Saturday, December 31, 2016

church, for better or for worse

The Word for today:
Revelation 2: 18-29
I'm not as keen on all the "Left Behind" elements of Revelation as others seem to be. Because, you see, I will not be here past Revelation chapter three.
Either I am going to die, and therefore embark on my personal exodus to be with Jesus; or else I am going to be raptured along with the believing church, in mass exodus to meet Jesus. Either way, I'm not going to have to worry about beasts and 666 and the four horsemen and all of those things which are featured in the Revelation movies.
Therefore, the most interesting things in Revelation for me--by far--are the character of Jesus Christ and the character of the church ("the Bride) which he saved.
Chapters 2 and 3 consist of letters from Jesus to seven churches. Taken together, these churches show us the good, the bad, and the ugly of the church at large. So we must pay great attention to these letters, because they are addressed directly to us!
The Seven churches of Revelation:
Furthermore, many commentators see, in the arrangement of the letters, a chronological history of the church through its 2000+ years:
Ephesus—the apostolic church; this had been the church at its best, but now shows the need for revival (Pentecost to A.D. 100).
Smyrna—represents persecution and martyrdom in the church. Told to stand firm in persecution (100 to A.D. 314).
Pergamos—the church becomes worldly. Shows us the seduction of idolatry (314 to 590 A.D).
Thyatira—represents Romanism; the Dark Ages. Shows us the results of the lack of self-discipline (590 to 1000 A.D.)
Sardis—represents the Protestant Reformation. Shows us the lure of materialism (1517 to 1800).
Protestantism recovered justification by faith, the depravity of man, and the authority of the Word of God. But all of the truth was not recovered by the Reformation. The doctrine of eschatology (prophecy) is just now being recovered.
Philadelphia—the revived church, which turned back to the Word of God, from both Protestant and Catholic denominations, showing faithful love and service (1800 A.D. to the Rapture).
(Note: Only Smyrna and Philadelphia have no condemnation from Christ.)
Laodicea—The apostate church which professes to be Christian, but has long since departed from the Word of God and from the person of Christ: neither cold nor hot, lukewarm and self-satisfied.
We are now living in the time of the Philadelphian and Laodicean churches, side by side:
· That church (represented by the Laodicean church) which is moving farther and farther into apostasy. The church of Laodicea makes God puke (3:16).
· That church (represented by the Philadelphian church) which is staying by the Word of God. This is the church which will be raptured.
You won't see much of chapters 2 and 3 at the next Revelation-inspired movie. But these letters have our names on them, so it makes sense to pay them particular attention. As Jesus repeatedly says,
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Friday, December 30, 2016


The Word for today:
Revelation 2:8-17
Typically, Stand in the Rain will plunge into the pool headfirst before looking back to measure how high the diving board.
We knew that before long we'd have to regroup for a little bit of a chalk-talk, but we thought we'd get immersed in the Spirit of Revelation before taking this brief academic time-out.
Over the next couple days, we will provide you with some materials which will impart a sense of structure to the book of Revelation as a whole. Then, we promise, we'll dive right back into the Spirit of things.
The Bible is meant to be clearly understood. And so is the book of Revelation. But many have said that Revelation is inscrutable, obscure, incomprehensible.
To which Stand in the Rain politely replies, "Balderdash!" -- because the Word of God itself says that the meaning of Revelation is not sealed:
And he said to me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book…" (Revelation 22:10)
Whereas the full meaning of the book of Daniel is sealed until the time of the end (1), the meaning of Revelation is not closed to us.
As for Revelation's figurative language, the whole-Bible student will "figure out" Revelation's figurative language if he'll read the first 65 books of the Bible before peeking at the end! In the words of the late, great Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee:
Revelation is like a great union station where the great trunk lines of prophecy come in from other portions of scripture. Revelation does not originate but consummates. It is imperative to a right understanding of the book to be able to trace each great subject of prophecy from the first reference to the terminal.
Revelation is very neatly and systematically laid out. The verse which serves as an outline for the entire book is 1:19:
· Write the things which you have seen—chapter 1
(referring to the vision John had just seen and recorded in 1:10-16)
· and the things which are—chapters 2 and 3
(referring to the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3)
· and the things which shall be hereafter—chapters 4 to 22
(referring to the prophecies of future events unfolded in chapters 4 to 22)
The basics of Revelation, charted:
* It begins with the cross of Christ and His ascension. In chapter 1, we see the glorified Christ.
* In chapters 2-3 we see the church.
* In chapters 4-5 we see that the church is in heaven.
* Then on earth the Great Tribulation takes place, chapters 6-18.
* In chapter 19, Christ returns to earth and establishes His kingdom.
* Chapter 20 gives us the thousand-year reign of Christ.
* Then the Great White Throne is set up (the place where the lost are judged).
* In chapters 21-22 eternity begins.
The basics of Revelation, outlined:
I. A vision of Christ’s glory, wisdom, and power (chapter 1).
II. Christ’s authority over the entire church (Chapters 2, 3).
III. Christ the Lamb Who was slain and declared worthy to open the book of judgment (ch.5).
IV. Christ’s righteous wrath is poured out upon the whole earth (chapters 6-18).
V. Christ returns in power to judge his enemies and to reign as the Lord over all (ch. 19, 20).
VI. Christ rules forever over the heavenly city in the presence of all who know Him (ch. 21, 22).
We hope that these materials will leave you with a sense that Revelation is written to make perfect sense. Now let's go see what sense it makes.
(1) Daniel 12:9

