Friday, February 28, 2014

the rebel

The Word for today: Genesis 4, 5
Abel is my older, braver brother, who went forward first, following God by faith. He went forward utterly alone, rejecting his generation and his family’s values. The rebel was certainly not Cain.
Abel came God’s way--
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4)
Abel brought a blood offering, thus confessing himself a sinner:
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)
Cain came his own way, with his own offering. That’s religion.
The way of Cain (Jude 11) is not by faith in God, but by faith in self. God wanted a lamb brought, which points to the sacrifice of Christ. The offering of Cain denied that human nature is evil and in need of a Redeemer. Cain believed in God and religion, but he thought he would negotiate with God directly. It can't be done:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
He brought himself instead of Christ, which is the essence of religion--then and now.
Cain and Abel stand as two great systems, two classes of people:
the lost and the saved;
the self-righteous and the broken spirited;
the formal professor and the genuine believer.
The difference between these men wasn’t a character difference. The difference was the offering they brought. No Christian takes the position he is better than anyone else, because there are only two kinds of people--sinners that are saved, and sinners that are lost. What's the difference? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Sin is conformity.
Cain is romanticized as a rebel. Excuse me while I gag. Cain followed the way chosen by Adam, who had chosen the way that Eve had dictated. Adam was wrapped around Eve's little finger and Cain was tied to her apron strings. She, of course, went along with the serpent.
The rebel was Abel, who broke from his family and took the Way of the LORD alone. He is the Christ-like figure who chose what would become the Way of the cross-- and paid the consequences of his rebel freedom.
The word “conformed” occurs just twice in my KJV Bible--because everybody ends up conforming in one of just two ways. Cain conformed to this world (see Romans 12:2). Abel conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:29). Abel’s conformity makes him my favorite rebel. Think of it: he faced what then was the entire world and, seeing that their ways were not God’s ways, he went the way which was to be the Way of the cross—and he went that way alone. Conformity to the image of Jesus Christ is rebellion in this world.
Abel is the first person in Scripture who depicts the pattern of righteousness by faith. His rebellion against the prevailing culture -- against everyone, it would seem, but God -- and his death at the hands of his own kin prefigure the supreme rebel, Jesus Christ, who was condemned by His own to die alone.
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Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Did God really say?"

