Wednesday, June 30, 2010

bookends


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 40:48-41:26

The Bible often displays a balanced symmetry, which serves to focus our attention on the center.

The Temple described in Ezekiel is a bookend on the other side of the cross.

When you read the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, you will read all about the construction of the Tabernacle. 

At the very heart of the Mosaic law is the sacrificial system, which was enacted in the Tabernacle.  At the very heart of the sacrificail system was a lamb. 

If you lived at the time, your Dad would purchase a lamb, a healthy, bounding fluffy lamb.  For four days, the Lamb would live in your house, just long enough for you to get to know and love the lamb.  Then, your Dad would take the lamb to the door of the Tabernacle and confess your family's sins over it.  Then he would slit its throat. 

The lamb would then be roasted on the altar of burnt offering.

That was a prophecy, looking ahead to when Jesus would save our souls
***

The final chapters of Ezekiel reveal that sacrifices will again be offered at the Temple during a time known as the Millennium, when Israel will reside here on the earth while the church will reside in New Jerusalem.  These sacrifices are going to look back upon the cross in the same way that the church looks back during the ritual of Communion.

The sacrifices will be a commemoration, looking back to when Jesus did save the souls of Israel.

Then the picture will be complete, with the Tabernacle and Temple as bookends on either side of the Word made flesh.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

small change?


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 40:1-47

The chapters of Ezekiel that we now enter present the Bible scholar, commentator, expositor--and the Bible blogger--with some challenging interpretive difficulties.

Well, sometimes you have to be smart to be scared.  And since I'm too stupid to be scared by the interpretive challenges of Ezekiel, here goes: 

What God wants you to remember is the sparrow.  And he wants you to remember your hair!

You are about to encounter one seemingly insignificant detail after another.  We've encountered them before, in the ceaseless details concerning the tabernacle, and in name after name on page after page of the genealogical records.

The measurements of the Temple are enumerated with the same specificity.  The doors, the chambers, the windows, and the pillars are all precisely described.  Why is so much space given in God's great Word to such minutiae?

I think the answer lies in the story of the sparrow.  It was said by Jesus that if even a sparrow should fall, God knows about it--because he cares about it.

It was said by Jesus that God knows the precise number of the hairs on your head--which means that if a hair should fall out God knows about it and revises yesterday's total!

Which means that if God were to describe your personal rebuilding, he would, in the most precise detail, lay out every minute detail of every hour of every day.  Things that don't even interest you about yourself interest God.

One reason we aren't interested in "the small stuff" is because we call it small.  So when we rank the incidents of our lives in the order of their importance, we think of the day we had that successful interview, or the day we failed that big test, or the day we were accepted into a certain college; or the day we got the promotion, or the day we broke up with Susie, or the day Dad died, or the day the towers came down. 

But God sees eternal consequences in the left you took in 1989 at the corner of Elm and Spruce, when you thought it might gain you a minute or two.  He knows that left put you on 3rd street when, ironically, traffic was stopped for 10 minutes because a garbage truck broke down.  Fiddling with the car radio, an old song made you smile when it  reminded you of a person who gave you a break long ago.  So upon reaching home with a recently softened heart, you didn't--as you had planned--lay into your teenage son (who had been undergoing stresses you had no clue about.) 

That you didn't respond in the way you would have responded before the left on Elm which put you on 3rd behind the garbage truck with nothing to do but hit the scan button on your radio until the grace notes of that song popped up--

That you didn't say what you were going to say to a teenage boy whose heart was already in the breakdown lane, unbeknownst to you--

is the factor, God knows, which set off the most consequential eternal reverberations--for both you and your son--of any moment you ever lived.

Now tell me that details don't have consequences, and that the fall of a sparrow is small change.

But looking back on your life, you'll give it nary a thought.  Why would anyone remember so trivial a thing as a left on Elm in '89?
 ***

We are described in the New Testament as Temples of God, because he is present within. The details of your rebirth and growth are no less important to God than the minute details of the reconstruction of the Temple, which we read about today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

the world is a ?...


The Word for today: Ezekiel 39

What in the world is the world?
The band War declared that "the world is a ghetto"
The Smashing Pumpkins said "the world is a vampire"
Shakespeare said "the world is a stage," then he wrote
"the world's mine oyster." (1)

But after reading today's passage, the phrase "the world is a graveyard" comes to mind.
Seven months of burial (v. 14). Even more time to clean up what they missed. That's a lot of undertaking. Despite all their numbers and weaponry, despite all their plans, the hordes of Gog end up as carrion (v. 4) or as ashes (v. 6). Their strength of their armaments end up as firewood (v. 9) and they end up in the ground (v. 11)

But come to think of it, that is how the world operates, apart from God. Without God, isn't this true. If there is life after death, no eternity, then we share the same fate as all these nations.
Without Him, its as the Apostle Paul cries:

"If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" (2)

But thank God it does NOT end here. Compare today's passage with what we read a few days ago in Ezekiel 37. In that vision, the prophet Ezekiel certainly thought that it was over for that mass of dry bones, but God showed him that it was just the beginning.
Your world may be full of old dry bones, loss and brokenness, but the message of Jesus Christ is that because of what He has done, we can live again! Jesus came to make dead people live! To his people, He promises restoration and compassion, and even more, His Holy Spirit.

But conversely, your life may have all the bearings of life- all the comforts and luxuries and apparent meaning, but without God, you face the same ultimate end as the hordes of Gog.
***********************
(1) from "As You Like It" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" respectively
(2) 1 Corinthians 15:32

Sunday, June 27, 2010

forget Gog, what about God?


The word for today: Ezekiel 38

You want me to talk about what!?!
The End Times!?!
Define Gog and Magog and give two examples?!?

I remember generating some concern in my first few months at this current church when I began a Sunday School class in a rather unorthodox matter. We began a series on the book of Revelation and in order to illustrate my desire that we rely on the Bible rather than external sources, I found all the books & movies I could about the end times (e.g. Left Behind, the Late Great Planet Earth, Apocalypse, etc.) and promptly had them tossed in the garbage bin in order that we might focus on the Bible alone. I did return the books to their rightful place later on, but the very next week, we had a concerned parent sit in and make sure everything was kosher.

