Saturday, December 31, 2011

the caption of the cross -- part 2

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

mark this: 2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Some people (I know, because I'm one of them) carry with us, in our hearts and heads, only half of the cross. Our cross, then, looks like this:

Now, mind you, half a cross is better than none! It forms a big minus sign, which reminds us that our sins have been totally and forever paid for, forgiven, wiped out, and forgotten by God. So I love my half a cross!

The first part of 2 Corinthians 5:21 shows us exactly how God subtracted our sins:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us

(This does not say that God made Jesus to be a "sinner." He became sin as our substitute and sacrifice.)

But the subtraction of our sins leaves us morally neutral--nothing bad, but nothing good either. And a moral vacuum -- a "swept and empty house" -- would invite all kinds of trouble:
"When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first." (Matthew 12:43-45)

That's why Jesus also added something to us at the cross. He added a vertical dimension that lifts us out of moral neutrality all the way to the infinite righteousness of God. That's what the second part of 2 Corinthians 5:21 shows us:

so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Right there at the cross, before the bad had a chance to jump back into our swept and emptied souls, God filled us with a right-ness that is like his because it is his.

And that's why 2 Corinthians 5:21 forms the Bible's best caption for the cross:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It shows us that, when understood in its entirety, the cross is a big plus sign:

He not only subtracted our sins but added to us His righteousness! This is the very crux of our faith; but it is, sad to say, the most overlooked concept in Christendom. So let's not overlook it any longer.

Let's not go through another year with only half of the cross.


Friday, December 30, 2011

the caption of the cross

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 4.7-5.10

mark this: 2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

You might be surprised to know that I own very few Christian books that aren't a Bible. I have never read, outside of the gospels, any biography of Jesus. I have never read a single work of Christian fiction. I haven't read a single how-to-be-a-better-Christian book. (I know, wise guy, you can tell!)

I own one Bible commentary, by (of course) the late, great J. Vernon McGee. And about a million years ago, some well-meaning person gave me "The Late, Great Planet Earth," which I read all the way through because the girl (we were young then) who gave it to me was cute and I thought reading it would advance my unsanctified cause.

That's about it for Christian books that aren't a Bible. But in the category of Christian books that are a Bible, I overdid it! In my little kitchen/office where I live and move and have my being, I can count 48 of them. And there are a few more upstairs.

Among them are the various translations--the KJV (of course), the ESV (highly recommended!), the NKJV (for when I'm not feeling Elizabethan), the NIV (better than its rep), the American Standard of 1901 (worse than its rep), the NLT (the old Living Bible, without the funk), the Living Bible (funk intact), the RSV (from whence came the ESV), the HCSB (for my inner Baptist), the NASB of 1977 (solid) and the updated (why?) NASB of 1995.

I have the Scofield Reference Bibles of 1909, 1917, and 1967. I have a Thompson Chain Reference Bible (reserve yours now for next Christmas!), the MacArthur Study Bible, and a now out-of-print Starting Point Study Bible, with a glossary to die for.

You start to see the magnitude of my "problem." But when you get three per year (on my birthday, Jesus' birthday, and fathers' day) things tend to get unmanageable after just the first decade…

So I'm often asked, by those who have managed to squeeze into this shrinking space, which one is my favorite. Or I've been asked essentially the same question in more colorful ways: "Which would you grab if the house were afire?" or "If you were exiled to the Isle of Patmos for the duration, which would you stow away?" Without hesitating long enough to blink, I invariably reply, "The 1917 Scofield." When it comes to the last dance, I will only have eyes for her.


I've also been asked questions which boil things down even further. A few times--because I lean so heavily, in my teaching, on Old Testament pictures of New Testament concepts--I have been asked which of the Testaments is most important. Stubbornly (because I do not recognize any but a man-made distinction between them) I won't give an answer!

Many, many times I have been asked which Bible "book" I consider to be most important. After hemming and hawing about Genesis, Psalms, and Romans, I usually opine "Matthew."

Every now and then, I am asked (usually for the pure speculative fun of it) which is the one essential verse of the Bible.

As a Bible student, I wouldn't know where to begin with a question like that. But as a Bible teacher, I can tell you that here, in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, we have reached the most instructive verse in the Bible:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Pastor Joe and I, lo these 1000 blog articles later, have often commented that 2 Corinthians 5:21 seems to serve, more than any other verse we're aware of, to crystallize so many of the crucial concepts of scripture.

But, you might say, that's just Joe and me--a Youth Pastor and a rank amateur--talking hermeneutical, pedagogical trash. So we found a real expert (you know, somebody who lives more than 500 miles away!) who says the same thing about this verse--waxing more rhapsodical than we do, with superlatives more outlandish than ours:

2 Corinthians 5:21 is not the puzzle of the New Testament, but the ultimate solution of all puzzles; it is not an irrational quantity that has to be eliminated or explained away, but the key-stone of the whole system of apostolic thought. It is not a blank obscurity in revelation, a spot of impenetrable blackness; it is the focus in which the reconciling love of God burns with the purest and intensest flame; it is the fountain light of all day; the master light of all seeing, in the Christian revelation.

