Wednesday, March 31, 2010

like a rolling stone


The Word for today:
Matthew 21:23-46

mark this: Matthew 21:42--
Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
"'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?

The Bible is a big book, held together by its central character, Jesus Christ.

Just as the universe would fly apart if he did not hold it together (1), the Bible disintegrates into mismatched meaninglessness without his presence on virtually every page.

A literary device called the extended metaphor also serves to hold scripture together.  One of the most important of the extended metaphors is "the Rock."  As the Rock appears and re-appears all the way through scripture, we see a related series of images which coalesce into a comprehensive portrait of Jesus.

Enough of this literary talk.  Let's look at some pictures of the Rock!--

In Exodus, he is the rock that was smitten (2), from which life-giving water flowed.  Just in case it escaped our notice that this rock represents Christ, the New Testament reminds us:
I don't want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, what happened to our ancestors in the wilderness long ago.  For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. (3)

In Psalm 118 (quoted today in Matthew 21) he is the stone the builders rejected, which became the cornerstone.

In the book of Daniel, he is the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands (4), which crushed the prideful institutions of man.

For unbelievers, he is the stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (5).

For believers, he is the Rock of our salvation (6), the foundation of the church (7), upon which the wise man builds his house (8).  

Whether as 'stone' or 'cornerstone' or 'foundation,' be on the lookout for Jesus--the Rock who rolls through scripture.

*************
(1) Colossians 1:17; (2) Exodus 17:6; (3) 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; (4) Daniel 2:34; (5) Isaiah 8:14/Romans 9:33/1 Peter 2:8; (6) Psalm 95:1; (7) 1 Corinthians 3:11; (8) Matthew 7:24

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

when the saints go riding in


The Word for today:
Matthew 20:29-21:22

mark this: Matthew 21:1-3 --
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
"Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill Old Testament prophecy (1).  A donkey is a docile animal--not the sort of steed on whose back a warrior would make his charge.  If Jesus had come to earth with the goal of overthrowing the Roman government, he would have entered the city in battle regalia upon a spirited stallion. 

The lowly donkey, a beast of burden, is symbolic of Jesus' first appearance as the burden-bearer:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. (2)

Jesus carried his cross--the weight of our sin--throughout a lifetime before he carried a literal cross on his last day:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (3)

The next time Jesus appears, it won't be on a donkey.  He'll come back astride a white horse, followed by thousands upon thousands of his saints--on white horses of their own:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse.  He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed him on white horses.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  (4)

I want to be in that number--when the saints go riding in.

***********
(1) Zecharaiah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-3; (2) Isaiah 53:4; (3) Isaiah 53:3; (4) from Revelation 19:11-16; see Jude 1:14/KJV

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bad Math


The Word for today: Matthew 19:23- 20:28

X used to be my favorite letter. Pretty much every word with the letter X in it sounded cool: Ox, Axe, Fox, Taxi, xylophone. It was essential to Dr. Seuss, tic-tac-toe, and every treasure map. It was fun to write - especially using cursive, it didn't have multiple sounds or grammar rules (unless you're speak French), and it was worth 8 points in Scrabble!

Then came high school math, and my brief love affair with the letter X was over. You see, some unknown knucklehead decided to move X from its proper domain among letters and place it in the unholy realm of mathematics. All of the sudden I was bombarded with phrases such as "let X represent..." or "find X." I would scream in my head- "It's right there!" but no one would listen. I struggled with the subject for the rest of my high school and college career.

So imagine my chagrin when I realized that numbers were very important to the Bible. Whether an authorized census of Israel (Nu. 1:2)or an unauthorized one (2 Sa. 24:10), whether the amount of hairs on our head (Mt. 10:30), or the number of converts after Peter's first sermon (Ac. 2:41), or even the number of a miraculous catch of fish (Jn. 21:11); no matter the number, they are put there by God for a reason and should not be neglected.

"Great," I thought, "more math!" Well, yes and no. Today's parable of the hired workers is one that would drive union reps, and payroll personnel alike, just plain nuts. Look at the math involved:

A Denarius was a day's wage (Let's put that at $60, for our sake).
Each "early" worker agreed to work for that price.
Everyone received $60 for their labor.
The problem was, not everyone had worked the same number of hours.
The early birds (starting at 6am) put in a full day and earned $5 an hour.
Those hired at 9am were paid $6.66 an hour
Those hired at noon were paid $10 an hour
Those hired at 3pm were paid $20 an hour
And those hired at 5pm, who worked all of one hour, received an astonishing $60 per hour.

From a human perspective, we understand the frustrations of seeing inequity in our world. There are all sorts of positions that are underpaid, and many that are overpaid. And while most of us DON'T want communism, many of us desire a more equality, where those doing the hard jobs that keep society going, would be better compensated.

But this parable is not really about rewards for service. It certainly is not about salvation (seeing as that cannot be earned or deserved- Eph. 2:1-10). It turns out that this parable is really about two things:

1. God's grace and our inability to quantify it.
No one is qualified to work for God, He owes us nothing. It is pure grace that God allows us to serve in His kingdom. It is pure grace that He rescues us from pointlessness and gives us purpose. It is pure grace that He even chooses to reward us for our efforts. It is pure grace that He even associates with such rabble as ourselves.

When you or I start to keep accounts on our service or sufferings, especially in comparison with others, we are abandoning the very grace that saved us. We become like Jonah, who cried out and received God's abundant mercy, and then belly-ached into the sunset when God extended that same mercy to the city of Nineveh. (Jon. 2:9, 4;2). Grace, mercy and the Kingdom of God does NOT make sense mathematically. If we wanted to settle our accounts with God based on actual figures, we would be in arrears up to our ears. Beyond broke. Way beyond bankrupt.

2. This parable is also about our motivation when it comes to service. (Remember this parable takes place right after Simon Peter pointed out the disciple's "great" sacrifice. See Mt. 19:27) It is very easy to become mercenary in our relationship with God. We serve, pray, volunteer, give, etc. as long as it benefits us. After a while, we can begin to feel that our service, hard work, or lengthy faithfulness somehow means that we are owed by God. We can then look down on those who are not as involved or committed to the Kingdom of God, think ourselves as more valuable to God than they are. We start to keep spiritual report cards on ourselves and others, and get mad when things don't work out according to our sense of justice.

The point is that the real treasure is not necessarily rewards, but rather time spend with and for the King! The "early birds' were more blessed than the others, not in their monetary compensation, but by the fact they spent their entire day able to work for the Master. Everyone else wasted any of the hours when they were not serving. Those hired at the 11th hour are not to be envied because of their generous payment for not much work, they wasted 11/12ths of their life for that day. Serving Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is its own reward and blessing. So instead of being angry with those who don't do so fully, feel pity, because they are missing out on their entire reason for existence.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

the rich young ruler who gave it all away


The Word for today:
Matthew 19:1-22

mark this: Matthew 19:21-22 --
"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.


