Thursday, October 31, 2013

kill the messenger!

Messenger-crop
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: 2 Chronicles 24
"You can't handle the truth!"
Well, he's right. We can't and usually don't want the hard truths. That is true often of even otherwise good people. Even if we accepted the truth before, that doesn't mean that the next time a difficult, but honest, word is brought to light, that we won't shrink back from it.
The truth is hard. It continues to be hard. It never softens.
Back in 2 Chronicles 16, we saw an otherwise good king, Asa, reject the hard truth. He had done well as a king up to that time: He listened to the prophet Azariah. He rid the land of as many idols as he could. He repaired the run down Temple of the Lord. He even booted his grandma from her royal position because of her rank idolatry. But when he was later faced with tough words of rebuke from the prophet Hanani, "Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison." (1)
Here, in today's passage, it's more of the same. Joash, King of Judah, also gets off to a promising start. He continues the restoration of the Temple, he decisively makes sure that the necessary funds are collected, and he sees the project completed to the glory of God. But as soon as his main spiritual support, the high priest Jehoiada dies, it seems as if Joash's faith and even common sense goes with him.
Enter the scene ungodly nobles speaking lies. Enter the scene the new priest Zechariah speaking the truth. Guess which side Joash listens to?
Zechariah delivers the cutting word of the Lord, Joash and his cronies meet that with flying stones. Rock beats scissors, Zechariah dies.
That, my friends, is a short history of how humanity likes to deal with truth. Its the old "deny, deny, deny and attack the messenger" defense that we've seen play over and over again in politics, business and every other arena we know. "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (2)
What it really boils down to is Hebrews 4:12: "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."
The Word is sharp. It cuts. It prunes. It hurts. Even more, since it's living and active, it always is at work on us. No matter how far we think we've come, no matter how much we think we've done for God, no matter our feelings- the Word slices and dices us as God sees fit. Ouch!
Do I still allow God's Word (aka the truth) to pare and slice and otherwise work on my life?
That's the whole point of today's story: just because I listened to God & His word yesterday, does not mean I'm all set for today. Will I let God have his way in me today? Or will I follow the subtle, yet dangerous path that Joash did? If so, it won't be long until I am trying to kill the messenger as well.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) 2 Chronicles 16:10
(2) John 3:19

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

one solitary life

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 22:10-23:21
mark this: 2 Chronicles 22:11 --
But Jehosheba took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. She hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him.
Seeing the title of this article, you might be expecting a reprint of the famous "One Solitary Life." Tell you what--I'll reprint it at the end so you won't leave disappointed.
But before we read about that solitary life, let's look at a couple of relatively unknown figures from 2 Chronicles.
We might think that the lives of Joash and Jehosheba (1) are unimportant. I mean, they never became famous. But think again--for if there were no Joash or no Jehosheba, the one solitary life celebrated in the article below would have never come to be.
***
Wicked Athaliah was intent upon extinguishing David's royal line. She nearly did annihilate the lineage, but fell just one baby short:
Now when Athaliah the mother of King Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family of the house of Judah. But Jehosheba, the daughter of the king, took Joash and stole him away from among the king's sons who were about to be put to death. And he remained hidden in the house of God for six years while Athaliah reigned over the land.
 (2 Chronicles 22:10-12)
Had Athaliah's murderous plot succeeded, the family line of God's Messiah would have been severed.
So God's entire plan to redeem mankind rested at this point on the intervention of one brave woman, Jehosheba, who hid little Joash from Athaliah.
A certain King Herod centuries later slaughtered all the infant boys in his territory in an attempt to kill that one little baby who was the promised King in David's line. Herod, too, fell one baby short:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
So you can never tell what part of God's plan has been placed in your hands. Jehosheba's rescue of a solitary infant, like our own service in Christ's Kingdom, might have seemed insignificant at the time, but only God is able to see the big picture. Any act of faithful service can have consequences beyond measure:
Therefore, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58)
*******
One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was executed by the state. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Jehosheba is alternatively spelled 'Jehoshabeath'

