Tuesday, August 31, 2010

according to your faith


The Word for today:

James 1:1-18


Everyone has faith.  It can be faith in the Truth, or it can be faith in a lie.  For better or for worse, the motivating principle of your life is your faith.

You may not even be able to identify your faith, but I can say unequivocally that if you show me your life I will tell you what you believe in.

You may not be able to name your god, but if you were to show me your checkbook, credit card statements, and appointment calendar, I will name your god.

The Bible stresses the saving power of faith in the true God.  Look no further than Commandment #1:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

The Bible also warns about the destructive power of faith in a lie.  Look no further than Commandment #2:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. (Exodus 20:4-5)

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews is all about faith in the truth; while the very next book, James, has much to say about false faith.
***

James grew up with Jesus, in the same house.  (He was a half-brother, due to immaculate circumstances!) 

Yet James calls himself "a servant of Jesus Christ." (1)  This bespeaks true humility, because James nowhere refers to the fact of his earthly relationship to Jesus. 

James had at first rejected Jesus as Messiah (2), but he became a follower after meeting the risen Christ (3).  James' practical, down-to-earth "voice" can be heard in the Old Testament book of Proverbs and in his brother's Sermon on the Mount (4).

***
I have a faith and you have a faith, whether we acknowledge it or not. I even know a man who says he believes in nothing. That in itself is a faith, called nihilism. And, as Jesus said, according to his faith he shall be rewarded (5).

****************
(1) James 1:1; (2) John 7:5; (3) 1 Corinthians 15:7; (4) Matthew 5-7; (5) Matthew 9:29

Monday, August 30, 2010

like wing needs wing


The Word for today:
Malachi 3:6-4:6

mark this: Malachi 4:2
But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings.


The poetic (like the humorous) can be hard to explain. Not to be deterred, I'm going to earnestly attempt to convey one of scripture's most sublimely poetic pictures.

The complete picture is forged from two counterpart scenes, one at the very beginning and the other at the very end of the Old Testament.

In the first scene, a lone dove broods over a dark, formless, and empty world:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

In the second scene, the sun rises with healing wings:
But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. (Malachi 4:2)

Together, these scenes form a rhyming couplet.  They rhyme in that they fulfill one another, like wing needs wing to fly.

They will fly all the way to the cross of Jesus Christ, where darkness and death aren't the opposite of light and life, but the matter from which they are forged.

Not until there, until then, can the restless dove alight.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

on fire


The Word for today:
Malachi 2:10-3:5

mark this:  Malachi 3:1-2
Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire.


Fire is a wonderful thing.  It heats, it cooks, and it looks like magic.

Fire is an awful thing.  It'll burn down the house and everybody in it.

Three of the key theophanies—appearances of God—in the early books of the Bible are in the guise of fire:
A smoking furnace and burning lamp (Gen. 15:7-17);
the burning bush (Exodus 3:2ff);
the pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21).

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery explains why fire is such a fitting expression of God:

Just as fire is mysterious and immaterial, so too is God enigmatic and incorporeal. And just as fire is always flickering and changing its shape and cannot be held for examination, so is God always the indefinable who is beyond our grasp.
Fire is a moral neutral--like money, TV, the internet, or passion.   Whether fire is good or bad depends on the purpose it is used for.  The Bible shows fire used for two very different purposes:

1.) The fire of hell (punishment)--
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (Genesis 19:24)

2.) Refiner’s fire (discipline/purification)--
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:2-3)

Refiner's fire (discipline/purification) and the fire of hell (punishment) look alike, which makes it very difficult to tell the difference. Their similar appearance, for example, is the reason why Job's friends thought he was being punished, while we (as readers) know it was God's purpose to refine.

On the other hand, the LORD Jesus Christ faced the fire of hell when he died on the cross for our sins.  He needed no refining.

No child of God—except for God’s Only Begotten Son—ever faces the fire of hell.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

you're already there


The Word for today:
Malachi 1:1-2:9

[Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi lived at the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Like them, his message was to those who had returned from exile in Babylon and were beginning to rebuild their shattered country, their shattered Temple, and their shattered lives.]

mark this:  Malachi 1:2-3
"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."


In the opening lines of the book of Malachi, God says something which we might think is out of his character:
"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

The reason we misunderstand the phrase is because we are looking at it through our own eyes.  But if we were to look through God's eyes, we would not only learn about Esau, but about ourselves as well.

God sees the end from the beginning:
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done. (Isaiah 46:9-10)

He sees that the tendencies of Esau's heart will eventually bring him far from God. He sees that Esau will give rise to the evil nation of Edom.

Then he looks at Esau's twin brother, Jacob, with the same prophetic vision.  The tendencies of Jacob's heart will bring him ever closer to God. He will give rise to Israel, a nation which will one day be devoted to God.
***

But that's about Jacob and Esau.  Does the same principle apply to us?

It sure does.  Those who trust in Christ are destined to be conformed to his image (1).  I don't know about you, but I've got a long, long way to go before I arrive at Christ-likeness. 

Time, however, doesn't obstruct God's view.  Though we are in process, God sees the process completed, the eventuality fulfilled.

God never hated Esau in Genesis.  And when Jesus died on the cross, he opened the way back to God for both Jacob and Esau.  When we read, in John 3:16, that God so loved the world, that world included Esau.

But Esau, God knows, will not enter through God's only Door.  He'll keep on going his own way, all the way through Edom to hell.  Jacob will go God's Way, all the way through Israel to heaven.

From our point of view, we're still on the road.  From God's point of view, we arrived yesterday.

*******************
(1) Romans 8:29

Friday, August 27, 2010

he didn't issue uniforms


The Word for today:
Zechariah 14

I'm going to miss Zechariah.  We've been standing in the rain with Zechariah now for a week and a half.  I was just starting to catch his vision.  I was finally tuning in to his frequency. 

And I identified with him.  He proves that God has a place on his team for crazy people!

I used an exclamation point on the end of that last sentence as a kind of camouflage.  It serves to lighten up a sentence which isn't lightweight at all.  If I take the exclamation point away, the sentence takes on density and weight:
He proves that God has a place on his team for crazy people.

That's really what I meant.  I'm not as well-balanced as others seem to be.  So I take courage from the company of loonies and dreamers that I encounter in the Word of God.

