Monday, February 28, 2011

the rebel

The Word for today:
Genesis 4, 5

Abel is my older, braver brother, who went forward first, following God by faith. He went forward alone, rejecting his generation and his family’s values. The rebel was certainly not Cain.

Abel came God’s way--
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. (Heb 11:4)

Abel brought a blood offering, thus confessing himself a sinner:
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)

Cain came his own way, with his own offering. That’s religion.

The way of Cain (Jude 11) is not by faith in God, but by faith in self. God wanted a lamb brought, which points to the sacrifice of Christ. The offering of Cain denied that human nature is evil and in need of a Redeemer. Cain believed in God and religion, but he thought he would negotiate with God directly. It can't be done:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

He brought himself instead of Christ, which is the essence of religion--then and now.

Cain and Abel stand as two great systems, two classes of people:
the lost and the saved;
the self-righteous and the broken spirited;
the formal professor and the genuine believer.

The difference between these men wasn’t a character difference. The difference was the offering they brought. No Christian takes the position he is better than anyone else, because there are only two kinds of people--sinners that are saved, and sinners that are lost. What's the difference?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Sin is conformity.
Cain is romanticized as a rebel. Excuse me while I gag. Cain followed the way chosen by Adam, who had chosen the way that Eve had dictated. Adam was wrapped around Eve's little finger and Cain was tied to her apron strings. She, of course, went along with the serpent.

The rebel was Abel, who broke from his family and walked the Way of the LORD alone. He is the Christ-like figure who chose what would become the Way of the cross-- and paid the consequences of his rebel freedom.

The word “conformed” occurs just twice in my KJV Bible--because everybody ends up conforming in one of just two ways. Cain conformed to this world (see Romans 12:2). Abel conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:29). Abel’s conformity makes him my favorite rebel. Think of it: he faced what then was the entire world and, seeing that their ways were not God’s ways, he went the way which was to be the Way of the cross—and he went that way alone. Conformity to the image of Jesus Christ is rebellion in this world.

Abel is the first person in Scripture who depicts the pattern of righteousness by faith. His rebellion against the prevailing culture--against everyone, it would seem, but God--and his death at the hands of his own kin prefigure the supreme rebel, Jesus Christ, who was condemned to die by His own nation.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Did God really say?

The Word for today:
Genesis 3

mark this:  Genesis 3:1
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

Students of scripture must have a thorough understanding of Genesis 3:
We must be aware of Satan's strategic distortion of God's Word in the Garden of Eden;
We must guard against the very same strategies when they are employed by Satan today;
We must learn, from the Bible's parallel scenes--the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 and Luke 4--how Jesus wielded the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (1) to defeat Satan's evil designs.

So let's walk, step by step, through the garden…

Did God really say…?
Adam and Eve are real individuals and their story is specific history recorded by Moses under the direction of the Holy Spirit. But their story is also universal, describing what has happened countless millions of times down through the ages--the descent into sin.

God's word attacked.
Through the snake's voice Satan attacked God's Word. This is the beginning of the descent.

God's Word had been responsible for everything that Adam and Eve enjoyed. God speaks into existence day and night, sun and moon, the blue sky, flowers, singing birds, and all the adoring creatures.

"Did God really say…"
So shrewd. The serpent didn't directly deny God's Word, but he smuggled the assumption that God's Word is subject to our judgment. Such a thought had never been verbalized before, and it was enticing.

This sets up Satan's systematic distortion of God's Word.
Satan's scheme (which will fail) is to get them--and you--to sin; he postulates that God will love them too much to condemn them and in so doing God will have abrogated his own word, placing him on the same level with Adam and Eve--on the level of sin.

"Did God really say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1)
This is a complete distortion of God's Word and his generosity.

Whereas God was generous in his original statement of verse 2:16--You are free to eat of every tree but one-- he is made to seem stingy and miserly, by suggestion. Satan is subtle--not coming out and directly attacking the Word of God--he just asks an "innocent" question. The seed of doubt has been planted and it will bear surprisingly quick fruit.

This would have been a great opportunity to defend God, but Eve didn't. She descended to her own revisions of God's Word:
She diminishes God's Word.
She adds to God's Word.
She softens God's Word.

3:2--She leaves the 'every' out of verse 2:16. She discounted God's gracious generosity. This is a tacit agreement with the serpent. This subtle shift of heart indicates something bad is happening inside of Eve.

Adds to--
3:3: "…and you must not touch it." God never said that; Eve added it. She magnified God's strictness. Then, paradoxically, she…

3:3: She leaves out the "surely" of 2:16. She removes the certitude of death.

By her revisionist approach to the Word of God she has placed herself in harm's way.

This emboldens the serpents' reply in 3:4--"You will not surely die." This is not subtle. Together, they have arrived at the place of saying that God's Word is wrong.

"You will not surely die."
The doctrine of divine judgment is the very first doctrine to be denied. Satan attacks it from the beginning. Modern culture's loathing of this doctrine indicates that our culture is conversant with Satan, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:2) But note that judgment did come upon Eve and Adam--as it surely will fall on all.

God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (3:5)
Emboldened further by Eve's participation in the distortion of God's Word, the serpent shifts from attacking the Word of God to attacking the very goodness of God Himself. According to the serpent, the threat of death is nothing but a scare tactic to keep them in their place. So God is repressive, and jealous--that they not ascend too high. This is an incredible, unbelievable slander of God, in light of the thousand "goods" of creation.

This lie would alter life on earth forever. It bore the lure of divinity for Eve: You will be like God. Sin had a promise, which God's Word withheld.

By reaching out for the fruit and eating it, she would be like God; she would decide what was right and wrong apart from God's Word. What an intoxicating thing it was--and is today: she would do it her own way. This is the lure of moral autonomy--to be your own moral compass.The godlike prospect of moral autonomy drew her to take and eat the fruit.

Adam and Eve had come from the pinnacle of innocence and intimacy to the pit of guilt and estrangement. See 3:7-8.
We are not unaware of Satan's schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
What we learn from Genesis is that sin takes hold when we begin to doubt God's Word and God's goodness.

When this starts to work in us, we begin to leave out the great pluses in God's word and character. We begin to minimize the promises and the graces and the goodness of his Word. They evaporate in our minds. We become less enthusiastic.