I realize that the authors of these above titles have blessed many and brought people into the Kingdom of God. I realize that they may be right in some of their conclusions. What concerns me are some of the consequences when our interpretations and understanding of God's word are limited to the latest interpretation of the author en vogue. What concerns me is when we leave the so called "experts" to read the hard parts of the Bible for us. What concerns me is that we have a generation of believers who are on the lookout for a Romanian Anti-Christ named Nicolae Carpathia.

Oh boy. Here come the end times squad, out to set me straight.

I am sorry to say that I would rather discuss about 1,000 other Bible topics than get dragged into speculation on how to interpret various obscure passages (i.e. Ezekiel 38 & 39) and how they correspond to today's geopolitical climate. Gog & Magog have been interpreted as the Assyrians, or the Scythians (in ancient times) as the Goths or the Khazars (during the dark ages) and as the Russians or Chinese in more recent times.

What a waste of time. There are about 8 billion things I can and should do for Jesus Christ before I try to figure out if all the letters in Vladimir Putin's name adds up to 666.

So what about today's passage? What do we know that's not just speculation?


1. This is in the future, for both Ezekiel and us.

Actually, from this chapter on, the remainder of Ezekiel speaks of a time ahead of us. This prophecy speaks concerning the "latter years" (v. 8)


2. A lot of bad people have a lot of bad ideas about what they are going to do to Israel.

All these known and unknown nations gather their weapons (v. 1-6), and share their evil plans (v.10-13) with each other- how to best victimize Israel.


3. God is well aware of the situation & He's got plans of His own.


Remember that God is the one leading these so called powers around by a "hook" in their mouth (v.4). All their might is a joke compared to His jealous anger and blazing wrath. Even the mountains bow according to His set purpose. (v. 17-22)


4. God does all this to make His holiness known in the sight of all nations. (v. 16 & 23)

His mission has never wavered once from day one. Before Adam fell, during the time of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the judges, the monarchy, the captivity. During the days of the prophets, the advent of His Son, Jesus Christ, the time of the church and in all history since, God does all things to "show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD."

Never forget that the above mission statement is much more fundamental to who we are, and what we focus on. Speculation may be fun, but never let it distract you from what is clearly revealed.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

paused in Stage Two


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 37

Dry bones.

First of all, we are treated to a little display of God's sense of humor.  Just imagine Ezekiel as God says to him, “Prophesy to these bones. Start out by saying, ’O you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’”

Well, I think it's funny!  What isn't very funny is that this is precisely what God asks teachers and pastors and evangelists and disciples (that would be you) to do.  He has commissioned us (Matthew 28:18-20) to bring the Word of the LORD to those who are dead in sins and trespasses (1).  When we do, we are bringing to others what brought life to us:
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  (1 Peter 1:23)

***

Scripture communicates on various levels all at once.  The vision of the dry bones has a spiritual application (as explained above) and a prophetic interpretation as well.

The prophetic interpretation concerns the nation Israel.  The nation which had been lifeless came back to life in 1948--there is now flesh on dem bones.

But they are just bodies.  As of today, the nation Israel is not born again.  They are, as we speak, in the second stage, described in 37:8:
And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them.  But there was no breath in them.

As of today, Israel has returned to the land, but they have not returned to the LORD.  Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones, currently in Stage Two, is currently on 'Pause.'

Friday, June 25, 2010

Holy Hero


The Word for today:Ezekiel 36:16-38

Mark this verse: "I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes(v.23)."

Ever need a hero?

Little girls dream of romantic heroes on white horses who sweep in to rescue from impending disaster or the evil machinations of the villain. Little boys dream of heroes too. My sons have introduced me to the world of boy's heroes. These heroes have super powers, impossibly large biceps and perform great feats of bravery, daring, strength and honor.
These heroes rescue the underdogs, the innocent, the needy and weak.

Most of us outgrow these heroes. They become a mismatched remedy to the real life calamities and crises we experience. One of the most obvious reasons we leave them behind is that they are flawed -like us.
Life teaches us that we need more than what we can bring. We need a holy hero, a divine rescue.
The house of Israel had made a mess of things. Going about in the world dragging God's holy name through the muck. In our heroic stories they would make an unlikely people to rescue. They had traded innocence for compliance with evil, giving up faithfulness they made alliances with God's enemies all the while wearing the colors of the Sovereign Lord.

Still, God makes this grand anouncement of His rescue;
"I will take you out of the nations..."
"I will gather you back..."
"I will cleanse you..."
"I will give you a new heart..."
"I will put my Spirit in you..."
"I will save you..." 36:24-30

God makes His motives clear, " It is not for your sake that I do these things, but for the sake of my holy name...(v.22)." God's Kingdom is sure, safe, unsoiled or compromised by the behavior of his rebellious people. He doesn't disguard His plan- His Kingdom goes forward. God will reveal Himself though these unlikely ambassadors- to bring His salvation to the world. His rescue is for those undeserving of rescue, for even the one who would slap away the hand of the rescuer.

Jesus Christ completed the "I wills" for all those who trust in His holy name and the Spirit has sealed that work.
Because of His holiness, He is able to save us.
Bless His holy name!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

reading the lay of the land

The Word for today:
Ezekiel 35:1-36:15

mark this:  Ezekiel 36:8
But the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit to prepare for my people's return – and they will be coming home again soon!


From the very beginning,  the physical condition of the land has been tied to the spiritual condition of the people.  In the Garden of Eden, when man sinned, the land felt the curse:
And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. (Genesis 3:17-18)

The people and the land go together.

I worked for a dozen years in the dirty heart of Niagara Falls, NY.  If you want to see a literal picture of the fall of man, of the ruin sin has wrought, of the Garden gone to hell, then drive through Niagara Falls.

What God's hand carved out, a delight to the eyes, (1) has been cursed at the hand of man.

I don't even know where Love Canal, the infamous ecological crime scene, happens to be.  I don't have to, because there's enough curse to be seen without seeing that.  There are the towering garbage hills;  ahh, the fragrance.  There are the dark, long-shuttered, satanic mills along the powerful and proud Niagara River.  There are the tawdry shops.  There's the stupid casino.  All of it a monument to petty politicians, petty businessmen, petty unions, petty Mafia, petty greed, and monumental ignorance.

