Monday, May 31, 2010

The buck stopped there.


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 20:45-21:32

mark this:  Ezekiel 21:2-3
"Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, preach against the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath..."


"If only I could see what God is doing, then I'd understand."

Look around you.  Everything you see is, directly or indirectly, God's doing.

No matter what we'll see today when we read or watch the news, none of it is news to God.  Whatever happens, God either initiated it or allowed it. 

What God initiates.
What God starts is called his direct will
The tabernacle--portable, purposeful, powerfully pictorial, and perfect--was God's idea, God's direct will.

What God allows.
What God did not initiate, but doesn't stop either, is within the realm of God's permissive will. 
The Temple--ornate and unmoveable--was David's idea. God went along with it, and even dictated its design, but he did not initiate it.
The suffering inflicted upon Job (1) was also in God's permissive will.  It wasn't God's idea in the first place (it was Satan's idea) but God alllowed it--within certain parameters which he insited upon.

What God stops.
There's no technical term for this.  We just say that it is against God's will.

Sometimes it is hard to decide whether what happens is God's direct will or his permissive will.  But it really doesn't matter, because God claims responsibility for everything that happens.

In today's reading, we find that God will use Babylon as his "sword" to punish Jerusalem for their sins.  Did God appear to Nebuchednezzar and say, "Lay siege to Jerusalem; starve them; then attack and burn the city, destroy the temple, and carry the captured into Babylonian exile."

The Bible's answer is that it doesn't matter whether God directly initiated the idea or just allowed Nebuchednezzar's own idea to happen.  Either way, according to the Bible, the buck stops with God.
***

Now we go darker and deeper.  If we read Psalm 137, we find out that Nebuchednezzar's Babylonian forces murdered infants by dashing their heads against the rocks.  Is that God's will?

The biblical answer is yes, because even that buck stopped with God.  But before you begin to hate God, recall...

Recall what good came out of the story of the beleagured Job.  Everything taken from him was restored, even doubled.

Before you begin to hate God, recall this scripture:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)
God had allowed Joseph's brothers to carry out their evil ideas, because God would use the situation left in evil's wake to save "many"--in this case, an entire nation.

Before you begin to hate God, recall this scripture:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
***
Satan, Nebuchednezzar and Joseph's brothers had originated evil ideas, which God allowed because he would use these evil situatuions in his overall plan to create good out of bad.

Evil is all that God was handed after man sinned and brought death into the world.  So if death was all he had to work with, then from death he must make a way.

And that's what he did.  He devised a plan--a plan so profound that only God could devise it.  He decided that his only Son would, as it were, be dashed against the stones.

At creation, he'd already made something out of nothing.  But now...now he was proposing to make good out of bad; to make life out of death. 
 ***

The cross of Jesus Christ, the greatest of all 'injustices,' wasn't merely allowed by God. It was his idea, his greatest idea.

Because when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the wages of sin.   For everyone who would ever turn to him, he paid the wages of sin, which is death (2). Your wages, and even mine, were paid in full. 

The buck stopped there.

***************
(1) Job chapter 1; (2) Romans 6:23

Sunday, May 30, 2010

a History of Mercy


The Word for Today: Ezekiel 20
Mark this: verses 9, 14, 22

"for the sake of My Name..."

I love being inspired by the amazing heroes in the Bible- Joseph shows me what true forgiveness means, Daniel teaches me integrity, Zacchaeus demonstrates what repentance really is. But more often than not, the people we encounter in the Word can help us know what NOT to do. As full as the Bible is of godly men and women, it never sugar-coats the lives found within, it never tries to cover up their failings. I am not sure about you, but I know that for me personally, its often the negative examples that motivate me to stay away from a certain sin or snare. Maybe that is human nature- seeing the horror of a drug ravaged body would be more motivation to avoid drugs than all the testimonies of those who never were tempted to begin with.

In today's passage, God is going to warn His people via negative examples. As the present generation fakes interest in hearing the Word of God (see verse 3), God is going to use the faithlessness of past generations to respond. But in the mean time, God teaches us another lesson- a lesson in His mercy.
God brings up three different generations who repeated the same old problems.

Group 1 - Israelites living in Egypt (v. 5-9)
Group 2 - Israelites wandering in the desert [1st Generation](v. 10-17)
Group 3 - Their children also wandering in the desert [2nd Generation] (v. 18-26)

Notice the pattern that emerges:
1. God reveals Himself (v. 5, 11, 18)
2. The people rebel against God (v. 8a, 13a, 21a)
3. They incur God's wrath (v. 8b, 13b, 21b)
4. But God relents because of His Name (v. 9, 14, 22)


But beyond these three negative warning- these examples that show us what NOT to do, we see an even bigger picture emerge- one of God's mercy. This passage gives a manifold testimony of what mercy, and really the Gospel, means.

GOD, in His mercy, doesn't allow for pretense & hypocrisy.
In this passage, God sees right past the pretense of leaders who don't really want to hear His words. Hypocrisy is a fundamental human problem and therefore all people, of whatever faith or non-faith, must beware. God knows this, but He does much more than call us to task for hypocrisy, He sets us free from the huge burden of it.

What do I mean?
If you look around the world, mankind is enslaved to all sorts of religious or irreligious hypocrisy- doing/not doing certain things not because we want to, but rather going through the motions in order to look good or avoid guilt. Look at the various rituals from any religion- how billions are enslaved to certain requirements that they don't really understand or even believe in.
God sees through all that junk and He doesn't want any part of it
Praise God that I don't have to be dishonest of my true feelings.
Praise God that I don't have to relate to Him through half-hearted "religious" activities.

GOD, in His mercy, reveals Himself and His ways to us.
Perhaps the clearest sign of God's mercy is His continually revealing Himself to us through His word. Whether the nation Israel, or ourselves, we all have the tendency to ignore His truth. How easy would it be for Him to cut off all communication to such a rebellious people?
Remember- we are all repeat offenders, we've all previously flaunted God's known truth. Yet God reveals who He is and what He expects to us again and again, without fail. That is mercy.

GOD, in His mercy, disciplines His children.
"No discipline seems pleasant," yet that same rebuke we (or Israel in this case) receive from God is proof that He is our heavenly Father who "is treating us as sons (1)." God cares enough to tell us the truth. In a world full of deceit, ignorance and broken promises, we have a Merciful Master who always is "spin-free." Mercy cannot exist without the truth, and the truth often hurts. God gives dignity to His children when He hold us accountable for our behavior.