Then we add to and exaggerate the things we don't like, making it grievous in our minds.

When we do these things, we are in harm's way. We begin to regard God as someone who is withholding something, keeping us down, repressing us.

That's why Moses, who wrote Genesis under the inspiration of the Spirit, at the very end of his writing, will say:
Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you--they are your life. (2)

And when we come to the New Testament we find Jesus facing Satan--in the wilderness, not in the Garden. He defeats Satan with three quotations from Deuteronomy, including "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (3).

(1) Ephesians 6:17 (2) See Deuteronomy 6:6-9; and Deuteronomy 32: 46, 47a; (3) Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3

Saturday, February 26, 2011

In the beginning, God

mark this:  Genesis 1:1-3
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.
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

I knew Genesis was approaching soon, but it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed the specific reading schedule for today. Here it is:

The Word for today:
Genesis 1, 2

Alright. I've got one blog article to do justice to the seminal chapters of scripture. Where to begin?

They say a good thing to do when you don't know where to start is to start at the very beginning.  And so I will:

In the beginning, God

Stop right there.  You have come to the major crossroad in scripture.

If you can meet these first four words with faith, then this book will open up before you. Avenues of wide wonder await you. Love without limits lies straight ahead.

If you can trust these four words, then I would go to the nearest mirror and say goodbye to the self you used to know. This book has a way of changing things.

But if those four words meet resistance in your spirit, then I would put the book down for now.  It has nothing to give you.  You will find it to be poor--just a hodgepodge of antiquated characters, endless genealogies, irrelevant rituals, and stories whose meanings you will never grasp.  So take the left or the right--it won't matter which--that your heart desires.  Life will sift you and perhaps you'll pass through this intersection again someday, but with a different heart.

God, from the very beginning, has based a knowledge of him on just one thing--faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
For by it the people of old received their commendation.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

If you will believe the opening words, then vistas seen only through the eyes of God loom just ahead.  God will lend you his very eyes to see them, and his very mind to perceive them, and his very Spirit will introduce you to his very Son,

who is very man of very man and very God of very God,

and very, very much in love with--of all people--you.


God's Spirit hovers, poised and ready. But, odd as it may sound, the beginning is up to you. If you let there be light, there will be light.


Friday, February 25, 2011


The Word for today: Luke 9:37-56

I don't get it!
All of us have been in that place where our best efforts to comprehend something fall short.
Maybe it was in calculus class.
Maybe it was trying to program a VCR. (Remember those?)
Maybe it was attempting to assemble some minor piece of furniture.
Maybe it was on an exam.

Each one of us has a unique set of items that we simply do not get, and anyone who tries to explain it better to us is wasting their time.

But there is one category where each one of us share a similar comprehension problem, and that category is the Son of God. After reading today's passage, I want you to put yourself in the sandals of one of the Twelve, say James, son of Zebedee. He, like the rest of the disciples, and the rest of us, had trouble "getting" what Jesus was saying and doing. But can you blame him?

First Jesus performs a great miracle, by feeding the 5000+, and the disciples get clean up duty(1).
Next Jesus confirms that He is indeed the Messiah of God, but He wants the disciples to keep totally mum on this subject(2).
Next Jesus describes not only His imminent sufferings and death, but also the need for all of His followers to likewise take up their cross as well (3).
Then Jesus reveals a portion of His glory to the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, but orders that these disciples remain silent about what they witnessed (4).

Now in today's reading, Jesus rebukes his disciples on five separate occasions. They have it all wrong concerning A. demonic exorcism, B. the suffering of the Messiah, C. the true nature of greatness, D. their wrong headed exclusivity, and E. in their desire for supernatural revenge.

These guys were WAY off! I believe that the rebukes and harsh words of Jesus had to sting. They thought that they had Him all figured out, and yet Jesus says, to His closest friends, things such as "Let these words get past your thick skulls(5)" and "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you!?! (6)"

I don't know about you, but I would be confused as well. But the problem lies with me, not Him. Jesus Christ, by nature is both extremely comforting and unsettling at the exact same time. No one in history was every more kind and gentle towards sinners, no one in history ever spoke more ferocious words against sin. Grace and truth, truth and grace, dancing in perfect harmony, without dilution, confusion or commingling.

So as we encounter Jesus in the Gospels- I urge all of us not to water-down or take the sting out of His words and actions. May they awaken us like a thunderbolt, never allowing us to fall into the deadly malaise of thinking anything about Jesus is trite and old hat. Until we are following a Jesus who is continually confronting and reshaping and unsettling and renovating us, I doubt we are following Jesus at all. So go ahead and scratch your head, then lift your hands in praise to the only one we can never completely figure out.

(1) Luke 9:10-17
(2) Luke 9:18-20
(3) Luke 9:21-27
(4) Luke 9:28-36
(5) Luke 9:44 (Zach's Paraphrase)
(6) Luke 9:41

Thursday, February 24, 2011

exceedingly abundantly--part 2

The Word for today:
Luke 9:18-36

(If you are looking for an article on the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), then look right here.  )


When Jesus fed 20,000* with just a few loaves and fish, there were 12 baskets of leftovers!   Today we conclude a 2-part series which takes a closer look at God's super-abundant provision. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. (Psalms 23:5)

Our blessings--cups that have been filled and will be re-filled--leave measurement, and even the powers of imagination, behind:

God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us.  (Ephesians 3:20/NKJV)

We receive according to his power and riches:
God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.  (Colossians 1:11)

Scripture here does not say "equal to," or "up to and including." It must resort to the phrase "according to"--meaning that our blessings cannot be quantified, but are in accordance with infinity!

This Kingdom Beyond the Reaches of Relativism can be dizzying and disorienting. It will require new habits of speech. So let's practice a new habit:

Wrong:  "Jesus is bigger than…"
We are in the habit of throwing a 'than' into the equation. But we can't, for there is no basis of comparison:
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? (Isaiah 46:5)

Right:  "Jesus is bigger." (Period!)
Jesus escapes comparison; he cannot be contained by relative terms. He escapes relativity!

Thus, whatever we think of Christ has shorn him. So think again and think bigger. Now think bigger yet again. Your thought will not outrun him. Your imagination will never capture him.