And the irony is that if they'd all shot straight, they could all be making a fortune off the Falls to this very day. 

Then I read the paper.  The Gulf is dying, while a cast of  posturing politicians--more petty, if possible, than the ones in Niagara Falls--seem to purposefully prolong the problem. You never want to let a good crisis to go to waste.

Sometimes as Bible students we get hung up on the little prophecies, the specific little prophecies concerning the end times.  We would do well to consider Scripture's meta-prophecies.  The condition of the land is one of these over-arching prophetic indicators.

Though national Israel has returned, we can tell that spiritual Israel has not returned, because when God restores the spiritual condition of Israel, He will also restore the land:
But the mountains of Israel will produce heavy crops of fruit to prepare for my people's return – and they will be coming home again soon!   (Ezekiel 36:8)

That has not yet happened.  Much of Israel is uninhabitable and unproductive. That is one sure indication that (as you will read in this space on the day after tomorrow) the flesh is on those bones, but the breath's not in those bodies.

As Bible students, we must learn to read the lay of the land--from Israel to the Gulf to Niagara Falls, N.Y.

********************
(1) Genesis 3:6

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

showers of blessing


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 34

mark this:  Ezekiel 34:26
And I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.



What happened to Ezekiel?  Where'd he go?  Did he have a lobotomy?  Will the real Ezekiel please stand up?

It may seem that the author of chapter 34 could not possibly be the author of previous chapters in the book of Ezekiel.  But rest assured, the real Ezekiel is still with us.

The sudden change in tone is not caused by a changed Ezekiel.  Instead, the change is caused by a changed "audience."

What changed the people was judgment:
In the twelfth year of our exile, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, "The city has fallen!"  (Ezekiel 33:21)

Jerusalem's punishment, long threatened, had arrived.  Ezekiel was suddenly speaking to a chastened people.

A prideful, idolatrous people had been broken down.  Ezekiel was now addressing a humbled, spirtually re-dedicated people whom the LORD could now build up.  Lovely and loving words ensue, as we hear the voice of the Shepherd...

Seeking the lost:
For thus says the Lord God: "Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away."  (Ezekiel 34:11, 16)

Restoring the found:
"I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord God. "I will  bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick."  (Ezekiel 34:15, 16)

Pouring out blessing:
"And I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing."  (Ezekiel 34:26)
***

We must recall that it isn't Ezekiel's tone that has changed.  The prophet merely repeats the word he is given from God.  So what we are hearing is a dramatic shift in the tone of God's voice.

The great lesson to be learned is that God uses judgment in order to move us into the place of blessing.  When judgment has maneuvered us into that position, God's gracious intentions are suddenly realized.

God awaits the day when he can withdraw his heavy hand and his hard voice.  That's not how he wants to be.  Until then, he will do what the good Shepherd must to lead us beside the still waters, to make us lie down in pastures of blessing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"What He said."


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 33


The prophetic voice will warn of judgment:
So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.
 If I say to the wicked, "O wicked one, you shall surely die," and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.   (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

We glorify the word "prophet."  The prophet in the Bible resembles nothing so much as he resembles a parrot.

I'm a prophet.  ("Oh, dear," they're saying, "Franklyn's gone grandiose again.")

Oh, no I haven't, because for practical purposes, all the term "prophet" means is that if God were to say, "Polly want a cracker," the prophet writes "Polly want a cracker," and then hits the "Publish" button. If that's grandiose, then here--you can have it.
***

What, then, will a prophet sound like?  In a word, the prophet will sound like hell.

If you never hear (from your teacher, preacher, pastor, priest, or guru) that there's hell to be paid for sin, then you are hearing from a false prophet--because The Word of the LORD clearly states we have earned the wages of sin, which is death.  (Romans 6:23)

I don't bring you my own teaching.  Frankly, I've forgotten whatever it was that I used to think, probably because my own "beliefs" conveniently shifted with every wind.  I've gotten to the point where I, myself, don't have an opinion, because it wouldn't do either of us any good.

The kids have a neat phrase--"What he said"-- which indicates that they choose to express themselves in the very words that another has already spoken.   The prophets said, "Thus saith the LORD," which is the exact Bible equivalent of "What He said."

The prophet of God defers to God's Word to the exclusion of all else.  The original and absolute and ultimate "What he said" was first uttered by the original and absolute and ultimate prophet:
"My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me."  (John 7:16)
"For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment--what to say and what to speak."  (John 12:49)
***

Hear, then, what He said:
You are dead in your sins (1) unless and until you have received the salvation offered at the cross of Jesus Christ: 
Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

But wait, there's more.  Hear what else He said, just two verses earlier:
"For God 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 complete prophetic voice will tell us that we bought our ticket to hell--and that Jesus bought a way out for anyone who will receive it.  So if ever you hear someone say that you're mired in sin so deep that there's no way out, that's not what He said.  His Word tells us that even if we have a dump truck load of sin, Jesus paid it all:
He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to the cross.   (Colossians 2:14)

"What He said,"  Franklyn wrote, pressing "Publish."

************************
(1) Ephesians 2:1

Monday, June 21, 2010

he gave me a life, so I gave him a hand


The Word for today:
Psalm 89:38-52

mark this: Psalms 89:27
I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 


Shelley just walked into the room and asked me why I'm clapping.

I was singing the first verse of Psalm 89, accompanied by a catchy little melody and some happy clapping:
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever;
I will sing (clap clap clap); I will sing (clap clap clap);
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever;
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD.
With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness, thy faithfulness;
With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.

The emotional shift from Psalm 88 to Psalm 89 makes us feel as if we are at the mercy of the waves.

