Sunday, January 31, 2010

chosen to stand in the gap

(written by head elder, Norm)

The Word for today:
Matthew 3

mark this: Matthew 2:13 --
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him."

Galilee to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Egypt, Egypt to Nazareth. Joseph was a man with a purpose. That purpose was to protect and care for his family by listening to and obeying the voice of God, no matter the cost or inconvenience.

Satan also had a purpose. That purpose was to kill Joseph's child, Jesus. But between Satan and Jesus stood a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led father.

God is always looking for a man who will listen and obey, a man He can use to fulfill His purpose and plan for mankind. At that time, in that place, Joseph was that man.

Fathers, listen carefully. We are, like Joseph, called to be men of purpose. We are called to protect and care for our families by listening to and obeying the Word of God, no matter the cost or inconvenience.

Satan also has a purpose for our families. That purpose is to ruin our marriages and wreck the lives of our children. But between Satan and our families we stand, Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.

God has chosen us to stand in the gap and defend the families he has given us. We are the men He has chosen to fulfill His purpose and plan. At this time we are the men, our homes are the place.

Dear Lord,
Help me be the father and husband you have called me to be.
Oh Lord, be the Husband of those without a husband, the Father of those without a father.
Help us to hear your voice and be obedient to it as we attempt to live our lives for you.
In Jesus' name,

Saturday, January 30, 2010

International Geographic

the word for Today: Matthew 2

Geography isn't everything- but it almost is. In other words, you are not defined by where you were born or live, but those places have a huge role in your life. Think, for example the difference of being born in Medina, NY verses Medina, Saudi Arabia Or ponder the difference between growing up in Calexico, California verses its sister city, Mexicali, Mexico. (Just two miles and two worlds apart). Even within the same country or region, you can see tremendous diversity in locations and the impact that has on a life.

This Christmas I received a year subscription to National Geographic magazine (Now I've got that theme song stuck in my head!) And since I love history and cultures and maps, it is a very much appreciated gift. Since we are not too far removed from Christmas, I thought I would focus instead on the actual geographical places in this passage. I've had enough of King Herod, and even the Wise Guys seem a bit out of season- so let's try looking at the map to teach us more about the Messiah.

Chapter 2 mentions several countries/regions/cities/towns by name:
Bethlehem, Judea, Jerusalem, Egypt, Galilee, and Nazareth. These are all important places in the Bible for various reasons, but I wanted to focus in on three in particular that tell us so much about the person of Jesus Christ.

1. Bethlehem- (Christ's Birth & Infancy)
This sleep little town, about 6 miles southwest of Jerusalem, has some deep Biblical history.
It is where Jacob's wife, Rachel, was buried (Ge. 35:19).
It's where Naomi was originally from, and where she and her daughter-in-law Ruth settled.
It is the city of David- where he was born, where he was a shepherd, where he was anointed king (1 Sam. 17).

Neat info, but what does this tell us about Jesus?
First of all, in Micah 5:2, the prophet tells us exactly where Messiah must be born. Some 800 years later, this very prophecy is fulfilled in today's reading- thanks, in part, to a pagan emperor who had no idea of any such promise.
Second of all, the connection to David is essential. Jesus Christ is referred to as the "Son of David" ten times in Matthew's gospel alone. Israel's greatest king and the King of Kings are from the same town.
The third has to do with the very name of the city of Bethlehem. This town, and surrounding region, were among the most productive and fertile in all of Judea- it was the bread basket of the region. And so how cool is it that the Bread of Life was born in the city that translates to House of Bread.

Bethlehem means we have been given a ruler and provider- found in Jesus Christ.

2. Egypt (Christ as a toddler)
Egypt is perhaps the definitive worldly, opposed to God, geography in the Bible. Sure there was Babylon, Assyria, Medo/Persia, Greece, and Rome. But Egypt is mentioned more than all of them combined. (It is referenced in 27 of 39 Old Testament books).
Egypt in many ways, best represents the secular world- the good, bad & ugly.
It was a place where God's people went to when they ran out of food (see Abraham or Jacob & sons)
It was a place where God's people ended up as slaves (see Joseph or Exodus 1-2)
It was a place where God freed his people from bondage (Exodus 11-14)
Yet it was a place where God's people wanted to return to (Numbers 11, 14)
It was a place that, later on, provided false hope of security for God's people (Isaiah 30, 31 & 36)

Neat info, but what does this tell us about Jesus?
Matthew alone of all the Gospel writers, mentions this account of Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. He does so, not only to tie the prophecy of verse 16, but to also show that God's own Son has also been a refugee. He identifies not only with His ancestors who experienced the Exodus, he identifies with everyone who has ever been a stranger, a foreigner, an outcast.

Egypt means that we have been liberated and redeemed by One who knows what it means to be in exile.

3. Nazareth (Christ's Boyhood Home)
The obscure hamlet is so small that for many years many secular historians doubted its existence. (Consequently proven wrong) After all, it has no mention in the Old Testament or in any ancient historical records. Even Christ's own disciple Nathanael, laughs at the village, wondering if "anything good" come come from such an insignificant place. (John 1:46)
It was big enough to have a synagogue, (which required a minimum of 10 men), but that was about it. (Luke 4:16). Nonetheless, this is the location of where Joseph and Mary lived, and the place where Jesus spent the large majority of His earthly life.

Neat info, but what does this tell us about Jesus?
Nazareth reminds me of some of the tiny, obscure places around us, such as Burt or Barker. It's not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from there. I am so thankful that Jesus Christ chose to come to and grow up not in some metropolis or religious capital, but in the least likely place. He was given no advantage in geography. No cushy life in Rome or Jerusalem.

Nazareth means that the Son of God came as a humble servant, a root out of dry ground.
(Isaiah 53:2)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Family Tree

(Today, Stand in the Rain welcomes Vickie. We're so glad to add a new voice to the 'Choir'!)

The Word for today: Matthew 1

Mark this: Verse 17 "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations."

The page before the book of Matthew, in my Bible, has two words- New Testament. If you are reading along in God's Word with the rest of us, who are moist with His rain, you may have breathed a sigh of relief... an Old Testament break is before us- no genealogies! Then you turn to Matthew 1, good grief, here we go again.

What's God up to with all the "begats" anyway? It's been my experience that the only people who are really excited about their family trees have a lot of good apples hanging there. If I was descended from Swedish royalty, viking valor or Noble Prize winning genes, believe me, you'd all hear about it over the next potluck dinner table! Unfortunately, no notable has come up in my father's sleuthing into our past generations. From Abraham to Christ we see humanity in all it's aspects; the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Not so different from my own or your own family tree. Except this is the most significant genealogy in the history of mankind. It's significant because God reveals Himself as the eternal lover of our souls through His patient connection with us through all the generations of Abraham's offspring.

