Saturday, May 31, 2014

Who else, if not you?

The Word for today: Acts 7:1-43

Over the next couple of days, we will be hearing about Stephen.

Stephen is a great Bible hero of mine. He played a crucial role in the spread of Christianity. His brave and eloquent testimony profoundly affected Saul of Tarsus, who would become Paul, the primary missionary/evangelist and thinker in the Christian church.

Stephen will forever be known as the first martyr of the church. But before we describe those circumstances, I want to ask you a very strange question:

Are you a martyr?

Most of you are thinking I've lost my marbles! You're thinking that martyrs, by definition, are unable to answer the question I've just asked!

Not so fast. Stephen gave his death, but did he give his life?

We don't know. We don't know how long Stephen had been devoting himself to the cause of Jesus Christ. But it could not have been very long, for the events of Stephen's stoning were not too far removed from the crucifixion of Jesus.

Martyrdom, in its broader sense , is when we give our lives to something. Martyrs, sometimes, are not called to give their deaths, but their lives. Jesus touched on this when he said,
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)

Dead men don't take up their crosses daily to follow Jesus. But martyrs do.

Out there somewhere, reading this right now, is a hero--a Stephen, or a Stephanie. God is calling you to take up your cross and die daily as your own plans and dreams--your very own self--are abandoned, left to die, for the sake of the higher calling you've heard.

Heed that call. We need another hero, another Stephen. Who else, if not you?


Friday, May 30, 2014

The "Establishment" and Jesus

(by Professor Dave)
The Word for today:
Acts 6
Stand in the Rain always aims to please its vast readership! You wanted the Big Picture of scripture, with a dose o' poetry and just a hint o' insanity -- so we brought you Franklyn!
You wanted contemporary, current, with-it relevance--and so we brought you Pastor Joe!
Some of you appreciate the scholarly, academic approach to the explication of scripture--and so today we bring aboard Professor Dave!
Regular readers have already been introduced to Professor Dave. In the May 2 blog, we highlighted the recent publication of his book, "From the Ascension to the Kingdom."
mark this: Acts 6:7
“… and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Why do you suppose Luke (the author of Acts) found it important to note that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith? Who were the priests? Why did God choose this time to mention their obedience to the faith?
The priests were those who were appointed from the lineage of Levi to be minister before God on the behalf of the nation of Israel. They were a part of the religious leadership of Israel, who for most part, up to this point, had rejected Jesus. As we consider the ministry of Jesus on earth, we can see that the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes, generally, opposed Jesus.
These were teachers of the Law, and they challenged Jesus’ authority. Ironically, as “keepers” or ministers of the Law, these teachers of the Law used the Law to exercise authority over the masses. Yet they, themselves, did not understand the Law or the purpose of the Law. Otherwise, they would have recognized that the Law was teaching about Jesus and was meant to bring men to Jesus. Jesus told them, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (NKJV Matthew 5: 39-40)
The priests were also part of this religious leadership and very little or nothing had been revealed, up to this point, as to their reaction to this chain of events. As part of the religious establishment of Israel, were they going to side with the teachers of the Law or were they going to accept the revelation of God in the person of His Son?
As we have looked at the opening of the book Acts, we have seen that a great deal of the activity of God was taking place in and around the temple. This was the place where the priests ministered. Therefore, the priests were privy to God’s workings among the apostles and the early Christians. They must have had a sense that they were ministering under the direction of God. But they were faced with a dilemma, “Were they going to continue to minister under the direction of Israel’s religious leadership (the teachers of the Law) or were they going to minister under the direction of Jesus?” For a great company of them, they chose Jesus.
I think that the dilemma which these priests faced is very similar to a dilemma which many face today, “Should we serve (minister to) others out a sense of obligation (to community, country, or even church), or do we minister under the direction of Jesus?” There is a fitting connection in Acts 6 between the actions of the priests and the activities of the Church. The Church recognized a need for oversight in its ministry to its members, and as a result appointed capable men to take on this ministration. The responsibilities of the priests in Israel fulfilled a similar function for the nation of Israel. Coincidence? I don’t think so. God knows the needs of His people and provides accordingly. The apostle Paul, at a later time, wrote--
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” (I Corinthians 12: 4-7)
In the light of these things which God’s Word has revealed, I think that each of us is left with a few questions to answer or positions to affirm:
1. What is my motivation for serving others?
2. What ministry has God called me to participate in?
3. How am I fulfilling my part in the commission Jesus has given to His Church?
I can’t do it all. Let’s face it, none of us can. That is why Jesus called out His Church. Together we have all that we need to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

