Sunday, February 28, 2010

"I can't? Watch me."



The Word for today:
Matthew 11:25-12:21


After we get the facts of scripture, we begin to read for the flavor of God's personality.

One of my favorite "flavors" occurs today, in Matthew 12:15, where we read that Jesus healed them all.

The Pharisees broke with Jesus on the question of the Sabbath, the Pharisees’ most hallowed subject (1). The incident which most directly sent Jesus Christ to the cross was the healing of a man's hand!--
Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (2)

The Pharisees said it was wrong for Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath, so what did the King do? He immediately withdrew to the streets, where great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. (3)

Was Jesus obstinate? or contrarian? or contentious? Can we even write those supposedly disagreeable words in the same sentence with the word 'Jesus'? Well, contentious contrarian that I am, I just did.

We see the same reaction from Jesus at another time when somebody--this time a disciple--told him he shouldn't do what God directed him to do. His reaction wasn't pretty:
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (4)

As Jesus' follower, you have the very same Spirit which informed and empowered His speech.

So don't let any unbeliever tell you that Jesus Christ can't save you. You tell them that not only can he save you, he can save us all.

And don't let any believer stand between you and the mission God has set before you. Don't merely tell them to get out of your way. Say it with some flair, like Jesus did:
invite them to watch you from a posterior point of view.

***************

(1) Matthew 12:1-15; the break occurs at 12:14; (2) Mark 3:4-6: (3) Matthew 12:15; (4) Mark 8:31-33

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Inspector General



("Jesus gives John drink from a shell"
--Murillo, 1670)


The Word for today:

Matthew 11:1-14


John...


Baptizer:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11)

Prophet:
"Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."(Matthew 3:7-10)

More than a prophet:
"A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet." (Matthew 11:9)

Forerunner:
This he, of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Matthew 11:10)

Nazirite:
And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

Spiritual giant:
"Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11)

Spiritual commando:
He didn't knock on the door of heaven, and he didn't pick the lock. He kicked the door down--
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12)

But all of these were secondary roles. John the Baptist's foremost role was that of highest priest (1). In today's terms we might call him God's Inspector General.

To understand John's role, we must go way back to Exodus. There we learn that the priests were to be descended from Moses' brother, Aaron. John was in the line of Aaron, son of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.

We also learn that a lamb which was to be offered as a sacrifice for sin was first kept for four days in the household (Exodus 12:3-6).

After four days, the lamb was taken to the Temple, where the priest would inspect the lamb to see that it was without spot or blemish. If the lamb passed the priest's inspection, the sins of the people were ceremonially confessed over the animal. Then the lamb was placed on the altar of burnt offering, taking the fire of God's judgment against sin. (See Leviticus 1.)

John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin. John knew Jesus before either of them were born:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:39-41)

Since Mary and Elizabeth were so close, it can be assumed that John and Jesus grew together. In fact they were not only close but in some ways alike: the last verse of Luke 1 telling us that John grew and became strong in spirit; the last verse of Luke 2 telling us that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

And so time turned days into years. Learning to walk and talk and run together, the boys turned into men.

At 30 years of age, God presented his Lamb to the highest priest:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him... (John 1:29)

Kin to Jesus, he'd grown up with the Lamb. Highest priest of God, he'd upheld God's moral standard more strictly than any priest in all of Aaron's lineage. God had placed John in unique position to be his Inspector.

Having found no spot or flaw, John pronounced the Lamb worthy for the altar of sacrifice:

"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

*********************

(1) Technically, Jesus is the Highest Priest, of the order of Melchizedek. John, in this writer's view, is the highest priest of the Levitical order, descended from Aaron. See Hebrews 7:11 and Psalm 110:4.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What would Jesus do?



The Word for today:
Matthew 10:24-42


mark this: Matthew 10:34-36 --
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household."


We can not make of Jesus whatever we wish him to be.


The sentence directly above may be the chief reason for the Bible. The Jesus in those pages is the only real Jesus. And he is what he is--in fact, that's his name:
Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (1)

He is what he is, and the Bible defines what "is" is.

I can nearly always tell the difference between the Bible-honoring Christian and the Bible-demeaning Christian. Those who honor the Bible (by reading it--what a concept!) have met an unsettling Jesus who continually keeps us off balance with his "hard sayings." He has the unique quality of becoming more indescribable the better we know him.

Those who demean the Bible (by not reading it) get to "know" a comfy, agreeable, reasonable Jesus. But that "Jesus," made in man's own image, made to validate our cultural agendas, never existed.

When an exasperated Bible student approaches me, perplexed and unsettled by something about Jesus, it is always the real, biblical Jesus she describes. Some form of the question,"What would Jesus do?" is often raised. Sometimes I think I know. Many times I know I don't know.

Funny, but before I read the Bible, I always knew what Jesus would do.

Those who knew him best feared the man, even as he saved them:
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (2)

The name of Jesus Christ always produces some type of painful division, even in the most personal of relationships. His words, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (3), are offensive to a pluralistic society. Jesus did not come to tell people that all paths lead to God. He did not come to tell people that what you believe does not matter. Jesus did not believe that all people are good. He did not espouse the perfectibility of humanity. Jesus did not say that you can do what you want as long as you do not hurt anyone else. His ethics are radical. He demands careful obedience and costly loyalty.

If you attempt to follow Christ, you will experience division:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." (4)

The Prince of Peace, it seems, will enforce the peace with a sword:
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (5)

Now tell me, what would Jesus do?

**************
(1) Exodus 3:13-14; (2) Mark 4:39, 41; (3) John 14:6; (4) Matthew 10:34-36; (5) Revelation 19:15

Thursday, February 25, 2010

twelve

The Word for today:
Matthew 9:35-10:23

mark this: Matthew 10:2-4--
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.


One might think, by the title of this article and the highlighted verse, that we'll be learning all about the twelve men whom Jesus chose to be his apostles.

But instead of his choices, we'll look at the choosing and the chooser--because the process Jesus used to choose the Twelve can undo many of the misconceptions we have about Jesus and about ourselves.

Roll these verses over in your mind:
Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles. (Luke 6:12-13)

As you do, forget about the twelve apostles and think instead about the hours--perhaps twelve--that Jesus spent in prayer before he named them.

Why the lengthy prayer? Because he had big decisions to make regarding who should comprise the Twelve.

Jesus was a human being just like us, except that he was without sin. And though he was God, he placed the exercise of his attributes (his omniscience, for example) at the discretion of the Father. Thus he did not possess all knowledge, and his unaided knowledge was not sufficient to know whom to choose.

Jesus had numerous disciples, so it might be that during those 10 to 12 hours he presented them individually to his Father, awaiting the nod given to those chosen. We don't know the particulars of his prayer.

What we know is that dependent prayer was everything to Jesus:
"I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." (John 8:28-29)

Jesus was dependent upon the Father for everything. In just the same way, we are dependent upon Jesus:
"Apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Dependent prayer doesn't come naturally to us. Certainly twelve hours of prayer is something perhaps none of us has approached.

