Wednesday, July 31, 2013

just a list

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 11
"Chapter 11 of Nehemiah is just a list of names."
It's a list, alright. But I'm not sure that I'd use the adjective 'just.'
Nehemiah is, chronologically speaking, the end of the Old Testament. How can that be, when so much of the Old Testament remains to be read after we finish Nehemiah?
That's because the Old Testament is not arranged chronologically. Instead, it's arranged like this:
· The Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
· History (Joshua-Esther)
· Wisdom (Job-Song of Solomon)
· Major Prophets (Isaiah-Daniel)
· "Minor" Prophets (Hosea-Malachi)
The Bible is arranged to make literary sense. Thus it is arranged by literary genre. It's like an orchestra on the stage--all the trumpets together over there; all the oboes over there; the cellos there; the violas there; the french horns right here, and the triangle is...where in tarnation is that triangle?
(If the Bible were arranged in chronological order, then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and Malachi would not be way down at the end of the Old Testament, but mixed right in with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.)
It's a sublime arrangement, but it takes the Bible student a lifetime to understand just why. I'd try to explain, but, like heaven, it's nearly impossible to describe the sublime until you've been there!
And just like the symphonies of the aforementioned orchestra, the Bible has certain movements or patterns which prepare us for the finale.
That's what we are seeing in Nehemiah chapter 11. This chronologically-last book of the Old Testament is a picture, a pre-figurement, a prediction--a prophecy!--of the grand finale we will see in the last chapters of the New Testament.
That ho-hum list in Nehemiah 11 (the names of the people who are to live in re-built Jerusalem) is a foreshadowing of a list in the book of Revelation -- a list that you won't be bored by, because your name will be on it!
If you trust Jesus to save you from your sins, your name will appear in the Lamb's Book -- a list of all those who will live forever in the heavenly New Jerusalem:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. (1)
Suddenly, it's not "just a list" anymore, is it!  Suddenly, in fact, it's sublime.
(1) excerpted from Revelation 21; see also Galatians 4:26-28; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 12:22-24

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

you and your drum

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 9:38-10:39
mark this: Nehemiah 10:35-37 --
We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD; also to bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil.
The Bible talks about the supernatural a lot. What I know about the supernatural is this: God is and I'm not. If I were to walk on water today, it would actually be none of my business. I might be atop the waves, but if God were to withdraw his hand, down I'd go. I'm ready and willing and believing; and like Peter, I'm always ready to jump out of the boat. But supernatural I'm not.
What we can be that's just as exciting as supernatural is superlative. Now don't stop reading because you're thinking that I'm going to exhort you to become the best. I can't even define best. Who's the best singer? or baseball player? or writer? or bricklayer? Who knows?
By superlative, I'm not talking about someone else's best. I'm talking about your best, and my best. That's what is meant by the concept of firstfruits that we find throughout the Bible.
You might never be good enough to sing the solo in your church choir. But if you sing your very best to God, he will delight in it, because you have placed God first by giving him your best. In so doing, you have attuned your heart with his: he gave us his first and best when he gave us Jesus (1), so when we send him our best, our hearts rhyme with his.
A memorable example of rendering our firstfruits to God is found in the Christmas song about the little drummer boy. He didn't have lavish gifts to give the King, but he gave the finest he had:
I play my drum for him.
I play my best for him.
You and I are to live a superlative life--the best we can offer--and then leave the supernatural up to God. Give him your best hour, your best effort, your best day, and then let him do with that what he will.
I can't unleash light. I can't heal the sick nor raise the dead. But God can do all of that with the hour and the effort we've handed him. My particular "drum"--the best thing I can bring to the King--is the meager writing talent you see in these sentences. I tap these sentences out, best I know how, and let their sound escape into the thin night air.
The results are left to him, in the supernatural realm which he commands. I can only cast these words to the wind. The wind--where and how these seeds fall--is at his supernatural direction:
"The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)
We tremble--and we should--at the idea that we will give an accounting of our lives to God. But as we tremble, let's remember that God is going to give an accounting, too. He's going to be telling us just where he sent the wind. He's going to show us what he made out of whatever we handed back to him.
I may not be in the varsity ranks of writers. And your drum may be second-hand. But second-string or second-hand will never be an issue with God.
We might think that our best isn't good enough. The biblical principle of firstfruits tells us that God begs to differ.
(1) see 1 Corinthian 15:20, 23