Matthew's genealogy is God's summary of what He has done to bring salvation to a world of sinners. Before we go forward, we take a moment to look back. It's not because the men on this list are so extraordinary, that we take this pause, but because God wants us to see with clarity- that it's all about Jesus Christ. God could have brought our salvation into the world on a cloud from heaven or in a magical puff of smoke, but He didn't. He connected with us sinners and delivered what he promised (Gen. 3:15) through human generations, in spite of His chosen people's rebellion and Satan's scheming to destroy the line from which the promised Seed would come. He loves us this much. It's about forever family- an eternal family tree.

So, I hope when you read each name in this passage again, you will- with me, add in your heart these words; because God loved me so much.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sheep listen. Goats don't.

The Word for today:
Isaiah 66

mark this: Isaiah 66:5 --
Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word:
"Your brothers who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said,
'Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy!'
Yet they will be put to shame."

Isaiah ends with a picture of heaven and hell. If you want to see heaven, it's there in 66:22-23. If you want to see hell, it's there in the final verse, 66:24.

Who's going where?

There are various poetic pictures of the division: "the sheep and the goats" (1) will be separated; the "wheat will be separated from the tares." (2)

Alright. But those pictures beg the question: Which is which? How can you tell the difference?

"My sheep hear my voice," we are told in John 10:27.

Why do they hear his voice? Because they listen. They listen out of respect and reverence and what the Bible calls the fear of the LORD. Isaiah puts it this way: "they tremble at his Word."

I go to a church--as real and valid a church as there is--but not everyone there opens his Bible every day. They don't all fear him enough to tear themselves away from the inducements and allurements of the world for the 15 minutes a day it takes us to "stand in the rain." They don't, so to speak, fear the boss enough to open his emails. They don't love the LORD enough to read his letters.

The great demarcation in Christianity today is not between the Protestants and Catholics. The great demarcation is between those who tremble at his word and those who do not. In any church on any corner, you'll find both sheep and goats: Sheep listen. Goats don't.

There are "brothers," according to Isaiah 66, who will hate you because you tremble at his word. They might be the biological brothers of your household. They might be so-called brothers in your church. You're the Bible banger, they'll say:
"My God, he takes all that stuff seriously!"
"It's worse than just seriously. He takes it literally."

I'm going to get sentimental for just a second, and then I'll go.

Ruth was an outsider, a foreigner from Moab. But she chose the God of Israel as her God, and God's people as her people.

Jesus was thrown out of his hometown (3). "Even his own brothers did not believe in him" (4).

Once, while he was teaching,
his mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. And it was reported to Him, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You." But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it." (5)

My natural family also severed over the issue of Jesus Christ. That's the way Jesus said it would be:
"From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or the other way around. There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law." (6)

You--who tremble at his word--you're my family now. Thanks for taking me in. Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (7)

(1) Matthew 25:32; (2) Matthew 13:30; (3) Luke 4:29; (4) John 7:5; (5) Luke 8:20; (6) Luke 12:52; (7) Ruth 1:16

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pigs and Tombstones

The Word for today:
Isaiah 65

mark this: Isaiah 65:4

"....who sit among the GRAVES
and spend their nights keeping secret vigil;
who eat the flesh of PIGS,
and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat..."

On January 23, Franklyn posted the following paragraph:
"Somewhere along the way we get the notion that we are "seekers," left to look high and low for God, who is hiding from us. "Seekers." It sounds romantic, it puts us in a good light, with lush background music swelling the soundtrack. Cue up the violins. But that's not the picture the Bible paints for us."

I couldn't agree more. And more importantly, the Scriptures make this point clear.

In today's reading, in the first five verses, Isaiah portrays the true condition of mankind apart from God:
  • We aren't asking for God [v.1]
  • We aren't seeking God [v.1]
  • We are not called by His name [v.1]
  • We are rebellious [v.2]
  • We walk in ways that are not good [v.2]
  • We follow our own foolish devices [v.2]
  • We constantly and blatantly are provoking God [v.3]
  • We are idolaters [v.3]
  • We spend time around unclean things (e.g. tombs & pigs) [v.4]
  • We basically tell God to get lost and think that we are better than Him [v.5]

Not a very flattering picture, is it?

Sometimes the truth hurts. But it is essential that we understand who we are and where we stand before God. Millions, if not billions, of people are living under the false assumption that they are somehow basically good, and therefore okay before God.

Scripture says otherwise. In multiple ways, throughout the entire Bible, God reminds us of our true condition apart from Him- and it ain't pretty.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of who we are, especially related to today's passage, is found in the Mark 5 (as well as in Matthew 8 and Luke 8).
In this passage, Jesus encounters one of the most pathetic situations found in the Gospels-the demon-possessed man in Geresa.

Its hard to get much lower than this man:

  • He's controlled by an unclean spirit [v.2]
  • He lives in a unclean cemetery [v.3]
  • He has no clothes [Lk. 8:2]
  • He was often shackled [v. 4]
  • He was in constant anguish [v. 5]
  • He hurt and cut and bruised himself [v.5]
  • He dwells among unclean swine [v.11]

This pitiful wretch has no comfort, no hope, and no chance to do anything about his situation. That is until he encounters the only One who can rescue him- Jesus Christ. In one fell swoop, Jesus drives out the unclean spirits and unclean swine, clothes him, restores his sanity, and sends the man from the tombs to friends. He even gives the man the task of sharing the message of Jesus in his region (Mk. 8:13-20). What a turn around. What a Savior!

But before we can be rescued, we need to realize our tremendous need for a rescuer. We may have our outward lives a bit more together than this fellow, but our spiritual condition, apart from Christ, is just as desperate as his. If you have been redeemed, don't ever forget where you've come from. If you haven't, don't flatter yourself with false hope in your own righteousness. Let Jesus Christ rescue you from the tombs and swine and everything else that separates you from God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Was this Jesus' "mission statement?" (part 2 of 2)

The Word for today:
Isaiah 63:7 - 64:12

 mark this: Isaiah 61:1-2 --
"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn."

[In the spirit of Bible adventure, in the realm of conjecture and well-studied speculation, "Stand in the Rain" takes up where it left off yesterday. Today we will show the pivotal placement of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the Bible and in the life of Jesus. We will look into the New Testament to see how Jesus launched his public ministry with the proclamation of these verses.]

The young Jesus read of the glory of the coming Christ in passages like Isaiah 60; on the other hand, he read the suffering of Christ in passages like Isaiah 53.

Even the prophets couldn’t reconcile these things, as Peter would later explain:
"Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." (1 Peter 1:10-11)

From a great distance, mountain peaks can appear close together, when in fact a great valley lies between them. The prophets could not always see the valley—the interval of time—between events. Isaiah 61:2 worked the first coming and the second coming of Jesus Christ into one verse, separated by just an ‘and.’

But there came a day when, right in front of his eyes, the foreground and the background became distinct from one another: there would be one Christ who would arrive twice. With that understanding, the Bible in Jesus' eyes became whole cloth, seamless and integrated. Everything fit together now, with no loose strands.

Soon after the beginning of his ministry, he found himself in Nazareth again. Wistfully, he revealed his identity to the people of his hometown with the same verse God used to clarify his identity to himself:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)

He'd stopped in mid-verse, just before 'and.'

