Tuesday, September 30, 2014

wisdom isn't a what

The Word for today:
Proverbs 9
mark this: Proverbs 8:22-23
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
and this: Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
So a person takes a test, and then we assign an intelligence quotient based on his answers.
That is so wrong, on so many levels.
First of all, intelligence is more reliably discerned by the quality of a person's questions than by his answers. In order not to offend anyone else, I'll use myself as an example to show you what I mean…
Once upon a time, I set out to find wisdom. What is wisdom, I wondered, and where could wisdom be found?
Directed by my questions, I chased wisdom over hill and dale. I climbed every mountain and forded every stream until my questions led me straight down the rabbit hole. "What?" and "Where?" led me to a dead end.
But down there in the rabbit hole, I happened upon a looking glass (1) which saw right through me; my sin had found me out. Fortunately for me, the knowledge of good and evil did not arrive empty-handed. It brought fear along with it--the same fear that prompted Adam and Eve to hide in the garden.
So for the first time, on an existential level, I was afraid.
***
I thought I'd reached the end, but it proved to be the beginning:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)
Exposed before that mirror, in fear for my life, I wondered who could save me.
"Who?" The question contained its own wisdom. I wasn't any longer asking what or where, but Who? My real intelligence, measured by the eternal absolute, shot through the roof that day even though I had no answer at that point.
***
Wisdom isn't a what. Proverbs chapter 8 shows Wisdom personified. Wisdom as a person is revealed to be the preincarnate Christ, coeval and coexistant with God:
The LORD possessed me (not ‘created me’) in the beginning of his way, before his works of old (Proverbs 8:22).
This beginning, like John 1:1--“In the beginning was the Word”--is an absolute, timeless beginning.
The rest of this magnificent passage anticipates 1 Corinthians 1:24 and 1:30, where Jesus is identified as both God's wisdom and our wisdom. Which means he's wisdom through and through!--
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the primal dust of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Blessed is the man who hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life, and shall obtain favor from the LORD.
But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul: all they that hate me love death.   (Proverbs 8:22 -- 36)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see James 1:23-25

Monday, September 29, 2014

a package deal

The Word for today:
Proverbs 8
I used to wonder why many New Testaments come with Psalms and Proverbs (from the Old Testament) printed in the back.
I get why the Psalms are there. They are exquisite, sublime, transcendent.
But Proverbs? They are so prosaic (for the most part) when placed next to the Psalms.
***
Then one day, not too long ago, as I was reading the gospels I came across what we call Jesus' "Great Commandment." An expert in the Mosaic law asked Jesus this question:
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40)
As I read those words, this thought came to mind:
The Great Commandment is what you'd have if you boiled down the Psalms and the Proverbs.
The first part of the Great Commandment speaks, on the vertical plane, of our relationship with God:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."
The second part of the Great Commandment speaks, on the horizontal plane, of our relationship with man:
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
A schematic of their inter-relationship might look something like this:
Together, the books of Psalms and Proverbs reflect the Great Commandment because Psalms is primarily about our relationship with God, while Proverbs is primarily about our relationship with man. That's why Psalms so often soars while Proverbs stays intentionally earthbound.
***
So I've come to appreciate Psalms and Proverbs as a package deal--
as much a package deal as the first and second parts of the Great Commandment;
as much a package deal as the Bible--which was written by man, by God;
and as much a package deal as Jesus--"very God of very God, very man of very man."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, September 28, 2014