Thursday, December 29, 2016

love in improper perspective

The Word for today:
Revelation 2:1-7
American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote,
"For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
the saddest are these: 'It might have been!' "
I can't hear rhyme without rhyming back, so...
Please pardon me, for I don't agree.
Sadder yet are the words, 'What used to be.'
I don't miss things that might have been;
I never saw their day.
What I miss most are things that were,
but then they went away.
Over the course of the next week, we're going to be reading Jesus' letters to the churches. The letters have spiritual significance, and even historical significance. But more than anything, they have personal significance. So we're going to take them personally.
In the first of the letters, written to the church at Ephesus, Jesus laments a love, once strong, that went wrong:
You are patient, you have suffered for my sake, and you have not given up.
But this is what I have against you: you do not love me now as you did at first.
 (Revelation 2:3-4)
Take these words to your heart. If they apply to you, then turn them around:
Look how far you have fallen from your first love! Turn back to me again and do the things you did at first. (Revelation 2:5)
If they don't apply right now, then be warned that love left untended can deteriorate to this. So don't you let it. Guard and cherish the love you first had. Be diligently, vigilantly, even militantly faithful to God.
And by all means strive to get a little stupid over love. God doesn't cherish our towering intellects, our elegant refinement, or our prudent discretion. What he prizes are hearts too eager to please, emotions too vulnerable, and raw infatuation worn on the sleeve.
So wear his favorite color. Sing his favorite songs. Rhyme with all the things he says. Laugh at all of his jokes. Carve his initials on a tree. Buy him a gift. Make him a gift. Write sweet, silly notes, underlining every word. Spend too much of your money on him. Spend too much of your time with him. Look for opportunities to be alone. Let things get way out of hand,
just like it used to be.
And should Mom caution you to keep things in proper perspective, you'll know your first love has awakened.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

