Tuesday, November 30, 2010

every word must rhyme

The Word for today:
2 Peter 2

Mark this: 2 Peter 2:1-3
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

and this:  2 Peter 1:20
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.

Each of us has a spiritual gift, and today's reading bears directly on mine.  So permit me, if you will, to pronounce my personal manifesto.

I'm not a big deal in this world.  But on the eternal plane I'm somebody to be reckoned with, because principalities and powers are shaken to their core when, at the command of Jesus, any one of us unsheathes the Sword of the Spirit in this desert.

That may sound like swagger to you, but saying it doesn't sound like swagger to me, because I know who I am and what I am capable of,

Which is next to nothing.  But I also know that insofar as I am true to my gift and calling, I am a force in the kingdom of God.

And thus far, by the grace of God, I've stayed true to that gift.  I can't say, like Paul could, that I have finished the race (1).  But I can say that I remain, at this hour, on course towards achieving this one thing:

to make it understood that every word in this one great poem we call the Bible rhymes with its every other word

That's why I don't often teach topical Bible courses, or courses on one book at a time.  I teach whole-Bible courses, because the Bible, when taught whole, enforces an inherent discipline, forcing a teacher to make sure that nothing stands in contradiction to things taught before.  The Bible, when considered as an indivisible entity, maintains a perfect balance that no single verse, or chapter, or book, or even testament, was ever designed to maintain.

For example, I have been approached to teach courses on Revelation, because everybody, it seems, wants to know about Revelation.  But I've declined.

I've declined because the book of Revelation does not hold itself accountable.  What that means is that I can (as many do) teach Revelation and, within its own context, make it say anything I want it to say.  But if we teach whole-Bible courses (like the three-year Stand in the Rain course which you're now in the middle of) then what I teach in Revelation has to match up with what I taught in Zephaniah, Matthew, Jude and Obadiah;

They have to "rhyme" with each other.  Unless and until they do, they invalidate one another.

Some teach almost specifically from the New Testament.  That way, they don't have to account for--or field questions concerning--the God of the Old Testament.  Thus they can (and do) teach any kind of Jesus they dream up.  They teach a truncated Jesus, a skewed Jesus, a top-heavy Jesus, a bottom-heavy Jesus, a shriveled Jesus, an enervated Jesus, an emasculated Jesus.  They'll introduce you to a Jesus of many curious colors, but the Jesus you won't meet  is the real one, the Jesus who rhymes with every jot and tittle of God's every word, which He said he would:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
The principal that informs my particular gift is found right here in 2 Peter:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.  (2 Peter 1:20)

People often take that to mean that we can't individually understand scripture.  I don't think it means that at all, because there have been crucial moments in church history where the interpretation of one man, standing in the face of universal opposition, rescued an essential doctrine from oblivion.  The classic example is Martin Luther, who almost single-handedly rescued the central tenet of soteriology--that justification is sola fide, by faith alone--which had been lost and buried in the medieval church.

No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation means that no verse or book--no utterance of the prophets who spoke for God--can be interpreted without reference to every other verse and book in scripture.

It makes perfect sense that each verse must fit into the whole.  It can (and often does) create nonsense when preachers and teachers force the whole to fit into a few pet verses.  Such teaching is either ignorant of the rest of the Bible (which is usually the case); or is self-serving; or is, for some ulterior and pernicious motive, intentionally misleading.

Thanks for reading this far.  This is of vital importance to me.  In fact, 2 Peter 1:20 is my creed.  I work long and hard at Bible exposition and as I do, I constantly hold my work up to the standard this verse pronounces.

There are about 40 human authors of scripture, who wrote over a span of about 1500 years.  But they are, they must be, of just one voice--the single voice of the Holy Spirit who authored the whole:
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

Thus the voice we hear in Nahum must be the voice in Ephesians must be the voice in Judges must be the voice in Psalms must be the voice in 2 Peter.  Jesus spoke about this in one of scripture's most wonder-filled figures of speech:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.   (John 10:2; John 10:5)

I leave you with one pithy truth that I try to make sure every student of mine understands. You can never be duped by the false teachers--the ones Peter so urgently warns us about in 2 Peter 2:1-3 (above)--if you cut out this little Q & A and store it in your wallet, or purse, or Bible, or heart, or head:

Q. What does (write any single Bible book or verse here) mean?
A. Anything you want it to mean.
Q. What does the whole Bible--all 66 books / all 31,173 verses--mean?
A. Jesus, and nothing else.

I hope to stay true to my calling.  If I do not, I count on you to write me and tell me I've fallen out of rhyme with God's Word. 

And if--with your help--I manage to maintain harmony with the one clear voice of scripture, it will not mean a great deal to the world.  But  the angels will applaud and maybe, just maybe, Jesus will commend.

And there is, whatever our gift, no higher purpose or calling than the pursuit of his commendation.

(1) 2 Timothy 4:7

Monday, November 29, 2010

the transformer

The Word for today:
2 Peter 1:12-21

We learned yesterday that Peter knew this would be his last letter:
I know I must soon leave this body, as our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me. (2 Peter 1:14)

Knowing he would die a martyr's death, he wants us to know that he isn't going to die for a fable. He reminds us that with his own eyes, he had seen Jesus transfigured:
For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. And he received honor and glory from God the Father when God's glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven, "This is my beloved Son; I am fully pleased with him." (2 Peter 1:16-17; see Matthew 16:28-17:8)

But the Word of God, Peter says, is even more tangible than the Transfiguration!--
We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:18-19)

The writers of the Bible were not giving us their own observations--God told them to speak:
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

At the same time, God used the personalities and abilities of men--moved by the Holy Spirit—and got out His Word. The authors weren’t merely fountain pens. The Word of God is both a God-book and a man-book--like Jesus, who is both human and divine.

Peter himself is evidence of the power of God's Word.
A great change is seen in the life of Peter from these epistles. He was given the name Simon at birth, but Jesus named him Peter, meaning “rock.”

In the Gospels, Peter was anything but a rock. He had been impulsive and unstable, but in Acts he was a pillar of the early church. Jesus named him not for what he was but for what he would become. The transforming power of the gospel had wrought this change in his life.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

keep the light on

The Word for today:
2 Peter 1:1-11

mark this:  2 Peter 1:19
We have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. Pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a light shining in a dark place – until the day Christ appears and his brilliant light shines in your hearts.