may my half be half, and my whole be whole

The Word for today:
Acts 5:17-42
mark this: (Acts 5:1-11)
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Ananias and his wife Sapphira bought a field. Then they did an amazingly generous thing: they gave a big chunk of the proceeds (perhaps half!) to God! That's tithe times five!
And for this they were struck dead?
No, they were not struck down for their generous giving. They were struck down for lying, for saying that they'd given their all to God when they'd only given half of their all.
This does not mean that a believer in Christ can lose his salvation. Physical death is sometimes a judgment for a child of God; there is a sin unto death (1 John 5:16). But the child of God is not condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:31-32). I am pretty confident that you'll see Ananias and Sapphira in heaven someday.
The holiness of God was set forth at the beginning of the age of grace by this incident concerning Ananias and Sapphira, just as the holiness of God was set forth at the beginning of the age of law by an incident concerning Nadab and Abihu. (See Leviticus 10)
I consider Ananias, Sapphira, Nadab, and Abihu to be brothers and sister of mine, who happened to be around when the holy character of God needed to pronounce an example.
They took the heat for screw-ups like me, in order that we wouldn’t so soon forget that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)
So, let's learn from their example, and from the words of Jesus:
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No,' 'No.' Anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)
Let's live on the level with God. Don't let your praying and your saying get way out ahead of your living.
And let's be more cognizant of the promises we make in songs such as this:
"Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone.
Every breath that I take, every moment I'm awake…"
Yes, it's a heartfelt statement of intention when we sing such songs, and no one is purposefully lying to the Holy Spirit, but if ever a congregation were to sing--
"Lord we gave half-a-heart in years before,
But in two-thousand-fourteen, we'll try to give more"--
their refreshingly non-pious straight-shooting honesty just might put a fleeting smile on a straight-shooting Father's face!
Therefore, in order to bring some good out of the harsh examples made of Nadab, Abihu, Ananias, and Sapphira, I propose that this modest-but-honest song be sung--and lived out--in our churches:
May my yes be yes,
and my no be no.
May my half be half,
and my whole be whole.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

you could tell they'd been with Jesus

The Word for today:
Acts 4:32-5:16
mark this: Acts 4:13
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
If I could wish one thing for you and for me, it's that someday, somebody says of us what was said of Peter and John:
You can tell they've been with Jesus.
How would one attain such a mark of distinction? The answer is self-evident: Jesus will rub off on you to the extent that you live in his presence.
There's no shortcut, either. There's no course you can take or program you can follow which will mark you as a person who has absorbed the Spirit, person, heart, mind, and demeanor of Jesus Christ.
I walk into churches or other Christian gatherings and I can spot the ones who have been with Jesus. They come in many different shapes and sizes and colors and genders, but I know the ones who have been with him. They don't act like the others; they don't care to impress, they don't look for approval; and it's not me--or you--that they're aiming to please.
Their common denominator is the book that many of us carry. They've been shaped by their real interaction with the Word, just as Peter and John were shaped by their daily interaction with the Word made flesh.
They stand out like spots of flowing, growing green in an otherwise arid atmosphere of nominal Christianity, cultural Christianity, religiosity, and churchianity. The very first verses of the book of Psalms--the great relational book of the Bible--even say so; they tell us that those who regularly slake their spiritual thirst with the Word will stand out like greenery in the desert:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Psalms 1:1-3)
Go and be one of them. Get wet. "Stand in the Rain" every day and stay wet. I'm going to walk into your church someday and I will not know you. But I will know whose company you've been keeping.
And I will pray that someday someone notices the same in me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

