Sunday, March 31, 2013

like a rolling stone

rock hills
The Word for today:
Matthew 21:23-46
mark this: Matthew 21:42--
Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
"'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?
The Bible is a big book, held together by its central character, Jesus Christ.
Just as the universe would fly apart if he did not hold it together (1), the Bible disintegrates into mismatched meaninglessness without his presence on virtually every page.
A literary device called the extended metaphor also serves to hold scripture together. One of the most important of the extended metaphors is "the Rock." As the Rock appears and re-appears all the way through scripture, we see a related series of images which coalesce into a comprehensive portrait of Jesus.
Enough of this literary talk. Let's look at some pictures of the Rock!--
In Exodus, he is the rock that was smitten (2), from which life-giving water flowed. Just in case it escaped our notice that this rock represents Christ, the New Testament reminds us:
I don't want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, what happened to our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. (3)
In Psalm 118 (quoted today in Matthew 21) he is the stone the builders rejected, which became the cornerstone.
In the book of Daniel, he is the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands (4), which crushed the prideful institutions of man.
For unbelievers, he is the stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (5).
For believers, he is the Rock of our salvation (6), the foundation of the church (7), upon which the wise man builds his house (8).
Whether as 'stone' or 'cornerstone' or 'foundation,' be on the lookout for Jesus--the Rock who rolls through scripture.
(1) Colossians 1:17; (2) Exodus 17:6; (3) 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; (4) Daniel 2:34; (5) Isaiah 8:14/Romans 9:33/1 Peter 2:8; (6) Psalm 95:1; (7) 1 Corinthians 3:11; (8) Matthew 7:24

Saturday, March 30, 2013

when the saints go riding in

The Word for today:
Matthew 20:29-21:22
mark this: Matthew 21:1-3 --
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
"Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill Old Testament prophecy (1). A donkey is a docile animal--not the sort of steed on whose back a warrior would make his charge. If Jesus had come to earth with the goal of overthrowing the Roman government, he would have entered the city in battle regalia upon a spirited stallion.
The lowly donkey, a beast of burden, is symbolic of Jesus' first appearance as the burden-bearer:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. (2)
Jesus carried his cross--the weight of our sin--throughout a lifetime before he carried a literal cross on his last day:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
The next time Jesus appears, it won't be on a donkey. He'll come back astride a white horse, followed by thousands upon thousands of his saints--on white horses of their own:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed him on white horses. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (4)
I want to be in that number--when the saints go riding in.
(1) Zecharaiah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-3; (2) Isaiah 53:4; (3) Isaiah 53:3; (4) from Revelation 19:11-16; see Jude 1:14/KJV