Monday, July 29, 2013

the grace of God that only time can tell -- part 2

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 9:22-37
The Bible often reviews the past in order to make sense of the present and to emphasize God's constant faithfulness. We, too, can be blessed with spiritual perspective when we take time to review the scene in our personal "rear view mirrors."
In the spirit of Nehemiah chapter 9, which recounts the history of God's faithfulness, we urge you to recall your own personal journey with God, and to note the sense and shape that the long view lends our lives. Toward that end, Franklyn recounts from his own life the grace of God that only time can tell.  His story began in this space yesterday and concludes today.
I'd hated that record-setting day for thirty years. I'd marked it as the beginning of the end for a lad I'd known so well.
And I always had a hard time describing--to a decade's worth of doctors and trainers, before I completely gave up the chase--just exactly what and where my deep-seated injury actually was.  All I could do was point in vain to the place where the leg ceases to be a leg and becomes a body instead.
So time continued turning until I found myself transported--don't ask me how--into realms of faith, into the kingdom of God. It wasn't until I got there that I found an account--a clinically precise description--of my old wound. I happened to read it right here:
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.   (Genesis 32:24-32)
I was teaching a Bible class, reading those verses projected on the wall, when I first found my injury exactly described.  I'd read the passage before, of course, but I'd never connected Jacob's spiritual genesis to my own.  I remember Shelley shooting me a quizzical glance because I read far more of that passage than was necessary to buttress the particular point I'd been teaching.  I told her later, on the way home, that it was as if the words were being read to me from a source deep within--from where the past meets its meaning, from where the problem becomes its own solution, from where judgment ceases to be judgment and becomes God's grace instead.
Our lap now over, the gang now gone, we made our way to our car parked way over in the now-emptied lot.  And then before I knew it I'd turned around and I was running fluidly, effortlessly, limp-lessly, and fast.  I wanted a last look at the big picture before they took it down.
I'd once hated that picture more than anything.  Taken moments before we began our record relay, it had captured my last immortal smile.  Then over the years--perversely, it seemed--the photo appeared in the local paper twenty times if it appeared once.  Well-meaning friends would clip and save it for me.  And every time I saw it, every few years, I counted it as a twisted trick of fate. I wondered at the pitiless irony that every so often would force me to recollect the day the essential Franklyn had died.
Shelley had followed me back through the track's gates, so I asked her, "Will you take a picture of me, next to myself, in this big picture?"
She knows what that picture once meant to me and how I came to regard it as the day the Lord Jesus Christ broke my leg to turn my heart around.
Track might not be important to you, like it was to the boy in the picture.  But something hidden away in a bottom drawer, in a dark corner of your memory, once meant life itself to you. Maybe it was a dream, an aspiration. Or maybe it was a relationship.
And maybe it was shattered. And maybe it was broken.
I invite you to revisit the day, because Jesus is the Savior.  He's in the saving business, and he means business. If he has to break your legs to save you, he will.  If he has to break your heart to save you, he will.  He's already ordered a brand new heart for you anyway. (1)
Revisit the day. Surrounded by the context of many years, it might look far different now than it did then.  Hopefully it won't take you the thirty years it took me to be able to look at the big picture and proclaim, "Great is thy faithfulness!" (2)
(1) Ezekiel 36:26; (2) Lamentations 3:23