One day, a rich young man met a poor young man.

The poor man was Jesus. We don't know the rich man's name, so over the years Bible scholars have called him "the rich young ruler."

In parallel gospel passages we learn that, as they spoke, Jesus looked upon him with both sadness and love (Mark 10; Luke 18). 

Jesus spoke patiently, attempting to draw the very best out of him.  He steered him toward understanding--that only God is good; that we cannot meet the high demands of the law by our own efforts.

Then Jesus invited the young man to follow him.  But to follow Jesus would have cost him too much: 
So he went away very sad, for he had great possessions. 
***

Once upon a time there was another rich young ruler.  He ruled the whole universe, because the whole universe was his.

One day he found his Father brooding, looking over a world far away.  He and his Father were of the same Spirit, so the rich young ruler knew just what he had to do:
"I will go.  I will seek them and save them and bring them home." (Luke 19:10)

His Father looked at him with both sadness and love, all mixed up together.  "You'd have to give up everything to do that," He said.

"And so would you, Father."

And so it happened that both of them gave away everything they possessed:
The Father so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

The Son made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)

But the story did not end there.  Just like he promised, the rich young ruler found his lost brothers and sisters and led them back home. 

Overwhelmed with joy, his Father highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

So that's how it came to be that the rich young ruler, who gave it all away, now has more treasure in heaven than ever there was before.

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

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This, Bud, is for you.


The Word for today:  Jeremiah 24, 25

I am commissioned by the LORD to be his prophet.

(I can hear it now:  "Franklyn's finally flipped out; he's lost it; he's gone grandiose on us.")

Hold the straitjacket and the meds.  I'll not be needing them.

Anyone who speaks the Word of the LORD is the LORD's prophet.  All that 'prophet' means is one who speaks the word of another.  Thus the famous arrangement--whereby Aaron spoke what Moses told him to say--made Aaron Moses' prophet:
And the LORD said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.  (1)

I never found my voice in life.  I searched for it, but nothing moved me to speak until I heard Jesus.  Now I speak his Word; I'm his prophet.

Jesus was a prophet in just the same way.  He never used his own "voice."  He spoke only the Word he heard his Father speak:
"The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me."  (2)

You, too, can be a prophet.  You'll need no seminary or ordination.  We have been commissioned to proclaim his word:
"So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops...Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward."  (3)
If you fulfill this command, your commission is far more certain than those bestowed by institutions and denominations, because it is at the direct order of the King.

The trouble with being a prophet is, well, the trouble that comes with being a prophet.  People hate the prophetic voice.  People want to hear, 'Peace, peace.'  But, the Bible tells us, there is no peace (4)--and there will be no peace until the Prince of Peace enforces the peace.
 ***
In no section of scripture do I sense God speaking more directly to us--the US of A--than in Jeremiah 25:
God is summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth.  (5)
Like a lion he has left his lair. (6)
He is holding the cup of the wine of wrath out to all nations on the face of the earth.  No one will be allowed to refuse it.  (7)

The prophet's voice has ever been, 'Judgment is at hand.'  The wine of the cup of God's wrath against sin will be drunk to the last drop.  Unless you have designated Jesus Christ to stand in your stead and drink the cup for you, then--in the commercial parlance of the US of A--this cup, Bud, is for you.

We prophets are parrots--no more, no less.  Just birds, calling out fom the housetops.  What we are is no matter.  What matters is the Word we parrot, because behind that Word stands the Person who first spoke it.

He is all that matters (8).  By His Word, heaven and earth were created; and by His Word, they shall dissolve in flame:
The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  (9)

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His Word shall not pass away.  (10)
 
****************
(1) Exodus 7:1; (2) John 14:24; cf. John 12:49-50; cf. Deuteronomy 18:18; (3) See Matthew 10:26-42; (4) Jeremiah 8:11; (5) Jeremiah 25:29; see Matthew 10:34; (6) Jeremiah 25:38; see Revelation 5:5; (7) Jeremiah 25:15, 26, 28; (8) 1 Cor. 15:28; Colossians 3:11; (9) 2 Peter 3:10, 12; (10) Matthew 24:35

Friday, March 26, 2010

out of dead ground, the Branch


The Word for today:  Jeremiah 23
mark this: Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 33:14-16

"The Branch" is one of the Bible's most meaningful poetic and prophetic images of Jesus.  We will meet "the Branch" by name in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Matthew.  And we will recognize his likeness throughout scripture.

To understand the Branch, we have to understand the crucial prophesy in 2 Samuel 7.  There, the LORD promises that one of David's descendants will rule forever. 

Soon, however, David's "family tree" falls.  The glorious days of the kingdom under David and Solomon dissolve into sin, civil war, idolatry, and exile to Babylon.

But though the "tree" had fallen, with no sign of it remaining, there was still life in the roots!  That's the meaning of Isaiah 11:1, where Jesse--David's father--is mentioned:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

The Branch, sprouting from what seemed a dead stump, is a vivid picture of resurrection--life out of death--which we first saw when Aaron's dead staff blossomed (Numbers 17).

Jeremiah emphasizes that the Branch will become our righteousness!--
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'   (Jeremiah 33:14-16; see also Jeremiah 23:5-6)

This was fulfilled when Jesus, Son of David (see Luke 18:38) died on the cross.  In doing so, He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Thus, the two great promises from the Old Testament converge in the Branch--
The promise of a Deliverer through David;
and the promise to Abraham of righteousness through faith:
Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6)

We hope that as you read the Bible you will come to recognize the Branch, who came forth just when all seemed lost:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:2-5)

Just when all seemed lost, when no sign of life remained, Jesus--the Promise to Abraham; the Son of David; the LORD our righteousness--came to life out of a still tomb.  What looked to be dead, as dead as Aaron's staff, had blossomed forth as the living Branch!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Which thief are you?


The Word for today:  Jeremiah 21, 22

Israel was under the impression that God was on their side.  They thought that God would help them against the forces of Babylon, who had begun to surround the city:
"Please ask the LORD to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has begun his attack on Judah. Perhaps the LORD will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies."   (Jeremiah 21:2)

God responded in blunt terms that he was against them, because they were against him:
"I myself will fight against them with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm...
because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshiped and served other gods."   (Jeremiah 21:5, 22:9)

Many of us are under the same deluded impression--that we are a "Christian nation," so God must be on our side.  I mean, with a church on every corner and an average of 6.8 Bibles (1) in every American home, God will certainly defend us. 

That's what Israel thought.  Why, the Temple--and the Ark of the Covenant!--were within Jerusalem's walls.  Surely, God would continue to shield them from foreign forces.

