-tellers:
The primary role of the prophet is "forth-teller"--he proclaims God's truth.
It is only a prophet's secondary role to be a "fore-teller," predicting the future.  Some of the prophets in the Old Testament--Jonah, for example--left no recorded predictions.
Some New Testament figures and authors were also prophetic in the predictive, fore-telling sense.
But since the end of the apostolic period, the New Testament prophet has been in the role of forth-teller, speaking forth the truth on God’s behalf.

"the prophetic past tense"
So sure were the prophets of their pronouncements that, in order to emphasize the certainty of the voice of God's Spirit behind their words, they at times wrote in a special verb tense in which future events are depicted as having already occurred. See Isaiah 60:1 as an example.

Get it right, or die.
To prove his standing, the prophet had to speak into the local situation of his time to show evidence of his status as a prophet.  See Deuteronomy 18:20-22.

Some of the prophets did not write.
The primary example would be the towering Old Testament prophet, Elijah.

Some of the greatest prophets aren't thought of as prophets.
There are no greater prophets than Moses and David, but they often don't come to mind when we list "the prophets."  The greatest of the prophets--by far--can also get left off the list:  Jesus of Nazareth!

Mission and message of the prophets--
1. To try to save the nation from idolatry and wickedness…
2. failing this, to warn that the nation faced destruction…
3. but not complete destruction. A remnant will be saved…
4. Out of this remnant will come a Person who will bring all nations to God…
5. That Person will be a great Man who will one day arise in the family of David. The prophets called Him "The Branch." The family tree of David, cut down from its former days of glory and power, would have a comeback. Out of the family stock would come a Branch who would be King of Kings.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Isaiah: "There's Jesus!"

The Word for today:
Isaiah 1

"The Prophet Isaiah"
by Raphael,

mark this:  Isaiah 1:18 --
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

I love driving home after work during the month of December.  It's dark at that time and the kitchens are glowing from the inside out.

And with each passing day, more and more of the houses are lit up for Christmas.  So I take a long time getting home.

I've come to appreciate every attempt made to highlight Christmas.  Some of the houses have just a single string of lights along the porch rail or around the door frame.  I think they're beautiful.  Some must have bought every light at Home Depot and must be consuming every kilowatt the power company can produce. Beautiful.  Some have Santa Claus, the angels, the shepherds, the Magi, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the twelve days of Christmas, Snoopy, the three billy goats gruff, and the seven dwarfs!  Beautiful.

I used to be pretty snooty about such things.  I used to think that those decorations were kind of sparse; while those over there were gaudy; and these over here were cheesy.  But I grew up and got over myself.  They're all beautiful to me now.  Jesus made the billy goats; and who's to say that the seven dwarfs aren't believers?  I leave that to the person I used to be.

But amidst all of this beauty, my big moment every night as I wend my way home is the display of a manger scene projected on the side of a big old white house--an "Aah!" moment, when I crest a little hill and the scene presents itself like a big drive-in movie screen on the 4th of July featuring the Greatest Story Ever Told.

The display actually emanates from a powerful bulb behind what looks like a big Christmas cookie-cutter.  The "cookie-cutter" is round, maybe four feet in diameter, set about 20 meters from the side of the house.  But the image expands until its silhouette covers the whole side of that big house!

The book of Isaiah is just like that.  A Bible within the Bible, it projects the Bible as a whole.

The Bible has 66 books;  Isaiah has 66 chapters.

The first 39 books of the Bible are called the Old Testament.  They show us our need for a savior.
The last 27 books of the Bible are called the New Testament.  They show us the Savior Himself.

Isaiah is set up just that way:
Chapters 1 through 39 talk about the shortcomings and sins of the people of Judah and Israel as they deal with the law and government—just as the first thirty-nine books in the Bible deal with the law, government, and the shortcomings of God’s people.

But in chapter 40, suddenly a new direction is taken: “Comfort My people,” commands the LORD in 40:1.  Then we hear "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, saying, "Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highwqy for our God" (40:3.)   That's the voice of John the Baptist, who opens the New Testament!

Chapters 40 through 66 speak of Jesus constantly.   At the very center of these chapters--just as the cross is at the very heart of the New Testament-- is chapter 53, a stunning prophecy of the cross and God's Servant who suffered there:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Nearing the end of Isaiah, we read of new heavens and a new earth (65:17).  Finally, in chapter 66, we read of the millennial kingdom--just as we do in the Bible's 66th and final book, Revelation.