We know Jesus.  We even know him well.  Yet there remains as much to know as when we knew nothing of Him.  Consider a lyric from "Amazing Grace"--
"When we've been there ten thousand days bright shining as the sum, there's no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."

Just so, when we have learned, and glorified God for, his 35-God-zillionth attribute, we have not shortened the list of attributes which we have yet to discover.

The Kingdom's disregard of /disdain for/disavowal of limitations is seen in the story of the prophet Elisha, a widow, and the jar of oil that never runs out no matter how much is poured (2 Kings 4). This prefigures Jesus Christ--Christ means "Anointed"--who had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).  This also prefigures the feeding of the five thousand, when there were more leftovers than than the loaves and fish they emanated from, which (in principal) allows us to change the lyric to--
"When we've been there ten thousand days…there are far more days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."

In the infinite realm, quantity doesn't exist (or--this is nuts, I know) quantity is reversed: pick one grape and two remain; five loaves and two fish don't de-materialize but redundantly re-materialize; Job is not just restored but over-restored, 2-for-1.**

When you can turn arithmetic upside down, then you can turn relativity inside out, and overturn gravity as well.  At that point you walk on water like a sidewalk. Time accelerates so that what happened tomorrow seems like yesterday.   Prophecy is certain and miracles aren't strange. What will seem strange is that anyone called them miracles in the first place.

*counting men, women, and children
**compare Job 1 and Job 42

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

exceedingly abundantly--part 1

The Word for today:
Luke 9:1-17

(In order to get in shape for Kingdom come, we must stretch our spiritual muscles. The following exercises are designed to be both soul-stirring and head-stretching.)

mark this: Luke 9:16-17
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and asked God's blessing on the food. Breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples to give to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of leftovers! 

I think Jesus had fun with this miracle. I mean, there were no demons involved, no diseases, no catastrophic storms. It was just lunch he was dealing with.

Apart from the resurrection, this is the only miracle reported in all four gospels. The number--5000--grabs the headlines, but what fascinates me is this detail:
They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of leftovers! (Luke 9:16-17/NLT)

Super-abundance ("more") is a principal of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus isn't just sufficient, he is more than enough. God doesn't just meet our needs, he overflows:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. (Psalms 23:5)

Speaking of cups running over, the Bible twice uses an outrageous picture--wine as common as washwater--in order to illustrate God's superabundant provision.

Jesus' first miracle--at the wedding in Cana (John 2)--was in fulfillment of Jacob's famous prophetic vision:
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. (Genesis 49:10-11)

Jesus directed that large vessels (normally used to store washwater) be filled with water.  Then he turned it into the choicest wine. His time--and the time of Israel's visitation--had come. It was an unmistakable pronouncement to His disciples that he was the Anointed of God, the promised King to come.

God's superabundant provision during His first advent would be the blood of the Son of God, symbolized from Melchizedek to the Lord's Supper by wine.

Jacob's prophecy will be re-fulfilled (!) at Jesus' second advent (during the Millennial reign) when donkeys will be tethered to the choicest vine, and allowed to eat their fill of the best grapes.  Wine, once again, will be as common as washwater.

Our blessings (cups filled and to-be-filled) will leave any means of measurement, and even the powers of imagination, behind:
God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20/NKJV).

(Not wanting to stretch your head too much too soon, Stand in the Rain will take a brief respite.  Be sure to return tomorrow for more Kingdom calisthenics.)


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'Lord, Lord'

The Word for today:
Luke 8:40-56

We Christians use the word 'Lord' a lot. It's 'Lord' this and 'Lord' that. Jesus, for one, thought the word was misused and overused, and he said so:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

We use the term unthinkingly, as if it were a name. 'Lord' is not a name. It's a word that defines a certain relationship--a relationship that looks like this:

He's in charge, and I am not.

With that in mind, let's listen to Jesus' words once again:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

Luke has just marched us through a well-orchestrated section of scripture which serves to illustrate one big theme: Jesus is Lord.

He is Lord of the natural realm:
And they went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. (Luke 8:24)

He is Lord of the supernatural realm:
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. (Luke 4:34-35)

He is Lord over sin and its effects:
Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the man who was paralyzed--"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (Luke 5:23-25)

He is Lord of life and death:
While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more." But Jesus on hearing this answered him, "Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well." And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, "Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, "Child, arise." And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. (Luke 8:49-55)

May I make a modest proposal that, in a backward way, will actually do great honor to Jesus...

If Jesus is not in charge of our lives, then let's cut out the 'Lord, Lord' jive. Let's declare a moratorium on the word, and just call him Jesus for awhile. There's no lie in that.

A moratorium might serve to remind many of us that he is not the comprehensive Lord of our lives. And if the day should arrive when he becomes--in truth and in deed--the Sovereign King of our souls, then we'll hold a party,  invite all our friends to the coronation, and crown him Lord of Lords. 

Words, as used by Jesus, were raised to the level of binding contracts, even covenants:
"Let your yes be yes and your no be no."

May we do the same. Let's let our 'Lord' be Lord.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Stand in the Rain Bible Class - Audio File 2/20/2011

Listen to the 2/20/2011 Stand in the Rain Bible Class

Unclean!  Unclean!
Luke 5:27 - 8:21

May you never cease to find the questions to your Answer.

The Word for today:
Luke 8:22-39

mark this: Luke 8:25
"Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"

Which came first--the chicken or the egg?

Which came first--the question or the answer?

I'm not here to strain your brain or place you on the horns of a dilemma. I just want to point out that the Q & the A have a more complex inter-relationship than often meets the eye.  Jesus knew this, and often made a question his answer.

The other day I was reading some political commentary, and a government program was described as "a solution in search of a problem"--an answer in search of a question!

Now that your brain feels like it's been tumbled in the dryer, I'm going to tell you where the Bible has taken me. Are you ready?

Jesus is the answer.  Now, what's the question?

Today's reading provides no less than the ultimate, most consequential question ever asked:
"Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?" (Luke 8:25)

The answer, of course, is embedded in the question. The disciples knew their Old Testament scriptures, which taught that God controls the seas. Psalm 107:24-30 is a precise parallel of what they had just seen:

They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.