But how about 12 minutes of dependent prayer before meeting each day's choices and concerns?

Jesus' choices were prayer or nothing.

Our choices are exactly the same.

That blinking twelve means a power outage.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

stuck in yesterday, going nowhere fast



The Word for today:
Matthew 9:9-34

mark this: Matthew 9:16-17 --
"No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

I want to write about new wineskins today, but I can't get started.

I'm learning how to live this new life, so I say a prayer first. I ask Jesus to write, since he spoke the parable. I congratulate myself, because I used to forget prayer until much later in the process.

Still nothing, so I meander down the hall. I see Pastor Joe and I tell him I want to write about new wineskins, but I'm stuck. Then I tell Marcia the same.

I go back to my computer and I look out at a late February day. It has that late February light, suffused with a hint of spring. If I could nail this blog, I could run outside today. For most of three months, I've taken my daily jog on my treadmill. Please, Jesus, hurry up and write this before dark.

I reach for the phone. Shelley often has a take which jumpstarts good writing. But the message machine answers, which means she's in a meeting at work.

Then I wonder what Bill Long has to say about patches and wine and wineskins. Bill Long is a long-gone friend who often comments on biblical topics via Facebook. I sometimes find myself writing with him in mind. But he's at work too, in Michigan somewhere. If I send him a message, he won't see it until tonight.

There's a knock on the door. It's Marcia. She runs the church office where I work. She runs a tight ship.

"Are you writing in Matthew 9?"

"Why, yes--yes, that's just where I'm writing today."

"The old gets in the way--old ways of seeing things; old procedures, yesterdays, and bygones. The old clothes don't fit the new person. We get stuck taking the same old steps over and over and we never get anywhere. Does that help?"

As she spoke, the article took shape by itself. The Pharisees were stuck, running in place. They weren't responding to the new Light, the new Way, the new day before them.

I'm done. I run a spell check. I attach a picture of the treadmill I'm liberating myself from, starting today.

And it's not yet 4:30! Lots of February light left to run through.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"O you of little Jesus"



The Word for today:
Matthew 8:23-9:8

mark this: Matthew 8: 25-26
Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

Faith in and of itself is nothing.

Faith is only as valid as its object. The classic example is Sally, who had great and sincere faith in thin ice. Sally took a walk one day in late January and nobody has seen Sally since.

Sally had big faith in small ice. This is not the recipe for success, or even survival.

Jesus told about faith the size of a mustard seed. A mustard seed is tiny. Faith as big as a mustard seed, Jesus said, could move mountains. (1)

Q. Big faith fails, while small faith moves mountains? How does that work?
A. It can be confusing. So let's take a couple of well-known statements about biblical faith and re-phrase them to make more sense.

When the disciples are frightened for their lives because the storm was tossing the ship, Jesus said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (2)

What the disciples had was a little Jesus. He wasn't little, of course--as he shows by calming the sea. But their concept of him was little. So in this case, "little faith" means "little Jesus."

In another instance, a father brought his child to have a spirit cast out of him. Jesus told him that "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (3)

Q. 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!' What does that mean?
A. What that means is "I've got a little Jesus; help me to have a bigger Jesus."

These re-phrasings should help us to understand that faith is as big--or as small--as its object. That's why tiny faith in a big Jesus will move mountains, while big faith in small ice drowned Sally.

So don't try to ratchet up the size of your faith. It can't be done. What we need is a bigger Jesus.

Q. How can I magnify Jesus?
A. Well, put no limits on Him. Look up at the stars. If He can make the sun, can He heal your disease? I think so. He who holds together the atom by His power--the little atom which, if split, will blow up an entire city--can He bear your burden? I think so.

The best way to grow Jesus is to do what you are doing right now--'Stand in the Rain' every day and acquaint yourself with him. Look closely at our reading for today: bigger than the natural realm, he calms the sea; bigger than the supernatural realm, he casts out a legion of demons.

But always remember, it's not Jesus who is getting bigger, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (4) What gets bigger is our understanding of just how infinitely powerful and wonderful he already is!

Q. So how big is 'big' ?
A. Bigger.
Q. How big is 'bigger' ?
A. Bigger.

****************
(1) Matthew 17:20; (2) Matthew 8:26; (3) Mark 9:23-24; (4) Hebrews 13:8

Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympics of the Spirit: running to win a trophy for Jesus



The Word for today:
Matthew 8:1-22

mark this: Matthew 8:19-20 --
Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

We get all kinds of ideas mixed in with God's truth. I ran into a high school classmate just a few months ago. I'd hardly known the person then, so conversation was forced at best.

"What are you up to these days?"
"Well, for the most part I'm a Bible teacher."
"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for life."

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the one Bible verse she thought she knew isn't in the Bible at all.

There's nothing wrong with the her favorite "verse." What's wrong is that we've watered down God's outlook with our own.

Even believers are prone to these misconceptions. One such notion, which scripture plainly refutes, is that everyone is equally rewarded in heaven. Like "Give a man a fish," it sounds good--except that it's not biblical. This ought to blow away the misconception:
Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold (1).

There is a difference between being a believer (saved) and a disciple (used of God). A person can be saved by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, but a person will never follow and serve Him until he is willing to make a sacrifice.

All runners run. But then there are the champions. They run to win:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (2).

It's to the champion that I direct the rest of these remarks.

Perhaps you want to honor Jesus with your best. Perhaps you desire not only to play your drum for him but to play your best for him. Don't let anyone dissuade you.

But before you set out, the Bible cautions you to count the cost:
You cannot be my disciple unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life. You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross and come with me. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. What is the first thing you will do? Won't you sit down and figure out how much it will cost and if you have enough money to pay for it? (3)

Are you still there, Champ?

One by one, other readers have begged off. The price is steep. None of the rewards are guaranteed in the here and now.

But if you're still there, and you've counted the cost, then put your hand to the plow and don't look back (4).

Willing to pay the price, to take up your cross and follow him, you'll enter into the fellowship of his sufferings (5).

You can look forward to sharing his deprivation:
Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (6)

You can look forward to being persecuted for his name's sake:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (7)

And, as the apostle Paul explained, you can look forward to a crown.

Upon receiving it, you will yank it off your head and cast it at the feet of Jesus (8). Such a gesture is worth whatever it costs. Such a moment is worth more than the life you'll spend for it.

Because a disciple never runs for the crown or for the crowd. Disciples run for that moment, for that gesture--for the King.

*********************
(1) Matthew 19:28-29; (2) 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; (3) Luke 14:26-28; (4) Luke 9:62; (5) Philippians 3:10; (6) Matthew 8:19-20; (7) Matthew 5:10-12; (8) Revelation 4:10

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Trouble with Pride


The Word for today:
Obadiah


First it was Assyria (see Nahum).
Then it was Babylon (see Habakkuk).
Now we've made it to Edom.