But that's not what God thought:
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I will make your weapons useless against the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are attacking you. Yes, I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city. (Jeremiah 21:4)

God is no respector of persons (2), or nations.  He offers to Israel just what he offers to every man--life or death:
Then the Lord told me to say to the people, "Listen! I, the Lord, am giving you a choice between the way that leads to life and the way that leads to death." (Jeremiah 21:8/GNT)

The life and death he offers is wholly dependent on his Son:
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:12)

He offered his Son on a cross.  He died there, between two thieves.  One thief asked to be with Jesus: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43)

Heaven will consist of thieves with Jesus.  Hell will consist of thieves without Jesus.

The question is not whether God is on your side.

The question is, Which thief are you?

****************
(1) Nicky Gumbel, "The Alpha Course" (2) Acts 10:34

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

unquenchable fire


The Word for today: Jeremiah 19 & 20
Mark this: Jeremiah 20:9

People tend to live up (or down) to the names we assign them. In Scripture we see this often. Jacob means "heel catcher" and he spends the first half of his life swindling others or being swindled himself (Ge. 25:26). Naomi changed her name to "Mara" when things became so bitter for her (Ru. 1:20). Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua) means "the Lord saves" and He lived out His name to the full- His death and Resurrection mean our salvation (Mt. 1:20).

We named our oldest son Aiden, which is a Gaelic name that means "little fiery one."
He certainly has lived up to that name. He can almost instantly move from a small flame to a raging inferno; he once angrily told his teacher "I wish we had a substitute teacher today!" because she had the audacity to remind him not to touch the piano.

But when we had him dedicated, we had a different understanding of fiery in mind. We were thinking more in line of today's passage in Jeremiah. It was, and still is, our prayer that the main fire in Aiden's life be not situational nor emotional, but rather from the Word of God.

Fire!
Fire is an important metaphor in the Bible and especially in the book of Jeremiah. God has already encouraged/challenged the fearful prophet with these words from 5:14-
"I will make my words in your mouth a fire"

Now Jeremiah feels the true force of that reality.

He has struggled with relaying God's message to Israel, because the message was difficult to hear, and even more so, because the people were unwilling to hear it. Jeremiah has been a lone voice in a sea of apostasy. He has publicly attacked the people's false confidence in their beloved Temple (Ch. 7). He has survived plots on his life (Ch. 11 & 18). He has been beaten and arrested and jailed by the religious establishment. He has even felt betrayed by God (Ch. 20).
He has absolutely NO earthly reason to remain this object of ridicule.

And yet God's Word compels him. Despite all the physical, and social, and religious, and emotional reasons to just keep quiet, he does not. He cannot SHUT UP because God's Word is SHUT UP in his very bones, it rages like a fire in his heart.

That is what God's Word is like. Not some inspirational fodder. Not a collection of nice stories and morals. Certainly not "Chicken Soup for the Wimpy Soul." God's Word is "a FIRE...and like a HAMMER that breaks rocks into pieces" (Je. 23:29).
That is exactly why we need to hear, read, understand, love, examine and consume the Scripture: not to be comforted in our sin, but instead to be laid bare under its penetrating stare. The last thing I need is a false pat on the back- so much more often I need a swift kick in to my posterior.

Ultimately, I want God's Word to rage as a fire in my heart because that's what God describes Himself as - a Consuming Fire! (Ex. 24:17, Dt. 4:24, He. 12:29) He is not some safe or tamable flame for our own private use. He is furious and passionate and ablaze in glory. We do NOT control Him- He is the Master. Never forget that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

why judgment?

"View from the Cross," James Tissot 1836 – 1902

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 17:19 - 18:23

mark this: Jeremiah 18:7-8 --
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.

The judgment of God is always forward-looking.  God does not judge just to judge. His judgment looks forward to salvation.

If this concept is not held in mind, then some things we read in the Bible can be downright inexplicable, even unthinkable.

In fact, until I understood this concept, I thought that one of the most twisted things I ever read is this line from Isaiah:
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. (1)

The principle that punishment looks forward to salvation is seen in our passage today, where we read that if the people were to repent, then God would call off the punishment he'd planned:
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (2)

If God sees the outcome that punishment attempts to achieve--repentance leading to salvation--then there is no longer the need to deploy punishment. So he doesn't.

If God could get us to turn his way by strewing candy canes along our paths, he would. But if we won't react to raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, then God will attempt to turn us towards salvation by other means.
***
God is unwilling that any should perish (3), so he sent Jonah to Nineveh with a one-sentence sermon:
"Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!" (4)

Jonah's short sermon worked! The city of Nineveh--every single person--turned to God.

So what did God do? He called off the judgment that was about to overtake them:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (5)

God didn't change; he always wants to save. Nineveh changed--and it made all the difference.
***
At the cross, Father and Son were looking forward.  It pleased the LORD to bruise Him only because God knew that the travail of his soul would bring Jesus joy:
When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.  (6)

Jesus was looking forward, past judgment to salvation:
For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (7)

It made him happy to know that he would set many prisoners free.  And that, then, he could go home.

***************
(1) Isaiah 53:10; (2) Jeremiah 18:7-8; (3) 2 Peter 3:9; (4) Jonah 3:4; (5) Jonah 3:10; (6) Isaiah 53:10-11; (7) Hebrews 12:2

Monday, March 22, 2010

small questions yield small answers

"Let there be light!" Bible illustration by Gustave Doré, 1866.

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 16:1 - 17:18

mark this:  Jeremiah 17:13 --
O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
because they have forsaken the LORD,
the spring of living water.

Did Jesus ever write anything?  

There is one instance (in John chapter 8) of Jesus writing in the dust, literally fulfilling Jeremiah 17:13.  But you can't go to the library and read what he wrote that day. 

So did Jesus ever write anything? The answer is 'No'--if by 'write' you mean what I am doing now as I bash away at this keyboard.


But both the question and the answer reveal just how small our thinking is, relative to him.  I am not saying we are stupid.  What we are is stuck.  We are stuck in patterns of thinking that are not up to the task of asking questions about Jesus, let alone finding answers about him.


Did Jesus ever write anything?  Using words, an author "creates" a fictional world in a novel.  Jesus, with words, spoke the universe into existence:
"Let there be light," and there was light. (1)

The Spirit of Christ in the prophets predicted His first and second comings, which the prophets recorded:
The Spirit of Christ was in the prophets, telling in advance about the sufferings of Christ and about the glory that would follow those sufferings. (2)

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (3) who as the Word made flesh died on the cross, thereby becoming the author of our eternal salvation. (4)

He is not only the Word of God, but he is the entire alphabet, from Alpha to Omega (5)--which is Greek for  'A' to 'Z'.


Not only  the Word and every letter, but he is even the dot over every 'i' and the cross through every 't':
"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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."  (6)


What language does God speak? God communicates through a language called 'Jesus'--
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets many times and in many different ways. But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. (7)

Jesus spoke the universe into existence with a word.  He expresses exactly what God is.  He is the author of our faith.  He is the author of our eternal salvation.  He is the eternal Word.   He is the alphabet from beginning to end.  He is the fulfillment of every letter, and every stoke of every letter.