Psalm 65:7 refers to God as the one "who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves." Psalm 89:9 addresses God directly: "You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them."

The disciples knew that Jehovah could still the seas by his word alone:
But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. (Psalms 104:7)
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up. (Psalms 106:9)

All waters flow and cease to flow at God's command. Logic demands, therefore, that Jesus must be the Creator, God. The disciples understanding of Christ suddenly shot right out of the universe!

There's a man in our office with the most ironic ring-tone of all time. His phone blasts out the old U-Tune called "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

My spirit has turned the song's original intention inside out, so that each time I hear it, I'm reminded that there's no end to the thrilling questions I've yet to encounter, every one of them revealing a heretofore undiscovered facet of Jesus.

May you never cease to find the questions to your Answer.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Soil Testing 101

The Word for Today: Luke 8:4-21

The Parable of the Sower/Soils is "the" parable.
It is not as beloved as the Good Samaritan.
It is not as cherished as the Prodigal Son.
But it is perhaps the most important of all the parables that Jesus told.
While nearly all the other parables cover a certain aspect or portion of faith (e.g. forgiveness, readiness, grace, love, money, prayer, etc.), this parable covers the even more fundamental issue of whether or not we receive the Gospel message to begin with.

Furthermore, we are blessed not only with three accounts of this parable(1), but also the interpretation straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ. We may err in some of our interpreting of other parables, but here its impossible because our Lord has already given us the correct answer. He uses this particular parable to explain to us why he used parables to begin with.

We know, from Jesus Himself, that the seed is the Word of God, scattered for all to hear. The rest of the parable describes four different types of soil and how they respond to the seed. Let me introduce you to them, with a bit of personification:
Mr. Pathy: His heart soil is too compacted to even receive the Word.
Mr. Rocky: His heart soil is too shallow for anything real to grow.
Mr. Thorny: His heart soil is too crowded for any healthy growth.
Mr. Goodly: Is the only one who has the depth and space to grow.

Every single person who has ever heard the message of Jesus Christ can be described in one of these four camps.

Which soil are you?
Have you found yourself to be in different camps in you own history?
(For a real challenge, try figuring out which of the 4 camps are "saved." I wouldn't feel so secure for Rocky or even Thorny.)

But before we congratulate ourselves for not being Pathy or Rocky or Thorny and moving on from this parable, let me ask you one question: How's your heart? I mean right now.
Certainly, these types of soil can speak concerning one's salvation, but I believe that they speak to every believer, each day. How's my heart, how's my soil right now? Just because it was good for a season does not mean that hardness or shallowness or thorns will never again be an issue for me.

Every day, I can choose to be in any one of these camps. I can become callous towards the things of God. I can start off well, but quickly lose my focus and passion. I can certainly allow all the stuff of life to put a stranglehold on anything that really matters with God. Or today, I can choose to "humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (2)."

The truth is, not one of us has "graduated" past this parable to where it no longer applies to us. Not one of us has got this thing down, or reached a place where we no longer need to listen. So I urge all of us to follow the words of Jesus: "He who has hears to hear, let him hear!"

(1) Here, and in Matthew 13:1-23 and Mark 4:1-20
(2) James 1:21

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Franklyn, the Pharisee**

The Word for today:
Luke 7.36-8:3

mark this: Luke 7:47
"I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love."

(Stand in the Rain today offers the raw, uncut, unfiltered version of the day Franklyn lost his spiritual bearings, and turned into the Pharisee described in today's passage. **Recommended for Spiritually Mature Audiences Only.)


I scratch my head over the Bible all the time. I've read every word uttered by Jesus about a billion times, but his words continue to catch me by surprise. Half the time, I don't know where he's coming from. But that's OK, because half the time neither does anybody else whom I've ever known, heard, or read.

Another baffling aspect of the Bible isn't within the Bible itself, but in the way that it's been "heard."  It never ceases to puzzle me why certain Bible stories are so well known, while others get lost in the shuffle. We have an incident before us today, for example, which is absolutely central to the Christian life, yet it somehow remains obscure to many.

The story is about a woman, implied to have been a prostitute, who wipes Jesus' feet with her tears, then anoints them with a jar of costly aromatic oil. The thing the story is most widely known for is the mistaken belief that the woman is Mary Magdalene. (That's not her. Nowhere in scripture is it implied that Mary Magdalene was formerly a lady of the streets.)

But what's forgotten is the direct correlation that Jesus proclaims between sin and love: those forgiven the most love the most.

I see that correlation in effect all the time. The fervent and ardent lovers of Jesus Christ are those who sense the depths of their own sinfulness. Blessed by their poverty of spirit (1), they are shot through--all the way from their intellects to their hearts to the marrow of their bones--with the sense that without Jesus they don't have a prayer; that they are utterly lost without him.

Jesus is, without a doubt, a far bigger deal to those who know the depths of their depravity and how much, therefore, it must have cost for him to redeem them.

On the other hand are the cool, the diffident, the tepid--typified by the Pharisee in the story. His lukewarm love for Jesus is in direct correlation to his middling sense of personal sin.

So much that we see in the church is explained by this story. It goes a long way toward explaining the oft-noted phenomenon of a cool love that churched-from-their-youth people can have for Jesus when compared to the enthusiastic and overt love of Johnny-come-lately's to the faith.

I will even go so far as to say that I can predict eventual Bible literacy by the sense of sinfulness--and thus the sense of forgiveness--that a given individual has. Those who think they have little to forgive don't seem to be as fascinated by Jesus, as hungry to chase his heart through the scriptures.

This is not just theoretical truth to me, because I have experienced the direct correlation between forgiveness and love. It was the most harrowing moment of my Christian experience: The Day That Franklyn Felt Holy. (Because of my fear that this subject can be misunderstood, I've previously conveyed this experience to only Shelley and Pastor Joe, but here goes…)

It happened that I was sailing through a Bible class. It was one of those days when I knew I was bringin' it; I was coming across with power and even a bit o' style.

And why not. I'd had a good couple of weeks. I was "all prayed up," as Christian lingo phrases it. I had my besetting sins under control. I was on a spiritual winning streak. By God, I was feeling sanctified, I'll tell you.