hearts in sync

The Word for today:
Proverbs 6, 7
So taken was I with Pastor Joe's article yesterday--"how's your heart?"--that I decided to pursue the topic further.
Thus I set out to explore Psalms and Proverbs in search of the heart. I intended to summarize what I found in this article today.
But I found too much heart to summarize. So I'll simply show you what I found and let you synchronize the beat of your heart with the heart of God...
Psalms:
God gives his whole heart.
(The word heart appears in Psalms 125 times.)
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. (Psalms 16:9-10)
I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet. (Psalms 22:14-16)
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever! (Psalms 22:26)
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. (Psalms 33:11)
I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great assembly. (Psalms 40:10)
Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 69:20-21)
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands. (Psalms 78:72)
My heart is stricken and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread….You will arise and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favor her, yes, the set time, has come. (Psalm 102:4…13)
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. (Psalm 109:22-27. Verse 25: cf. Psalm 22:7; Jeremiah 18:16; Lamentations 1:12))
He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. (Psalm 147:3-4)
(He knows the stars; He made them. He knows the broken heart; He had one.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Proverbs:
Give your whole heart to God.
(The word heart appears in Proverbs 81 times.)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
He also taught me, and said to me: "Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live." (Proverbs 4:4)
My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. (Proverbs 4:20-22)
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your nearest kin. (Proverbs 7:1-4)
The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. (Proverbs 15:28)
A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, and before honor is humility. (Proverbs 18:12)
Who can say, "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin"? (Proverbs 20:9)
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
(Proverbs 21:1)
My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice--indeed, I myself.  (Proverbs 23:15)
Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day. (Proverbs 23:17; cf. Proverbs 9:10)
Hear, my son, and be wise; and guide your heart in the way. (Proverbs 23:19)
My son, give me your heart, And let your eyes observe my ways. (Proverbs 23:26)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, September 27, 2014

how's your heart?

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Proverbs 4 & 5
mark this: Proverbs 4:23
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."
I am not sure if you are at all interested in the newest wave of television programs and movies that are in three dimensions (personally, I think that the glasses are cooler than the effects). But in any case, the Bible declares that we humans are, by nature, 3-D. Think back to the Great Commandment given by Jesus: "Love the Lord your God with all your HEART and with all your SOUL and with all your STRENGTH and with all your MIND (1)." Loving God is goes beyond the physical (strength) and beyond the mental (mind). So does everyday life.
Atheists and materialists would beg to differ. They say we are merely the sum of our genes and our environment, that there is nothing beyond the cells in our body and the synapses firing in our brain. But the Bible, thousands of years of history, and our everyday human experience proves them wrong. When you see a beautiful sunset, listen to Handel's Messiah, hold a baby, or eat a good soup on a cold day, something more is happening than just your nervous system relaying sensations. Whether you like it or not, humanity has a "soulishness" that cannot be explained by all the genetics or behavior science in the world.
The first chapter of C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man is entitled "Men Without Chests." But the chapter title makes no sense until the very last pages. Lewis takes the classic Christian understanding of what it means to be human. He divides us into three parts the head (mind), the chest (heart/soul), and the rest of us (strength). He then argues that our world addresses our heads via education, training, science & psychology (That which thinks, reasons, analyzes, decides etc.) Our world also address our bodies- fitness, sports, looks, lusts & desires (That which hungers for food, drink, pleasure, sleep etc.) But it fails to address the center of who we are, the heart. Our modern society produces people without chests.
I suppose that is why we have so many intelligent, beautiful, talented, athletic people- who are bankrupt when it comes to their soul.
The Bible, in today's proverb and elsewhere, takes the exact opposite approach. It certainly has much to say regarding our physical bodies and our minds, but it tells us to "Above all else, guard your heart..."
Why?
The most important thing about us is not our mental or physical capabilities. Everything that really matters are qualities that come from the heart: character, courage, honor, love, integrity, personality. Our heart is what makes us really “human” We are not machines (merely minds) . We are not animals (merely bodies). God is interested in your heart! Without your heart, you really have nothing. Think back to old Pharaoh during the time of Exodus. His body was afflicted by the various plagues. He knew in his mind that they were from God. Yet that did him absolutely no good because his "heart was hard and he would not listen (2)."
So the question for today is "how's your heart?" Is it open to God? Are you taking care of it?
If I have a physical or mental malady, I may find help from a doctor or medicine. But there is only one who can "create in me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (3)."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Luke 10:27
(2) Exodus 8:19
(3) Psalm 51:10