The Word for today:
Genesis 3
mark this: Genesis 3:1
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
Students of scripture must have a thorough understanding of Genesis 3:
We must be aware of Satan's strategic distortion of God's Word in the Garden of Eden;
We must guard against the very same strategies when they are employed by Satan today;
We must learn, from the Bible's parallel scenes--the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 and Luke 4--how Jesus wielded the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (1) to defeat Satan's evil designs.
So let's walk, step by step, through the garden…
Did God really say…?
Adam and Eve are real individuals and their story is specific history recorded by Moses under the direction of the Holy Spirit. But their story is also universal, describing what has happened countless millions of times down through the ages--the descent into sin.
God's word attacked.
Through the snake's voice Satan attacked God's Word. This is the beginning of the descent.
God's Word had been responsible for everything that Adam and Eve enjoyed. God speaks into existence day and night, sun and moon, the blue sky, flowers, singing birds, and all the adoring creatures.
"Did God really say…"
So shrewd. The serpent didn't directly deny God's Word, but he smuggled the assumption that God's Word is subject to our judgment. Such a thought had never been verbalized before, and it was enticing.
This sets up Satan's systematic distortion of God's Word.
Satan's scheme (which will fail) is to get them--and us--to sin; he postulates that God will love them too much to condemn them and in so doing God will have abrogated his own word, placing him on the same level with Adam and Eve--on the level of sin.
"Did God really say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1)
This is a complete distortion of God's Word and his generosity.
Whereas God was generous in his original statement of verse 2:16--You are free to eat of every tree but one-- he is made to seem stingy and miserly, by suggestion. Satan is subtle--not coming out and directly attacking the Word of God--he just asks an "innocent" question. The seed of doubt has been planted and it will bear surprisingly quick fruit.
This would have been a great opportunity to defend God, but Eve didn't. She descended to her own revisions of God's Word:
She diminishes God's Word.
She adds to God's Word.
She softens God's Word.
Diminishes--
3:2--She leaves the 'every' out of verse 2:16. She discounted God's gracious generosity. This is a tacit agreement with the serpent. This subtle shift of heart indicates something bad is happening inside of Eve.
Adds to--
3:3: "…and you must not touch it." God never said that; Eve added it. She magnified God's strictness. Then, paradoxically, she…
Softens--
3:3: She leaves out the "surely" of 2:16. She removes the certitude of death.
By her revisionist approach to the Word of God she has placed herself in harm's way.
This emboldens the serpents' reply in 3:4--"You will not surely die." This is not subtle. Together, they have arrived at the place of saying that God's Word is wrong.
"You will not surely die."
The doctrine of divine judgment is the very first doctrine to be denied. Satan attacks it from the beginning. Modern culture's loathing of this doctrine indicates that our culture is conversant with Satan, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:2) But note that judgment did come upon Eve and Adam--as it surely will fall on all.
God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (3:5)
Emboldened further by Eve's participation in the distortion of God's Word, the serpent shifts from attacking the Word of God to attacking the very goodness of God Himself. According to the serpent, the threat of death is nothing but a scare tactic to keep them in their place. So God is repressive, and jealous--that they not ascend too high. This is an incredible, unbelievable slander of God, in light of the thousand "goods" of creation.
This lie would alter life on earth forever. It bore the lure of divinity for Eve: "You will be like God." Sin had a promise, which God's Word withheld.
By reaching out for the fruit and eating it, she would be like God; she would decide what was right and wrong apart from God's Word. What an intoxicating thing it was--and is today: she would do it her own way. This is the lure of moral autonomy--to be your own moral compass.The godlike prospect of moral autonomy drew her to take and eat the fruit.
Adam and Eve had come from the pinnacle of innocence and intimacy to the pit of guilt and estrangement. See 3:7-8.
***
We are not unaware of Satan's schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
What we learn from Genesis is that sin takes hold when we begin to doubt God's Word and God's goodness.
When this starts to work in us, we begin to leave out the great pluses in God's word and character. We begin to minimize the promises and the graces and the goodness of his Word. They evaporate in our minds. We become less enthusiastic.
Then we add to and exaggerate the things we don't like, making it grievous in our minds.
When we do these things, we are in harm's way. We begin to regard God as someone who is withholding something, keeping us down, repressing us.
That's why Moses, who wrote Genesis under the inspiration of the Spirit, at the very end of his writing, will say:
Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you--they are your life. (2)
And when we come to the New Testament we find Jesus facing Satan--in the wilderness, not in the Garden. He defeats Satan with three quotations from Deuteronomy, including "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (3).
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In the beginning, God

mark this: Genesis 1:1-3
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
I knew Genesis was approaching soon, but it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed the specific reading schedule for today. Here it is:
The Word for today:
Genesis 1, 2
Alright. I've got one blog article to do justice to the seminal chapters of scripture. Where to begin?
They say a good thing to do when you don't know where to start is to start at the very beginning. And so I will:
In the beginning, God
Stop right there. You have come to the major crossroad in scripture.
If you can meet these first four words with faith, then this book will open up before you. Avenues of wide wonder await you. Love without limits lies straight ahead.
If you can trust these four words, then I would go to the nearest mirror and say goodbye to the self you used to know. This book has a way of changing things.
But if those four words meet resistance in your spirit, then I would put the book down for now. It has nothing to give you. You will find it to be poor--just a hodgepodge of antiquated characters, endless genealogies, irrelevant rituals, and stories whose meanings you will never grasp. So take the left or the right--it won't matter which--that your heart desires. Life will sift you and perhaps you'll pass through this intersection again someday, but with a different heart.
God, from the very beginning, has based a knowledge of him on just one thing--faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
For by it the people of old received their commendation.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.  (Hebrews 11:1-3)
If you will believe the opening words, then vistas seen only through the eyes of God loom just ahead. God will lend you his very eyes to see them, and his very mind to perceive them, and his very Spirit will introduce you to his very Son,
who is very man of very man and very God of very God,
and very, very much in love with--of all people--you.
***
God's Spirit hovers, poised and ready.  But, odd as it may sound, the beginning is up to you. If you let there be light, there will be light.
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