While Edom in no way compares to either of the two aforementioned empires, in terms of size or power or splendor; it does share a common problem: pride.

Edom was the land southeast of Israel, the other side of the Dead Sea.
Edomites were the descendants of Jacob's brother, Esau.
And the same enmity we see early on between Jacob and Esau persisted through the centuries between Israel and Edom.

Obadiah is sent by God to speak against Edom and warn them of the doom that they face. The main reason they are in the position they are in is pride.
It is because of pride that Edom is deceived and has a false sense of security. (v. 3-9)
Even the ancient fortress of Sela (aka Petra- pictured above) is not enough to prevent the end of Edom.
It is because of pride that Edom boastfully rejoices in the destruction of their kinsmen (v. 10-14)
It is because of pride that Edom is blindly headed for destruction. (v. 15-16)


What is pride?
To start, I certainly don't mean the warm and commendable feelings you have when you child gets a good grade or when your favorite team wins the Superbowl. No, the biblical understanding of pride is a whole different animal.

Our friend CS Lewis, in "Mere Christianity" describes it as this:

"The essential vice,the utmost evil, is Pride...It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or common sense."

The scary thing about pride is how much we can be ruled by pride and not even know it. In everything we do, especially in our talents, accomplishments or skills, pride can quickly enter. Even worse, is when pride, as it so often does, invades our spiritual life. Remember that was the problem of the Pharisees. Just when we think we are getting somewhere with pride, it rears its ugly head once again, and we fall. (In God's economy, so often strenght is really weakness, and weakness is really strength - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

So before we proudly condemn the Edomites, let's first bring this home, concerning ourselves.
It is because of our pride that we are deceived and have a false sense of security.
It is because of our pride that we boastfully rejoice in the downfall of others.
It is because of our pride that we are blindly headed for destruction.

Every day I am given a choice:
Will my words, and actions and decisions line up with my own make believe world, or with the reality of God's kingdom? Will I accept God's word as the correct assessment or do I think that I know better? Will I humble myself enough to see and live by the Truth, or do I prefer La La Land, where I make the rules, I create reality, where I am god?

Today the choice is ours- but never forget: the theme song for Hell is Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

From Protest to Praise


the word for today: Habakkuk 3:16-19


We have one last crack at this little gem of a book, and I want to make sure we get it right. The past two days we have focused on two specific themes, but before were are through, its very important that we don't miss the bigger picture.

Perhaps the best word to describe Habakkuk is "process."
The entire book, with all of its brilliant questions and answers and promises and declarations, is focused around one man, Habakkuk, and his relationship to God.

Think about the book as a whole:
  1. First Habakkuk asks that age old question: "Why God?" (1:2-4)

  2. Then God gives a very unlikely answer (1:5-11)

  3. Next Habakkuk asks a follow up : "But why God?" (1:12-17)

  4. And again God answers with powerful words and promises about:
  • Faith (2:2-4)

  • Evil and justice (2:6-17)

  • Idolatry (2:18-19)

  • Silence before God (2:20)

Chapter 3 is the final response of Habakkuk- a prayer. What a contrast from earlier on!


Chapter one was focused on the evil Babylonians and the numerous horrors they were unleashing upon God's people (Remember the words used: violence, iniquity, wrong, destruction, strife, wickedness, hooks, nets, dragnets etc.)

Chapter three is focused on the Great & Glorious Lord, and on how He has done mighty things in the past. Habakkuk gives an incredibly profound description of the Exodus story- how God went to extraordinary lengths to redeem His people- shaking, stripping away, splitting, marching, threshing, crushing, piercing, scattering, trampling upon and otherwise kicking some serious posterior; all for His ransomed. All for His Holy Name. (v. 1-15)


The Babylonians, with all their might, have nothing on God.


But it is in the last 4 verses (today's reading) that we see the amazing change in Habakkuk. His relationship with God goes from protest to praise. Here in these verses, despite his questions and doubts, despite his fears and pain, despite the complete upheaval of everything he knows and loves, Habakkuk chooses trust. This is not fatalistic acceptance (e.g. Eeyore), this is one of the clearest expressions of faith found in the Bible. Richard Hendrix puts it into modern terms:

Even though the price of gas goes through the roof,
And the bottom falls out of the stock market,
Though my house isn’t worth what I owe on it, And
foreclosures are happening all around me,
Though people I know have been laid off,
And I’m dreading the next round of budget cuts,
And I don’t think a bailout will reach me.
Still I will be glad in my God,
I will celebrate that He is my Savior;
He won’t let me slip from His grip,
He gives me strength to survive this with grace.


What has changed for Habakkuk?
- Not his circumstances
- Not his troubles
- Certainly not the Babylonians
- Not the destruction and exile of Jerusalem
- Not even his own personal fears & dread (3:16)

The only thing that has changed is that he chooses to put all these things in perspective before an Awesome God.

Never forget the process! Never forget that each stage of it is valid, including our questions, our disillusionment, our doubts, our frustrations, our fears. None of us automatically has total faith in God. Our trust must be built, and pretty much every time it is through the process. The main point of life is also the main point of Habakkuk- trusting and relating to the King of kings.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Babylonian Idol


The word for today: Habakkuk 3:1-15
Mark this: Habakkuk 2:18-20

There are lots of false gods out there.
Man is an incurably religious being; if you can think of "it", chances are that "it" has been deified one time or another. (In India alone, they have over 100,000,000 gods and goddesses). Every nation has seemed to have there deities- even the atheistic Soviets tried to "hallow" the bones of Lenin.

That was also true of the nations that surrounded the people of Israel. We are familiar with the Egyptian and Greek and Roman pantheon. The Philistines worshipped Dagon, the Ammorites worshipped Molech, the Moabites worshiped Chemosh. But the real problem occurred when God's people decided to turn their collective back on God and worship the idols of the nations

That happened repeatedly in Israel's history, from the golden calf incident (Ex. 32),throughout the time of the judges, and kings, until Israel was dispersed and Judah was taken into captivity. Most of the prophets sent by God were to warn His people concerning their spiritual adultery through idols.

Why? What was the allure of idols for God's people?

CONFORMITY
First of all, because it helped them "fit in" and be like the rest of the nations. Despite being called out as God's particular people (Dt. 7:6), it seemed much easier to conform to the standards of the heathen people around them. In matters of leadership (1 Sa. 8:5), customs (2 Ki. 17:30) and worship, Israel tended to dumb themselves down to the level of their neighbors. They even ended up worshiping local false gods such as Baal and Asherah (2 Kings 17:16). But seeing as how Baal and Asherah were gods of sex and fertility and prosperity, its easy to see why they were so popular.

CONVENIENCE
Idols, by design, are very convenient to the non-discriminating worshipper. Instead of relating to the Indescribable God, one can have simple and tangible interactions with an inanimate object. There is no faith required, no trust and no real relationship. It's always been easier to do "religious things" and think "religious thoughts" when you have a golden calf or an Asherah Pole present.