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

the pre-play of our own salvation

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 21:1-22:9
mark this: 2 Chronicles 20:17
Stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf.
Over the last couple of days I've tried to ready you for the greatest in the Bible.
I built this up, and raised your expectations--knowing that I could not overstate it--because Jehoshaphat's deliverance is a comprehensive picture and prophecy of the greatest battle ever fought, the greatest miracle ever wrought.
Two days ago, I stressed the fact that the people needed faith to make this miracle a reality.
Yesterday I stressed the fact that the people were powerless, utterly incapable of saving their own doomed lives, so they looked to God to save them.
And thus we arrive at the scene of the greatest battle ever fought.
The first thing we note is that God told the people not to fight at all!
You will not need to fight in this battle. (2 Chronicles 20:17)
He told them to just stand there!
Stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. (2 Chronicles 20:17)
Because, you see, the LORD God was going to fight and win this battle alone:
Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the battle is not yours but God's. (2 Chronicles 20:15)
And then the battle commenced. It was the most astonishing victory ever achieved, because God caused his enemies to defeat themselves!--
The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. (2 Chronicles 20:23)
***
Somewhere in the back of your mind is a rustling, a stirring, as you read the account of the deliverance of Jehoshaphat and the children of Israel. There is a vague sense that you've somehow witnessed this battle before.
That's because we have. In our hearts and in our understanding, we stand -- here in 2 Chronicles 20 -- at the pre-play of our own salvation.
Helpless to defend ourselves, we stand.
We stand and we watch as God, utterly alone, fights the battle for us.
We watch as he who knew no sin became sin (1)--turning sin against itself.
Then we watch him die, turning death against itself.
We stand, in awe, and see the salvation of the LORD on our behalf.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) 2 Corinthians 5:21

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Did you read 2 Chronicles 20 today?"

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 19, 20
mark this: 2 Chronicles 20:12 --
We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
The best thing about the Bible is that it works.
I mean, it delivers the goods. It gets you home, or over the hurdle, or through the night.
Not too long ago, I was in relentless, long-lasting turmoil. The details of my trouble differ from yours, I am sure. But only the details differ. Essentially, our troubles are the same.
Shelley, heart of my heart, helped me through. And I made it to the other side, because every day she would ask me, "Did you read 2 Chronicles 20?"
On most of those days, I'd read 2 Chronicles chapter 20 already, before she'd asked. It was the only thing that calmed my fretfulness.
On many days, I read it before my feet hit the floor. There was nothing else that was going to get my sorry self out of bed. This went on for nearly a year. No one knew, except Shelley.
In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat is opposed by a force far superior to any force that he could muster. There, between the devil and the deep blue sea, Jehoshaphat reached his moment of crystal clarity. He came to the rational conclusion that he was absolutely helpless:
We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. (2 Chronicles 20:12)
That's the sublime moment of the passage for me. Because I was right there between that same rock and that same hard place during the year of my travail. You've been there too.
Maybe you're there right now. If so, may I echo Shelley to ask, "Did you read 2 Chronicles 20 today?"
Even though my particular trouble went away one day, the ongoing reality of our situation remains the same. I still don't know what to do, where to turn, how to proceed. We are -- all of us, all the time -- the blind man whom Jesus spoke of.
If we place our confidence in something other than God, then we are the blind led by the blind. But if we place our faith in Jesus and, so to speak, place our hand in his--then we're still blind. But what does it matter, because we're being guided by supernatural sight, and we bring to bear a power beyond any force that may assail us.
May you and I reach the holy clarity that Jehoshaphat reached. Convinced of his absolute helplessness, he turned to the LORD. When he did, the tables turned against his enemies. From that time forth, no weapon forged against him would prosper...
***
Return to this same place tomorrow to see the stirring conclusion of Jehoshaphat's story!
But remember, you won't begin to understand this story until you've reached the end of your rope. And you won't fully understand this story until you've even managed to lose the rope that you reached the end of.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, October 27, 2013