GOD, in His mercy, spares us what we deserve
We often limit our understanding of mercy to this statement; this passage certainly challenges that mindset. But you cannot talk about mercy without mentioning the sheer joy and relief when we don't get what we deserve. The people of Israel, like us, have earned the due reward of their deeds. There is no sugarcoating that fact. Yet the joy of the Gospel message is that instead of leaving us in perpetual slavery to sin, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them (2)."

GOD, in His mercy, acts because of His Holy Name.
Above all, mercy is about the character of God. While we may be the object of His grace- it is never ultimately centered on us. That's a good thing too- the fickleness of Israel mirrors the fickleness of the human heart. Our hope is in the very character of God.

(1) Hebrews 12:7 (2) 2 Corinthians 5:19

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jesus (formerly) of Nazareth


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 18, 19

mark this: Ezekiel 18:1-4
The Lord spoke to me and said, "What is this proverb people keep repeating in the land of Israel?--
'The parents ate the sour grapes, But the children got the sour taste.'
"As surely as I am the living God," says the Sovereign Lord, "you will not repeat this proverb in Israel any more.
The life of every person belongs to me, the life of the parent as well as that of the child. The person who sins is the one who will die."

Ezekiel stressed his themes of sin, judgment, and restoration not only for the nation but also for the individual--a unique emphasis for his day.

When people complained that they were suffering because of their fathers' sins, Ezekiel countered by stressing individual sin and judgment, individual righteousness and salvation.  This individual emphasis anticipates the New Testament, where each individual is responsible to make a personal decision for Christ.

Ezekiel taught that we are not held under the sway of precedent influences.  You are not required to follow your father into sin, your mother into a bloodless social religion, your girlfriend into sex, your roomate into moral indifference, or your culture into mind-numbing inanity.  And you are not required to agree with your professor's outlook on anything.

You owe them nothing.  If you want to develop some spiritual muscle, begin today.  Pick an ungodly or antichrist influence and rebel against it.  Sever the ties you must. Kick your culture to the curb. Inform peers that you're a peer no longer. And as you turn to leave, don't thank them for the memories.
***
It might surprise you to know the names of the two greatest rebels in your Bible.

We romanticize Cain as the rebel when, in fact, he was the ultimate Mommy's boy. He tried to approach God on his own terms, just like Eve had done. 

The only rebel in the family was Abel.  He faced down everyone in his family in order to come to God in the way God prescribed.

Abel rebelled against everyone; while Cain--as acquiescent as Adam--took Mommy's way, rebelling against no one.  You tell me who the rebel was.
***

Some romanticize Satan as a rebel.  He wasn't a rebel at all.  He was prisoner to his own pride.

Jesus Christ at a young age told his family that he must be about his Father's business.  He didn't mean carpentry.  Just before his Father indicated that it was time to make his way from Nazareth to Golgotha, he (like Abel before him) curtly cut the apron strings:
"Woman, what have you to do with me?" (1)

If any of your associations or influences compromise your relationship with Christ, then take his advice:
Shake the dust off your feet; (2)
Let the dead bury their dead; (3)
and never look back, (4)
because he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  (5)
On the other hand, if your father, mother, church, or friend have shown you the way to God, then you are to honor them with your whole heart.
***

I've said many goodbyes in order to be about my Father's business.  I've cut many ties in order to navigate the way from my own Nazareth to the cross; and then to show others the way out of Nazareths of their own.

There's a lot of dust you'll be leaving behind, and a lot of funerals you'll be missing.  Because, you see, you are one in Spirit now with the arch-rebel of all time.  Like him, in the long run, you will--you must--rebel against everything but God.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?  Yes, but first you have to get out.

*******************
(1) John 2:4; (2) Matthew 10:14; (3) Luke 9:60; (4) Luke 9:62; (5) Matthew 10:37

Friday, May 28, 2010

To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 17

God always had something up his sleeve.

At the end of Ezekiel chapter 16, God tells us that he will cleanse and restore his unfaithful wife (Jerusalem). 

She had broken the marriage covenant (referring to the Ten Commandments, which Israel had agreed to obey) but God would make an everlasting covenant with her, one that could not be broken:
I will establish an everlasting covenant with you...when I make atonement for you for all you have done.  (See Ezekiel 16:60-63.)

This is the new covenant, which we previously read about in Jeremiah 31:31-32:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,"
declares the LORD.
***

God, in the act of salvation, is pictured with his sleeve rolled up, ready to work and fight for our lives:
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.  (Isaiah 52:10)

What God had up his sleeve, ready to trump our failure and sin, was Jesus:
"This is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20)

Jesus had always been God's plan, but God waited until just the right time to roll up his sleeve and reveal his 'Ace'--
He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.   (1 Peter 1:20)
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1)

When the time arrived, the first person to whom the arm of the LORD was revealed was, of course, his mother:
And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away."  (1)
***

To whom, then, has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He was revealed as a Word to Isaiah, to Jeremiah, and to Ezekiel.  That Word became flesh in Mary's arms.  His flesh, torn, yielded the blood of the new covenant:
"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time," says the Lord...
 a new and living way opened through the curtain, that is, his body.  (2)

Anyone who has turned to the cross of Jesus Christ has seen the salvation of the LORD.

But until you turn to the cross, you've hidden the arm of the LORD behind your back.

****************
(1) excerpted from Luke 1:46-53; (2) excerpted from Hebrews 10:16-20

Thursday, May 27, 2010

every word: how blunt truth turned an S.O.B. into a son of God


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 16

Shelley wondered the other day whether we should warn some of our young, impressionable readers about some very graphic anatomical descriptions which we will encounter in Ezekiel.

I replied with the standard line:  "Nothing they haven't heard on the school bus already."

We don't need to warn people about God's Word, when God's Word is the warning the people need!  We have to expose our young readers to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (1).  No less an authority than Jesus Christ said so.

The graphic anatomy encountered in Ezekiel is nothing compared to the scathing denunciations we hear:
Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite (Ezekiel 16:3). 
I've never been called a son of an Amorite or Hittite, but on numerous occasions I've been called a son of something else.  Same difference.

Should such language be in the Bible?  I refer you to that well-known authority, Jesus Christ, who once informed the people that their father wasn't God at all but the murdering and lying Satan:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  (John 8:44)

I think I'd rather be called a son of an Amorite than a son of that.

Your Bible has some harsh things to say, things that you'll never hear in church, among the 'proper' people there.  Because many a smiling preacher, more concerned for his popularity than the truth, hasn't got the backbone to look sin in the eye and call it exactly what it is.

The greatest indictment of the biblical false prophet is this oft-repeated line:
They will say, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace (2).