Sunday, July 28, 2013

the grace of God that only time can tell -- part 1

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 9:1-21
The Bible often reviews the past in order to make sense of the present and to emphasize God's constant faithfulness. We, too, can be blessed with spiritual perspective when we take time to review the scene in our personal "rear view mirrors."
Over the next couple of days, as Nehemiah chapter 9 recounts the history of God's faithfulness, we urge you to recall your own personal journey with God, and to note the sense and shape that the long view lends our lives. Toward that end, Franklyn will recount from his own life the grace of God that only time can tell.   
This past Sunday, we took Frankie and Eddy to a track/cross-country camp in western Pennsylvania. Because we had to be there, I could not attend an event in my hometown. But I managed to get back just as things were winding down.
The event I missed was a re-enactment, in honor of a relay record that I and seven of my high school teammates achieved 42 years ago. We'd run 100 miles in bursts of 100, 200, and 400 meters--actually, it was yards in those days. The record still stands, so a race was organized to both honor our feat and de-feat it, all on the same day!
Even though we arrived in the event's waning moments, when only a few of the teams remained on the track, when the vendors and the band and the officials and the timers were beginning to pack their gear away, I was impressed by the scene. And I got the biggest kick out of an overblown picture, prominently displayed, of our very young selves in our old-time track spikes and our immortal smiles.
Shelley asked if I'd like to walk all the way around the track before we left. We walked together slowly. Something in me didn't want to finish this, my single 400 meter commemorative lap. I was wishing that I could set a world record for the slowest lap of all time. In the mild light of the setting sun, my most-beautiful-in-the-world wife was the most beautiful that she had ever--that anyone could have ever--been.
I'd hurt myself badly, deeply on that record-setting day long ago. The oddest thing was that I didn't know it until the next day. But thereafter, to one degree or another, I limped through the rest of my high school races. I remained fast, and mighty fast, but I would never be as fast as I was going to be.
Then it occurred to me, as I walked along, trying to stretch that backstretch out to forever, that Eddy is precisely, to the very day, the same age as I was in late June of 1968 when we had run the relay that would eventually bring us all back to the Emmet Belknap track.
The mental gymnastics necessary to make that calculation must have dislodged an array of memories long unvisited. Like a slide show in my head, pictures started to fill the stretches of years and decades. Faces took their places, lining up in their respective relationships to time. Some of them I'd forgotten. Some I'd forgotten on purpose.
My long lap now over, I looked to see if any of the old team were still there. They'd been ceremonially introduced that morning. And, I am told, they'd even led a ceremonial first lap before the relay teams cut loose. But that had been long hours ago; none of them were still around.
{"The grace of God that only time can tell" will conclude tomorrow in this space.}

Saturday, July 27, 2013

when holy eyes are smiling

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 8
mark this: Nehemiah 8:1-4
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.
And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.
Chapter 8 presents a turning point in the book of Nehemiah.
In chapters 1-7, we saw a nation reborn under the leadership of Nehemiah. Beginning with chapter 8, Ezra re-enters, and we are going to see the born-again nation grow up.
Parallels to the church (which won't be formed until after the death and resurrection of Jesus) are obvious. First, we read that the people gathered as one man. That is a precise picture of what the church--the body of Christ--will be:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Born-again, they/we are then transformed by the reading and teaching of the Word of God:
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard.
And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday.
And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. 
(Nehemiah 8:2-4)
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
The people weep at the reading, for the Word of God lays lives bare, exposing how far short of God's standards we have fallen:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
But they are told to celebrate:
"Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved,  for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)
They are to celebrate because God is happy with them!--
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
The justice of the Law brings sorrow. But the joy of the Lord brings strength. Notice that it’s not joy in the Lord but the joy of the Lord that brings strength. That is, it’s not our joy in Him, but His joy over us that is our strength:
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
About 400 years after Ezra and Nehemiah, the pitiless condemnation and the infinite forgiveness of the Word of God would be embodied by a single man, raised high on a wooden structure within the shadow of Jerusalem's walls.
Wherever you go to church, make sure that man--who by his very being is the pronouncement of the Word of God--is lifted up high:
"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (John 12:32)
Make sure that the Word of God is read and taught and treasured and followed. Make sure that the problem--sin--is pronounced; and that the remedy--God's reconciliation through Jesus' death and resurrection--is the lasting emphasis.
And make God's smile your strength.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stop listening to people wearing millstones

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 7

know I'm a child of God. You know how I know? I know it because I know my Father.
I know his heart and his promises. I saw them acted out at the cross.
Recently I attended a Sunday school class where the old subject of assurance came up. So I listened as people weighed in on whether or not we can be certain we are saved.
I feel like screaming whenever this nonsense comes up, because to say we can't be sure is a refutation of everything God stands for, and everything he has done. To say we can't be sure is to call God a liar:
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:10-13)
I will go so far as to say--to those who sow these doubts in Sunday schools, pulpits, and seminaries--that if you don't know you're saved, you probably aren't! Because the God who saved me certainly didn't leave me guessing. If the god you're dealing with isn't god enough to save you for certain, your god isn't Jesus Christ. You might call him that, but you've mistaken him for somebody else. Because all who trust him are legitimate children:
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