Isaiah can be challenging to read.  Written in the most sublime Hebrew and bursting with shifting kaleidoscopic images, there can be nearly too much for the reader to take it all in.

So slow down along the way, because you are about to crest a hill, and--"Aah! There's Jesus!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

you'll find your answers in the question

The Word for today:
John 21:15-25

mark this:
John 21:17 --

He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"

I don't always know exactly what love is, but I know when I'm in love and when I'm not.

I'm not a counselor, but I've been around. I know dissolution and divorce.  And because I do, people with marital difficulties sometimes seek me out.  I'm not philosophical by nature and I'm uneasy when people describe skeletons that should stay in their closets and laundry that's too dirty for the line.  I'd really rather not know. I've got enough skeletons and dirty laundry of my own.  And sins all tend to look alike to me.  So knowing mine, I tell them, I've seen yours.

So I cut through the he-said, she-said and get to the point:  Do you love her?  Do you love him?  If the answer is Yes, that marriage can last and become better than ever.  All that's needed is that love be communicated, be shown.

But if the answer is No, then there's no need to work on communication. Because, what are you going to communicate?  If the answer is No, there needs to be an all-out search for the love that got lost--if there was ever any love in the first place.

When your faith goes dry; when the zest and zeal for service cool; when prayer is a chore; when the enticements and lifestyles of the world seem to shine brighter than Jesus; when it's all out of gear and out of tune; then go to the last page of the gospels, and get to the point:  Do you love Him?

If the answer is Yes, then just tell Him so and show Him so.  You'll figure out how.

If the answer is No, then search high and low for the love that got lost.  Did you let the spontaneity degenerate into rote repetition?  Is that where love went?  Or have you been trying so hard that it all descended into the empty trap of a works-based religious charade?

Or it might be that you never really loved Him in the first place.  Did you go the church route because your family does, or because you thought you'd give the Jesus bit a whirl?

Don't make this a religion.  This is a marriage.

Don't make this a marriage of mutual affection and esteem.  This is hot and ardent love that runs under its own power.

You may be standing at the door, with one foot in and one foot out.  Go to the last page of the gospels.  You'll find your answers in the question.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

twinkle all the way

The Word for today:
John 21:1-14

mark this:  John 21:11 --
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

I may be wrong on this but I don't care to be right all the time.  Being right has tired me out.

Sometimes, boys just want to have fun.

We have an aluminum fishing boat.  We named it "153," as you can see in the photo above.

We named it after John 21:11.  Actually, the part about John 21:11 that I love the best is the word "big"--they caught 153 big fish!  Because any fisherperson will tell you that you can have the 152 if you'll just let me keep the big one!

When I tow the boat to this lake or that creek, not many people beep their horns or wave or do anything to acknowledge the whacko with the Bible verse on the back of his boat.  Not even the people with fish on their cars beep or wave.  Christians can be a humorless lot.

The guys on motorcycles are about the only ones who note my Spirit-baptized boat.  They often beep, and raise a clenched fist in solidarity; or flash the old "One Way--Jesus" sign with an index finger.  Christian bikers just want to have fun.

I got a fish for my little truck, too.  The reason I put a fish there is to cure me of road rage.  Because it's pretty unsightly, with a fish on the back of your truck, to give some other motorist (after he's cut you off) another variation of the one-finger salute.  Not once have I exhibited road rage since the day I first put the fish there about five years ago. I highly recommend one for you if you are prone to indiscreet sign language.

I've also found, because of my Bible-boat, that there are a lot of Bible whackos out there.  One guy I met at a boat launch contended that he always has better luck off the right side of his boat, "Because the Bible says 'Cast to the right.'" (1)  At first I thought he was kidding.  But as I continued to listen to him, it became clear that this yahoo was serious. 

I constantly tell my Bible classes to take the Bible absolutely literally--unless the passage shouts out "Symbol!" or "Figure of Speech!" or "Literary Device!"  But in this instance I was compelled by the demands of logic to say to him, "Casting to the right was just for that day.  On another day, Jesus might have said, 'Cast the net on the left.'"

"Jesus might have, but He didn't.  He said, "Cast to the right."

Oh boy.  You start to see what we Bible teachers are up against out there.

Another guy I ran into fancied himself a Bible teacher.  He was at the campsite next to ours in a state park.  Seeing the verse on my boat, he ambles over and starts to exegete and explicate John 21:11 for me.  Finally, he gets to his point:  "The number 153 is, at any given time, the number of nations there are in the world."

Oh boy.