Friday, September 26, 2014

I can't help it if I'm lucky

The Word for today:
Proverbs 2, 3
mark this: Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.
In the Song of Solomon (blush!) God speaks of his Beloved.
Today I'm going to speak about mine.
Despite the sullied life I've led, God has graced me with one true sterling treasure. Her name is Michelle, but no one ever calls her that. Many call her "The Franchise," which is a pro sports term designating the one indispensable member of the team.
She is certainly that, and so much more.
Others call her "The Shellster." The article 'the' confers a uniqueness, an originality, an irreplacability upon the noun that follows it. She is all of that, and so much more.
Our sons call her "Mommy." I call her "Shelley." And because of her, I call myself lucky.
Shelley's favorite verse, her "life verse" from the Bible, is Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.
Many Christians say they have a "life verse." But among those who say they have one, I say there are some who do and some who don't.
Because to me, a life verse is one you live up to. I, for one, would not claim Proverbs 3:5-6 as my life verse. I might call it a verse I aspire to, but my life does not yet match that verse.
My Shelley's life, however, is the very picture of that verse. Through the miracle of sheer faith, she has turned those words into flesh. And I have been blessed by the LORD Jesus Christ--for lo, these twenty-some years--to have witnessed this incarnation.
I can't say I have a life-verse, but I just showed you my life's miracle.
I can't help it if I'm lucky.
~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, September 25, 2014

major scenes from the cutting room floor

The Word for today:
Galatians 5:2-24
Oops! It's been a topsy-turvy week here at Stand in the Rain's world headquarters. Amongst other minor mishaps, we inadvertently published yesterday's article a day early--which makes this article a day late! We apologize.
With only 7 days in Galatians, so much got left on the cutting room floor. So in this, our final Galatians article, we've decided to round up some short statements about big matters that we didn't have enough space to treat at length.
These snippets are presented in no discernible order. We offer them with the hope that you'll encounter a helpful concept or two.
***
This is Paul’s fighting epistle. (see 1:8-9; 5:12)
He has no toleration for legalism. In Galatians he takes up controversially (from his heart) what was presented in Romans systematically (from his mind).
Faith plus nothing.
In Galatians, Paul addresses one of the oldest and longest-lasting heresies: adding something to the gospel of grace, saying you must believe, plus. The plus is the heresy.
In no uncertain terms.
If anyone adds anything to the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ, let him be damned…twice.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)
Justification by faith came before the law. (Galatians 3:6; see Genesis 15:6)
Abraham was justified by faith 400 years before Moses, and before God gave him the commandment of circumcision.
BC or AC, Old Testament or New, God has had only one way to salvation—the cross of His Son.
God made the old covenant with Abraham, looking to the cross in the future (Before the Cross).
God makes the new covenant with us, looking back to the cross (After the Cross).
Both the old covenant and the new covenant declare that a man is justified by faith alone.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the Old Testament and the New Testament differ. They are only called ‘Old’ and ‘New’ relative to when they were given—BC or AC.
The preaching of something else added to the gospel makes it palatable to the natural man—like hiding leaven in dough to make it palatable. The "offense of the cross" is that it makes us beggars—we come empty-handed to the cross for a handout. (5:11)
The life of legalism and the life of license won’t work. We are called to a life of liberty in Christ. (5:13)
Walking by the Spirit turns the commands of the Bible into promises, into results:
By the Spirit, “Thou shalt” becomes a promise…
You shall love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

there's nothing common about sense

The Word for today:
Proverbs 1
mark this: Proverbs 1:2-7
Here are proverbs that will help you recognize wisdom and good advice, and understand sayings with deep meaning.
They can teach you how to live intelligently and how to be honest, just, and fair.
They can make an inexperienced person clever and teach young people how to be resourceful.
These proverbs can even add to the knowledge of the wise and give guidance to the educated,
so that they can understand the hidden meanings of proverbs and the problems that the wise raise.
To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord.
When we started the Stand in the Rain blog, I flipped through the 3-year reading schedule to get a sense of the task ahead of me: to write a Bible teaching blog every day without exception for 1100 days in a row.
That may sound daunting to you, but not to me. That's what I do in life. What you do--roofing houses, or selling insurance over the phone--sounds daunting to me.
So as I looked over the schedule, my confidence grew.
We would be starting in Samuel: King David, are you kidding me?--let me at it!
Then on to Ephesians: the highest spiritual peak in scripture--can't wait!
Then to Job: my fellow sojourner, born for trouble. That would write itself!
And so it went as I skimmed the schedule. Until I got to Proverbs: Uh-oh.
I must confess that except for a few sections and some scattered verses, I've never liked Proverbs. I have been on a regular Bible reading schedule for a dozen years, and whenever I got to Proverbs, I'd rush through them almost as fast as I rushed through the genealogies in 1 Chronicles, or the allotment of the land in the back half of Joshua.
I mean, following the glories of the Psalms, they were so common.
Exactly.  Proverbs is a repository of good common sense, which I used to take for granted, until life (especially mine!) showed me that the phrase "common sense" is an oxymoron! Common sense isn't, and never has been, common!
Proverbs is the most down-to-earth book in the Bible, full of practical guidance for making your way in the world. It covers small questions as well as large: talking too much, visiting neighbors too often, being unbearably cheerful too early in the morning…
Much of Proverbs' practical advice makes no mention of God, and can seem quite secular. But if you take the book as a whole, it becomes obvious that a healthy respect for God is so much--and so obviously--a part of common sense that it hardly needs mentioning at every turn.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'm sick of "love."

