Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What in the world is going on?


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 46, 47
What in the world is going on?
Turn on the TV news. Scenes from around the world flash across the screen. Suicide bombings in the Middle East; failing currencies in Europe; collapsing economies; epidemics and pandemics; earthquake upon earthquake; genocide; revolution; ethnic unrest; drug trafficking at unprecedented levels; famine; state-sponsored terrorism; tyranny; nuclear proliferation into rogue countries pledged to annihilate their enemies. The mind reels, trying to take it in.
In the United States a culture of dependency leaves stupefying deficits in its wake; citizens lose trust in their government; citizens lose trust in financial, educational, and media institutions. Immorality of every sort--which has always been rampant behind closed doors--emerges from the closet and parades down 5th Avenue with the mayor. As a nation, we have voted out God and made ourselves the legislators of right and wrong, the arbiters of life and death.
What in the world--and in the neighborhood--is going on?
***
In chapters 46 to 50, Jeremiah gives a portrait of a world which, we sense, we've seen somewhere before. In these chapters we flash, by imagination, from one country to the next, viewing all-too-familiar scenes of global disintegration. But the Bible reader comes away with a very different sense of things than the TV viewer does.
TV news leaves the viewer with a dizzying feeling that chaos reigns; while the Bible shows, paradoxically, that God is in control. The Bible reveals that history is not just "one thing after another," but is subject to God's purposeful direction.
What's going on is exactly what the Word of God says will go on. There's nothing on the newscast that's news to him.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, April 29, 2013

let your light so shine


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 44, 45
Baruch, Jeremiah's assistant, is warned not to seek great things for himself:
Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. (Jeremiah 45:5)
The key word in the warning is 'yourself.' God never told Baruch not to seek greatness.
I seek greatness every day. I have not yet achieved it, but someday I am going to find the words to express the greatness of Jesus Christ. It might be in an article, or in a speech, or while teaching. I don't know what form it will take, but I'm going to tell how great He is if I have to lasso infinity to do it.
All of us who labor in the service of the LORD should seek great things for Jesus. Maybe you were given a blog to write. Maybe you teach the third grade Sunday School class. Maybe you trim the hedges and mow the lawn around the church.
Or maybe you play the drum in the band. Whatever role you play, play your best for him. Seek great things for him. The Holy Spirit has gifted and energized us to sing, write, teach, serve, love, pray, live, give, and bang the drum in ways which proclaim one theme: "How Great Thou Art."
Jesus told us to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."  (Matthew 5:16)
May we never forget the little word 'so.' It seems that Baruch was letting his spotlight so shine that it was aimed at himself. When God gently corrected him, I have an idea that Baruch's light swung back on Jesus in an instant.
Make the same correction if you must. And then let your pen so write, your voice so sing, your hands so help, your heart so care, or your drum so beat that you reflect your great Savior and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, April 28, 2013

(G)od's (P)rotective (S)cripture


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 42, 43
When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, most of the people were carried off to Babylon. The leaders of the few who were left asked Jeremiah to seek God's will for them:
"Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do." (1)
So Jeremiah took their questions to God. After ten days God answered Jeremiah, saying that if they remained in Jerusalem, they'd be safe. But if they left the city to go to Egypt, they would die there:
"This is what the LORD says: 'If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. However, if you say, 'No, we will go and live in Egypt,' then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die." (2)
Despite the fact that all his prophecies concerning Babylon had come to pass, the disobedient leaders accused Jeremiah of lying. Ignoring the Word of the LORD which they'd asked Jeremiah to seek, they set out for Egypt.
In so doing, they went out of God's protection into His judgment, as all who are disobedient to His Word do.
When God's Word specifically warns us that there is trouble down a certain road, there is trouble down that road. We don't have to test the Word of God as if it were just a theory. God's Word has been right in it's every particular utterance. In fact, I have a million dollars for anyone who can point to one instance where the Word of God has proven untrue. I will get no takers.
What "road" has God told you to avoid? Maybe you're not on the road to Egypt, but are you on the road to adultery? or unforgiveness? or gossip and back-stabbing? Are you on the way to self-centeredness? Are you nearing neglect of the gift he has given you? Are you getting closer and closer to faithlessness?
If you're on one of those roads, the Word of God guarantees trouble ahead. I have another million dollars for anyone who has taken the road to Egypt, and encountered no trouble there.
***
I'm always technologically behind the cue ball, so it wasn't until a month ago (when a friend loaned us one) that I ever used a GPS. All the way to Florida, I was astonished at its accuracy. And I had a blast fiddling with all the different voices on the little gizmo.
As the miles piled up and started to make me a little loopy, I began thinking how great it would be if there were a spiritual GPS, and I said so to Shelley.
"You--the biggest Bible banger south of the North Pole--are actually wishing that God would provide a spiritual GPS?"
I caught her irony. Rolling down I-95, I began to wonder what the actual voices of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sound like, and how neat it would be...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Jeremiah 42:2-3; (2) excerpted from Jeremiah 42:7-16