unsettling

puzzled-md
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Luke 9:37-56
I don't get it!
All of us have been in that place where our best efforts to comprehend something fall short.
Maybe it was in calculus class.
Maybe it was trying to program a VCR. (Remember those?)
Maybe it was attempting to assemble some minor piece of furniture.
Maybe it was on an exam.
Each one of us has a unique set of items that we simply do not get, and anyone who tries to explain it better to us is wasting their time.
But there is one category where each one of us share a similar comprehension problem, and that category is the Son of God. After reading today's passage, I want you to put yourself in the sandals of one of the Twelve, say James, son of Zebedee. He, like the rest of the disciples, and the rest of us, had trouble "getting" what Jesus was saying and doing. But can you blame him?
First Jesus performs a great miracle, by feeding the 5000+, and the disciples get clean up duty (1).
Next Jesus confirms that He is indeed the Messiah of God, but He wants the disciples to keep totally mum on this subject(2).
Next Jesus describes not only His imminent sufferings and death, but also the need for all of His followers to likewise take up their cross as well (3).
Then Jesus reveals a portion of His glory to the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, but orders that these disciples remain silent about what they witnessed (4).
Now in today's reading, Jesus rebukes his disciples on five separate occasions. They have it all wrong concerning A. demonic exorcism, B. the suffering of the Messiah, C. the true nature of greatness, D. their wrong headed exclusivity, and E. in their desire for supernatural revenge.
These guys were WAY off! I believe that the rebukes and harsh words of Jesus had to sting. They thought that they had Him all figured out, and yet Jesus says, to His closest friends, things such as "Let these words get past your thick skulls(5)" and "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you!?! (6)"
I don't know about you, but I would be confused as well. But the problem lies with me, not Him. Jesus Christ, by nature is both extremely comforting and unsettling at the exact same time. No one in history was every more kind and gentle towards sinners, no one in history ever spoke more ferocious words against sin. Grace and truth, truth and grace, dancing in perfect harmony, without dilution, confusion or commingling.
So as we encounter Jesus in the Gospels- I urge all of us not to water-down or take the sting out of His words and actions. May they awaken us like a thunderbolt, never allowing us to fall into the deadly malaise of thinking anything about Jesus is trite and old hat. Until we are following a Jesus who is continually confronting and reshaping and unsettling and renovating us, I doubt we are following Jesus at all. So go ahead and scratch your head, then lift your hands in praise to the only one we can never completely figure out.
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(1) Luke 9:10-17
(2) Luke 9:18-20
(3) Luke 9:21-27
(4) Luke 9:28-36
(5) Luke 9:44 (Zach's Paraphrase)
(6) Luke 9:41