prelude to a miracle

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 17, 18
mark this: 2 Chronicles 17:7-9
In the third year of his reign he sent his leaders to teach in the cities of Judah. And with them he sent Levites and priests. So they taught in Judah, and had the Book of the Law of the Lord with them; they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught the people.
One of my favorite Bible passages is just around the corner. A great miracle awaits us when we get to 2 Chronicles chapter 20.
But miracles have a pre-requisite. Read the passage below to find out what must come before a miracle can occur:
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor." And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
 (Matthew 13:54-58)
Before a miracle can unfold, there must be faith. Don't ask me why or how it works out that way. All I know is that when the people had little faith, Jesus did few miracles. It's as simple as that.
How, then, can we gain faith? The Bible has the answer:
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(Romans 10:17)
The way to increase our faith is to immerse ourselves in scripture--to "Stand in the Rain!" And that's exactly what happened during the reign of the great King Jehoshaphat:
In the third year of his reign he sent his leaders to teach in the cities of Judah. And with them he sent Levites and priests. So they taught in Judah, and had the Book of the Law of the Lord with them; they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught the people. (see 2 Chronicles 17:7-9)
King Jehoshaphat started a great big national Bible-reading program! So by the time the people get to chapter 20, their faith has prepared them for the miracle that we will witness tomorrow.
So be sure you've caught up to your Bible schedule. We wouldn't want you to miss out on a miracle!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, October 26, 2013

no, not one

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 15, 16
mark this: 2 Chronicles 15:16
Even Maacah, his grandmother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron.
The actions of some Bible characters can seem extreme to us.
But what is "extreme," after all? Extreme is a relative measure of the distance from any given point. The further away from wherever we stand, the more extreme things seem.
So when Asa leads a spiritual reformation, we--in our sophistication and moderation--might think it extreme that he removed Maacah, his own grandmother, from office! But the Bible lauds his "extremism" and sees him as one of just a few kings who are classified as "good"--
Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. (2 Chronicles 14:2-5)
Even Maacah, his grandmother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron. (2 Chronicles 15:16)
And Asa's "extreme" measures pale when we compare them to measures taken by God. For example, it bothers our sensibilities when we read that God tells Saul to wipe out every Amalekite--and then removes Saul from the throne for leaving a few Amalekites alive. (1 Samuel 15)
***
And if Old Testament terms and conditions sound harsh, I refer you to the take-no-prisoners outlook of one Jesus Christ. Known as the Prince of Peace because he will enforce the peace (1), Jesus Christ is going to eradicate all sin from his kingdom. That's what hell is for, and Jesus spoke about it in terrifyingly graphic terms--terms that sound so extreme to our culture's desensitized ears that some even deem them evil.
But if we were to slide our point of reference further towards God's point of view, these measures would not seem extreme at all. So I invite us to re-calibrate our ears. Because rest assured (or rest uneasily, depending on your faith) the Bible is not going to re-calibrate itself. It will endure forever as the law of the eternal Kingdom. Jesus Christ said so:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)
***
The disconnect lies in the difference between our culture's view of sin and God's view of sin. To God, sin is a murderer in our midst. It is a threat to the life of your children and to my children and to Asa's children. It is so much a threat that Grandma has to be booted from the house because of her wicked influence. From God's point of view, it would be extreme to let the murderer stay on as nanny to the kids.
From God's point of view, the sin of the Amalekites is a deadly cancer, a leprosy (the Bible's picture of the effects of sin) that has to be cut out or Israel will die as well. It would be extreme, from his perspective, to leave a spot of the deadly carcinogen in the body.
From God's point of view, the murderer and the cancer will be incarcerated and quarantined in a place where they will never, ever be allowed to slip back into the Garden, amongst the kids.
God's own son was murdered at the hands of sin. He is determined that your children won't die of the same disease.
Thus, there will be no Grandma Maacah in His house. There will be no Amalekite in His Kingdom. No, not one.
Some call that extreme.  The Bible calls it "salvation."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Isaiah 9:6-7