Saturday, April 27, 2013

disaster and deliverance


rescued
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Jeremiah 39- 41
mark this: Jeremiah 39:18
"I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the LORD."
"This is the end, my only friend, the end..."
That's how things certainly seemed.
- The end of the siege of Jerusalem (39:2)
- The end of Zedekiah's reign (39:6-7)
- The end for Jerusalem's Walls (39:8)
- The end of Solomon's Temple (2 Kings 25:9)
It was the end of the world as Israel knew it.
But in this time of chaos and turmoil, in the midst of destruction (ch. 39), political intrigue (ch. 40) and assassination (Ch. 41), one story of salvation emerges. It's the end of the story for Ebed-melech, and it's the only thing positive in these three chapters.
We know from Jeremiah 37:7-13 that Ebed-melech was the Ethiopian eunuch that rescued Jeremiah from certain death in the cistern. In a time of mass cowardice, this faithful servant risked his own life by boldly going before the king and personally seeing that Jeremiah escaped death inside the well.
Here in today's reading, Jeremiah is given a special message for Ebed-melech. In the midst of the total collapse of Jerusalem, this one man is spared and promised deliverance, protection, and salvation. He is not the first outsider redeemed by God, nor will he be the last. Ebed-melech joins a long list of Gentiles who placed their trust in the God of Israel and therefore were rescued.
- Rahab (Joshua 6:25)
- Ruth (Ruth 1:16, 2:12)
- Naaman (2 Kings 5:15)
- 2nd Ethopian Eunuch (Acts 3:36)
- Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:34)
Ebed-melech, along with the rest of those on the list above, typify Christians.
Consider the facts:
1. Ebed-melech was nameless.
We don't know his name, as Ebed-melech is not even a name, but a title that meant "servant of the king."
2. Ebed-melech had no hope of a future
That's where the whole eunuch thing comes in, enough said.
3. Eden-melech was a foreigner.
That's where the whole Ethiopian thing comes in.
What does the New Testament say? The same exact thing about us!
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)
We had no family lineage, we had no rights as citizens, we had no hope- just like Ebed-melech. But don't stop there- go on to Ephesians 2:13--
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
That is the Good News. That is our story.
Just like Rahab, we have been spared from destruction.
Just like Ruth, we go from strangers to part of the family of God.
Just like Namaan, we go from covered in uncleanness to whole in Christ.
Just like the 2nd Ethiopian eunuch, we go from spiritual darkness to the light of Jesus.
Just like the Philippian jailer, we go from death, because of our transgressions, to new life in Christ.
And just like Ebed-melech, we find deliverance and salvation in the Living God.
Praise God for this story. At the darkest hour in the history of Israel, we see a tiny glimpse of hope and know that Ebed-melech's journey can be our own as well.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, April 26, 2013