the un-familiar Jesus

The Word for today:
Revelation 1:9-20
mark this: Revelation 1:17-18
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
I get criticized for what I'm about to write, but criticism just sort of eggs me on. So here goes.
When a friend enters the room, are you in the habit of falling down as if struck dead?
I hear all this talk about Jesus being our friend. And yet when John, who is singled out by scripture as the disciple whom Jesus loved (1), first sees the glorified Jesus Christ, he falls down as if dead!
Quite the friendship.
The Bible says that we are Jesus' friends when we obey him:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
Are you Jesus' friend by his own definition? Are you obeying him right now? And not just the easy kind of negative obedience--not cussin', not brawlin', not stealin', not runnin' around on your wife. "Not doing things" probably constitutes (by my calculations!) about 1% of what it means to obey God.
But are you obeying him in the positive sense of what it means to obey? Are you doing, today, the things he has told you to do with your life?
If you are, then call him "Friend." But if you aren't, then I'd drop the easy familiarity because it's not rightfully yours. And it's not rightfully mine.
As we read the book of Revelation, let the full character and personality of the complete Jesus emerge before your eyes. For the next month, while we read and study this book, let the Bible speak for itself, and let it reveal Jesus Christ on its own terms. Forget, if you will, for one month what your preacher says about Jesus, what Chris Tomlin says about Jesus, what Beth Moore says about Jesus, what (my hero) J. Vernon McGee says about Jesus, what your friends--believers and unbelievers--say bout Jesus, what Hollywood says about Jesus, what the Stand in the Rain bloggers say about Jesus, what your mother says about Jesus--and just let Jesus emerge from the book written by God the Holy Spirit (who knows Jesus best.)
Maybe, just maybe, when you meet up with Jesus as the Spirit describes him, you will start to become a little less casual about some of the of the things he has commanded. Maybe, just maybe, when we consider the complete, biblical Jesus, we might start to take him a lot less for granted.
Maybe, just maybe, we will experience a little bit of what the Bible calls the fear of the LORD.
And then, perhaps, we will find ourselves obeying this un-familiar Jesus whom we have encountered in scripture.
And then, wonder of wonders, we will become his friends--on his terms.
(1) John 13:23 (and four other instances)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Word for today:
Revelation 1:1-8
As a Bible teacher, slogging my way through blogs and promotions and class preparations while battling the forces of evil on one hand and the misplaced priorities of the Christian church on the other, I've often wondered if there were a way--a magic formula, a strategy, a scheme--to dramatically increase Bible literacy. I mean something that would bring enhanced Bible understanding to millions upon millions overnight.
Because if I could find that button, I'd push it. If I could locate that lever, I'd pull it.
If such a formula, scheme, or stratagem exists, it would probably be found right here in Revelation 1:1, the first verse of the last book in the Bible:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.
Can you find the magic Bible-teaching formula embedded within that verse? If you can't, let me show you:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
There it is. There's the button and the lever.
If I could do one little thing to bring--voila!--exponentially increased biblical understanding to billions by this time tomorrow, I would gather all the Bibles--all of the old ones, new ones, loved ones, and neglected ones--and I would change the title to this:
Because I've decided, after years out there in the Bible teaching fields, that the most effective way to get them to understand what's inside is to re-label the outside. Our retailers would call it a matter of re-packaging.
And why not? Some of you, I am sure--out of deference to tradition--were uneasy, maybe incensed, with the graphic above. To think of the temerity, the shameless audacity of some hayseed blogger defacing the holiest of books…
Well, get over it. There's been many a Bible already packaged without the familiar "Bible" or "Holy Bible" appearing anywhere on the outside or the inside. The first Bible I ever happened to read was called "Good News for Modern Man." Bibles have been packaged as "The Way" and as "The Source." A currently popular edition is called "The Message."
All are legitimate re-packagings, because the Holy Spirit never really designated a title. The name we've given it is the most generic of words--'Bible' means "book"--so generic, in fact, that it renders the title virtually meaningless. (I can see that it's a book, for heaven's sake!)
But a book about what? About, precisely, this:
~~The Revelation of Jesus Christ~~
The Bible has one purpose--to reveal Jesus Christ. So why not say so, right there on the cover. Because if the title on the outside means nothing, then one might more easily argue that what's on the inside could mean just about anything.
I don't know where you live, so my elves probably won't break into your house tonight to affect an extreme makeover of your Bible. So you'll have to do it yourself. I recommend "White-Out," both for crossing out "Holy Bible" and for writing the new, improved title. White Out (or nail polish, if White-Out isn't handy) are forever.
While you're at it, you can go to the inside and cross out some other man-made titles that the Holy Spirit never gave us. Go to the beginning of your book and cross out "Old Testament." (For this purpose, a black Sharpie works best.) Then go to the page after the book of Malachi and cross out "New Testament." These man-made designations have caused more biblical misunderstanding than any other single inanity we have foisted upon scripture.
There, now you've got the book as its author wrote it. But--believe me--when your Mother finds out what you just did, she's going to be mighty angry.
But that's o.k. Because--believe me even more--when Satan finds out what you did, he's going to be mighty angry as well. He wants confusion about "The Bible." Calling it "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" cuts through all the misdirection and pettifoggery that he's managed to enshroud the Book in, over his long and successful un-teaching career.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Hallelujah!--part 2

The Word for today:
Psalms 148-150
Yesterday we celebrated Christmas with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.
We thought it would be particularly appropriate, since we are now reading the section of scripture (Psalms 146-150) known as the "Hallelujah Psalms." These Psalms each begin and end with the same Hebrew phrase--Hallelujah--which your Bibles will translate as "Praise the LORD."
The Hallelujah Chorus, though associated with Christmas, is actually inspired by the book of Revelation--which, it so happens, we will turn to tomorrow.
So, in the spirit of yesterday's Christmas, today's Hallelujah Psalms, and tomorrow's Revelation, we reprise a recent flash mob performance of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Praise ye the LORD!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hallelujah!--part 1

