Saturday, January 31, 2015

Looking for Jesus in Leviticus: the offering

The Word for today:
Leviticus 6:8-7:38
mark this: Leviticus 1:1-1:4
The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying,
"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.
If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him."
Pictures of an offering are the earliest pictures of Jesus in the Bible.
In chapter one of Leviticus, the people were told to bring an animal, which was then sacrified on the altar. These offerings are a continuation of the offerings we have already seen in the Bible's first book, Genesis.
In chapter 3 of Genesis, Adam and Eve tried to cover their sin with leaves, but they could not. So God killed an innocent animal in order to clothe them in its skins.
In the very next generation, God instructed Cain and Abel to bring an offering for sin. Abel brought what God required--a Lamb. But Cain brought produce that he had grown in the fields. Cain's offering--the works of his own hands--was not accepted by God.
Later in Genesis, God told Abraham to offer his son, Isaac. When Abraham obeyed, God saw his faith and stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac. Then God himself provided a ram for the sacrifice.
These pictures tell us that there is a price to be paid for sin: the wages of sin is death.
These pictures tell us that the blood of an innocent sacrifice will be the only acceptable offering.
These pictures tell us that the price will be unimaginably steep--so steep that only God can pay it.
These pictures tell us that when God sees our faith, he deflects the knife and visits our sins upon his own Son, instead.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My Picture Bible

The Word for today:
Leviticus 4:1-6:7
My brother and I learned to read before we went to school, and here’s how…
Every week, my Dad left “the funny papers” (the comics section from the Sunday newspaper) on our kitchen table. Then throughout the week, as my brother and I ate breakfast, we would follow the exploits of Charlie Brown and Dennis the Menace and Beetle Bailey and Prince Valiant, before we could understand a single syllable of what was written.
My Dad hoped that those pictures would prime the pump, so to speak. And they sure did. Then, on Saturday morning, he would point to an arrangement of letters that looked like this:
Then he would point to the pictures of Snoopy and Ruff.
Without even knowing that we were reading, we began to understand that d-o-g meant the idea of an animal in general and that S-n-o-o-p-y and R-u-f-f meant particular, actual, real d-o-g-s, belonging to C-h-a-r-l-i-e and D-e-n-n-i-s, respectively!
And that’s exactly how God our Father teaches us the Word of God. In Leviticus (and throughout the Old Testament) he puts the pictures on the table, so to speak. Then, when we come to arrangements of letters that look like these--
or s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e,
or r-e-d-e-m-p-t-i-o-n,
or g-r-a-c-e,
--we “get it” because we’ve already seen what those words mean.
But, best of all, when those words turns into flesh, when r-e-d-e-m-p-t-i-o-n turns into the Redeemer, we know what “Jesus” means.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

how to spell “Jesus"

The Word for today:
Leviticus 2 and 3
Stand in the Rain loves Leviticus, and we hope you will too! But we know that, at first glance, Leviticus can seem intimidating and inaccessible. So we decided to address this undeserved reputation with two introductory articles. Yesterday, we likened Leviticus to an art gallery. Today, we liken Leviticus to an elementary reader! Tomorrow, we will move beyond introduction and dive headfirst into this treasured book.
Many people think of Leviticus as something best left to Bible scholars. They say it is too complex for the biblically inexperienced; that to understand Leviticus we need a thorough knowledge of the rest of the Bible.
Ironically, when we think that way, we’ve got it entirely backwards. The truth is that in order to begin to understand the rest of the Bible, we must first understand Leviticus.
Leviticus is elementary.
Leviticus is the Bible’s book of elements, of first principles. It is the Bible’s elementary school, not its graduate school!
The rest of the Word of God assumes, and depends upon, an understanding of the elements of Leviticus. So let’s put these elements on the table:
Holy (Distinct)
Those are the ABC’s of the Word of God. They’re the letters we need if we want to spell “Jesus.”
Leviticus isn’t for Bible know-it-alls. It’s for little ones like you, of little faith like me, who want to begin to know God.
So we’ll begin, together, tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