Friday, October 25, 2013

coming and going: Israel and the church

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Edward Poynter, 1890.
The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Edward Poynter, 1890.
The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 13, 14
The prevailing pattern of scripture is that the Old Testament flows towards Jerusalem/the Temple/the cross, while the New Testament springs from Jerusalem/the Temple/the cross.
Israel is to bring the single Seed of the woman to the cross, where he would die, giving life to many:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24; see Genesis 3:15)
The church--the many seeds engendered at the cross--are to scatter themselves throughout the world:
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. (Matthew 28:19)
Another example of this pattern is that in the Old Testament, Israel brings the world to the Temple. (The Queen of Sheba, who travels to Jerusalem from afar, is an example. See 2 Chronicles 9)
But in the New Testament, the church brings the Temple to the world!
***
The temple was like an art gallery containing pictures of the Way to God:
They brought the blood of a Lamb or they didn't get in. Then they entered by a single, narrow Door. They proceeded past the altar of sacrifice, which is a picture of justification. They then passed a big wash basin, called the laver, which is a picture of sanctification. As they went they were guided by the golden lamp stand. They were sustained by the table of showbread.
Then through the curtain they entered into the presence of God; before them gleamed the ark of the covenant.
Every picture is a picture of Jesus:
he is the Lamb of God (John 1:29);
he is the Door (John 10:9);
his cross is the the altar of sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12);
he washed the disciples' feet (John 13:5);
he is the Light of the World (John 8:12);
he is the Bread of Life (John 6:48);
his broken body is the torn curtain (Hebrews 10:20);
he is Immanuel, God's presence with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
Putting it all together, He is the Way (John 14:6).
The mission of Israel was to bring the world to "the Gallery."
***
In the New Testament, "the Gallery" comes alive:
Therefore, brothers, we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh. (Hebrews 10:19-20)
The mission of the church, the living stones which comprise the temple today (1 Peter 2:5), is to bring the living way to the world:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
***
Whether the church or Israel, whether going or coming, whether in picture or in Person, God will guard the Way:
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. 
(1)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Psalms 121:7-8; see also Genesis 3:24

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"hay una idiota!"