Where is that encouraging word coming from?  Taking a step further into these pages, we come to realize that the word isn't emanating from Zechariah, but from Jesus:
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:21)
All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
This salvation was something the prophets wanted to know more about.  They wondered what the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ's suffering and his great glory afterward. (1 Peter 1:10-11)

Deep down inside Zechariah, deep down inside the paper your Bible is printed on, is a voice.  It found its way to the surface through Elijah, who was besieged by depression; through Jude, who was given to dark thoughts; through Peter, who could not govern his emotions.

That voice can find expression through a person like you, too.  And through a person like me.

So come out from behind that exclamation point.  We don't have to hide there any more.  God doesn't require that we dress ourselves in feigned levity, false modesty, or saccharine sweetness.

We've been given a place on the team.  But he didn't issue uniforms.  He issued his Spirit and his voice, a voice of density and weight.

And he gave us his story to tell.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

in the far corner of the lot


The Word for today:
Zechariah 12, 13

mark this: Zechariah 12:10
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then 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.


Would we recognize Jesus if he walked in the room right now?


Based on biblical evidence, I'm not so sure we would.

In the story of Joseph--point for point, a prophecy of the Christ--his brothers didn't recognize him when they met him. (1)

In Zechariah, we read that Israel will not recognize the crucified Jesus as their Messiah until latter days, which have not yet arrived:
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then 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)

Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. (2)

The disciples on the road to Emmaus spoke with him for a long while, not recognizing him until, as he broke bread at the table, they saw the wounds in his hands. (3)

Joseph did not hide from his brothers behind a wig or sunglasses.  And Jesus did not hide from Mary or the disciples.

I love Jesus, but certainly no more than Mary did.  I know Jesus, but certainly not better than his brothers knew Joseph. 

So I return to the opening question and aim it towards myself:  Would I know Jesus if  he walked in the room right now?  The Bible says probably not.

Perhaps it isn't Jesus that we don't recognize.  Perhaps it's the context we surround him with.  We think of him as a male, thirty-three, with religion on his mind.

But what if he were 96, in a nursing home.  What if he were she.  What if he were fifteen on a park bench, texting.  What if he were a roofer, or a salesman.  Or the crazed fan next to you at the Bills game.  What if he lined up next to you at the beginning of a 5k race?

He as much as tells us that we'll meet him in a scene with a different background: 
'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:35-40)

When we meet Jesus, it most likely will be in a context least suspected.  If you're looking for him at church, carefully consider the lady who babysits our kids so we can hear the sermon.   Or the guy who parks the cars in the far corner of the church lot.  Yeah, that guy--who laughs too loud and is known to enjoy a cigar out there, we're told. 

Then check nursing homes and parks and gardens and prisons and Buffalo Bills games.
 
And enter a 5k race.  Hey, you never know.  But be sure to wait for the very last person to finish.  In his kingdom, remember, the last shall be first. (4)

*******************
(1) Genesis 42;  (2) John 20:15; (3) Luke 24;  (4) Matthew 20:16

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

broken for the broken


The Word for today:
Zechariah 11

mark this: Zechariah 11:12-13

We--you and I--don't get mentioned much in Old Testament prophecy.  But today we do, in a sad and happy and wistful way.

It's not an easy prophecy to follow, because it depends on irony.  Irony is when the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.

We are told that Zechariah's severance pay was thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave:
Then I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"--the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD, to the potter.   (Zechariah 11:12-13)

We hear irony in the lordly price at which I was priced by them.  The thirty pieces, of course, was anything but lordly!

The only thing it would purchase was a field next to the potter's house--where so many broken, rejected pieces of pottery were thrown that the land was considered useless.

When we get to the New Testament, a disciple named Judas Iscariot will betray Jesus by informing the religious leaders of his whereabouts.  There, where Judas said he would be, Jesus was seized.  Then he was brought to trial.  Soon thereafter he was crucified.

The money, Judas came to realize, was blood money; he had profited by betraying an innocent man.  So he took the money and threw it back to the religious leaders.  Then he hanged himself.

So tainted was this money that the religious leaders would not place it into the Temple treasury.  They "laundered" the money--literally taking the blood off their hands--by purchasing the worthless potter's field as a burial ground for strangers:
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. (Matthew 27:3-8)

***

So where are you and I in this prophecy?  We're the broken and rejected vessels that the blood money purchased.  We're the clay that the LORD God reclaimed, at the price of his blood, in order to renew and reshape us.

We appear in this prophecy, but it isn't about the clay. It isn't even about the blood.

It's about a potter, broken and rejected himself.

It's all about a potter, broken for the broken.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

don't get skewed


The Word for today:
Zechariah 9, 10

mark this: Zechariah 9:9-11


We must be careful not to limit Jesus to the Jesus we think we know.  Towards that end, let's think about donkeys and charging white stallions.

In Zechariah 9:9, we see a picture of the Jesus we're accustomed to.  He comes riding into town on a donkey, bearing salvation through a blood covenant.  This is Jesus of the Gospels, who died to save our souls from the consequences of our sin.  It is an astonishingly vivid prophecy:
 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Then, without transition, in the next verse we see another side of the same person:
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

That is Jesus of Revelation, the conquering King:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.(Revelation 19:11-16)

Jesus is a man of peace, one way or the other.  The first time he arrived, he purchased peace with God:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

The second time he arrives, he will enforce the peace amongst men:
The hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants,
but his fury will be shown to his foes.
See, the LORD is coming with fire,
and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
he will bring down his anger with fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For with fire and with his sword
the LORD will execute judgment upon all men,
and many will be those slain by the LORD. (Isaiah 66:14-16)

There might be too much donkey--and not enough war horse-- in your concept of Jesus.  That skewed view is held by many in the church today.

Or there might be too much war horse and not enough donkey.  The church has, in other centuries, held that skewed view.

Don't get skewed by whatever age you live in or whatever church you attend.  Mount up, and travel all the way through scripture with the servant Jesus, with the conqueror Jesus.  From day to day, you will know his intentions by his ride.

Monday, August 23, 2010

on better streets beyond


The Word for today:
Zechariah 8

mark this:  Zechariah 8:5
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.