Whew! That's the opinion of James Denney, who wrote a classic, enduring commentary on 2 Corinthians (1).

Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at this indispensable verse.

(1) James Denney, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1903.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

the triple-braided cord

The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6

mark this: 2 Corinthians 3:18
We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

If you want to know what love looks like, the inter-relationships of the Trinity is (are? our grammar fails us) love's truest and most beautiful picture.

If you want to know what salvation looks like, the inter-workings of the Trinity are (is? our grammar fails us) salvation's truest and most beautiful picture.

Love will never fail, nor will your ongoing salvation, because the relationships and works of the Trinity will not unravel:
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

2 Corinthians shows us that our salvation is in the past, present and future:
God, who raises the dead, delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10/KJV)

Our salvation was planned by the Father, purchased by the Son, and progresses (at this moment) under the direction of the Holy Spirit:
We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This progression is clearly depicted in the Old Testament. When God heard the helpless cries of the people in bondage, compassion stirred his heart, which moved his hand to save them. (Exodus 3:7-8)

He directed that the blood of a lamb be placed on the doorframes. When he saw the blood, the death angel passed over. (Exodus 12:3-7, 13)

Having saved them from sin, he led them, by a pillar of cloud and fire, all the way through the wilderness to the Promised Land. (Exodus 13:21)

The Trinity has conspired to save you! Salvation did not stop at the door in Egypt or at the cross on Calvary Hill.

You may be in the wilderness now, but just hold on to the triple-braided cord and He will pull you through.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

more to come…

The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17

mark this: 2 Corinthians 1:21-22/ New Living Translation
It is God who gives us, along with you, the ability to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment of everything he will give us. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22/ New Living Translation)

We over-mystify the Holy Spirit. It's easy to see how that can happen:

1. In the King James Version, which is far and away the most influential English translation, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost. Boo!
2. The Holy Spirit shines his light on Jesus, and not on himself. So the Spirit stays relatively mysterious because we just aren’t told that much about him.

Therefore, misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit often arise. Some people have claimed that we don't have the Spirit unless we audibly practice certain spiritual gifts.

At best, that teaching left the rest of us confused. It left many of us bitterly divided from other believers. But worst of all, it left us feeling left out.

Stand in the Rain is not going to revive those civil wars. But we are going to leave the left-out feeling included again…

There is no one visible or audible affirmation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is, after all, a spirit! That's what this verse is saying:
We live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Our relationship to the Tri-une God is, from front to finish, by faith. Our forgiveness through Christ is not visibly discernible! It is revealed from faith to faith (Romans 1:17). That means it becomes real when we first believe, then more and more real as we more and more believe.

Our empowerment by the Spirit is on the same basis. We received a down payment --a promise of His Spirit--when we first trusted Jesus:
"And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

This promise then becomes more and more real to us as we more and more trust the Promis-er. That's what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 1:21, such a remarkable passage that it bears repeating:

It is God who gives us, along with you, the ability to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment of everything he will give us.
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22/ New Living Translation)

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22/New International Version)

First, we note that the Spirit is placed in our hearts, not on the tips of our tongues!

Next, we note that what we have of the Holy Spirit is a promise--a deposit, an installment, a pledge--of more to come!

The Bible does not teach that if your ears hear your tongue speak unknown words, it is a sure sign of the Spirit.

The Bible does teach that a sure sign of the Spirit is when your heart can make sense of God's Word:

"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:25-26)

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)

If the Bible and its centerpiece--the cross of Jesus Christ--make sense to you (1), it is because the Holy Spirit has invaded your heart and is gathering intelligence!

(1) see 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I never promised you a rose garden (part 2)

The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 1:12-22

The theme verse of 2 Corinthians, it seems to us, is 2 Corinthians 12:10b:
For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Now let's return this jewel to its setting:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Yesterday, we briefly defined "the prosperity gospel." Its proponents teach that the Bible promises health and wealth to faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

To which Stand in the Rain must respectfully reply,
I beg your pardon…

Yesterday's article could have been sub-titled "Chronicles of Catastrophe." In it, we listed verse after verse from 2 Corinthians which conveyed the events of the Apostle Paul's travels, trials, travails, and tribulation. Here is just a sampling of words and phrases from those verses:

Hard pressed, suffering, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, wasting away, without sleep or food, disgraced, insulted, punished, saddened, beaten, jailed, mobbed, overworked, cold, naked, hungry, thirsty;

In danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

You get the picture; it's painful to read such a list, let alone live it!

Those are the experiences of a paragon of the faith, the greatest missionary Christianity has seen this side of Jesus Christ.

Note that health, wealth, and prosperity didn't find their way into the mix.