Psalm 88 is the darkest corner of the Bible, literally ending in darkness.  It takes Jesus from the cross to hell, then leaves him there:
For my soul is full of troubles, And my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more, And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit, In darkness, in the depths.  (Psalms 88:3-6)

But not for long.  Stepping into Psalm 89, he's alive again--the firstborn:
I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.  (Psalms 89:27)

Jesus became in resurrection the firstborn from the dead.  He was always alive as the Son of God, but in resurrection he is the firstborn of those who were dead in sins and are now alive in Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20)
***

Psalm 89 is all about what Bible scholars call the Davidic Covenant (which can be found in 2 Samuel chapter 7).  The covenant with David is the is the most important promise in the Old Testament.  It promises that a descendant of David will be king forever!--
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
Psalm 89 confirms that promise:
I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.
Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness--and I will not lie to David--
that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun.  (Psalms 89:34-36)

Taken together, Psalms 88 and 89 form a picture of the gospel:
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; he was buried;  and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

Psalm 88 is the death and darkness of hell.  But Psalm 89 is resurrection and sunlight. That, Shellster, is why I'm clapping!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two Ethans, One Song


The Word for today: Psalm 89:1-37
Ethan is a great name. It comes from the Bible. It means "strong/steadfast." It has recently grown in popularity- reaching #2 in 2010.

In the Bible it is mentioned 8 times, and those are talking about more than one Ethan.
We are going to distinguish between two Ethans, which is tricky seeing as both of them are connected with the Psalms.

(As a side note, make sure you don't skip the various headings that are before the Psalms. They are inspired Scripture and therefore not to be missed. Often they can give key information to better understand a Psalm, such as Psalm 18 or 51. )

Today's passage was written by Ethan the Ezrahite. He was from the tribe of Judah (1 Chr. 2:6) and lived during the reign of Solomon & Rehoboam. Evidently, he was one smart cookie (1 Ki 4:31) .

The second Ethan was also known as Jeduthun. He is the musical composer of at least 3 Psalms (39, 62 & 77) and most likely more, as he was one of the "directors of music" that are not mentioned by name 38 times in the Psalms. He was from the tribe of Levi (1 Chr. 6:42) and lived a generation before the previous Ethan. (see the Sept. 13, 2009 blog for more detail) There years overlapped and they most likely knew each other. (You know, they hung out at a big worship leader's conference or something...)

But what is even more remarkable about these two men is not that they have the same name or that they are linked to the same dynasty in Judah, it is the similarity of their compositions. Compare Psalm 89 (Ethan 2) with Psalm 77 (Ethan 1 aka Jeduthun).

Psalm 77 takes us through personal struggles and troubles that lead to questions. "Where is God in all of this?" "How long is this gonna be?" Then God's faithful love in the past is remembered and therefore, there is hope and confidence in the future.

Psalm 89 takes us through the nation's struggles and troubles (after they were bullied by Egypt- see 1 Kings 14:26-27). These difficulties also lead to questions (Ps. 89:46-49) that question the timing and goodness of God.

Although the order is different, the concepts are the same.
Two different Ethans, two different Psalms, but One God, and ultimately one message.
Because of who God is (89:1-8), what He has done in the past (89:9-18), and what He has promised (89:19-37) we can have confidence, even in the worst circumstances.


Everyday, we can join in the chorus with both Ethans and declare along with them, not that life is easy, nor is it always fair, but that God is always faithful and His love endures forever.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

when God turned off the light of the world


The Word for today:
Psalm 88


There are many rooms in our Father's house, but some we'll never see. The doors will all be open, but I don't think we'll find the switch.

I have read what men call the great authors.  I have read them all.  But when I met up with the Bible, I put childish things away. (1)

Since then, I have read and re-read the Bible--all of it perhaps 20 times; portions of it 100 times.  And I have entered Psalm 88 one thousand  times, but I have never entered in.

When the covenant that saved us was fulfilled on the cross, our Father turned the light of the world off for three hours.  What occurred there was done, our souls to save--but not our eyes to see:
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  (Matthew 27:45)

My meager comments can only get in the way of Psalm 88, because the psalm speaks of what David called things too high:
LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.  (Psalms 131:1)

So I will tiptoe out of this room now.   You linger, and listen.  Although God shut our eyes to the cross, he did not shut our ears.

But before I leave, let me direct you to Psalm 22.  Reading Psalm 22:1-2, you are reading, as it were, the title and first verse of Psalm 88:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

Listen a long while.  A man once spent three hours right here.  And don't bother looking for the switch.  I've looked one thousand and one times now, and never found it.

Psalm 88

 O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:
Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;
For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.
I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:
Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.
Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.
Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.
Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?
Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.
LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?
I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.
They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.
Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.

**************
(1) 1 Corinthians 13:11

Friday, June 18, 2010

two's too many, none's too few


The Word for today:
Psalms 86, 87

mark this:  Psalm 86:11
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.


Are you single?  (No, this is not a matchmaking service or advice for the lovelorn.)

I'm married, but I'm trying to become single!  That's because King David, in today's reading; and Jesus, in the New Testament; and decades of Camp Kenan counselors all urgently advise us to get single and stay single...

In Psalm 86:11/NIV, David asks God for "an undivided heart:"
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

Which is rendered "a united heart" in the KJV:
Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth:
unite my heart to fear thy name. 

What does the Bible mean by an undivided, united heart? That depends on who you are.

If you're an idolater, it means you've got to decide who your God is.
If you're an adulterer, it means you have to remember your marriage vows.
If you're a hypocrite, it means that what's on your inside and your outside must become the same.
If you're a liar, it means that words and truth have to become one.

I'm an authority on this subject, because at one time or another in my life, I was all of the above.  Sin is substance, not hypothesis, to me.  So I hope you are listening attentively, because heavy dues were paid to lend these words their weight.

I am constantly struggling against one symptom or another of a divided heart.  Presently, I am trying to rid myself of secondary sources of strength. 

What I mean is that my parents raised me to be self-reliant.  Then I myself raised self-reliance to the level of an art form.  Then I raised it to the level of a crusade. 

Even now--knowing that apart from God we achieve nothing that lasts--I will instinctively revert, when it's crunch time, to reliance on sources other than Jesus. 

I might rely on my own talent for awhile, until that topples.  Then I will rely on sheer hustle, until that proves useless.  I might rely on three or four things before I remember to rely on God by taking the problem to him in prayer.

I hope to be single-hearted.  I hope to learn to look--immediately and only--to God.   Jesus put it this way:
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  (Matthew 6:22)
 ***

At Camp Kenan, a summer camp where I grew up, the campers loved "4th Period" because for that hour they were allowed to independently choose from a dozen different activities. But some of the campers, especially the 7-10 year olds, would sign up for two or three things!  And some of them would forget to sign up for anything.  So we counselors composed a little jingle, which went like this:

Two's too many;
None's too few.
One thing only
Is the thing for you!