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: 2 Chronicles 11 & 12
mark this: 2 Chronicles 12:8
My all time favorite commercial appeared some years ago.
It featured a Spanish speaking bartender, cleaning dishes on a rainy night, watching the end of an American game show. On the the game show, a man name Jim had won, and now was choosing his prize- between a week at of supposed "fun in the sun" at "El Paradiso Iluvioso" or a new Volkswagen car. Jim seems torn for a few moments, and you hear the bartender muttering more and more emphatically to the television:
"Jim, the Volkswagen! Jim, the Volkswagen! Take the Volkswagen!"
But alas, Jim has made his decision. He cries out enthusiastically:
"Paradiso Iluvioso! I'll take fun in the sun baby! Yeah!"
The bartender throws down his towel in disgust and cries out "hay una idiota" (what an idiot) only to see that the only customer inside his bar that rainy night is good old Jim.
Jim was an idiot, not only because he turned down the much more valuable & practical car, but even more so because how was he ever to expect to have "fun in the sun" when Paradiso Iluvioiso means Rain Paradise.
As I read the story of Rehoboam, I do so with the same angst the bartender felt as Jim was making his decision. I keep muttering under my breath to Rehoboam to accept the advice of the elders (1), to not follow in Solomon's footsteps with polygamy (2), to remain faithful to the God of Israel (3). But, alas, every single time I read it, he keeps making the same stupid choices, and I cry out in despair "hay una idiota!"
We can go on and on with the stupidity of Rehoboam, (though when you consider him, he's really not that much different than most of us, especially apart from God), but we'll stop here. There is a greater principle at work here, that applies to all of us, princes and paupers, alike.
It's found in how God handles the semi-genuine repentance of Rehoboam.
It's amazing how suddenly people with no interest in God can get "religious." Rehoboam and his people are in trouble. Pharaoh Shishak and the Egyptian forces have Jerusalem in a stranglehold, and only then does Rehoboam humble himself and actually listen to the word of the Lord. He's hoping for the classical "In Case of Emergency, Break Here god" that has been the deity of choice for countless people for centuries. In more modern times, he is our "Bailout god", who's only purpose is to get us out of the disasters we've brought on ourselves, and then to conveniently fade away into obscurity.
God, in His great mercy, responds to the cry of even a knucklehead like Rehoboam. But God, in His great wisdom, also sees to it that Rehoboam, and all of us, learn a lesson the hard way. He says "Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. My wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem through Shishak. They will, however, become subject to him, so that they may learn the difference between serving me and serving the kings of other lands." (4)
God does not allow Rehoboam to be killed or Jerusalem to be destroyed, but He does put Judah in a place of subservience to Egypt and He does allow much of the wealth of the Temple and palace to be plundered. God, like any good parent, allows for His children to experience natural consequences of their behavior.
Never forget that distinction! Jesus Christ has died for our sins, His death spares us from the wrath of God; but even if we are forgiven, the natural consequences of our sins and poor choices still have to be dealt with. Serving God often is difficult (5), but if we refuse to serve God, we will still serve something else. Our world is drowning in the insane demands of harsh and cruel taskmasters (governments, false religions, empty traditions, media marketing etc.). Only God gives any relief from that bondage.
We can take the long, hard road of Rehoboam or we can trust God from the beginning and be spared much heartache and regret.
The choice is yours- my advice is this: don't be una idiota!
~~~~~~~~~~
(1) 2 Chronicles 10:8
(2) 2 Chronicles 11:21
(3) 2 Chronicles 12:1
(4) 2 Chronicles 12:7-8
(5) Luke 9:23

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is it I? -- part 2

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 9, 10
Note: The first two chapters of the Bible--Genesis 1 and 2--show a world which evil has not yet entered. The last two chapters of the Bible--Revelation 21 and 22--show a world from which evil has been eradicated. Between them, the trail of pervasive evil can be followed all the way from Genesis 3 through Revelation 20.
Yesterday we followed that trail through the chambers of Solomon's Temple. Today we will continue on that dark pathway as it winds its way through the Upper Room, through the early church, and into the church today. Finally, we will enter the chambers of our own hearts to examine what is there.
***
The temple was dedicated with a majestic ceremony. Immediately, God pronounced it good:
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. (2 Chronicles 7:1)
And for a time Solomon walked in fellowship with God. You can read all about it in his masterpiece, the luminescent Song of Solomon.
But the day was coming when Solomon would cease to walk in wholehearted fellowship with God. You will sense the developing distance between them when you read Solomon's despairing book of Ecclesiastes.
The day was coming when Solomon, who led the dedication ceremony, would lead a parade of idols into the temple precincts.
We've seen this pattern before. God made Eden and immediately pronounced it good. There, for a while, man walked in fellowship with his maker.
But then a rustling and a hissing is heard:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say…?" (Genesis 3:1)
That seed of doubt set a distance between the man and the LORD God. Then doubt's distance grew to become sin's separation...
***
When the church was brand new, God saw that it was good, and tongues of fire fell from heaven (Acts 2). But--just as Jesus had warned--it wouldn't take long before something sinister would find its way into the batch:
"The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33)
There is only one valid response to the warning in Matthew 13:33. We're to respond just as the disciples did, on that holiest night of the year, when Jesus informed them that evil had made its way into the Upper Room:
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me."
They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, "Is it I?"
 (Mark 14:17-19)
***
Evil found its way into Eden; and into Solomon's heart; and into the Temple. In the New Testament, it found its way into the Upper Room and into the church.
Neither Solomon nor Judas, it seems to me, set out to sow the seed of evil. Evil's tactics are more insidious than we know, developing so gradually that apostasy is well established before becoming apparent.
It takes just a little leaven--an inch of compromise here, a millimeter of accommodation there--and before we know it, we can find ourselves denying the savior who bought us:
For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 1:4)
So scripture urges us to assess our faith:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Examine your faith. Is it true? Is it undivided? Is it whole-hearted? Is it in accordance with scripture? (1) Or are you compromising the truth away, letting the world around you squeeze you into its own mould (2).
Just as the Twelve had responded in the Upper Room, we should, periodically, say to him one after another,
"Is it I?"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is it I? -- part 1


The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 7, 8

Note: Beginning today and concluding tomorrow, Stand in the Rain will be ranging from one end of your Bible to the other. Beginning in Eden, we will travel through the chambers of Solomon's Temple, through the Upper Room, through the early church, and into the church today. Finally, we will enter the chambers of our own hearts to examine what is there.

***

The temple was dedicated with a majestic ceremony. Immediately, God pronounced it good:
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. (2 Chronicles 7:1)

And for a time Solomon walked in fellowship with God. You can read all about it in his masterpiece, the luminescent Song of Solomon.

But a shadow stretched over the ceremony -- and a warning is heard:
But if you turn aside and forsake my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you. (1)

Embedded within the warning was this prophecy:
And this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. (1)

Because the day was coming when Solomon would cease to walk in wholehearted fellowship with God. You will sense the developing distance between them when you read Solomon's despairing book of Ecclesiastes.

The day was coming when Solomon, who led the dedication ceremony, would lead a parade of idols into the temple precincts.

***

We've seen this pattern before. God made Eden and immediately pronounced it good. There, for a while, man walked in fellowship with his maker.

But then a rustling and a hissing is heard:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say…?" (Genesis 3:1)

That seed of doubt set a distance between the man and the LORD God. Then doubt's distance grew to become sin's separation...

(to be concluded in this space tomorrow)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see 2 Chronicles 7:17-20

Monday, October 21, 2013

turning: water into wine, prose into poetry

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 6:12-42
Today we read Solomon's great prayer at the dedication of the temple.
The word dedicate is used in both secular and sacred contexts. It means that something is set apart for a certain use. We might, for example, dedicate a certain amount of money every month to our vacation fund.
The word also means to commit to a goal or a way of life. Someone might dedicate his life to public service.
But my very favorite use of the word is the one we hear the least. It's when an author dedicates a book to a friend, or to a mentor, or to his wife, or to some other person who has inspired his creative efforts.
I always look for dedications in the opening few pages of the books I'm about to read. If I find one I linger over it. I imagine all the reasons why the author singled out that certain someone. Dedications always make me happy.
Not many of us are authors, but each of us lives out a story. So before you put the last period at the end of the last sentence of the story of your life, don't neglect to write your dedication.
I'm working on mine. It will echo the story of Jonathan and David, and will sound something like this:
~~To Jesus, the author of my salvation~~
For the longest time you didn't even appear in my story. So who was to know that, stepping out of the pages of your own story, you would become the hero of mine. Who could have predicted the surprise ending, when--like Jonathan of old--I would step aside for the rightful king.
Mine was just another obscure story until you became its protagonist, turning it into a chapter of the greatest story ever told.
Everyone knows you turned water into wine. But I was the only one there when you turned this prosaic life into poetry.
~~~~~~~