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bad Math

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Matthew 19:23- 20:28
X used to be my favorite letter. Pretty much every word with the letter X in it sounded cool: Ox, Axe, Fox, Taxi, xylophone. It was essential to Dr. Seuss, tic-tac-toe, and every treasure map. It was fun to write - especially using cursive, it didn't have multiple sounds or grammar rules (unless you're speak French), and it was worth 8 points in Scrabble!
Then came high school math, and my brief love affair with the letter X was over. You see, some unknown knucklehead decided to move X from its proper domain among letters and place it in the unholy realm of mathematics. All of the sudden I was bombarded with phrases such as "let X represent..." or "find X." I would scream in my head- "It's right there!" but no one would listen. I struggled with the subject for the rest of my high school and college career.
So imagine my chagrin when I realized that numbers were very important to the Bible. Whether an authorized census of Israel (Numbers 1:2)or an unauthorized one (2 Sam. 24:10), whether the amount of hairs on our head (Mat. 10:30), or the number of converts after Peter's first sermon (Acts 2:41), or even the number of a miraculous catch of fish (John 21:11); no matter the number, they are put there by God for a reason and should not be neglected.
"Great," I thought, "more math!" Well, yes and no. Today's parable of the hired workers is one that would drive union reps, and payroll personnel alike, just plain nuts. Look at the math involved:
A Denarius was a day's wage (Let's put that at $60, for our sake).
Each "early" worker agreed to work for that price.
Everyone received $60 for their labor.
The problem was, not everyone had worked the same number of hours.
The early birds (starting at 6am) put in a full day and earned $5 an hour.
Those hired at 9am were paid $6.66 an hour
Those hired at noon were paid $10 an hour
Those hired at 3pm were paid $20 an hour
And those hired at 5pm, who worked all of one hour, received an astonishing $60 per hour.
From a human perspective, we understand the frustrations of seeing inequity in our world. There are all sorts of positions that are underpaid, and many that are overpaid. And while most of us DON'T want communism, many of us desire more equality, where those doing the hard jobs that keep society going, would be better compensated.
But this parable is not really about rewards for service. It certainly is not about salvation (seeing as that cannot be earned or deserved- Eph. 2:1-10). It turns out that this parable is really about two things:
1. God's grace and our inability to quantify it.
No one is qualified to work for God, He owes us nothing. It is pure grace that God allows us to serve in His kingdom. It is pure grace that He rescues us from pointlessness and gives us purpose. It is pure grace that He even chooses to reward us for our efforts. It is pure grace that He even associates with such rabble as ourselves.
When you or I start to keep accounts on our service or sufferings, especially in comparison with others, we are abandoning the very grace that saved us. We become like Jonah, who cried out and received God's abundant mercy, and then belly-ached into the sunset when God extended that same mercy to the city of Nineveh. (Jon. 2:9, 4;2). Grace, mercy and the Kingdom of God does NOT make sense mathematically. If we wanted to settle our accounts with God based on actual figures, we would be in arrears up to our ears. Beyond broke. Way beyond bankrupt.
2. This parable is also about our motivation when it comes to service.
(Remember this parable takes place right after Simon Peter pointed out the disciple's "great" sacrifice. See Mt. 19:27) It is very easy to become mercenary in our relationship with God. We serve, pray, volunteer, give, etc. as long as it benefits us. After a while, we can begin to feel that our service, hard work, or lengthy faithfulness somehow means that we are owed by God. We can then look down on those who are not as involved or committed to the Kingdom of God, think ourselves as more valuable to God than they are. We start to keep spiritual report cards on ourselves and others, and get mad when things don't work out according to our sense of justice.
The point is that the real treasure is not necessarily rewards, but rather time spent with and for the King! The "early birds' were more blessed than the others, not in their monetary compensation, but by the fact they spent their entire day able to work for the Master. Everyone else wasted any of the hours when they were not serving. Those hired at the 11th hour are not to be envied because of their generous payment for not much work, they wasted 11/12ths of their life for that day. Serving Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is its own reward and blessing. So instead of being angry with those who don't do so fully, feel pity, because they are missing out on their entire reason for existence.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

the rich young ruler who gave it all away

The Word for today:
Matthew 19:1-22

mark this:
 Matthew 19:21-22 --
"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
One day, a rich young man met a poor young man.
The poor man was Jesus. We don't know the rich man's name, so over the years Bible scholars have called him "the rich young ruler."
In parallel gospel passages we learn that, as they spoke, Jesus looked upon him with both sadness and love (Mark 10; Luke 18).
Jesus spoke patiently, attempting to draw the very best out of him. He steered him toward understanding--that only God is good; that we cannot meet the high demands of the law by our own efforts.
Then Jesus invited the young man to follow him. But to follow Jesus would have cost him too much:
So he went away very sad, for he had great possessions.
Once upon a time there was another rich young ruler. He ruled the whole universe, because the whole universe was his.
One day he found his Father brooding, looking over a world far away. He and his Father were of the same Spirit, so the rich young ruler knew just what he had to do:
"I will go.  I will seek them and save them and bring them home." (Luke 19:10)
His Father looked at him with both sadness and love, all mixed up together. "You'd have to give up everything to do that," He said.
"And so would you, Father."
And so it happened that both of them gave away everything they possessed:
The Father so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The Son made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)
But the story did not end there. Just like he promised, the rich young ruler found his lost brothers and sisters and led them back home.
Overwhelmed with joy, his Father highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
So that's how it came to be that the rich young ruler, who gave it all away to follow after his Father's heart, now has more treasure in heaven than ever there was before.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This, Bud, is for you.