Then we'd get those campers to chant it over and over, and 4th period sign-up was a problem no more!
***

What form does your divided heart take?  Maybe you do struggle with--as mentioned above-- idolatry, or adultery, or hypocrisy, or mendacity.  Or perhaps you are struggling, like I am now, to become reflexively reliant on God alone.  Whatever the case, I hope you'll remember what King David wrote in Psalm 86:
Teach me your way, O LORD; give me an undivided heart.

And remember what Jesus said:
If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

And though our choices aren't as simple as the choices of children, it can't hurt to apply a Camp Kenan chant to the divisions that divide your grown-up heart.  So always remember:

Two's too many;
none's too few.
One thing only
is the thing for you!

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

peace, love, dove



The Word for today:
Psalm 85

mark this:  Psalm 85:13
Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

When I was a kid, there were peace songs and peace emblems and if you held up your first two fingers, it made the peace sign. 

Since then, I've seen a lot of people drop their first finger, displaying the sign that remains.

John Lennon was singing "Imagine."  Dopey then, it sounds dopier now.  It took a lot of dope to sing that song.  John Lennon, of course, was murdered by a deranged man who read "Catcher in the Rye" a few too many times.  Imagine.

Our current President said he would bring hope and change.  The other night I heard a song that went like this:
"You can take your change on down the road and leave me here with mine."
That song expresses my hope.

Twenty short months ago, voters on TV held signs saying,
"We are The Ones we've been Waiting For"
"We are the Change We Seek"

I guess they never showed up to meet themselves.  It's hard to find yourself when you're not there.
***

Why doesn't hope survive?  Why can't peace prevail?  Psalm 85 has the answer:
Surely his salvation is near to those who honor him; our land will be filled with his glory.
Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed!   (Psalms 85:9-10)

Our land will find salvation and peace when we honor him, when righteousness and peace have kissed.  Things have to be right before there can be peace in the world. Righteousness and peace aren't on speaking terms, let alone kissing terms, at the present time. 

The book of James teaches us where war comes from:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. (James 4:1-2)
***

The prerequisite for peace is a right relationship to God through Jesus Christ:
Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.  (Psalms 85:13)

Peace isn't a concept, or even a hope. Peace is a person.  The Bible calls him the Prince of Peace:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.  (Isaiah 9:6-7)


Until we find him, we never find peace.  Not even in our imaginations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

casting bread upon the waters, as we watch the river flow


The Word for today:
Psalm 84

mark this: Psalm 84:7
They go from strength to strength...

I am not confused or distracted by Churchianity.  The function of the church is to get out the Word of the Lord, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We exist for no other reason.  God isn't as interested in whether we helped the old lady across the street as he is in whether we introduced the old lady to his son.  Because we might get her from one corner to another, but his son can get her from death to life.

And I am not a shy man.  Shy doesn't cut it in my field of endeavor. So I use every available means to cast bread upon the waters (1).  I write columns. I insinuate my name in the press.  I even contacted my local radio station to see if I could broadcast from there.  I was rejected.  (I told 'em I'd been thrown out of finer places than theirs! and by finer people!)  Another month and I'll contact them again, so they can reject me again.  But, hey, you never know.
 
This bread-casting is my form of love, because I am two quarts low in cuddly capacity.  I am generally bristly and prickly and aggressive. But I've given the hours--which add up to the days which add up to the years which add up to my life--to this cause, and Jesus said that's the definition of highest love (2). So take that, Cuddles!  I give about thirteen hours every day to this, even on Jesus' birthday and the 4th of July, because there's a place  in the kingdom for pushy porcupines.


Not only do I write this blog (with some help from my friends) but I also bread-cast the Bible classes I teach. (The current class is  called "Behold" and can be heard by clicking here. )

And every Sunday evening, after church is behind me, the lawn is mowed, and Monday's blog is written, I listen to the broadcast of that morning's class.  I listen because that Guy is a great Bible teacher!  I can say that without a scintilla of pride, because I know where my 15 hours of preparation  intended to take the class--but then He shows up and shifts the wind! (3)

So I can't wait to listen, to review what the Holy Spirit taught us that morning.  He speaks thoughts I never thought, dressed in phrasing I cannot command.  So I listen to the class "I" just taught, even taking notes about the new things I am learning from the Guy who teaches the class that my students think I teach.

One of the nutty things about listening to classes that I, well, mouthed (!!) is that I've picked up on my own stock phrases.  Teachers have signature lines, things they emphasize and therefore repeat, that their students can quote verbatim. (I remember Mrs. White, the Emmet Belknap Jr. High librarian for oh so many years, calling out "Self-discipline!" to any and all, several times every day.)

As I've listened to that Guy teach "my" class recently, here are the phrases He's been stressing:

"Closer.  Closer."


"Think of the kingdom of heaven as a direction, more than a place."


"Heaven is all the way from here to there."


"God doesn't see where you are, he sees where you are going."


"Be a man/woman after God's own heart."
***

The theme that emerges when you put all those phrases together is motion, movement.  So when I hear people say, "I was saved in 1994," I sometimes want to cry--because phrasing it that way makes us think of it that way. 

Try not to think of your salvation being back there somewhere.  The Bible teaches that we go from saved to saved:

I have been saved—from the penalty of sin.
I am being saved—from the power of sin.
I will be saved—from the presence of sin.

On the way from saved to saved, we go...
from faith to faith,
from life to life,
from strength to strength,
from grace to grace,
from glory to glory. (4)

Jesus went to the cross to save you.  Then he rose from the dead to save you.  Right now he is interceding in prayer to save you.  One day he will return to save you.  Then He will judge the enemies of your soul to save you.

He died to save you.  Now he lives to keep you saved.  He will never stop being your Savior. 

Because that's who he is.  That's what he does--yesterday, today, and forever (5).  He's just that kind of Guy.