He continued:  "So this is a specific quantification of the promise to Peter that Jesus would make them 'fishers of men.'  There are 153 nations to be 'caught.'"

"How do you know there are, at any given time, 153 nations?"

"It's obvious from the context."

"Perhaps," I said noncommittally.  It was getting chilly.  So, making up an excuse, I told him I was going to go grab a sweatshirt. 

As I walked toward my tent, I heard this flaming nut job say to his wife, "You see what we Bible teachers are up against.  There's a perfect example of a person who just refuses to see the light!"

When all the while, I'd just thought John 21:11 meant that, even with the cross behind him, Jesus was still on the job--still providing for his own; still leading, feeding, guiding, guarding, teaching, caring, watching out, and watching over.

And I thought the "153 fish" was a humorous touch; that either Peter was anal-retentive or obsessive-compulsive enough to actually count each fish; or--which is even funnier-- that the Holy Spirit was showing off the uses of omniscience, with a bit of a wink and a little dab of derring-do!

My pastor this week was teaching about Christmas.  He spoke eloquently about its spiritual impact.  But then, bless his heart, he lowered his sights for just a second and he spoke about the sheer delight and wonder and anticipation it holds.  Do whatever you must, he told us, to maintain a sense of the wonder of it all.

Let's not get so super-spiritual that we forget to beep at the brother with the Bible verses on his boat as we pass his sorry rig on the Thruway.

Let's not forget that God made some Bible verses which are almost incomprehensible--until we imagine them spoken by a Man with a twinkle in his eye.

Let's not forget that He who made the cosmos and every star therein was He who sent out a single one of them--with orders to twinkle, all the way from Babylon to Bethlehem. (2)

(1) John 21:6; (2) Matthew 2:1-2, 8-10

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

a primer on resurrection

The Word for today:

John 20:11-31

The basics of resurrection for the Bible student--

1. Resurrection is foretold in the Old Testament:
Isaiah 25:6-8; Daniel 12:2; Job 19:23-27; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Hosea 13:14; cp. Gen 22:5 with Heb. 11:19; miracles of the dead restored to life are recorded in 2 Kings 4:32-35; 13:21.

2.  The resurrection of the Messiah (Christ) is specifically foretold in the Old Testament:
Psalm 16:10 (quoted in Acts 2:27; 13:35); Hosea 6:2.  The book of Jonah's underlying theme is resurrection, and Jesus applied it to himself in Matthew 12:39-41.

3.  Jesus raised several people from the dead:
Mark 5:21-43; Luke 7:11-17; John 11.

4.  Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection:
See #2 above concerning Jonah; Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; Luke 18:33; John 2:19-20.

5.  Many people witnessed the physical presence of Jesus after his resurrection and are motivated to tell others.  They are even willing to die because they know the truth:
Matthew 27, 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20, 21; Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
     After his resurrection, Jesus could eat, speak, and work, and his disciples could touch and see him, but his new body was perfectly immortal.
     The belief in Jesus Christ's bodily resurrection defines Christianity. His victorious return from death fulfilled prophecy and proved his claims of deity.
     The resurrection means that God's plan worked! His covenant is fulfilled, the mission accomplished! It is evidence that God is satisfied with the Son's sacrifice on humanity's behalf.

6.  The Bible promises that Jesus' faithful followers will rise from the dead:
John 6:40, 44, 54; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Peter 3:18.
     The Holy Spirit, who brought Christ to life again, dwells in believers; therefore, Christians can trust that we too will rise to eternal life after we experience physical death.
     The resurrection body will be incorruptible, glorious, and powerful.

7.  The resurrection is the keystone of our faith.  Without it, Christianity is pointless:
1 Corinthians 15:12-19; 1 Peter 1:3; 3:21.
     The gospel--the Good News of our faith--is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4--
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

8.  Belief in the resurrection is necessary to be a true follower of Christ:
John 11:24-25; Romans 4:25; 10:9.

9.  Two resurrections are yet future:
       a.  "the first resurrection," the resurrection of believers, which is a resurrection "to life"--
             This will occur at the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23) when the believers will meet Christ in the air (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
        b.  a second resurrection, the resurrection of unbelievers, which is a resurrection to "damnation," (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:5-6, 11-13).
        These "first" and "second" resurrections are separated by a period of 1000 years (Rev. 20:5).

10.  But we don't have to wait for our resurrection to begin! 
Right now, today, because we have been raised with Christ through faith (Colossians 2:12; 3:1) we can know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10), the incomparably great power for us who believe, which God exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20).