Sunday, October 20, 2013

the smartest person in the room

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 5:2-6:11
I'm the smartest guy in the room.
Before you burst into gales of laughter, be careful. Because you might be laughing at yourself.
Be even more careful, because you might be laughing at scripture.
I recently read (1) that President Obama "always considers himself the smartest person in any room." And you just read--right here--that if he's smart, give me stupid.
Solomon, indeed, was the smartest guy in the room. But he didn't do much with it. He got swept up in lusts of all kinds--wealth, wine, women, song, horses, you name it--and watched the splendor he was handed fade away. His idolatry would eventually chase the Glory right out of the temple. Once again, if that's smart, give me stupid.
I'm the smartest guy in the room because the Bible tells me so:
We have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
The careful reader will note the plural subject of that sentence: We.
Which means that if you're in the room at the same time, I'm tied for the smartest person in the room.
Everyone talks about the great wisdom of Solomon, as if it were some special dispensation. The wisdom given to Solomon is a precursor--a picture, a prediction, a prophecy, a promise--of the wisdom which was to be given to the "church."
We've been given the total package. Identified in Proverbs 8:1 as "Wisdom," he walks--incarnated--into the New Testament as "Jesus"--
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man. 
(Proverbs 8:27-31)
You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
So let's make sure that we don't waste Wisdom, like Solomon did; like many of our brothers and sisters in the church still do, as they live lives which, in their own ways, are as idolatrous as Solomon's life became--lives which chase away the Glory from the church.
Let's follow Wisdom where He leads. For what does it profit a man if he should be granted all the wisdom in the universe, but still follows the folly of his shriveled heart?
***
Now, if you feel up to the task, I want you to do something which you might at first call 'radical,' but scripture calls it 'fact.'
Go to the mirror. Take an index finger and point to your head. Now say out loud, "Something greater than Solomon is here." (2)
You just took a step--perhaps your first step--into the limitless realms of supernatural wisdom. For we have the mind of Christ.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) "The Education of a President" by Peter Baker. NY Times. October 12, 2010.
(2) see Matthew 12:42