out of the movies and into the gallery

The Word for today:
Leviticus 1
Leviticus is famous as the book where people stopped reading the Bible! Armed, at the start of a new year, with their resolutions and their “Bible in a Year” bookmarks, they zoom right through Genesis:
Serpent, sin, and banishment;
Cain and Abel;
Noah’s ark;
The tower of Babel;
Abraham and Sarah and the Son of Promise;
Sodom and Gomorrah;
Jacob and Rachel and a stairway to the stars;
Joseph and his brothers.
They fly through Exodus:
Mortar, bricks, and taskmasters;
Baby Moses in the bulrushes;
The backside of the desert;
The burning bush and the of Name God;
Aaron’s rod and the magicians of Egypt;
The plagues;
The Passover;
The parting of the Red Sea;
Wilderness and manna;
Sinai and the Ten Commandments;
The golden calf;
The Tabernacle.
Then, with excitement and anticipation they turn the page, only to be met by--a burnt offering?
Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock--of the herd and of the flock. 'If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. (Leviticus 1:1-7)
Well, there were some slow sections in Exodus, too. So the reader keeps on going. He makes it all the way through the grain offering in chapter two, then the peace offering in chapter 3.
But by chapter 5 he starts to peek ahead to see if anything ever happens in Leviticus. Skimming the pages, he comes across some laws about leprosy, some cleansing rituals, and some dietary regulations. Then there’s something about feasts and the garments of the priests…
It can make the reader wonder whether the Holy Spirit, who got off to such an intriguing start in Genesis and Exodus, forgot how to tell the Story. And right there in the midst of Leviticus their Bible in a Year bookmarks get stuck, never to move again.
But do not fret, dear reader. Whenever the well-intentioned believer has gotten lost in Leviticus, it’s because he’s lost sight of Jesus.
He lost sight of Jesus because the straightforward narrative (plot and character) presentation of Genesis and Exodus shifts abruptly to the symbolic abstractions of Leviticus.
Whereas Genesis and Exodus are stories—in fact, movies—the reader, as he turns the page to Leviticus, enters a gallery of perpetually modern art.
The Symbolist paintings are here, and the Abstract Expressionists are there, the sculpture is over there, the Impressionists are down there, and further down the hall are the Cubists.
The pictures aren’t physically moving, like they are in Genesis and Exodus, but once the Bible student aesthetically enters into this gallery and stops expecting theater, then these portraits of Jesus can be as dramatic and as emotionally moving as any to be found in scripture.
So we invite you inside Leviticus, where the very first thing you will notice, of course, is a highly stylized abstraction of a cross.
This effect is achieved in part by the metaphorical usage of fire (1). Placed beneath the grates on the altar of sacrifice, the flames are representative of God, who is, both literally and allegorically, a consuming fire…
(1) see Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29; and Leviticus 1:7 (above)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

mark this

The Word for today:
2 Timothy 4
The last chapter of a person’s life can be counted on to provide perspective and reduce the whole to its essence. That’s why you’ll need your marker…
If your Bible has one of those groovy old-fashioned ribbon markers that are sewn right into the binding, and if you’re not marking anything in particular with it, then may I suggest that you park your marker right here in the last chapter of 2 Timothy.
Paul’s death is near and he senses it. Nearing the end of the road, he can now look back and see the whole parade. As he does, he distills it all into one immortal line:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
The presence of Christ is almost palpable here as he recalls that when he stood alone, he was not alone:
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Timothy 4:16-17)
Then, with a sweet flourish, as if he could gather all his years and tears in one cup, he pours them all out just to watch them go up in steam:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. (2 Timothy 4:6)
There is no more beautiful illustration in scripture than Paul’s “drink offering” as it ascends to Jesus. It was the perfect picture of the life he’d poured out in Jesus’ honor. It hearkens back to the offerings of Exodus and Leviticus, where wine was poured over the sacrifice on a brazen altar with fire underneath it. The wine would just evaporate and disappear, and all that was left was the Lamb.
Paul wanted to leave no trace of himself. His heart’s desire was that his life, when boiled down, was about nothing but Jesus. It was a gesture so lovely and so grand that it had to be his finale.
“2 Timothy 4.” Mark it in your mind if you don’t have a ribbon, because you’ll need to find your way back to this spot. You’ll turn here all the time, and when you do you’ll find just what you need.
When you need some perspective on the whole parade of life, you’ll find it here.
When you need someone to stand up for you, you’ll find your Defender here.
When you’re weary and ready to quit, you’ll find a fellow faith fighter here.
And when your life disappears like smoke, you’ll find -- standing there in your place, like he did at the cross — the one for whom your life stood.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I can see clearly now