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 24, 25
I am commissioned by the LORD to be his prophet.
(I can hear it now: "Franklyn's finally flipped out; he's lost it; he's gone grandiose on us.")
Hold the straitjacket and the meds. I'll not be needing them.
Anyone who speaks the Word of the LORD is the LORD's prophet. All that 'prophet' means is one who speaks the word of another. Thus the famous arrangement--whereby Aaron spoke what Moses told him to say--made Aaron Moses' prophet:
And the LORD said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. (1)
I never found my voice in life. I searched for it, but nothing moved me to speak until I heard Jesus. Now I speak his Word; I'm his prophet.
Jesus was a prophet in just the same way. He never used his own "voice." He spoke only the Word he heard his Father speak:
"The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." (2)
You, too, can be a prophet. You'll need no seminary or ordination. We have been commissioned to proclaim his word:
"So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops...Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward." (3)
If you fulfill this command, your commission is far more certain than those bestowed by institutions and denominations, because it is at the direct order of the King.
The trouble with being a prophet is, well, the trouble that comes with being a prophet. People hate the prophetic voice. People want to hear, 'Peace, peace.' But, the Bible tells us, there is no peace (4)--and there will be no peace until the Prince of Peace returns to enforce the peace.
In no section of scripture do I sense God speaking more directly to us--the US of A--than in Jeremiah 25:
God is summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth. (5)
Like a lion he has left his lair. (6)
He is holding the cup of the wine of wrath out to all nations on the face of the earth.  No one will be allowed to refuse it. (7)
The prophet's voice has ever been, 'Judgment is at hand.'  The wine of the cup of God's wrath against sin will be drunk to the last drop. Unless you have designated Jesus Christ to stand in your stead and drink the cup for you, then--in the commercial parlance of the US of A--this cup, Bud, is for you.
We prophets are parrots--no more, no less.  Just birds, calling out from the housetops. But what we are is no matter. What matters is the Word we parrot, because behind that Word stands the Person who first spoke it.
He is all that matters (8). By His Word, heaven and earth were created; and by His Word, they shall dissolve in flame:
The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (9)  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His Word shall not pass away. (10)
I just tell the tale that I've been told.
(1) Exodus 7:1; (2) John 14:24; cf. John 12:49-50; cf. Deuteronomy 18:18; (3) See Matthew 10:26-42; (4) Jeremiah 8:11; (5) Jeremiah 25:29; see Matthew 10:34; (6) Jeremiah 25:38; see Revelation 5:5; (7) Jeremiah 25:15, 26, 28; (8) 1 Cor. 15:28; Colossians 3:11; (9) 2 Peter 3:10, 12; (10) Matthew 24:35