I grew up with the secular "Peace, peace" crowd.  They had no explanation for the world as I knew it to be.  They told me I was OK, and that they were OK.  We were not OK. 

After dumping the "Peace, peace" crowd, I spent some time with the religious "Lord, Lord" crowd.  They were as clueless and insipid as their secular counterparts.  They didn't know Jesus, 'cause he didn't know them:
"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.' " (Matthew 7:22-23)

I never met anybody who truly knew what was going on in my heart and in this world until I read the book of Matthew.  I remember my eyes growing wide with wonder, shock and awe as I read this point-blank assessment of me and my vaunted generation:
From within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)
"O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I bear with you?"  (Matthew 17:17)

I--son of an Amorite, son of Satan, and (so I've been told) son of your dog Lulu--had finally met someone who knew.  Not only that, but he cared enough to speak harsh words of truth.

We live by his every word.  Never withhold even one of them.  Even if the bus driver objects.

****************
(1) Matthew 4:4; (2) Jeremiah 6:14; Ezekiel 13:10

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Then you shall know that I am the LORD.


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 14-15

Mark this: Ezekiel 14:8b
Then you shall know that I am the LORD.


Wanna live life as it was meant to be lived?  If you do, then here's how to do it:  Stand in the Rain every day.

"Stand in the Rain," an image borrowed from Isaiah 55:10-11, means to let the Word of God fulfill its purpose in your life.

So what is the purpose of the Bible?  The purpose of the Bible is to know God.  Not only is that the purpose of the Bible, it's the purpose of existence!  Being the purpose of the Bible and the purpose of existence, it's not surprising that knowing God is also the theme of Ezekiel.

The expression "Then they will know that I am the LORD" (and variations of it) occurs 70 times in the book of Ezekiel (which is near the middle of your Bible).

Near the beginning of your Bible is the book of Exodus.  Typing Ezekiel's thematic phrase into my electronic concordance, I found out that "Then they will know that I am the LORD" appears in Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10,22; 10:2; 14:4,18; 16:6, 8, 12; 29:46; 31:13.

The gospels are near the end of the Bible.  John 20:31 tells us that the gospels (and by inference the entire Bible) were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:31)

"That you may have life"  might just as well be written "that you may know God"--because they mean the same thing. The Bible defines life itself as a relationship with God.  (Conversely, "death" in scripture doesn't mean you stop breathing.  It means you are separated from God!)

So Bible reading (getting to know God) is nothing short of life itself. 

If you really want to be alive, don't ever miss a day in the "rain!"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What are you doing?


The Word of God for today: Ezekiel 12 & 13
Mark this verse: Ezekiel 12:2 "...They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear for they are a rebellious people."

The witnesses could not give an account of the story that unfolded before their eyes. They were unable to hear over the dialogue in their own ears, they were unable to see because of the illusions that played out in their mind's eye. Being vaguely aware that something wasn't quite right, that something didn't sync in their perceptions, they chose to turn all the more vehemently toward the illusion and familiar voices.

Ezekiel spoke the vision the LORD had given for His remnant but they could not understand. Israel didn't have a sensory deficiency, they had a heart problem.

Again, Israel doesn't get it. God calls them, once again, a "rebellious people." I love the persistent father love of the LORD. He never gives up in extending Himself to restore the broken relationship with His children.

So, God invites them all to a theatrical presentation.

Ezekiel, in a solo performance, executed a drama according to God's specific instructions. He played his role perfectly while Israel watched. All day, before a reluctant audience he acted out his part, revealing God's message. A day long performance while Israel looked on, questioning, "What are you doing?"

I know that question too. Many times I have looked up to the heavens and asked, "What are you doing God?" Like Israel I've not always liked God's answer and I've had my own bouts of "rebellious heart" disease. But in those times of questioning, I have experienced the gift of clarity, a chance to readjust my perceptions. Even the direction of my questioning giving testimony to what my created self knows--that only God can make sense of our lives.

God delivers truth and adds grace to the mix. He invites us to receive His salvation. For the day we first received Jesus Christ as our Saviour and and all the days after, "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." (Proverbs 18:10)

Israel got some hard prophesy that day from Ezekiel. Unfortunately, a day of theater did not turn into a a day of repentance. At the end of the chapter, Israel discounts the urgency of Ezekiel's message. They missed out on the salvation that God was holding out to them for that day.

This is a hard lesson for us too. God doesn't always offer salvation from our consequences or life's trouble, but He is holding out His saving power to you today. This same power that brought Jesus Christ out of the grave gives us the ability to rise above all of our trouble and to live in safety, free to come into His presence!

Monday, May 24, 2010

so soft, your goodbye


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 11

mark this: Ezekiel 11:22-23
Then the cherubim spread their wings with their wheels alongside them while the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.
And the glory of the LORD rose up from within the city and stopped over the mountain east of it.


There are moments in the Bible that we try to bury too deep for memory to find.  But the deeper down we dig, the more indelible these moments become. The reluctant withdrawal of the Shekinah glory from the temple is one of these moments. 

The glory departs.  But the memory won't leave you alone.  It doesn't intend to.  It was written to resurface, and even to haunt.
***

Knowing that when the door shuts behind him the song won't ever sound the same, the Presence of the LORD lingers until he can no more.  So soft, his goodbye.

He's loyal, God.  You have to want him gone for him to go.  Then he shuts the door so silently that his parting seems never to have happened; that upon your awakening his going away will have gone away, like a dream returned to its genesis in your dark imagination.

But beside you, nothing.  No number, no forwarding address, no note, no pin.
***

God's Presence--this time as Immanuel, emptied of Shekinah--would not return for 700 years.  Once again he was not wanted.  Once again, just before leaving, he lingered over a city whose moment was slipping away:
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying,
"If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side,
and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."  (Luke 19:41-44)
***

Each of us knows a song we will never hear again.  We might play it again, but we will never hear it again, not the way it was before.

This is your last best shot at love.  Stand between him and the door.  You never want to hear how soft his goodbye.

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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

glory, glory, sayonara? (Pt. 1)


The word for today: Ezekiel 9 & 10

With all due respect to Julia Ward Howe, here is a less than Grammy-worthy interpretation of the beloved Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the departure of the Lord (ch. 10 & 11)
He has wrecked me by the river where His visions left me floored (ch. 1 & 3)
He has shown me the depravity of those who break His Word (ch. 8)
His glory’s marching on

Glory, glory sayonara
Glory, glory sayonara
Glory, glory sayonara
His glory’s marching on


The book of Ezekiel is about the Glory of God. And this pitiful little paraphrase seeks to memorably communicate a little of what has happened in Ezekiel.