CONTROL
Ultimately, idols are about control. Instead of having to listen to and obey an all-knowing God, an idol puts you in the driver's seat. An idol makes no demands on your life or behavior, it cannot judge you or rebuke you. Like the words found in Habakkuk, an idol is by nature, mute.

Okay- idols are bad. I get it.
But how do we know what idolatry looks like today?

To see what kinds of false gods we worship, I offer you the titles found at the nearest magazine rack:
Self, Shape, Car & Driver, Money, Fortune
Entertainment, TV Guide, Star, Men's Health
Allure, Glamour, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated
Wired, Game Pro, etc.

Our new high priestess is Oprah. Our ever-changing pantheon is made up the latest celebrities. Our act of worship is to read Us Weekly or People or to watch TMZ or Entertainment Tonight.

Why? What is the allure of idols for God's people?

The same ones that plagued Israel and all of humanity:
CONFORMITY, CONVENIENCE, & CONTROL

Following God is difficult. It means that we will often stick out like sore thumbs in a world that can care less about Him. It means that we will have to trust and relate to the Living God, and not any man-made substitute. It means we must submit our lives and choices to Him, rather than being our own gods. In short, we want ease, total autonomy, and to always fit in; and to follow God means that each of those areas will be threatened.

Never forget that everyone worships and serves something or somebody. The Christian. The pagan. The atheist. The agnostic. There is no neutrality. Everyday, we again are faced with this decision: whom will I serve? Jesus Christ or idols? The One who gave His all for you and demands all of you, or something that has done nothing for you and demands nothing from you. What is your choice today?

Will you trust in lifeless "idols that cannot speak," or will you recognize that "the LORD is in his holy temple..." and therefore "be silent before him?"
(Habakkuk 2:20)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Just Shall Live By Faith!




the word for today: Habakkuk 2:6-20


mark this- Habakkuk 2:4


"the righteous shall live by his faith"


Yesterday we dealt with two sets of tough questions asked by the prophet (and really central to the rest of humanity). Why suffering? Why injustice? Why inequity? Why violence? Why silence?

God's first response (1:5-11) was not solution that Habakkuk expected, and likewise, His second response (2:2-20) was nothing that could have be anticipated. Yet in verse 4, we find not only God's answer, but the central in Scripture of how sinful people relate to a holy God. Habakkuk 2:4 is easily in the top 5 of most revolutionary passages in the entire Bible. This is a verse that has directly affected so much of human history. In fact its safe to say, that without Habakkuk 2:5, there might not be any Reformation, at least not in the way we know it. (Who knows, without this passage there would be no Stand In the Rain or the blog!!!)


In 1517, Martin Luther was the monk of all monks. He was downright compulsive in his rigid efforts to be a better servant of God- so much so he stated: "If anyone could have gained Heaven as a monk, then I would have indeed been among them." He was meticulous to follow every letter of the rules given to him, and yet he lived in despair, always fearing and focusing on how he fell short. He tormented himself with doubt and despair and found himself hating the very God he was supposed to love, saying "I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of Him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul."

Luther lived in a time when the dominant belief was that a person had to earn their way to Heaven, through good deeds, special prayers, keeping special rules and getting on the good side of the church's hierarchy. The church at the time acted like a business that had a monopoly on salvation- they determined who got in, who didn't and how long you and everyone you loved spent in Purgatory. It got so convoluted that the church began to assign specific years off in purgatory for specific actions or prayers. (For example, the Sancta Scala or Lateran staircase, pictured below, once got you seven years off of Purgatory for every step you ascended) Even worse, they began to rip off the common people by selling official "tickets to Heaven" called indulgences.



Luther knew that this was not right- even as he himself ascended the same staircase, while a monk visiting Rome. His son writes:

"As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind: 'The just shall live by faith.' Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief
foundation of all his doctrine… . Luther himself said of this text, ‘Before
those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he
still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of
God, I understood those words – “The just shall live by faith!” “The just shall
live by faith!” – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the
open doors into the very Paradise of God.”



Luther had not invented this idea. In fact, the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation teaches us that salvation is a gift from God, received by faith, not anything that we could possibly merit or earn. And from this little verse, a revolution has begun. After all, it was the Apostle Paul who later quoted it in his letters to the Romans (1:17) and Galatians (3:11), explaining the same truth: salvation is from God, by God, through God, and not of ourselves.

What a huge relief! To know that no man or institution can save me or damn me. To know that I don’t have to scrutinize and agonize every offense, wondering if I’ve done enough for God. To know that my salvation has to do with the merit of Jesus Christ and NOT my pitiful merits.

So today, make sure you thank Martin Luther, who used the Apostle Paul, who used the prophet Habakkuk, who simply conveyed the central message for all mankind:
The just shall live by faith!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tough Questions



the word for today: Habakkuk 1:1- 2:5

For the past two days we've been talking about Nahum, Assyria and Israel. Now its time to switch gears and talk about Habakkuk, Babylon and Judah.

Here's a quick contrast:

So we are right around the time of the Fall of Judah and Jerusalem, and the prophet Habakkuk is voicing his complaints to God. He asks a series of perplexing questions, not much different than the ones raised today by believers and skeptics alike? He asks:
  • How long will You ignore me? (1:2)
  • How long will You leave me in the lurch? (1:2)
  • Why do I have to put up with all this evil? (1:3)
  • Why don't You do something about it? (1:13)
  • Why are You silent? (1:13)
  • How can your plan possibly include that? (1:13)
  • When will all of this ever end? (1:17)

I am sure that you, me, and the rest of humanity have asked, or at least wrestled with, one or more of these questions. Everyday we are confronted with challenges and difficulties that we cannot explain away: matters of health and sickness, of justice and punishment, of suffering and faith, of good and evil. We wonder how our trust in God can be reconciled in a very damaged and defective world.

Habakkuk feels your pain and then some. His cries to God are heartfelt. He has seen what the cruel Babylonians have done and is trying to match that up with God's promises to His people.

But even more impressive than these questions is God's answer. He in no way dismisses the pain or suffering of His people. He doesn't try to convince them everything is going to be okay. He doesn't say "Oh quit yer belly-achin""!"

Instead, He shares with Habakkuk the most unlikely solution, one that causes "astonishment" and "disbelief." God Himself is using the wicked nation of Babylon to accomplish His purpose (1:5-6). It is not the means that anyone would have expected and certainly not the means that anyone would have wanted. Nevertheless, this "bitter and hasty nation," this "dreaded and fearsome" people, will pillage and devour and sweep Judah right of the map (1:6-11). It just doesn't make any sense!

That is, it makes no sense from a human perspective. Is that typical of God? It makes no sense that under the intense and bloody persecution of the Roman empire that the early church multiplied and flourished. It makes no sense, that under fierce opposition from the Communist regime, Chinese evangelical believers grew from 1 million in 1950, to over 100 million today. It makes no sense that Europe and America, in times of unprecedented freedom and prosperity, have decided to turn their back on God. It makes no sense that the cross, the cruel instrument of death invented and perfected by the Romans, would one day be the very symbol that ruled over them.