The Word for today:
Galatians 5:25-6:18
mark this:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Before we depart from Galatians, and because I'm in the mood, I want to talk about love. So here goes:
"Love, love, love, love, love, love, love."
In the minds of many, all you need is love. And all you need to know about the Bible is love--because, after all, God is love (1).
And love is the foremost fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Moreover, the greatest of these is love (2). The greatest of what? Who cares. All you need is love.
And you know what, they are right! But there's one problem. They learned what "love" means from a Hallmark card, but not from scripture.
I was in a church once where it was love this, love that, love the brother, love the other. It was a regular Hallmark orgy! They went to Bible studies and talked about love; they went to small groups and talked about love; they Facebook-ed their love to each other so much they almost short-circuited the world wide web!
But when they were asked by the pastor at their Sunday love-fest to please volunteer to help with a very active children's program on Wednesday nights for one hour, then their love suddenly lapsed.
Which freed them, of course, to get on Facebook during that hour each Wednesday to wax rhapsodic about the glories of love! And so they did, because love, after all, is a many-splendored thing. I mean, to even begin to plumb its depths requires hours and hours of tweets, and texts, and now and then the old gold standard--the Hallmark card itself!
Excuse me whilst I retch.  I'm (if I may mis-apply the Song of Solomon declaration) sick of love (3).
The smarmy thing that generally passes for love in the world—and often in the church--is the furthest thing from Biblical love.
Instead, that lone Man on the cross--and that uncompromising, “narrow-minded” guy who is always spouting off about the Bible and sin and about that lone Man on the cross--is what the Bible calls love.
In a dark and dying world, love is bringing the message of hope and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Here's the distillation of the Bible's teaching on what true love looks like:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Note that Jesus wasn't talking about laying down one's death for his friends. He was talking about laying down one's life.
But that's asking a lot right off the bat, so let's start with a bite-sized piece:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one hour for his friends.
But according to your profile you have 843 friends? Then how about this:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one hour for the kids on Wednesday night.
***
I can't prove this, but it seems like every time the word "love" is spoken, an hour of the real thing gets subtracted from love's sum total.
At least I know that's true on Wednesday nights in Lockport, NY.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) 1 John 4:8, 16; (2) 1 Corinthians 13:8; (3) Song of Solomon 2:5, 5:8 / KJV