Monday, February 24, 2014

exceedingly abundantly--part 2

The Word for today: Luke 9:18-36
(If you are looking for an article on the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), then look right here.  )
***
When Jesus fed 20,000* with just a few loaves and fish, there were 12 baskets of leftovers! Today we conclude a 2-part series which takes a closer look at God's super-abundant provision.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. (Psalms 23:5)
Our blessings--cups that have been filled and will be re-filled--leave measurement, and even the powers of imagination, behind:
God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20/NKJV)
We receive according to his power and riches:
God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might. (Colossians 1:11)
Scripture here does not say "equal to," or "up to and including." It must resort to the phrase "according to"--meaning that our blessings cannot be quantified, but are in accordance with infinity!
This Kingdom Beyond the Reaches of Relativism can be dizzying and disorienting. It will require new habits of speech. So let's practice a new habit:
Wrong: "Jesus is bigger than…"
We are in the habit of throwing a 'than' into the equation. But we can't, for there is no basis of comparison:
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? (Isaiah 46:5)
Right: "Jesus is bigger." (Period!)
Jesus escapes comparison; he cannot be contained by relative terms. He escapes relativity!
Thus, whatever we think of Christ shrinks him. So think again and think bigger. Now think bigger yet again. Your thought will not outrun him. Your imagination will never capture him.
***
We know Jesus. We even know him well. Yet there remains as much to know as when we knew nothing of Him. Consider a lyric from "Amazing Grace"--
When we've been there ten thousand days
bright shining as the sun,
there's no less days to sing God's praise
than when we first begun.
Just so, when we have learned, and glorified God for, his 35-God-zillionth attribute, we have not shortened the list of attributes which we have yet to discover.
The Kingdom's disregard of /disdain for/disavowal of limitations is seen in the story of the prophet Elisha, a widow, and the jar of oil that never runs out no matter how much is poured (2 Kings 4). This prefigures Jesus Christ--Christ means "Anointed"--who had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). This also prefigures the feeding of the five thousand, when there were more leftovers than than the loaves and fish they emanated from, which (in principal) allows us to change the lyric to--
When we've been there ten thousand days…
there are far more days to sing God's praise
than when we first begun.
In the infinite realm, quantity doesn't exist (or--this is nuts, I know) quantity is reversed: pick one grape and two remain; five loaves and two fish don't de-materialize but redundantly re-materialize; Job is not just restored but over-restored, 2-for-1.**
When you can turn arithmetic upside down, then you can turn relativity inside out, and overturn gravity as well. At that point you walk on water like a sidewalk. Time accelerates so that what happened tomorrow seems like yesterday. Prophecy is certain and miracles aren't strange. What will seem strange is that anyone called them miracles in the first place.
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*counting men, women, and children
**compare Job 1 and Job 42

Sunday, February 23, 2014

exceedingly abundantly--part 1

The Word for today: Luke 9:1-17
(In order to get in shape for Kingdom come, we must stretch our spiritual muscles. The following exercises are designed to be both soul-stirring and head-stretching.)
mark this: Luke 9:16-17
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and asked God's blessing on the food. Breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples to give to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of leftovers!
I think Jesus had fun with this miracle. I mean, there were no demons involved, no diseases, no catastrophic storms. It was just lunch he was dealing with.
Apart from the resurrection, this is the only miracle reported in all four gospels. The number--5000--grabs the headlines, but what fascinates me is this detail:
They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of leftovers! (Luke 9:16-17/NLT)
Super-abundance ("more") is a principal of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus isn't just sufficient, he is more than enough. God doesn't just meet our needs, he overflows:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. (Psalms 23:5)
Speaking of cups running over, the Bible twice uses an outrageous picture--wine as common as washwater--in order to illustrate God's superabundant provision.
Jesus' first miracle--at the wedding in Cana (John 2)--was in fulfillment of Jacob's famous prophetic vision:
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. (Genesis 49:10-11)
Jesus directed that large vessels (normally used to store washwater) be filled with water. Then he turned it into the choicest wine. His time--and the time of Israel's visitation--had come. It was an unmistakable pronouncement to His disciples that he was the Anointed of God, the promised King to come.
God's superabundant provision during His first advent would be the blood of the Son of God, symbolized from Melchizedek to the Lord's Supper by wine.
Jacob's prophecy will be re-fulfilled (!) at Jesus' second advent (during the Millennial reign) when donkeys will be tethered to the choicest vine, and allowed to eat their fill of the best grapes. Wine, once again, will be as common as washwater.
Our blessings (cups filled and to-be-filled) will leave any means of measurement, and even the powers of imagination, behind:
God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20/NKJV).
(Not wanting to stretch your head too much too soon, Stand in the Rain will take a brief respite. Be sure to return tomorrow for more Kingdom calisthenics.)
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Saturday, February 22, 2014

'Lord, Lord'