Most everything I've learned about the Bible, I learned from J. Vernon McGee.  Most everything J. Vernon McGee learned about the Bible, he learned from G. Campbell Morgan.  Most everything G. Campbell Morgan learned about the Bible, he learned from God.

So you can see that when I say the name 'G. Campbell Morgan,' we are in pretty fast company!

G. Campbell Morgan said that when he wanted to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God, he didn’t go into a room where adults were praying but into the street where kids were playing.  Jesus said essentially the same thing in Matthew 18:3.

In Zechariah 8 we get a foretaste of the Millennium, which itself is a foretaste of Jesus' eternal Kingdom (commonly referred to as heaven).

The Bible only hints at what heaven will be like.  Almost all our assumptions about heaven are gathered between the lines of scripture--probably because our imaginations are too feeble to comprehend more complete descriptions.  God's works, we are told, will be immeasurably more than all we imagine. (1)

But don't let that stop you from imagining like a child and reading between the lines like an adult.  Because when we do, we begin to get specific hints of heaven! 

Let's look at one brief line from Zechariah 8:
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. (v.5)

What can we gather? First of all, it seems obvious that in the Millennium, crime will be eradicated, allowing children to play without fear.  But don't stop there.  Think of what life, in general, will be like without any crime.  We are hardly capable of comprehending all the consequences.

What else is missing from Zechariah 8:5?  Here's a hint: If my children were to play in the streets, it would mean that there were no cars out there any more.  Now go ahead and begin to spin the consequences of that!
***

My favorite thing, when I was a kid on Gooding Street, was playing marbles.  (Since then, alas, I've lost them all!)

But I've got a feeling there's a big bag of them, just waiting, on better streets beyond.

*******************
(1) see Ephesians 3:20

Sunday, August 22, 2010

he's the 'spark' in sparkle


The Word for today:
Zechariah 7

mark this: Zechariah 6:12-13
Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne.

The Bible is an amazing,extraordinary, unique, one-of-a-kind book. Want to know why? Jesus, that's why! (I'll bet you already knew.)

Jesus is an amazing, extraordinary, unique, one-of-a-kind person. He invented all the things that you find fascinating, which makes him more fascinating than fascination itself.

He made puppies' ears too big so we would smile. He made women with beauty so indelible that we find it an effort to exhale. He made water and he made light and joined them to form sparkle on the pond.

The real hard thing, the master stroke, isn't in making sparkle, but in thinking up the concept of sparkle in the first place. Before sparkle was sparkle it was a thought in Jesus' mind. He has a vivid imagination.

God goes out of his way to teach us that with Jesus, what we thought impossible becomes possible after all. The careful Bible student, reading Zechariah 6:12-13, will be a bit perplexed to find that a priest is sitting on the royal throne. That's not possible, according to "the law and the prophets."

The law tells us that the priest must be from the tribe of Levi. The prophets tell us that the king must be from the tribe of Judah.  So how can someone be priest and king at the same time? That's impossible!

No, that' Jesus! As king, he is from the tribe of Judah. As priest, he is from the order of Melchizedek, who predates the nation Israel.  (You can read all about it in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and Hebrews 5-7.)

The Bible tells us that man is man and God is God. Between them is a great moral divide. How to reconcile the difference? Impossible, except for Jesus:
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus.  (1 Timothy 2:5)

Who can be Lamb and Lion? Who can be God and Man? Who can be King and servant? Who can be the the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End? (1)  Who can be a priest on his throne?  That's impossible!
 
No, that's Jesus! He's the 'spark' in sparkle.

******************
(1) Revelation 22:13

Saturday, August 21, 2010

special effects


The Word for today:
Zechariah 5, 6

The book of Zechariah is wild.  Wild, I tell you.

But even those who haven't read it before will find it vaguely familiar.

That's because so many of us have been exposed (even over-exposed) to the book of Revelation, which seems to have borrowed Zechariah's atmospherics.

The highly symbolic and figurative language of these two books lends them a cinematic quality that appeals to our graphics-driven era.  I mean, these books cry out to be brought to the local magaplex.  I mean, IMAX at least.

All well and good, as long as we can see through and past the special effects to heart of the matter.

Zechariah, Revelation, Ezekiel, Jesus' Olivet Discourse (1) and, to some extent, the book of Daniel are known as apocalyptic literature.  The term is taken from the opening words of the book of Revelation:
The revelation of Jesus Christ...

The word revelation is, in the Greek original, apok├ílypsis.  It means a lifting of the veil--a revealing of what had been hidden.  Because the word is taken from the opening words of the Bible's final book, it has also come to be associated with--but not confined to--the end times.

As long as we remember that Revelation isn't about the beast; that Ezekiel chapter 1 isn't about wheels and wings and lions and lamps; that Zechariah isn't about flying scrolls and women in baskets (!);

as long as we remember that these are mere brush strokes in the emerging portrait of Jesus Christ;

and as long as we remember that, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the Bible's one and only purpose is the revelation of Jesus Christ, then we won't, as Bible students, be Left Behind.

****************
(1) see Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21

Friday, August 20, 2010

The High Priest, the Branch, & the Wardrobe


The Word for today: Zechariah 3 & 4
Mark this: Zechariah 3:1-10

Finally a vision that I can understand!
So far, we've had all kinds of visions that may not be too familiar to most modern people: myrtle trees, measuring rods & multicolored horses. Up next, it gets even better: olive trees and lampstands , flying scrolls and chariots, and my personal favorite- some lady hanging out inside a basket.

But now with the vision found in the first part of chapter 3, we are given one that is much more familiar to us in the 21st century- a legal proceeding! (Remember, between Matlock & Columbo reruns, between Judge Judy & her dozens of knockoffs, Law & Order and its dozens of spin offs, and every other real or fictitious legal-based show, we've got the whole court thing down!)