Imagine, if you will, that you are writing what is certain to be your last letter.

What would you write?  What would you emphasize?  What would be the last thought you would want to impart those you care about the most?

Two towering New Testament writers--the Apostles Paul and Peter--were in that situation.  We can read their last letters.  We know them as the "books" of 2 Timothy and 2 Peter.

These infinitely influential men wrote essentially the same last letter.  They both stressed the primacy of the Word of God--that there is nothing as precious, as essential, as the Bible.

Why?  What's so essential about the Bible?  I could go on and on (and if you regularly read these articles, you know I do!) about the crucial part the Bible plays in history, in the world today, and in individual lives.   But instead of telling with words, I'll show it with a picture.

Way back in the beginning of your Bible is a remarkable scene.  Located in the last verse of Genesis 3, we see Churubim (think "angels") surrounding the Tree of Life.

We don't know how many Cherubim were there.  The word is plural, so we know that there were more than one.  Paintings of this scene often show two Cherubim, but the Bible doesn't give any specific number.

So, maybe there were two cherubim.  And maybe there were three, or three thousand, or a gazillion.

However many were there, we know this: all of them, put together, wielded but one weapon--a single sword:
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24/KJV)

They were commissioned by God for a single mission--to keep (or guard) the way to eternal life.  That "Way," of course, is none other than Jesus:
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)

And their weapon, the "sword" God gave them to guard the Way to life, was none other than the Bible:
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  (Hebrews 4:12; see also Revelation 1:16, 2:12; 2:16.)
Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:16-17)

The Bible is the flaming Sword that lights the Way, through this sin-darkened world, back to God.  We do not know if Adam and Eve ever, through faith, took the Way back to eternal life with God.  But we do know that God "kept the light on," so that lost men will be able to find the Way back home.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

untamed or lame

The Word for today: Song of Solomon 8:5-14
Mark this: 8:6-7

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Wow. Now those are some lyrics. When we are reading Song of Songs, we are looking at some of the most powerful, yet exquisite poetry ever written. (I suppose that only the Word of God has the ability to smash us like a wrecking ball, while delicately slicing us like a scalpel, both at the same time.)I know that I certainly cannot do it justice- it's akin to trying to describe the Grand Canyon over a text message.

Most of our world's attempts to comprehend or express real love end up sounding like this:
"Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, Everything that's wonderful is what I feel when we're together, Brighter than a lucky penny..." (Leslie Gore)

Honestly, I don't know if I could do much better. So I am going to leave all the hollow and watered down efforts of the recording industry and Hollywood behind and instead focus on the similes given in the Scripture.

A few words or ideas come to the forefront in these verses. Furious. Uncontrollable. Unrelenting. There is nothing plastic or prefabricated about them. The love of God cannot fit into our safe and sterile boundaries. We can look back at some of the recent natural disasters to give us a small glimpse of that kind of scale. Think of the California Wildfires of 2009. In one year, in that state alone, 336,020 acres (525 sq. miles) of land was consumed by at least 63 different blazes. Very often, the brave firefighters were at the mercy of the weather to extinguish these wildfires. The familiar images of planes or helicopters dumping water were the equivalent of us trying to spit out a campfire.

That is the kind of scope and power this passage is describing. God's love is more furious than any fire we've ever experienced. We see this relentless and untamed attribute of God clearly in the rest of the Bible. There is fire literally everywhere, especially concentrated in the Old Testament. Smoking swords, flaming firepots, burning bushes, pyrotechnic pillars, melting mountains, scorched sacrifices, melted ministers, grilled grumblers. (1)

Both the Old and New Testaments use the image of fire to convey not only the attributes of God (e.g. His glory, wrath, power, and love), but also to describe each member of the Blessed Trinity (2) God is ablaze and glorious and relentless in all He is and all He does. Deuteronomy 4:24 best sums this up: "the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God," a statement that is later repeated in Hebrews 12:29.

The sad thing is that many of us "Christians" have tried so hard to turn this blazing Biblical love into a cheap, chintzy, saccharine-filled imitation. We want a flashlight or lantern like Jesus that we control. But we end up with a Jesus who is a cross between Richard Simmons and Mr. Rogers. (Father forgive us!)

So my goal for today is not to neatly define, categorize and label God's love. I can't squeeze Him into any man-made container that I can control and manipulate. No, my goal is to step back and submit, to let the unquenchable, unbridled, untamable love of God run wild in this life. It isn't easy, but it beats the heck out of any cutesy sunshine or lollipop bit.

(1) The words may have been altered for alliterative purposes- but each of these events are in the OT.
(2) Isaiah 29:6, Matthew 3:11-12, Acts 2:1-4

Friday, November 26, 2010

song of songs, love of loves

The Word for today:
Song of Songs 6:4-8:4

Mark this: Song of Songs 8:3-4
His left hand is under my head,
And his right hand embraces me.
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
Do not stir up nor awaken love
Until it pleases.

In the discussion of the shepherd, the king, and the bride in Song of Songs, we forget there are some others in the story. They are the "daughters of Jerusalem" (see 2:7; 3:5; 5:8). The daughters of Jerusalem appear exactly once more in the Bible--on the way to the cross:
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.  (Luke 23:28)

Three times in Song of Songs, the daughters of Jerusalem are told they would have to be patient, to wait until the time was right for love…
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases. (Song of Songs 2:7)

1000 years after Solomon, when the time was right for love, the Bridegroom/Shepherd/King turns to the daughters of Jerusalem on His way to save the Bride:
 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? (Luke 23:28-31)

The daughters of Jerusalem, the audience in Song of Songs, were witness to the greatest love the world has ever known, but not in Solomon's time. They had to wait until the New Testament, where "Greater love hath no man, than that He should lay down His life for (His bride)."

That, ultimately, is what Song of Songs is about.
It stands to reason.  All the best songs are love songs, so the "Song of Songs" would have to be about the love of loves.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

of shepherds and kings

"Shepherd, Cross, & Crown" -- Stained Glass Panels, Faith Community Lutheran Academy

The Word for today:
Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3

What's all this about shepherds, and Kings, and the Son of David returning to rescue His Bride--toiling under the sun—then placing her under His banner in the garden…

Song of Solomon can be pretty tricky to follow. The voices drift in and out and it is never easy to know just who is speaking. Many of our Bibles have labeled the shifting speaking parts, but that can cause as many problems as it solves!