So did Jesus ever write anything?  Nope, not a thing.

Small questions yield small answers.

*****************
(1) Genesis 1:3; see also Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 4:11; (2) 1 Peter 1:11: (3) Hebrews 12:2; (4) Hebrews 5:9; (5) Revelation 1:8; (6) Matthew 5:17-18; (7) Hebrews 1:1-3

Sunday, March 21, 2010

stay hungry


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 14, 15

mark this: Jeremiah 15:16 --Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.


Q.  I've got two loaves of bread in the refrigerator.  Should I continue to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread"? (1)

A.  Absolutely.  It becomes a prayer that we will stay hungry enough to raid the Bible every day.

Q.  Did you say, 'Stay hungry enough to raid the Bible'?

A.  Yes.  What does hunger make you do?

Q.  Raid the refrigerator!

A.  Exactly; that's the function of hunger. So God blesses us with spiritual hunger:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." (2)

Q.  So we'll raid the Bible.

A.  Right, because...?

Q.  Because, uhmm..."Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."  (3)

A.  Perfect! Now think 'Bread' and keep going.

Q.  We, uhmm…we raid the Bible because Jesus is the Bread of Life! (4)

A.  That's it!  Jeremiah was blessed with hunger, so he raided the Bible:
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart. (Jeremiah 15:16)

Q.  Then let's pray to stay hungry.

A.  Go ahead...

Q.  Give us this day our daily bread!

*****************
(1) Matthew 6:11; (2) Matthew 5:6; (3) Matthew 4:4; (4) John 6:35

Saturday, March 20, 2010

pride stinks


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 13

"Disgusting!"

That's a strong word, but it's not as disgusting as filthy underwear that needed to be changed a month ago.

I'll stop now, for your stomach's sake. 

The Bible is powerfully poetic.  An example of biblical poetry is the filthy underwear we read about in Jeremiah 13:1-11.

Poetry is not reserved for hearts and flowers and the moon in June.  Poetry represents the entire spectrum of ideas, actions, and emotions.  Poetry can be about anything--about love, war, basketball, the hula hoop, or office supplies.  The subject does not matter.  It becomes poetic when one thing is expressed in terms of something else.

So saying, "Love is like a rose" is poetic.  And saying, "Pride clings to Judah like underwear which has been worn for a long time" is also poetic.  In fact, it's powerfully poetic, whereas the rose long ago passed from the realm of poetry to the realm of cliche.  "Cliche" is where language goes to die.

Jesus taught in poetic, figurative language--expressing eternal truths in terms of vines and lamps and sowers and seed.   He told illustrative stories known as parables--about pearls; about wine and wineskins; about a father and his sons; wheat and weeds; sheep and goats.

And sometimes Jesus used language that made "soiled undies" sound refined:
"Hypocrites!" "Vomit." "Latrine." "Brood of vipers." "Child of Hell." "Your father the devil." "Whitewashed tombs."

The Bible is both literal and poetic.  On the literal level, God told Jeremiah to wear underwear over the course of a long journey and then hide it in some rocks.

But God was not concerned with underwear.  On the poetic level, the parable was God's way of expressing how disgusting the pride of Judah and Jerusalem had become, and how he was allowing the consequeces of sin to take their course.

In the book of Jeremiah, we have already encountered an almond rod, a boiling cauldron, and foul underwear.  In subsequent chapters we will read about a full bottle, a potter's vessel, a broken bottle, two baskets of figs, the purchase of a field, hidden stones, and a book sunk in the Euphrates.

Prose tells.  It might tell about the "deleterious effects of pride on the individual psyche."

But poetry engages the senses.  In this case, it smells as it tells. 

"Deleterious effects" means nothing to me,
but "dirty underwear" leaves a vivid impression of what God thinks of pride:

pride stinks.

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

like nobody else--just like Jesus


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 11, 12

mark this:  Jeremiah 12:9 --
My people are like a speckled bird...

I meet with a small group a couple times a month. I think of the group as the Black Ducks, my extrapolation of "black sheep" and "odd ducks." My Dad told me I was the black sheep of the family when I was barely old enough to understand the phrase. "Every family's got one, and you're ours." Thing was, when he said it, he meant it as praise. And so do I; in fact, I love those Black Ducks. Thank God, every church has some.

There's Shellster, always. We've never been apart. There's Elusive Jimmy, who will disappear if you let him, but Mary and I keep an eye on him, so he can't. Mary has ESP--extra spiritual perception. She sees around corners. Laura is glad. About what? About everything! Tom is a realist; no whitewash or sugarcoating interferes with his outlook. I run the Tom-Test to see if an idea will fly. Vicky's Spirit emanates. The polar opposite of catching a cold; when you're around her, you'll catch fire! Dan could and should be President. Julie knows. She just knows.

When this flock congregates, Shelley prepares a lesson, which we sometimes get to. I'm under strict orders not to say anything until everyone else has been heard, but that's never happened. Every week, some one of us prints up the lyrics to an old hymn or a contemporary Jesus song. We linger over those lyrics for a while. Then I'll drag in something from Second Corinthians or Zephaniah; Shelley, shining, kicks my foot under the table because I'm supposed to wait, but that's never happened.  Laura grows glad, then gladder; Vicky transcends; Tom tests the supposition; Mary's already around the corner; Dan's in the building (you know when Dan's in the building); and Julie knows. She just knows. By the way, has anybody seen Jimmy?
***

Are you an odd duck? A black sheep?

Are you a horse of a different color?  A speckled bird?--
My people are like a speckled bird...
***

If you have decided to follow Jesus, you are walking in the footsteps of the greatest nonconformist who ever drew breath.  He defies classification.  He will fit in no category.  He mocks any box men have used in their attempts to contain him.

We expose the limits of language when we attempt to describe him.  We search in vain for comparison or analogy:
"To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal
And compare Me, that we should be alike?"  (Isaiah 46:5)

And the better we know him, the more indescribable he becomes.

The Bible warns us against conforming to this world:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

Our only conformity is to is Jesus:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.  (Romans 8:29)
***
God likes your speckles and freckles; he placed them there so he could tell you apart from all his other children.  He likes every hair of your head; he counted them, colored them, and placed them there.

Odd as it may sound, God wants you to be like nobody else.  Just like Jesus.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

that's life


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 9:23-10:25

Mark this:  Jeremiah 9:23-24--
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me."

 
Teacher: Why did Jesus die?
Student:  "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Teacher: Why did Jesus die?
Student:  It's right there in John 3:16.  He died so that we could live forever.
Teacher: You answered with an appropriate verse, but I still don't know if you know the answer.
Student (exasperated):  Huh?
Teacher:  Let's take a multiple choice test:

QUIZ
Directions:  Carefully note the emphasized words.  Choose the correct answer.