Paul was getting rich, but his Financial Advisor encouraged him to pursue an other-worldly investment strategy:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

He was succeeding beyond his wildest dreams (1), but not in ways that could be seen by the naked, natural eye.

His financial advisor was also a prophet, the greatest the world has ever known. Here's what he'd foretold concerning his followers' futures:
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Which Paul, looking back over his life, confirmed in the last letter he would ever write:
All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)


Those who seek to follow Jesus Christ must never measure success in the ways that the rest of the world does. Our promises are spiritual blessings:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

These blessings often look quite different--even the opposite of--material, worldly success. So says James:
Consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. (James 1:2-3)

And so says Peter, who reiterates what Jesus said about the riches we are depositing in heaven:
Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God's power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time. Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

The Word of God, through the mouths of Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul, tells us to expect trouble as we follow Jesus through a "garden" that more closely resembles Gethsemane than Eden.

But rest assured, as you face the troubles that our Savior and the saints of old have faced, that the interest on your heavenly investments is compounding! --
The first came before him, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.' And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.' (Luke 19:16-17)

The reason we face these trials is not to test our faith, but to prove it. The race we run proves we are champions:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

The battles we fight prove we are conquerors:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

To hear the man on the TV tell it, it sounds like "health, wealth, prosperity." To hear the men in the Bible tell it, it sounds like "run, fight, glory."

Somebody isn't telling the complete truth. But I have a feeling that the prosperity gospel is making somebody rich, if you know what I mean.

(1) see Ephesians 3:20

Monday, December 26, 2011

I never promised you a rose garden (part 1)

The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 1:1-11

You may have heard of "the prosperity gospel." The prosperity gospel promises "success" to those who follow Jesus Christ.

Also referred to as the Health and Wealth gospel, its proponents claim that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians. Their doctrine emphasizes that sickness and poverty are curses broken by faith in the atonement achieved by Jesus Christ.

The true gospel promises success, too.
But let's find out what "success" sounds like in 2 Corinthians:

For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
(2 Corinthians 1:5)

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

Instead, in everything we do we show that we are God's servants by patiently enduring troubles, hardships, and difficulties. We have been beaten, jailed, and mobbed; we have been overworked and have gone without sleep or food. By our purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness we have shown ourselves to be God's servants—by the Holy Spirit, by our true love, by our message of truth, and by the power of God. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. We are honored and disgraced; we are insulted and praised. We are treated as liars, yet we speak the truth; as unknown, yet we are known by all; as though we were dead, but, as you see, we live on. Although punished, we are not killed; although saddened, we are always glad; we seem poor, but we make many people rich; we seem to have nothing, yet we really possess everything. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 11:26-27)

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)


Those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ are bound for eternal glory. But between here and there, we are never promised a rose garden.

Tomorrow, we'll follow Jesus through a "garden" we're sure to encounter.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas & the Cross (Part 3)

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Psalm 41

Mark this: Psalm 41:9
"Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me."

Merry Christmas!
Most folks would wonder what in world we were doing in the middle of Psalms on Christmas morning. Most believers would recommend that we fast forward to Matthew or Luke. But not those who are Standing in the Rain! From the very beginning, it has been our main goal to demonstrate that God's Word is indeed God's Word. From Genesis straight through Revelation, Jesus Christ is literally on every page, so Psalm 41 is a perfectly fitting and acceptable passage for Christmas, Easter, Arbor Day, Columbus Day etc.

So without further ado, we conclude our Christmas and the Cross mini series (you can check out the first two yourself if you've missed the last few days.)


So King David is at it again, pouring out his heart and soul, sharing his needs and weaknesses, giving praise and glory to God, and out of all this we once again get another picture of our Messiah. In this Psalm, David is really hurting. He's been through so much already: trouble, sickness, enemies, and rumors; but what really cuts him deep is betrayal. Ouch, that really smarts! All of you who have been betrayed know that first hand. It's one thing when an enemy or the circumstances of life seem to conspire against you, its a whole new level when you are blindsided by someone you care about.

During his life, and especially his later years, David had to deal with employers (Saul), counselors (Ahithophel), friends (Joab) and family (Absalom, Adonijah) backstabbing him. Yet, from one conspiracy to the next, David's life and throne were preserved. In even his darkest moments, there was always a way out for him. Our Savior was not as fortunate.

He suffered one betrayal to the next. In his early childhood, a tyrannical king named Herod sought to kill Him after he feigned worship to the Magi (1). His ministry was one of misunderstanding and rejection. His family, his hometown, the religious leaders, the political leaders, the crowds, and even his own disciples betrayed Him in one way or another. Today's passage foreshadows the role of Judas.  Jesus Himself tied in this Psalm in the last supper portion of the Gospel of John:

...But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me....’ Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.... It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon (2).

Yet somehow, that was the plan from the beginning (3).

Perhaps the best word to describe mankind's basic response to God is betrayal. From the beginning we were loved and created in His image. Yet from that first betrayal in the Garden of Eden, through the rest of the Old Testament, it seems to be one rejection of God to another. Rejecting God's authority, His Law, His Covenants, His Kingship over Israel, His leading, his Messengers, and ultimately His Word. In the New Testament, humanity tops even all of that by rejecting the very Son of God.