The most reliable hint that we can give you concerning the various voices is this:
The bridegroom always refers to his bride as “my love,” and the bride calls him “my beloved.”  (cf. Ephesians 1:6; Genesis 2:24)

Besides the shifting voices, the reader must also contend with shifting time. Following the conventions of oriental song, there is little or no attempt at chronological order.

It is best to think of Song of Solomon as an album of photos taken of the Beloved and His Love. The pictures capture their love, but are not necessarily arranged chronologically.

This is impressionistic poetry, written by the Poet who healed with a word and painted with light. How does one arrange snapshots of a love not bound by space or time? How does one arrange remembrances of the future?

But the biggest aid to understanding Song of Solomon is to recognize that every slice of the Bible will correspond to the whole--

So, let's see…we have a bridegroom, who is a shepherd, who comes back as a King.

Known to the Holy Spirit (author of the Bible) but unknown to Solomon, there was to come a good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep (1).  But though he were dead, he will return as King to regather his Bride.

And so, as shepherd turns into king, a heart-pounding love poem turns into breath-taking prophecy, as well.

(1) John 10:11-15

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

lip service--or kisses sweeter than wine?

The Word for today:
Song of Solomon 3:6-5:1

The Song of Solomon doesn't waste much time with (how do I say this?) hand-holding. It gives us kisses sweeter than wine in its very first line:
May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine.

But while the heart holds sway in the Song, we do an injustice if we do not distinguish the concurrent streams of meaning which flow through its verses:

1. The Song of Solomon sets forth the glory of wedded love and the sacredness of the marital relationship as a God-given institution.

2. The Song also sets forth the love of Jehovah for Israel. That is not a new thought, found in this book alone. The prophets spoke of Israel as the wife of Jehovah. Hosea dwells on that theme. Idolatry in Israel is likened to a breach in wedded love and is the greatest sin in all the world, according to Hosea.

3. The Song of Solomon is a picture of Christ and the church. The church is the bride of Christ. This is a familiar figure in the New Testament (see Ephesians 5; Revelation 21).

4. Finally, this book portrays the love of Christ for the individual believer and the soul’s communion with Christ. Many great saints of God down through the years have experienced this. Paul could say, “… the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).


While some of us will appreciate Song of Solomon on these various levels, we must ultimately return to "the greatest of these"--the level of love in number 4.

We talk, in the modern church, of a personal relationship with Christ. We say that phrase so much that it takes on the generic mindlessness of cliché.

When I've had enough of limp Christian lingo, I come here to see what a relationship with Christ ought to be. Song of Solomon is the great antidote to churchiness and religiosity. What a striking difference between these kisses sweeter than wine and so much of our lukewarm lip-service.


You've got but one heart to spend. Think of it in terms of one dollar.  If you were given just one, where would you spend it? 

Don't waste your only heart on some room-temperature relationship.  Spend it foolishly and recklessly. Leave nothing in reserve. Take out no insurance. Save nothing for a rainy day.

And if these words seem extravagant to you, then keep on searching for the Jesus who inspires them. Don't stop--don't settle--for any Jesus until you've found the very same Jesus who wrote rhapsody in the heart of a Shulamite girl, and caused Franklyn to take leave of his senses.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the passion of the Christ

The Word for today:
Song of Solomon 2.8-3.5

So what is Song of Solomon all about?

I waxed poetic in yesterday's introductory article. That's because Song of Solomon isn't religion or philosophy or theology. It's poetry.

It has to be poetry because what Song of Solomon is conveying is a kiss. And not just any kiss. Song of Solomon is the kiss of life.

Some of you are beginning to squirm, just like I do when movies come 'round to the kissing scene. I get it, I get it-- they're in love and they're about to kiss. But do they have to show it?

Some people squirm, in the very same way, at the reading of the Song of Solomon. We get it, we get it-- "God so loved" and all of that, but do they have to show it?

Yes, the scene must be seen in order to understand the theme--of both Song of Solomon and the Bible at large:
Salvation is a love affair.

We read about our salvation on the paper pages of scripture, where dry and distant terms are often employed; terms which can make our salvation seem a paper transaction, an accounting function. The Bible speaks of covenants, and accrediting; of purchase, and title, and down payment.

Our Bibles speak of law, adoption, proxy, birthright, and inheritance. It's enough to make us think that we are saved by contractual obligation.

But know this: Jesus was in no way obligated to go to the cross. Should Jesus have opted out, the angelic hosts would at this very moment be singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy" (1) with infinite, undiminished fervor.

Jesus did not go to the cross to prove himself, or to fulfill himself. Jesus went to the cross because he was in love. The cross was an outworking of the love that God already was (2).

It was, in that way, like a kiss.

That's why we never call it "the duty of the Christ;" or "the obligation of the Christ." We call it what it is--"the passion of the Christ."

(1) Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8; (2) 1 John 4:16

Monday, November 22, 2010

the oasis in the midst

The Word for today:
Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7

Look! Here it is: The Song of Solomon.

Many people think it's the crown jewel of the Bible.

I think so. It's a diamond which shimmers in the the midst. And--like the shifting, elusive glory of the Lord in the vision of Ezekiel 1--we can't really pin down all the light shining from it

The Song takes many guises and shapes. I've taught the book this way and that way and then another way. I used to castigate myself, thinking the changing ways I approached its teaching indicated that I had never really gotten a sure grip on its meaning.

But I castigate myself no more. Because I've come to appreciate that this diamond has many facets. Those facets--turned this way and that, examined from one angle then another--reflect a love that is ever original, ever new.

Do you remember love when it was new? The awkward, gushing crush you had when love first found you?

That's the essence of Song of Solomon. It's the eternal crush we hold for the Bridegroom. It's that heart-beating, palpitating, aromatic, sunlit, moonstruck, confused and desperate crush of love that is forever new.

I hope you return often to the pages of Song of Solomon. I hope you hear it ever rearranging. May your love for Jesus be ever growing, its meaning ever gathering and forever young. May eternity be too short to explore all of its facets.