It starts with his initial call and that amazingly complex vision in chapter one where Ezekiel is utterly dumbfounded by the Glory of God (v. 28).
In chapter three, Ezekiel is so wrecked by the Glory of God, that he does nothing but sit overwhelmed for a week (v. 15).
In yesterday's reading (chapter 8), God in His Glory (v. 4) reveals to Ezekiel the rampant sin and idolatry in the Temple, a kind of twisted tour of depravity.

In today's chapters, we are once again centered in on the Glory of God. But these are not triumphant pages, they are in fact some of the saddest in all of Scripture. We have the slow, sad departure of God's glory as He moves from the Holy of Holies (aka Cherubim) to the threshold (9:3). Later the glory of God departs from the threshold (10:18). Tomorrow we will see God's glory head from there to the Mount of Olives (11:23), but I'll leave that for tomorrow's blogger!


Suffice it to say, God's Glory leaving is NEVER a good thing. But the tricky part in the whole matter is that no one every notices His absence until its too late. The entire nation of Israel is painfully unaware of any kind of departure. Ezekiel alone is given insight to what the rest of the Israelites miss.

Consider Samson, champion and judge of Israel who, despite all of God's victories through him, found himself so far from God that "did not know that the LORD had left him." (1)

Consider the sad tale concerning the death of the high priest Eli. Because of his spiritual blindness and obesity (mirrored in his real life by his actual physical condition), one tragic day left Israel with out the current High Priest (Eli), the future High priests (Hophni & Phineas), and the famed Ark of the Covenant. The only survivor in the whole mess from Eli's family is rightfully name Ichabod or "no glory." (2)

Consider the Son of God, the Glory of the One and Only Jesus Christ, who came to us in flesh, full of grace & truth (3). And yet the greatest revelation of God's glory was not even received by His own people (4).

Consider yourself, and how quick you, like the rest of humanity, are to ignorantly miss out on the very presence of the Living God. Its only from that place of rightfully weakness and humility were we can begin to avoid the same pitfalls.

(1) Judges 16:20 (2) 1 Samuel 4 (3) John 1:14 (4) John 1:11

Saturday, May 22, 2010

some Spring-cleaning of our own


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 8

Yesterday we saw that the Bible pictures idolatry as spiritual adultery, and that God takes this unfaithfulness personally:
I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols.  (6:9)

Today, as we tour the Temple with Ezekiel, we are saddened to see the various idols that had taken God's place in Israel's hearts:
the idol that provokes to jealousy (8:3);
seventy elders of Israel, each at the shrine of his own idol (8:12);
twenty-five others, probably priests, with their backs turned toward God as they bowed down to the sun (8:16), and literally thumbed their noses at the LORD (8:17).
***
Idols often take more subtle forms today.  They can be hard to identify.  Anything that we place above God is idolatry, spiritual adultery.  It might be a relationship which, according to the evidence of our lives, we prize more highly than our relationship with God.  It might be a lifestyle, or a goal--anything that, according to the evidence of our lives (real things like checkbooks and appointment calendars) has become a higher priority than God.

If God were to tour the chambers of your heart, what would he see there?  Would he see someone else--or something else--in his place? 

Above all else, guard your heart (1). Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? (2)  The temple of God cannot have any agreement with idols (3).

God took your place on the cross.  Don't let any other take his place in your heart.  We saw Jesus cleanse the Temple, turn the tables, and kick the money changers to the curb.  It may be time for some Spring-cleaning of our own.

***************
(1) Proverbs 4:23; (2) 1 Corinthians 3:16; (3) 2 Corinthians 6:16

Friday, May 21, 2010

What does he see in me?


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 6, 7

mark this: Ezekiel 6:9
Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols.


Some people, when reading the Bible, are startled by verses like this one:
"Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Romans 9:13; see Malachi 1:2-3)
Because they want to know how it could be that God hated Esau.

I am startled by that verse as well, but for a different reason: I want to know how it could be that God loved Jacob!

Because I am Jacob.  I can say with authority, as Jacob did, that
"Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life."  (Genesis 47:9)

I have been blessed with a very real sense of my own sin.  Maybe it's because I came to faith in Jesus relatively late in life--after a lot of muddy water had passed under the bridge--but I've never had to struggle with the idea of my own righteousness or the sufficiency of my own good works.  I know that the only thing standing between me and hell is when Jesus Christ took my place on a cross meant for me, and for Jacob, and for Barabbas. 

I will never quite understand just what he sees in me.  Ruth couldn't understand what he saw in her, either:
"Why have I found such favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me?"  (Ruth 2:10)

So when I read how God is crushed by our infidelity, I don't get it.  But I am bound to believe it:
"I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me."  (Ezekiel 6:9)

When we are unfaithful to God, or apathetic toward him, it's more than a biblical law we are breaking.  We are breaking a heart.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

the Word that words could not convey


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 3:22-5:17

God often commanded his prophets to proclaim his Word in theatrical ways.

Sometimes, in fact, the prophet's life--more than his word--is the message.

When the Pharisees wanted to see a miracle (a "sign") Jesus said that "No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:39-40)

Jonah never made a prediction, so how can Jesus call him a prophet? The answer is that Jonah's life itself was prophetic of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The prophet was the prophecy!

Hosea was told to marry a prostitute. Through the graphic illustration of Hosea's dealings with his wife, God revealed the lengths he would go to in order to bring unfaithful hearts back to him.

The book of Ezekiel sometimes reads like street theatre.  The first (see 4:1-2) of Ezekiel's prophetic "sign acts" was to create a detailed model depicting Jerusalem under siege.

Then (4:3) the prophet was to take on the role of God.  The iron wall set up between him and the city showed that Jerusalem had cut itself off from God.

Next (4:4-8) the prophet lay upon his side--a day for a year--to symbolize the years of punishment the Jews were to suffer in exile.

In Ezekiel 4:9-17, the horrors of famine due to siege are symbolized by the prophet's food and drink, carefully measured out--a near-starvation diet of eight ounces of food and a jar of water per day.

The knife and razor, the last symbols we encounter (5:1-17) in our reading today, suggest Jerusalem's complete destruction.
***

 But the ultimate sign awaited the ultimate prophet.  Outside the city's walls, on an outcropping of rock, on intersecting beams of wood, God's wrath against sin collided with his profound love for the world in the person of his son.

He himself was the truth he taught. He was the Word that words could not convey.