In this vision we have some familiar courtroom roles, but even more, we see ourselves.

the DEFENDANT- Joshua, the High Priest of Israel
An historical figure, yet representative of the priest, Israel and ultimately you & I.
We too will have to stand before the King of Kings and we sure as anything better have the right Mediator or else! (see 1 Timothy 2:5)

the PROSECUTOR- Satan
The best in the business for accusation, far more successful than the famed Dewey, Cheatum & Howe. The Adversary continues to wage war on the saints through any means necessary. (1)

the JUDGE- the Angel of the LORD

the DEFENSE- the LORD

the ACCUSATION- unworthy & unclean!
As much as I hate to admit it, Satan has got us here. Because of our sin, we are unworthy and unclean before God. There is no doubting that- and even in the vision, the Lord never denies any of the accusations from our adversary. We are all saved like "a burning stick snatched from the fire." (2)

the EVIDENCE- Joshua's filthy clothes
Again, there is no denying the horrible state of Joshua's robes. The word translated as filthy here is also used in the Old Testament for all sorts of unpleasant things such as vomit (3) and excrement (4).

Let's be honest with ourselves too. Let's agree with the Scripture and recognize that there really are "none who are righteous," that all of us indeed "fall short of God's glory" (5) and that our hearts are "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. (6)"

the VERDICT-
So far, it's not looking so good for us. Considering the holiness of God, the accusations of the adversary, and the filthy conditions of ourselves, it looks to be an easy decision. "GUILTY on all charges!"

But wait, I forgot to factor in one thing. But Zechariah didn't. Look to the end of this vision to see the only way out. Look at God's promises to:

1. Bring My Servant, the Branch. (v. 8)
Jesus is that Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) and that Righteous Branch from the line of David. (Jeremiah 25:25)

2. Remove the sin of this land in a single day. (v.9)
Only by His death can our debt be paid and our sins forgiven. (John 19:30)

Because of Jesus Christ, I can be cleansed.
Because of Jesus Christ, all my robes of filth are exchanged for His righteousness.
Because of Jesus Christ, I can be declared "NOT GUILTY"

That's my story and I am sticking to it!

(1) see Job 1, Luke 22:31, 2 Corinthians 2:11 & 11:14, Revelation 12:9
(2) Zechariah 3:2
(3) Isaiah 28:8
(4) Isaiah 36:12
(5) Romans 3
(6) Jeremiah 17:9

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Of Apples & Eyeballs


The Word for today: Zechariah 1 & 2
Mark this: Zechariah 2:8
"for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye"

Did you have to take a foreign language class in high school?
Many of us who did so had to purchase a little translation book where we could look up a word in one language and then find the equivalent in another language. It worked okay for simple understanding and communication of basic words or ideas, but failed miserably when you wanted to convey more complex phrases and idioms. Thus, I could figure out how to say "hello" or the all important "bathroom" fairly easily, but a joke or catchphrase would be far more difficult. (Just try conveying the saying"it ain't over til the fat lady sings" in Japanese and see what happens.)

In today's passage, we are faced with such an expression that could be somewhat lost in translation. In these first two chapters, God is calling for the remnant of Israel to both repent, and be strengthened, and does so by sending a series of rather unique visions. (More on that in the days to come.)

In chapter two, he reassures them that they are precious to him and to convey that nearly all English versions of the Bible include the phrase "the apple of His eye." This does convey the meaning, but there is no such phrase in Hebrew. Certainly there are apples in the Old Testament. If you look up the phrase "apple of his/my eye" in the Old Testament in English, it shows up four times (1)

But the Hebrew language knows no such expression- its is from Old English. No the Hebrew literally says "the little man" in the eye.

Huh? What's that supposed to mean?
Think reflection. The pupil of your eye reflects a tiny image of what it is seeing. (You can try it out in a mirror if you like.) Now think about how close you have to be in order to make out that image in your eye.


God is close. Much closer than you think. Much closer than often acknowledged.
If we, his people, are called the apple of His eye, that means He is close enough to us where we become that "little man" or "little woman." Remember that you are literally precious in His sight because you are created in the very image of God (2). Furthermore, even when we as people collectively & purposely chose darkness over His light, when we became blind by sin (3), God send His son, the Perfect Image of the Unseen God (4) to redeem us from that blindness so now "we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory...(5)"

(1) Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8, Proverbs 7:2 & here in Zechariah 2:8
(2) Genesis 1:26-27
(3) 2 Corinthians 4:4
(4) Colossians 1:15
(5) 2 Corinthians 3:18

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Trouble with Sin





The Word for today: Haggai 2

We all say that we want the truth, but very often the truth is difficult to receive.

It's hard enough to tell someone that they have spinach stuck in their teeth, try telling people that they are sinners and that many of the things they do are sinful.


That is part of Haggai's task in today's passage.


God wants His people to better understand His holiness and the nature of sin. Therefore He does not mince his words- he wants Israel to know their true condition.

To do so, God gives two seemingly obscure illustrations involving things like meat and clothes and corpses. (It sounds like the beginning of a bad Arby's joke.)



Haggai is told to ask the priests some questions.

Why?

Because he was referring to the Law & sacrificial system, and they would have known the appropriate answers. He gives two separate examples:

Example A
Consecrated Meat (is HOLY)

Garment (becomes HOLY) see Lev. 6:27

Other Food (doesn't become HOLY)

Example B
Dead Body (is UNCLEAN)

Person (becomes UNCLEAN)

Other Foods (become UNCLEAN) see Num. 19:22

What is God getting at?

The point is that uncleanness is more contagious than holiness.

We have all heard the story of KING MIDAS: how he received the Golden Touch, and whatever he laid his hands on became pure gold. Well, we as sinful people also have a similar ability- the Filthy Touch: whatever good thing we find has a way of becoming unclean by our sin.

God’s indictment here is against not only the people’s sin, but also the fact that because of their sinfulness, everything they do is tainted

The standard drink, the liquid fuel that sustains our youth group meetings is a nasty Kool Aid knock off called Flavor Aid (see above for picture). Its cheap & colorful and loaded with sugar- what else does a junior higher need? But the packet itself hardly weighs anything registering at .15 oz. Yet that one packet added to a gallon of water (128 oz) makes the entire thing very red. Think of the difficulty of removing that redness and then remember the packet is just .192 % of the gallon.

That's how sin works. Scripture supports this idea:
“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." (Gal. 5:9)

Sin is a big deal, because not only does it offend a holy God, but also because it corrupts us to the core. God is making a point here to his people that not only have they sinned, but that they are sinners. They need to come to grips with their sin, they need a Savior who can make them clean. That same Savior is prophesied here in Haggai and then again in Zechariah.