Man was banished from Eden. A long and arid death march ensued--into the wilderness, past the terrifying summit of Sinai, then through a dissolving kingdom that all the king's horses could not carry back from exile…

When, behold, an oasis, evergreen, in the midst of the barren land.

Song of Solomon is the oasis in the midst. And though I fell into sin in the garden, in the oasis I fell in love. And I am here to tell you that love is no mirage.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

do or die

The Word for Today:
Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:14

The end of Ecclesiastes provides us with some of the richest metaphors we have regarding the aging process. As much as I love the more standard Bible versions (KJV, NIV, ESV), I feel that the New Living Translation best captures the essence of what Solomon was communicating:

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.
So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky.
Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.

Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint. Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper…

Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral. Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well (1).

The basic idea of this passage is this: "It's now or never! It's do or die!"
In my work with students, this is a passage that I use to remind them of the importance of their choices now. Its a warning to them that life only gets harder, and more complicated as you get older, so make the right choices and habits now, before its too late.

But this is a message that both young and old need to hear. From a spiritual point of view, there is no tomorrow. We either seek, follow, receive, accept the Lord today, or we don't at all. "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation (2)."
Our society is one that teaches that it is okay to put God and spiritual matters on the back burner, that you don't really need Him until you reach some undefined point down the road. Our world operates under the spend now, pay later philosophy. We are under the illusion that there are no consequences to our actions, no real day of reckoning. We are expecting a "get out of consequences for free card" a government bailout, or some miracle pill to undo whatever damage we may have inflicted.

But if you think of it, it is utterly ridiculous for any of us to say that we will put off any significant or difficult till later. The old "I'll start (exercising, dieting, studying, devotions,etc.) tomorrow is just as preposterous as the old "I'll stop (drinking, smoking, swearing, overeating, procrastinating, etc.) tomorrow" excuse. Tomorrow never comes! Each day you wake up, it is still today and you must chose that day to make whatever decision you make. All your plans for tomorrow only work if you follow through today.

All we have is today. So what are you doing today? Please don't talk to me about your future. Don't use your past as an excuse. Stick with the eternal now of the Scriptures-Jesus Christ. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts (3) ." He stands outside of time. He alone "is the same yesterday and today and forever (4) ."

(1) Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:7 (NLT)
(2) 2 Corinthians 6:2
(3) Hebrews 4:7
(4) Hebrews 13:8

Saturday, November 20, 2010

a shepherd without a Lamb

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 10:8-11:8

mark this:  Ecclesiastes 12:11-13

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Tomorrow, Pastor Joe will bid adieu to Ecclesiastes. He'll be writing about the great extended metaphor in chapter 12.

So this is my goodbye to the sad and noble and confused man in Ecclesiastes who has meant so much to me for the reasons I have tried to express over the last few installments.

Allow me, then, to leapfrog right over chapter 11 and most of chapter 12 to the very last lines of this dear and desperate little book:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

That line has always struck me as too little, too late. Because there is no indication in the rest of Ecclesiastes that this man has an inkling of what it means to keep God's commandments.

I'm going to say something unsettling to novice Bible students. Here goes:
The purpose of God's commandments is to show us that we cannot keep them.

God's commandments are designed to lead us into a realization that we are sinners in need of salvation:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

“And keep his commandments” would mean to meet God’s conditions for salvation—in any age—grounded on faith in God. For Cain it meant bringing a lamb. For Abraham it meant believing the promises of God. For the people of Israel it meant approaching God through sacrifice in the tabernacle and in the temple. For us it is to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31).

But because there is something crucial that is missing from his writing, I doubt that my friend from Ecclesiastes ever understood this.

What crucial element does Ecclesiastes lack which marks the rest of the Bible? In a word: blood.
There is no scarlet thread of redemption, even between its lines. There’s a shepherd (12:11) but no Lamb.

The Lamb had to die because the people could not keep the commandments. Solomon, in all his wisdom, failed to bring this, the most central axiom of scripture, into his deliberations:
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 17:11)

Whether it was Solomon's Bible--the Old Testament--or our Bibles with both Old and New Testaments, Scripture's central teaching is that the only way to avoid judgment is to claim the blood of the Lamb:
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

Friday, November 19, 2010

more love than you can fit in your heart

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 9:1-10:7

Ecclesiastes shows us a man in pursuit of something--anything--that will lend his life a sense of meaning.

He tries it all, but nothing fills the emptiness he feels inside.

He samples this philosophy and that religion. He tries them on for size, and for a while things seem to fit. But eventually each new thing proves to be just another false start, and his unrequited longing for rhyme and reason returns.

So he adopts yet another philosophy or lifestyle in an attempt to fill the void.  He adopts one thing after another, the same ones we resort to today:

Hedonism: The pleasure principle (2:1).

Materialism: "He who has the most toys…" (2:9-10).

Fatalism: One event happens to them all (2:14; 9:2).

Ideology: Systems of thought (2:12a).

Rejection of ‘establishment’ assumptions (2:12a).

Existentialism: Going with the flow, in the moment, the right now:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. (3:1-4)

Religion: Working your way to God (chapter 5).

Stoicism: Indifferent acceptance of “Whatever…” (7:15)

The status quo/the happy medium. (7:16-17)

"The almighty $." (10:19)

Nihilism. (11:8)

Each one of these, in turn, failed the author of Ecclesiastes--just as they fail us now.

In an attempt to impose some shape on your existence, you might have tried the whole list.

So when your current attempt fails you, try this:
Taste and see that the LORD is good.  (Psalm 34:8)

You've tried one thing after another, and nothing measured up to your hopes. But when you meet Jesus Christ, you'll find something bigger than your thoughts can contain.  You'll find more love than you can fit in your heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

somewhere, over the rainbow

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 7, 8

Mark this: Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes is a record of the dark, empty, shapeless heart of man:
A man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry. (Ecclesiastes 8:15a)

It is the spiritual equivalent of the natural realm before God's Word arrived to dispel the darkness:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  (Genesis 1:1-2)

But God didn't leave the world in the dark:
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

And he doesn't leave us in the dark either:
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12)

The heart of the naturally-born man, seeing by the light of the sun, remains unfulfilled and uncomprehending:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

But Jesus said that there is another birth, when faith meets the blood of his cross, that takes us out of uncomprehending darkness:
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

Ecclesiastes is a record in real time of the Holy Spirit hovering over broken lives, bothering and pestering us with our own emptiness, letting the hollowness of our days and the shallowness of our own words bring us to the conclusion that there has to be a better way; that, somewhere over the rainbow, there has to be a brighter day.