Never forget that God's ways seldom make sense from a human perspective. What better evidence of this is there than the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is the answer that no one would have thought of, and yet it is the only answer that can save mankind.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

(1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-24)

So go ahead and bring all your doubts and questions and struggles to God, just like Habakkuk. And just like Habakkuk, prepare to be blown away by God's solution.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How the Tables Have Turned!


The word for today: Nahum 2 & 3

Assyria was a big deal.
At least from around the 13th century BC to 612 BC they were.
They controlled the Middle East, all the way from the Mediterranean Sea, to the Caspian Sea, to the Persian Gulf. They ruled over lands that include modern day countries of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait.
They shared many of the accomplishments (and debasements) of their Babylonian cousins to the south. They made huge advancements in astronomy, language, roads, literature, inventions, commerce, government and civilization.
They were even more well know for their military power and cruelty. These guys invented the use of large cavalry squadrons. Their weapons and armor were so efficient, they were not improved upon until the time of Napoleon. They were ruthless as well. carrying prisoners by hooks in their mouths, impaling the dead on poles, publicly torturing their foes as a warning to others.

Nineveh(the capital) was perhaps the largest city in the world in the time of Jonah. It had in the neighborhood of 120,000 people. (Remember what the Bible says: "Now Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days" Jonah 3:3) It was an impressive city- covering 17 acres, with 12 kilometers of walls that were 33 ft high and 50 ft thick.


The Bible records some of the accomplishments of Assyrian kings. (All of which has been verified by archaeology and history).

Tiglath-Pileser III
was the first king to attack Israel. During the reign of King Pekah, he began the assault and deportation of Galilee (2 Kings 15:29).

Shalmaneser
his son, was the ruler that ended the reign of Hoshea, King of Israel, and the whole northern kingdom. He spent three years laying siege to its capital, Samaria, and when that city fell (722 BC), he deported all the survivors to Assyria. (2 Kings 18:9-12)

Sennacherib
his son, was King of Assyria during the reign of King Hezekiah (Judah). His army "attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them" (2 Kings 18:13)
After that, he was basically paid off by King Hezekiah and given "all the silver that was found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace." (2 Kings 18:15)
Three generations of renowned kings destroyed Israel and came one angel away from destroying Judah as well.

None of that matters now, because Assyria is doomed for destruction. My, how the tables have turned. The plunderers will be plundered. (3:2) The military ingenuity of Assyria betrays them as shields, chariots, and siege towers are used against them (2:3-5). The inflicters of so much violence and pain now become the "bloody city (3:1)." The nation that sent so many into captivity herself becomes exiled (3:10).

The Apostle Paul wrote the following worlds to his young apprentice, Timothy:
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God..." (1 Ti. 6:17)

It is so tempting to put our hope in money or our comfort or our health or our national security or dozens of other things. But we are told not to do that, not to follow the same proud path of Assyria and every empire since then. Why? Because event the most successful human endeavors and accomplishments will fall and fail us. No one at the time believe the puny words of a puny prophet from a puny nation against the reigning world power. But God and history have verified him forever.

Never overestimate the power of any Assyria you face.
Never underestimate the power of a Nahum- a single person who is obedient to God.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Which Side?


The word for today- Nahum 1

In the next week or so, we will look at three different prophets and their warnings to three different pagan nations.
Nahum addresses the Assyrians
Habbakuk addresses the Babylonians
Obadiah addresses the Edomites.

The prophet Nahum has been called by God, like his predecessor Johah, to proclaim judgment upon Assyria. Only this time, there will be no repentance, and therefore nothing to stop the inevitable results of that nation's blatant sin. But before we get into that, and more specificially Nahum, its essential that we see what today's reading has to say about God and clarify a common misconception.

In the first seven verses of this chapter, we are given two different, and seemingly contradictory, descriptions of God. The first is that of a holy and terrifying judge, wreaking havoc upon His enemies. He is jealous, avenging, wrathful, and powerful (1:2-4). His awesome presence literally melts, smashes, shakes, rattles and rolls the whole earth (1:4-5).

But at the same time, a second portrait emerges. The God who is slow to anger (1:3), who is good and who is is a stronghold from troubles (1:7). Hello! It seems to me that from this chapter God is very much expressing His anger and causing quite a bit of trouble on His enemies. How can both of these be right at the same time?

Often, even as believers, we will ourselves dividing God up in our minds. We've come up with all sorts of false dicotomies concerning Him:
- The God of the Old Testament versus the God of the New Testament
- The God who transcends everything versus the God who is intimately present
- The God of Justice versus the God of Mercy
- The God of Truth versus the God of Grace

What a tragedy to turn God into some sort of schitzophreniac. But sadly, most of the inhabitants of the earth do so. The problem is not with God, its with us, and the limits of our minds (or hearts). Never forget that sin has affected us in every category- morally, relationally, physically, and intellectualy as well. When God doesn't fit our usual boundaries and expectations, that is a good thing- because a god that we could fit in our mind is no god at all.

In reality, there is no real contradiction. God is perfectly complete and all of His attributes work in harmony, without diminishing each other in anyway. Omnipotence and humility, love and wrath, justice and mercy are all there in full, without cancelling each other out.

So what really is of utmost important is not our opinion concerning God and His often mysterious ways. No, in this passage here, as well in everyday life, what matters is where we stand in relationship with God. God is unchanging, it is us who need to align ourselves to Him, not vice versa. God is like a cannon. It makes all the difference in the world which side you are standing on. These words in Nahum were life to those rightly related to God, but at the same time, death to His enemies.

We see this repeatedly in Scripture:
There were twelve spies who explored the same Promised Land, but only two thrived by faith and ten died in doubt and depair. (Numbers 14)
There were two criminals executed next to the same Jesus, but only one found eternal life. (Luke 23:39-43)
There are many who hear the same gospel message but to one group "it is foolishness", but to the other "it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

And when we boil everything down, it make sense that God doesn't always make sense. Just consider the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Is He: - Fully God or Fully man? - The King of kings or the Suffering Servant? - The Lion or the Lamb?


All of the above!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the ultimate love song


(written by Norm, Head Elder)

The Word for today:
Zephaniah 3:8-20

mark this: Zephaniah 3:16-17 --
On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
"Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.

The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."


As a young man in the late 1960's, recently back from overseas, I felt like my life was spinning out of control. My new marriage was shaky, I was unhappy, my focus was on the wrong things. I knew I was in trouble, but I was paralyzed with ineptness--with no real direction, or any way to reverse or even slow down what was going on.

Then one day a friend put me on a path that led to Jesus Christ. As I reached out and embraced Jesus, I realized this truth: The Lord God was with me and He was mighty to save.

My sins were forgiven. Hands that had hung limp began to gain strength as I prayed, read His Word, and walked in the light I was given. The fruit and gifts of the Spirit were mine. I claimed His promises and began to see my circumstances and the world around me through the eyes of Jesus.