Jesus Christ is what the hymn writer calls “the double cure.” He saves us not only from wrath, he also makes us pure. Only He can save us from both the power and consequences of our sin.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Things & Paneling


The Word for Today: Haggai 1
Mark this: Haggai 1:4

What does your basement look like?

The basement of my childhood could be described in one word: paneling.
My family had a ton of that cheap, quarter-inch thick stuff. It was not the most durable material, and did not do well under the stresses of wrestling and knee hockey. In fact, I remember a hole in wall created by a chair my father kicked in 1984 due to the frustration of watching the Buffalo Bills of that era. (Can't say I blame him. And considering this year, its a good thing that the TV is no longer in the basement.)

So as I read today's scripture I became mildly amused as it referenced paneled houses.
The Israelites of that day had severe paneling problems. While our "modern day" paneling from the 80's was the opposite of fine craftsmanship, the paneling we read about in Haggai's time was very much a status symbol. But, while their homes may have looked good, God was not at all impressed.

The reason was priorities. As we examine the powerful message in this little book- the issue we find is not that there is a scarcity of wood. The problem is that the wood is in the people’s homes, rather than in the Temple. Because of opposition, the work on the Temple of the Lord had been at a standstill for more than a decade (1). In the meantime, the people began to beautify their own homes, which by itself, is a noble thing to do. But what makes such renovation wrong was the fact that they no longer cared about the Temple and even made up false mantras to justify their misplaced priorities. I can just imagine them saying to each other "the time has not yet come...." over and over.

Guess what, from an earthly point of view, the timing is never right to do anything that focuses on the 'spiritual' or 'eternal' as opposed to the here and now. Church, prayer, Bible reading, small groups, service projects, missions trips, evangelism, study, meditation, fasting, tithing, loving God and loving others are NEVER convenient in modern life. We can always come up with 100 reasons to do something else if we want to.

Today, as in Haggai's time GOD is telling us to get over weak "timing" related excuses, and instead, get to work. So what do you say? How 'bout you and I, how 'bout we "go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house...." (2)

(1) Ezra 4:24
(2) Haggai 1:8

Monday, August 16, 2010

Have it your way.

The Word for today:
Psalm 106:34-48

mark this: Psalm 106:15
He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.


There are lots of valid reasons why parents say No.  Some of their reasons are the same reasons that Our Father Which Art in Heaven sometimes says No to our prayers.

And then there are No's to this that are Yes's to that.  For example, I would like to be more humble.  But if I get some of the things I've asked God for, I most certainly won't be getting humble anytime soon.  So God's No to one prayer is Yes to another prayer!

We get to the point, through parenting and experience, that we start to understand a few of the No's to our prayers.  But if we don't get to that point, God provides incidents in scripture which emphasize what great blessings his No's can be.

One such incident, which has come to be called "the gold cure," is found in Exodus 32.   After Israel worshipped a golden calf,  Moses made the idolaters drink the gold he'd ground to powder.

In Numbers 11, when Israel complained about the manna God gave them for food, God gave them their desire--quail-- for a month straight, until it became so loathsome that it came out at their noses.

But the Bible' most important instance of the "gold cure" occurred later on, when Judah would repeatedly lapse into idolatry.   Eventually, God as much as told them, "If it's idolatry you want, it's idolatry you'll get," as he sent them off to Babylon, the very epicenter of idolatry.  The cure worked; after an exile of 70 years, Israel would never again be characteristically idolatrous.

The exile to Babylon was an instance when God gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul (Psalms 106:15).

Which casts new light on the question:  "What part of No don't you understand?"

'No' doesn't deserve the negative reputation it's gotten!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

make it a good one, part 2


The Word for today:
Psalm 106:1-33

[Psalms 105 and 106 read like a journal of the relationship between God and Israel. Beginning with yesterday's article and concluding today, Stand in the Rain will develop the concept of the story you are writing with your life.]



Psalms 105 and 106 read like a journal of the relationship between God and Israel. There are many, many biblical passages which read the same way.

These passages tell us that the history of a relationship is important to God. Think, for a second, about what that might mean. What if God keeps not just collective journals--about his children--but individual journals about each child.

Well, there's no ifs about it. We find throughout scripture the mention of various books, their contents yet to be revealed, which chronicle our individual lives.

Right about here you're sensing that you're going to get a heavy dose of So Be Good for Goodness Sake:
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why...

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice...

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
But no, you won't be getting that here. We're assuming you're already making that attempt.

What we urge you to do is to live out not just a good list, but a good story, a love story for God to write in his journal.  Live out a good, great, grand, sensational, sizzling, scintillating love story for God to record in his book.

Love him madly, foolishly, recklessly.  Achieve--or at least attempt--wildly.  Fail greatly.  If you're going to break your leg, may you fall off a cliff and not a stepladder!  Of these are the good stories made.

And if the hero must die, may it not be of broken bones, but of a broken heart.  If the hero must die, may it be in the rescue of others, and not in self defense.  For of these was the Greatest Story made.

God's not writing lists in those books.  He's writing your story.  Go and make it a good one.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

make it a good one, part 1


The Word for today:
Psalm 105

[Psalms 105 and 106 read like a journal of the relationship between God and Israel.  Over the next couple days, Stand in the Rain will develop the concept of the story you are writing with your life.]

Shelley writes in her journal every day.

As she follows the "Stand in the Rain" reading schedule, she opens her journal whenever she opens her Bible.  She takes the journal to church on Sunday.  She'll take it on vacation next week.

I don't know exactly what she writes in there.  It's never occurred to me to look inside.  But I have an idea, knowing her, that in those pages a relationship is developing.  I'll bet you there's a love story unfolding.

Psalms 105 and 106 read like a journal of the relationship between God and Israel.  There are many, many biblical passages which read the same way.

These passages tell us that the history of a relationship is important to God.  Think, for a second, about what that might mean.  What if God keeps not just collective journals--about his children--but individual journals about each child.

Well, there's no if about it.  We find throughout scripture the mention of various books, their contents yet to be revealed, which chronicle our individual lives.

Right about here you're sensing that you're going to get a heavy dose of  So Be Good for Goodness Sake:
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why...

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice...

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
But no, you won't be getting that here.  We're assuming you're already making that attempt.