lifted up


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 37, 38
mark this: Jeremiah 38:11-13 --
So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. Ebed-Melech the Cushite said to Jeremiah, "Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes." Jeremiah did so, and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern.
We Bible teachers talk in big words, not because we want to act like big deals, but because it takes big words to convey big meanings.
The big Bible word you'll hear most often is 'salvation.' So what does salvation mean?
I'm not sure what it means, but it means absolutely everything to me! Ask anyone what being saved means and they'll probably begin using more big words--that salvation means redemption, and justification, and resurrection, and propitiation, and sanctification, and glorification, and even vicarious substitutionary atonement. Yikes.
Which, of course, prompts further questions about those words. What do they mean? And then more big words are necessary to explain those big words, until we are so far away from understanding the first word ('salvation,' remember?) that we are forced to shout "STOP!"
And so I will. Instead of using technical, theological terms, I'll convey salvation in personal terms:
To me, salvation means that I was lifted up.
Lifted up is what I remember about being saved. Lifted up is what I am feeling today as God continues not only to save my soul, but to save my day.
When Jeremiah is lifted out of the cistern in our reading today, that's salvation.
The picture is of a helpless man lifted by the hand and strength of another. If Jeremiah had been able to crawl out, or jump out, it wouldn't have been salvation.
Salvation happens when we can't reach high enough or jump high enough. We can't think our way out or work our way out. We can only be lifted by the hand of another.
I have a poster in the little room where I write. It's directly in front of me because I never want to forget being lifted up by the hand of God. A girl is looking through her tenement window on a rainy day. Photographed in black and white, the day is bleak. But the girl has drawn a smile on her fogged-up window pane. The words of Psalm 30:1 provide the caption:
I will exalt you, O LORD,
for you lifted me out of the depths.
Whatever the depths, and however you got there, is not an issue in God's kingdom. What matters is that, having fallen, you are now in a position to be lifted up. Having fallen, you've met every prerequisite for salvation.
"So look up, for your salvation is near!" (1)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Luke 21:28

Thursday, April 25, 2013

with or without me


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 36
mark this: Jeremiah 36:22-23 --
It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire.
Here in the USA, we get to vote, to cast an opinion. And I hope that you do. It's an expression of liberty, with which God has endowed us; which generations of soldiers have upheld at the cost of their lives.
That little voting booth is a monument to American political freedom, a secular 'holy of holies,' infusing us with a small surge of power.
In that booth, behind that curtain, what each of us thinks actually counts, and carries influence. But the influence ends here, in the transient now, with choices concerning assessor or councilman or senator or president.
Moreover, a problem can arise if the voting experience lends us the mistaken impression that issues of essential truth, beyond the political process, are also contingent upon our approval, and await our say-so.
***
Cultural commentators classify our era as a time of transition, from "modernism" to "postmodernism."
Modernism decrees that truth is not an absolute--that each individual defines his own truth (1).
Postmodernism goes a step further into the darkness, and decrees that there is no truth to define.
But the Bible teaches that His Truth is marching on, inexorably accomplishing the purpose for which God has sent it. (2)
I have a friend who guides an annual mountain expedition. When one of the climbers was injured on the ascent, he told me that it reminded him of our relationship to God's Truth: "The mountain is what it is (3). We can accommodate to the mountain; but it doesn't accommodate to us. We either tread carefully--or we fall."
A couple times every year, I fish the maw of the Niagara River, underneath the Peace Bridge where Lake Erie enters. The powerful currents pile against the massive bridge supports and turn my boat in slow, centripetal circles. I will not allow my boys to fish with me there, because the river doesn't care.
The mountain and the river, like gravity, are no respecters of persons (4). In like manner, the Word of God doesn't care what I think of it. It is not subject to my approval or disapproval. Indeed, I am in subjection--to its force and dominion, and to its King.
We read today how King Jehoiakim carved up and burned the Word of God. His actions were symbolic of the people as well: they had heard God's Word and rejected it.
Despite what we might think, we can't cut the Word of God out of our lives. Despite what they might think, people who never open their Bibles can't shut the Word of God out of their lives.
Evangelists, as they should, exhort us to make a decision about Jesus. But know this, and know it well: Whatever we decide about Jesus--whether we take Him or leave Him--we do not pass sentence on the Truth.
Whether we take Him or leave Him, we pass sentence only on ourselves: He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life (5).
And His Truth marches on, with or without me.
***************
(1) cf. Judges 17:6; (2) Isaiah 55:11; (3) see Exodus 3:14; (4) see acts 10:34; (5) 1 John 5:12

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Don't forget the key--or you won't get in! (part 2)