men who had seen a miracle

The Word for today:
Acts 4:1-31
mark this: Acts 4:1-2, 8-12
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead…
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
If the evidence is examined objectively--without bias or prejudice--it is irrational not to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is, in many ways, the most well attested fact of history.
A person who examines the evidence, and does not believe, either
1. does not want to believe; or
2. has been hopelessly blinded by cultural forces that have actively suppressed the truth, rendering him unable to see straight. (See Romans 1:18.)
The proofs of the resurrection are infallible (Acts 1:3). It was attested to beforehand by prophecy. It was attested to afterwards by eyewitness account. Two thousand years of subsequent history have been unable to dissuade billions of believers, many of whom were/are the brightest minds of their respective centuries.
But the best proof that Jesus is alive is the transformation of the disciples.
When Jesus first appeared after his death, the disciples went through a phase of confusion, rife with rumor and speculation. Some thought, at first, that they'd seen a ghost! Thomas, who had been absent when Jesus first appeared to the others, stayed skeptical until Jesus appeared again and summoned Thomas to touch him. But Thomas shouldn't be singled out. None of them believed in Jesus' resurrection until they saw him for themselves.
But in 40 days Jesus made enough undeniable appearances to convince each of the disciples that he had overthrown death. Seeing was believing for all the disciples (but Jesus commended those who believed without such firsthand evidence.)
Their acts provide infallible proof that they'd seen infallible proof of Jesus' resurrection. (That's what the book of Acts is all about!) They acted like people who had just witnessed the most astounding event in all history--because they had! And they couldn't wait to tell the world.
Excitement, energy, and expectation replaced their fears and doubts. On the streets, in homes and synagogues, they told any who would listen that what they'd thought was impossible had come true: "Jesus is alive; he's the Messiah we've been waiting for!"
The reality of the resurrection had brought astonishing transformation. Peter, for example, had cowered in the shadows at the trial, denying he even knew Jesus. Could this be the same man, standing before the religious leaders and fearlessly rebuking their complicity in the death of Jesus?
Whereas Jesus had preached the kingdom, sometimes even warning his followers not to mention he was the Messiah, his disciples preached the resurrected King! Resurrection resounds through the pages of Acts.
These transformed men transformed the world. Five thousand believed (4:4). Then many priests believed (6:7), then thousands of Jews (21:20).
Acts is a remarkable drama that unfolds as the faith of unschooled men impels a movement that reshaped history. A revolution was underway, powered by men who had seen a miracle.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Promise of My Father--part 2