Monday, September 22, 2014

it's not about who's the boss; it's about who's the Savior

The Word for today:
Galatians 4:8-5:1
mark this: Galatians 3:24
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
"The law" is a big subject in the Bible and it can be confusing. But it doesn't have to be.
First, let's boil "the law" down to the 10 Commandments. They are immutable (unchanging) standards. It doesn't matter what century or culture or church you're in; they're the law.
God often demonstrates his spiritual precepts in the physical realm, because a picture is worth a thousand words. Thus God has ordained certain immutable physical laws, as well. Let's take gravity, for instance.
You may go ahead and test gravity. Gravity will pass the test. You may defy gravity, and for a while you might seem to get away with it. (Witness the long jump in a track and field meet.) But...
The story is told of a man who jumped off the Empire State Building. When he went by the 50th floor, a man looked out the window and asked, "Well, how is it?"
The falling man replied, "So far, so good." That's because the 50th floor is not where the law enforces itself.
So in the end, we don't break the law; the law breaks us. Fifty more floors and the man found out that so far wasn't so good.
Our voting rights might engender the delusion that "law" respects our opinions. This is as much a madness as if we were to vote to suspend gravity. As the kids say, "Good luck with that."
God doesn't care what the USA, or Lithuania, or Argentina, or Peewee's Playhouse decide about the law. We can all draw up a constitution, but His Law is The Law of the land whether we acknowledge it or not.
That may sound harsh, as if God is interested in showing us who's boss. But that's not the point at all. The law wasn't given to show us who's boss; it was given to show us who's Savior:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
The law expresses what man ought to be. Man was weighed in the balances by the Ten Commandments and found wanting. Then--as if the 10 Commandments needed emphasis--our gentle Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, ratcheted up their severity to the nth degree:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." (Matthew 5:27-29)
Was Jesus condemning us to hell? Absolutely not! He was revealing to us that we sin, that we fall short of the glory of God (1)--that there is a wide gap between God and us. But he doesn't present a problem without a solution. He goes on to show us the bridge over the chasm:
I am the Way…
Jesus the Lawgiver in the Sermon on the Mount was pointing to Jesus the Savior on Mount Calvary. The law, then, did not pronounce my death sentence. Jesus' plan, from the foundation of the world, was to stand in our stead. Thus he was pronouncing his death sentence, instead.
***
The Law was never meant to save. James tells us that the law is just a mirror; it shows our faces are smudged. But we can't wash our faces with a mirror.
The Law was never able to save. Paul tells us the law is just a tutor, taking us by the hand to lead us to Christ.
So I thank God for the law, because I would never have found the cross on my own.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Romans 3:23

Sunday, September 21, 2014

We're winnin', Dad!

The Word for today:
Galatians 3:19-4:7
(Note: This article was first published on this date in 2011.)
mark this: Galatians 4:6
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
I was fired from my job yesterday.
I'd used a little too much force, I was told. When I see an obstacle, my tendency is to knock it down. But that's messy. What I should have done was paint it a different color and say it wasn't there anymore. That's not messy.
But I digress.
So, it's lucky for me that I've got this Bible blog. Without it, I wouldn't know what to do with myself today. I mean, I'm home alone and I can hear the clocks tick.
But the best thing about having this blog to write today is that it brought me to the verse that says we can call out "Abba, Father."
So that's what I did! I told him that nothing got to me until early this morning when I was taking down all the pictures that I'd taped to the wall in my office. Among them was a picture of our son Frankie--now our tall, handsome, all-state running star and all-around inspiration--when he was only five years old, on the day of his first race. I have never forgetten what he told me that day.
And so as I packed the picture away, I made his long-ago remark my prayer: I looked straight up to my Father, just like Frankie had looked up to me that day, and I told Him--
"We're winnin', Dad!"
…Frankie was five years old when we entered him in his first race. It was the "Mr. Ed's 1-mile Fun Run" in Middleport, N.Y.  Most of the runners in the Fun Run were kids, along with some Moms and Dads. But none of them were as little as Frankie. He got right up on the starting line and crouched over like a sprinter about to come out of the starting blocks. It was Super Bowl Sunday, late in January, so he wore mittens and a hat. Taking it all in, he saw that most of the kids wore no gloves, so he took his off and handed them to me. Then the starter fired his pistol and the race had begun. Immediately, we were engulfed by the crowd of runners. In a minute, we were behind almost all. But Frankie never looked around at any of them as they passed us. His eyes were straight ahead of him the entire race, as he strained with purpose and effort.
It took a long time to run that mile. I ran three steps directly behind. He garnered a lot of notice along the way because of his size and determination. It was an out-and-back course; the runners turned at the midpoint and headed back towards us. As they approached, each of them offered words of encouragement. Some proffered a hand, thinking Frankie would reciprocate with a 'high-five,' but he never even noticed. His eyes were on the prize.
After the turnaround, we ran into the wind. Now it was cold. "Do you want your mittens, Frankie?" A slight, nearly imperceptible flick of his head meant 'No.'
Everyone was ahead of us now. I went a step in front of Frankie and a step to the side to shield him from the wind. When a particularly sharp gust turned my head his way, Frankie looked up to offer me some encouragement: "We're winnin', Dad," he called out, as he flipped that easy smile.
***
Just a couple years before that day, I'd found out about Jesus Christ and how he--a man after his Father's heart--set his face like flint (1) to carry my sin up a steep hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem. There, suspended between heaven and earth, he was a man with no direction home--rejected by his own here on earth; unfit for heaven when he became sin for us (2). For a moment he could not see his Father, because this was a course he had to finish alone. Then, with his last breath, he cried out, "Teleo!" And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (3).
Before I knew him, teleo only meant it is finished; it's over. My natural eyes had seen just a forlorn figure, forsaken by man and God, defeated by empire and religion and spite.
But the day came when my new, blood-tipped ear (4) heard in that word the most astonishing faith that eternity will ever know. Now "It is finished" means "The debt is paid in full! We won, Dad!"
So some day, in Jesus' honor, in a dark hour when it makes no earthly sense to say so, make this your prayer:
Looking straight up to the Father you can't see, tell him, "We're winnin', Dad!"
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(1) Isaiah 50:7; (2) 2 Corinthians 5:21; (3) John 19:30; (4) see Exodus 29:20