A day of vengeance on the plains of Megiddo would wait in the background. In the foreground stood the awful grace of Mount Calvary.

First things first.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Was this Jesus' "mission statement?" (part 1 of 2)

The Word for today:
Isaiah 61:1 - 63:6

mark this: Isaiah 61:1-2 --
"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn."

[Shelley, next to Jesus the eternal love of my eternal life, is driving us all crazy because she is memorizing (out loud and incessantly) Isaiah 61:1-4. So with today's scriptures ringing in my ears as I write this, I offer some conjecture and some well-studied speculation. (Conjecture and speculation are what Bible teachers do for fun!)...]

What's the most important verse or passage in scripture?

Off the top of my head, maybe Genesis 1:1-3? or Genesis 3? Genesis 15:6? Genesis 50:20? Exodus 3:14? Exodus chapter 12? Leviticus 17:11? Exodus 34:6? 2 Samuel 7? Psalm 22? Isaiah 53? Jeremiah 31:31 Daniel 9? Matthew 1:21? Matthew 13? Luke 24? John 1? John 3:16?--and/or its necessary counterpart, John 3:18? John 19:30? Acts 2? Romans 1:16-17? 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-9? Hebrews 1? Revelation 21-22?

It would be fun to sit down with some avid Bible students and list Scripture's most important verse. It would also become an exercise in the ridiculous, akin to Paul's rhetorical question (in 1 Corinthians 12) asking which part of the body is most important. An organic whole is not to be dismembered, because verses don't exist in isolation. I'll even bet that your "most important verse" isn't on my extemporaneous list up there.

But, for the sake of Bible fun, I am going to vote today that Isaiah 61:1-2 (along with it's interpretive application by Christ himself in Luke 4:16-21) is the most important passage in scripture.

Why this verse? Because, between the lines, I think the Bible hints that this verse, more than any other, clarified the Word of God for the Word of God, himself.

First, a premise: the baby in Bethlehem did not come pre-packaged with infinite insight into the bottomless depths of scripture. That baby was God himself, but he set aside glory when he put on swaddling clothes. He "emptied himself" (1) and--as we do now--grew into himself. He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (2)." Hebrews 5:8 tells us that "although he was a son, he learned..."

I think we have a more complete picture of "the lost years" (between the swaddling clothes and his baptism at age 30) than we might think. All that we're given is one incident, when Jesus is attending a heavy duty Bible study in Jerusalem! But it may be that the one incident pretty much covers those years.

Psalm 69 is a picture, not altogether pretty, of Jesus' formative years in Nazareth. "Zeal for his Father's house consumed him" (3) during those years. So in between working with his earthly father, Joseph, and playing, as children do, I think that he was captivated by the Word of God and spent hour after hour "in" it. If that doesn't sound likely, then I refer you to kids today, who can spend 8, 10, 12 hours at video games / texting / Wii. Kids can be absorbed in things, for better or for worse. Think Schroeder at the piano in "Charlie Brown."

I can see a young Jesus--14? 18? 20? 25?--reading this particular scripture when Scripture (with a big 'S') "clicked" for him, when the fragments fell into place, the big picture came into focus and the clarion call was heard.

And so time kept turning and his public ministry was upon him. As he launched out, what's the verse that he turned to as a sort of mission statement? It was Isaiah 61:1-2. As he looked back, it was summative--a personal testimony of the years spent in training for his life's work. Looking ahead, it was his itinerary. I think it was what we might call his "life verse."

(To be continued tomorrow...)

(1) Philippians 2:7; (2) Luke 2:52; Psalm 69:9

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The Word for today:
Isaiah 60

mark this: Isaiah 60:1-2 --
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

I was not blessed with what is referred to as a "godly heritage." By that I mean that a love for the Bible was not handed down to me from my parents. They dutifully went each Sunday to a large centralized church. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Then out the door. "See ya next week, when we'll do this all again." Glory.

And talk about comic obfuscation. My kids have a hard time believing this, but they didn't speak English in that church. They spoke--I kid you not--a language that no one on earth spoke in his daily life.

And talk about tragic darkness. No one was to individually open her Bible. The Light of the world was not to be directly encountered. It had to pass through the prism of the priestly caste. We had a Bible-- on the mantel in the living room between two heavy bookends next to a chiming clock. Although they respected it enough to purchase it and provide a prominent place for it (physically) in our home, I do not recall either of my parents ever looking inside it.

It dawned on me that it was all a crock when I was 14 years old.

Now that I've slammed them, let me slam us. What hungover traditions are we perpetuating? What is it that we do that makes a 14 year old boy, sitting in our pews or chairs, look around him one fine Sunday morning and come to the crystal-clear conclusion that this, that, or the other is a crock?

I think it has to do with Lamps. And crocks.

Isaiah 60:1-2 (marked, above) is a replay of Genesis 1:3, when the light of the world was suddenly turned on:
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Remember that the Bible will foreshadow spiritual realities with pictures from the physical world. So whereas Genesis 1:3 turns a light on a dark, formless, and empty earth; Isaiah 60:1-2 turns the Light of the world on dark, shapeless, and empty lives.

OK, so far so good. No 14 year old boy, shown the real Jesus, would ever call any of it a crock.

But then our phony lives and our self-serving traditions encroach. Pretty soon, we've done what Jesus warned us about:
Jesus said: You don't light a lamp and put it under a clay pot or under a bed. Don't you put a lamp on a lampstand? (Mark 4:21/CEV)

I grew up in a church--a Christian church--that did everything it could to put the Light of the world under a clay crock-pot.

And now I'm protesting.

I have many spiritual heroes, unsung people whose names you would not recognize. But I have two heroes whose names are recognized. I spoke of one--J. Vernon McGee, the greatest Bible teacher that ever was--in the Stand in the Rain blog entry of January 6:
"Although he went to heaven in 1988, his teaching remains fresher than bread baked tomorrow. He can be heard today, via radio and internet, in over 100 languages, in over 200 countries. Just google "Thru the Bible" and you'll find him."

My other hero is the man who, next to Jesus, was Christendom's greatest protester! He was a troubled, anguished monk who came to the realization that much of it was a crock and said so. He insisted that the Light of the world, the Word of God, be made directly accessible to every person--no intervening priests or prisms to "filter" (read "spin") the light. He even--gasp--had the brazen audacity to translate the Bible out of Gobbledygook and into German (his native language) so some poor 14-year old in Wittenberg or Bavaria could read it.

When you go to your "Protestant" church today, remember that you're a Protestant because you've got something to protest! If your version of a priest (you might call him parson, pastor, or vicar) isn't bringing the real Biblical Jesus--the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth-- then protest! Take the crock off the Lamp and whip it out the window.

And if you go to the Catholic side of the aisle, don't leave that place. Stay there and protest! They took Martin Luther's suggestion, eventually, and dumped Gobbledygook, but there are still encrusted traditions--clay crocks--obfuscating the clear and complete Jesus. Protest! Throw the crock through the stained glass window.