The Word for today:
Acts 3
mark this: Luke 24:49
"And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
and this: Acts 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit...
We are well aware of the hundreds of Old Testament promises of a Savior, the "Messiah." (Translated as "Christ" in the New Testament, "Messiah" means "Anointed.")
But we may not be aware of the Old Testament promises concerning the "Anoint-ment!"
Jesus repeatedly reminded the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit--"the Promise of My Father"--would arrive to anoint them with power from on high, the very same power which had filled and guided Jesus.
Yesterday we traced the Promise from Genesis to the outskirts of Bethlehem. Today we will continue to track the Promise, all the way from the birth of Jesus to Pentecost.
The people waited for the Promise. They waited for hundreds of years. And then, with the birth of Jesus, it was as if a trumpet sounds and everybody connected with his birth was filled with the Holy Spirit...
John the Baptist: He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth. (Luke 1:15)
Mary: And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist):
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)
Zechariah (father of John the Baptist):
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. (Luke 1:67)
Though many are filled, it is still particular people at particular times. Then John the Baptist pronounces the link between the Promise and Jesus:
John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16)
"Baptize" means to immerse, fill drench, overwhelm. Jesus is the Spirit baptizer.
Jesus himself was filled, completely, with the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove. (Luke 3:22)
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. (Luke 4:1)
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee. (Luke 4:14)
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1)
Jesus predicts the coming of the Spirit:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive. (John 7:37-39)
(This implies that as our spiritual thirst is satisfied, we become a source of blessing which overflows to others.)
Some of Jesus' last words to his disciples were these:
"And behold, I am sending the Promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)
And then Jesus ascended. But still the promise had not been fulfilled. And they waited. On another occasion, he reiterated these directions:
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5)
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
With rising anticipation, they waited. Then, in Acts 2, they found out what they were waiting for!--
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit... (Acts 2:2-4)
All of them--not just particular people at particular times for particular tasks--were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Something amazing--supernatural--was happening. Bystanders could not explain what they were seeing, so Peter got up and gave the true explanation:
This is what was promised through the prophet Joel: 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." (Acts 2:16-17, quoting Joel 2:28-32)
Then he told them the Promise was available to all:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (Acts 2:37-39)
This marked a radical departure from the past. The Holy Spirit was no longer given particularly, but universally--to everyone who has turned in faith to Jesus.
The brooding Spirit of Genesis, the dove who had descended upon Jesus, had found a place to "light."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Promise of My Father--part 1

The Word for today:
Acts 2:37-47

mark this:  Luke 24:49 
"And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." 

and this:  (Acts 2:1-4)
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit...

We are well aware of the hundreds of Old Testament promises of a Savior, the "Messiah." (Translated as "Christ" in the New Testament, "Messiah" means "Anointed.")  

But we may not be aware of the Old Testament promises concerning the "Anoint-ment!" 

Jesus repeatedly reminded the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit--"the Promise of My Father"--would arrive  to anoint them with power from on high, the very same power which had filled and guided Jesus.

Over the next couple days, we'll range from one end of the Bible to the other as we watch this promise unfold.


The Holy Spirit is involved in creation--
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
(Genesis 1:1-2)

(The entire Trinity was involved; God the Father created through Jesus, by the Spirit.)

When the Spirit comes, he brings newness.  Out of the chaos, he brings the cosmos.  Out of disorder, he brings order; out of confusion, harmony; out of deformity, beauty; out of the old, the new.

The Spirit brings life:
Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7)
The Hebrew word for "Spirit" in Genesis 1:2 is ruach; the word means both "breath" and "spirit."  Just as God breathed physical life into the human being, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came upon particular people at particular times for particular tasks.  An example is when the Spirit came upon Bezalel:
The LORD said to Moses, "See, I have called by name Bezalel and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.  (Exodus 31:1-5)

The Spirit came upon Gideon for leadership, transforming weakness into strength.  (Judges 6:14-15, 34)

The Spirit of the LORD came upon Samson, conferring power (Judges 15:14).  So often we find that what is described in the Old Testament in a physical way is true in the New Testament in a spiritual way.  Samson, who had been bound, was able to break free.  Just so, many of us find ourselves bound by habits, addictions, patterns of thought.  When the Spirit of God comes upon us, he enables us to break free.

The Spirit came upon Isaiah, bestowing prophecy.  See Isaiah 61:1-3:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

The experience of the Spirit is not just a nice warm feeling in our hearts.  The Spirit is the Difference Maker; he transforms individuals and the society at large.

Whenever the Spirit enters the picture, things happen.  As the Old Testament proceeds, there is a rising expectation that God is going to do things even more transformational.  This expectation is referred to as "The Promise of the Father."
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."   (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Under the old covenant, the people of God were given the law, written on tablets of stone.  But they found they could not keep the law.  Thus the law, instead of becoming a blessing, became their failure instead.  So God promised something new:  he would write the law inside them--so that they want to keep it, so that their obedience comes from the heart. 