Why did Jesus die?
A.  He died to give us eternal life.
B.  He died to give us eternal life.
Student:  What's the difference?
Teacher:  One answer is right.  One answer is wrong.
***

I hope you take that short quiz, because that teacher (and this one!) is not trying to confuse the student.  He is trying to clarify an essential concept of scripture. 

The wrong answer is A, because all of us--saved or unsaved--have eternity.
The saved have eternity with God.
The unsaved have eternity without God.

Thr right answer is B.  'Life' in the Bible means relationship with God.  What Jesus did at the cross is give us life--he restored our relationship with God which had been broken by sin.
***

Student:  What does 'relationship' mean?
Teacher:  It means to know someone.
Student:  I'm ready to re-take the test now.
Teacher:  OK.  Why did Jesus die?
Student:  So we could know him.
Teacher:  That's 100% right!
***

Life does not consist of breathing or consciousness. And life is not measured in years or dollar bills.  Life consists of getting to know God:
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me."  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

This concept, when applied, puts everything on a different basis:
"How's life?"
"Get a life."
"That's life."

Jesus died so you could know him.  That's life.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

we sure are stupid (but we don't have to stay that way)



The Word for today:
Jeremiah 8:4-9:22

We sure are stupid.

But God doesn't want us to stay that way. He intends for us to gain wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But he wants us to approach knowledge in the right way, or it can kill us.

The story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has been interpreted to mean all kinds of things. Many of the interpretations are, well, stupid.

One interpretation is that God didn't want Adam and Eve to know the difference between right and wrong. That way they could remain in blissful infantile oblivion, forever.

The Tree of Knowledge means a lot, but it doesn't mean that.

The fundamental meaning of the Tree is that there is a way--God's Way--to knowledge, and there is a way to knowledge that is not God's way. God wanted Adam and Eve to learn everything. But God knew that the pursuit of knowledge outside of the parameters of his Word is a self-deluding dead end. Adam and Eve stepped outside those parameters.

Science, rightly understood, is the study of God's hand--the hand which shaped creation.
Theology, rightly understood, is the study of God's heart--the heart which went to the cross to achieve our re-creation.

But "scientists" don't generally meet in the morning to pray for God's guidance and wisdom as they seek to unlock the mysyteries of the natural realm. They skip prayer, for the most part, and go straight to the test tube or the telescope.

The Word of God tells us that if we acknowledge him in all our ways, and lean not on our own understanding, he will direct our paths (1)--towards knowledge, towards peace. But we have not acknowledged God in our pursuit of knowledge. We have turned, every one, to his own way (2).

Thus we have managed to get further and further away from knowledge and peace. We have put ourselves in harm's way, playing with fire that we cannot control. Aren't we great. Aren't we grand.
*****

They tell me there is enough energy locked inside the atoms in a barrel of water to power a city or even a country for a year, without pollution. But the way to safely unleash that power has been hidden from us, because we have tried to find it without regard to God. Although He made the atom, and is the only one who knows how to unlock its bonds, "science" doesn't think to ask him.

So we are forced to buy a barrel of oil, instead. It's expensive, it pollutes, and its procurement is fraught with dangerous geopolitical repercussions. And it sure won't power a city or even a car for very long.
*****

The earth and the animals and all of nature were subjected to defilement when man, in the Garden, stopped listening to the voice of God and listened to another voice instead.

There's a sad reminder of that in our reading today:

I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the desert pastures.
They are desolate and untraveled, and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds of the air have fled and the animals are gone.
What man is wise enough to understand this?
Who has been instructed by the LORD and can explain it?
Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?
The LORD said, "It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts." (Jeremiah 9:10-14)
*****

There was just one tree to avoid in the Garden. Every other tree was life-sustaining.

But sin denuded the Garden. Now there is only one life-sustaining tree:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (3).

We sure are stupid. But we don't have to stay that way.

************
(1) Proverbs 3:5-6; (2) Isaiah 53:6; (3) 1 Peter 2:4

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

we don't need no stinkin' mantras


The Word for today: Jeremiah 7:1- 8:3

The dictionary defines the word mantra as "a mystical formula of invocation or incantation." It's more than a catch phrase, more than a slogan, and more than a motto. It comes to our language from eastern religions (think Hinduism or Buddhism) from the idea that certain sounds or words are able, in themselves, to benefit the person who utters or chants them. (Perhaps the most famous and most caricatured is the word "ohm"). I don't want to get lost in eastern mysticism, but the point is that most cultures tend to have mantras that they return to regularly; mantras that define their position or beliefs or values; mantras that are spoken far more than they are explained or understood.

Think of some that have come and gone:
- "Better dead than Red"
- "Make love not war"
- "Remember the Alamo"

Think of some of the ones we still have around:
- "My body, my choice!"
- "We are who we've been waiting for." (Still trying to figure out what the heck that is supposed to mean)
- "My country, right or wrong" (GK Chesterton once likened this one to: My mother, drunk or sober!)

The problem with mantras are twofold:
1. Mantras are far too simplistic. You cannot ever reduce life or truth or God to a catchphrase. Even if they are partially true, they never tell the whole story. Mantras seem to be used the most to avoid that bothersome activity know as thinking. It does all the work for you- you just have to state it again and again and again.

2. Mantras blind us to the bigger picture. When you are committed to a particular mantra, your mind is already made up and all the evidence in the world would not convince you otherwise. That is never a healthy place to be- (see more about Pharaoh or the Pharisees for further proof).
In today's reading, the prophet Jeremiah was called to go to the gate of the Temple and proclaim God's message. When he got there, it seems that he's in the midst of a political rally. I imagine that there are crowds of people there, some with placards, some chanting our phrases. What is their unifying cry? Two simple words: Hekal YHWH הֵיכַל יְהוָה "the Temple of the Lord!"

The popular idea at the time, re-enforced by false prophets, was that the Temple made them immune from God's judgement. Outside Jerusalem, the Babylonian armies were conquering kingdom after kingdom, city after city. God had sent multiple prophets to warn the people of Jerusalem of their sin and the consequences of their rebellion. Their exile had been foretold by the prophets, including Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos and Jeremiah himself (see 7:25). The people themselves, for the most part, had no loyalty or love for God. Just read chapter 7 for a laundry list of their offences. Yet somehow they think that God will protect them, all because they happen to be standing in the Temple proper.

What they are saying was correct- the Temple in Jerusalem was the Temple of the Lord.
But what they were implying from that mantra was incorrect. God's Temple did not give the people of Jerusalem a "get out of captivity for free" card. It did not give them freedom to ignore the Law and live completely opposite of the Lord's covenant. It only gave them a false sense of hope and security as they ignorantly marched towards slaughter.