Saturday, September 20, 2014

how to fall from grace--and how to get back up!

The Word for today:
Galatians 3:1-18
mark this: Galatians 3:1
O foolish Galatians! Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
and this: Galatians 5:4
For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God's grace.
and this: Galatians 2:20-21
The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God,  for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
"Falling from grace" is a widely misunderstood Bible phrase, usually associated with Adam and Eve. But the term, found only in Galatians 5:4, does not apply to Adam and Eve.
Q. If they did not fall from grace, where did they fall from?
A. Some say they fell from "innocence." The Bible, however, does not use that word to describe them. The biblical explanation is that Adam and Eve didn't fall down, they fell short:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Q. So if Adam and Eve fell short of glory, who is it who falls from grace?
A. Franklyn and the Galatians.
(We know that doesn't sound as cool as "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers" or "Smokey Robinson and the Miracles," let alone the coolest of all, "Gladys Knight and the Pips"--but it correctly answers the question.)
***
Only saved believers are in "the state of grace" to fall from! The ringing indictment of Galatians 3:1--O foolish Galatians!--is Paul sounding an urgent alarm to believers who are reverting to their "works" (human effort) instead of faith in God's finished work on the cross.
Falling from grace has nothing to do with salvation! That was settled back at the cross, where we died with Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20a)
Falling from grace is about getting all the way past the cross by trusting God--and then deciding to take it the rest of the way on our own.
***
We--the Galatians and I, and sometimes you too--repetitively fall in and out of grace. Whenever we fall, we must grab on to grace and get back up! So here are some tips (from an experienced "faller") on how to get back to grace:
Remember that grace is only for the undeserving! If you think you deserve "it" because you've been a good scout this week, then "it" ain't grace!
Let me say it another way, in even more graphic terms: Heaven will be filled with the undeserving (the recipients of grace). Hell, on the other hand, will be populated by the deserving--those who chose to get what they "deserve."
The believer's standing with God is not based on what we deserve, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. We cannot add--or subtract--from that. The great teaching of Galatians is that we are saved by grace and we are to live by grace.
Always remember that the only thing we can offer to God is the gift God already gave us:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son… (John 3:16)
So we bring only the Lamb of God and His finished work--like Abel did:
After some time Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the Lord. Then Abel brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it, and gave the best parts of it as an offering. The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. (Genesis 4:3-5)
Because if we try to bring evidence of our own work, like Cain did, we nullify the free gift of God and fall from grace:
The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21)
There.  That should en-Abel you to get back up.
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Friday, September 19, 2014