The Word for today:
2 Timothy 3
mark this:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
and this:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Both Peter’s and Paul’s final thoughts—found in 2 Peter and 2 Timothy—emphasize the Word of God and the gospel.
When it came down to their final thoughts, these two great apostles did not emphasize prayer or good works or fellowship or worship. Their parting advice was to hold tenaciously to the Word of God (from whence all of those things will issue.)
I want to re-echo their sentiments today. Moreover, I want us to develop a biblical worldview—a habit of mind that places the Bible not only at center stage, but at the center of a far wider stage…
Because ultimately the Bible will not be thought of in the narrow way it is thought of now—as a religious book. The Bible will, ever more and more so, come to be recognized as the lens through which all reality is to be comprehended, if it is to be comprehended at all.
By all reality I mean all of it. What we normally think of as secular—let’s say the stock market and the Super Bowl--can not be seen for what they are until they enter through the aperture of the Word of God.
That may sound crazy, but only because we have been trained to think that the stock market and the Super Bowl somehow occupy a sphere that is outside of scripture’s purview.
They are not. The Bible is as infinite as its author, as all-encompassing as He who IS; who is the all in all (1); who is the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End who has no beginning and no end.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus holds everything together:
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17/NIV, NASB, ESV)
The New King James Version says it in a way that permeates even deeper:
He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:17)
Without him factored in, no equation is relevant—on any topic whatsoever.
I have a great deal of respect for the intelligence of my readers. I don’t dumb down scripture and people who want it dumbed down soon stop reading Stand in the Rain. What I’m left with are some serious heads. So I want you to take your serious head and wrap it around a quote from Graeme Goldsworthy, an Aussie Bible commentator and a hero of mine. I will only help you with vocabulary: hermeneutical (I looked it up!) has to do with interpretation, as I’ve inserted. For all the rest you are on your own, so read slowly and gather as much as you can from what I consider the most all-encompassing paragraph of commentary that I have ever encountered:
The hermeneutical (interpretive) question about the whole Bible correlates with the question, ‘What do you think of Christ?’ … The hermeneutical (interpretive) center of the Bible is therefore Jesus in his being and in his saving acts – the Jesus of the gospel. … We can say that, while not all Scripture is the gospel, all Scripture is related to the gospel that is its centre. … The Bible makes a very radical idea inescapable: not only is the gospel the interpretive norm for the whole Bible, but there is an important sense in which Jesus Christ is the mediator of the meaning of everything that exists. In other words, the gospel is the hermeneutical (interpretive) norm for the whole of reality. 
--Graeme Goldsworthy, from "Gospel-Centered
I’m not smart enough to know what Jesus thinks of the stock market, or the Super Bowl, or Facebook, or the presidential primaries, or casinos, or the Constitution, or Mozart, or Mickey Mantle, or Mickey Mouse, or Dickens, or Dostoevsky.
But I am smart enough to know that until we relate all of the above to him, we have untethered them from any meaning at all.
We as Christians may or may not be right on this issue or on that issue, but we are smart enough to know that until we filter everything through the Word of God, our ignorance on those issues is guaranteed.
We must—deliberately and proactively--cultivate a habit of mind that Jesus himself cultivated:
"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge." (John 15:30)
Jesus enforced, for himself, a biblical worldview—an outlook that consults the Word of God on absolutely everything.
On our own, we see through a glass darkly (2). But scripture doesn’t. So let’s emulate Jesus' way of looking at things. We will never see what he sees until we look through the same lens.
(1) 1 Corinthians 15:28; (2) 1 Corinthians 13:12

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Remember Jesus Christ."

The Word for today:
2 Timothy 2
mark this:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. (2 Timothy 2:8-9)
2 Timothy is the last will and testament of Paul, with notes of sadness and triumph not found in other epistles. The dark cloud of apostasy is gathering in the background as Paul writes from a prison in Rome, where he is soon to be beheaded.
Paul is normally a man of guarded heart, but the dwindling days and his memories of Timothy combine to bring his guard down.
In a sort of spiritual relay race, he passes the torch to Timothy and challenges him to keep the flame burning:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
He reminds Timothy that defeat is not the norm for Christian living:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (1:7)
He exhorts him to unleash the truth.
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (2 Timothy 1:8)
Then he wraps everything he cherishes into a couple verses and leaves it all to Timothy:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. (2 Timothy 2:8-9)