To correct these misconceptions, God reminds them of Israel's not too distant past and its former capital, Shiloh (7:12). From the time of Joshua through the time of Eli (@ 400 years), Shiloh was the central city for the Israelites. It was where the Tabernacle was, and therefore the place where the High Priest and Ark of the Covenant were located (1 Samuel 1:3). It was at Shiloh where God revealed Himself to Samuel (1 Sa. 3:21).

Yet when the Israelites tried to use God's Ark of the Covenant as good-luck charm, as a sort of a tangible mantra, to win their battle for them, God allowed for then to lose the battle, He allowed the Ark to be captured by unclean Philistines, and He allowed Shiloh to forever lose its prominence for Israel. (See 1 Samuel 3 &4).
Psalm 78:60-61 goes even further stating:


He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh,
the tent he had set up among men.
He sent the ark of his might into captivity,
his splendor into the hands of the enemy.

God was certainly jealous of His Ark and His Temple, but even more so, He was Jealous of His Name (Ez. 20:9). Therefore, even the most sacred of objects and places are not spared or immune to consequences. That's why mantras don't work, because a relationship with God is never about a certain holy place or object; its never about a slogan or catchphrase- even if that mantra is a Bible verse.

The scary news for us today is that we are just as prone as the people of Jeremiah's time to substitute a clever mantra for a real commitment to God's truth. We all have our favorite Bible verses; the temptation is to twist them or misuse them so we have things our way. God is constantly, through His word and through His Holy Spirit, leading us into truth; the temptation comes when we might not like what is being communicated and so we ignore the whole truth and cling to a mantra. "God is love" (1 John 4:16) is a true statement, but with out the rest of the Bible we don't even know what love means.


So our challenge for today is to move beyond using the Bible and its sublime verses as proof texts for our own sin or selfishness. Ditch the spiritual crutches and placards that we so often depend upon. We have Jesus Christ, we don' t need no stinkin' mantras!

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Did God really say…?"

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 5, 6

The enemies of God have distorted God's Word from the very beginning:

In Genesis 3:1, we hear the serpent ask Eve, "Did God really say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'"?

We know this is a complete distortion of God's Word; because in Genesis 2:16-17, God had said they were free to eat from every tree but one:
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

"Every tree but one" might have meant thousands, even millions of trees to choose from. But in Satan's telling, there were exactly zero trees they could "choose" from.

God's generous original statement is made to seem stingy and miserly. The seed of doubt has been planted.

Together, Satan and Eve then proceed to diminish God's Word, add to God's Word, and soften God's Word. They make it say whatever they want it to say.

Pretty soon, we hear the serpent declare, "You will not surely die." (Genesis 3:4)

In the space of a few short verses, both God's overflowing generosity and his holy justice have been distorted and denied.

We hear a similar denial of God's judgment against sin in today's reading:
The people have lied about the Lord and said, "He will not do anything to us! Nothing bad will happen to us! We will never see war or hunger!" (Jeremiah 5:12/NCV)
***

A person can make a Bible verse mean anything he wants it to mean.
But God made the Bible to mean just one thing.

A verse taken out of context can be made to mean whatever.

Even a book of the Bible, separated from the rest, can be made to mean whatever.

Even the Old Testament, separated from the New Testament; or the New Testament, separated from the Old Testament--can be distorted to mean whatever.

But when the whole Bible is considered--31,173 verses in 66 books--then the Bible means precisely one thing: Jesus.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

his message broke his own heart


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 3:6-4:31

Most of the prophets do not project themselves on the pages of their prophecy. But Jeremiah's prophecy is autobiographical:

1. He was chosen to be a prophet before he was born (Jer. 1:5).
2. He was called to the prophetic office while he was very young (Jer. 1:6).
3. He was forbidden to marry because of the terrible times in which he lived (Jer. 16:17–4).
4. He never made a convert.
5. He was rejected by his people (Jer. 11:18–21; 12:6; 18:18), hated, beaten, put in stocks (Jer. 20:1–3), imprisoned, and charged with being a traitor (Jer. 37:11–16).
6. He wanted to resign, but God wouldn’t let him (Jer. 20:9).
7. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.
8. His message broke his own heart (Jer. 9:1).

Why was a prophet with a broken heart chosen to deliver such a harsh message? Because God wanted the children of Israel to know that, although He was sending them into captivity, it was breaking His heart.

The harshest message of judgment ever spoken would be delivered by another man, like Jeremiah, who was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: (1)

"You testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation."  (2)

How could they know that the prophet's prophecy targeted himself; that the captive was on his way to set his captors free:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"  (2)

**********
(1) Isaiah 53:3; (2) Matthew 23:31-39

Saturday, March 13, 2010

lifting Jesus up


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 2:1-3:5

I've read a gazillion words and I've written a billion, but some of the saddest words I've ever encountered are in the second chapter of Jeremiah.

So it makes me sad to write this. Because there's no avoiding God's broken heart in today's reading.

Have you ever been forsaken? God was. Have you been deserted? God was. Rejected? He was that, too.

Scorned? Mocked? Demeaned? Our holy, holy, holy God was, was, was and is, is, is.

Such a broken and vulnerable heart is revealed in these verses that I want to shield my eyes. I don't want to see Jesus this way. He'd handed his heart to Israel, and they handed it back:

Remember the springtime of our love?
"I remember how faithful you were when you were young, how you loved me when we were first married; how you belonged to me alone; you were my sacred possession." (Jeremiah 2:2-3/GNT)

What's wrong with me, that you left me?
"What fault did your fathers find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?" (Jeremiah 2:5)

You never really cared.
"They did not care about me, even though I rescued them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness." (Jeremiah 2:6/GNT)

It's difficult for us to hold two pictures in mind at the same time--the creator of the universe and the man on the cross. But we must if we are to know him. His hand is revealed in creation. But his heart is revealed at the cross.

So if you want to look deep into the heart of God, look at the cross. That's how God feels about you.
If you want to look deep into the heart of man, look at the cross. That's how man feels about God.

God picked us up when we fell down. But who amongst us can pick God up?

A man called Simon from Cyrene once helped Jesus when he'd fallen down. I don't know the theology of all this. In fact, I don't think theology has anything to do with it. God fell down and Simon helped him, carrying his cross. (Luke 23:26)

We can do the same. We can lift his Spirit. One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is when Jesus gave an assignment, the disciples followed his instructions, and they returned to tell him the results. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit, we are told; and then he let them peek into the supernatural through his eyes, informing them that as they had carried out his directions, he "was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning." (Luke 10:18-21/NASB)

We hate to see him the way we saw him today. So let's figure out a way to lift him up:
Bless the Lord, O my soul
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
Bless the Lord, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! (Psalm 103:20-22)

*********

Friday, March 12, 2010

might as well be lost



The Word for today:
Jeremiah 1

mark this: Jeremiah 1:1-2 --
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah, king of Judah.