Something greater than Jonah--or Ezekiel--was here. (1)

****************
(1) Matthew 12:41

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Son of Man


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 2:1-3:21

mark this:  Ezekiel 2:3-5
"Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day.
For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.'
As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse--for they are a rebellious house--yet they will know that a prophet has been among them."


"Son of Man."  The phrase is found 100 times in the book of Ezekiel,  and it's  found a few times in the book of Daniel.  It also happens to be, far and away, Jesus' favorite description of himself.  He described himself that way 86 times.

Why?  What made it his favorite self-description?

I can't speak for Jesus, but I think the phrase was his favorite because it could mean so many things.

It means he's one of us.
The prophet Isaiah said that unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given (1).  That child, born to all of us, is Jesus--"Son of Man."

It means he's God. 
One of the most well-known prophecies of the promised Messiah ("the Anointed") occurs in Daniel:
"I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,

Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)

When the high priest demanded to know if he were the Son of God, Jesus replied that he is the Son of Man!--specifically that Son of Man, the one described in Daniel's prophecy:
Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"
And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:61-62)

That the high priest knew Jesus was declaring his deity when he invoked this title is seen by his reaction:
And the high priest tore his garments and said, "What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:63-64)

It means he came to save everyone.
One person, his mother, could claim him as "Son of Mary" (2). One nation, Israel, could lay their claim to him as "Son of David" (3).  But as "Son of Man," he came to rescue us all:
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)
 
Finally, most personally and profoundly, the title was a reminder of his mission.  For in order to save the lost, he moved, every day, ever closer to the cross.
 
The law said that sin would have real consequences; that the sins of the fathers would be visited upon the children:
He does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.  (Exodus 34:7)

Jesus, as the Son of Man, would be punished for the sins of every one of his "parents"--
For the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (4).

And he will be mourned, like an only son, by those whose sins caused him to die on the cross:
They will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)

"Son of Man" meant a lot to Jesus.  It sure means a lot to us.

**************
(1) Isaiah 9:6; (2) Mark 6:3; (3) Matthew 21:9; (4) Isaiah 53:6

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

illusive, elusive, and allusive

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 1

I'd never had a vision of God.  But all that changed a few years ago when God revealed himself to me in a spectacular way.

Hah!  I'll bet you're thinking I've lost it.

You may be right, I may be crazy, but...you too can have a vision of God, just like I had.  It's right there in Ezekiel chapter one:
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1)

That's the first sentence of chapter one.  The chapter's last sentence confirms what he has seen:
Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1:28)
 ***

I once sat down and read Ezekiel chapter one--slowly and out loud--ten times in a row.  The vision is illusive, elusive, and allusive.  So hang on...

The shifting, illusive, uncontainable vision of God in Ezekiel chapter 1 speaks of the limitlessness of God, and the impossibility of pinning Him down.
When tomorrow you perceive a Jesus you'd never seen before, it's not a different Jesus. Though he is "new" to your perception, the absolute Jesus--the Son the Father knows--has ever been the same.  Throughout eternity, we will perceive the unchanging Jesus as ever "new."

The Bible you hold in your hand is like a radio receiver, capable of hearing the spiritual dimension.
In the physical realm, we cannot hear some frequencies that are known to exist.  The spiritual realm is the same.  Elisha could perceive spiritual "frequencies" that eluded his servant, Gehazi (1).  Aaron was given a blood-tipped ear (2) which, it is inferred, opened his understanding.  Developing a blood-tipped ear--increasingly relating all scripture and all reality to the cross of Jesus Christ--will attune you to spiritual frequencies that the natural ear cannot receive. 

Ezekiel alludes to the complex, multi-faceted Christ--due to appear in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John:
In the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man. (1:5)
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. (1:10)

Q.  Is there anything Biblical which comes in a package of four--yet presents the likeness of a single man, who at one and the same time is...
a King;
and a servant;
just a man;
and yet at the pinnacle; seeing all from the summit, yet seeing no peer; a picture of power and grace?

A.  Yes. The Gospels!—
Matthew-- represented in Ezekiel by the lion, symbol of kingship;
Mark--  represented in Ezekiel by the ox, symbol of the Servant;
Luke--  represented in Ezekiel by the face of a man, symbol of Jesus the Son of Man;
John--  represented in Ezekiel by the eagle, symbol of Jesus the Son of God.

Ezekiel's vision contains a perfect summary of  the four-fold literary wholeness known as the gospels--and a perfect blending of seemingly contradictory attributes of Jesus.

****************
(1) 2 Kings 6:15-17; (2) Leviticus 8:23

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jesus became like I am so that I could be like I AM


The Word for today:
Philippians 4

mark this:  Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
& this:  Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


"I think, therefore I am."  

That's not how it works for me.

I'm aware of existence because the wind nearly stood me up when I ran yesterday; because my wife's new haircut sent a tingle all the way from my eye to (and through) my heart this morning; because when I baptized Ernie, and Carol, and Eddy this morning, the water was warm.  It was perfect.  I didn't want to get out of the tank.

None of this involved any thinking.
For me, it would be much closer to the truth to say, "I think, therefore I am not."  When I start to think, dark things float across my eyeballs, my windows, my rear-view mirror.  Especially my rear-view mirror. 

Thinking reminds me that I am not tough enough, or young enough, or smart enough, or kind enough.  I think that others wish me ill, that situations are stacked against me, that the odds are long, and that the wind is ever in my face.  I think, therefore I am not.

If you've gotten this far and you've guessed that I'm now going to launch into some warm fuzziness about positive thinking, then you don't know me.  You'll find none of that here.  This might shock you, but the facts are these:
I am not tough enough.  I am not young enough.  I am not smart enough.  I am not kind enough.  I am trapped within these real limitations.

But I found my way out, and here it is:

I think, therrefore I am.  I think about the great I AM.

"I AM" is Jesus' name before he emptied himself (remember chapter 2 of Philippians) and became the baby in Bethlehem, who grew into the man who went to the cross.  If you read the 3rd chapter of Exodus you will know all about I AM.

The Bible is I AM's autobiography.  So when I think about the great I AM, I try to think about everything in scripture that I can understand.  But it's a big book, and when the whole of it is just too big for me, I turn to the briefest biography of Jesus that ever was written:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

The way out of our limitations is to remember that Jesus, who is portrayed by those words, died our death so that we could live his life.

When Alice was baptized today, she told us that Philippians 4:13 is her favorite verse--
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

She has overcome real loss in her life because the great story of the Bible is this:
Jesus became like I am so that I could be like I AM.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

enemies within

The Word for today: Philippians 3:12-21

Mark this: 3:18-19
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

The cross is in the news again. It seems like it faces constant attack, litigation, debate, defacement or just plain old controversy.