What we urge you to do is to live out a good story, a love story for God to write in his journal.  Live out a good, great, grand, sensational, sizzling, scintillating love story for God to record in his book.

I've got a feeling that's what's being recorded in Shelley's journal.  It must be, because I see her living out a love story for the ages.

Lucky guy, that Jesus.

Friday, August 13, 2010

devil's design


The Word for today:
Psalm 104

mark this:  Psalm 104:1-8, 33-35
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.
He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them.


I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!



We live in an upside down age.

People claim they don't believe in God because they can't see God.  That is upside down.  The truth is that people can't see God because they will not to believe him.  Unbelief is not a matter of the mind.  It is a matter of the will.  The will of the unbeliever suppresses the truth that he sees.

Psalm 104 speaks of the majestic order of God's creation, of the intricate interplay of the tides and times, of the choreography of forces and spheres.

But our schools and universities teach our children that this is the result of random chance and natural selection.

Right about here some Christians will tell us what idiots the unbelievers are.  But the Bible doesn't call them idiots. The Bible calls them evil.

Romans chapter 1 teaches us that nature serves as an introduction to God;  but that mankind suppresses the truths about God which nature teaches.

Unbelievers take part in a vast, methodically-planned and -executed campaign to aggressively and actively hold down the truth.  It is not a mere matter of misunderstanding what they are seeing.  It is far more perverse than that.  It is a matter of willfully hiding the truth under the rug.

Unbelievers deny intelligent design even as they engage in the suppression of truth masterminded by the Father of Lies, Satan.  Consider the irony here:  The suppression of intelligent design is by intelligent design.

Right about here some Christians will tell us to feel sorry for the person who does not believe.  That, like so many of our operating assumptions, is not dictated by scripture:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind.  (Romans 1:18-21, 28)

We are in enemy territory.  They seek your life, and the lives of your children.  This is a deep and twisted idolatry--a sacrifice of lives to the god of their chosen realm; with the institutions and bureaucracies and confederacies of the world arranged and arrayed as front men for the principalities and the powers of this present darkness.

Right about here, you might be tempted to call this writer a kook. You don't know me then, because I may be the most cold-bloodedly sane person that you have never met.

And you might think this sounds extreme. I know you might, because I certainly do!  This is not what they taught me at Anna Merritt, North Park, Washington Hunt, Emmet Belknap Junior High, Lockport Senior High School, William and Mary, Buffalo State, or Niagara University.  That these truths might strike us as radical testifies to the infiltration, by diabolical design, of the enemy into every crevice of our minds, and into every pew of our churches.

Satan, copycat that he is, has always fought holy fire with strange fire.  He fought the Word of God in Eden with an unauthorized version of those words.  He is now fighting the enlightenment provided by intelligent design with a benighted version of that design.

Which version are you reading?  Which version am I teaching?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

in search of the lost chord


The Word for today:
Psalm 103

I'm a writer.  But should I write a God-zillion psalms, I will never write anything as exquisite as this.  So we keep on writing.

I'm a Christian.  But from my gushing love for Christ will never spring praise so perfect as this.  So we keep on praising.

A chord was lost, so we keep on searching.  We heard it in a fragment of a dream, so we've sought it ever since.  It sounded forth the inexpressible: the absolute, the infinite, the divine.

I searched for a lifetime until I found it here, in the blood and poetry of Passovers long ago:

The sacrificial lamb lived in the household for four days. It was observed over that time, inspected. There could be no flaw, no spot or blemish. The kids, no doubt, considered it their pet--little Fluffy or Tuffy or Snowball. They were about to find out the cost of sin.

After four days their Father took the lamb, slit its throat, and the blood poured out into a basin on the floor at the door. Then a hyssop branch was taken and the blood was daubed on the door posts and on the lintel, above the doorway.

The points of blood if connected form perpendicular lines--a cross.

At the intersection of that cross, God met man in Jesus Christ: fully human, fully divine.

Spreading outward from the intersection was the offer of God's grace to all people; to every point of the compass, to the four winds.

Outward from the intersection, an infinite vertical proclaims his love:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

Outward from the intersection, an infinite horizontal proclaims his mercy:
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

In a life passed away, I heard it.  In the life which shall not pass away, I will sound it forth:

Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfies your mouth with good things; so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Bless the LORD, you his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
Bless you the LORD, all you his hosts; you ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

between them was a cross


The Word for today:
Psalm 102

Psalm 102 transports me.  It just carries me away.

The introductory ascription tells us that this is a prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before the Lord.

We know this man is Jesus because the Holy Spirit, the author of the Bible, identifies him in Hebrews 1:10-12.

What we overhear in the opening verses of Psalm 102 is no less than the voice of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It's the voice of a lone soldier, far away from home, readying himself for the battle to come.

But the tone and the setting change abruptly in the second half of Psalm 102.  No longer is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his cross just ahead.  Now resurrected, he looks back to that time, that place:
For he has looked down from the height of his sanctuary;
from heaven did the LORD behold the earth.  (verse 19)

Then suddenly, at a set time, he re-appears in his glory--because the time to favor her has arrived (verses 13, 16).

The time to favor her?  Who is she

***
I've got some Good News: she is we, and the arrangements have all been made:

  • Though it hasn't been revealed yet, the time has been set.  It's a date!
  • A new wedding garment (verse 26) has been purchased--at a place just a stone's throw from Gethsemane.
  • A new home is being readied:
  • In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  (John 14:2)
  • There's going to be a big reception:
  • If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3)
  • He'll be picking us up!
***
How can a Psalm that begins so sad and lonely end so happily?  Here's how:
For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:2)

Just like the Bible, Psalm 102 starts in a garden, then ends in a heaven.  And between them was a cross.

I am in absolute rapture over this Psalm.  It just carries me away!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

reading out loud


The Word for today:
Psalm 101

Let's bear down today for some advanced Bible study...

Today, we will consider the concept of voice in scripture.   Look at the first verse of Psalm 101.  Who is speaking?

That's easy, we say.  It's David.  The ascription says so:
A Psalm of David.

Alright.  Who is speaking here?--
I will behave wisely in a perfect way...I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (Psalm 101:2/NKJV)

Could that still be David?  David was an adulterer who conspired to have the husband of his paramour murdered.  So how can he say I will behave wisely in a perfect way.