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 35
(If you haven't already, I hope you'll read yesterday's Stand in the Rain blog.  It serves as an introduction to today's article.)
***

Yesterday, we read about an incident on the road to Emmaus, when a stranger happens alongside two disciples who were disheartened following the death of Jesus, and puzzled about reports they'd heard--that he was alive again.
So the stranger proceeded to give them a guided tour of Scripture. Starting in the beginning, then going verse by verse, he pointed out references to the Christ, the Savior:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
It wasn't until they'd stopped for a meal that they realized the "stranger" was Jesus. All the way down the road, the stranger had been explaining things the Bible says about him!
Then, just as suddenly as he'd appeared beside them, he was gone. The two disciples asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)
You, too, will have your Road to Emmaus experience if you continue to systematically study the whole Bible. One day the key--Jesus--will be placed in your hand and the Old Testament will open before you as if you'd never seen it before. Suddenly, it's not about lambs and burning bushes; and it's not about Abraham and David. You will clearly see that those are just props and role players in the what the Bible really is--the Story Of Jesus.
But why wait? Let's pretend we're on the road to Emmaus right now. In the chapters we are currently reading, here's a few of the things Jesus would have explained concerning himself:
I will heal them (Jeremiah 33:6).
The gospels are a virtual parade of the healed.
I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin (Jeremiah 33:8).
This points straight to the cross.
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 (Jeremiah 33:15).
"The Branch" is a symbol for one of King David's descendants who will rule forever. We meet "the Branch" in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah. Jesus was called "Son of David" by the people of his day, because they recognized him as The Branch.
The LORD is our righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16).
A description of Jesus, who became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Thus says the Lord: 'David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel' (Jeremiah 33:17).
There's Jesus again--the eternal "Son of David" promised in 2 Samuel 7.
Because you have refused the terms of our covenant, I will cut you apart just as you cut apart the calf when you passed between its halves to solemnize your vows (Jeremiah 34:18).
This is a vivid picture of Jesus, who "passed between the pieces" while Abraham slept--signifying that Jesus, alone, would fulfill every requirement for man's salvation. This first occurred in Genesis 15:7-17, so Jesus would already have explained this to the disciples as they walked.
***

When you read the Bible, don't forget the key--or you won't get in.  And have a fire extinguisher ready--because hearts have been known to burst into flame.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Don't forget the key--or you won't get in. (part 1)


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 34

I teach the Bible. I teach big classes, small classes, beginner's classes, advanced classes. But no matter the class, I have just one lesson plan:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
That's it. That's the syllabus and the entire curriculum.
The verse is taken from an incident which occurred on the road to Emmaus, when a stranger happens alongside two disciples who were disheartened following the death of Jesus, and puzzled about reports they'd heard--that he was alive again.
So the stranger proceeded to give them a guided tour of Scripture. Starting in the beginning, then going verse by verse, he pointed out references to the Christ, the Savior.
It wasn't until they'd stopped for a meal that they realized the "stranger" was Jesus. All the way down the road, the stranger had been explaining things the Bible says about him!
Then, just as suddenly as he'd appeared beside them, he was gone. The two disciples asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)
***
What we sometimes overlook is that all the things he explained about himself were from the Old Testament. (The New Testament had not yet been written.)
The disciples' hearts were burning because the Scriptures, which they'd studied all their lives, were for the first time opened to them.
You, too, will have your Road to Emmaus experience if you continue to systematically study the whole Bible. One day the key--Jesus--will be placed in your hand and the Old Testament will open before you as if you'd never seen it before. Suddenly, it's not about lambs and burning bushes; and it's not about Abraham and David. You will clearly see that those are just props and role players in the what the Bible really is--the Story Of Jesus.
***
When you return tomorrow, we'll pretend we're on the road to Emmaus with Jesus, as he points out the things concerning himself in the chapters that we are currently reading.
Until then, don't forget the key--or you won't get in.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, April 22, 2013