Saturday, October 19, 2013

this hallowed ground

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1
mark these:
Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (2 Chronicles 3:1)
He made an altar of bronze, twenty cubits long and twenty cubits wide and ten cubits high. (2 Chronicles 4:1)
I remember when I first began to read the Bible. Even though, right away, I considered it the best thing I'd ever read, it would be a long, long while before I found myself reflexively "taking off my shoes."
But over time, passages that I'd scarcely noticed began to turn into holy ground. The same thing will happen to you.
Take, for example, the first verses of the chapters scheduled for today. Once a year, for many years, I read right past them. They caused no emotional stir:
Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (2 Chronicles 3:1)
He made an altar of bronze, twenty cubits long and twenty cubits wide and ten cubits high. (2 Chronicles 4:1)
But when the Bible reader who has been around the block 8, 12, or 20 times reads those same words, he will take off his shoes, for this is holy ground (1)--
Because he reaches the realization that the first verse in chapter 3 is a precise description of the place later to be called Golgotha...
the exact spot where, according to the pictures and prophecies of the Old Testament, the Lamb of God must die for the sins of the people...
on a ridge called Moriah which cuts through Jerusalem; the same ridge where Abraham had enacted the prophetic picture of the cross when told to sacrifice Isaac, his son...
at a specific spot on that ridge--the threshing floor of Ornan (also known as Araunah) which God had directed David to purchase (2), so that the Temple could be built there.
Because he reaches the realization that the first verse in chapter 4 is the Old Testament picture of the ultimate altar--the cross of Jesus Christ. Alternately known as the bronze altar or the altar of burnt offering, it was a picture of the place where the Lamb of God was to endure hell fire in atonement for the sins of the world.
***
You can't rush the process. I passed this place maybe 8 or 9 times before I knew that I was at the foot of the cross.
But on my 10th trip past this hallowed ground, I instinctively tugged at my shoelaces.
So will you.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Exodus 3 and Acts 7:33; (2) see 2 Samuel 24

Friday, October 18, 2013

2 Chronicles: falling action

The Word for today:
2 Chronicles 1, 2
The book of 1 Chronicles narrates the rise of King David to great prominence. It tells us how a shepherd became king and was about to embark on the building of a splendid temple.
But the book of 2 Chronicles, which we enter today, narrates the fall of that glorious kingdom. It tells us how Solomon, born in a splendid royal palace, sowed the seeds of the eventual destruction of the kingdom. By the end of 2 Chronicles, after a slow devolution over many generations of kings, Jerusalem lay in ruins, the temple was burned to the ground, and the people were forced to serve their captors in Babylon.
In many Bibles, at the top of each page you will find "headlines." Put together, they form an outline of scripture. It takes only a minute, even in longer books like 1 and 2 Chronicles, to rapidly flip through the pages with your eyes on these headlines. If you do, they will give you a sense of the sweep of the book before you begin to read.
In my Bible, the headlines in 1 Chronicles begin with "David succeeds Saul" and end with "Solomon chosen to build the temple." The nation Israel is in ascendancy.
But the headlines in 2 Chronicles begin with "The building of the temple" and end with "Jerusalem destroyed." The nation Israel is in decline.
The difference between 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, between ascendancy and decline, is not hard to identify. The difference between 1 and 2 Chronicles stems from the difference between David and Solomon.
David was a man after God's own heart (1). Seeking first the kingdom of God, wealth and achievement and honor followed. (2)
But Solomon was a man after his own heart. What followed was a fall and a banishment of the nation, reminiscent of the fall and banishment from Eden.
***
At the peak of the kingdom, Solomon son of David was shown all the splendor of the world. They were his if he would bow down and worship them. He would.
Taken to the peak of the temple, Jesus Christ, the greater son of David, was shown all the splendor of the world. They were his if he would bow down and worship them. He would not.
In one way or another, the same choices are set before every man. Some will bow and fall.
Others will not.
They stand.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) 1 Samuel 13:14; (2) Matthew 6:33