Here's how:
1.  King David is a child of God, speaking for himself.  Just like you and me--two other rank sinners--he is predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ; to be transformed into that image from one degree of glory to another. (Roman 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

So David can honestly say that I will behave wisely in a perfect way--because some day he will!
Thus we hear the voice of King David in Psalm 101.

2.  David is a prophet, speaking for the LORD.
Spoken through the prophet David, these become the words of Jesus Christ, the eternal King.
Thus we hear the voice of King Jesus in Psalm 101.

3.  David, as a Bible author, speaks as both man and God at the same time.  (If you're spooked, you're not alone.)  Just as Jesus is both God and man, the Bible is both a God book--written by God; and a man book--written by man:
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:21)
The Word of God was not just on their tongues, it came from deeper within:
The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.  (2 Samuel 23:2/KJV)

***
The Bible is complete, so you and I will never speak with the third voice heard in Psalm 101. But we will speak with the other two voices which are heard there:
1.  We (obviously) will speak for ourselves as children of God. 

2.  As the body of Christ, we are Jesus' voice to the world.  In this urgently real and consequential sense, you and I are the Word of God.

You might have thought you were standing silently in the rain, when all along you've been reading out loud.

Monday, August 9, 2010

we don't get into the room unless Jesus goes first


The Word for today:
Psalm 99, 100

mark this: Psalm 100:4
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

Prayer is the working out of a relationship with God.  Is that phrasing too technical?  Then how about this:

Prayer is the practice of the presence of God.  Too alliterative?  Then how about this:

Prayer means you're in the room.

We enter that room through what Jesus did on the cross:
Therefore we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:19)

That's the reason we say "In Jesus' name I pray."   We should pray in Jesus' name.  We have to pray in Jesus' name.  But it is a serious misunderstanding when we tack Jesus on the end of our prayers as if we were pinning the tail on the donkey.

We should heed this advice from Psalm 100:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

The name Jesus is not a magical incantation; inherently, it has no power.  It is a shorthand acknowledgement and affirmation of all that he is.  He re-opened the lines of communication with God.  He took the curtain down. We enter through his ripped flesh,
by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.  (Hebrews 10:20)

I might startle some of you with this declaration:
Scripture indicates that God doesn't hear a syllable of prayer until he hears Jesus.  With one technical exception--God, have mercy on me, a sinner (1)--the phone stays on the hook until Jesus rings in the Father's ears.  That's why Jesus explicitly says that we should pray in His name:
  • John 14:13--"Ask in My Name..."
  • John 15:16--"...ask in My Name."
  • John 16:23-24--"...ask in My Name."
  • John 16:26--"...ask in My Name." 
Someone might think that I'm making a bigger deal over this than it deserves.  But I think that waiting until we exit to enter is asinine. 

Don't let Jesus' name be the tail on the donkey.  Thankfully speak his name as you enter into the presence of God in prayer.  Because we don't get into that room unless Jesus goes first.

*********************
(1) Luke 18:13

Sunday, August 8, 2010

all dogs go to heaven


The Word for today:
Psalm 97, 98

mark this:  Psalm 98:7-9
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the LORD.


I've had to bury a couple of my dogs.  Both times, I fashioned a little cross and wrote their names and their years.  And then I wrote "Romans 8:21"--because the cross of Jesus Christ will cover more ground than we might think.
 
We think of Jesus dying to redeem sinners.  But don't stop there, because Jesus also redeemed creation from the effects of our sins.

We call the degradation of nature ecological pollution.  The Bible calls it a curse, a direct result of mankind's sin:
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."  (Genesis 3:17)

Something that God described at the point of creation as very good (Genesis 1:31) has been badly disfigured at the hand of man:
The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.  (Isaiah 24:4-5)

But in Psalm 98, seas, rivers, and mountains express their joy!  That's because God's salvation doesn't just affect human beings:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  (Colossians 1:19-20)

Romans 8:21 promises that when rebellion against God finally ends,
the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

That's when we're going to hear clapping and singing from some surprising sources:
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the LORD.  (Psalms 98:7-9)

And that's when old Shep will come bounding into view.  His eyes won't be dim and his gait unsteady anymore.  Because all dogs go to heaven.  Two little crosses in our back field say so.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

be holy: make a fist, and fight


The Word for today:
Psalm 95, 96

mark this:  Psalm 95:7-9
Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength.
Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!


I inherited my suspicion of doctors and hospitals from my mother.  When she retired, she was head nurse at Lockport Memorial Hospital.  She knew the good, the bad, and the indifferent.  She inculcated our family with a healthy skepticism towards medical institutions.

I also inherited her high blood pressure.

I know that because she warned us to watch for it.  So when I worked as a teacher, every year I'd ask the school nurse to take a reading.  Later on, when I worked as a social worker, I'd go to the public health nurse and get my once-a-year blood pressure check.

Those yearly moments were the only "doctor's appointments" I made for nearly thirty years.  Over that time I watched my blood pressure slowly rise into the danger zone.

Shelley, who runs the universe whenever Jesus is on vacation, put her foot down the other day and told me that I'm going to the doctor and I'm going to take medicine if the doctor says so.

All of this talk of checkups got me wondering why we don't get a spiritual checkup every year like many of us get (or should get!) a medical checkup.

When was the last time you had a spiritual checkup?  What would such a checkup even look like?

There's a word in the Bible which is an overall measure of spiritual health.  The word is "holy."

It is the Bible's most all-encompassing description of God's nature.  God is not only holy, he is "Holy, holy, holy" (1)--which is exponential holiness, raised to the nth power. 

But God doesn't reserve the word for just himself.  Listen to this:  "Be holy, because I am holy."  (2)

What does that mean? 

First, here's what it does not mean:  the cartoon image of the man atop a mountain thinking deep thoughts is about as far from the biblical definition of holy as one can get.  Because the word holy is a call to action.  It implies that something or someone is set apart to serve.  The man on the mountain is just apart. He isn't serving.  And he wasn't even set there.  God doesn't set anybody on a mountain to serve.