The Word for today:
Luke 8:40-56
We Christians use the word 'Lord' a lot. It's 'Lord' this and 'Lord' that. Jesus, for one, thought the word was misused and overused, and he said so:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)
We use the term unthinkingly, as if it were a name. 'Lord' is not a name. It's a word that defines a certain relationship--a relationship that looks like this:
He's in charge, and I am not.
With that in mind, let's listen to Jesus' words once again:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)
***
Luke has just marched us through a well-orchestrated section of scripture which serves to illustrate one big theme: Jesus is Lord.
He is Lord of the natural realm:
And they went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. (Luke 8:24)
He is Lord of the supernatural realm:
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. (Luke 4:34-35)
He is Lord over sin and its effects:
Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the man who was paralyzed--"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (Luke 5:23-25)
He is Lord of life and death:
While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more." But Jesus on hearing this answered him, "Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well." And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, "Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, "Child, arise." And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. (Luke 8:49-55)
***
May I make a modest proposal that, in a backward way, will actually do great honor to Jesus...
If Jesus is not in charge of our lives, then let's cut out the 'Lord, Lord' jive. Let's declare a moratorium on the word, and just call him Jesus for awhile. There's no lie in that.
A moratorium might serve to remind many of us that he is not the comprehensive Lord of our lives. And if the day should arrive when he becomes--in truth and in deed--the Sovereign King of our souls, then we'll hold a party, invite all our friends to the coronation, and crown him Lord of Lords.
Words, as used by Jesus, were raised to the level of binding contracts, even covenants:
"Let your yes be yes and your no be no."
May we do the same. Let's let our 'Lord' be Lord.
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Friday, February 21, 2014

May you never cease to find the questions to your Answer.

The Word for today:
Luke 8:22-39
mark this: Luke 8:25
"Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"
Which came first--the chicken or the egg?
Which came first--the question or the answer?
I'm not here to strain your brain or place you on the horns of a dilemma. I just want to point out that the Q & the A have a more complex inter-relationship than often meets the eye.  Jesus knew this, and often made a question his answer.
The other day I was reading some political commentary, and a government program was described as "a solution in search of a problem"--an answer in search of a question!
Now that your brain feels like it's been tumbled in the dryer, I'm going to tell you where the Bible has taken me. Are you ready?
Jesus is the answer. Now, what's the question?
***
Today's reading provides no less than the ultimate, most consequential question ever asked:
"Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?" (Luke 8:25)
The answer, of course, is embedded in the question. The disciples knew their Old Testament scriptures, which taught that God controls the seas. Psalm 107:24-30 is a precise parallel of what they had just seen:
They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.
Psalm 65:7 refers to God as the one "who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves." Psalm 89:9 addresses God directly: "You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them."
The disciples knew that Jehovah could still the seas by his word alone:
But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. (Psalms 104:7)
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up. (Psalms 106:9)
All waters flow and cease to flow at God's command. Logic demands, therefore, that Jesus must be the Creator, God. The disciples understanding of Christ suddenly shot right out of the universe!
***
There's a man in our office with the most ironic ring-tone of all time. His phone blasts out the old U-Tune called "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
My spirit has turned the song's original intention inside out, so that each time I hear it, I'm reminded that there's no end to the thrilling questions I've yet to encounter, every one of them revealing a heretofore undiscovered facet of Jesus.
May you never cease to find the questions to your Answer.
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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Soil Testing 101