Currency is just an agreement that one piece of paper is more valuable than another.
I don’t have a lot of money, and from what I gather, neither do most of you. Paul had none. But what he left Timothy was a Savior whom death cannot detain, and a Word that cannot be confined.
The Bible is a long letter, written to God’s children. I and billions like me have agreed that the paper it’s written on is literally more valuable to us than all of Warren Buffet’s billions of dollar bills and all his stock certificates. (I’ll gladly take a few billion off your hands, Warren--if you happen to be reading--but I’m not trading.) What Warren’s got is chicken feed next to what I’ve been given and what I can give.
If you leave to someone what God left to Paul and Paul left to you, then you will have bequeathed “currency” incalculable.
Take a check. Write Remember Jesus Christ.  Sign it. Hand it to someone or toss it in the air and let the wind deliver it.  Make someone very, very rich.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"But who do you say that I am?"

The Word for today:
2 Timothy 1
Yesterday, we looked at “doctrine” in general. Today we conclude with the specifics of sound biblical doctrine.

Paul thought sound doctrine was of ultimate importance.
He warns Timothy, repeatedly, that he must insist upon true doctrine. In 1 and 2 Timothy, the word “doctrine” appears 11 times. (1)
He warns Titus just as emphatically. In the three short chapters of the letter to Titus, “doctrine” shows up four times.
Jesus warned the disciples to beware “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” When they didn’t understand his figure of speech, he told them, plainly, that he was talking about doctrine:
Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:12)
In Matthew 13:33, in a one-sentence parable (which some commentators believe to be the key verse of Matthew, which is the key book of the Bible) Jesus illustrated how false doctrine would work its way into his kingdom:
Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33)
(Leaven in the Bible is a principle of evil. Unleavened bread can be seen as the Word of God, which is food for the child of God. When the woman in Matthew 13 mixed in leaven--unsound doctrine--then it makes the Bible palatable to the natural man. The true Word of God--unleavened bread--is unpalatable to the natural man.)
So what is sound doctrine?
Because Jesus is the issue (he’s the question and the answer) in the universe, crucial doctrine has to do, of course, with him:
"But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15)
There is interpretive leeway in many biblical matters, but doctrine concerning the person (who he is) and work (what he has done) of Jesus Christ cannot be trifled with or compromised or watered down. Most good churches, somewhere on their websites, will list a statement of their doctrine. Boiled down to their essence, they look like this:
The person of Jesus Christ:
He is God, the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He divested Himself of heaven's glory, to become like one of us--born of woman, born under the law--so that he could take my place on a cross that I had earned. Seed of the woman, Son of Man, Son of Abraham, Son of Promise, Son of David, Son of a virgin named Mary, he was baptized in identification with us as we are baptized in identification with Him. Coming up out of the water, driven by the Spirit, he withstood temptation by wielding the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, against the devil in the wilderness. In the power of the Holy Spirit he lived a sinless life.
The work of Jesus Christ:
He personified the grace and truth of God. He performed miracles, the Creator with the means to direct his creation to his chosen ends. He set his face like flint for Jerusalem, where he died at the hands of secular government and organized religion for the sins of the world, then rose from the dead in accordance with--and fulfillment of--scripture. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Of the increase of his kingdom and peace there will be no end.
That’s who He is, and upon this Rock we make our stand. We give no ground. We take no prisoners.
(1) word count taken from the New King James Version