This Christmas, don't fool yourself into thinking that just because you somehow acknowledge the wonder of the birth of Christ, that you're somehow immune to this basic human condition.
Instead, we need to understand that our betrayal separated us from God, our rejection of God caused God to send His One and Only Son, that we were co-conspirators with Judas himself, because our sins are what ultimately led to His rejection and crucifixion. Its only from this place of our own treachery and hostility towards God, that we can begin to understand the amazing message of Christmas and, consequently, the Cross.

(1) Matthew 2:1-12
(2) John 13:
(3) see Isaiah 53, to start

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas & the Cross (Part 2)

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Psalm 40:11-17

Mark this: Psalm 40:12
" heart fails within me."

Yesterday we began a three day tour, attempting to link Christmas & the Cross; events that are a mere 33 years apart in time, but eons apart in most people's minds. Our guide is none other than King David, the author of these two Psalms, who has already shown us that there was One to be born, who could actually come and carry out the will and covenant of God perfectly.
So here is day two of your helpings. Enjoy, and have a wonderful Christmas Eve.

Yesterday this Psalm made the point of how David certainly knew his share of deliverance from the Lord. Today, the focus seems to be a bit more on the troubles he faced: overtaken by his own sin, surrounded and taunted by his enemies, poor and needy. David certainly faced all kinds of pain and anguish, some caused by others (i.e. King Saul or Joab), some caused by his own sin (the Bathsheba incident or an ungodly census). But like yesterday, David's ordeals seem to be pointing to something or Someone beyond himself.

That's exactly where Christmas comes in. Remember our main thesis over these three days: there is no Christmas without the Cross! Yesterday we saw Jesus as the One and Only who could come to do the will of God. Now we see that doing the will of God was much more costly than anyone could ever have imagined.

In today's reading, David says: "my heart fails within me."
David's heart figuratively was broken under the weight and consequences of his own sin. But the Gospels tell us that Jesus Christ was literally crushed under the weight of yours & mine. He actually died of a broken heart.
What on earth do I mean?

Let me take you back to the cross, to John 19. Here we have a thorough account of Jesus's criminal sentencing, crucifixion, death and burial. Important medical details emerge in verses 31-34. Normally, the cause of death from Roman crucifixion was asphyxiation. The victim could no longer breathe properly and would die. (That is why the victim's legs were often broken, as they were with the two robbers, to speed up the agonizingly slow suffocation).

But with Jesus, this was not the case. Listen to this outstanding insight given by a medical doctor:
"Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, "And immediately there came out blood and water." Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interior of the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium (1)."

David knew much about heartbreak, but he could not possibly have known the full ramifications for the Messiah to come. Yet a full millennium before Christmas, here it is. So as we celebrate the Child that is born, don't forget the Son who was given. Remember that His heart was literally rent for us. That was the price when "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2)."

(1) The Crucifixion Of Jesus: A medical explanation of what Jesus endured on the day He died
By Dr. C. Truman Davis ; March 1965, Arizona Medical Association.
(2) 2 Corinthians 5:21

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas & the Cross (Part 1)

by Pastor Joe

The Word for Today: Psalm 40:1-10

Mark this: Psalm 40:7 -- Then I said, "Here I am, I have come-- it is written about me in the scroll."

Thirty three years is not much, time wise. After all, 1978 was not so long ago. That's when the ill fated Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coins went into circulation. (These glorified quarters lasted a few sorry years.) It might have been a while since you last saw one, but it wouldn't take long at all to procure one (but that supposes you want one in the first place!)

For the next three days, we are attempting to link two historical events that are roughly 33 years apart. Christmas & the Cross. Unfortunately, for most people, including many Christians, these two events seem much further apart than that. In our modern world, Christmas has been divorced from the Cross. The Nativity has been rent asunder from Good Friday. In the eyes of most people, those events might have well have been 3,333 years apart.

Our modern culture can't get enough of its schmaltzy, watered down version of Christmas. It can't get far enough away from the cruel execution of Jesus on the Cross. That's why, if you want to make a movie about the cross (say The Passion of the Christ [2006]) you are met with hostility and hatred and false accusations from the beginning. But if you want to make a movie about Christmas, (say the Nativity Story [2006]) there are no such objections.

But we at Stand in the Rain ain't going out like that! In fact, its our contention that the Bible links those two days irrevocably. So just in time for all your Christmas festivities, here's a healthy dose of the cross:


King David wrote Psalm 40, so it's no surprise that his distant offspring would be mentioned here. Jesus has this fascinating habit of popping up in least expected places in the First of our two Testaments. How--dare we say--messianic of Him.