Those born again through faith in Jesus Christ don't just get eternal life. They also get new eyes. So while the man in Ecclesiastes cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end, those born of the Spirit can see all the way from Alpha to Omega:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:13)

Ecclesiastes tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts--a sense of something beyond ourselves--an unfulfilled longing, an empty place to fill in. But it doesn't have to stay that way:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:6 )

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

insert foot in mouth

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 4:9-6:12

Mark this: Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

I know all of us have said things that we've regretted, but some of us do it more often than others. I fall into that camp of chronic foot-in-mouthers. But even the worst of us blabbermouths eventually understand that restraining our words is often a good idea. And while we may have figured out somewhat when to be silent before other people, that skill does not automatically transfer to our relationship with God. Don't be fooled into thinking that foot in mouth disease does not apply there.

We've now come to perhaps the most neglected passage concerning worship in the entire Bible. It's one that not many like to hear. But it is one that we ought to hear, and hear frequently. In one word: silence.

When I first was taking Spanish classes in junior high, our teacher's favorite expression was "sientete y callete," which means sit down and shut up! (A very necessary expression to junior highers of any language!) Today's passage has the same message for us- at least in regards to worship.

We know from the Word of God that our Father in Heaven does not care much for showy, self-centered prayers (1), mindless repetition (2), blind adherence to man-made rules and traditions (3), meaningless offerings (4), or hypocritical acts of worship (5).

But unless we are careful, it is our tendency as humans to fill even our most sincere attempts of adoration with all of the above, with mere noise. And by noise I do NOT mean volume. I mean what this passage describes: worship that is foolish, ignorant, hasty, and heavy on words but light on meaning.

Whenever our attempts to praise God end up being about ourselves and our feelings; whenever we sing a song mindlessly, with not the slightest understanding of what is being sung, whenever we are simply hoping that the song ends so we can sit down soon- that my friends, is the sacrifice of fools. Ouch- too often those descriptions come close to what passes for praise in our gatherings.

But before we blame a certain time period or style or culture, we must understand that the sacrifice of fools has been, and will continue to be, a problem for all who would worship the Living God. It really comes down to a matter of the heart. We either worship the Lord in spirit and in truth or we don't worship at all (6).

I find the best thing to make sure my heart is where it should be is the old "sientete y callete" approach. When I understand the same truth that Habakkuk did: "the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him (7) ." When I come before Him acknowledging the vast difference between us. It is then and only then that I have anything worthwhile to say. Otherwise- I'm going mum, cause it sure beats the alternative.

(1) Luke 18:11-12
(2) Matthew 6:7
(3) Mark 7:8-9
(4) Isaiah 1:14
(5) Amos 5:21
(6) John 4:24

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

chasing after wind

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4:8

mark this:  Ecclesiastes 1:14 & 4:4
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Solomon wrote Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. 

We should remember that Solomon wrote his three books over the course of a lifetime. As such, they can be seen as a comprehensive spiritual diary--the ultimate journal!

In Proverbs we see the wisdom of Solomon.

In Song of Solomon we see--in the heart which turns to Christ--that the object is too large for the heart.

In Ecclesiastes we see the foolishness of the same man when he got away from God.  Life does not satisfy; the heart is too large for the object:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

At first glance, Ecclesiastes seems to raise more questions than it answers.  The reader is left to wonder--
What's going on around here? What's this book doing in the Bible?

It depicts the emptiness and disappointment of life, lacks any note of praise or peace, and seems to sanction conduct at variance with the rest of Scripture. The difficulties can be resolved only by consideration of the nature and purpose of the book:

(1) Ecclesiastes must be understood as the book of the natural man--the natural man's reasoning apart from the Spirit of God and divine revelation:
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him: nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

This is the meaning of "under the sun."  Used repeatedly (27 times) the phrase reminds us that its conclusions are from a human perspective, exclusive of divine revelation.

(This is also why the covenant name "LORD"--Jehovah--is not used; God is only known as "Elohim," the Creator. Hence the writer is confined to natural revelation (the light which nature gives) and human reason.  The clause "I communed with my own heart," occurs seven times.)

(2) The purpose of the book is to demonstrate to the natural man the complete emptiness of things "under the sun" whenever they become disconnected from that which is above the sun--God's revelation and salvation.

The great truth of Ecclesiastes is that life without God in the equation is meaningless and pointless; it's--
a chasing after the wind (NIV);
a striving after wind (ESV);
as senseless as chasing the wind (CEV);
like feeding on wind (CJB);
like grasping for the wind (NKJV);
a vexation of spirit (KJV);
nothing but spitting into the wind (MSG).

Monday, November 15, 2010

on the way to the Way

The Word for today:
Ecclesiastes 1, 2

mark this:  Ecclesiastes 1:14-18
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Compared to the rest of the Bible, Ecclesiastes is dimly lit.  In its pages we behold some of the back alleys and dark prospects of scripture.

In Ecclesiastes we are seeing by natural light--under the sun.  Most of the rest of the Bible is illuminated by supernatural light--the Light of the World.

Ecclesiastes is a transitional book for those, like this writer, who emerge from deep darkness with eyes unable to adjust all at once to the Truth.  Today I hope to convey a personal testimony--a tribute to this unlikely book which has been so instrumental in the salvation of my own soul.

For it was via the dark alleys of Ecclesiastes that I first approached the Light.


More than anything else, the one thing that prompted me to seek something other than life as I knew it was a nagging sense of the pointlessness of it all…a pervasive sense of the emptiness and the meaninglessness of life (in general) and of my life (in particular.)

In that frame of mind I "happened" upon a book called Ecclesiastes. And what to my wandering eyes did appear but a book that was all about...the pointlessness of it all.

So--after dis-ing his act unmercifully just one year ago, when the pages of this blog were turning through the book of 1 Kings--I extend the following note of gratitude and esteem to Solomon.