And that's when terror struck. All of a sudden I was so clean I didn't need Jesus anymore.

My spiel continued, on autopilot, for the remainder of the class. But there were at least three times in those final 20 minutes when I came this close to quitting in mid-sentence. Not just quitting for the hour, or for the day, but forever.

Because at the core of me, I knew I didn't understand the cross any more. In fact, the cross looked like overkill. My sense of sin had escaped me, and what Jesus had done for me escaped along with it.

In a real and terrifying way, it was my "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" moment. The desperate need I'd had for him was gone--and along with my need went the Savior I had known.

I was pretty much a basket case--a sanctified, sanctimonious basket case for the rest of that day. I had come spiritually unglued. For the first time I understood this previously puzzling scripture concerning Esau:
He found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (2)

I thought that I would never be able to convey the cross again. If you can't convey the cross, you've got no business teaching scripture. I actually started to type a resignation letter.

Shelley told me to wait before I clicked "Send." She said I might feel differently about things in a few days. I am in the habit of taking her advice, so I did not "Send."

Two days later--thank the great and dear LORD--one of my besetting sins returned to proclaim, in no uncertain terms, that he was back. It was my old friend, Pride, and he was back with a vengeance.

I can hardly begin to tell you what this meant to me. O happy day! God had sent a messenger from Satan to buffet me (3), as Paul says. Pride, my chief nemesis, had been allowed back in. But when Pride got in, he kicked my newfound sin--Sanctimony--out.

I was a sinner again, a low-down, proud, self-centered, vainglorious sinner again. Franklyn was back!

And Jesus was back! And I was in rabid, stupefying, and ardent love with him again.


I'm going to publish this little memoir as is. I'm not going to go back and polish it, or touch it up. I'll probably spell-check, but that's all. Then I'm going to hit "Publish."

I don't want this to come out prettified, or pasteurized, or sanitized. I am the notorious sinner in the story, but for a while I became the Pharisee instead. And the Pharisee chased the Jesus right out of my life.

Now don't you go looking for trouble. Each of us has enough sin on his resume without looking for more. The thing to remember is that the fragrant oil now in the "jar" (4) is not your own. Jesus put it there when he dumped all the sin--what used to be in the jar--on himself. (5)

That's what the lady remembered, and the Pharisee forgot. So it made complete sense to her to put the fragrant oil back where it came from:

she poured it at Jesus' feet.

(1) Matthew 5:3; (2) Hebrews 12:17 (3) 2 Corinthians 12:7; (4) 2 Corinthians 4:7; (5) see 2 Corinthians 5:21

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Should we look for someone else?"

The Word for today:
Luke 7:18-35

John the Baptist was the greatest person who ever lived--all the way from Adam up until Jesus Christ. He was as great, or greater, than Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Job, Daniel, or David. How do we know? Because Jesus said so:
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. (Luke 7:28)

And yet John the Baptist had doubts that crossed his mind. How do we know? Because John said so:
And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  (Luke 7:19)

I want to speak to the doubting and the disappointed today. If you've watched a child die, or if you've been overcome by disease, or if you've watched a calloused spouse drive away with your heart in his suitcase,

despite prayer after to prayer to God, who could have saved, healed, and restored with just a word, if he'd cared to…

If that's you--if that was your child, your health, your family, your heart--that God left to die, to disintegrate, to shatter…

Then you've known John the Baptist, who was in prison because he had so faithfully served as God's spokesperson against evil; and because he had prepared the way for the great Messiah. He was in jail because he'd been obedient to God.

So where's the justice in that?  And where was God? Where was the Messiah? No doubt John had prayed to be released, but Jesus was nowhere to be found.  Could it be that he'd been wrong about Jesus?


Jesus replied with an astonishing display of power and purpose:
When the men had come to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?' "
And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." (Luke 7:19-23)

But Jesus did not free John from jail.

Could it be that you've been wrong about Jesus? Should you look for someone else?

Talk can be cheap in this regard, coming from someone, like me, whose life has not been marked by the profound depth of your tragedies. And so I offer answers not from my experience but from the experience of God,

who with a word might have stopped the crucifixion, but could not say that word.

Within that realization is the answer you're looking for. It might not, right now, specifically address all your questions, but it will put you in company with a great prophet who died wondering why; and with an even greater Prophet who'd readied himself to die, but not to die as He did--
alone, crying out to His Father, who returned only silence in reply.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jesus marveled

The Word for Today: Luke 7:1-17

Mark this: Luke 7:9
"When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

"I've never met a _______ that I didn't like."
Each one of us could fill in the blank with something different.
Maybe it's a candy bar or a type of clothing or a certain car or a something electronic.

The Bible, we never encounter a centurion that we don't like.
Think about it. In a book full of all kinds of unsavory or at least flawed characters, there is nothing mentioned negatively concerning centurions. We have good patriarchs and bad ones, good and bad kings, good and bad priests, good and bad prophets, even good and bad apostles (well, just the one that went rotten.) But nary an unfavorable word concerning centurions.

Centurions were the backbone of the Roman military. They, by hard work and leadership, were placed in the officer rank over a group of around 100 soldiers. But they certainly were not of the higher general rank. They would lead and then fight beside their troops in battle.

In the Bible, it was a centurion that spared the imprisoned Apostle Paul's life (1). In the Bible, the very first Gentile conversion in the early church is a centurion named Cornelius (2). In the Bible, it is the not the priests or rulers, but instead a humble centurion who recognizing the crucified Jesus as "the Son of God (3)."

Today's passage (also found in Matthew 8) we see another centurion highlighted. It begins like so many of the healing accounts found in the Gospels. You know, a person or persons with an urgent physical need come to the "miracle maker" and Jesus provides healing and restoration.
In this account, the unnamed commander is greatly concerned for a servant of his, and he sends a delegation to make the need know to Jesus.

Jesus does agree and, indeed, heal the servant. But that is where the similarity with the other healing stories ends. We know from verses 4 & 5, this centurion was a real, stand-up guy. But what stands out even more is just how big and accurately he saw Jesus. He recognized that Jesus could help his sick servant, and he took action that brought that request to Jesus. But even beyond that, he also recognized that he was not deserving of even hosting the Son of God. He recognized that Christ's power was not limited to certain proximity. All his life he had been a part of the Roman authority structure, with Caesar at the top. Now he recognizes that one greater than any Caesar is here, whose very words bring life and hope and restoration.