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why the Bible? (part 1)

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Psalms 137 & 138
mark this: Psalm 138:2 --
"I will bow down toward Your holy temple and will praise Your name for Your love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word."
***
I want to talk about God's Word today- more specifically, I want to talk about why the Bible, and the Bible alone, is God's Holy Word. Many of you take that statement at face value- you accept the Bible for what it is- and that is excellent.
But our world is one where the majority of the people no longer believe that statement is true. It's a world where the Bible is lumped with other "sacred" books such as the Talmud, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita and whatever else may be in vogue. We live in an age where most people no longer care that "the Bible tells me so," an age where we must do more than simply reference chapter and verse to make any kind of point.
Today, I want to talk not so much about what the Bible says, but why I trust the Scriptures to begin with. In short, I want to give to all believers some ammunition to defend their faith and also challenge the unbeliever with the truth of the most amazing book mankind has ever had.
Truly God has, as this Psalm declares, "exalted His Word." The first reason I trust in the Bible is that it stands head and shoulders above any other book ever written. It is by far, not only the best selling book of all time, but it is also the best selling book each and every year. It puts anything written by Dan Brown or Stephen King or any other best selling author to shame in comparison. It is also, by far, the most translated book of all time, translated into over 1400 languages that can be understood by 90% of the people of the world.
God has exalted His Word by making it unbelievably available. It is good news to all people, no matter language, social status, gender, culture, race, or education level. That is categorically untrue of any other "sacred" writings. The Koran is locked in Arabic, both linguistically and culturally. The Bhagavad Gita can only be interpreted by those of the Brahman caste. The Book of Mormon is and the Jehovah Witness Bible (NWT) are controlled from their autocratic central headquarters in Salt Lake City and Brooklyn, respectively.
God has also exalted His Word by how the Bible authenticates itself. Despite having dozens of different authors, being written over thousands of years, on three different continents- the Bible is united - its central theme is Jesus Christ, and His plan to redeem humanity. People will often speak of supposed "contradictions" in the Bible, but cannot give a single example. When we do see a tough passage, we can find resolution as we compare it to the whole of the Bible. The Bible is very clear in its testimony about itself (1). It claims to be the inspired revelation of God and then backs those claims up.
In truth, the multiple authors and perspectives strengthens the case for the Bible. I love the fact that my trust in the Bible does not rest on the trust in a single author. I know how prone to error I am and people are, especially in isolation. But for the Mormon or for the Muslim, their entire faith system is stands or fails on the integrity of one individual. If one could prove that Joseph Smith or Muhammad were in any way not completely trustworthy, then all of Mormonism or Islam falls apart. All one has to do is cast some doubt on what supposedly happened to either of them when they were supposedly given direct revelation from an angel- all alone I might add.
But to deny the Bible, you are would have to say that the testimony of Moses and Samuel and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezra and Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and Peter and Paul and every other one of its authors; it all untrue.
There's much more to say on this subject- we'll save it for future blogs. Suffice it to say that when you are holding the Bible, you are holding an utterly unique and trustworthy account of God's testimony to us. Doubt yourself, doubt others, certainly doubt the drivel that comes from our world and media, but don't let ignorant naysayers trip you up with unfounded attacks on the Word.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20 -21