"Be holy, because I am holy" can sound intimidating, unattainable.  But God doesn't set the unattainable before us.  Here's the same command, expressed in terms we can grasp:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.  (3)

And here's a picture of the one we're trying to imitate:
Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (4)

Holiness, the all-encompassing word for the nature and character of God, is meant to be an all-encompassing word for us as well.  It's meant to be an indicator of our overall spiritual condition. 

What spiritual shape are you in to run the race, to join the battle set before you?  That is how holy you are.

Let's go back to the man on the mountain.  He probably prays.  (What else is there to do up there all day?)  He probably is strong in scripture study, at least in an academic sense.  But he's not in the race.  He's not using the gifts God gave to serve and strengthen others.  He might love God up there, but he isn't loving his neighbor as himself.  (Primarily due to the fact that he has no neighbors!)

He is in poor spiritual shape.  He's nowhere close to holy.
***

Every now and than, I urge the Bible classes I teach to utilize a device--a handy holiness barometer--which can help us make an effective spiritual checkup.  This device, if you were to hold up your hand, is right in front of your face!

So open your best hand, palm up: 
  • If you are in a whole-Bible study program (like Stand in the Rain) then curl your index finger toward your open palm.
  • If you take time each day to pray, curl your next finger toward your palm.
  • If you serve other people, using the gift God gave you (teaching, compassion, music, administration, helpfulness, you name it...) then curl your third finger inward.
  • If you give to the local church your cold hard ca$h--to some sacrificial degree--then curl your little finger inward.
  • And if you love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and your neighbor as yourself (5); then bring your thumb down over your clenched fingers.  (Notice that this one covers all the others, just as Jesus said it does.)
If you can clench each finger and cover them with your thumb, you are in good spiritual shape.  Now you are ready to fight, to race, to endure, to win. 

Holiness is about the daily disciplines of spiritual training.  It is more about dirt, sweat, and deprivation than it is about thinking fond thoughts in the rarefied air.

Holiness is about joining the battle, and fighting to win.  Even when--especially when--the victory is achieved at great cost.

So go, be holy:  make a fist, and fight.

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(1) Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8; (2) Leviticus 11:45; 1 Peter 1:16; (3) Ephesians 5:1 (4) Hebrews 12:1-2; (5) Matthew 22:36-40

Friday, August 6, 2010

If not for you ____________________.


The Word for today:
Psalm 94


I'm going to propose a prayer assignment.  The assignment will not be handed in or graded, and there's no definite due date.  It's completely voluntary.  But I hope you take some time and pray this prayer:

If not for you____________________________________________.

If not for you____________________________________________.

If not for you____________________________________________.

The blank parts are where you fill in some particulars.  And please, don't get all pious and prettified when you pray this prayer. 

Here, I'll go first.  Often, sitting in church on a Sunday morning, at precisely 11:45 I'll think this prayer:

If not for you I'd be sitting in Mr. Ed's right now and by 2:00 I'd be drunk.

Enter the unadorned world of my prayers.  They tend not to be real flowery, as you can see.  I used to run on Sunday mornings--every Sunday morning at 11:00.  Then, at about 11:45, I'd go into a bar called Mr. Ed's with my running friends and get drunk.  I've now been going to church every Sunday for 10 years, and it will take me ten more years before the number of Sundays in the church pew equals the number of Sundays on the bar stool. There are other parts of that prayer I'll not delve into right now.  Suffice it to say that God has heard me fill in a longer blank about those Sundays than the one I filled in above.

Now if you want to get more properly prayer-like (in the eyes of man, that is) here's an example of a prayer I've been praying lately.  I pray this prayer because I'm 57 now and I'm looking back at my Dad's life when he was 57.  (I was 17 at the time and just starting to see through things).  Comparing and contrasting my life with his at the very same age, I see the tangible qualitative difference that a moment-by-moment relationship with Jesus Christ has caused.  So here's the prayer I find myself praying:

If not for you I'd be living a life of quiet desperation.

***

I'm going to quote some Psalm 94 to help get you started, and then I'm going to slip out the back of your monitor so you can begin our prayer assignment concert.

Here's some if-not-for-you's from Psalm 94:

If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.

When I thought, "My foot slips," your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. (v. 17-19)


Now it's your turn.  Go ahead, tell him the difference he's made.  And when you do, don't pretty up your past too much.  God might start to wonder just who it is that he's hearing from.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"To infinity and beyond!"


The Word for today:
Psalm 92, 93

mark this: Psalm 93:2
Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.


What is time?

Time is too big a concept for us to get hold of.  The only way for me to begin to understand something that big is to shrink it.

The only way to shrink time is to contrast it to something bigger.  The only thing bigger is God.

God is bigger than time.  He is not constrained by time.  He created time and he exists outside of time.  Because he contains time, he knows the future and is able to reveal it in prophecy.

God utilizes time.  It's like a chemical catalyst which brings on a desired effect.  This is not hard to understand when we think of time's effects on our own actions.  When a deadline looms, we get things in gear.  If this blog did not have to be on your monitor tomorrow, I would not be writing it today.

Jesus told us to shrink time into manageable pieces:  "Take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own." (1)

So lately I've made an uneasy peace with time.  I now count it as just one of the things--just one out of all things--that God utilizes to work out his good intentions for us (2).  Seeing it that way, I've come to conclude that time is on my side.

Time has even stretched my mind.  I could never understand how God could exist eternally into the past, until I started to think that past and future to God are the same as left and right are to us:  if he can live eternally into the future, then why not eternally into the past?  I mean, if he can go right he can go left!  If he can go up he can go down.  From his perspective, there is no difference.

Time has helped me understand space.  God contains--encompasses--time, so why not space as well? Which means that Jesus is bigger than space!  The Bible says so:
 Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 23:24)
Christ...who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)
In him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:17)

And since the universe is expanding, he's getting ever bigger!

Ever bigger.  That's a phrase where time and space and Jesus coincide.  Because Jesus is--in size, in grace, in love, in power--as Buzz Lightyear says, "To infinity and beyond!"

Time and space can be hard to understand.  The only way to understand them is to shrink them.  The only way to shrink them is to put them next to Jesus.  Relative to Jesus, they're not big at all.

You don't have to be Einstein to understand relativity.  A true comprehension of time, space, and relativity will revolve, as all things do, around Jesus.

*********************
(1) Matthew 6:34; (2) Romans 8:28