of angels and gospels

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Galatians 2
mark this- Galatians 1:8
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
In our lives, each one of us has some "not so proud moments" that we'd rather forget about. One of my career low-lights come from a White Elephant gift exchange gone horribly wrong. I was in a college at the time, and this took place in a small group of about 15-20. (If you've never participated in a White Elephant- do yourself a favor and stay far away!)
There were lots of decent gifts for the taking: games, candy, gift cards. But for some strange reason, I had my heart dead set on the Sea Monkeys. I picked them up early, and thought I was safe, because no one else seemed to want them. I was already planning out how and where I could hatch these glorified brine shrimp, when all of the sudden the final person decided to forgo all of the more appealing prizes, and went straight for my Sea Monkeys. That made me a bit upset, but I at least had the opportunity to open up a small wrapped box and maybe get something decent. To my shock and utter horror, the present that I was stuck with was none other than a small, porcelain baby angel.
I have a very low tolerance for cheesy and sentimental "Christian paraphernalia," especially when that junk is decidedly un-biblical. As I look throughout the Bible, it's become very clear to me that there are not any "chubby naked babies with wings." So in my frustration I took that porcelain angel, and wrenched off its wings, head and left foot. I felt vindicated doing so, even though the poor girl who brought the original gift was right there in the room. (She was speechless- I tend to have that effect on people.) Looking back, I am sure that my rage had less to do with my righteous indignation and more to do with my lack of Sea Monkeys.
So I will admit, as we come to today's reading, that episode left me with somewhat of a bias against angels. But from what Paul wrote in Galatians and what has happened in history since, maybe we all need to hold a bit more caution. As we learned from yesterday's reading, the people of Galatia were in danger of abandoning the true Gospel. The had allowed outside forces to infiltrate and water down the Gospel. That's a big deal, hence the harsh words from Paul.
He gives them (and us) a key truth: A different gospel is really no gospel at all. Or, to put it in other words: As soon as you change the good news it ceases to be good news. Once the Galatians tried to add to the message of Jesus Christ, once they made keeping the Jewish Law in order to be saved a requirement, they left the true Gospel behind.
No one has the authority to change or add to the gospel- no apostle, no human, not even an angel. Consequently, any kind of person, be they king, pope, bishop, pastor, politician, prophet, blogger, or historian who attempts to add or alter the message of Christ is merely heaping condemnation upon themselves. So what then is that message?
Try 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 first:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...
If that's too long for your liking, try 2 Corinthians 5:21:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
For nearly 2000 years, all kinds of people have tried to add all sorts of stuff to the Gospel. Hundreds of heresies have come and gone, all kinds of religious fads have gained prominence, only to fall out of favor. Other falsehoods seem to hold on much more tenaciously. But no matter how many adherents they gain, their basic premise is wrong. Even if an actual angel appeared to Muhammad (Islam) or Joseph Smith (Mormonism), that angel could not trump or override the  "the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (1)."
There is only one message that convicts, converts and saves sinners; follow Paul's advice by accepting no imitation.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Jude 3

Thursday, September 18, 2014

what a mess!

blocks
(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Galatians 1
mark this- Galatians 1:6-7
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ."
Whether it was your kitchen, or your car, or your office, or your back yard, each one of us has experienced a situation where we left a certain area in pristine condition, left, and then returned to find a huge, unexpected mess. Whether caused by a dog, or a flood, or an errant bowl of chili, it's a terrible feeling. I got my first taste of this several years ago, in the early stages of toilet-training our son. We tucked him real nice & clean in on a warm summer night thinking our job was done. The next morning, we were in for a pleasant surprise. During the night he managed to remove his diaper and leave all sorts of surprises for us- all over his bedding, clothes, & blankets.
What a mess!
What a mess indeed! This is exactly what is going on here in the letter to the Galatians. Paul had figuratively tucked them in safe and sound, only to find a royal mess upon his return. So everything is set? Not at all! Let's recount some background information:
- Galatia was not a city, but a Roman province in Asia Minor (what is modern day Turkey.)
- This area was so important in the early church. Center of correspondence of the letters.
- Paul was born nearby, and he had been to Galatia well before this letter was written. He ministered there and brought the Gospel. He saw the people receive it with great joy. He left the Gospel in good hands and moved on, to proclaim the Gospel to other areas (1).
But soon he gets a report back that these church plants in Galatia have some huge issues. Evidently a group of false teachers within the church know as the Judaizers , have brought some serious upheaval & confusion to the faithful of the entire area. And we see Paul cutting the usual pleasantries, like an angry parent, as he demands: "What in the world is going on!?!"
Throughout the entire letter, some very strong language used- ‘astonished…deserting…eternally condemned’ (And that's just from the first chapter!) The Judaizers had infiltrated and attempted to alter the true gospel by adding new requirements- keeping the law, circumcision, adherence to Jewish rules & traditions. They basically required those who wanted to be Christians to become Jews first.
Of course they were dead wrong, but Paul is even more heartbroken at the fact that his spiritual children were so quickly and easily deceived. There are many more strong words to come! Over the next week we will see how this plays out...
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(1) Acts 13:13- 14:23