Why is that?

What is it about the cross that has simultaneously blessed, repulsed, strengthened, divided and confused people throughout history?

Mormon teaching finds the symbol of a cross, "inharmonious with the quiet spirit of worship and reverence(1)"
Jehovah Witnesses believe that Jesus died not on a cross, but a pole, and see the cross as idolatrous.
Muslims hold that Judas, not Jesus, was crucified on the cross, in a case of mistaken identity.
Secular humanists seek to rid our culture of every public reference to the cross (This includes even trying to change the official city logo of  Las Cruces (NM), pictured above. All of this is odd seeing as Las Cruces means the crosses.)

It is easy to understand why opponents of the Christian faith would attack the cross-it is THE central message of the Gospel. But the problem is not so much with those who are outside of Christianity. The problem is that many of us within Christianity have become enemies of the cross ourselves.

Why would any Christian want to do so?
I think the primary reasons revolve around control and comfort. We like to be in charge, we like life as easy as it can be; but the message of the cross is diametrically opposed to either of those. Our world is focused around the here and now. The god of this age is an uncontrolled lust after whatever makes one "happy" the gluttonous pursuit of any and every appetite. And we don't even feel guilty of any of our depravity, instead we celebrate the very things that ought to cause us shame.

That's not a good road to take and it only leads to destruction, as stated in today's verses.
The scary thing about all of this is how tempting it is to construct a cross-less religion that promises us total fulfillment and and demands nothing from us. Many have already chosen to journey along that primrose path.

The real battle for the cross is NOT external (against other religions or non-religions), but within the walls of every church and within the heart of every Christian. Everyday I am face with the following choices:
- Will I live for the Kingdom of God or for the here and now?
- Will I submit to the Lord Jesus or will I be my own ruler
- Will the driving force in my life be to please God or to feed my own appetites?
- Will I be a friend or foe to the cross?


Too often, I have chosen to go against the very instrument that has saved me.
But I have good news. There is hope for enemies of the cross!
Simon Peter went from “Get behind me Satan!(2)” to “Feed my sheep(3).”
Apostle Paul went from “blasphemer and persecutor and a violent man(4)” to “God’s chosen instrument(5).”

When we embrace the "weakness" and "foolishness" of the cross, we can see God's power operating out of our insufficiencies for His glory. Always remember:
"The cross cannot be defeated, for it is defeat (6)."

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

(1) Mormon Doctrine p. 172
(2) Mark 8:33
(3) John 21:17
(4) 1 Timothy 1:13
(5) Acts 9:15
(6) GK Chesterton.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

losing my religion


The Word for today:
Philippians 3:1-11

mark this: Philippians 3:8-9
I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith.


Religion won't get anybody into heaven, but it will keep a lot of people out.  That's the startling principle which Paul explains in our passage today.

The Bible student should be aware of words which are often set against one another:
1.  flesh vs. Spirit
2.  works vs. faith
3.  religion vs. relationship

Let's take these words a pair at a time--
1.  flesh vs. Spirit:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17)

Paul tells us to put no confidence in the flesh.  (Philippians 3:3)

Jesus said that flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:6)

What they mean is that the good things we ("flesh") do cannot restore our realtionship with God.  It can only be restored by faith in what God ("Spirit") has done through Jesus.

2.  works vs. faith:
So then, those who are of faith are blessed...but all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.(Galatians 3:9-10)

Jesus pictured this spiritual principle by contrasting two roads:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it."  (Matthew 7:13)

The narrow gate is an illustration of salvation by faith, only through Christ.  It represents the true salvation--God's way.

The wide gate includes all religions of works and self-righteousness.  Each of them is assumed to provide the entrance to God's kingdom, but they all lead to destruction.

3. religion vs. relationship:
Paul was the most religious man in all of Israel--
For I was circumcised when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish family that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin. So I am a real Jew if there ever was one! What's more, I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. And zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church. And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never accused of any fault. (Philippians 3:5-6)

But he came to understand that religion was an obstacle to his relationship with God:
I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Paul lost his religion.  I hope I'm losing mine.

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

Friday, May 14, 2010

sizzle, and fragrance, and steam


The Word for today:
Philippians 2:19-30


One of the truly beautiful images in all of scripture is to be found here in Philippians 2:
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering...   (Philippians 2:17)

The drink offering is mentioned in Exodus and Leviticus.

Wine was poured over the sacrificial lamb while it was being roasted on the grates of the altar.   You can, in your imagination, hear the sizzle and see the drink offering go up in steam.  It would just evaporate and disappear.

Philippians was written during Paul's first Roman imprisonment.  About five years later, 2 Timothy was written during Paul's second Roman imprisonment. With the threat of death constantly hanging over his head, his long race of faith nearing its end, he uses the image of the drink offering in both letters:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Paul wanted his life to be poured out and consumed in the service of Christ, so that when it was over there'd be no trace of Paul left behind.  He wanted his life to stand for nothing but Jesus. 

Jesus poured out his soul unto death (1) for Paul, and you, and me. No love was ever as poetic, or as creative, or as revolutionary, or as desperate, or as ardent as the love poured out on the cross. 

Now may we, like Paul, offer our transitory lives in reckless self-abnegation;

in sizzle, and fragrance, and steam;

nothing left behind

but Jesus.

***************
(1) Isaiah 53:12

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the shirt off his back


The Word for today:
Philippians 1:27-2:18

selah*:  Philippians 2:6-8
Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but 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.


Some Bible chapters are so pivotal that they have gained their own descriptive name.  The passage we are reading today is called the kenosis.  The word derives from the Greek word kenoo, found in Philippians 2:7, which is translated "made himself nothing" (NIV, ESV) or "emptied himself" (NASB).

What Jesus did is empty himself of his glory. He took off his glory like we would take off a coat. (He never emptied himself of his deity; there was never a moment when he was not God.) 

Divestiture.
There is a striking picture of kenosis earlier in the Bible.  Usually the high priest was clothed in garments of beauty and glory.  But on the great Day of Atonement, when the high priest took the blood into the Holy of Holies, he put aside his sumptuous vestments.  He went into the Holy of Holies in only the simple linen garments that the other priests wore.

What Christmas is all about.
God became one of us to save us.  In order to take our place on the cross, he had to become one of us.  That is the reason for the incarnation at Bethlehem.  He had to be born of woman, born under the law in order to stand in our stead:
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Stripped.
While they gambled for his clothes, Jesus died, probably naked, on the cross. Wearing only the crown of thorns--the curse of sin (1)--he became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Ever the gentleman, he gave the Bride (you and me) the glorious raiment he'd laid aside:
I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10)

Quite literally, he'd given it all away.  He died, it seems, in order to give you the shirt off his back.