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

out of dead ground, the Branch

root of Jesse
The Word for today:
Jeremiah 23
mark these: Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 33:14-16
"The Branch" is one of the Bible's most meaningful poetic and prophetic images of Jesus. We will meet "the Branch" by name in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Matthew. And we will recognize his likeness throughout scripture.
To understand the Branch, we have to understand the crucial prophesy in 2 Samuel 7. There, the LORD promises that one of David's descendants will rule forever.
Soon, however, David's "family tree" falls. The glorious days of the kingdom under David and Solomon dissolve into sin, civil war, idolatry, and exile to Babylon.
But though the "tree" had fallen, with no sign of it remaining, there was still life in the roots! That's the meaning of Isaiah 11:1, where Jesse--David's father--is mentioned:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
The Branch, sprouting from what seemed a dead stump, is a vivid picture of resurrection--life out of death--which we first saw when Aaron's dead staff blossomed (Numbers 17).
Jeremiah emphasizes that the Branch will become our righteousness!--
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'" (Jeremiah 33:14-16; see also Jeremiah 23:5-6)
This was fulfilled when Jesus, Son of David (see Luke 18:38) died on the cross. In doing so, He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Thus, the two great promises from the Old Testament converge in the Branch--
1. The promise of a Deliverer through David;
2. and the promise to Abraham of righteousness through faith:
Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6)
We hope that as you read the Bible you will come to recognize the Branch, who came forth just when all seemed lost:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed. 
(Isaiah 53:2-5)
Just when all seemed lost, when no sign of life remained, Jesus--the Promise to Abraham; the Son of David; the LORD our righteousness--came to life out of a still tomb. What looked to be dead, as dead as Aaron's staff, had blossomed forth as the living Branch.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Which thief are you?

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 21, 22
Israel was under the impression that God was on their side. They thought that God would help them against the forces of Babylon, who had begun to surround the city:
"Please ask the LORD to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has begun his attack on Judah. Perhaps the LORD will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies." (Jeremiah 21:2)
God responded in blunt terms that he was against them, because they were against him:
"I myself will fight against them with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm...
because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshiped and served other gods." 
(Jeremiah 21:5, 22:9)
Many of us are under the same deluded impression--that we are a "Christian nation," so God must be on our side. I mean, with a church on every corner and an average of 6.8 Bibles (1) in every American home, God will certainly defend us.
That's what Israel thought. Why, the Temple--and the Ark of the Covenant!--were within Jerusalem's walls.  Surely, God would continue to shield them from foreign forces.
But that's not what God thought:
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I will make your weapons useless against the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are attacking you. Yes, I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city." (Jeremiah 21:4)
God is no respector of persons (2), or nations. He offers to Israel just what he offers to every person--life or death:
Then the Lord told me to say to the people, "Listen! I, the Lord, am giving you a choice between the way that leads to life and the way that leads to death." (Jeremiah 21:8/GNT)
The life and death he offers is wholly dependent on his Son:
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:12)
He offered his Son on a cross. He died there, between two thieves. One thief asked to be with Jesus: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And He said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43)
Heaven will consist of a bunch of thieves with Jesus.  Hell will consist of a bunch of thieves without Jesus.
The question is not whether God is on your side. The question is, Which thief are you?
(1) Nicky Gumbel, "The Alpha Course" (2) Acts 10:34

Sunday, March 24, 2013

unquenchable fire

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Jeremiah 19 & 20
mark this: Jeremiah 20:9
People tend to live up (or down) to the names we assign them. In Scripture we see this often. Jacob means "heel grabber" and he spends the first half of his life swindling others or being swindled himself (Ge. 25:26).
Naomi changed her name to "Mara" when things became so bitter for her (Ru. 1:20).
Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua) means "the Lord saves" and He lived out His name to the full- His death and Resurrection mean our salvation (Mt. 1:20).
We named our oldest son Aiden, which is a Gaelic name that means "little fiery one." He certainly has lived up to that name. He can almost instantly move from a small flame to a raging inferno; he once angrily told his teacher "I wish we had a substitute teacher today!" because she had the audacity to remind him not to touch the piano.
But when we had him dedicated, we had a different understanding of fiery in mind. We were thinking more in line of today's passage in Jeremiah. It was, and still is, our prayer that the main fire in Aiden's life be not situational nor emotional, but rather from the Word of God.
Fire is an important metaphor in the Bible and especially in the book of Jeremiah. God has already encouraged/challenged the fearful prophet with these words from 5:14-
"I will make my words in your mouth a fire"
Now Jeremiah feels the true force of that reality.
He has struggled with relaying God's message to Israel, because the message was difficult to hear, and even more so, because the people were unwilling to hear it. Jeremiah has been a lone voice in a sea of apostasy. He has publicly attacked the people's false confidence in their beloved Temple (Ch. 7). He has survived plots on his life (Ch. 11 & 18). He has been beaten and arrested and jailed by the religious establishment. He has even felt betrayed by God (Ch. 20).
He has absolutely NO earthly reason to remain this object of ridicule. And yet God's Word compels him. Despite all the physical, and social, and religious, and emotional reasons to just keep quiet, he does not. He cannot SHUT UP because God's Word is SHUT UP in his very bones, it rages like a fire in his heart.
That is what God's Word is like. Not some inspirational fodder. Not a collection of nice stories and morals. Certainly not "Chicken Soup for the Wimpy Soul." God's Word is "a FIRE...and like a HAMMER that breaks rocks into pieces" (Jer. 23:29).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