By the Spirit, we will keep the rules not because we have to but because we love to!--
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

To whom does the Promise of the Father apply?  It's for everyone!--
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.  (Joel 2:28-29)

The people waited for the Promise.  They waited for hundreds of years.  And then, with the birth of Jesus, it was as if a trumpet sounds and everybody connected with his birth was filled with the Holy Spirit...

We're not there yet, but we're getting closer!  Our journey to the Upper Room on Pentecost will continue tomorrow.  See you there & then.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

"I get it!"--the begetting of the begotten

The Word for today:
Acts 2:14-36
mark this: Acts 2:17
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
We enter into advanced study today. We will look at how, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, the life of Christ is replicated within the believer. We will also look at how sin is born. We will feature the word "begotten," a word often encountered (in the Bible's most famous verse) but not often explained.
If this all sounds a little misbegotten, then skip "school" for today. But we hope you'll skip right back tomorrow!
As you may know, I write about scripture day and night.
And I get a lot of feedback. Some of it concerns the particular topic I wrote about that day or that week. But most of the feedback I get is about my larger theme--Jesus. And most of it sounds like this…
"I get it! Jesus permeates every passage of scripture. And everyone, everything--whether "secular" or "sacred"--is defined by his/their relationship to him. He is the one issue we must settle in this life."
Or else it sounds like this:
"I'm reading what you're writing, but I just don't get the whole Jesus thing. I just don't get it."
I love it when the light of understanding enters heretofore dull eyes, when the Holy Spirit pulls the veil off "the eyes of the heart" and the Light shines through. I see a replay, in the spiritual realm, of the physical creation in Genesis 1.
God's will is that everyone should "get it," that everyone should be saved. In the Bible's opening verses, this was expressed as "Let there be Light!"
In the New Testament, God said it this way:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is patient toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Activating the Father's will, the Holy Spirit, who is hovering over the benighted land, goes forth to pull the veil off every eye that will see. And when that veil is taken away, we see the Light of the world. We "get it"--
To this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit... (2 Corinthians 3:14-17)
It is imperative to remember that the Light is always there to "be gotten."
So at the Father's direction and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, the unseen God was literally begotten:
And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
The ancient creed tells us that he was "begotten, not made." That means the eternal Word was translated into flesh so that man could comprehend God. This came about when two wills melded into one--the willing heart of a woman and the willing heart of God.
The begetting implies a uniqueness: This will never happen again (John 1:14) because there is nothing left to give. God already gave his all:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
If you "get it," if you comprehend and receive him, then Jesus' lives within you--as he physically lived within Mary, as he spiritually lived within Paul:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." (Galatians 2:20)
If you "get it," if you comprehend and receive him, then the begetter, as pictured for us in the life of Mary, is the Holy Spirit.
If you "get it," then unto you a child is born. ("A child is born" refers to the flesh which has a birthday.) And unto you a son (the eternal Son of God) is not born but given:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
 (Isaiah 9:6-7)
But if you should resist, the Spirit of God can not (because he will not) dispel the darkness; he can not (because you will not) uncover your enshrouded eyes or soften your encrusted heart. If you resist the Spirit, then you yourself have begotten the uniquely damning sin in scripture:
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:32)
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
If you resist the Spirit, you will have managed to dispel the Light: "Let there be darkness!" is your decree.
And there was darkness.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Holy Spirit: no one "gets" Jesus but by Him