Friday, January 23, 2015

Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Word for today:
Titus 3
mark this: 1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
and this: Titus 2:1
You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.
Over time, words take on certain tinges and tints and overtones. “Doctrine,” for example, is considered to be a word tinged with narrowness, exclusivity, and fundamentalism.
To which I say, “Hallelujah! There’s still a word which means what it’s meant to mean!”
Doctrine is exclusive! It excludes error from creeping into our minds, just like walls keep the cold out of the house. Which is a good thing, unless you’ve got something against keeping warm.
Correct doctrine means that what you are taking from the Word of God are the things God meant when he said them.
False doctrine means that you are taking from the Word of God something other than what God meant when he said it!
Just because someone is quoting the Bible doesn’t mean he has your best interests at heart. The devil quoted Genesis 2:17 (to Eve) and Psalm 91 (to Jesus) in an attempt to topple the moral order of the universe.
Luke (author of Acts) said, in Acts 2:42, that the early church devoted themselves to just a few things:
1. the apostles’ doctrine
2. fellowship
3. the breaking of bread
4. prayer
Throughout his letters (sometimes in terms that make us wince) Paul insists upon none other than the apostles’ doctrine:
I wish the people who are bothering you (with doctrinal error) would go the whole way and castrate themselves! (Galatians 5:12)
He warns Timothy, repeatedly, that he must insist upon true doctrine. In 1 and 2 Timothy, the word “doctrine” appears 11 times. (1)
He warns Titus just as emphatically. In the three short chapters of the letter to Titus, “doctrine” shows up four times.
Jesus warned the disciples to "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” When they didn’t understand his figure of speech, he told them, plainly, that he was talking about doctrine:
Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6, 12)
In Matthew 13:33, in a one-sentence parable (which some commentators believe to be the key verse of Matthew, which is the key book of the Bible!) Jesus illustrated how false doctrine would work its way into his kingdom:
Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33)
(Leaven in the Bible is a principle of evil. Unleavened bread can be seen as the Word of God, which is food for the child of God. When the woman in Matthew 13 mixed in leaven--unsound doctrine--then it makes the Bible palatable to the natural man. The true Word of God--unleavened bread--is unpalatable to the natural man.)
So what is sound doctrine?
We'll boil sound doctrine down to its essence tomorrow. See you then.
(1) word count taken from the New King James Version

Thursday, January 22, 2015

out of this world

The Word for today:
Titus 2
Today we behold one of the most beloved passages in scripture. It presents an exquisite picture of what we refer to as the “Rapture”--
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13)
We hear a great deal about the Rapture. Stand in the Rain, about a year ago, devoted a 2-part article to the subject, which can be found here and here.
Some people make fun of the Rapture, and in the case of unbelievers, I can understand why. If you don’t know God, the Rapture is just too miraculous to even imagine. So most of the unbelieving world just snickers.
Some believers also find the Rapture unbelievable. (I know this because I used to be one of them.) They either can’t see it in scripture; or else, saved as they are, their Jesus is too little to pull off such an outrageous, outlandish, outstanding, out of this world (literally!) and outta sight (literally!) miracle.
First, let me say that salvation does not depend on your belief in miracles like the Rapture. Salvation depends on whether you believe that God died for your sins (just like scripture said he would) and rose again from the dead--just like scripture said he would:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
What I am trying to slyly infer is that if you believe that God became a man in order to die for your sins, and (to verify that the plan worked) rose from the dead, then what in tarnation could keep you from believing some of the less spectacular miracles--like a virgin giving birth, or the parting of the Red Sea, or the time when that virgin’s son (who’d been engendered by the Holy Spirit, no less) did Moses one better and walked right over the top of the water without bothering to part it!
My intention is not to tease you or belittle your faith. Remember, I’m that guy who was saved -- as saved as I ever will be — for years and years before I would, before I could, before I did stop questioning some of the Bible’s more miraculous moments.
But, over time, Jesus—just as the Bible says (1) — grew in stature! He just kept growing and growing in my eyes until one day it was impossible for the virgin birth not to have happened! And of course he could feed 5000. That’s a piece o’ cake when you can make an infinite cosmos out o’ nothing! And when you don’t owe sin any wages (like the rest of us do) then of course you can tell death (in the case of Lazurus) to go take a hike. (2)
The Rapture is foreshadowed throughout scripture. Enoch was raptured way back in the Bible’s fifth chapter. Elijah was raptured. The Apostle Paul was caught up into heaven and came back to tell us he was forbidden to tell us about it!
The Apostle John was raptured into heaven and (lucky for us) was told to tell us everything he saw there. He called his report “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” and you’ll find it at the extreme other end of the Bible. So Enoch, Elijah, Paul, John, and (you thought I forgot) Jesus were all taken up—raptured.
The Rapture is simply the resurrection of the church. The Bible calls Jesus the "firstfruits" (3) and we, of the same seed, will follow in kind.
Through Jesus, God restored his image in us:
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
He gave us his righteousness:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
He made us his sons:
To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
Given all that, it is perfectly logical that we would emulate his resurrection as well.
If the desire of your heart is to be like Jesus, and to follow Jesus, then you will -- right out of this world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have Bible. Will travel.