If you do, I will add you to my list of famous heroes! You'll be right up there with J. Vernon and Martin. And I will visit you in jail!

There's no Jesus, or Martin Luther, or Doc McGee here. I'm not that smart or that brave. But here I stand, as Martin Luther said.

Standing in the Rain, we protest this present darkness (1). We take the crock off the lamp and put it on the lampstand. We take it off the mantel and we put it in the hand of a 14-year-old, or a 56-year-old like that 14-year-old boy became after all those dark years.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, go and be the light of the world (2); brighten the corner where you are.

(1) Ephesians 6:12; (2) Matthew 5:14

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is that a doorbell I hear?

The Word for today:
Isaiah 59

Mark this: Isaiah 59:2 --
Your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you.

and this: Isaiah 59:16 --
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him.
(Isaiah 59:16)

Somewhere along the way we get the notion that we are "seekers," left to look high and low for God, who is hiding from us.

"Seekers." It sounds romantic, it puts us in a good light, with lush background music swelling the soundtrack. Cue up the violins.

But that's not the picture the Bible paints for us.

The Bible pictures God on the outside, seeking to come in:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

The Bible says that Jesus came to seek and save. (Luke 19:10)

God made Eden, a paradise where man could walk with God every day.

But Adam and Eve didn't trust God's Word or his goodness. They focused on the one and only restriction instead of the limitless blessings God had given them.

So, one sin at a time, they built the walls of "hell," keeping God out. Isaiah explains it like this:
Your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you.
(Isaiah 59:2)

We "second" their motion, and side with sin.

The idea that God initiated the separation is one of the most subtle and effective lies that the principalities and powers of this present darkness (1) have spread. The truth is that God is unwilling that any should perish. (2)

It is God who looked high and low, but there was no one who could rescue us from the dungeon we'd built. So he had to go in himself:
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him.
(Isaiah 59:16)

Seeking put God on the cross. I hope this gives all of us "seekers" some perspective.

Oh, by the way, is that a doorbell I hear?

(1) Ephesians 6:12; (2) 2 Peter 3:9

Friday, January 22, 2010

starve sin today

The Word for today:
Isaiah 58

mark this: Isaiah 58:6-7 --
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

A couple days ago, we heard the LORD proclaim, My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (1). But then the LORD tells us that it doesn't have to stay that way. If we "Stand in the Rain" day by day, if we let the Word of God saturate our souls, then we will put on the mind of Christ and begin to know Him better. (2)

Refer once again to Pastor Joe's article from January 20 on Isaiah 55. God isn't hiding his ways from us. He sent the Word from heaven--the Bible and then Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh--so we don't have to be clueless about God's ways.

Today's reading--if read without our cultural preconceptions and all the accumulated biases we have about God--will startle you. Because today we are going to learn what fasting means to God. It's a whole lot different than the way we generally think.

Did Jesus fast? If fasting means abstaining from food, Jesus fasted once (that we know of). (3)

But if you mean the fast described in Isaiah 58, Jesus fasted every day.

Isaiah 58 turns "abstaining" on its head!

Let's say that you've noticed a kid in the neighborhood who loves baseball but can't afford a real leather glove. God's fast is when you go buy him a real leather Rawlings glove. You've just fasted from self-centeredness. You've set out to make today somebody else's day. You've made the kid glad and you've made God smile.

Or maybe someone'
s heart is aching over a death or an infidelity or a betrayal. You've been there. So you let him know that's happened to you, too. Perhaps you relate how God turned your loss into something positive. You've just fasted from apathy. You made a person smile and you made God smile.

Maybe the lady who teaches the 3rd grade Sunday School class is swamped with kids. So you ask how you might help. You've just fasted from Sabbaths that were a little too restful! God appreciates the irony of your fast.

Two weeks into your new assignment, you find out how challenging elementary Sunday School can be. Without even thinking about it, you find you have stopped criticizing the ministries of others in the church. You've just fasted from a critical spirit. One fast has led to another; God smiles twice!

Out in the parking lot on your way home, Sally sidles up next to you with her weekly morsel of gossip. You stop her in mid-sentence. "I'm not your audience for that crap any more, Sally. Go tell your tales to that bird over there!"
You've just fasted from condoning gossip!

And you've authoritatively rebuked sin. You are learning God's ways! And right in the church parking lot, no less! You've shown sin the bird! And you've fasted from feeding gossip! Gossip starves without an audience.

God loves this. The fast of God is to starve sin. You remind God of Jesus now, which always puts him in a good mood.

Now the boy next door has a proper mitt. The discouraged have taken courage. A Sunday School teaching ministry has been born. The blunt eloquence of American English has been efficaciously applied, and Sally has shut up for once. You are fasting like Jesus now.

Go and starve sin today! Point out the bird he can fly away with.

(1) Isaiah 55:8; (2) see Isaiah 55:10-11; 1 Corinthians 2:16; (3) Matthew 4:2

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"personalize" your Bible!

The Word for today:
Isaiah 56, 57

Yesterday, Pastor Joe contributed an article he called "Why Stand in the Rain?"

I loved it. For me, it brought a new dimension to Isaiah 55:8-11, which happens to be the theme passage for this 3-year Bible reading program we call "Stand in the Rain."

The blog you are reading accompanies the three year schedule. If you haven't yet, I hope you'll go to On the left you'll see this blog. In a sidebar to the right you'll find an explanation of just why we call the program "Stand in the Rain."

But more important than anything--and I mean anything--is that you notice the words "schedule here." They are in bright blue, hoping to attract your eye.

With your computer mouse, drag the cursor over to "schedule here." Click. You will be transported to the reading schedule. Find "Year Two" of the schedule and wheel your way down to January 21. It will say "Isaiah 56, 57." Now take your eyes off the monitor and your hand off the mouse. Locate a Bible. Open to the middle and then flip 100 or so pages forward until you reach Isaiah 56.

I have found just one thing in this entire world that makes any real difference. And I just went through an elaborate scheme to connect you two.

"You two." The way that's phrased makes it sound like I connected you with somebody instead of just something.

May it be so.

Some people have a personalized Bible. They have their name engraved on the cover. I propose that we all personalize our Bibles. Using our "Stand in the Rain" theme passage, I'll show you how:

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 that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
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)

Now, quick like a bunny!--who came down from heaven, bringing living water? Go to John 4:7-14 and you'll find out!

And who sowed the seed? Go to Matthew 13:3.

And who was the Bread of life? Go to John 6:48.

Who was the Word God "spoke" to express his heart? See John 1:1, 14; John 3:16; Hebrews 1:1-2.

Who returned to his Father, having achieved God's purpose? Go to Acts 1:9.

If you answered "Jesus" to the questions above, you have just personalized your Bible! Now your Bible isn't conceptual, it's personal! Now it isn't poetry and figures of speech, it's a person.

May it be so. May you two meet. May you fall in love. May you take his name. May you be forever together.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Stand in the Rain?