***************
(1) see Genesis 3:17-19
*(We use selah, a term from the Psalms, to mark a verse that is crucial to biblical understanding--so crucial that we should not only mark it in our Bibles, but store it in our hearts.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I don't want to go to heaven today


The Word for today:
Philippians 1:12-26

mark this: Philppians 1:21-25
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.


Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I don't want to go to heaven today.

I figure--in fact I know--that I'm already in heaven:  I have access to God through Jesus' death (1).  My prayers are heard through Jesus' name (2).  I am a partaker of his divine nature (3).  He is ever with me and will never forsake me (4).  These things I know, for the Bible tells me so.  And the Spirit Himself testifies to the same (5).

And there's unfinished business down here.  I want to tell the next generation about Jesus (6).  I want to be fruitful (in the Spirit!) and multiply (7), bringing others into the kingdom.  They've got to have faith in Jesus to get there, and faith in Jesus is what I teach and push all day (8).

Our son Eddy is getting baptized this Sunday.  If his brother, Frankie, weren't in a cast from toe to knee, he'd probably be baptized as well.  If I go to heaven today, then somebody else baptizes them.  I want to baptize my sons and  my daughters, if you please.  I can't if I'm in heaven.

I want to write the 151st Psalm.  I want to fill these ears with Shelley's voice; and these eyes with her form and features.  I want to drink her in until I'm drunk.

I want to finish this gigantic Stand in the Rain blogging project, because Jesus deserves it, and because I've been told by more than a few that it can't be done.  If I'm in heaven they'd be right, wouldn't they. We can't have that, now, can we.

I've got promises to keep.  I promised to write a five-year Bible course.  In a month, four of those years are in the books.  Paul said he finished his course (9).  I mean to do the same.  I mean, if you don't mind.

There's cross country and track races that my boys haven't run and I haven't seen.  I hope to see them all, and not as one of the great cloud of witnesses (10), if you please.

And those summer mornings, laden with every possibility.  And some of those trees that Shelley and I planted in the yard aren't near to full-grown.  And there's the Super Bowl the Bills haven't won yet.  I said 'yet.'

My friend Howard and I are starting a new Bible class tonight.  We're calling it "Beta."  It's going to be all about the Alpha and the Omega (11).  I told Howard I'm there every Wednesday until the 12th of Forever.  But I can't be if I'm on the other side of the great gulf fixed (12).

The days of the years of my life, like Jacob's, have been few and evil (13).  What's a few more days and years gonna matter, God?  I've never been closer to you than I am right now.  So let's keep a good thing going, OK? 

Please.  I know there's a few people in my classes who, with just a little push from this side, will be comin' through the Door (14).

You pull from that side, Jesus, while I push from here.  I mean, if that's alright with you.

************
(1) Hebrews 10:20; (2) John 16:23; (3) 2 Peter 1:4; (4) Matthew 28:20; Joshua 1:5; (5) Romans 8:16; (6) Psalm 71:18; (7) Genesis 9:7 and Galatians 5:22; (8) Romans 10:17; (9) 2 Timothy 4:7; (10) Hebrews 12:1; (11) Revelation 22:13; (12) Luke 16:26/KJV; (13) Genesis 47:9; (14) John 10:9

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

he will finish what he started


The Word for today:
Philippians 1:1-11


 mark this: Philippians 1:3-6 --
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.



Wouldn't it be something if Bill Gates came to you and said, "I want you to be my partner."

You might say, "Wonderful, but what can I bring to the table?"

He would reply, "Don't worry about it.  I will teach you all you need to know and provide you with all the necessary resources."

Sounds great!  Well, that is exactly what Jesus does for us.  He invites us to be partners in His Kingdom.  Then He sends the Holy Spirit to give us 'on the job training' and guidance.  During this time He provides us with all the gifts and fruit of the Spirit we need to be successful.

He makes us able.  All we need to do is be willing.

Prayer:
We praise you, God, that we are sons and daughters; that we are joint heirs; that we are partners of the greatest opportunity ever made available to mankind. 
In Jesus' name we pray. 
Amen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

the Bible's ultimate reference


The Word for today:
Lamentations 5

We're in Philadelphia right now.  We're here for my daughter Gwenlyn's graduation from the University of Pennsylvania.

I've never been to Philadelphia before.  I'd heard the bad and the ugly about the city (they booed Santa Claus!!) but Gwenlyn lived here four years and loves the place, so I give Philly a big thumbs up.

This afternoon, starting from the statue of Rocky (at the base of the Art Museum's 72 steps) I ran 7 miles ("Gonna Fly Now") as my son Eddy ran 11.  Note the phrasing-- "as Eddy ran."  I do not run with Eddy anymore.  Few do.  I just start with him, he disappears, and I run along, waiting for him to re-appear.

Running alongside the Schuylkill ("SKOO-kill") River, awaiting Eddy's reappearance, I saw people doing just about everything.  I don't know why, but I decided to take a survey.  Whenever I saw someone reading, I'd run by their picnic tables or chairs and glance at what it was they were reading.  The results of my highly scientific poll are that at any given time 37.5% of people who are reading, are reading the Bible.  (That's 3 of the 8 people I snuck up on!)

You can tell at a glance, even as you are running by, whether a person is reading a Bible or another book.  Bibles come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but what distinguishes a Bible from any other book is its reference system.  Even if you don't own a "reference Bible," you have a reference Bible anyway.  By virtue of the chapter-and-verse numbering system in every Bible, your Bible is a reference Bible whether the spine says so or not.

Those numbers are there so that we can all be on the same page--at Psalm 44:3, or 2 Corinthians 3:18.  But more importantly they are there because the Bible's author expects his readers to bring supporting information to the reading of any given passage. 

The Bible is one big book made up of 66 smaller books.  The author of the Bible expects us to read all 66 books, and to know information, already provided, which pertains to the passage we are reading.

Here's what that means today, as we read Lamentations.  God expects us to know, without his repeating it, that he'd told us this day would come:
And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.  (Leviticus 26:33)

God expects us to know, without his repeating it, how the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by the forces of Babylon; that Jerusalem was under siege almost two years; that food and water were so depleted that mothers were forced into the unthinkable; that King Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were murdered before his eyes; that then they destroyed Zedekiah's eyes:
And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it.
On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.
Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls.
But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho.
Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him.
They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.
And they burned the house of the LORD and the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house they burned down.
And the rest of the people who were left in the city were carried into exile.
(Excerpted from 2 Kings 25:1-12; cf. Jeremiah 39:1-11; Jeremiah chapter 52; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21.)
***

Your Bible is the ultimate self-referring book.  It assumes your knowledge of every part of it.  In fact it demands your knowledge of its unspoken references.