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Luke 8:4-21
The Parable of the Sower/Soils is "the" parable.
It is not as beloved as the Good Samaritan.
It is not as cherished as the Prodigal Son.
But it is perhaps the most important of all the parables that Jesus told.
While nearly all the other parables cover a certain aspect or portion of faith (e.g. forgiveness, readiness, grace, love, money, prayer, etc.), this parable covers the even more fundamental issue of whether or not we receive the Gospel message to begin with.
Furthermore, we are blessed not only with three accounts of this parable(1), but also the interpretation straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ. We may err in some of our interpreting of other parables, but here its impossible because our Lord has already given us the correct answer. He uses this particular parable to explain to us why he used parables to begin with.
We know, from Jesus Himself, that the seed is the Word of God, scattered for all to hear. The rest of the parable describes four different types of soil and how they respond to the seed. Let me introduce you to them, with a bit of personification:
Mr. Pathy: His heart soil is too compacted to even receive the Word.
Mr. Rocky: His heart soil is too shallow for anything real to grow.
Mr. Thorny: His heart soil is too crowded for any healthy growth.
Mr. Goodly: Is the only one who has the depth and space to grow.
Every single person who has ever heard the message of Jesus Christ can be described in one of these four camps.
Which soil are you?
Have you found yourself to be in different camps in your own history?
(For a real challenge, try figuring out which of the 4 camps are "saved." I wouldn't feel so secure for Rocky or even Thorny.)
But before we congratulate ourselves for not being Pathy or Rocky or Thorny and moving on from this parable, let me ask you one question: How's your heart? I mean right now.
Certainly, these types of soil can speak concerning one's salvation, but I believe that they speak to every believer, each day. How's my heart, how's my soil right now? Just because it was good for a season does not mean that hardness or shallowness or thorns will never again be an issue for me.
Every day, I can choose to be in any one of these camps. I can become callous towards the things of God. I can start off well, but quickly lose my focus and passion. I can certainly allow all the stuff of life to put a stranglehold on anything that really matters with God. Or today, I can choose to "humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (2)."
The truth is, not one of us has "graduated" past this parable to where it no longer applies to us. Not one of us has got this thing down, or reached a place where we no longer need to listen. So I urge all of us to follow the words of Jesus: "He who has hears to hear, let him hear!"
*************************
(1) Here, and in Matthew 13:1-23 and Mark 4:1-20
(2) James 1:21