The Word for today: Isaiah 55
Mark this: Isaiah 55:8-11

Wow. This is it. THE actual "Stand in the Rain" verse. This is big.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, gives us a brilliant picture of the power of His Word.
In verses 10-11, we hear how the rain & snow (Snow! Aren't you glad that we in WNY are not forgotten!) come down on our planet with a purpose: they bring moisture and sustenance to plants and animals and people alike, before they melt and evaporate and begin the whole process again. God has graciously invented and given His creation the water cycle so we all can grow and be cleansed and refreshed and strengthened. Wherever there is good water, there is life and wherever there is not, it is a bleak existence.

In the same way, God has given us spiritual food and drink in His Word. Just by consuming it regularly, by being saturated in its life-giving words, we too grow and are cleansed and refreshed and strengthened. Just like the rain, we didn't create it, we cannot stop it from falling, but we each can chose whether or not to weather the weather. When we cut ourselves out from the rain of the Word for too long, we enter into spiritual drought. That is reason enough to stand in the rain.

But notice the two verses that precede these and we see another reason.

Doubtless you have heard some of verse 8 quoted in some context:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways..."
I have heard this applied to everything from death, natural disasters and other tragedies, to trying to figure out deep theological truths such as the Trinity or predestination vs. free will.
Whenever we don't understand something, either in life or about God, verses 8 & 9 tend to get thrown in. And, for the most part, that is understandable. God's ways and thoughts are much greater and better than our own- after all, He is God.

But I think we do these verses great injustice if we merely use them as a catch phrase for what we cannot explain or understand. These verses are vitally connected to the "stand in the rain" ones. Why do we stand in the rain? We do so precisely because our thoughts and ways are not naturally right or of God. We stand in the rain so that we might be corrected and straightened out and challenged, not by man-made rules or philosophies, but by the very Word of God.

Instead of leaving us in the lurch, God has provided the Word to show us exactly how He thinks and acts, and what is expected of us. We can't know everything there is to know about God. (After all He, by definition, knows all things and we, by definition, do not.) But we can know His thoughts and ways by what has been revealed to us.

We stand in the rain, so that our wrong thoughts and ways are replace by God's truth. We stand in the rain, so that we live not by whatever the latest fad or expert says, but by the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ. And because we stand in the rain, we can actually, as 1 Corinthians 2:16 says, "have the mind of Christ."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

too good not to be true

The Word for today:
Isaiah 54

I love this chapter. If Isaiah 53 is Good Friday, then Isaiah 54 is Easter Sunday.

The first word, after the crucifixon in chapter 53, is "Sing."

Did your heart ever sing? If not, then lay your burden at the cross and turn the page on your life.

If you've gone to the cross, but you still don't feel like singing, that means you left carrying something. It doesn't mean you're not saved. It means you don't know how saved you are.

Maybe you think it's all too good to be true. I thought like that for a long while after I'd been born again, until I learned that the salvation of Jesus Christ is too good
not to be true.

Our salvation isn't manmade. Manmade religions are always some variation of what the New Testament calls a religion of "works." What that means is just what it sounds like--that we have to work our way to God. We have to do this, and we have to do that, then we have to do some more.

Christianity is the radical exception. Through the darkness which descended upon the cross came the clear, commanding, triumphant words, "It is finished!" (1)

The battle was over. What had to be done to achieve your salvation was done by another, by God himself.

It is very difficult to comprehend that anyone could or would do that much for us. We've been told there is no free lunch. We've been warned about the fine print, about the strings attached.

There is no free lunch. But there's a free forever.

Paul, in the New Testament, must go to great lengths to convince the people--the saved Christians--that the deal was not about "works," about what we do.

The deal, the radical new covenant, was not about "do" at all. This was God-made, and it was "done."

It took a long while, even after I was born again, for God to penetrate my thick skull and infiltrate my wary heart with the three sweetest words I now know: "It is finished." But over time, "It is finished" has become my song, and my salvation. (2)

I still go to the cross. I go there often, even though Jesus isn't there any more. Because I still keep finding things that I never really left there, things I thought were mine to do.

I take them there. I leave them there. "It is finished," I sing.

(1) John 19:30; (2) Psalm 118:14

Monday, January 18, 2010

on holy ground, on your birthday

The Word for today:
Isaiah 52:13--53:12

Today just happens to be my wife's birthday.

Her name, officially, is Michelle. But only one person, her Mom, calls her that.

I call her "Shellster." Actually I call her "The Shellster," where 'Shellster' is her name and 'The' is her title. She is a.k.a. "The Franchise," which as a sporting term means the one player the team can't do without.

But the best thing about her is that she can do magic tricks! For example, she can just look at me and my heart does a back flip! I've watched her do that about a million times, and I still can't figure out how she does it.

Today, while we celebrate her birthday, those of us who are 'standing in the rain' can also celebrate our own!

The Bible has two notable birthdays. The second most notable is Christmas. (The best descriptions of that birthday can be found in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke.)

The most notable birthday in the Bible is yours, because Jesus' deathday is your birthday. The best descriptions of your birthday can be found in Old Testament prophecies, prior to the cross!

God drew a curtain of darkness over the cross (1). That transaction was between Trinity--Father, Son, Spirit. So when we read the New Testament descriptions of the cross, we aren't able to see very much. Eyes of the flesh weren't allowed in the room when you were delivered.

But the prophetic eyes of the Spirit--who sees tomorrow more clearly than we can see yesterday--had already, in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, described the cross in surround sound and vivid cinematic detail.

The physical realm of God's creation is a shadow cast when God casts a light on the spiritual realm. In the physical realm, every Mom could tell us that the baby is delivered through blood, travail, and pain. While all that Dads can do is watch.

Sometimes, life must spend all of itself in the giving. Way back in Genesis, on the way to Bethlehem, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. All that Jacob could do was watch:
While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, "Don't be afraid, for you have another son." As she breathed her last--for she was dying--she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb. (Genesis 35:16-20)

When Jesus died giving us new life, all the Father could do was watch, because the seed of the woman (2) had to die:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
In Isaiah 53, we are witnessing the creation of the eternal, engendered in the death of this single seed.

Heaven and earth, the creation described in Genesis, will pass away (3); but the creation wrought at the cross--the new heavens, the new earth, the new you--shall not pass away.

We stand, in Isaiah 53, at Ground Zero, where space and time intersect. In space, we stand on holy ground; in time, on your birthday.

And birthdays aren't to be sad. So Isaiah 53 doesn't leave Jesus in the grave like Jacob had to leave Rachel on the way. Isaiah 53 goes past the cross to today; then it passes today on its way to forever. The Deliverer, having delivered, sees the children, not the travail; he sees the fruit, not the labor:
When he makes himself an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand;
he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53:10-12)

Now with so many birthdays to celebrate, and so many more gifts to give, I have a notion that he won't ever look back on Isaiah 53 again. There's nothing left there now. The only trace left of the seed is the fruit.

(1) Luke 23:44; (2) Genesis 3:15; (3) Matthew 24:35

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trading Cups

The Word for today: Isaiah 51:17-52:12

Mark this: Isaiah 51:22

What is the one drink you just can't get down?