In today's reading, Nehemiah searches the genealogies, going to great lengths to identify legitimate sons:
Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy. (Nehemiah 7:5)
And there were some who… could not identify their father’s house nor their lineage. (Nehemiah 7:61)
They sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but it was not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled.  (Nehemiah 7:64)
The Bible teaches that if you don't know you are legitimately a child, it's because you don't really know your father. So if you happen to be one of those who can't say for certain that you are an eternal child of God, it would be wise to re-evaluate; to reject any god who can't save for certain; to turn in renewed faith to Jesus Christ--who died, suspended between heaven and earth, so that we wouldn't be left (either literally or figuratively) hanging.
After the troubling Sunday school class which prompted this plea, one of the students rushed up to me. She wanted to know whether her salvation might be in jeopardy. So I told her...
[ I can hardly tell this story. I'm going to exit this blog because I have to find and strangle those who caused this child of God to doubt. No, I won't need to strangle 'em. God's already seen to that; he's got a millstone waiting for those who create doubt (the seminal sin) in his children who believe:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6) ]
…I told her that, according to the Word of God, Jesus became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
"Righteous," I said, "means a lot of things. But the thing for you to remember is that righteous means you have as much right to be in heaven as Jesus Christ himself. So don't ever let anybody snatch your assurance from you. And don't ever forget this: In order for God to kick you out of heaven, he would have to kick Jesus out with you."
And so I say to you what I said to her:  In order for God to kick you out of heaven, he would have to kick Jesus out, too.
So rest assured, child of God.  And stop listening to people wearing millstones!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Should such a man as I run away?

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 6
I tire, quickly, at the tone of voice affected by the current crop of Christian men.
Bending over backwards to be humble--humble, above all else!--we defer too readily, apologize too quickly, agree too broadly, and compromise too much.
When I first read the Bible, I didn't know much about theology. Unschooled in the niceties of faith, I read about a man who, with 12 often bumbling disciples, stood against the legions of Rome, the forces of the Sanhedrin, and the bizarre political cauldron stirred by the psychopathic Herods.
What I remember being struck by, more than anything else, was the man's sheer guts.
His guts. Jesus' flat-out bravery gets lost amidst the grace, the forgiveness, the humility--humble, above all else!--the compassion, and the love.
We don't characteristically hear, from our pulpits nor from the men in our pews, the tone of Christ's voice which is prefigured by Nehemiah in today's reading:
Should such a man as I run away?  (Nehemiah 6:11)
That's the voice that cleared the temple. That's the voice that blistered the Pharisees. There is not, in that voice, a scintilla of either deference, or forgiveness, or compassion, or agreeableness.
I am following the bravest man I've ever met. You can talk about walking on water, and feeding five thousand, and calming the raging sea; but I hear most clearly, amidst the din of this battle, the commanding voice of the man who set his face like flint (1) for a date with Roman torturers--with their fists and their flogs and their nails and their cross--when he could have summoned 12 legions of angels. (2)
The unparalleled bravery which didn't call 12 legions of angels to his rescue remains, to me, his greatest miracle --because it was in the losing of that battle that the lone soldier won the war.
Can you say 'ass' in a Bible blog? Well, having already introduced the topics of guts and gonads, I'll risk it--in order to tell a story demonstrating what I hear as a Christ-like voice...
John Wesley--the great reformer, theologian, and evangelist--was about to cross a brook over which was a very narrow bridge, just wide enough for one person. As he was starting over, he met a liberal preacher of that day. This preacher swelled up and said, “I never give way to an ass.” John Wesley looked at him for a moment, smiled, and began to back off, saying, “I always do.”
"Should such a man as I run away?"
(1) see Isaiah 50:7 and Luke 9:51; (2) Matthew 26:53