The Word for today:
Titus 1
mark this: Titus 1: 5, 10-11
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished.
For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.
note: The letter from Paul to Titus is another of the “Pastoral Epistles,” along with 1 and 2 Timothy.
The letters to Timothy emphasize sound teaching; the letter to Titus emphasizes God’s order for the conduct of the church.
Titus, like Nehemiah of old, was one of those people who could turn a situation around. When his name comes up in the New Testament, he is usually serving as Paul’s troubleshooter. When problems erupted in stormy congregations, Titus hit the road.
This wasn’t his first rodeo. He’d been sent to rowdy Corinth twice. Now he faces an equally challenging task on the island of Crete. Like a Wyatt Earp sent to clean up Dodge and Abilene, Titus was routinely dispatched to rough-and-tumble churches to restore order.
Crete was notorious for misbehavior. One of the island’s own poets described Cretans as always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. (1:12)
Paul tells Titus to search for church leaders who are not arrogant or quick-tempered; not heavy drinkers, violent, or greedy for money (1:7). Reading between the lines, we gain some insight into the average Cretan. The implication is that a handful of Cretans with those qualifications were not going to be easy to find.
In some letters, such as Galatians, Paul fought against legalism. But the church on Crete, full of immature Christians, needed basic lessons in morality, and Paul spelled them out for Titus in a straightforward style.
So the book of Titus reads like a troubleshooter’s manual. Chapter 2 lists some of the diverse groups in the church: older men, older women, younger women, young men, and slaves. Each presented a set of problems that needed attention.
Titus was sent to a tough town full of tough people, but you get the sense that Titus was the toughest of them all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

unapproachable light

The Word for today:
1 Timothy 6:3-21
mark this: 1 Timothy 6:16
…who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
Sometimes, I just get stopped in my tracks. I comment on this, then that, then the other; and all the while I’m pretty cocksure of myself. Then I come to a verse like this one:
He alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light.
I can’t grasp the meaning of a line like that, which is exactly what a line like that means!
We don’t know where God came from, because he has no point of origin. He just IS -- that’s His Name (1) -- and there never was a time when he was not.
For us, immortality means eternal life going forward. For God, who has no point of reference to time, immortality means been there, done that—in the opposite direction!
I used to ponder words like immortality until my head ached. The concept mocks our intelligence. I used to try to make God fit into my frame of mind. Sometimes he did, but oftentimes he did not.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) said that, “A God whom we could understand would be no God.”
R.C. Sproul (b. 1939) said,
“The finite can "grasp" the infinite, but the finite can never hold the infinite within its grasp. There is always more of God than we apprehend.”
John Dick (1764-1833) said,
“We believe that our knowledge of God will be progressive, and that as our views expand, our blessedness will increase. But it will never reach a limit beyond which there is nothing to be discovered, and when ages after ages have passed away, He will still be the incomprehensible God.”
Isaiah (writing from 740-700 B.C.), quoting God (who always was and always will be), said:
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)
I used to be perplexed by infinity, and by other attributes of Jesus that are too profound for me (2). For the longest time, I thought that I would never get to know him. Then, one day, something clicked. A thought snapped into place, that if Jesus is too much for me to take it all in, that just proves I’m getting to know him.
He lives in unapproachable light, Paul tells us. Paul ought to know. He'd encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, and his eyes were never the same.
(1) see Exodus 3:14; John 8:58; (2) Psalm 131:1; Psalm 139:6