The story is told in terms of father and son, because that's what Hilkiah and Jeremiah were. But it can just as well be told in terms of moms, because in many families Mom plays the role of "Hilkiah," as you shall hear. Mom, or Dad, or both--it doesn't matter. Just as long as every home has its Hilkiah.

It's a story about discovering the lost Word of God; then blowing the dust off the cover, bringing it home, and opening it up.

As you read through this account, I hope you'll think about who the Hilkiah in your home happens to be. If you don't have one, then I hope you'll become one.

In Hilkiah's days as high priest, the Bible--then known as the Book of the Law--had been lost. It had been lost in, of all places, the church. (I went to a church like that when I was a kid, where it was a case of "hide in plain sight." There were Bibles in the pews, but they might as well have been invisible.)

But this wasn't a case of hide in plain sight, because the Book of the Law had actually disappeared! It was nowhere to be found. But when King Josiah commanded that the Holy Temple be refurbished, it was found as if by accident:
Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, "I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD." (2 Kings 22:8) Then he took it to King Josiah, who listened as it was read. A period of great spiritual revival began.

But our story isn't about revival in the house of the LORD long ago. It's about revival in your house today.

After it was read to the King, Hilkiah took that Bible--the last Bible in Israel--home, where he read it to little Jeremiah, his son:
The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah king of Judah. (Jeremiah 1:1-2)

The word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah because his Dad brought it home from a 'church' where it had gotten lost in the shuffle.

Maybe it was lost amongst the bingo tables and statues. That's where the Word of God got lost in my parents' church.

Or maybe it got lost amongst all the hi-fi equipment. The show went on without it.

Or maybe the people relinquished its care to the pastors and priests and teachers, and so it became someone else's business.

Or maybe the pastors and priests and teachers taught just parts of it until it became a car without a motor, or a heart without a hand--good for nothing.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was you who left it at church, lost until next Sunday.

***

Almost without exception in the history of Israel and the church, revival has been initiated by just one thing--a renewed interest in the Word of God.

In and amongst the bingo tables, the audio-visual equipment, the hierarchy of the church, or your own indifference, there's a revival in the making. It's within your grasp to dust it off, to open it up, to bring it home.

I've got more wrong on my ledger than right. But somewhere amongst all the hangovers and pride and forgotten affairs, I found the Word of the LORD. I brought it home to Shelley, who taught me to live it as I was teaching her to read it.

One night, soon after Frankie was born, I came home from work and Shelley was reading the book of Matthew, aloud, to our infant son. That might have been the first time in my life that I felt as if I'd lent my hand to a higher purpose.

So whenever I read the opening lines of Jeremiah, I recall that scene. The Word is the LORD's, but without the hand of a Dad and the voice of a Mom, it goes undelivered, unheard.

Might as well be lost.

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

Thursday, March 11, 2010

but...where's the steeple?


The Word for today:
Matthew 18:1-35

Mark this: Matthew 18:20--
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Q. What is the "church?"
A. The church is the body of Christ:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1)

Q. What does the church look like?
A. It looks like this:
"Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (2)

Q. But…where’s the steeple?
A. Two or three, seated at a picnic table in Outwater Park, gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and redeemed by His blood--fulfill the Scriptural definition of the true church.

Two or three thousand, gathered together in a lavish sanctuary, under a splendid steeple topped by a shimmering cross—may or may not fulfill the Scriptural definition of a true church.

Q. What's the difference?
A. The difference is Jesus. A live church is connected to the resurrected Head--Jesus Christ.

A cadaver church is disconnected from the living, breathing Christ. They might talk a lot about him, but he's more of a concept than a Person. Here's how Jesus described the cadaver church:
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'  (3)

If you are in a "Lord, Lord" church which stresses running around doing all kinds of charitable acts but does not point the way to the cross of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, you are in a church which has a form of godliness, but lacks the power thereof (4), leaving many dead in sins and trespasses (5). Busy as busy can be in their pursuit of what the Bible calls dead works (6), they can appear to be alive, but they are disconnected from the Head.

If you are in that kind of a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off "church," then I invite you to join me at Outwater Park. I'll bring Shelley along and, if you've never gone to the cross, we'll point the way.

Having been to the cross, you're in church.   Now we'll need four places at the table.

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(1) 1 Corinthians 12:13; (2) Matthew 18:20; (3) Matthew 7:21-23; (4) 2 Timothey 3:5; (5) Ephesians 2:1; (6) Hebrews 6:1; 9:14

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

mustard seed faith


(Written by Vickie)

The Word for today: Matthew 17:14-27

Mark these verses: Matthew 17:19-20
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked," Why couldn't we drive it out!" He replied, "Because you have so little faith, I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there and it will move.' Nothing will be impossible for you.

The disciples had failed. Jesus sent them out, as trainees under his divine mentorship. They were apprenticed to learn Kingdom work. To point people to Jesus through miracles and signs. So how embarrassing is this--one of your attempts to bring healing through the casting out of demons falls flat! Even before you get to the end of the day debrief with Jesus your failure is revealed before a whole crowd of onlookers. ughhhhh.

So they ask Jesus, "Why did we fail?" Jesus answers them, "because your faith is small." These men had faith, they followed Jesus and they confessed Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Still Jesus points to their little faith. This not the first time either, check out Matthew 16:8.

Jesus' lessons in faith are hard. But He is patient with us. Psalm 103:14 "...for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." Jesus wants to pass along to his disciples an awareness of their own limited perspective. He says, "I tell you the truth." He always does. Jesus came down from glory--he knows our minds cannot grasp the majesty of that glory or the scope of His Kingdom.

His preparation for his disciples then and now is by faith. For the Kingdom work He invites us to do with Him we need that heavenly perspective. Through faith's glasses we see the reality that eternity is now, for followers of Jesus. We need faith to share the gospel. We need faith for boldness to speak of eternity, sin and judgement. We need faith to love people the way our Father in heaven loves us.

Jesus did not point at the disciple's failure to disqualify them from Kingdom work. He was calling them to embrace the reality of a Kingdom and God bigger than their imagination. He was calling them out to participate in it's scope and splendor. He's calling us.

"If you have faith as small as mustard seed...Nothing will be impossible for you."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

up the hill with Jesus


The Word for today:
Matthew 16:21-17:13

If you want to see a picture of Jesus as he is today--Jesus in glory--here it is:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him... when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." (Matthew 17:1-3, 5)

Neat, huh? There's Jesus! There's Moses and Elijah! Then we hear the voice of God, telling us to "Listen to him"--to Jesus.

Because while Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, Jesus is the fulfillment:
"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.