*******************
(1) see Ecclesiates 11:1 & Luke 4:4; (2) see John 15:13; (3) see John 3:8; (4) see, in order, Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 2:16; Psalm 84:7; John 1:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18; (5) Hebrews 13:8

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

those who follow are led

"The Calling of St. Matthew" by Hendrick Terbrugghen, 1621

The Word for today:
Psalms 81-83

I do not presume to know what, specifically, God is up to right at this very moment.  And let me give you an insider's tip:  If anybody tells you that they know, for certain, that God's hand is behind this or that event, you politely turn and run far and fast, as if your soul depended upon it.  Always recall this scripture:
Your way was in the sea,
Your path in the great waters,
And Your footsteps were not known.   (Psalms 77:19)

The problem with knowing what God is up to at any given time is that so much of what he does is counter-intuitive.  Look no further than the cross of Jesus Christ, God's master plan.  No man would devise such a plan.  Just the plan of the cross, just the idea itself (aside from its effectiveness) shouts out "Deity was here," because it runs counter to every thought and instinct of man.  Truly, the cross of Jesus Christ definitively demonstrates that...
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

However, just because we cannot definitively identify the specific actions of God, we can make some generalities, based on his Word:
1.  He's up to good.  Some people are up to no good, but...
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28)
2.  He is turning bad into good:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  (Genesis 50:20)
***
One reality that God has to deal with is our obedience, or lack of it.  If God wants to heal our broken land  (or a broken relationship, or a broken heart) and he says, "Walk this way toward healing," then we will find healing there.  But if we do not walk in the direction he points out, we will not.

Or a person might ask God to guide his life. So God says, "Follow me."  If that person follows, he is led.  But if that person does not follow, he is not.

In Psalm 81, God implores the people to follow his ways:
"If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways,
how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!  (Psalms 81:13-14)

But the people would not follow:
"But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me."  (Psalms 81:11)

So he gave them over to the consequences of their self-directed "solutions"--
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices.  (Psalms 81:12)
***

Having read this morning's Buffalo News, I can state with authority that our country has decided not to go God's way.

But on a personal level, you don't have to follow them.  You can still follow God. 

During Jesus' days on earth, he walked up to a man called Matthew and said, "Follow me."  And Matthew left his shady tax-collecting business to follow God.  (Matthew 9:9)

About two thousand years later, I happened to be reading the book of Matthew when the Spirit of God made Jesus real and living to me.  Thanks, Matthew.

My plea is that you forget living life in the collective and begin to listen with your own ears, to hear with your own heart.  Forget your country, your church, your culture, your century, your family if need be.  Matthew had all of those things, too.

God does not call us through political institutions, nor through denominations, nor through families.  God calls us directly, heart to heart, just like he called Matthew.

So be like Matthew.  Someday, somebody like me will thank you for becoming a part of God's plan.

 You might be the last person that your friends and family would ever suspect God to call.  But remember that the cross of Jesus Christ is the very last idea that we would ever devise to save us.

Monday, June 14, 2010

a party breaks out at the corner of 80th Street


The Word for today:
Psalm 79, 80

"Stand in the Rain" is a three-year Bible-reading program.  So what are we going to do when the three years are over? 

What we're going to do after "Stand in the Rain" is "Stand in the Rain" all over again!

I don't know if the blog will continue, but I hope so.  Someday I would like to assemble about 7 writers, who would each be responsible for a day of the week.  That would mean that I'd write, let's say, every Friday's blog.  (Which would mean that right now I'd be at the park with my friend Glen, whose son's graduation party is in full swing as I type.  But Glen won't mind.  He's got those eyes that let you know he knows, full well, the cost of things.)

But blog or no blog, you must promise yourself to Stand in the Rain forever.  You must never, ever "graduate" from the Bible.  Because you starve yourself if you do.

The Bible isn't a book, like Moby Dick or Catcher in the Rye, that we read once.  The Bible is an environment which allows us to grow.  Shutting the Bible is to deprive a garden of water and light.  In fact, that image is where "Stand in the Rain" comes from:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:10-11)

We grow bigger on every trip through God's Word because there are always new levels of understanding to be reached. (Just between you and me, reading the Bible once is the equivalent of blowing the dust off the cover. Reading it the second time is the equivalent of skimming the Table of Contents. Reading it the third time is the equivalent of reading the Introduction. The fourth trip through is like lighting a match in the basement.  Your fifth trip is when the party starts.)

Then the party grows, and the more the merrier.
 
The first time I read Psalm 80, I didn't know that Jesus was the Shepherd in verse 1. I was alone in Psalm 80, so I hurried right through.  No reason to hang out there.
 
But by the third time I read Psalm 80, I saw Jesus there in verse 1.  I'll never forget the rush of those first fleeting glimpses of him, and the gathering realization that he was everywhere!

Around the fifth time I read Psalm 80, I recognized that it was Jesus who (in verses 3, 7, and 19) is the face--what we see and recognize--of God. (1)

By this time, I couldn't wait to get to Psalm 80.  It couldn't arrive fast enough.
 
It wasn't until maybe my seventh time through the Bible before I realized that in one verse--verse 17--Jesus appears as both the son of man and the son of God, at God's right hand:
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.

Then on my tenth trip, while reading Genesis,  I came to see that Rachel's little Benjamin was a picture of Jesus. 
 
She'd died, on the way into Bethlehem, giving birth to him (2).  Just before she died she named him Ben-oni, which means "son of my sorrow."  But when Jacob looked upon him, he said, “No, we won’t call him Ben-oni, we’ll call him Benjamin, because he is the son of my right hand.”
 
So by my twelfth reading when I arrived at Psalm 80, verse 17, there were Jacob and  his beloved Rachel.  And there was little Ben-oni, son of sorrow.  And there was Benjamin, son of power.  And they were Jesus, who came to earth the first time as the Son of suffering, but today is at God’s right hand. 
 
So now it's 5:30.  I missed Glen's graduation party in order to write this blog article.

But as you can see, I have not spent the afternoon alone.  I've held my own little party right here.  I wonder who else I'll meet, at the corner of Psalms Avenue and 80th Street, the next time I happen by.

*********************
(1) see 2 Corinthians 4:6; (2) Genesis 35:16-19

Sunday, June 13, 2010

...by the Greatest Story-Teller Ever! (part 2 of 2)


The Word for today:
Psalm 78: 40-72

mark this: Psalm 78:1-2
O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old.


The Bible has been called the Greatest Story Ever Told--because it is!  Do you  know why it's so great? 

Because the Bible is told by the Greatest Story-Teller ever, that's why.