In this Psalm, David certainly has noble motives and communicates wonderful truths. What a testimony of deliverance and restoration, of worship and recounting of God's faithfulness. David even seems to understand the proper place of ceremonial sacrifices and offerings (something that nearly all the world gets wrong.) But when we come to verse 7, we see where David ends and where Christ enters in. You see, David could not ultimately and perfectly carry out God's will. Nor could any of us. As hard as we try, as much as we might desire, our best is never good enough.

But in Christmas we have hope, because One is born who actually could.
From His first breath in that musty stable, to that time when He was twelve and supposedly lost in His Father's house--"I must be about My Father’s business(1)"--to His very first sermon in which He declared boldly, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (2),” and ultimately, to the cross, He alone has come and done the whole will of God.

The author of Hebrews understood this, and this is why he connected Christ to Psalm 40.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.’”(3)

What is the result of one who actually could keep God's covenant flawlessly? Its exactly this: "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (4)."

"And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about (5)."  Thank God that it's all written in the scroll.

(1) Luke 2:49 (NJKV)
(2) Luke 4
(3) Hebrews 10:5-7
(4) Hebrews 10:14
(5) 1 Linus 22:27

Thursday, December 22, 2011

as dead as a door-nail

The Word for today:
Psalm 39

mark this: (Psalm 39:4)
Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.

Outside of Luke 2 and Mathew 2, there is no better Christmas story than "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

If you've never read it in the original, do yourself a favor in the next few days. Skip the Scrooge McDuck version and reach for the real thing. It doesn't take much longer to read the original than to watch any movie version of it. Some of the movies come pretty close to capturing the spirit of Christmas (the 1951 version comes this close) but Dickens' original nails it:
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail…

In the story, as you well know, Scrooge encounters the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He is forced to face his life and its consequences. Like my past and perhaps your own, it was not always a pretty picture.

The Bible, however, does not recommend that we dwell in the past:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)

No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us heavenward. (Philippians 3:13-14)

The Bible recommends that we live in the now…

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalms 118:24)

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

…while letting the ever-nearer future spur us on:
Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. (Psalm 39:4)


In the coming New Year, may we cultivate the habits of forgetting what's past, and letting the future shape the present.

Whoever we were died with Jesus Christ:
We know that the persons we used to be were nailed to the cross with Jesus. (Romans 6:6b)

So let the dead bury the dead while you follow Jesus into the future (1).

Ditch the ghosts of your past, and all the skeletons in your closet. They have no claim on you now (2).

Let the new creation realities shape your new year. Meet your future self in the Bible: he/she is described throughout the New Testament, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus:
For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. (Romans 6:5)

Introduce yourself to your future self. Then be that person right now.

(1) Matthew 8:22; (2) Romans 6:6b-7

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

a salvo of Merry Christmases!

The Word for today:
Psalm 38

Stand in the Rain very seldom departs from the script(ure), but we thought it appropriate to convey the most remarkable Merry Christmases that we have ever heard…

We must say, before we begin, that there are far more significant issues in the kingdom of God than the form our greetings take.  Frankly, we all have bigger fish to fry.

But make no mistake: greetings are a telling detail; while in and of themselves they don't amount to much, they accurately gauge the prevailing cultural winds.


I'm not quite sure what I just saw, but it may have been a turning of the tide. 

I'm no historian, so I don't know when our long retreat began.  But I know what I have seen  -- that since I reached the age of awareness, a dreary and incessant parade has passed before my eyes.

It was the sad and slow attrition of faith. By any measure, in any field--legislation, adjudication, education, you name it--the forces of faith have been in retreat across this land that we call home.

It has not been a willing retreat.  Certainly it has not been the hasty retreat that we saw in Europe, where Christianity raised the white flag long ago. 

But last night, I saw a reversal.  I don't know if it will last; I don't know if it's occurring anywhere else; I have no way to tell.  But what I can tell is this:

In a high school auditorium, in a small town -- Middleport, New York, USA -- three well-meaning teachers (the band, orchestra, and choir directors) carefully toed the p.c. line as they cheerily wished the audience "Happy Holidays" at the conclusion of their particular performances.

And each time they did -- what with my wondering ears did I hear? -- someone in that auditorium, in a voice loud and clear, wished them "Merry Christmas!" in return.

This wasn't just a solitary sniper against the emptiness that the other side has made of Christmas. 

It began that way--with just a single voice after the band director's greeting.  But after the orchestra director's greeting, two others contributed their proud Merry Christmases to the volley.

Then the real fun began.  By now they were waiting in ambush.  The choir director could barely get the inane p.c. niceties out of her mouth before they were met with a barrage of Merry Christmases.

That first, single shot had inspired a salvo.  The rout was on!


It all may have been an aberration.  The long retreat might resume today.  But if a person here, then there, then wherever you are, were to stand his ground, were to lift her voice, the p.c. crowd would tire, after a while, of the hassle. 

School administrators, I am sure, would still be required to constrain their faculty from the brazen lawlessness which reference to Jesus Christ has become in our schools. (A teacher profanely dropping the f-word in class will get a reprimand; a teacher respectfully dropping the JC-word will face a hearing.)  