My life had been transformed. I was born again.

Now as I look back I praise God that He can take great delight in me, that He quiets my life with His love and rejoices over me with singing. I praise God that I am a sinner saved by grace, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

Prayer:
Dear Lord,
Thank you that you are in the business of saving lives, including mine. I am eternally grateful for your Son Jesus Christ and for the blood that was shed for me and for all who call upon His name. Thank you so very much.
In the mighty name of Jesus I pray.
Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Day of the LORD, part 2: "Let there be lightning."


The Word for today:
Zephaniah 2:1-3:7

mark this: Zephaniah 2:1-3
Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect --before the day passes away like chaff--
before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD,
before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the LORD.
Seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.


What day is today?

The biblical answer: today is man's day. Right now, man is having his little day, and his little say, on earth. So have a nice day, while you still can.

If you have not brought your sin to the cross of Jesus Christ, then I would live it up, at both ends of the candle. I would paint the town red. I would trip the light fantastic. I would party hearty. I would wreck my stockings in some juke box dive (or its MP3 equivalent).

Because the Day of the LORD is coming soon to a planet near you.

We've seen this pattern--judgment looming, temporarily withheld--before. Abraham was told that the LORD would relent for four generations before judging the Amorites, for the sin of the Amorites is not yet full (1). Precisely four generations later, when their cup was full, God turned out the lights. Their party was over.

The LORD God is exercising great patience right now as his planet is defiled; as his children are harassed and demeaned; as his crucified Son is scorned. Unwilling (today) that any should perish (2), he grants us time to turn his Way.

But time, and his truth, are marching on. This may be 'last call.' Unless Jesus Christ drinks the cup of God's wrath (3) for you, you will drink it yourself. Someone is going to drink every cup--to the very last sin.

For on the Day of the LORD, God will rescue his people and he will restore His name. The same hand which offered forgiveness through Christ will enforce righteousness and justice. His pitiless hatred of sin will shock and awe our morally equivocating hearts.

Right about here is where most of your preachers--were they even to pronounce these truths--will back off by saying, "Now I don't mean to scare you..."

Zephaniah means to scare you. Zephaniah shows us the day when God will loose the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. Zephaniah is trying to move us to apply the blood of the Lamb to the door of our hearts so that the death angel will pass over.

...
And the evening and the morning were, on man's day.
And God saw that it was not good.

Then God said, "Let there be lightning,"
and there was lightning.

************

(1) Genesis 15:16; (2) 2 Peter 3:9; (3) Jeremiah 25:15-17; Revelation 14:10


Friday, February 12, 2010

The Day of the LORD, part 1: technical specifications



The Word for today:
Zephaniah 1

mark this: Zephaniah 1:14-16 --
The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly.
The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of trumpet and alarm.

God is a God of love, but he is also a God of judgment. Judgment and love must go hand in hand in order for God to achieve deliverance, or salvation.

If God were not willing to judge the Egyptian army, drowning them in the sea, then Israel would not have been delivered. If God had not taken the judgment of sin upon himself at the cross, then we could not be saved. The same act which judges some is--at the very same time--saving others.

You will not find judgment declared any more harshly than it is in the book of Zephaniah. And you will not find mention of "the Day of the LORD" more often than in Zephaniah. The phrase occurs seven times in this brief prophecy. The Day of the LORD is a coming period of judgment which is described throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.

Sometimes referred to as "that day," the Day of the LORD is a technical expression in Scripture which is fraught with meaning. It is a time of judgment for some, blessing for others--when the Lord Jesus Christ will openly intervene in the affairs of men, putting down all unrighteousness and establishing His eternal kingdom here upon the earth.

It is difficult to be exact about this term, but a consensus of commentators agree that the Day of the LORD begins with the Rapture, the removal of the church. It continues through the 7-year Great Tribulation Period. Then it proceeds through the 1000-year millennial kingdom on earth. It is best, therefore, to think of the Day of the LORD as an era or an "age."

The creation of the new heavens and the new earth seems to mark the end of this age.

Tomorrow, we will look at some spiritual implications of "that day."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ahh, Justice!

The Word for today: Joel 2:18-3:21

Mark this verse: Joel 3:16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens will shake; But the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel.

Walking around us everyday are people with collections of broken relationships hanging around their necks. You and I probably have some of our own. It's one of the inherent risks of living on this planet- we hurt people and they hurt us. We're all part of that unending circle of "hurting people - hurting people."

The weight of the broken necklace can seem tolerable in comparison to the expense of repair. It's hard work and risky. Attempts at mending broken relationships very often end in "settling" for a cease fire.

Once in while though, it all comes together; hurts exposed, apologies given, amends made, forgiveness overflowing. It's a whole new relationship, but stonger and with the potential to go deeper. Full reconciliation; all is well. The relationship has life.


Here in Joel, God shows us how it's done. Consequences, repentance, forgiveness and restoration it's all right here. God's way. God fully restores.

God takes it farther though than we can as human beings. The LORD shows up as Judge. "The LORD executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed(Ps.103:6)." His justice is perfect. It's justice that doesn't plea down the offense, turn a blind eye or diminish the penalty. Because Our God is righteous he requires justice.



We need it too. We know in our souls that in order for God's reconciliation though the blood of Jesus to be effective, full justice is required. The cup that Christ drank down at the cross had to contain all our iniquity- to the brim. Jesus had to pay it all. Our relationship with God is provided by the righteous of His Son. We have confidence in Jesus, our righteousness, justice served for me, for eternity.

As judge, God also proves Himself the true champion of the oppressed and innocent, "He roars from Zion(3:16)." His outrage at those who harm and oppress will not be held back forever. Joel's prophesy promises a Day of Judgement. God is good, His holiness demands justice. What a relief for those of us who have been denied justice. There is a day coming when God promises to set things right.



At the end of Joel, the heading in my NKJV says, "God Blesses His People." From locusts to blessing in three chapters. Fear is replaced with confidence, hunger with fullness, uncertainty with safety, death with life because "...the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel." Fully reconciled they receive the good that the LORD always desired for them.

Ahh, Justice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sometimes it takes locusts










The Word for today: Joel 1:1- 2:17

Mark this verse: Joel 2:13 "So rend your heart and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; He relents from doing harm."

Locusts are associated with judgement- BIBLICAL JUDGEMENT. The devastation of locust swarms are not something most people have experienced. Yet, as we read through the first chapterof Joel, the account of the destruction strikes a cord with most of us.

We know these emotions and we're familiar with these descriptions of calamity. Wasted, ruined, whithered, dried up and failed describe the landscape after the locusts have passed through. Mourning, shame and despair describe the landscape of the suffering soul. In 1:12, Joel explains that, "joy has withered away."

Ever had locusts into your life? What did they look like? Health problems, losses from natural disaster, fire, theft, prodigal children, broken relationships?