The results are remarkable. Not only is his servant well, but we see a unique reaction and commendation from Jesus Himself. Jesus marveled, was amazed, astonished. The only other instance in all the gospels of this kind of reaction from the Lord comes from the blatant "lack of faith" of the people from his hometown (4). This story involving the centurion provides us with not only a great example of Jesus' miraculous ability, but also a great example of what it means to trust Jesus for salvation.

Like the centurion, we are not worthy or deserving to even welcome Christ anywhere near us.
Like the centurion, we depend solely upon His word.
Like the centurion, we recognize that Jesus alone has the real authority over life and death, Heaven and Hell.

So if you find yourself weak in the areas of faith and trust, don't try to artificially inflate yourself with bigger faith. Instead, follow the example of the centurion and come to understand a bigger Jesus- the only thing worth marveling over.
(1) Acts 27:43
(2) Acts 10
(3) Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47
(4) Mark 6:6

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

never, no, never, no, never

The Word for today:
Luke 6:37-49

mark this: Luke 6:47-49
Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.

When I was seven, I learned this song at summer camp:

The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumblin' down.

Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood firm.


The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumblin' down.

Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand went WHOOSH!!….

It was wacky and funny and at the end when the house blows away, we yelled out the "WHOOSH" with all our might!

It would be a while before I found out that the lyrics were by Jesus. I thought the words were just words…

until many, many years later, when the words of the song turned very, very true. They turned so true that it wasn't even funny any more. "WHOOSH" is putting it mildly.

Then after the Whoosh--quite possibly because of the Whoosh--I sought out the author of "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." He was right about the Whoosh, so I wanted to see what else he had to say.

After reading his book, I built another house. But this time I built on a different foundation. As I was building, I came across a grown-up version of that old camp song. It goes like this:

1. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

2. "Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand."

3. "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

4. "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

5. "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
Jesus wrote the lyrics to this song, too (1).  Don't make the mistake I made, when I thought His words were just take 'em or leave 'em words. His words maintain a different standard than man's words often will; His yes means yes, His no means no (2), his Whoosh means Whoosh.

And when he says he will "Never, no, never, no, never forsake," he means never, no, never, no, never.

(1) Each stanza of the hymn emphasizes a different promise (see 2 Pet. 1:4) in God's Word:
Stanza 1: see Luke 6:47-49 (above)
Stanza 2: Isaiah 41:10
Stanza 3: Isaiah 43:2
Stanza 4: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Stanza 5: Hebrews 13:5

(2) Matthew 5:37

Stand in the Rain Bible Class - Audio File 2/13/2011

Listen to the Audio File from the Stand in the Rain Class on 2/13/2011

Get growing!

Luke 2:52

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

you don't have to sit so far away

The Word for today:
Luke 6:12-36

(As I write this, I'm in sort of a lovey-dovey mood, it being Valentine's Day and all, so I'm going to roll with it while I've got it. Heaven knows it might be a long while before this mood strikes again.)

Little nuances that outsiders would scarcely notice make a big difference in the language of love.

Love notices the slightest alterations--in a mood, or in the texture of a smile; in body language, or in verbal language. Love measures the pressure in a hand; the linger in a look; the empty space between a couple, sitting on a park bench, in the dwindling twilight of a dwindling summer.

Some commentators can be so academic about biblical matters that it makes you wonder whether they've ever been in love with God. And if we're not careful, we can get sucked into that sterility, too. Pretty soon we can catch ourselves going on and on about covenant and dispensation and law and election and explication and implication. We can reduce the chemistry of love to the periodic table of the elements.

I, for example, am often a reactionary writer. (Don't worry, there's a support group for that, too.)  That means I often write against, instead of for, something.  Reacting against a matchstick Jesus, I have made it my imperative to write and teach the infinite attributes of an expansive Jesus who is Light itself.

But in the glare of my Cosmic Creator's Light show, I can lose sight of the Suffering Servant whose single purpose was to close the gap--the great gulf fixed (1)--between God and man.


That's precisely why God gave us four gospels, each of them stressing a different Jesus who is, paradoxically, always the same (2). In Matthew, for example, Jesus is presented as the King, the Lawgiver. Fittingly, his genealogy traces his royal lineage through his legal father, Joseph.

But in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is one of us--the Son of Man. Thus his genealogy, tracing his bloodline, is taken from Mary's side of the "wedding aisle."

In Matthew, the King delivers the Magna Carta of the Kingdom from high atop a hill. We call his proclamation the Sermon on the Mount:
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
"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 those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." (from Matthew 5:1-6)

Here in Luke, the Son of Man speaks similar words, but in a different tone. You could call it the Sermon on the Plain:
And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem.
Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh."
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets."  (from Luke 6:17-23)

The heart will note the subtle shift in forms of address--from the regal, third-person "they" in Matthew to the pointedly personal "you" in Luke.

Which means, of course, that you don't have to sit so far away from the Son of Man.

(1) Luke 16:26/NKJV
(2) The gospel of Mark presents Jesus as the Servant, while the gospel of John presents Jesus as the Son of God. Fittingly, neither of these gospels give a genealogy: the Servant's only credential is his work; the infinite Son of God has no beginning to trace.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Unclean! Unclean! -- part 2

The Word for today:
Luke 5:27-6:11

mark this: Luke 5:12-13
Behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy left him.

(Today we conclude a two-part article on the subject of leprosy, which is the Bible's most prevalent--and most instructive--picture of sin.  Yesterday we concentrated on leprosy as it was depicted in the Old Testament.)

Immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus was descending the mountainside, a faint "Unclean! Unclean!" began to be heard through the din of the crowd. As if the prow of a boat were moving through he throng, the leper made his way to Jesus as the people fell back, fearing contamination. He fell with his face to the ground.

The leper epitomizes the teaching that begins (Matt. 5:3-4) the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn.
In this leper, the Word becomes flesh--and the Beatitudes become prophecy.

Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.
Aware of his condition, He did not ask for healing. He asked to be made clean. If he'd had any illusions of wholeness, all he had to do was hold the remainder of his hand before his eye and his illusions vanished. He saw himself as perfectly hopeless, apart from a divine work. There was nothing he could do to help himself.