why judgment?

"View from the Cross," James Tissot, 1836 – 1902
"View from the Cross," James Tissot, 1836 – 1902
The Word for today:
Jeremiah 17:19 - 18:23
mark this: Jeremiah 18:7-8 --
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.
The judgment of God is always forward-looking. God does not judge just to judge. His judgment looks forward to salvation.
If this concept is not held in mind, then some things we read in the Bible can be downright inexplicable, even unthinkable.
In fact, until I understood this concept, I thought that one of the most twisted things I ever read is this line from Isaiah:
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. (1)
The principle that punishment looks forward to salvation is seen in our passage today, where we read that if the people were to repent, then God would call off the punishment he'd planned:
If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (2)
If God sees the outcome that punishment attempts to achieve--repentance leading to salvation--then there is no longer the need to deploy punishment. So he doesn't.
If God could get us to turn his way by strewing candy canes along our paths, he would. But if we won't react to raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, then God will attempt to turn us towards salvation by other means.
God is unwilling that any should perish (3), so he sent Jonah to Nineveh with a one-sentence sermon:
"Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!" (4)
Jonah's short sermon worked! The city of Nineveh--every single person--turned to God.
So what did God do? He called off the judgment that was about to overtake them:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (5)
God didn't change; he always wants to save. Nineveh changed--and it made all the difference.
At the cross, Father and Son were looking forward. It pleased the LORD to bruise Him only because God knew that the travail of his soul would bring Jesus joy:
When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous. (6)
Jesus was looking forward, past judgment to salvation:
For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (7)
It made him happy to know that he would set many prisoners free, and that he could then go home.
(1) Isaiah 53:10; (2) Jeremiah 18:7-8; (3) 2 Peter 3:9; (4) Jonah 3:4; (5) Jonah 3:10; (6) Isaiah 53:10-11; (7) Hebrews 12:2