As a Bible teacher, if I were allowed to give only one piece of advice to students who really want to understand their Bibles, this is what my advice would be:

If you want to understand the Bible, you must read it as one big story.

Today,  at the beginning of Psalm 72, we hear a voice:
O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old.

That's the voice of the Great Story-Teller!  This we know 'cause the Bible tells us so:
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."
 (Matthew 13:34-35)
***
Today concludes a two-part article about the the importance of seeing the Bible as, first and foremost, a story.  If you haven't, I hope you'll look over yesterday's blog as well as this one. 

Yesterday I quoted another writer on this important subject.  Today I leave you with notes written for a Bible class I teach.  (The class is  called "Behold" and can be heard by clicking here.

The Bible is a story.  It's not history or philosophy or a manual for self-improvement.
It's not about creation, it's about the Creator.
It's not about redemption, it's about the Redeemer.
It's not about forgiveness, it's about the Forgiver.
The Bible isn't about salvation; it's about the Savior.

Even the Parable of the Good Samaritan is about a Samaritan half-breed--his mother a Jew, his father unknown--from Nazareth of Galilee.

Even the Parable of the Prodigal Son isn't about the younger brother who went when he should have stayed, or about the older brother who stayed when he should have gone. It's about an Other Brother--who went to a far country to search for his lost brothers and sisters so he could bring them back home. 

At its deepest level, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not about the characters in the story, but about the storyteller--Jesus.  At its deepest level, the Word of God, even when it might not say so, is about the Author.

The Bible isn't about the law, it's about the Lawgiver; it's not about judgment, it's about the Judge; it's not about prophecy, it's about the Prophet.

It's not even about the kingdom. It's about the King.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Greatest Story Ever Told...(part 1 of 2)


The Word for today:
Psalm 78: 1-39

mark this: Psalm 78:1-2
O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old.


The Bible has been called the Greatest Story Ever Told--because it is!  Do you  know why it's so great? 

Because the Bible is told by the Greatest Story-Teller ever, that's why.

As a Bible teacher, if I were allowed to give only one piece of advice to students who really want to understand their Bibles, this is what that advice would be:

If you want to understand the Bible, you must read it as one big story.

Today,  at the beginning of Psalm 72, we hear a voice:
O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old.

That's the voice of the Great Story-Teller!  This we know, 'cause the Bible tells us so:
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."
 (Matthew 13:34-35)

Over the next couple of days, we are going to emphasize the importance of seeing the Bible as, first and foremost, a story.  And so I leave you today with remarks excerpted from the foreword of The Jesus Storybook Bible.  (1)

I hope you'll read these remarks carefully and thoughtfully. And then I hope you'll run out and purchase a copy of the book itself.  Then I hope you'll read it.  Then I hope you'll read it to a kid. I think that for everyone, whether child or adult, this little book serves as the best introduction to the study of scripture that I have ever found...

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.
No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne - everything - to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
…There are lots of stories in the bible but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle - the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together; and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
*******************
(1) Excerpted from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Friday, June 11, 2010

for crying out loud


The Word for today:
Psalm 77

mark this:  Psalms 77:7-9
Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?
***

"Lord, teach us to pray."  (Luke 11:1)

What did the disciple mean when he asked Jesus to "Teach us to pray."  I mean, who has to learn how to pray?  Isn't that something that comes naturally, like breathing or blinking?  What's to learn?

I'm not exactly sure what the disciple was asking. But if ever anyone were to ask me to teach him about prayer, I would refer him to the book of Psalms.  And so to the Psalms I refer you. 

***
Look at the Psalms like a textbook on prayer.  Then ask yourself, "Do I pray like this?" 

Do you?  I'm afraid that I don't. 
 
I don't often talk to God aloud (77:1).
 
I don't often stretch forth my hands toward him (77:2).
 
I don't relive the times he saved me in the past (77:5, 12-20).
 
I wouldn't begin to ask God the questions in these verses (77:7-9).
 
Why don't we pray like that?  I don't know, but I'll take a guess.  My guess is that we've learned prayer from people who don't pray like that, so we in turn don't pray like that.  Pity our children, who are learning from us not to pray like that!
 
But we can learn to pray like Jesus if we erase some of our customs and assumptions and start anew. 
 
Begin by opening to the middle of your Bible--to Psalm 77, for example.  Now start by reading this psalm as a prayer to God.  You will have to slightly adjust the tenses to make it your prayer, but you can do it. 
 
For example, turn this:
I cried out to God with my voice, to God with my voice; and He gave ear to me  (77:1)
into this:
I am crying out loud, I mean out loud to you, because I know you listen.
 
Turn this:
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted (77:2)
into this:
I'm in trouble, deep.  I've been looking for you,
literally reaching out to you all night,
but even that didn't work.

Now remember that you are crying out loud, so don't just think these lines, say 'em!  And get a hand in the air.  Don't forget to review the times he helped and saved you.  And start asking him questions you wouldn't dare ask before.

OK, we're beginning to pray like Jesus.  We're beginning to unlearn some of our old prayer patterns and habits. 

God would not have put a prayer book right smack in the middle of the Bible if he didn't want us to pray just like the Psalms, just like Jesus.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

adopt the attitude


The Word for today:
Psalms 75, 76

mark this: Psalm 76:10
Surely the wrath of man shall praise You.


We sometimes worry that media yesmen, or the yahoos next door, or the dipstick in the cubicle two down, or the smarter-than-thou professors at the local diploma mill can somehow knock Jesus down a peg with their criticism and disdain.

Scripture's attitude (and attitude it is!) says, "Bring it on.  Pour it on.  Because every criticism will in the end lift God higher.  The spite and the hatred will bring honor and glory to his name."

If you are having a hard time understanding how the wrath of man will end up praising God, then I refer you to the cross...

What caused me to stand in awe of Jesus Christ's sheer bravery?  The wrath of man:
So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck Him with their hands.   (John 19:1-3)

What causes us to praise his amazing grace?  The wrath of man:
When they came to a place called the Skull, the soldiers crucified Jesus and the criminals -- one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they are doing."  (Luke 23:33-34)

What brings us to an understanding of his utter compassion?  The wrath of man:
As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."   (Luke 23:26-28)

It was at the hands of his tormentors, subjected to their fists and their frenzied flogging, that he defined love:
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. (John 15:13)

So don't you fret when they say the awful things they say about Jesus.  Adopt the attitude (and attitude it is!) of scripture.  Tell 'em, "Bring it on.  Pour it on.  He's getting bigger with every puny little word you lisp."