"Unclean! Unclean!"
In another of the Bible's absolutely upside-down ironies, the leper's cry has shaped his whole psyche. He knows what he is, he knows he's helpless--and thus he is in the perfect posture to receive grace. God doesn't come to the self-sufficient, to those who perceive no need.

If you would come to Christ today, you would come by saying, 'Unclean! Unclean!' If you were to say, "I'm only partly unclean" or "I'm 25% clean," He will not receive you. That is the great tragedy of the comfortable today--we cannot accept that we are unacceptable. That is why the gospel is such an offense and a reproach. People don't want to be told that they're lepers.

Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.
He'd heard about what Jesus had done. He'd heard Jesus' words. There was no doubt in his mind that Jesus was omnipotent and sovereign. The only question was--Would He do it for him?

Sin controls people through two opposing lies.
The first is to say, "I'm pretty good, I don't have any need; I can make it."
The other is to say, "I'm so bad I'll never make it--I'm beyond the reach of grace. I am such scum that God can't do anything with me." But write this down: God is in the business of healing lepers.

The touch of exchange.
Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man.
Perhaps it had been twenty or thirty years since he'd known even one touch. His life had been lived at a distance. Skulking and lurking, he'd watched his children grow up from a quarter-mile away. But the separation--from man and God--was now over.

Why did Jesus do this--when he'd healed without contact before?
Christ's pure hand on the rotting leper is a parable of the incarnation and the cross: Jesus took on flesh, became sin for us, and gave us His purity: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21)

The healing was sudden and complete:
Immediately the leprosy left him.
 The toeless, ulcerated stubs that were his feet were suddenly whole. The knobs on his hands grew fingers before is eyes. Hair, eyebrows, eyelashes returned; and skin, supple and soft.

This is what Christ does today. In a split second of belief, the healing of Christ in salvation from sin is instantaneous and complete: The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from every sin (1 John 1:7).
He himself bore (your name)'s sins in his body on the tree, so that (your name) might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds (your name) has been healed (1 Peter 2:24).


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Unclean! Unclean! -- part 1

The Word for today:
Luke 5:12-26

mark this:  Luke 5:12-13
Behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy left him.

(Over the next two days, Stand in the Rain will range between Old and New Testaments in order to look closely at the subject of leprosy, which is the Bible's most prevalent--and most instructive--picture of sin.)

Leprosy is illustrative of the hopelessness and stench of sin. Of all diseases, scripture uses leprosy to represent sin more than any other.

The Messiah has power to deliver from the effects of sin.
Jesus healed physical disease in order to show before the scribes that he could forgive sin:
Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the man who was paralyzed--"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (Luke 5:23-25)

Two birds: The ritual for cleansing lepers. (See Leviticus 14:4-7, 49-53.)
The first bird is slain. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22).
The blood is poured into an earthenware vessel--a jar of clay. (See 2 Cor. 4:7)
The second bird, dipped in the blood of the first, flies free.
[The Bible student will see a prophetic picture of the gospel--the death and resurrection of Jesus--in this ritual (1 Cor. 15:3-4). He will also see himself here--as the leper upon whom the blood is sprinkled.]

Full of leprosy. (Luke 5:12)
Leprosy is a painless hell. Leprosy-today known as Hansen's disease--is not a rotting infection. Hansen's disease destroys the body's warning system--the pain. It is an anesthetic that numbs the nerves, so that the leper might wash his face with scalding water, or grip a tool so tightly that a hand is traumatized, or reach into charcoal embers for a baked potato. Then infections take place and pretty soon the appendages are damaged. In third world countries, vermin will chew on lepers.

The poor man in Luke 5 had not been able to feel for years, and his body, mutilated from head to foot, was foul and rotting. If we could see ourselves apart from Christ, we would see that sin has invaded every part of our being.

"Unclean! Unclean!"
The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp. (Lev 13:45-46)
Apart from Christ, we are excluded from the fellowship of the family of God. (See Eph. 2:12-13.)

Dead men walking.
Lepers were treated as if they were the dead. But the leper is no more sinful than anyone else.

According to Ephesians 2:1, we are dead in our transgressions and sins. The spiritual world sees us shot through with the horrifying effects of sin. Even our righteousness--our three-piece suit, so to speak--is as filthy rags and make us waste away (Isaiah 64:6-7).

The featureless, faceless, anonymity of sin.
The ears and noses and fingers of the leper would fall away.
Sin is neither distinctive nor self-expressive. It robs beauty, uniqueness--and lumps us in with the rest. The extremities of the absolutely individual "snowflake" fall off, leaving an indistinguishable middle, a stump.

And God saw that it was not good.
Sin is life by man's design, man by his own hand. Death is by man's design, by his own hand.

(to be continued tomorrow...)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

at your word, I will let down the nets

The Word for today:
Luke 5:1-11
mark this: Luke 5:4-6
And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."
And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.

Sometimes--like right now, for instance--it all gets away from me.  
The Bible gets way too big for me.  And faith starts to seem like the differential equations that I could never solve in high school; there are just too many variables.

Even Jesus, heart of my own heart, can sometimes seem so deep and so smart and so together that he simply outdistances my intellectual and spiritual grasp.

When I was first a believer, someone gave me one of those rubber bracelets that asked, "What Would Jesus Do?"

I always knew, back then, what Jesus would do. But now, sometimes, I don't have a clue.

When I start to get paralyzed like this, I have a special spot where I go.  If you have your Bible open to our passage for today, then you can see my special spot from where you are:
"Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word, I will let down the nets." (Luke 5:5)

I've heard the life of faith described in so many ways, in too many ways. But the only definition that makes sense to me is this one:
At your word…
Just keep your nose in your Bible!
…I will let down the nets.
To the best of your understanding, just do what it says.
So whenever the life of simple faith begins to elude you, don't forget to come back to this special spot. Odds are, we'll run into each other, 'cause I hang out here a lot.


Friday, February 11, 2011

bound by nothing

The Word for today:
Luke 4:31-44

mark this: Matthew 8:16
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.