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God's fantastic memory

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 5
One of the dearest prayers in the Bible is before us today:
Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people. (Nehemiah 5:19)
Remember me, my God, for good.
God's memory works differently than ours. More on that in just a bit. But first, let's look not at God's memory, but at his "forgetter."
God so thoroughly forgives that he forgets! Sins forgiven through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ are not just forgiven, they are dropped into the middle of the deep blue sea:
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)
That's God's great "forgetter." But what about his "rememberer?"
Our memories recall things. But when God remembers, it's not just mental activity; it's redemptive activity.
One of the delightful verses in scripture is Genesis 8:1--
But God remembered Noah...
This verse is very instructive, because it points out what it means to be remembered by God. If I were to suddenly remember something, it means that something had previously slipped my mind. But God never forgot about Noah in the first place!
Whenever God remembers us, he sends something good our way:
• Genesis 9:16: "Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."
• Genesis 30:22: "Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb."
As soon as God remembered Noah, the floodwaters started to subside. As soon as God remembered the rainbow, he blessed the earth. As soon as God remembered Rachel, she became pregnant. As soon as God remembered his people in slavery, he started their journey of redemption:
"God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God looked on them and was concerned about them." (Exodus 2:24–25)
Whenever the Bible says God remembers, it means God will act for someone according to his covenant (commitment) promises, pouring undeserved goodness on his people.
So I hope we pray the prayer that Nehemiah prayed. I hope we pray it every day:
Remember me, my God, for good.
What a fantastic memory He has!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

praise the LORD, and pass the ammunition

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 4
We often think of prayer as something contemplative.
So Nehemiah, being an action figure, is often overlooked when we search for insight into prayer.
But lately I have found, in Nehemiah, more instruction on prayer--and more inspiration to pray--than almost anywhere else in the Bible.
Yesterday we learned about prayer in the midst of action. Today we will learn how God often activates answers to prayer through--are you ready?--through us.
For example, you pray that your family will more closely follow God. Now take a look at that prayer from God's point of view. Who on earth is better positioned and more motivated to lead them forward than--are you ready?--than you? Taking spiritual leadership, then, in your formerly leaderless home, you are God's answer to your prayer.
You pray that your church would be more Bible-loving and Bible-literate. Now look at that prayer from God's point of view: Who is hungrier, more motivated, and more impassioned concerning that prayer than--are you ready--than you? So, ordering two study Bibles, Strong's Concordance, Unger's Bible Dictionary, and the complete commentaries of John MacArthur and J. Vernon McGee, you wait on the porch for the big brown truck to pull into your driveway. Perhaps you are not aware of it, but the answer to your prayer is on your porch, days before the UPS truck arrives.
Your church is cold. No, the heating works fine, but that blazing Jesus compassion is nowhere to be found. So you pray for the spark to be kindled. Looking at that prayer from God's point of view, guess who he found to stoke the fires of compassion?
We must realize that God prepares ahead of time. He gives spiritual gifts, he grows spiritual fruit. Then, by his Spirit, he prompts a prayer asking for their implementation.
Nehemiah knew this principle well:
We prayed to our God and posted a guard. (4:9)
Remember the LORD...and fight. (4:14)
Having prayed for safety, each person held a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other. (4:16-17)
People protest that this isn't "faith." I strenuously disagree.
When are we going to learn that we are supernaturally called, commissioned, gifted, fruited, empowered--and then prompted to pray the very prayer that--are you ready?--that we have been prepared to fulfill.
You are the body of Christ. You are God's supernatural plan. So praise the LORD, and pass the ammunition.

Monday, July 22, 2013

we may not fit in, but we're not stupid

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 3
There are certain verses in the Bible that we would call pivotal. Looking over page one of my Bible, I can spot a couple of these crucial passages. Certainly "In the beginning God..." is one of them. Just two verses later, "Let there be light..." is another.
But some of the most significant verses in the Bible aren't as well known as those are. An example of a seemingly obscure line which is absolutely essential to the Word of God is found in Nehemiah 2:1:
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. (Nehemiah 2:1)
The great significance of this verse lies in the dates given: In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes...
This verse allows us to establish a timeline for "The Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks," which is found in Daniel 9. There you will read that 70 "weeks" of years (70 x 7 = 490 years) begins at the time of "the going out of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem." The only decree in scripture authorizing the rebuilding of the city is recorded right here in Nehemiah chapter 2--in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes.
Well attested records of ancient history fix this date as 445 B.C.
We will look more closely at the particulars of this great prophecy when we reach Daniel. But in the meantime, the Bible student does well to understand that the history, the genealogies, and dates of the Old Testament are there for a reason.
How about this for a reason:
Putting together Nehemiah chapter 2 and Daniel chapter 9, it is possible to derive the very year of the Messiah's death: 483 years after 445 BC.
We read, in Luke 2:41-50, the account of young Jesus in the temple among the scholars, who were amazed at his understanding and his answers. I am sure that one of the topics they discussed there was the linkage between Nehemiah 2:1 and Daniel chapter 9. I surmise, by their amazement, that the greatest scripture scholars in all of Israel found out, on that day, that their generation would see the Messiah--that Scripture had targeted their time. They were informed of this by the irrefutable exegesis of a 12 year old boy. (I can not prove it, but I am firmly convinced that it would not be until years later that the boy came to a further realization: Scripture had targeted not only his time, but him.)
Our faith does not rest on a bunch of fables or baseless hopes. It rests on meticulously recorded history and eyewitness confirmation. It rests, ultimately, on the Word and character of God. Our faith is not, in any way, a leap in the dark. We are not leapers. And we are very choosy about whom we trust.
God's children do not readily fit into the cultures and systems of this foreign world. We are seen, rightly so, as misfits in this present darkness. But that doesn't mean we're stupid.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