I thought so- me too.


So we whisper the question, deep in our souls, "Is God punishing me?"

God uses His prophet to deliver a reality check. Joel gives a sermon about reconciliation with a very powerful object lesson. There is no doubt, all the Israelites know it- God's not going to put up with their idolatry any longer. God's releases a little taste of the "wages of their sin" for one reason, He wants them back. His fierce love does whatever is necessary to have them come back and sometimes it takes locusts.

Sometimes I wish I had a bearded prophet to deliver my reality check.

But God has not left us alone in our day. We have the Holy Spirit and the Church. Jesus has provided everything we need for life and godliness. In the middle of our personal locust swarm, we may know for sure that it's because we have a sin to deal with or that we are under God's watchful eye in a refining fire. Sometimes though, we just don't know.

In all of these cases, we rely on the goodness of God and blood of Jesus to cover our sin. God gives all things a good purpose- our "turning to Him with all our hearts."

Repentance is beautiful.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be prophets



The Word for today:
Jonah 3, 4

Q. How can Jonah be a prophet if he never predicted the future?
A. A prophet predicted the future to establish his validity as God's spokesman. At some point, Jonah--and all the Old Testament prophets--had to predict the future in order to prove to the people that he was God's prophet.

This proving process is described in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. Once his validity was established in this way, then he started prophesying.

Prophesying has little to do with predicting the future. It has everything to do with telling the unvarnished truth. The prophetic voice speaks God's eternal truth to a given generation. The prophetic voice reveals our sin and folly and hypocrisy, and warns of their consequences.

Unwilling to face the truth, we shoot the messenger. The Biblical prophets were almost all killed. The Bible's greatest prophet--who not only spoke the truth but is the Truth--was put to death on a cross, because his very life was an indictment of mankind's heart of darkness.

The prophet's cry of "Repent" is the cry of a man who so loves his generation that he will face hatred, rejection, and even death to turn hearts back to God. The cry of "Repent" comes straight from the heart of God, who so loved the world that he cried "Repent" all the way to the cross.

It just may be that the man behind that uncompromising and condemnatory voice loves your life more than his own. We don't kill our prophets today in the USA, but many a talented man has given up being held in esteem by the world in order to be held in esteem by God. Many present-day prophets teach or preach for a pittance in nondescript churches on forgotten corners somewhere. They are dead to the world and the world is dead to them (1). No prophet will ever be elected senator or president, or chosen "Man of the Year" in our grand republic.

Be warned that not every teacher or preacher who can spout Bible verses and turn a phrase is a prophet. Many of the most "successful" authors and pulpiteers are no more than profiteer$.

As mentioned above, the Old Testament prophets had to prove their validity before presuming to speak God's word. That's because the Bible was not yet complete. It was being formed as they spoke and wrote!

Now that we have the complete Bible, the test of the prophet is his adherence to scripture: Does he/she speak God's whole Word, balancing God's grace and his judgment? Is his/her emphasis on Christ, crucified (2)--the cost and remedy of sin.

Listen to the voice of the prophets as you read them. Some day, if you are brave enough and true enough, God might hand-pick you and put you on a forgotten corner somewhere to howl "Repent" into the wasteland.

But I wouldn't let Mom in on your career aspirations just yet. She so very much has her heart set on a lawyer.

(1) Galatians 6:14/GNT; (2) 1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:2

Monday, February 8, 2010

a fish story?



The Word for today:
Jonah 1, 2


Q. You can't be serious. No one could be in the belly of a whale for three days and live to tell about it…
A. It does sound like a fish story -- like the time (did I already tell you this one?) I caught a 62-inch musky just outside of Alexandria Bay in late October of '85…

Jonah might sound fishy, except for one thing: The most earnest man--the straightest shooter who ever lived-- faced down an audience who were not interested in hearing about sin, sacrifice and redemption, but were there to see a miracle. He told them the only miracle they'd get was the sign of the prophet Jonah:
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-41)

Jonah is a test-case for the believer. Like the virgin birth, if the story of Jonah can be explained away, spiritualized, allegorized, or dismissed, then the entirety of Scripture, including the trustworthiness of the Messiah, can be dismissed. If Scripture can be dismissed, then our faith is without foundation. (Cf. Rom 10:17.)

Therefore, Jonah is a target for the unbelieving world. Those who aim to cast aspersions on scripture cast towards Jonah first. But the big fish is still happily swimming, while his detractors keep getting caught in their own nets.

Q. How can a person stay alive inside a great big fish for three days?
A. Who said he stayed alive?
A miracle either way, but we'll go with Jesus' take on Jonah-- that Jonah died inside the fish and was resurrected; thus Jesus referred to the "sign of Jonah" as the miracle of resurrection. Most Biblical commentators teach that Jonah was alive inside the fish for three days. They are wrong, of course (!!), but it's a miracle any way you fillet it. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

Q. What's the big deal about Jonah? Isn't he one of the minor prophets?
A. "A minor prophet." Minor?? Jonah, given only two pages in your Bible to work with…
and using only a boat, a fish, a gourd, the east wind, and the Assyrian city of Nineveh, was able to put forth the great principles of the New Testament:

1. Jonah is one of the clearest proclamations in the Old Testament of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

2. The Book of Jonah teaches that salvation is not by works, but by faith which leads to repentance: Salvation is of the LORD. (2:9)

3. God will not cast us aside for faithlessness.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh...and Jonah caught a boat going in the opposite direction!

4. God is gracious.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time (3:1).
He is the God of the 2nd chance, the 3rd chance, the 4th, the 443rd...

5. God's grace cannot be stopped.
Jonah knew that the Word of God which he was told to proclaim would save the Ninevites. Jonah didn't want them saved. But Jonah was going to be the witness for God in Nineveh, whether he liked it or not.

6. God is the God of the Gentiles. (See Romans 3:29.)

God never called any of his prophets minor. That is an artificial, man made designation that holds no water!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

"WHOOSH"


The Word for today:
Matthew 7:13-29



Except for the last nine or ten years at Lockport Alliance Church, I've been unchurched for most of my life. If you were to hear me during unguarded moments, you'd be able to tell:

"We have a great band!" I often exclaim on Sundays as we drive home.

"They're called the 'worship team,' Franklyn."

"Yeah, well, they're great whatever they are, aren't they! And our priest--just when I think he can't top last week, he nails another one!"

"Kevin's our pastor, not a priest."

"Oh…you say 'to-ma-to' and I say 'to-mah-to'. Whatever you call him, he brings it!"

I went to church as a kid, but I didn't understand much. They seemed to do their darnedest to hide the light under a bushel basket. Between "Ave Maria" and "Kyrie Eleison" and "Adeste Fideles," I didn't have a clue.

But during those summers, I went to Camp Kenan, where I learned "Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore;" "The Church in the Wildwood;" "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot;" "How Great Thou Art;" "Jacob's Ladder;" and "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock"--

The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumblin' down.

Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood firm.