Friday, March 22, 2013

small questions yield small answers

"Let there be light!" by Gustave Doré, 1866
"Let there be light!" by Gustave Doré, 1866
The Word for today:
Jeremiah 16:1 - 17:18
mark this: Jeremiah 17:13 --
O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
because they have forsaken the LORD,
the spring of living water.
Did Jesus ever write anything?
There is one instance (in John chapter 8) of Jesus writing in the dust, literally fulfilling Jeremiah 17:13. But you can't go to the library and read what he wrote that day.
So did Jesus ever write anything? The answer is 'No'--if by 'write' you mean what I am doing now as I bash away at this keyboard.
But both the question and the answer reveal just how small our thinking is, relative to Him. I am not saying we are stupid. What we are is stuck. We are stuck in patterns of thinking that are not up to the task of asking questions about Jesus, let alone finding answers about him.
Did Jesus ever write anything? Using words, an author "creates" a fictional world in a novel. Jesus, with words, spoke the universe into existence:
"Let there be light," and there was light. (1)
The Spirit of Christ in the prophets predicted His first and second comings, which the prophets recorded:
The Spirit of Christ was in the prophets, telling in advance about the sufferings of Christ and about the glory that would follow those sufferings. (2)
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (3) who as the Word made flesh died on the cross, thereby becoming the author of our eternal salvation. (4)
He is not only the Word of God, but he is the entire alphabet, from Alpha to Omega (5)--which is Greek for 'A' to 'Z'.
Not only the Word and every letter, but he is even the dot over every 'i' and the cross through every 't':
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (6)
What language does God speak? God communicates through a language called 'Jesus'--
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets many times and in many different ways. But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. (7)
Jesus spoke the universe into existence with a word. He expresses exactly what God is. He is the author of our faith. He is the author of our eternal salvation. He is the eternal Word. He is the alphabet from beginning to end. He is the fulfillment of every letter, and every stroke of every letter.
So did Jesus ever write anything?  Nope, not a thing.
Small questions yield small answers.
(1) Genesis 1:3; see also Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 4:11; (2) 1 Peter 1:11: (3) Hebrews 12:2; (4) Hebrews 5:9; (5) Revelation 1:8; (6) Matthew 5:17-18; (7) Hebrews 1:1-3

Thursday, March 21, 2013

stay hungry

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 14, 15
mark this: Jeremiah 15:16 --
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.
Q. I've got two loaves of bread in the refrigerator. Should I continue to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread"? (1)
A. Absolutely.  It becomes a prayer that we will stay hungry enough to raid the Bible every day.
Q. Did you say, 'Stay hungry enough to raid the Bible'?
A. Yes.  What does hunger make you do?
Q. Raid the refrigerator!
A. Exactly; that's the function of hunger. So God blesses us with spiritual hunger:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." (2)
Q. So we'll raid the Bible.
A. Right, because...?
Q. Because, uhmm..."Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (3)
A. Perfect! Now think 'Bread' and keep going.
Q. We, uhmm…we raid the Bible because Jesus is the Bread of Life! (4)
A. That's it!  Jeremiah was blessed with hunger, so he raided the Bible:
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart. (Jeremiah 15:16)
Q. Then let's pray to stay hungry.
A. Go ahead...
Q. Give us this day our daily bread!
(1) Matthew 6:11; (2) Matthew 5:6; (3) Matthew 4:4; (4) John 6:35

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

pride stinks

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 13
That's a strong word, but it's not as disgusting as filthy underwear that needed to be changed a month ago.
I'll stop now, for your stomach's sake.
The Bible is powerfully poetic. An example of biblical poetry is the filthy underwear we read about in Jeremiah 13:1-11.
Poetry is not reserved for hearts and flowers and the moon in June. Poetry represents the entire spectrum of ideas, actions, and emotions. Poetry can be about anything--about love, war, basketball, the hula hoop, or office supplies. The subject does not matter. It becomes poetic when one thing is expressed in terms of something else.
So saying, "Love is like a rose" is poetic. And saying, "Pride clings to Judah like underwear which has been worn for a long time" is also poetic. In fact, it's powerfully poetic, whereas the rose long ago passed from the realm of poetry to the realm of cliche. ("Cliche" is where language goes to die.)
Jesus taught in poetic, figurative language--expressing eternal truths in terms of vines and lamps and sowers and seed. He told illustrative stories known as parables--about pearls; about wine and wineskins; about a father and his sons; wheat and weeds; sheep and goats.
And sometimes Jesus used language that made "soiled undies" sound refined:
"Hypocrites!" "Vomit." "Latrine." "Brood of vipers." "Child of Hell." "Your father the devil." "Whitewashed tombs."
The Bible is both literal and poetic. On the literal level, God told Jeremiah to wear underwear over the course of a long journey and then hide it in some rocks.
But God was not concerned with underwear. On the poetic level, the parable was God's way of expressing how disgusting the pride of Judah and Jerusalem had become, and how he was allowing the consequences of sin to take their course.
In the book of Jeremiah, we have already encountered an almond rod, a boiling cauldron, and foul underwear. In subsequent chapters we will read about a full bottle, a potter's vessel, a broken bottle, two baskets of figs, the purchase of a field, hidden stones, and a book sunk in the Euphrates.
Prose tells. It might tell about the "deleterious effects of pride on the individual psyche."
But poetry engages the senses. In this case, it smells as it tells.
"Deleterious effects" means nothing to me,
but "dirty underwear" leaves a pungent, vivid impression of what God thinks of pride:
pride stinks.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