investing in Jesus


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 32, 33
mark this: Jeremiah 32: 8b-9 --
I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver.
Today we hear the story about Jeremiah, the real estate investor!
Many people thought that Jeremiah did a foolish thing when he agreed to buy the land. After the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of many people, the value of the land would drop to almost nothing.
How crazy was it for Jeremiah to buy a field where and when he did? It was insane, except for one thing--God told him to do it:
I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver.
Jeremiah explained the reason for his purchase: he was making an investment in a future that God had promised. Someday exiled survivors of the destruction of Judah would return, and worthless land would again become productive and valuable. Jeremiah had already predicted that the exile would last for seventy years (25:11-12; 29:10), so his purchase was a declaration of faith in the LORD's plan for restoring his people.
***
I want to speak directly to a few of you out there--maybe just one--who have given everything you have as an investment of faith in Jesus Christ.
You've given your money to back the program and plans of Jesus Christ. You gave 'til it hurt.
You've given your time. So soon the hours turned into years, the years into decades.
You brought your whole heart to the battle. And you'd do it all again, though few notice or care.
I'm looking you straight in the eye now and with all that I can summon, I'm saying thank you. Somehow, in a way that only the Spirit can sort out, you were the one whose testimony saved me. You are the one whose dollar the Spirit will use to save my kids.
I'm under duress right now. The hours are long and the ideas aren't instantly forthcoming. I question what and how and why I'm doing this and that and the other.
But I don't question Jesus, and I don't question you. He called you the light of the world, sharing his very own title with you (1). May I echo his commendation: You are the light of the world.
Every year my daughters give me a verse-a-day calendar for Christmas. Though they have grown up and live far away and I seldom see them, every morning I think of them when time is new again.
This morning the verse was this:
Therefore...stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
I'm dedicating that verse to you prayer warriors and care warriors; you dear warriors who've fought, who've fought to win.
I am here to testify that you are more than victors. You are the body of Christ, the only Jesus I have ever seen.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Matthew 5:14; John 8:12

Sunday, April 21, 2013

the eternal covenant is brand new, because you are


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 31:27-40
mark this: Jeremiah 31:33-34 --
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
Covenant is a big word. It shouts out, "Theology."  And few of us major in theology.
Not only is covenant a big word, but there are so many of them:
the Edenic Covenant;
the covenant with Adam;
the covenant with Noah;
the covenant with Abraham;
the covenant with Moses;
the Palestinian Covenant;
the covenant with David; and, finally,
the New Covenant.
And to confuse things even further, the covenants are sometimes called Testaments. What are we to make of all this? Where do we even begin?
Begin with Jesus. The key to understanding the covenants is to understand that the covenant is between Jesus and the Father, from the foundation of the world.
Forget time; and forget cause-and-effect, and begin to think big--very big. Ready?
Jesus was Redeemer before he was Creator. That's what Revelation 13:8 means when it says he was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
The covenants all boil down to this: where we fall short, Jesus takes our place.
Although the contract was made from eternity, it could not be sealed until Christ had paid, for us, the wages of sin, which is death. When he cried, "It is finished!" he addressed His Father. The contract between them was now fulfilled. The price had been paid.
Now the fellowship between man and God could not be broken even if the weakest link--man--should fail. The relationship would endure for eternity because should we fail, Christ in our place did not.
The eternal covenant with Christ was the reason why God could keep renewing His covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, David and the Christian church. Backing every pact which God made with the human family was God's covenant with Jesus Christ. Time and time again divine wrath was suspended only because it was put to the account of Jesus Christ, who in due time would pay all debts to eternal justice.
If you, today, ask Jesus to take your place, he will. At that very moment, the covenant between the Father and Jesus includes you.
At that very moment the eternal covenant is new, because you are.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jacob's trouble--and mine, and yours