Monday, January 19, 2015

playing out of position

The Word for today:
1 Timothy 5:1-6:2
In the further annals of how screwed up our churches are (he said, calling them as he sees them) I must direct our attention to this verse:
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." (1 Timothy 5:17-18)
The Bible decrees (and the early church complied) that if anybody in the church were to be paid, it would be the Bible teacher. We, of course, don’t do things that way. Most people know a professional (paid) pastor or two or ten in their town. But ask if they know a professional Bible teacher, and they will wait for the punch line.
I point this out only as an example of how far we’ve gotten from God’s blueprint and priorities. That blueprint – the most instructive verse in scripture for what church leadership should look like — is right here:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11- 13)
An apostle is an explorer and strategist/visionary, expanding the geographical frontiers of the faith.
A prophet is an enforcer, proclaiming God’s Word while stressing obedience and reinforcing the frontiers of human volition (the will.)
An evangelist proclaims the Good News, bringing the moment of personal decision to its crisis. His frontier is the heart.
A teacher explains God’s Word so it can be understood. His frontier is the mind.
A pastor is God’s nurturer. His frontier is the human condition. He meets people where they are, just as they are, bearing God’s mercy and forgiveness.
About the funniest and saddest thing that you will see (because it confirms how far away we are from the way that things should be) are the signs in front of our churches. They, invariably, tell what time the Sunday service is. (All across town, services are at the same time. I’ve always wondered why.)
Half the time, near the top or the bottom, the name of the pastor is prominently displayed. As if it would make a difference to the people passing by whether it’s Pastor Mojo Jones or Pastor Dewey Decimal who is presiding.
Much better, if you’re going to be stupid about it, to be big-time stupid. So if ever I go by a church that lists the names of their apostle, their prophet, their evangelist, their pastor, and their teacher, I will know that, vain and inane as their sign is, at least they’re trying to be scriptural about it!
Most of our pastors would be great pastors, but we’ve made them administrators and speechmakers, which many of them aren’t particularly gifted to accomplish. So instead of being great at what they were meant to do—consolation, compassion, empathy, and understanding—we’re playing them out of position.
Asking pastors to be prophets and teachers and evangelists and administrators is like a track coach asking his distance runners to be shot-putters and high jumpers as well. That’s a formula for defeat, and that’s how out-of-kilter and out-of-sync our church structures must look to God. He designed church leadership to function according to giftedness, which means that what He asks us to do is what He equipped us to do best.
The church has been designed (if only we’d follow the plan) to be strong and smart and fast and agile. But most of the time we do well just stay out of our own way.
When the church decides to make pastors pastors and prophets prophets and teachers teachers; when the church (and the pastors themselves) stop making one ill-equipped brother to be all-of-the-above, then the world had better get out of our way.
But that would mean we’d have to do things God’s way. Wow, what an interesting concept.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The only way to get in the church is to know Somebody.

The Word for today:
1 Timothy 4:6-16
1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and Titus – known as the “Pastoral Epistles” – are all about the church:
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (3:14-15)
As we read the New Testament, we can be confused by the phrase “the church” until we understand that sometimes “the church” is used to describe
1. the visible “church,” which Jesus said would contain both “wheat and tares (weeds) ” -- believers and unbelievers mixed together:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. (Matthew 13:24-25)
And sometimes “the church” is used to describe
2. the true church—which is 100% “wheat:”
You have come to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood. (from Hebrews 12:22-24)
The Visible Church -- Wheat and Weeds
People in the visible church are there for all kinds of different reasons:
Cultural “Christians” are there because people are innately religious. So, if the surrounding culture is considered “Christian,” the innately religious person finds his way into a building beneath a steeple topped by a cross. But that same person, were he in another culture, would just as surely find his way into a building beneath a minaret--because he's religious and that's where religious people go, don't ya know.
I get the feeling all the time that I'm in the midst of cultural Christians who have never encountered the unique Son of God, the Christ of the Bible. (Or maybe they have and I haven't--but whichever way it goes, we are not on the same page!)
A ritual “Christian” is just going through the motions, because he doesn't know any better. He doesn't know any better because he was never taught any better. His church did not teach him the saving gospel as proclaimed in scripture, so he is lost for lack of knowledge. Listen as Paul stresses the crucial significance of correct doctrine:
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16; cf. 1 Timothy 1:3)
This rote, ritual “Christian” represents the saddest case of all. He might have responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but no one ever clearly expressed it to him. He unwittingly let “the church”-- not the Word of God--speak for God.
A third group of tares is there for “personal” reasons that are all about other people. Joe Seek-her attends because dreamy Debbie the Christian chick invited him. John the insurance salesman knows that contacts are good for business. The couple who live down the street think their kids should get some religion.
The True Church—Whole Wheat
The true church, collectively known as the body of Christ (1), is found within the visible church--just as the believing remnant (“true Israel”) was within “national Israel,”
for they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. (Romans 9:6)
Every person in the true church is there because he or she knows Somebody! Evangelists call it “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” It means you know a person—not a concept, or a statue, or a philosophy, or a theology, or a creed, or a code of conduct. And it means that He knows you.
That’s why two or three  --sitting on a bench in the park, gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and redeemed by His blood -- fulfill the Scriptural definition of the true church. (Matthew 18:20)
And that’s why two or three thousand -- gathered together in a lavish sanctuary, under a splendid steeple topped by a shimmering cross -- may or may not fulfill the Scriptural definition of a true church. (Matthew 18:20).
If “church” to you means a steeple and people, a building and a meet-and-greet, then I would steal one of their Bibles and head straight for the park.  I would sit there, alone, until I wasn’t alone anymore.
And I would never go back to church until I brought Someone with me.
(1) see Ephesians 1:22-23