But if we were to keep up the pressure, I'll bet that the directors of bands, orchestras, choirs, and school plays would find a way to avoid "Happy Holidays" by substituting a nondescript "Thanks for attending our performance" -- and leave it at that.

That, I admit, would not signal a major victory for the cause of Christ.  But it would be something -- a W to write on the ledger against all the L's recorded there.  And if we were to chalk up just a few more W's with it, we would put cultural Christlessness on the defensive, forced to think twice before stammering the empty phrases of their tedious creed.


So -- on behalf of a brave, unnamed man in the Royalton-Hartland High School auditorium who directed a chorus for Christ; and on behalf of that chorus, whose voices rose with his -- may I convey to you their very heartfelt Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

gonna find out who's naughty or nice

The Word for today:
Psalm 37:21-40

mark this: (Psalm 37:1)
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong.

While we're making our lists and checking them twice, we often peek over the fence to see what the Joneses have on their "lists."

And then we mentally tabulate life's winners and losers.  Because we all know that he who has the most toys…

That all makes sense when we're talking Santa Claus, but when we're thinking in terms of the Kingdom of God, our tabulations are often upside down.  Here, from the perspective of the King Himself, are the winners in the Kingdom of God:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:3-12)

It can be mentally and emotionally wrenching to think the thoughts of God.  But if ever we're going to discern his hand at work we must bear in mind these three principles: 

Axiom #1:  God is good.
Axiom #2:  God plays to win--no matter what it takes.
Axiom #3:  God spanks his own.  But he does not spank the devil's children.

#1 would be easy to see, if it weren't for #2!  God aims for the highest good (#1) for you and yours.  But because his eyes are on the ultimate outcome, he is not at all fussy about the means to those ends (#2).  He will impoverish, debilitate, shame, sadden, persecute, and disgrace us all the way into his eternal kingdom--if that's what it takes.  He broke Jacob's leg and broke Jesus' heart to get Jacob and you and me into his kingdom. 

He will squeeze the pride out of your soul--if that's what it takes to achieve his eternal purposes.  Thus, when seen from his perspective, this begins to make sense:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

He will visit your heart with sorrow--if that's what it takes to win in the ultimate end.  Thus, when seen from his perspective, this begins to make sense:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.


So I used to be bothered, as David is in Psalm 37, by Axiom #3--"God does not spank the devil's children:"
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. (Psalm 37:35/KJV)

But we're told to take the longer view -- God's view -- of the situation:
Don't worry about the wicked. Don't envy those who do wrong…
The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance.
But the Lord just laughs at the wicked, for he sees their day is coming.  (Psalms 37:1, 12-13)

"Checking the list" right now can be confusing, because it can look like the bad guys are winning.  But in the end, we are going to find out who's naughty and who's nice:

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.  (Psalm 37:35-38/KJV)


Monday, December 19, 2011

Fear not.

The Word for today:
Psalm 37:1-20

Today, and for the last couple of days, we've tried to put Christmas in a whole-Bible context. Certainly, we did not attempt to jam every verse of scripture into your stocking, but by taking a seemingly un-Christmasy Psalm (#35), some scenes from Zechariah and Job, a Christmas carol ("God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen") and -- today -- a passage from Revelation 12, we've tried to re-connect Luke 2 and Matthew 2 to the rest of the Bible, and paint the Star of Bethlehem against a wider sky.

Just ahead -- a few days before Christmas, and on the Day itself -- Pastor Joe will complete the series by placing Christmas in the context of the cross.


Certainly Christmas is a light show: the wise men followed the star; the glory of the Lord shone 'round about the shepherds. But it is painted against the darkest background:

"In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

In the Temple, on the eighth day of Jesus' life, the prophet Simeon solemnly declared the future:
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)

Indeed, darkness itself is very likely why Christmas eventually found its way to December 25th. While we can come very close to the year Jesus was born, no one knows the month (let alone the day). There is more evidence for April or September than December; but since we can't be sure, the days surrounding the winter solstice in late December -- the darkest days of the year -- are poetically true to the time of his birth, symbolically enhancing the arrival of the prophesied Star:

I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.
(Numbers 24:17)

In Revelation chapter 12, the arrival of the Star out of Jacob is seen through this darker prism:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God."


In Scripture -- The Story of Jesus Christ -- Christmas is when the Light of the World pierced the darkness, and the tide of battle turned. So rest ye merry, ladies and gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay:

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

"Fear not then," said the Angel,
"Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan's power and might."
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let nothing you dismay.

The Word for today:
Psalm 36

Over the next couple days, Stand in the Rain is going to re-connect the Christmas story to the rest of the Bible (and the rest of the year). We'll see how Psalm 35 and Revelation 12, when connected to "the Christmas Story" in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2, tell the Whole Story of Christmas…

I used to feel left out of certain Psalms. They seemed to be about situations that did not apply to me. So I read them as if I were behind a buffer zone, far removed from the battle.