This Bible student owes Solomon a great debt. When I first read Ecclesiastes, I considered it to be the most modern book I had ever read. Nowhere had I seen a more fitting description of our contemporary age than in the writing of this man who lived 3000 years ago! It is a book instrumental to my belief that the Bible is inspired, prophetic, a miracle. Ecclesiastes' ability to capture the tone and texture of life in the modern world is as inspired a display of sustained "prophecy" as there is in the Bible.

Over time, I've come to feel indebted to all of Scripture's authors, but back when I was looking around-- with a mind attuned to this world--God met me on the ground where I stood, the only ground I knew, and provided a writer who called the tune of our times better than any modern writer could approach.

That's when I began to hold the Bible in awe, but it wasn't anything compared to the awe I felt when I came across the indescribable character in the book of Matthew…


Is it any wonder, then, that I harp on the church's need for all 66 books of the Bible.  Because it is very likely that unless I had encountered the neglected book of Ecclesiastes, the church would stand one member short today.

So you never know the way to the Way until you get there.  There's a soul out there--maybe yours, maybe your child's--who will find the Way through the pages of Nahum, or in the 14 verses of 3 John, or (perish the thought!) on his way through Judges.

But I hope its not Judges.  The alleys are even darker there.

Stand in the Rain Bible Class audio file - 11/7/2010

"the hand inside the glove" (cause) & "the turtle on the fence post" (effect)
2 Chronicles 36 - Esther 8

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The tables are turned!

(written by Vickie)

The Word for Today:  Esther 9, 10

Mark this verse: Esther 9:1
"... On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them."

Most re-tellings of Esther's story conclude with the execution of Haman.  Haman swinging on the end of the very rope he had hoped would have held Mordecai's neck, but the story doesn't end there.  The remaining chapters of Esther go on to give us the rest of the story.  The resolution is not complete without the full execution of justice and the call to remembrance described in chapters 9 and 10.  As we read on, we take in the cost of justice, the enormity of the crime that demands such hard justice and the intentional call to remembrance that helps keep the reward of peace, in perspective.  It also snaps us back to a bigger picture- this is the revelation of God's faithfulness to provide mankind with a Savior, it's not just a fascinating tale about a beautiful woman, a hero and vile villain.  It's about Jesus Christ and His salvation.

The King's Edict on behalf of the Jews resulted in reports of casualties in both the city of Susa and in the provinces.  Once again, Esther found herself in a role she could never have imagined. King Xerxes grants Esther another petition(v.13).  Esther asks for more, more time to fully put down all the enemies that would have annihilated the Jews. Even in the 20th century, we have evidence that the elimination of one enemy of the Jews did not provide a full justice, a justice that would precipitate a lasting peace.  Haman wasn't the only hater.  His hating heart reflected tens of thousands of other hearts that delighted in the plot to wipe the earth clean of the Jews. There had to be more killing, justice required it, so much was at stake.  God would not allow Satan to destroy the genetic heritage of Jesus Christ.

Mordecai stepped seamlessly into a role that times made necessary, "Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful (v. 4)."  He became the feared executioner of justice " for such a time as this."  He also stepped into into his place next to Esther as champion for the Jews.  The second half of chapter 9 outlines the decree set down by our new champions.  Remembering is good for us.  Without taking time to remember we live our lives out of sync with reality. We can come to think that the things we have are deserved or that we acquired them on our own. Mordecai and Esther create a mandate to remember and to celebrate.  The feast days of Purim are still celebrated today.

One of the most noble pursuits in this world is justice.  Many world organizations seek to do good works to accomplish peace through justice.  This is no surprise, we are created in God's image.  He loves justice(Psa.11:7).  In it's silence, the book of Esther reveals to us the God of the Jews, lover of justice.  Although the peace granted to the Jews at this time did not last forever, there is a day coming when it will be accomplished eternally for those who love His Son.  The bloody battle for our peace has been completed at the cross, it is finished.  Let's keep our minds in memory of that battle, living our lives in the reality that we are a rescued people with a champion for all eternity.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

With the Measure You Use

The Word for Today: Esther 7 & 8

I can't stand Styrofoam cups. Let me clarify, I can't stand any pansy 6 -10 oz. cup for any kind of beverage- especially coffee. I need something that can hold more, something that doesn't force me to fill multiple cups or make multiple trips.

One day I found it. I was participating in some church function, and about to get coffee in the same old lame Dixie cups, when I found myself in the church kitchen, because we were out of sugar. And then I saw it- the exact same measuring cup as pictured above. Sixteen ounces of unadulterated holding capacity! (That's five hundred milligrams for our Canadian readers!) Right then and there, I staked my claim on that vessel. It has given me new joy to each brunch and potluck dinner. We've been inseparable ever since.

Esther is a book of precise measurements. But even more than being precise, these measurements border on the absurd. We are told three times about the 127 provinces of Persia, as if we needed to be reminded of the obscene power of this empire. When you own everything from India to Ethiopia, why bother counting? (1)

We are given the exact number of days celebrating Persian pomp and splendor- 187, if you count the week-long party at the end (2). We are told the details and length of the beauty treatments for the future "Miss Persia" contest (3). Maybe it IS Maybelline! We are even given the exact weight in silver that Haman attempts to use to bribe the king to carry out his evil plan (4).

But the ultimate measurement overkill of the entire book is Haman's gallows, hands down (5).
Seventy five feet high, when 10-15 feet would do the trick. Insanity.
That is the best word to describe Haman's hatred of Mordecai. Here is a man who has it all: money, power, prestige, influence. Yet in his own words: "all this is worth nothing to me." All because one lowly Jew would not patronize him with a token curtsey (6).

But isn't that the essence of hatred and revenge? When one has to avenge each affront and right every wrong, it can only end in madness. For Haman, his rage inspires him to destroy an entire people. It gives him dreams of executing his enemy. But in the end, he only has destroyed his own family and himself. It is he, and not Mordecai, who sways 75 feet up in the sky. None of this happens without Haman's absurd blood thirst and enmity- he is the architect of his own demise.