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 30:1-31:26
mark this: Jeremiah 30:7--
Alas! For that day is great,
So that none is like it;
And it is the time of Jacob's trouble,
But he shall be saved out of it.
When will Israel turn to Jesus?
That will happen in the time of Jacob's trouble.
The time of Jacob's touble is also known as the Great Tribulation period. It sounds like a phrase cooked up by some fire-breathing, Bible-thumping Southern Baptist preacher, but it wasn't. The phrase was first cooked up by some fire-breathing, Bible-thumping Galilean teacher named Jesus (denomination unknown).
The Great Tribulation period will be, as both Jesus and Jeremiah said, a time unlike any other. The death and destruction to be seen are beyond current comprehension. That's when Israel will turn to Jesus, mourning over him whom they have pierced:
I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)
I'm not as learned about this period as many others are. I greatly respect their studies in eschatology ("end times") and I believe that the Spirit of God is currently illuminating many end times passages which heretofore were murky. Scripture clearly says that understanding of these issues will increase in the latter days:
The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intentions of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this. (Jeremiah 30:24)
So I fervently listen to my eschatological friends. They return the favor, just as fervently supporting my concentration on the poetics and 'pictures'--the computer age calls them 'graphics'--of scripture.
The Bible student should know what Jacob's trouble means. You should know that it's the trouble which will turn Israel around. And you should know that in the latter days our understanding of end-time prophecy will be heightened.
Having looked over Jacob's trouble, I turn to yours. I don't want us to concentrate on Jacob's trouble without recalling the time of our own...
That day or season which just sprang to mind--hold that thought. I want to be very careful because many of you right now are recollecting memories and images which lie too deep for tears.
In God's timeless kingdom, I propose we look back in time just as much as we look ahead. Let's review what we learned there. And let's even search for what might have been left there, unlearned.
The time of Franklyn's trouble began not with the Rapture (as will Jacob's trouble) but with a phone call.
Before that day I'd considered myself too intellectually nimble to be tripped up, to be found out. But I hadn't figured on Jesus Christ, because I didn't know him then.
The caller spoke for two minutes at most. He spoke pleasantly concerning various inanities and trivialities. He had no inkling of the looming cloud that was gathering as he spoke. After a minute, the phone fell out of my hand. I picked it up, excusing myself. He continued to talk for another minute, but I heard nothing more. I'd already gathered, between the words, enough information to know, without doubt, that my sin had found me out. That was the last day I ever felt clever.
Not to sound strange, but I suspect that in some super-real sense it was Jesus Christ who made that call. No one, certainly not the caller, could have laid out the information I heard in just the way I heard it. Only the omniscient mind of God could have pieced those words together, creating their intended effect.
It would be years before these realizations would crystallize. It would be years before I met the real caller, Jesus. But I would come to appreciate the cascade of troubles that ensued as an amazing sort of grace, which taught my heart to fear.
That fear was the beginning of wisdom, a Bible would later tell me (1). There was still a long way to go until repentance, but grace was leading me home.
Jacob's trouble is yet in the future, in what are called the latter days. My trouble and yours were in the past, in the latter days of lives we left behind, as new lives were struggling to be born.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Proverbs 9:10

Friday, April 19, 2013

until we get to Babylon, we can't see the cross


The Word for today:
Jeremiah 29
mark this: Jeremiah 29:10-14
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
Quoted above is the context that surrounds Jeremiah 29:11, one of the most famous verses of the Old Testament. Many have made Jeremiah 29:11 their life's verse:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
We embroider, frame, and hang such verses on our walls. I can't think of a finer way to embed a Bible verse in our hearts--and, hopefully, in the hearts of our children. May we embroider, frame, and hang more such verses every year!
Then may we find those verses in the Bible and consider their context.
The shining promise of 29:11 is embedded in the context of the very bleakest years in the history of Israel, the period of the seventy-year exile to Babylon:
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. (29:10)
Just a few weeks ago, I heard the sermon of a local pastor who conveyed the crushing despair of Israel as the Temple was burned and the nation was deported to Babylon. He said that to recall the bleak days just after 9-11-2001, and then to multiply those feelings a hundredfold, would begin to approximate Israel's desolation. Psalm 74, he taught us, was an expression of their despondency:
They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, "We will crush them completely!"
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
We are given no miraculous signs;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.  (Psalms 74:7-9)
Furthermore, we are startled and even troubled when we learn, from context, that the heart which thinks thoughts of peace and not of evil toward them; and the hand which will give them a future and a hope--are the very heart and hand which caused them to be carried away to Babylon in the first place:
I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive. (29:14)
***
I hope we don't take down our framed embroideries of Jeremiah 29:11, or throw away the bracelets on which we've had it inscribed.
What I hope we'll do is consider the context--
that when we are carried away, each to our own Babylon, it is because his thoughts toward us are thoughts of peace and not of evil;
that when we are carried away, each to our own Babylon, it is in order to give us a future and a hope.
Because until we arrive in Babylon, we are unable to see that the worst-looking thing in our lives is often the very thing God uses for his redemptive purposes.
Until we get to Babylon, we can't see the cross.
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