Psalm 35 is an example:

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. (Psalms 35:1,4)

I used to skip right through a Psalm like that because it did not seem to relate to my life. No one is seeking my life or plotting my ruin, I thought.

But scripture and experience taught me to think again; the Bible and my own eyes made it clear to me that we are plotted against and pursued, whether we know it or not. Now I take Psalm 35 personally, because the battle has come to my backyard. It's even gotten to the point where I don't read Psalm 35 as much as I fervently pray it.


The Bible teaches us that our battles are not against flesh and blood, but against organized spiritual forces:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Psalm 35:15 depicts these unseen attacks:
Attackers gathered against me when I was unaware. They slandered me without ceasing. (Psalms 35:15)

These forces deploy the strategies of their commander, Satan, who is identified in Revelation 12:10 as the accuser of our brothers:
They devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land. (Psalms 35:20)

Job chapter 1 and Zechariah chapter 3 show us actual "courtroom scenes" where Satan appears before the LORD to accuse the people of God. In the scene from Zechariah, the Angel of the LORD, the pre-incarnate (pre-Christmas) Christ, rises up in defense of those whom he has redeemed.

This is the same "Angel" of the LORD who rises up, in Psalm 35, to defend David against those who hunt him down:
Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul, "I am your salvation."
May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away; 

may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.  (Psalms 35:1-6)

Certainly Christmas is a lightshow: the wise men followed the star; the glory of the Lord shone round about the shepherds. But when seen in the context of the entire Bible, Christmas is when the Light of the World pierced the darkness, and the tide of battle turned:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

We Three Kings of Orient Are--Not!

The Word for today:
Psalm 35

Look what they've done to my song, Ma
Look what they've done to my song.
Well they tied it up in a plastic bag
And turned it upside down, Ma
Look what they've done to my song.   --Melanie Safka

There's so much that's  just right about Christmas!  But there could be much more.

Please don't think I'm going to bewail glitzy commercialism and Santa Claus and tinsel and all that schlock.  That's what unbelievers make of their Xmas, so what more should we expect? 

(By the way, the gift-giving and -getting that we believers participate in with the unbelieving world is probably the one thing we have gotten perfectly right about the day when God, who so loved the world, gave us our greatest gift.)

What bothers me isn't what they've done, but what we've failed to do with the boundless possibilities which Christmas, when rightly told, presents.  First of all, the church (the historic church, over centuries of time) let the essential story -- the heralded fulfillment of Isaiah's Immanuel ("God with us") prophecy (1) -- be confined to a day in December as if it were a birthday party. 

We could have taught the entire gospel -- the saving plan of God -- with Christmas as a lustrous launching point.  We could have proclaimed the entirety of God's great Good News with this as the first sentence:

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."  (Luke 2:10)

But by and large we've managed to disconnect Christmas from the rest of the year and the rest of the Bible.  

I knew things had gone askew when I heard "We Three Kings of Orient Are" and it occurred to me that there weren't three, they weren't kings, and they weren't from the orient.

Other than that, it's a fine song!


Over the next couple days, Stand in the Rain is going to re-connect the Christmas story to the rest of the Bible (and the rest of the year).   We'll see how Psalm 35 (today's reading) and Revelation 12, when connected to "the Christmas Story" in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2, tell the Whole Story of Christmas.

We'll work "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" -- a Christmas carol that does tell the Whole Story -- into the mix.  So, until then, let nothing you dismay.

(1) see Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23

Friday, December 16, 2011

a Mary Christmas, and a Magnifi-cent New Year

The Word for today:
Psalm 34

Psalm 34 is a riveting song, and a rousing prayer.  (Yup, prayers can be rousing!)  It's full of promise and power and the personality of God.  It starts with these unforgettable lines:

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Magnify, in the case of the infinite God, is an illogical term.  We really can't make God bigger than he is.  We can't overstate, enhance, hype, or embellish him.

The only way for God to get "bigger" is for us to get closer to him.  Thus it follows that the one Bible character who knew him the best magnified him the most.  That, of course, would be Mom:

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.  (Luke 1:46-53) 
I'm in awe of those lines (known as the Magnificat) and of the young Mom who spoke them.  Every year at this time, I read and re-read her lines.  They've become my perennial New Year's Resolution.

The only way for God to get bigger is for us to get closer to him.  Resolve with me, then, to be at least one step closer to Jesus on this day next year:

Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Have a Mary Christmas, and a Magnifi-cent New Year.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

the hill where the LORD hides

The Word for today:
Psalm 33

mark this:  Psalm 32:7
You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.

When I was a kid, I had a special spot.  I'll bet you did, too.

When I went to my special spot, I went alone.  I never showed anyone, or even told anyone, about my spot.   To this day, no one else knows where it is. 

And to this day, I still go there.

I grew up there.  A couple times, I broke down there.  There's not an emotion I've ever felt that I haven't brought to my spot.  I brought triumph and disgrace, and longing and listlessness.