The end of Haman in this story goes way beyond poetic justice or irony. It is just another fulfilment of the words of Christ. Jesus warned us to be careful to take justice into our own hands. He said:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:37-38)

Remember this: hatred, grudges, revenge, and unforgiveness did not end with Haman. We do not have control over people's actions towards us, but we are given a choice with our response.
We control the measurement, for good or ill. Every time we give in to thoughts of hate and payback we too are constructing gallows- watch out, lest they become our own.
(1) Esther 1:1
(2) Esther 1:4
(3) Esther 2:12
(4) Esther 3:9
(5) Esther 5:14
(6) Esther 5:13

Friday, November 12, 2010

the simultaneous, contradictory, impossible, miraculous cross

The Word for today:
Esther 5, 6

mark this: Esther 5:2
When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter.

The book of Esther presents an astonishingly clear picture of our salvation through Jesus Christ. Let's see why…

First, let's look at King Xerxes' first decree, in Esther chapter 3:13--
All Jews – young and old, including women and children – must be killed, slaughtered, and annihilated on a single day.
This was scheduled to happen nearly a year later on March 7.

Now, let's look at Xerxes' second decree, in Esther 8:11, 12--
Jews in every city are authorized to unite to defend their lives; to kill, slaughter, and annihilate anyone who might attack them or their children and wives.
The day chosen for this event was March 7 of the next year.

These laws contradict each other! And not only that, but these contradictory laws must be fulfilled on the same day, simultaneously! That's why they provide one of the best pictures of salvation in the Bible.

In the Persian Empire, once the King made a decree, it could not be revoked--even by the King himself.

In the same way, God's decrees in the Bible cannot be revoked without compromising the character of God--making God out to be a liar.

Therefore both of the following decrees must be followed to the letter:
"The soul that sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4)
"By grace you have been saved through faith." (Ephesians 2:8)

Seems impossible, but God found the Way! He came to this earth himself, and he took upon himself our sins.

And so--on the cross, on the very same day--God judged sin (fulfilling Ezekiel 18:4) and he saved the souls of those who place their faith in him (fulfilling Ephesians 2:8).

The only way he could overcome the Law was to fulfill the law, paying the penalty to the last penny. Thus the Law was not abrogated, and it is not abrogated today.

As a result of Jesus' substitutionary death, God can hold out to each person the sceptre of grace. All we have to do is receive it:
When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter.  (Esther 5:2)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Run, Tom Warwick, run!"

The Word for today:
Esther 4

mark this:  Esther 4:13-16
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish."

Actors don't move me, so I've watched very few movies. But a movie scene I'll never forget is the final scene from "Camelot."

King Arthur is on a battlefield, and knows he is doomed to defeat. Those whom he most loved and trusted have deceived him. His own death is a certainty. Camelot is about to end.

But then, something wonderful happens. A young boy, Tom Warwick, unnoticed until that moment, suddenly comes forward to tell Arthur that he shares his dream of Camelot; that he has listened, and understood, and that he has the courage to keep the dream alive.

King Arthur suddenly realized his dream could still come true. His hope lay in young people like Tom Warwick who would carry the dream forward.  So King Arthur called out,
"Tom Warwick, if you believe, do not die on this battlefield; because Camelot would die with you. As your king I command you, run! Keep the dream alive! Run Tom Warwick, run!"

Tom left the battlefield but he could hear in the distance King Arthur's commands:
"Ask every person if he has heard the story, And tell it strong and clear if he has not. Say it out with love and joy! Run, Tom Warwick, run! Keep the dream alive."

Esther was willing to die to save her people:
If I perish, I perish…

But Jesus asks few of us to die, because the very heart of the gospel message is that Jesus did the dying for us.  Jesus asks most of us to live to tell his story. That was the last thing he asked his disciples to do:
"When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud.  (Acts 1:8-9)

So run, and live.  Ask every person if he has heard the story.  Tell it strong and clear if he has not:
Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that the herald may run with it.   (Habakkuk 2:2)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

a turtle on the fence post

The Word for today:
Esther 2:19-3:15

So much in our lives depends on the timing, and the subtle interplay, of events.

The book of Esther is not poetic, or philosophical, or theological.  In fact, God is never mentioned in Esther.

Because it goes without saying that he is there. The twists and turns and timing of the plot reveal that he must be. It's like the old adage about the turtle on the fencepost:
If you’re walking along a fence and spot a turtle sitting atop a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.
In the life of Esther, and often in our own lives, we sometimes sense that things didn't get there by themselves. That's because, sometimes, they didn't.

I'm not going to get stuck here in some endless, fruitless discussion about the roles that man's free will and God's sovereign hand play in the day-in and day-out of our lives. The book of Esther doesn't even attempt to draw those fine distinctions.

What I'm going to do is start looking for turtles. I'm going to ask my eyes to see that I am not utterly alone as I walk down these lanes, along these fences.

I talk to my dog all the time, so I won't hesitate to stop and say hello to a turtle or two. Maybe I'll ask them what God looks like.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

the incredible, indelible, perpetual Jew

The Word for today:
Esther 2:1-18

mark this: Esther 3:13
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews--young and old, women and little children--on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

Pharaoh tried to wipe them out. Anybody seen a Pharaoh around lately?

Herod tried to annihilate them. Herod's gone, but they're still here.

Hitler tried to exterminate them, before he slipped into an underground bunker, bit into a cyanide capsule and put a bullet in his temple. So much for the Third Reich.

Currently, Hamas and much of the Muslim world are hell-bent on the destruction of the Jew. But they will see hell--and Hitler and Herod and Haman (from the book of Esther)--before they will see the eradication of the Jew.


Where does the anti-Semitic impulse come from? From the Garden. The root of anti-Semitism springs from the seed of anti-Christ:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Anti-Semitism takes the form of a deflected hatred. Those who reject God direct their rejection towards his chosen nation, as the LORD explained to the prophet Samuel:
They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Samuel 8:7)

The Jewish nation was uniquely chosen by God to bear a vestige of his presence through this dark world:
Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)

From their stock, as foretold, would eventuate the Christ, the Immanuel figure--God not only in Presence but in Person:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)

The events in the book of Esther are but a microcosm of the perpetual attempt to bring the Jew to extinction. But their light will never be extinguished:
I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. (1 Kings 11:36)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

The Light of the World exposes the human heart of darkness; the life of Jesus is an indictment of our failures.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)

Collectively, the heart of darkness reaches its most characteristic expression right here:
"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.
They all answered, "Crucify him!"
"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" (Matthew 27:22-23)


It is this writer's studied opinion that the United States, currently strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage, is not much more than a bit player in the wider context of history. At the center of this millennia-old drama stands the nation of Israel. Nations as great and greater than ours rose and fell depending upon their relationship to that tiny nation which lies at the crossroads of the world's great continents. Certainly, the Persian Empire (in the book of Esther) and the Roman Empire (in the gospels) were as great in their day as we ever became in ours.