Way cool! (That's just what Peter thought, so he wanted to put up some tents and stay there!)--
"Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Matthew 17:4)

But let's not just read about it. Let's go up the Mount of Transfiguration ourselves.

When the people of Israel traveled to Jerusalem for the feast days, they sang their way up the mountainside approaches to the city. The songs they sang are preserved for us in Psalms 120 to 134. The NIV Bible labels these "Songs of Ascent." The KJV Bible calls them "Songs of Degrees."

By degrees--not all at once--you are ascending your very own Mount of Transfiguration. Step by step, we are going up the "hill" with Jesus. That's the plan:

His death is ours; his resurrection is ours:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  (Romans 6:5)

We are being transformed:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

Even his transfiguration is ours:
Those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)

In fact, we are going to end up being just like Jesus!--
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

But until then, don't rush things. Remember, it's one step at a time. Along the way, the important thing to do is what God said: "Listen to him."

He knows the way to the top.  He's the only one who's been there before.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What did Jesus look like?


The Word for today:
Matthew 16:1-20

mark this:  Matthew 16:13-14 --
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

What did Jesus look like?

We don't have any visual record as to what He looked like. But that will not deter your friendly Stand in the Rain blogmeister from indulging in a little scriptural conjecture...

Carpenter: Think construction worker, not cabinet-maker. A carpenter worked in wood with heavy hammers, and with the omnipresent building material in Israel--stone.  And they weren't using power tools.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).  There's a hint in these words that He was physically strong. "Favor" in the Bible is a word which, among other things, can describe the reaction to favorable looks.

The sacrificial lamb was to be the choice one of the flock, without blemish. This again is a Biblical "picture" of Christ that might apply--and might not.

The title "Lion of Judah" might also hint at His bearing, perhaps even His demeanor.
*****

 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." (Matthew 16:13-14)

This pivotal passage might hold more clues to His appearance and demeanor than any other, because the people of that day held the view that...
Elijah and John the Baptist were dramatic, forceful figures with kinetic presence. They were not the shy, retiring types.
On the other hand, Jeremiah was universally seen as the tender-hearted, nearly broken-hearted prophet.

That "some of the people say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah" may indicate that, even in appearance, Jesus combined seemingly contradictory traits. Think of a storm--a sad storm, powerful and sorrowful; a tossing wind gone sighing over the land…

Furthermore, John the Baptist was a Nazirite. The Nazirite, amongst other vows, avoided any razor. It may be that the traditional long-haired depiction of Jesus holds at least some scriptural basis.

Isaiah 52:14-53:2 contains what some see as a clue to his appearance, but it is difficult to discern whether or not the marred figure--with "no form or majesty that we should look at Him, no beauty that we should desire Him"--is being described on the day of His crucifixion.

This commentator’s wild surmisal is that, as the Word of God made flesh, He looked like what the Bible is: to the proud, defiant sinner, the Word of God is stern judgment—and “looks like” the tempestuous, harrowing righteousness which characterized Elijah and John the Baptist.
To the repentant, the poor-in-spirit, the Word of God speaks forgiveness and a new start, in the compassionate tones of Jeremiah.
So, like the Bible, Jesus is just what each individual needs—and He may have actually looked the part from various perspectives.
If you think this sounds like total conjecture, think again. There is a well-known part of the Bible where sound became just what communicated to each individual’s need: at Pentecost, the apostles spoke and each man heard in his own language. (Acts 2:5-12)

If God could achieve this with the sense of sound, what stops Him from achieving this effect with the sense of sight?
Psalms declares that God "shows himself" differently to different people:
To the faithful you show yourself faithful; to those with integrity you show integrity.
To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the wicked you show yourself hostile.
You rescue those who are humble, but you humiliate the proud.   (Psalms 18:25-27)

In a very real way, what Jesus looks like is up to you.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

from Pharisee to Jesus Freak



The Word for today:
Matthew 15:21-39

[Today, Stand in the Rain will briefly define the religious factions which Jesus encountered in the gospels.  Along with brief technical descriptions of these sects, we will look at Jesus' influence on some of their members.]
*****
Most of the people who read "Stand in the Rain" access it through Facebook. That's why I think Facebook is a Bible teacher's dream! I tip my hat to the little man behind the curtain who operates all the gears and levers that keep Facebook running. Though I've never met him, I count him as a "friend!"

If you go to Facebook and look for my name--Franklyn Pfeil--you'll find a tab for "Info" at the top of the page. Here's some of my info:

Interests:
Jesus Christ. Running. Fishing.

Favorite Music:
Birdsong. The music of the spheres.

Favorite Movies:
Actors don't move me.

Favorite Books:
The Bible. The dictionary.

Birthday:
April 11, 1953

Hometown:
Lockport, NY

Relationship Status:
Married to Shelley Pfeil

Religious Views:
Jesus Freak

Jesus Freak? Well, yeah. It's a phrase that died and came back again!--

JESUS FREAK--Someone who is so radically committed to Jesus Christ that they're viewed as a cultural misfit. A derogatory term that originated in the 1960's, it was repopularized by the Christian musical group, dc Talk's, 1995 music release, "Jesus Freak." Many Christians now use this label with pride. (1)
*****
The Pharisees were all about religion. So were the Sadducees, scribes, and Herodians:
  • Pharisees--The dominant party. Strict fundamentalists and keepers of tradition. Legalists who believed in the Old Testament. Nationalists who wanted to restore the throne to the line of David.
  • Sadducees—Liberal in theology,they rejected tradition. Denied the supernatural, especially resurrection and the afterlife. They wielded power because they controlled the priesthood. Opposed the Pharisees.
  • Scribes—Hair-splitters concerned more with the letter of the law than the spirit of scripture.
  • Herodians—Interested in maintaining Herod’s power on the throne.
*****
The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (3).  He became a Christian and, next to Jesus, the most influential person in history.

Another one of the Pharisees changed so radically that I think of him as the first Jesus Freak. Nicodemus was a cautious, reserved, sophisticated Pharisee who wanted to know who Jesus was. He had a lot to risk by associating with Jesus, so he came to see him one night under the cover of darkness. Jesus immediately began teaching Nicodemus about God's plan for eternal life.  "You must be born again," Jesus told him.(4)

Time passed, but the seed Jesus sowed was making its way to the light.  On the day Jesus died, when all of his followers were in hiding, Nicodemus suddenly came forth and openly took charge of the burial arrangements, supplying 75 pounds of burial spices--enough for a royal funeral! (5)

It was a reckless and extravagant act, a radical break with his past.

Why, it was as if one man's death had caused another man to be born again.

***************
(1) "Glossary of Christian Jargon," NIV Starting Point Study Bible, 2002, Zondervan Corporation; (2) Ephesians 5:31-32, quoting Genesis 2:24; (3) Acts 23:6; see Acts 11:26 (4) John 3:1-21; see John 7:45-52; (5) John 19:38-42