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Franklyn, the Pharisee**

The Word for today:
Luke 7.36-8:3
mark this: Luke 7:47
"I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love."
(Stand in the Rain today offers the raw, uncut, unfiltered version of the day Franklyn lost his spiritual bearings, and turned into the Pharisee described in today's passage. **Recommended for Spiritually Mature Audiences Only.)
***
I scratch my head over the Bible all the time. I've read every word uttered by Jesus about a billion times, but his words continue to catch me by surprise. Half the time, I don't know where he's coming from. But that's OK, because half the time neither does anybody else whom I've ever known, heard, or read.
Another baffling aspect of the Bible isn't within the Bible itself, but in the way that it's been "heard." It never ceases to puzzle me why certain Bible stories are so well known, while others get lost in the shuffle. We have an incident before us today, for example, which is absolutely central to the Christian life, yet it somehow remains obscure to many.
The story is about a woman, implied to have been a prostitute, who wipes Jesus' feet with her tears, then anoints them with a jar of costly aromatic oil. The thing the story is most widely known for is the mistaken belief that the woman is Mary Magdalene. (That's not her. Nowhere in scripture is it implied that Mary Magdalene was formerly a lady of the streets.)
But what's forgotten is the direct correlation that Jesus proclaims between sin and love: those forgiven the most love the most.
I see that correlation in effect all the time. The fervent and ardent lovers of Jesus Christ are those who sense the depths of their own sinfulness. Blessed by their poverty of spirit (1), they are shot through--all the way from their intellects to their hearts to the marrow of their bones--with the sense that without Jesus they don't have a prayer; that they are utterly lost without him.
Jesus is, without a doubt, a far bigger deal to those who know the depths of their depravity and how much, therefore, it must have cost for him to redeem them.
On the other hand are the cool, the diffident, the tepid--typified by the Pharisee in the story. His lukewarm love for Jesus is in direct correlation to his middling sense of personal sin.
*****
So much that we see in the church is explained by this story. It goes a long way toward explaining the oft-noted phenomenon of a cool love that churched-from-their-youth people can have for Jesus when compared to the enthusiastic and overt love of Johnny-come-lately's to the faith.
I will even go so far as to say that I can predict eventual Bible literacy by the sense of sinfulness--and thus the sense of forgiveness--that a given individual has. Those who think they have little to forgive don't seem to be as fascinated by Jesus, as hungry to chase his heart through the scriptures.
This is not just theoretical truth to me, because I have experienced the direct correlation between forgiveness and love. It was the most harrowing moment of my Christian experience: The Day That Franklyn Felt Holy. (Because of my fear that this subject can be misunderstood, I've previously conveyed this experience to only Shelley, but here goes…)
It happened that I was sailing through a Bible class. It was one of those days when I knew I was bringin' it; I was coming across with power and even a bit of style.
And why not. I'd had a good couple of weeks. I was "all prayed up," as Christian lingo phrases it. I had my besetting sins under control. I was on a spiritual winning streak. By God, I was feeling sanctified, I'll tell you.
And that's when terror struck. All of a sudden I was so clean I didn't need Jesus anymore.
My spiel continued, on autopilot, for the remainder of the class. But there were at least three times in those final 20 minutes when I came this close to quitting in mid-sentence. Not just quitting for the hour, or for the day, but forever.
Because at the core of me, I knew I didn't understand the cross any more. In fact, the cross looked like overkill. My sense of sin had escaped me, and what Jesus had done for me escaped along with it.
In a real and terrifying way, it was my "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" moment. The desperate need I'd had for him was gone--and along with my need went the Savior I had known.
I was pretty much a basket case--a sanctified, sanctimonious basket case for the rest of that day. I had come spiritually unglued. For the first time I understood this previously puzzling scripture concerning Esau:
He found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (2)
I thought that I would never be able to convey the cross again. If you can't convey the cross, you've got no business teaching scripture. I actually began typing formal resignation.
Shelley told me to wait before I clicked "Send." She said I might feel differently about things in a few days. I am in the habit of taking her advice, so I did not "Send."
Two days later--thank the great and dear LORD--one of my besetting sins returned to proclaim, in no uncertain terms, that he was back. It was my old friend, Pride, and he was back with a vengeance.
I can hardly begin to tell you what this meant to me. O happy day! God had sent a messenger from Satan to buffet me (3), as Paul says. Pride, my chief nemesis, had been allowed back in. But when Pride got in, he kicked my newfound sin--self righteousness--out.
I was a sinner again, a low-down, proud, egocentric, vainglorious sinner again. Franklyn was back!
And Jesus was back! And I was in rabid, stupefying, and ardent love with him again.
*****
I'm going to publish this little memoir as is. I'm not going to go back and polish it, or touch it up. I'll probably spell-check, but that's all. Then I'm going to hit "Publish."
I don't want this to come out prettified, or pasteurized, or sanitized. I am the notorious sinner in the story, but for a while I became the Pharisee instead. And the Pharisee chased the Jesus right out of my life.
Now don't think I've advised you to go looking for trouble. Each of us has enough sin on his resume without looking for more. The thing to remember is that the fragrant oil now in the "jar" (4) is not your own. Jesus put it there when he dumped all the sin--what used to be in the jar--on himself. (5)
That's what the lady remembered, and the Pharisee forgot. So it made complete sense to her to put the fragrant oil back where it came from:
she poured it at Jesus' feet.
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(1) Matthew 5:3; (2) Hebrews 12:17 (3) 2 Corinthians 12:7; (4) 2 Corinthians 4:7; (5) see 2 Corinthians 5:21

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Should we look for someone else?"