Your Bible, especially the four gospels, comes equipped with supplementary materials to aid your understanding! They are called parallel passages, because they describe an event from another vantage point--as if it were observed from the other side of the tracks.

In Matthew 8:14-17, the parallel description of Luke 4:38-41, Jesus cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.

With a word. Martin Luther (in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God") put it like this:

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

But many aren't aware of the power of God's Word. Jesus said so:
"Your problem is that you don't know the Scriptures, and you don't know the power of God." (Matthew 22:29/NLT; cf. 1 Cor. 1:24)

Well then, let's take a brief review of the power of God's word:

God spoke the cosmos into existence (Genesis 1). And he maintains the cosmos in the same way:
He upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)

The faith which activates salvation is but an after-effect of his word:
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  (Romans 10:17)

Indeed, the Savior himself is the Logos, the Word:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 14)


But what does the word of God mean for us today, as we stand, inherently powerless, to face the dragons we must face. It means different things to each of us, as Jesus said: those who weakly know the scriptures know a God who lacks power; while others, established in scripture, know an all-powerful God.

But no matter who you are, if you are considering these thoughts, then you are wrestling with the Word of God and, like Jacob, you're not going to let go until you get a blessing. (Genesis 32:26)

So here's the blessing I can convey. It's something we know, but we forget to remember:

It's not a paper Bible that we bring to the battle; it's not like we're going to "throw the book" at evil or at our problems!  No, but we're bringing Jesus, the embodied Word, alive and active. (Hebrews 4:12)

We're told to arm ourselves with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (1).  That doesn't mean we bring words on paper, or even words we've committed to our memories, or written on our hearts.  We do not arm ourselves with concepts.

We're bringing no papier-mache` sword. We're bringing no paper tiger to this fight.

We're not showing up with a word bound in leather. We're showing up with the Lion of Judah--unleashed, undefeated, unconquerable, and bound by nothing.

(1) Ephesians 6:17

Thursday, February 10, 2011

on a mission from God

The Word for today:
Luke 4:14-30

mark this: Luke 4:17-20

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

Stop!  Look!  Listen!--
Luke 4:18-19 quotes Isaiah 61:1-2.  These passages are crucial to understanding the Big Picture--the overall plan--of God's Kingdom.
The Bible student should understand why Jesus stopped, in mid-sentence, as he read from Isaiah 61:2.  Stand in the Rain explained the significance of this abrupt ending when we were studying Isaiah (in January, 2010).
If you are unsure of the significance of these verses in Isaiah--and the way Jesus applied them in Luke--then it is imperative for you to turn here and, especially,  here. 


Churches have mission statements. You'll find them proclaimed atop their websites and their stationery.

Corporations have mission statements. Committees will meet over the course of years, parsing each word in order to come up with just the right phrasing for their statement of purpose.

Do you have a personal mission statement? Could you summarize, in a sentence or two, your life's purpose?

An old adage states that "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." A mission statement exists to combat that kind of aimlessness, to keep us heading straight toward a well-defined goal so we won't waste time by meandering among the side issues on the side streets.

I think Jesus had a mission statement. Appropriately, he used it as the text of his first sermon:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (Luke 4:17-20; cf. Luke 4:43)
When I first read the Bible and became a believer (which were simultaneous occurrences for me) I was struck by how "little" Jesus was in our culture--and even in our churches--when compared to the Jesus I'd just met in scripture. So years later, when I took up Bible teaching, I constantly stressed a "bigger" Jesus, to the extent that the quintessential Q & A of my classes has become--

Q. How big is Jesus?
A. Bigger!
Q. How big is "bigger?"
A. Bigger!

For me, then, my mission pronounced itself first and I found the perfect scriptural statement of it much later. I found it in the first line of Mary's Song:

"My soul magnifies the Lord." (Luke 1:46)

That's my mission.  I use that verse to remind me what the target is, because I've found through experience that it is very easy to get sidetracked amidst all the trappings--the traps--of churchiness and phony religiosity and self-aggrandizement.

So much for Jesus' mission statement, and so much for mine. But what about yours?

I hope that you take some time to give it some thought. As you do, remember that a mission statement can differ from your "life verse" in this way:

A life verse usually says what you believe.
A mission statement says what you're going to do about it.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get growing!--part 2

The Word for today:
Luke 3:23-4:13

We know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

We also know that Jesus didn't come fully formed; the Bible says that he grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  (Luke 2:52)

So we--who are in the process of becoming more like him--should pay close attention to anything that scripture has to say about Jesus' formative years, when the Way was on the way.  How did he become the person he would be?  Let's take a look at the little we've been given to see:

1. We see him in the Temple among the scripture teachers at age twelve:
When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  (Luke 2:42-46)

2. And we see him in relentless, habitual dependence upon the Holy Spirit as he enters into his adult years and embarks upon his public ministry:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:21-22)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert. (Luke 4:1)

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. (Luke 4:14)

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…"  (Luke 4:17-18)

The scarcity of information that we have about Jesus' adolescence serves to emphasize that God's Word was his only counsel, and that the Spirit was his only Counselor.

So how did he confine himself to the Word and the guiding presence of God alone?

Listen carefully as he settles--in his own mind and in the hearing of others--the relative priority of his influences:

So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously."
And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:48-49)

And it was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You."
But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it."   (Luke 8:20-21)

Jesus said unto (his mother, Mary), "Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come."  (John 2:4)

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple."  (Luke 14:26)

And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:19-22)


Jesus' followers must always remember that these radical scriptures have to be placed in the context of the very loving words that Jesus spoke to these same people!  With his dying breath, for example, he arranged for his mother's care.  (John 19:26-27)

But any way you slice them, they are cutting remarks.  So make no mistake about it.  If you really mean business with God, you've got to commandeer your influences.  You've got to put your family, your culture, and your past in their places relative to God.  You've got to recalculate, reconfigure--and, yes, renounce:

 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

The Bible refers to Jesus as the Bridegroom, and to his followers as the Bride.  Long, long ago, in the Bible's opening chapters, God spoke prophetically about this special relationship to come, hinting that it would cost the Bridegroom everything:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.   (Genesis 2:24; see Ephesians 5:31-32)

Jesus left it all behind for you.  If you want to grow up to be like Jesus, then go and do the same.