And then there's more:  After a Bible student has mastered the Bible's self-referring structure, he discovers the Bible's Self-referring structure. 

The Self referred to isn't you, nor I, nor Zedekiah.  Ultimately, the Bible refers to its author. 

As we shudder to see Zedekiah's sons killed before his very eyes, we learn to see through time, through the eyes of another Father, forced by our sin and by his love for us to watch as his only son is murdered on a cross just outside the city walls.

If only it were possible to put out his own eyes, or to take his son's place.  But no.  There was no other way to bring sin's exiles home.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

waiting for Godot (original version)

The word for today: Lamentations 4
Mark this- 4:17

Moreover, our eyes failed, looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched for a nation that could not save us.


Waiting for Godot (pronounced GO doe) is a well know play by Samuel Beckett from the middle of last century. The plot of the play centers around the interaction of two main characters as they wait and wait and wait for some one named Godot to show up. He never does. In the mean time, they argue, sing, play games, rest, eat and talk about all sorts of topics; anything to pass the time. This goes on for two days, with each day ending with a messenger boy, supposedly representing Godot, informing the gentlemen with this famous line:
"Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won't come this evening, but surely tomorrow."

At the end of the second day, the exasperated men finally give up their vigil and leave. Some story, what does it all mean?
The author's background gives us some insight to understand and interpret what he was getting at. Beckett, along with many other famous writers of his time, was an atheist. And he writes a very simple play with some very complex ideas. All day long, two men wait for someone that they have never seen. He doesn't show. At the end of each day, they are told by a less than reliable source that he is certainly going to arrive, but he doesn't. Godot, to the atheist, represents God. God has let them down, He has not shown Himself as they want, and so they conclude that He has failed them and they move on with their lives.


This charge against God, of Him not showing up, has been leveled at Christianity for a long time now. It is perfectly natural, as most people have felt disappointed by God for one reason or another. Even more, those feelings of hurt and disillusionment are biblical. Look at the Psalms, and you will find plenty of honest and painful cries from people who feel betrayed by God. Our Lord Himself cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mk. 15:34)"

I am sure that you have felt let down by God at some time in your life. Nothing new there. But if you turn away from God, where else can you turn to? Other people!?! Face Book!?! Government Bailouts!?! Oprah!?! Yourself!?! Its easy to want to bail on God when your are down, but all options after Him are no options at all. This is the hard lesson that Judah is forced to learn.

In today's passage, Jeremiah is describing the horrors in Jerusalem, as it is besieged and destroyed by the Babylonians. (Think of how bad it must have been for people to have preferred enduring the fire and brimstone of Sodom's judgment to this. see v. 6) But perhaps the biggest disappointment in this chapter is found in the 17th verse, as the people of Jerusalem come to the awful realization that Egypt would not save them. They had finally come to their Godot moment and realized that "surely Egypt would NOT come tomorrow."

Egypt?!? Why would any Jew expect or want help from their former captors? What gives?
Well, Egypt was always a major player in the Middle-East, and as other empires came and went (i.e. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians etc.), it was easier for God's people to place their hope in the military might of Egypt than rely on the Living God. In Hezekiah's time, the prophet Isaiah rebuked Judah for trusting in Egypt to fend off the Assyrians (Isaiah 30).

Jeremiah does the same thing, warning Judah that they "will be disappointed by Egypt"(2:36).
This whole book he has been warning the people not to put their trust in Egypt, and after Jerusalem is destroyed, not to go there for refuge. Why? Because Egypt is a sinking ship.

Waiting for Godot is a picture of life, because life if often defined by disappointment. Everyone on the world is waiting for something, putting their expectations on something, trusting in something. You can give up on God, but you are abandoning the only thing stable in a sea of madness. Following, and sometimes, waiting upon Jesus is hard, but like Simon Peter, we echo "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:68)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

great is thy faithfulness


The Word for today:
Lamentations 3


Mark this:  Lamentations 3:22-24 --
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

Jeremiah comes to realize that the destruction of Jerusalem is God’s faithfulness to His own word:
The LORD has done what he planned; he has fulfilled his word, which he decreed long ago. (2:17)

Four hundred years earlier, in Deuteronomy, God had promised that if His people would love Him and follow Him, He would open the windows of heaven and pour out blessing. If, however, His people forsook Him and ignored the prophets that He sent to them, destruction would fall:
"But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.  (Deuteronomy 28:15)

God was patient, and gave the people opportunity to repent. But ultimately, God was faithful to His word.  And, odd as it may sound, Jeremiah learned that God is faithful by the thoroughness of judgment!
***

God is utterly faithful to His promises. Many people want to believe that God is so loving, so tenderhearted, so indulgent that he won’t really do what he says he is going to do; that he won’t really judge sin.

But even when his own son bore sin, God unflinching kept his word:
He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all...

 Now consider the last half of that verse:
… how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  (1)

The Good News is that one side of this promise is as true as the other side.  As surely as he judged Jesus, so surely will he forgive and bless us. 

Great is thy faithfulness!

****************
(1) Romans 8:32

Friday, May 7, 2010

cross spectrum


The Word for today:
Lamentations 2

The Themes of Lamentations

1. The depth of Judah's sin gives rise to the severity of God's judgment:
Her enemies prosper, because the LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away, captives before the foe.  (1:5; see also 1:8, 18, 20; 3:42; 4:6, 13, 22; 5:16)

2. God is a righteous and sovereign Judge:
"The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word;
 but hear, all you peoples, and see my suffering;
 my young women and my young men have gone into captivity. (1:18; see also 2:5,7)

3. Hope is found in God's compassion...
For the Lord will not cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.  (3:31-33)

…and in His faithfulness:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:22-23)

4. God's grace will turn lamentation to consolation:
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  (3:24-25)
***
 
Q.  The themes of Lamentations include the severity of God’s judgment and God’s compassion and grace.  But don't judgment and grace contradict each other?
A.  The "contradiction" ended at the cross, when God judged Jesus in order to forgive our sins.

Understanding the reconciliation of these so-called “opposite” virtues is the key to understanding the Bible as a whole. 

Therefore, the understanding of spiritual truth begins at the cross, because it is not until the cross that we are able to see the entire spectrum--the true light (1)--of God's character.

********************
(1) John 1:9