But…

The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumblin' down.

Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand went WHOOSH!!….

I learned that song when I was seven. It was wacky and funny and at the end when the house blows away, we always yelled out the "WHOOSH" with all our might!

I loved Camp Kenan, and my brother and I continued to go there every summer. When I was about twelve, in the camp chapel--a small clearing overlooking the lake, covered by boughs of vaulting trees--I heard Goose Gray, the renowned story-teller, recite the Sermon on the Mount. Goose, in his prime, could take the bushel basket off the candle. We were spellbound. To our surprise and delight, in the final sentences of the Sermon on the Mount, we heard familiar phrases:
Every one then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;
and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
And every one who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;
and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.
And when Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.


We all looked to each other, mouthing out--That's 'The Crazy Man' song!

Soon thereafter, sooner than I knew, ensued 30 years of wandering. I do not know when I entered that wilderness. I didn't even know I'd been in a wilderness, until the day when…
a seed--a story told by the King, entrusted to a story-teller bearing His image, planted in subterranean strata during forgotten lakeshore summers--pushed its way, in a season of its own choosing, towards the Light whence it derived.

It was then that I decided to rebuild my life according to the Scriptures.

I can't speak with the commanding authority of Jesus Christ, nor can I recite with the mellifluous cadences of Goose Gray in his younger day. But I can craft an essay that will leave you with the words Jesus left with the people on the mountainside--along with a question that His Word begs:
Every one then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man.
And every one who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man.


Had enough of 'WHOOSH' lately?

**************
Scripture cited: Matthew 7:24-29

Saturday, February 6, 2010

turning stones into boomerangs



The Word for today:
Matthew 7:1-12

The most well-known, most quoted Bible verse among American unbelievers is Matthew 7:1-- Judge not, that ye be not judged.

People who have never picked up a Bible quote this readily. They even manage to quote it in King James English, lending it the "genuine" biblical sound!

Kent Hughes, the great teaching preacher, relates this incident:
One of my sons once stayed in a Florida hotel during spring break, and some collegians in the adjacent room were doing some "heavy partying." As my son stepped from his room wearing his college sweatshirt, one of the partyers also stepped into the hall. Spotting my son's college sweatshirt, the other young man said, "Columbia Bible College. That's cool! Judge not lest ye be judged--that's what I believe!"

Let them feel the slightest disapproval and Matthew 7:1 is at the tip of the tongue!

Never mind that they are lifting the verse out of its context and ignoring other scriptures that call for Christians to judge and even at times condemn sin.

Jesus told His followers to judge not--and in the same breath (verse 7:6) he told them not to cast their pearls before swine. A few verses after that, Jesus call his disciples to judge people by their fruits (7:20).

What Jesus condemns is judgmentalism--a critical spirit, a predisposition towards condemnation; attaching motives to actions that have never been there.

So make no mistake. We are to make the distinction between right and wrong, and we are to live the distinction. And when we see wrong, we not only can, but we should, rebuke it.

But when we start to cast aspersions, to assume wrong motives, watch out! On the way out of church, should you opine that Sally sings for the attention (when she actually sings for the King)--duck!

Because the stone you meant for Sally will, at the King's direction, miss her.

And though in the wilderness Jesus would not turn stones into bread, he promises to turn stones into boomerangs in your church parking lot:
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2div>

And you thought David was good with a sling.

Friday, February 5, 2010

before you, in your shoes



The Word for today:
Matthew 6:19-34

mark this: Matthew 6:33

Today is my son's 16th birthday. He's just a little bit older than I am.

We're going to the DMV to get his learner's permit this afternoon. He's on the cusp, almost ready to step into manhood. This all starts a Dad to thinkin'.

I don't know exactly when I came to faith in Jesus Christ, because I was born again before I knew what "born again" meant. But looking back, it was right around 1994--perhaps only months after Frankie was born. So I'm "16," too. I'm on the threshold of manhood in the family of the LORD.

I never really looked at it this way until five minutes ago when I was searching for the kernel of thought which would find its way into tomorrow's blog. And then I saw Matthew 6:33. What a perfect verse to write on Frankie's card, I thought.

That's when I started thinking back over the years and that's how I concluded that 56=16.

While Frankie and I stand at the threshold of manhood, maybe you're on the threshold of a new challenge, or a marriage, or a new career, or a new season of life. Maybe you're not entering tomorrow, as much as you're leaving yesterday behind. At any rate, each of us, every morning, stands at the threshold of a new day.

Before you make your way through that door, find Matthew 6:33. You won't find it on the blog page today, because you're a man now so you can look it up by yourself.

You'll find no fireworks there. And no philosophy. Just perspective.

Perspective from the Son of Man (1), who crossed the threshold, wearing every man's shoes. I want to be just like him when I grow up.


******************
(1) "Son of Man" was Jesus' favorite self-description.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

To the nth. To the cross.



The Word for today:
Matthew 6:1-18

Mark this: Matthew 5:17 --
"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."

A man once told me, "My religion is the Sermon on the Mount. If we live by the Sermon on the Mount," he said, "we'll go to heaven."

He was absolutely right.

"The trouble is," I told him, "no one has ever lived by it. Except Jesus."

The Sermon on the Mount is what the Bible calls "law." The most famous version of the law, prior to the Sermon on the Mount, was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Written in stone by the finger of God, we call them The Ten Commandments. They are found in Exodus 20.

What Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount is quote a commandment, and then ratchet it up. It is law lifted to the nth degree. Consider:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."

I do not know a man who has kept this commandment. And if a man were to tell me he has fulfilled this commandment--in the telling he'd be breaking the 9th commandment: Thou shalt not lie.

This is severe. This is the unbending and pitiless law--the standard by which we are to live. Falling short of this standard, we enter into the realm of sin.

Entering into the realm of sin, we see our need for a Savior, a Redeemer. When we see our need for a Redeemer, we have read the Sermon on the Mount aright. Because, as law, it is meant to point us to the cross:

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (1)

When the Sermon on the Mount drives us to the cross to cry out for mercy, that's when we honor the law, that's when we keep the law--when we say, honestly, "I'm not measuring up to it."

At the cross, Jesus paid the wages of my sin. He paid the last farthing (2) that I owed according to the law.

Jesus paid it all.

But there's even more Good News to the gospel: while the Sermon on the Mount gives us the ethic to live by, it does not give us the dynamic. The Holy Spirit is the dynamic; we cannot achieve God's standard under our own power.

And God sends his Spirit to live in those saved by faith in Jesus Christ. While Jesus is Emmanuel--God with us, the Holy Spirit is God within us. That's the complete Good News.

And as we learn to depend on his life, 'we' will ever more so be fulfilling the Sermon on the Mount.

Love the law. It is a picture of Jesus, reflecting his nature, ever true to his nature. The Sermon on the Mount is sublime, because it's Jesus!

God with us or God within us, Jesus is the only one who will ever live the law.

(1) Galatians 3:24 (2) Matthew 5:26