like nobody else--just like Jesus

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 11, 12
mark this: Jeremiah 12:9 --
My people are like a speckled bird...
I meet with a small group a couple times a month. I think of the group as the Black Ducks, my extrapolation of "black sheep" and "odd ducks." My Dad told me I was the black sheep of the family when I was barely old enough to understand the phrase. "Every family's got one, and you're ours." Thing was, when he said it, he meant it as praise. And so do I; in fact, I love those Black Ducks. Thank God, every church has some.
There's Shellster, always. We've never been apart. There's Elusive Jimmy, who will disappear if you let him, but Mary and I keep an eye on him, so he can't. Mary has ESP--extra spiritual perception. She sees around corners. Laura is glad. About what? About everything! Tom is a realist; no whitewash or sugarcoating interferes with his outlook. I run the Tom-Test to see if an idea will fly. Vicky's Spirit emanates. The polar opposite of catching a cold; when you're around her, you'll catch fire! Dan could and should be President. Julie knows. She just knows.
When this flock congregates, Shelley prepares a lesson, which we sometimes get to. I'm under strict orders not to say anything until everyone else has been heard, but that's never happened. Every week, some one of us prints up the lyrics to an old hymn or a contemporary Jesus song. We linger over those lyrics for a while. Then I'll drag in something from Second Corinthians or Zephaniah; Shelley, shining, kicks my foot under the table because I'm supposed to wait, but that's never happened. Laura grows glad, then gladder; Vicky transcends; Tom tests the supposition; Mary's already around the corner; Dan's in the building (you know when Dan's in the building); and Julie knows. She just knows. By the way, has anybody seen Jimmy?
Are you an odd duck? A black sheep?
Are you a horse of a different color? A speckled bird?--
My people are like a speckled bird...
If you have decided to follow Jesus, you are walking in the footsteps of the greatest nonconformist who ever drew breath. He defies classification. He will fit in no category. He mocks any box men have used in their attempts to contain him.
We expose the limits of language when we attempt to describe him. We search in vain for comparison or analogy:
"To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal
And compare Me, that we should be alike?"
 (Isaiah 46:5)
And the better we know him, the more indescribable he becomes.
The Bible warns us against conforming to this world:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
Our only conformity is to is Jesus:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Romans 8:29)
God likes your speckles and freckles; he placed them there so he could tell you apart from all his other children. He likes every hair of your head; he counted them, colored them, and placed them there.
Odd as it may sound, God wants you to be like nobody else. Just like Jesus.