Orange juice after you brush your teeth?
Tap water from the State Park?
Diet pop?
Red Bull?
Cranberry juice?
Nasty protein shake?
Youth group Kool-Aid?

For some its coffee, or tea, or wine. Maybe its a Christmas related drink such as mulled cider or egg nog. The point is, that every one of us have a list of certain beverages that go beyond dislike, we can't stand them.

In this passage today, Jerusalem has tasted a few sips from a very difficult cup- the cup of God's wrath. This is a most bitter drink, brought on by their own blatant disobedience and spiritual adultery. As a result, Jerusalem finds itself with zero guidance, full of destruction and devastation, no food, no peace. The people are trapped by their sin. (51:18-20)
Yet in the midst of these desperate times, God Himself makes a promise: He has plead for these people, and taken away that bitter cup of His wrath, a foreshadowing of what was to come.(51:22)
Over 800 years later, in that very same city, God was still talking about cups.
On the night of the Last Supper; the very night before He was betrayed, arrested, tried, mocked, beaten, crucified and buried, Jesus was talking about cups.

The first cup is mentioned in Mathew 26:27-28.
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying,
"Drink from it, all of you.
This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many
for the forgiveness of sins."

Jesus Christ was showing His followers what would transpire in the next 24 hours. He was telling them of the new covenant between God and man: that because of His shed blood, many can know forgiveness of their sins. What amazing news, this once and for all sacrifice would cover us in ways that nothing else ever could. In it we find redemption, freedom, and new life.

But never forget that there was a second cup that night also. We see that cup a little bit later in a garden called Gethsemane. Jesus is preparing to complete His task and spends His last free hours with His Father, wrestling in prayer. He cries out:
"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
(Mt. 26:39)

He understands, better than anyone else, what is to transpire the next day. He knows that He will face all the emotional trauma of being abandoned, denied, and unjustly accused. He knows that He will face all the physical trauma of being struck, scourged, crowned with thorns, and ultimately crucified. But worst of all, He knows that He will drink the cup of God's wrath, and in utter despair, cry out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt. 27:46)

Jesus Christ willingly drank the cup of God's wrath for us, when He, alone of all people, was the only one who didn't deserve it. Never forget, whether you are participating in a Communion service, or simply enjoying a refreshing drink, that the wonderful cup of the New Covenant is available only because Jesus was willing to consume the bitter cup we were rightfully due.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

very boy of very boy

The Word for today:
Isaiah 50:4-51:16

mark this: Isaiah 50:4-7 --

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

We are nearing chapter 53 of Isaiah, when Jesus will be crucified.
And thus in chapter 5o, despite knowing what awaits him, Jesus resolutely turns his face towards Jerusalem:
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
(Isaiah 50:6-7)

On some levels, I can't relate to Jesus. Jesus is "very God of very God," the creed (1) states. I have no capacity to understand him on that level.

So that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about. God knew he had to express himself in terms we can understand, so he became one of us. The incarnation--the Word made flesh--is God expressing himself in the language of "us."

So under the wide and starry skies of Bethlehem, very God of very God became very man of very man. (Well, first he was very baby of very baby!)

As Jesus, God made the connection. He put things in terms we can understand:
Looking at his life, we understand what a heart is for: it was made to give away.
Looking at his life, we can picture what love looks like: it's shaped like a cross.
Looking at his death, we understand what sin is, when we see what it cost him to defeat it.

How did he get from Bethlehem to the cross? There are hints in our passage today.

We are told that every day in Nazareth, morning by morning, the boy listened to God's Word. He listened so attentively that he developed an ear to hear (Isaiah 50:4-5). And so day gave way to day.

Came the day when God's Word pointed to him. Then came the day it pointed him to the cross. He obeyed, and he never looked back (Isaiah 50:5), though he knew what awaited him; the beatings, the spittings, the disgrace. (Isaiah 50:6)

But the baby from Bethlehem, the boy from Nazareth, the man in Galilee set his face like flint for Jerusalem (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51).

And--this can be hard to understand--he did it for the joy of it:
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame. (Hebrews 12:2)

What joy?

You. His joy is to see you, redeemed and forever alive with him.

And he's getting a big kick out of you--"standing in the rain," morning by morning, your ears ever more open to the Word of God.

Sort of reminds him of those unclouded Nazareth mornings, when he was very boy of very boy.
(1) from the Nicene Creed, 325 A.D., Christendom's most widely accepted statement of faith

Friday, January 15, 2010

the two-edged sword of the LORD

The Word for today:

Isaiah 49:1-50:3

mark this:
Isaiah 49:2--
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.

Be careful how you hold that Bible. That thing is designed to cut!

Isaiah prophesied that the mouth (the message) of the Servant of the LORD would be like a sharp sword. (1)

Ephesians tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. (2)

The Bible must often hurt before it heals. It lays a life bare, revealing the unseemly innards:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)


Many people are uncomfortable around the Bible and Jesus, because as the Word and the Word made flesh, they are an indictment of our deepest secrets and motives.

We often try to deny what the Bible says about sin, especially our own sin. By erecting a facade, or clothing ourselves in camouflage, we can fool our friends and our families. We can even fool ourselves. I know, because I raised 'fooling myself' to an art form.

But we can't hide from the Bible's penetrating analysis. It cuts through all of our rationalizing, all of our moral equivocation, and all of the flat-out b.s. we hide behind.

The first function--the first cut--of the Bible is to show that we fall short (1), that we are sinners. That is the purpose of what the Bible calls "the law." The law is a diagnosis of our condition. The diagnosis is not pretty.

Many who don't want to forsake their sin shut the Bible right there. They never proceed past the law. So they never reach the remedy that God has provided.

They might insist that they have "intellectual reservations" about scripture. They might raise "philosophical objections." They will begin to talk about anything other than the problem--their sin; about anything other than the remedy--Jesus. Some will actively belittle the Bible. Instead of attacking their sin, they will attack the sword which revealed it:

"It's irrelevant," we hear some say.

Oh, really? Billions today believe in the Bible. Millions upon millions build their lives around it. It remains the central force of history.

But maybe by the standards of your dinky little neighborhood in 'Frisco or Wichita or Kalamazoo, amongst your insulated little coterie of friends, all of you with the same one-sided education; maybe by the standards of your dinky little life in rich, spoiled, TV-addled, 21st century America, where self is King; maybe there, judged by those standards, scripture's not "relevant."

But in the bigger picture of space and time, against the backdrop of the cosmos and the eons--which shows you and I, this time and place to be just a drop in the bucket, just dust on the scales (4)--it will be seen that we don't define the Bible's relevance. The Bible defines ours.

[If those remarks were cutting, it might be the sword of the LORD trying to get through.]

"It doesn't correspond to science," we hear some say.

Thank God it doesn't. Because wait a month, a year, a decade, and science will deny what it formerly proclaimed. "Science" (by their shallow definition of that term) will turn on itself or make excuses for itself on a regular basis--while the Bible stands unmoved and unmovable. No one has been able to take it down a single peg. Lord knows they try.