The Word for today:
Luke 7:18-35
John the Baptist was the greatest person who ever lived--all the way from Adam up until Jesus Christ. He was as great, or greater, than Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Job, Daniel, or David. How do we know? Because Jesus said so:
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. (Luke 7:28)
And yet John the Baptist had doubts that crossed his mind. How do we know? Because John said so:
And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Luke 7:19)
I want to speak to the doubting and the disappointed today. If you've watched a child die, or if you've been overcome by disease, or if you've watched a calloused spouse drive away with your heart in his suitcase,
despite prayer after to prayer to God, who could have saved, healed, and restored with just a word, if he'd cared to…
If that's you--if that was your child, your health, your family, your heart--that God left to die, to disintegrate, to shatter…
Then you've known John the Baptist, who was in prison because he had so faithfully served as God's spokesperson against evil; and because he had prepared the way for the great Messiah. He was in jail because he'd been obedient to God.
So where's the justice in that? And where was God? Where was the Messiah? No doubt John had prayed to be released, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. Could it be that he'd been wrong about Jesus?
***
Jesus replied with an astonishing display of power and purpose:
When the men had come to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?' "
And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."
 (Luke 7:19-23)
All those miracles, but Jesus did not free John from jail.
***
Could it be that you've been wrong about Jesus? Should you look for someone else?
Talk can be cheap in this regard, coming from someone, like me, whose life has not been marked by the profound depth of your tragedies. And so I offer answers not from my experience but from the experience of God,
who with a word might have stopped the crucifixion of His only son, but could not say that word.
Within that realization is the answer you're looking for. It might not, right now, specifically address all your questions, but it will put you in company with a great prophet who died wondering why; and with an even greater Prophet who'd readied himself to die, but not to die as He did,
alone, crying out to His Father, who returned only silence in reply.
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Monday, February 17, 2014

Jesus marveled

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Luke 7:1-17
mark this: Luke 7:9
"When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
"I've never met a _______ that I didn't like."
Each one of us could fill in the blank with something different.
Maybe it's a candy bar or a type of clothing or a certain car or a something electronic.
The Bible, we never encounter a centurion that we don't like.
Think about it. In a book full of all kinds of unsavory or at least flawed characters, there is nothing mentioned negatively concerning centurions. We have good patriarchs and bad ones, good and bad kings, good and bad priests, good and bad prophets, even good and bad apostles (well, just the one that went rotten.) But nary an unfavorable word concerning centurions.
Centurions were the backbone of the Roman military. They, by hard work and leadership, were placed in the officer rank over a group of around 100 soldiers. But they certainly were not of the higher general rank. They would lead and then fight beside their troops in battle.
In the Bible, it was a centurion that spared the imprisoned Apostle Paul's life (1). In the Bible, the very first Gentile conversion in the early church is a centurion named Cornelius (2). In the Bible, it is the not the priests or rulers, but instead a humble centurion who recognizing the crucified Jesus as "the Son of God (3)."
Today's passage (also found in Matthew 8) we see another centurion highlighted. It begins like so many of the healing accounts found in the Gospels. You know, a person or persons with an urgent physical need come to the "miracle maker" and Jesus provides healing and restoration.
In this account, the unnamed commander is greatly concerned for a servant of his, and he sends a delegation to make the need known to Jesus.
Jesus does agree and, indeed, heal the servant. But that is where the similarity with the other healing stories ends. We know from verses 4 & 5, this centurion was a real, stand-up guy. But what stands out even more is just how big and accurately he saw Jesus. He recognized that Jesus could help his sick servant, and he took action that brought that request to Jesus. But even beyond that, he also recognized that he was not deserving of even hosting the Son of God. He recognized that Christ's power was not limited to certain proximity. All his life he had been a part of the Roman authority structure, with Caesar at the top. Now he recognizes that one greater than any Caesar is here, whose very words bring life and hope and restoration.
The results are remarkable. Not only is his servant well, but we see a unique reaction and commendation from Jesus Himself. Jesus marveled, was amazed, astonished. The only other instance in all the gospels of this kind of reaction from the Lord comes from the blatant "lack of faith" of the people from his hometown (4). This story involving the centurion provides us with not only a great example of Jesus' miraculous ability, but also a great example of what it means to trust Jesus for salvation.
Like the centurion, we are not worthy or deserving to even welcome Christ anywhere near us.
Like the centurion, we depend solely upon His word.
Like the centurion, we recognize that Jesus alone has the real authority over life and death, Heaven and Hell.
So if you find yourself weak in the areas of faith and trust, don't try to artificially inflate yourself with bigger faith. Instead, follow the example of the centurion and come to understand a bigger Jesus- the only thing worth marveling over.
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(1) Acts 27:43
(2) Acts 10
(3) Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47
(4) Mark 6:6