The Word for today:
Acts 2:1-13
mark this: 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
In Acts chapter 2, a pivotal event known as "Pentecost" is described. (Pentecost means the "Fiftieth Day" after Passover.)
There were forty days between Jesus' crucifixion (at Passover) and His ascension into heaven (1:3). Then there were ten days between the ascension and Pentecost, during which time the apostles were directed by Jesus to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit--"the Promise of My Father." (See Acts 1:4, 8; Luke 24:49).
"The Promise of My Father."
From the earliest chapters of the Bible, a Savior is promised. He is the Seed of the Woman, promised to Eve. He is the Son through whom all the earth will be blessed, as promised to Abraham. He is the direct descendant of David, who will rule forever from David's throne. The Promised Son is the great theme, the grand scheme of the Old Testament.
But when was the Spirit promised to us? Over the next few days, Stand in the Rain will take a whirlwind tour through scripture in search of the "Promise of My Father." We invite you to come along…
The Trinity is a tricky concept. People get it mixed up all the time. I once said, in a Bible class, that the Trinity is "three Gods in one person." Rest assured that my students nearly jumped out of their seats as they straightened out my misstatement:
"No! You mean 'one God in three persons!' " Which is exactly what I meant, despite the way it came out!
Well, the Holy Spirit makes sure that what God thinks is what comes out! As the Author of the Bible, He has conveyed God's counsel to us; he takes the things of Christ and shows them unto us (John 16:14-15). He makes the Word of God (the Bible) and the Word made flesh (Jesus) real to us. He makes them come alive.
The Three are so inextricably bound together that they are One. To explain this, we grope for metaphors and analogies, which always fall short:
To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? (Isaiah 40:18)
But when metaphor and analogy are all we've got, that's what we must use. So, here goes:
I sometimes think of the Trinity as the indispensable elements of a smile.
A mind, unseen, issues the directive to smile. This can be equated with God the Father, who remains unseen to this day:
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)
What is seen is the incarnation of the eternal Son. He is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:3). He responds to his Father's direction. He smiles (or cries, etc.) according to God's will.
(Though Jesus responds to God's directives, there is no "rank" in the Trinity. There is a "chain of command," but each Person's role is as indispensable as the others'. Better, then, to think of the Trinity as a Harmony, not a hierarchy. It must also be understood that God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). In the Kingdom of heaven, our notions of "greater" and "lesser" are turned upside down: the last shall be first, the greatest is the one who serves, etc.)
As Jesus puts God's will into action, it is the Holy Spirit who conveys Jesus to us. He emanates from Jesus, getting him through to us. The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son."
Unless the Son obeys, God's smile is unseen. Unless the Spirit illuminates it, God's smile is uncomprehended.
All right, enough of my illustration. Let's find a picture of Trinity in the Bible. It won't take long to locate, because it's the first thing we ever glimpse in scripture:
(verse 1) In the beginning, God…
(verse 2) And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters…
(verse 3) And God said, "Let there be Light…"
The Light of the World is, of course, Jesus. But does this mean Jesus was created in verse three by the Father?
No way! Jesus is the eternal Son, as eternal as the Father. God hadn't lived in darkness all this time! When God says, "Let there be Light," it's a directive to the Spirit to proceed--to shine, to illuminate, to reveal, to unveil Jesus!
And there was light  (verse 4).  The Spirit's work is effective. The Light was made apparent--real--to us. So in the Bible's first three verses we have "The Revelation (the unveiling) of Jesus Christ." (And you thought you'd have to wait until the end.)
The Light is always shining, but he is uncomprehended…
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5)
Unless he is illuminated…
In your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)
We will return tomorrow to chase the Holy Spirit, "the Promise of My Father," all the way through scripture.
But until then, remember two scriptures which must go hand in hand:
1. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one gets to the Father but by Him. (John 14:6)
2. No one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
The Holy Spirit reveals the Way (1). No one gets to the Father but by Jesus, and no one "gets" Jesus but by the Holy Spirit.
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 1:16-17; Isaiah 40:13-14