Now, that's the Spirit!

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

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around

The Word for today:
Psalm 74

I was at a weekly staff meeting on January 6th.  I live in upstate New York, near Buffalo.  The winter here isn't as as bad as its reputation, but on this particular day it looked just like winter in Buffalo is reputed to look.

We have devotions and prayers before our business meeting.  We present devotions on a rotating schedule.  On that day, it was our pastor's turn. He chose to read from Psalm 74.  He focused on 74:9--
We are given no miraculous signs;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.

He taught us that the psalm was written after the temple had been burned to the ground by the Babylonians.  He said that the psalm expressed "the winter of our faith."

Those of you who have recently been reading Ezekiel  know that miraculous signs had ceased when the visible glory departed from the Temple; that no prophets were left because they were exiled, with the people, to foreign lands.  God was gone, his prophets were gone: there was no one left who could tell them how long this would go on.

Bringing his teaching to its conclusion, Pastor Kevin directed our attention to 74:12--
Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.

Then he asked the others at the table for their thoughts and reflections.  But I didn't hear the rest.  My eyes were out the window where winter was waiting, working.

***

Whenever you start wishing that autumn could skip right over winter to spring, turn to Psalm 74:12.  If Psalm 74 represents the winter of faith, verse 12 is the reason for the season.  In their forsaken desolation, through their forsaken desolation, God was working.

After devotions we prayed about various things.  After prayer a discussion about the office telephone system went on for quite some time.   My eyes were still out the window and my head, on its own, started silently singing a song from long ago.  Just as a dream combines seemingly disparate elements, the song brought Jesus and winter and telephones and prayer and fire and ruins and Psalm 74 together:

Been walking my mind to an easy time,
my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows
it'll turn your head around
Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line
to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again.

According to three trustworthy sources-- Asaph (who wrote Psalm 74), James Taylor, and Pastor Kevin Robbins--it may be that God makes inroads to a heart during its winter. It may be that there's no other way, no other day, to work salvation there.

Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How good Thou art!


The Word for today:
Psalm 73

I used to be impressed by God's greatness.  And I still am.

But God's goodness is even greater.

Great is a word that sets off fireworks.  It's about remarkable things, big things.  God's creation is great--the great mountains and seas, the limitless universe, the depthless delights of color and light.

But great doesn't hold my hand when I am confused about today and afraid for tomorrow.  Great never got me through the night.

Good is a commonplace word.  Good things warm the heart, while great things set the heart aflame.  Perhaps I'm slowing down, but you can keep the blowtorch if you'll just lend me your lantern.

Psalm 73 starts this way:
Surely God is good.
It winds down this way:
It is good to be near God.
Its final line--
I will tell of all your deeds--
has become the desire and promise and prayer of my own heart.

I used to pray that I would be able to express the greatness of God.  But the closer I get to him, the more I realize that his greatness did not take him to the cross.

His unfailing, never-ending goodness took him there.  And so I've changed my prayer.  Now I ask to be able to express the goodness of God. 

Now sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
"How good Thou art, How good Thou art!"

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

the other goat


The Word for today:
Ezekiel 31, 32


A glimpse of the afterlife is seen in our reading today.  As we read along, we can be puzzled by some of the biblical terminology concerning the conditions of eternity.  Let's look at Ezekiel 32:21 in three prominent Bible versions:

NIV:  From within the grave the mighty leaders will say...
KJV: The strong among the mighty shall speak out of the midst of hell...
ESV: The mighty chiefs shall speak of out of the midst of Sheol...

Grave, hell, Sheol.  It gets confusing.  So let's forget about what we don't know and zero in on what we do know. What we learn from the Old Testament is that our bodies are dust, but our spirits are eternal:
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Psalm 103:14 speaks of our finite bodies when it says:
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Three verses later, Psalm 103:17 speaks of our infinite spirits:
But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, to such as keep his covenant.

Terminology aside, the Old Testament presents these truths:
1.  Our bodies are finite--dust to dust.
2.  Our spirits are infinite--everlasting to everlasting.
3.  Some receive the everlasting mercy of the LORD--as seen in Psalm 103:17 (above).
4.  Others will everlastingly bear their shame, as seen in our passage today:
There is Elam and all her multitude,
All around her grave,
All of them slain, fallen by the sword,
Who have gone down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth,
Who caused their terror in the land of the living;
Now they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit.
(Ezekiel 32:24; see also Ezekiel 32:25, 30; 36:7; 44:13)
***
Why is the Old Testament so murky about the conditions of the afterlife?  Because the real biblical question has never been about where bodies go, or where spirits go.  The real question has always been, Where do the consequences of my sin go? 

Where do the consequences--the real effects--of pride go? 
What about the consequences--the ugly consequences--of hate?
And what about the consequences--the heart-breaking results--of self-centeredness?
Where do the consequences--the family-splitting consequences--of unforgiveness go?

The Old Testament foresees the day when the effects of our sin will be removed from amongst us.  This is pictured by a goat over whose head the High Priest confessed all the sins of the children of Israel on the Day of Atonement. This scapegoat, symbolically bearing their sins, was then sent into the wilderness (see Leviticus 16:7-22).

While we've heard about the scapegoat, what we forget is that there were two goats on the Day of Atonement.  Scripture teaches that sin is a real entity, a force which will not dissipate until its consequences are paid.  Sin has never just gone away, vanished into thin air.  In order for sin to go away,  the other goat had to die.  

As the Old Testament proceeded, we learn that the sacrificial goat or lamb was just a picture--a picture of a person who would pay what the Bible calls the wages of sin (1):
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:3-6)

The New Testament opens when the Lamb--the one who could pay the price--walks onto the pages of scripture:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
***

The real question has never been about our bodies or spirits in the by and by.  Even if you live to be one hundred, it won't be long before you'll have those questions answered.  The real question has always been about our sins in the now.

The real answer is that sins go away, if another pays a price that I can't pay. 

But you can't have one goat without the other.

**************
(1) Romans 6:23