In the face of the current tide of geopolitical and commercial forces, the United States' willingness to support Israel seems to be waning. The day we cease to stand with her is the day our minor role in history will be written out of the script.

Nations who align with the Star of David will stand, as will individuals who align their fates with the Son of David (see Luke 18:38).

Those who do not will join the has-beens of history.


Monday, November 8, 2010

the hand inside the glove

The Word for today:
Esther 1

I do not have 20-20 spiritual vision. I look at a set of circumstances and call it coincidence. But Shelley looks at the very same circumstances and sees the hand of God.

Two or three years will pass. Then, upon further review, I can see that she made the right call in the first place!  Someday I hope to be able to discern God's hand in the 'now' and not the 'later.'

Reading the book of Esther, we enter the realm of God's providence.

Providence is the means by which God directs all things--animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil--toward a worthy purpose:
The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19)
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. (Ephesians 1:11)

The most striking pictures of providence in scripture can be seen in the lives of Joseph, Ruth, and Esther. When we read these stories, we realize that God's unseen hand is moving the glove of visible circumstances:
In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27-28)

God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, but his fingerprints are all over the scene! The Psalmist pictured it this way:
Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. (Psalms 77:19)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why the Bible? (part 3)

The Word for today: 2 Chronicles 36

Talk about a downer! This final chapter in 2 Chronicles is NOT the feel good story of any year. Consider the following:
a. King Jehoahaz- exiled to Egypt
b. King Eliakim (aka Jehoiakim)- chained & exiled to Babylon
c. King Jehoiachin- reign of 3 months ends & he's likewise exiled to Babylon
d. King Zedekiah- rejects God's message, watches sons die, is blinded & exiled
e. Royal Palace- plundered, burned & destroyed
f. The Temple- plundered, burned & destroyed
g. The People- killed or forced into exile in Babylon
h. The Land- desolate for 70 years

But even more than a series of unfortunate events, this chapter is really centered on the Word of the Lord. Jerusalem and its kings are suffering the consequences for "mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at the prophets." (2) But the book ends with some hope, because of the actions of the Persian Emperor Cyrus, as promised by the Word of God.


Today marks the end of three blogs dedicated to apologetics, or the defense of the Christian faith. We've been looking at evidence that helps show us the authority, authenticity and uniqueness of the the Bible. There are many reasons why I trust in the Bible and not the Koran or Book of Mormon or any other competing text. Here is the concluding argument. (For the previous ones, look to the October 17th and November 6th blogs.)


Perhaps the number one charge leveled at the Bible, is that it is merely a book of tall tales and legends. It is then placed in the same category as Greek myths or Aesop's Fables, and therefore dismissed as a children's story. Many skeptics claim that the Bible is as believable as say Jack & the Beanstalk. They then congratulate themselves for not believing "fairy tales" and look down on anyone who does.

But in reality, instead of pointing out the ignorance of believers, this line of thinking really points the finger right back at the ones making it. You see, unlike the Hercules, Tweedledum, and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the Bible is full of real, historical people. Unlike Atlantis, Camelot and El Dorado, the Bible is full of real, historical places. And unlike, Cinderella's carriage transforming, Sindbad's seven voyages, and the Siege of Gondor, the Bible is full of real, historical events.

Take today's passage, for example. Pharaoh Neco, King Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, and Cyrus of Persia are all real, historically verified individuals. We know they existed not only from the Bible, but from other historical evidences. Jerusalem, Egypt, Babylon, and Persia were and are still actual places. You can travel there if you like. (I don't recommend Babylon or Persia seeing as they are currently Iraq & Iran- not a good place to take a hike). We know from sources outside the Bible that Judah paid tribute to Neco, that Nebuchadnezzar first plundered and then totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, that the Jewish people were taken into captivity into Babylon, that Cyrus of Persia issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return home.

Many skeptics and critics seem to make it a hobby to disprove or cast doubt on the Bible. They said that King David was a myth, until they found evidence to the contrary- (such as the Tel Dan Stele pictured above). They said that the Bible just made up the Hittites, until they found their ancient capital and records in Turkey. They casted doubts on biblical kings such as Sargon or Belshazzar, until evidence of their lives was discovered. They said that the Old Testament was dramatically altered over the years, until they found the Dead Sea Scrolls. The list goes on, as do the doubters. When you want so badly for something to be untrue (such as the Bible) the parade of criticism will never end. But time and time again, archaeology has verified what we already knew from the Bible.

Several of those who sought to disprove the Bible by examining the evidence have wound up instead converted by it. Lew Wallace was a Union General in the Civil war and indifferent to religion. After the war he had a conversation with notorious agnostic Robert Ingersoll that left him thoroughly confused. Was there a God? Was Jesus real? He spent seven years researching the New Testament and came out not only with an "absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ," but with a novel that expressed those convictions, Ben- Hur.

Sir William Ramsey was an English Scholar who studied under liberal religion professors who assumed that the Bible was not a reliable historical document. Ramsey went to modern day Turkey to prove that idea as he attempted to investigate the travels of the Apostle Paul. Instead of his doubts being confirmed, he found great accuracy in the details in the book of Acts. He himself became a Christian and a Bible scholar.

Ultimately, all these doubts and denials of God's Word are not about evidence or even reason. The problem is not so much an intellectual one, but rather one of the heart and will. "People do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them." (3) Mankind rejects the written Word for the same reason it rejects the Son of God, because of the implications and demands that are made. I want to encourage you to see past the "intellectual" smoke screens that so many around us put up to distance themselves from God. They are arguments of straw that need to be met with the truth of the Word.

But even more, I want to challenge all of us to avoid the more grievous sin of saying we believe the Word and then living like we don't. Perhaps that is the number one charge leveled at Christians, and that one at least has some validity.


(1) Jeremiah 39:6-7

(2) 2 Chronicles 36:16

(3) quote attributed to Charles Dickens