"truth forever on the scaffold"


(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today:
Jeremiah 27 & 28
Poor Jeremiah. When God said "they will fight against you" back in chapter one, He was not kidding. We are just over half way through this book and already he has been:
- Threatened with death multiple times (11:21, 18:18, 26:8)
- Rejected by his own family (12:6)
- Proclaiming harsh words to hostile crowds (7:1, 17:19, 19:1)
- Beaten and arrested (20:2)
- In conflict with false prophets (14:13, 23:16)
(We haven't even gotten to the parts where he is imprisoned, where the very word of God he has written is wickedly burned before his eyes, and where he is left to die an ignoble death in a crummy old well.)
In today's reading, it's more of the same. More hostilities, more conflict, more difficult messages, more lies, more rejection. No one believes Jeremiah because they don't want to consider the possibility that they are actually at fault and that they are actually headed for destruction. Instead they choose the "I'm okay, you're okay" approach. Now that is about as reasonable as the famed ostrich defense method (see above picture), but nevertheless, it is the overwhelming response for 99% of Jeremiah's hearers.
Come to think of it, that sounds pretty much like the majority of religious thought in America today. Optimistic, therapeutic, psycho-babble. America continues to search for a benign, cuddly god who ignores our sin and only exists to raise our self-esteem. Look at the message that comes from our best selling authors ranging from Deepak Choprah to Joel Osteen to Oprah Winfrey to Eckhart Tolle. Look at the message behind best selling books "The Secret" or "Your Best Life Now." While these folks may mean well, their basic premises ignore the ideas of sin, judgment, or repentance. They are just like the false prophet Hananiah, proclaiming "Peace, peace when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 8:11)
Our world is one described well by James Russell Lowell (19th Century Poet & Abolitionist):
"Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne"
But before we condemn others, it's important to understand that we all have that same tendency. We believers can be just as guilty of watering down the Word of God to accommodate our personal agendas. No one likes pain or suffering or struggles or judgment. No one likes to be rebuked or challenged or told that they are wrong. Yet that is the very purpose of both Jeremiah's words here and the Bible in general. God's Word is 100% true, and we, because of our sin nature, are not. There will always be a bit of discomfort as our old natural self wrestles with the Holy Spirit. (see Galatians 5:17).
God's Word is exceedingly sharp. It has to be. We expect and demand that all doctors use only sharp scalpels and never plastic butter knives when they operate. How much more so should the Word be razor sharp to cut away all the deception, wrong attitudes, and sin from our often hard hearts and heads. That's why there are so many sword & word analogies in the Bible. That's why Hebrews 4:12 says: 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.
Today's passage is a warning. It's a warning for all of us when the words of the Bible become only comforting and never confronting; when they are only easy and never difficult; when they only tell us what we want to hear and never what is hard to take. If that becomes true of you, head back to Jeremiah, where you can get a dose of good old fashioned truth!
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