The real cause of their opposition towards the Bible is that the truth hurts. The real cause of their enmity towards the Bible is that the sword of the LORD is a threat to the domain of darkness. The real cause of their hatred towards the Bible is their love of sin:
Their judgment is based on this fact: The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. (John 3:19)

At the very pit of their hearts, many do not want to turn away from sin. For them, sin isn't a snare. Sin is actually the love of their lives. The Word of God and Jesus--the Word made flesh--are the only real threats to their Beloved, sin.

But if a person means business about forsaking his sin, he will continue on in the Bible. And he will discover God's amazing grace--that God turned the sword on himself in order to heal the disease the sword had revealed.

Whenever any person considers the whole of scripture--the problem and the solution, the law and the grace, the condemnation and the cross--all of his so-called intellectual reservations will begin to evaporate.

There are two sides to the sword of God. One side functions as a lance or scalpel, cutting just deeply enough to expose my sin. That's the cut meant to heal.

The other edge of the sword has never been aimed at anyone but Jesus. With that edge God cuts to kill; for it is by His stripes that we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

One edge is meant to expose sin. Jesus never felt that edge, because he had no sin to reveal.

The other edge is meant to punish sin. That's the edge I'll never know, because Jesus took it for me.

(1) Isaiah 49:2; (2) Ephesians 6:17; Romans 3:23; (4) Isaiah 40:15

Thursday, January 14, 2010

when two are gathered in His name

[Posted by Head Elder Norm]

The Word for today:
Isaiah 48

mark this: Isaiah 48:17--
This is what the LORD says--
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
"I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go."

I will never forget the summer of 1970. Due to a series of events through the late 60's, it felt like my life was spinning out of control.

One day in August of that year, when confiding my situation with a friend, he shared that what I needed was to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and invite him into my life. I took my friend at his word and that night on my knees I reached out to God, telling Him my feelings of despair, and inviting Jesus Christ into my life as my Lord and Savior.

That night was the beginning of a journey that turned me around and revolutionized my life. Three months after that event, my wife saw such a change in me that she gave her life to Jesus. Now we were on this new journey together. Our spirits became alive and the same Spirit who guided Jesus when he walked this earth began to guide us.

We took some deliberate steps to learn what being a disciple of Christ was all about. We studied our Bible, learning principles of Godly living. We prayed--asking God to, among other things, guide and direct us. We became involved in a local church for teaching, fellowship, and ministry. As we did these things the Spirit of God began to fill us.

Although things were often difficult we began to experience Godly direction, healing, and answers to our daily problems and concerns. We became more sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We began to understand better and better what it meant to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. We worked hard at seeing things through the eyes of Jesus and not using worldly standards as our guide.

Now, after 40 years of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, my wife and I can say with confidence:
"You are our God,
Who teaches us what is best for our lives,
Who directs us in the way we should go."
(Isaiah 48:17)

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your love and for carefully watching over us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the place of grace

The Word for today:

Isaiah 46, 47

mark this:
Isaiah 46:4--
Even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.

A lot of Bible study and a lot of sermons can sound like self-improvement programs; about how to be a more vibrant, confident you; how you can release the sparkle buried deep within your personality; how you can get God to pull some strings so you can finally land that promotion; or how you can get that date with the homecoming queen.

But God didn't watch Jesus die on the cross so you and I could release our inner sparkle.

Jesus didn't even die so we could go to heaven. Jesus died to get us out of hell.

Later--a whole other issue on a whole other day--Jesus rose from the dead. That's what got me into heaven.

When I was much younger, in a much younger world, I heard a song which mentioned Jesus. Heaven knows it's not a church song; but we'd do well to make it one:

Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower.
And when he knew for certain
only drowning men could see him,
He said, "All men shall be sailors, then,
until the sea shall free them."
But he himself was broken,
long before the sky would open.
Forsaken, almost human,
he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone. (1)

Things can be upside down in the kingdom of heaven. There, many who are 'first' will be last (2). There, a poverty of spirit is the greatest endowment (3). There, redemption is purchased in solitary suffering; joy is begotten in selfless sacrifice.

If you come to Jesus in order to get a leg up in this life, you will find him poor indeed. He has nothing to give you. There are no halos to hand out.

But when your prayer is just to get back up; when your hope is just to hold on through one more round--that's the day you'll see him; that's your day of Jubilee.

There comes the inevitable night when you can't find your way. At its heels comes the cold gray dawn, when you can't find your courage, or your will to carry on; when you feel like you're losing your grip, even your mind; when you can't remember who you are, let alone who they say you should be.

If any part of the paragraph you just read isn't foreign to you--if you're there, or fast approaching--I can testify that your day is on its way. While God has allowed you to turn the wheel, He's been doing the steering, maneuvering you to the place where He's your only prayer and your only hope.

God's grace will find you there; as surely as sin once found you out:
Even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (4)

Jesus Christ, no stranger to your darkness (5), will find you in that place of grace. He will pick you up, and He will see you home.

(1)"Suzanne," Leonard Cohen; (2) Matthew 19:30; (3) Matthew 5:3; (4) Isaiah 46:4; (5) Luke 23:44

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

the once and future King

The Word for today:
Isaiah 44:24-45:25

Yesterday, we looked at the Servant of the Lord, individually and collectively.

We saw that "the servant of the LORD" is both Jesus and Israel.

We saw that the Servant Christ will restore servant Israel (1). Then, restored and converted, Israel will no longer be a faithless servant, but will faithfully carry out the purposes of God.

Today, we will be looking at the multi-faceted individual Servant. The Bible student can be disoriented by this figure, because sometimes he is despised, rejected, even slain. Then, seemingly without transition, he is seen as a mighty conqueror, taking vengeance on the nations and restoring Israel (2).

How can these vastly dissimilar pictures be of just one person?

Here's how:
The passages depicting the rejected and despised figure relate to the first coming, or advent, of Jesus Christ. These prophecies of Jesus have been fulfilled in the New Testament.

The passages depicting the conqueror refer to Jesus' second advent.

The Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture, drew prophetic pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament--so that we'd be able to recognize Him at both of his advents.

First, a picture of Joseph, who was rejected by his brothers, thrown into a pit and left for dead. Lifted out of the pit, he is sold into slavery and then imprisoned. But by the hand of God in his life, he rose to the status of royalty, commanding all the resources of Egypt. When a famine struck, he was able to save many from death, both in Israel and Egypt. Joseph is a picture of the rejected servant who would become Savior. He is a picture of how God redeems--turning suffering into salvation; turning bad into good (3).

Next is a picture of David. Although he was God's anointed King, appointed by the prophet Samuel, he was forced into exile by King Saul, whom God had rejected. David lived in the hills and caves of the wilderness, unacknowledged by the principalities and powers of the day. But the time came when this rightful King returned and ascended to the throne that was already his.

With these prophetic Old Testament portraits, the Holy Spirit has prepared us to recognize the Servant who would be lifted up, saving many through his suffering; and to crown with great glory the King once crowned with thorns.