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

The Word for today:
Acts 1:12-26
mark this: Acts 1:1
In the former treatise, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…
Let's start with a trick question: Who wrote the most words in the New Testament?
If you look at your Bible's Table of Contents, you will see that the Apostle Paul wrote 14 of the 27 New Testament books (1). Obviously, the answer must be Paul.
Wrong. Paul wrote 37,360 words.
Then it must be John. He wrote a gospel, three epistles, and Revelation.
Wrong. John wrote 28,092 words.
The answer to today's trick question is Luke! He is the author of the books of Luke and Acts, which include a total of 37, 933 words. (Sitting on my front porch yesterday, waiting for the Rapture, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I counted every word!)
Luke/Acts should probably be thought of as two parts of a single entity, in the same way that we think of head and body as two parts of a single whole.  (We rarely, if ever, think of one without the other!)
The gospel of Luke is about the Head, Jesus. The book of Acts is about the Body of Christ--the church. The two are one. They must be, for neither can "act" without the other.
In fact, Jesus told them not to even bother trying to act until they were connected to the Head by being baptized into his body (at Pentecost)--
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which, he said, "You heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
(Acts 1:4-5)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.
(1 Corinthians 12:13)
And he is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)
As the second volume in a two-part work by Luke, this book probably had no separate title. Sometimes you will see it referred to as just "Acts." And sometimes you will see it referred to as "the Acts of the Apostles." Actually both of those titles aren't quite right, because they left out the Head. Unless we put "Jesus" in the title, we decapitate the body!
The key to understanding the purpose of the book is found in the very first verse:
In the former treatise, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…
The “former treatise” is the Gospel of Luke. In the gospels, Jesus began both to do and teach. In Acts, Jesus continues to do and to teach--through his body, the church.
So the best title for this formally untitled book would be "The Acts of Jesus Christ." Thinking of it that way makes sense of this astonishing scripture:
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
(John 21:25, which directly precedes Acts 1:1 in scripture)
Luke and Acts are one, just as Head and body are one.
So then they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mark 10:8-9)
(1) Biblical scholars disagree over the authorship of the book of Hebrews. For the purpose of our word count, we have assumed that Paul wrote Hebrews.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

the game plan

(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Acts 1:1-11
mark this: Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
What a blessing the church of Jesus Christ has been given in this book- Acts. It's been sometimes called the Acts of the Apostles, which is true in some sense. But a much more accurate title would be the Acts of the Holy Spirit. He saturates this book- from chapter 1 to chapter 28, and beyond. He is the One promised in today's reading. He comes into the lives of Christ's disciples in power on the day of Pentecost in chapter 2, and then again to Gentile believers as the message spreads (1) . People such as Peter, Stephen, Barnabas, and Paul are all said to be full "of the Spirit."(2).
The Holy Spirit speaks and leads and directs all of the actions of the "movers & shakers" in this book. He reveals truth to Peter in the matter of of Ananias and Sapphira. He empowers Stephen to speak boldly. He leads Phillip's very travels- sending him to share the Gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, and then whisking him away suddenly. The Spirit compels Peter to include non-Jews in the church. He personally chooses Paul and Barnabas for their missionary work. He navigates the church trough its first theological crisis. The Spirit even directs Paul where to go and not to go with the Gospel message. (3)
In short, this book is saturated in the Holy Spirit, as He leads, rebukes, opens some doors and closes others. We cannot come away from Acts thinking that the apostles, by their "own power or godliness (4)" somehow established God's Kingdom. Here in today's reading, the Lord Jesus lays out His game plan and His method: He ascends to the Father. The Holy Spirit comes in power. The Spirit-filled disciples are Christ's witnesses. The message spreads from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. That is precisely what happens in the next 27 chapters of Acts.
I cannot wait to explore this book together- all the ups and downs, twists and turns, joys and sufferings- because this is no mere human endeavor. Today, we get to see the game plan. The rest of the time, we see the Holy Spirit make it reality. Never forget that all of this is God's idea. Nothing can be more encouraging than to see flawed and ordinary people doing amazing things because it is not them, but the Spirit of Jesus Christ who carries it out! Nothing prevents any of us to join in their company because it isn't us, but the Holy Spirit who sees things through.
(1) Acts 8:15-17, 10:44-48
(2) Acts 4:8, 6:5, 11:24, 13:9,
(3) Acts 5:3-9, 6:10, 8:29 & 39, 11:12, 13:2, 15:28, 16:6
(4) Acts 3:12