what love looks like


(written by Vickie)
The Word for today: Jeremiah 26
mark these verses: Jeremiah 26:4-6 --
"This is what the LORD says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth."
In the 90's, many parents attended seminars to be instructed in "Tough Love." Out of control teenagers were brought back to sanity and obedience as the parents learned to apply consequences to their teens' poor choices and attitudes. One of these tough love stories played out before my eyes.
Pamela and Ed, good friends of mine, were heartbroken, watching as their daughter, Kim, dabbled in illegal drug use. Their glowing girl, at 15 years old, had turned away from the love of her family to self destruction. The pleading and instruction of her distraught parents fell on deaf ears.
She would not listen.
Understanding that their child's life was at stake, Pamela and Ed held back nothing. They made the call to the police, informing of them of their daughter's illicit drug and paraphernalia possession. They stood by, in pain, as the police took Kim away in handcuffs.
I was so impressed by the sacrifice my friends made for their little girl, laying down their own reputation, enduring the scorn of their wayward child, and the possibility that she might not come back to the family. This mom and dad chose to love, whatever the cost--sometimes that's what love looks like.
Tough love did win back Pamela and Ed's daughter. Kim will tell you now that her parent's decision to call the police saved her life.
God invented tough love.
Jeremiah delivered the tough love message, "Then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth." Everyone in Judah knew what happened in Shiloh. Big time consequences. Check out Jeremiah 7:12: "Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel."
God held nothing back. Putting His reputation on the line, risking the scorn of His people and the possibility that some would choose other gods, God chose to love--no matter what the cost. This is what love looks like--destruction of Shiloh, a sacred symbol, an emblem of belonging by a despised enemy, the Philistines--dire consequences executed to save souls, a nation, a set apart people.
The people responded in anger--Kill the prophet!
God's people would not listen.
Yet, the LORD persists in warning His children of judgement. Ever the loving parent, seeking restoration of the wayward child by refusing a compromise that will lead to eternal destruction.
God was not ambiguous about his purpose, "perhaps they will listen... then I will relent...."
God extends that same persistent love and warning today. He is waiting for us to listen.
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the KJV, the NIV, and the WWW


The Word for today:
Matthew 28:1-20
If I had to name just one, I'd say that the most important book of the Bible is Matthew. Jesus' final words in this most important book have come to be called The Great Commission:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
***
I'll bet that I'm older than most of you. And in my heart of hearts, I'm the nerd of nerds. So, by age and temperament, I'm out of style. But insofar as carrying out The Great Commission, I am "with it."
Well, actually, I'm not with it. But my wife is. I was happy to be writing a monthly column for a church newsletter until Shelley said I should write a daily "blog." I'd heard the term, but wasn't quite sure what it meant. So Shellster explained it to me.
The next day I posted this blog's first entry. For the first month or two, only a handful of people were reading it. As of now, about 500 persons per week open and read it.
I just googled "average church size."  One in 24 churches in the USA has 500 or more people attending on a given Sunday. That means that, week by week, more souls now "hear" the Word of God proclaimed through this one blog than through the weekly sermon at a relatively big church.
Some will want to diminish that statement. They'll insist on a 'but'--
"But those numbers aren't real. That's cyberspace. That's virtual, not real."
I beg to differ.  I'm real, and whatever I know about the Bible was learned via the internet, at ttb.org.  Every day for five years I sat for about an hour, pencil poised in my hand; stopping, replaying, and taking notes as old Doc McGee, the greatest Bible teacher this side of Jesus Christ, taught me (and a million more like me) line upon line, precept upon precept (1).
As I learned about the real Jesus, as the kingdom of God stormed my soul, it certainly wasn't "virtual" to me.
Now don't tell the traditionalists, who have a vested interest in that "real" brick and mortar church on the corner; don't tell them that the Bible itself is virtual--it's the virtual Jesus. My trusty old KJV and your spiffy new NIV are just as virtual as the WWW (World Wide Web).
The Bible is a printed word, expressing the Word made flesh. Whether the Word appears on a page or on a monitor or on an iPhone (or iPod or iPad) makes no difference to God. What makes a difference to God is whether His Kingdom is advancing.
Jesus' Great Commission to his disciples is to--
1. Go into all the world. That's the internet's specialty. Give the WWW a check.
2. Make other disciples. That would be me, and perhaps you. Give the WWW another check.
3. Baptize those new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The WWW can't transmit water, but all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ are baptized in the Holy Spirit (2) -- the real baptism, which water baptism only virtually represents.  I say that deserves another check.
4. Teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded us. Check.
The virtual Word of God -- on paper or via blog -- is an expression of the Word made flesh, who shed real blood so you can be a real son or daughter of God with a real immortal body in a real forever in a real place called heaven.
"All authority in heaven and on earth (and in cyberspace) has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
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(1) Isaiah 28:10; (2) 1 Corinthians 12:13