(1) Isaiah 49:5-6; (2) see Isaiah 63:1-4; (3) Genesis 50:20

Monday, January 11, 2010

Servant of the LORD / Light of the World

The Word for today:
Isaiah 43:14--44:23

Mark this: Isaiah 49:5-6

The careful Bible student will find himself wondering, as he reads through this section of Isaiah, just who "the Servant of the LORD" is.

Sometimes the Bible seems to be talking about the nation Israel. But at other times, there seems to be a solitary individual that we have in view.

Is the servant Israel, or is it Jesus?

The answer is "both."

Israel, the nation, is "the servant" in Isaiah 41:8-16; 43:1-10; 44:1-8, 21; 45:4 48:20.

The Messiah (Hebrew)--called the Christ (Greek) in the New Testament--is the individual Servant we see in Isaiah 42:1-12, chapter 49 in full; 50:4-6; 52:13-15; 53:1-12. These are striking pictures of Jesus!

Christ/Messiah--the individual Servant--must restore the servant nation. This is seen clearly in Isaiah 49:5-6:
And now the LORD says--
he who formed me in the womb
to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength--he says:
"It is too small a thing for you to be
my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

In the New Testament, we will see that those who believe in Jesus are referred to, collectively, in the same way that Jesus is referred to individually. Jesus is the Light of the world--see Isaiah 49:6 (above) and John 8:12. Then go over to Matthew 5:14, where Jesus tells his followers that they are the light of the world.

Those whom Jesus saves become more and more like Him (1). They serve like the Servant, and they shine like the Light.

(1) Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Colossians 3:10; 1 John 3:2

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Firm a Foundation

Posted by Pastor Joe

The Word for Today:
Isaiah 42:1-43:13

If J. Vernon McGee is the greatest Bible teacher (as Franklyn stated on 1/6/10), then "How Firm a Foundation" must be the greatest hymn, after all, it is used at the beginning of McGee's Thru the Bible radio program. But even if you can find a better teacher than McGee, you would be hard pressed to find a better hymn. This beautiful piece of poetry, written by an unknown soul, has inspired believers for the last 200 years. And where we stand now in Isaiah is the same place where the writer of this hymn stood in the late 1700's, right in the thick of chapters 40-43.

There is so much found in these four chapters- they have the density of lead. So instead of following on of the many excellent verses or ideas, I decided to stick with the hymn writer. He writes:

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.
What more can He say, Than to you He hath said; To you, Who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

What more indeed! This hymn starts right where Isaiah 40 does- the Scripture. I am so grateful that we have been given the very Word of God (Jesus Christ & His Testimony). There are many important things that we need to hear and many important people we ought to listen to, but the Word is the final say of everything. I am grateful I don't need any further revelation from anyone or anything, including an angel (that's where Islam & Mormonism went wrong). The Son of God and His inspired Bible are sufficient. (Hebrews 1:1)

That doesn't mean God can't speak to people today, but it does mean that if I or anyone else say anything about God, it better line up with what God has already spoken. Unlike man's words, the Word stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
(Isaiah 41:10)

In this passage, God reaffirms His power to overcome our fears and despair. If you are anything like me (Much-Afraid), you see the immense value in knowing we don't have to be a slave of fear or darkness. Apart from God there is lots to scare us: terror, war, unjust laws, no respect for human dignity, poverty, economic collapse, accidents, illnesses and the list goes on. Only God's enduring promises enable us to not just cope with, but to thrive in a very fallen world.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
(Isaiah 43:1-2, 2 Corinthians 12:9)

Here in today's reading we find the inspiration for verse three. God's every ready presence is what keeps us when we pass through the turbulent waters and rivers and flames of this life. Notice how it does NOT say that God grants us some special exemption from suffering. Instead, in Him we find a steadfast companion and the truth that all our sufferings can and will be redeemed.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes. That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake, I never, No never, No never forsake.

(Isaiah 41:17 & 42:16)

And finally we, by name, identify the One that Isaiah and the whole Old Testament have been proclaiming since page one: Jesus Christ. He is the Chosen Servant of God (Isaiah 42: 1-3) that works out all of these promises. Twice in these chapters God announces that He will not forsake His people. The hymn writer goes as step further, in reference to Hebrews 13:5, and gives a triple guarantee: never Never NEVER!!! God is making it very clear that is committed to us, so committed that He was willing to allow His very own Son to feel that abandonment that we all deserve (Mark 15:34). Now instead we have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

I encourage you to chew on the meat of this hymn and more importantly, the meat of Isaiah 40-43. You'll be gnawing away on it for some time and find yourself grounded in its brilliant truths.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Let there be laughter!"

The Word for today:
Isaiah 41

God's having fun in Isaiah 41.

He's taunting the opposition, kicking sand in their faces, stealing their lunches, and tying their sneakers together while they sleep.

In our deep reverence for the Bible, we sometimes don't respond when God downshifts.

And that's understandable. The last part of chapter 40 reaches dazzling poetic heights, so our hearts can get stuck in that gear.

But if we don't go with his flow, we won't know him like he wants to be known. Our God has range, from the sublime to the ridiculous. The downshift from chapter 40 to chapter 41--from the airborne eagle to the earthbound worm; from the stars, the handiwork of God, to idols, the handiwork of man--is so smooth we can get left out of an inside joke.

It's difficult to explain humor. Most of the time we explain it away. So I will understate a few funny lines in order to leave some room for laughter:

1. God introduces a scene of craftsmen coming together to make a metal idol with this mock-epic line:
The islands have seen it and fear;
the ends of the earth tremble...
(Isaiah 41:5)
(Personal note: I once laughed so hard over that line that my stomach actually ached.)

2. The idol maker appraises his welding job with the line echoing God's creation of the universe:
He says of the welding, "It is good."
He nails down the idol so it will not topple.
(Isaiah 41:7)
(Personal note: This line has brought tears--of laughter-- to my eyes!)

3. God taunts the idols to do something--anything!
Do something, whether good or bad,
so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.
(Isaiah 41:23)

We love God's majesty, his high purposes, his faithfulness, humility, creativity, poeticism, and grace.

Let's love the sound of his laughter as well. His mock-serious treatment of idols might be the funniest thing in literature. When Elijah suggests (1 Kings 18:25-29) that the idol Baal may not have acted because he was, uh, taking a..., uh, because he was indisposed--there is nothing as side-splitting.

Except, perhaps, when the Philistines set the captured ark next to their idol, Dagon:
Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. (1 Samuel 5:2-4)

"Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him!"
(Personal note: That line kills me!)

We as his sheep know his voice (John 10:4, 27). But let's get to know it better. Voice can color words with subtexts and undertows and undertones and undertoads! Let's get to know the tones and textures, the colors and the lights in God's voice.

God named the covenant son, the son promised to Abraham and Sarah, "Isaac." If we could speak Hebrew, we'd know that "Isaac" means "he laughs." It seems that not long after God said, "Let there be light," and "Let there be life," he said, "Let there be Laughter."

So, let there be laughter!