little prayers to a big God

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 2
My name is Franklyn Pfeil.  Pronounced "file," it rhymes with smile.
Pfeil is a German word. It means arrow. In fact, I am quite frequently mentioned in the German Bible, which makes me a very big deal, in German that is.
I like the name Pfeil, and not only because of its meaning. I also like the way it sounds. It's what literary experts call an example of onomatopoeia.
An onomatopoetic word sounds like what it means. Buzz is onomatopoetic. Crunch is onomatopoetic. Sizzle and hiss are. Screech is. Onomatopoetic words are fun. My favorite example of onomatopoeia is from a song I learned when I was but a wee little lad:
It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped,
And whirr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.
(--Tom Paxton, "The Marvelous Toy")
Pfeil is onomatopoetic in its initial sound, a consonant blend which gives the sense of an arrow flying by your ear: pffffffff!
It's a quick sound, here and gone in less than a blink, which is the point of today's blog -- because Nehemiah is the master of what has come to be called the "arrow prayer."
Nehemiah characteristically prayed to God while he went about his duties, "shooting an arrow" (so to speak) to God while he was knee-deep in something other than prayer time. Examples of these prayers-in-less-than-a-moment can be found in Nehemiah 1:5-11 / 2:4 / 4:4-5 / 5:19 / 6:9,14 / 13:14,22,31.
We must never forget that the power in a prayer has nothing to do with its length, or its eloquence. A short, simple prayer to a great big Jesus is way, way, way more effective than an ornate, feature-length prayer to a lesser Jesus.
Prayer is never about the prayer itself. Prayer is never even about the one who sends it. The only thing that matters about a prayer is the one it's sent to.
So in the midst of the noise and haste that you'll face today, don't overlook the "arrows" in your prayer arsenal. Send a few little prayers whizzing on their way to our great, good God.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

he drank your wine

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 1
I love the book of Nehemiah. I'll never forget the first time I encountered the last line of chapter 1:
"Now I was cupbearer to the king."
Intriguing. But what did it mean? So I looked it up. The cupbearer tasted the wine first, to make sure it wasn't poisoned. He was the king's most trusted attendant, constantly in his presence.
Then I read how the king sent his cupbearer to a city, far away. His mission was to rebuild what had been broken.
Certainly the book of Nehemiah is about Nehemiah, who worked with Ezra the priest and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to rebuild Jerusalem. But the gathering sense that Nehemiah stands as a preview of Jesus becomes irresistible, even undeniable when we reach, in the New Testament, the night that Jesus was arrested:
So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" (John 18:11)
The cup he drank that night, from his Father's hand, was a well-known Old Testament picture of judgment:
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalms 75:8)
He was sent to a distant land. There he worked as a carpenter, building with wood and stone. Finally, because he knew what was in the cup, he drank your wine.
You'll forgive me if I sometimes forget that Nehemiah is about Nehemiah.