Monday, March 18, 2013

that's life

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 9:23-10:25
mark this: Jeremiah 9:23-24--
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me."
Teacher: Why did Jesus die?
Student: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
Teacher: Why did Jesus die?
Student: It's right there in John 3:16. He died so that we could live forever.
Teacher: You answered with an appropriate verse, but I still don't know if you know the answer.
Student (exasperated): Huh?
Teacher: Let's take a multiple choice test:
Directions: Carefully note the emphasized words. Choose the correct answer.
Why did Jesus die?
A. He died to give us eternal  life.
B. He died to give us eternal  life.
Student: What's the difference?
Teacher: One answer is right. One answer is wrong.
I hope you take that short quiz, because that teacher (and this one!) is not trying to confuse the student. He is trying to clarify an essential concept of scripture.
The wrong answer is A, because all of us--saved or unsaved--have eternity.
The saved have eternity with God.
The unsaved have eternity without God.
Thr right answer is B. 'Life' in the Bible means relationship with God. What Jesus did at the cross is give us life--he restored our relationship with God which had been broken by sin.
Student: What does 'relationship' mean?
Teacher: It means to know someone.
Student: I'm ready to re-take the test now.
Teacher: OK. Why did Jesus die?
Student: So we could know him.
Teacher: That's 100% right!
Life does not consist of breathing or consciousness. And life is not measured in years or dollar bills. Life consists of getting to know God:
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me.
 (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
This concept, when applied, puts everything on a different basis:
"How's life?"
"Get a life."
"That's life."
Jesus died so you could know him.   That's  life.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

we sure are stupid (but we don't have to stay that way)

The Word for today:
Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
mark this: Jeremiah 9:10-14 --
I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the desert pastures.
They are desolate and untraveled, and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds of the air have fled and the animals are gone.
What man is wise enough to understand this?
Who has been instructed by the LORD and can explain it?
Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?
The LORD said, "It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts.
 (Jeremiah 9:10-14)
We sure are stupid.
But God doesn't want us to stay that way. He intends for us to gain wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But he wants us to approach knowledge in the right way, or it can kill us.
The story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has been interpreted to mean all kinds of things. Many of the interpretations are, well, stupid.
One interpretation is that God didn't want Adam and Eve to know the difference between right and wrong. That way they could remain in blissful infantile oblivion, forever.
The Tree of Knowledge means a lot, but it doesn't mean that.
The fundamental meaning of the Tree is that there is a way--God's Way--to knowledge, and there is a way to knowledge that is not God's way. God wanted Adam and Eve to learn everything. But God knew that the pursuit of knowledge outside of the parameters of his Word is a self-deluding dead end. Adam and Eve stepped outside those parameters.
Science, rightly understood, is the study of God's hand--the hand which shaped creation.
Theology, rightly understood, is the study of God's heart--the heart which went to the cross to achieve our re-creation.
But "scientists" don't generally meet in the morning to pray for God's guidance and wisdom as they seek to unlock the mysyteries of the natural realm. They skip prayer, for the most part, and go straight to the test tube or the telescope.
The Word of God tells us that if we acknowledge him in all our ways, and lean not on our own understanding, he will direct our paths (1)--towards knowledge, towards peace. But we have not acknowledged God in our pursuit of knowledge. We have turned, every one, to his own way (2).
Thus we have managed to get further and further away from knowledge and peace. We have put ourselves in harm's way, playing with fire that we cannot control. Aren't we great. Aren't we grand.
They tell me there is enough energy locked inside the atoms in a barrel of water to power a city or even a country for a year, without pollution. But the way to safely unleash that power has been hidden from us, because we have tried to find it without regard to God. Although He made the atom, and is the only one who knows how to unlock its bonds, "science" doesn't think to ask him.
So we are forced to buy a barrel of oil, instead. It's expensive, it pollutes, and its procurement is fraught with dangerous geopolitical repercussions. And it sure won't power a city or even a car for very long.
The earth and the animals and all of nature were subjected to defilement when man, in the Garden, stopped listening to the voice of God and listened to another voice instead.
There's a sad reminder of that in our reading today:
I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the desert pastures.
They are desolate and untraveled, and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds of the air have fled and the animals are gone.
What man is wise enough to understand this?
Who has been instructed by the LORD and can explain it?
Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?
The LORD said, "It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts.
 (Jeremiah 9:10-14)
There was just one tree to avoid in the Garden. Every other tree was life-sustaining.
But sin denuded the Garden. Now there is only one life-sustaining tree:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (3).
We sure are stupid. But we don't have to stay that way.
(1) Proverbs 3:5-6; (2) Isaiah 53:6; (3) 1 Peter 2:4