I've often spoken aloud to my spot, but for the most part I've listened to the silence "she" speaks.  I've seen the wind there, and I've heard the snow.

Everything seems enhanced there.  Night is darker, stars are brighter; the grass is greener than the sky is blue; and the blue is truer than true.

I can't say with any certainty, but I think that my spot was a kind of surrogate for God, whom I had not yet met when I first found her. "She" spoke and remembered and understood; she knew more than there was to know.  She was here before here was here.

And when I was with her, I was there;  I'd arrived.   She is where the sidewalk led.


I found my spot when I was 11 years old.  Twenty years after that, they buried my Dad not too far away.  Since then I have often walked, on a summer's afternoon, from my spot to his.

There, on his gravestone, is a verse from "Requiem," by Robert Louis Stevenson:

This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

Longing, for both David and I, wouldn't stay in place.  Our desires incarnated; David found his hiding place in God:
You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.

I found, in Jesus Christ, the existential imperative--the AM who I am not--that every moment of my experience demanded there must be.

So I can't help but wonder, whenever I stop at my Dad's grave, if his longing ever formed the face of God.  I hope so.

But it may be that all he found was a fragment of verse on the stone beneath the pine tree where the meadow meets the slope of the hill. 

May life hold more, in its store, for you and me and mine and yours: may your word become flesh, may your longing unveil her face; may we 'grave a better verse.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

higher math

The Word for today:
Psalm 32

Alright, grab your calculator, because we've got some figurin' to do.

We'll start right here in Psalm 32:
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.  (Psalm 32:2/NKJV)

Before we do the math, we have to know the vocabulary.  Iniquity means sin.  Impute could be translated as count, account, credit, accredit, reckon, or even compute!  Another version says it this way:
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him. (Psalms 32:2/NIV)

Notice that the scripture doesn't say the man has no sin.  The man has sin, but God doesn't count it!

Can God do that?  He sure can, because He didn't just pay for sin, he overpaid.  He offered infinite value to clear a finite debt.  No matter how many people receive his offer of forgiveness, the blood of Christ covers the cost--and then some.  There's more than enough collateral to cover any contingency.  (I use these cold and calculating commercial terms only because the Word of God used them first: covenant (a contract); credit; earnest (a down payment); wages; debt.  Even the word redeem connotes a transaction.  But we soon warm up to the words when we understand them as the terms and conditions of God's guarantee of eternal life!)


Finally, who is that blessed man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity?  Is he some goody with a few minor moral mishaps?

Only if murder is a minor moral mishap!  The sins that form the background and context for Psalm 32 are the sins committed by King David in what the Bible refers to as the matter of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:5/NKJV).  So what was "the matter?" 

David, bored and lonely, was restlessly pacing the roof of his palace when he spied a beautiful woman as she bathed.  What ensued was a cavalcade, a parade, an onslaught, and an avalanche of sin.  You can read the entire catalog in the book of 2 Samuel, but among them would be pornography, adultery (with Bathsheba), murder (of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba's husband), conspiracy, treason, incest, rape, and civil war.  Moreover, the untimely deaths of David's favorite son (Absalom) and another son (an infant) were direct consequences of this affair.

So David was the man forgiven and those were the sins not imputed!  But why David and why not another?  Does God play favorites, does he pick and choose the sinners and the sins he will (or will not) forgive? 

The answer is found in Psalm 51, also written in reaction to the matter of Uriah the Hittite.  David does not plead innocence, or offer any shred of his own righteousness:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Psalm 51:1-3)

Clearly, David is sincerely repentant.  But repentance alone is not what enables God to forgive.  Tears and penitent prayers leave God as unable to forgive sin as you and I are.

So it's not the repentance--the turning--that gives God the authority to forgive.  It's what David turns to that counts:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  (Psalm 51:7-9)

Hyssop is what David turned to, and that's what allowed God to forgive his sins.  "Hyssop" is an Old Testament word that covers great spiritual ground.  It was spoken here, by David, like we speak of "the cross."

"Hyssop," like "the cross," denotes the blood of God's designated sacrifice.  The hyssop branch (with its fluffy leaves) was used at the first Passover to daub the blood of a lamb on the door frame, which caused--which enabled--the death angel to pass over:
When I see the blood, I will pass over you.  (Exodus 12:13)

The blood of a lamb on a hyssop branch enabled God not to count their sins against them, because it pointed through time to the blood of the Lamb of God on a cross.

The blood of Jesus, which had not yet been shed in real time, made it possible for God to forgive David "on credit"--because Jesus had promised to pay in the future.  Thus God could say, of David, what he'd said about Abraham:
Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6)

If you turn back to the blood of the same Lamb that David and Abraham looked forward to, then you can take your long list of sins and add them to my long list of sins, which I added to David's long list of sins, which he added to Abraham's long list of sins.

No matter how many or how awful they were and are, they all add up to zero.