Friday, July 19, 2013

bad marriages

The Word for today:
Ezra 9, 10
The Jews had just returned from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They were sent there as judgment against all of their sins. But far and away the most damaging of their sins was idolatry.
Idolatry is when you confuse God for a nothing:
We know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one.  (1 Corinthians 8:4)
God doesn't want us counting on and relying on a nothing, so he reserves special places in his Bible for emphatic warnings against idolatry. Here is the First Commandment of the Old Testament:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.  (Exodus 20:2-3)
Here is the First Commandment of the New Testament:
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)
You see, God can't save us if we choose to rely on somebody or something else. The reason God can't save people who don't follow him is because he will not disregard their choices. When he says he's one, and that there is no other way, he isn't being angry and mean, or narrow and exclusive. He is trying to show us the way home. He knows that if we try to take any other way home, we won't get there:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14)
That's what's behind the prohibition against marrying foreigners, which we read about in the final chapters of Ezra.
The prohibition is not ethnic. God doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that we should not marry persons because they are from another country.
The prohibition is not racial; God doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that we should not marry persons because they are of another race.
The prohibition is spiritual. God is warning them that foreign marriages, which caused their idolatry and exile in the first place, will cause them to slide into idolatry again.
He wants them to walk out on bad marriages so that they don't walk out on him.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

whenever I am afraid...

The Word for today:
Ezra 8
mark these--
Ezra 8:31:  The hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.
Ezra 8:18:  By the good hand of our God upon us...
Ezra 8:22:  The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek him.
I don't know when I last held one of our kids' hands as we crossed the street.
All parents do it, instinctively. Then there comes a day when we don't do it anymore.
My four kids are between 18 and 26, so the next hand they hold as they cross the street will be the hand of a child of their own.
But I have a notion that we're always little to God. I think there never comes a day when he decides we're too big for all of that.
Ezra keeps on saying that "the hand of our God was upon us." He even makes it better sometimes by saying "the good hand of our God was upon us."
But my favorite is when he says "the hand of our God is for good on all who seek him." That's my favorite because it's not just about Ezra--it includes you and me, too!
Don't you ever say a word about this, but there's times when I'm afraid and I actually hold my hand out to my side like little kids do, waiting for Dad or Mom to clasp it.
Don't you dare tell anyone, but I do that all the time.
If ever you're afraid like I sometimes am, I want you to remember that God has two hands. So even if he's got ahold of my hand, he can hold yours, too.
Sometimes the Good News isn't all about big things like sin and atonement and things hard to explain.  Sometimes the Good News is just about holding hands.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

you are--because he is

The Word for today:
Ezra 7
mark this: Ezra 7:10 --
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.
As I noted (enviously) a couple days ago, Ezra is the Bible teacher's Bible teacher. First of all, we know that he studied like a madman to learn the Book:
Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. (Ezra 7:6)
Ezra knew his stuff. That's the first step a teacher has to accomplish. It's not the most important step, but it's the first.
But what separates Ezra from the rest is found in Ezra 7:10:
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.
On my keyboard, I have taped a little note I wrote to myself. Here's what it says:
"Live biblically."
I am not going to dwell today on how that is done. That's the subject of many lessons to come. I just want you to think about what that means.
I want you to visualize what your life would look like if you were to live biblically.
Ezra did it. The Bible says that we should too:
Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
As you think about what living biblically will make your life look like, I want you to recall the very best example of a person who lived biblically. It was said of him that he made the Bible come to life!--The Word became flesh and lived among us.
That means that when he walked into a room, it was just the same as having a living, breathing enactment of the Bible walk into the room! That's what I call flaming fantabulous!
And don't make living biblically all about where you fall short. Because to make it about that would be the exact opposite of living biblically.
You see, living biblically isn't about you at all! The whole point of the Bible is that Jesus didn't fall short. And because he didn't, you don't have to either. You don't have to live the way you used to, because you were born again. That means you have a new nature, the nature of a child of God--the same nature Jesus has. It means that you are super-natured!
This new supernatural you wants--yes, wants--to live just like Jesus did! That's the overwhelming desire of your brand new heart:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
So don't listen anymore to the sound of the old you echoing in your ears. All it's going to say, over and over, is that you fall short.
But that was another you. You're not that person anymore:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
You are a new creation, so start thinking all the new thoughts and promises that the Bible is jam-packed with. Don't listen to those old echoes anymore. Just make up your mind to learn all about Jesus and make up your heart to trust in all the wild and radical things he has to say about the new you.
Do that and, by God, one day you will find that you are living biblically!
It all sort of sneaks up on you.  Then one day,  you are--because he is.