The Word for today:
Psalm 147
Stand in the Rain is going to rejoice today and then tomorrow all over again, because there is so much rejoicing to do and so little time to do it!
We find it fitting that our reading schedule for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Feast of Stephen (December 26th, the day "Good King Wenceslaus looked out") consists of the "Hallelujah Psalms."
These Psalms (146 through 150) each begin and end with the same word:  Hallelujah.
Hallelujah is a Hebrew phrase.  Your Bibles will translate it as "Praise the LORD."
So that's what we're going to do.  To show you how with it we are, we're going to link you to a recent flash mob performance of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.
Merry Christmas, and Praise the LORD!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

the best room that heart can afford

The Word for today:
Psalm 146
Most of us pay way too much attention to other people:
We don't "dance like David did" because of what people might think.
We catch ourselves looking for man's commendation before seeking commendation from God. We can even find ourselves tailoring the truth to fall softly, inoffensively, on our hearer's ears.
Today's Psalm talks about looking to man for the things of God. I often do, until I catch myself at it and remember that there is no salvation in the hand of man:
I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them--
the LORD, who remains faithful forever.
 (Psalms 146:2-6)
As we are wrapping presents and opening cards, let's remember that Christmas is precisely about this: God had to come down into the pit with us because we could not lift ourselves, or others, up or out:
The LORD sets prisoners free,
the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.
 (Psalms 146:7-8)
As we look with resolve to the new year, may we be wary of misplaced priorities -- not just self-centered priorities, but even "other-centered" priorities, when we sense that either self or others are being given the place that the heart must reserve for God.
"Joy to the world," we sing. A long time ago, I heard what joy was made of. So did you:
J-O-Y, J-O-Y,
This is what it means:
Jesus first,
Yourself last,
and Others in between.
On the first Christmas, there was no room for him in the inn. This Christmas, let every heart prepare him the best room that heart can afford.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Heaven: a sneak preview

The Word for today:
Psalm 145
My friend Debbie and I go 'round and 'round about heaven. We try to imagine what it's going to be like.
Yesterday I told her that I think it will be possible to make mistakes in heaven. She was typing something, so I seized on that as an example:
F.-- "I think there will be typographical errors in heaven."
D.-- "No, Franklyn, heaven is going to be perfect."
F.--"But 'perfect' leaves no room for improvement. I think God will allow us to look forward to painting a better picture, writing a better poem, or running a faster race tomorrow. There will be things we can improve upon."
D.--"Maybe. But the way I see it, we will make the perfect more perfect. No typos. No falling down in the race and skinning our knees."
F.--"To 'make the perfect more perfect' makes no logical sense."
D.--"Oh, don't bring logic into this. Heaven will be bigger than logic."
Most of our discussions are just guesses--conjecture--about heaven, because there isn't really that much in the Bible about the subject.
But when I want more than conjecture, I go to Psalm 145. Because when we're in Psalm 145, we're in heaven:
I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O LORD;
your saints will extol you.
They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
so that all men may know of your mighty acts 
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The LORD is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.
The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.   (Psalms 145:1-18)
D.-- Well, you said Psalm 145 is like heaven, and I don't see any typos there.
F.-- But notice that "The LORD upholds all those who fall." It looks like there's going to be some skinned knees in heaven.
D.-- Will not!
F.-- Will so!
D.-- Will not!
(To be continued, probably until Kingdom Come...)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

God loves you because God loves you.

The Word for today:
Psalm 144
The very first sentence in the book of Psalms tells us to meditate--day and night--on God's Word:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
So, let's chew on this for a while:
O LORD, what is man that you care for him,
the son of man that you think of him? (Psalm 144:3)
In the book of Ruth, we hear Ruth ask essentially the same question:
Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me? (Ruth 2:10)
Scripture teaches that the answer to this question is found not within us, but within God:
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you... (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
This is a revolutionary concept, so in order for it to sink in, let's turn it over in our minds:
**The Bible does not say that I am lovely.  The Bible does not say that I am lovable.  The Bible says that I am loved.
**God so loved the world because God is love.
**God didn't die for us because we were worthy. We are worthy because God died for us.
What are the ramifications of these truths? Let's say you had a bad day--a really bad, awful day. Or even a bad, awful, terrible year. Does that make you worthless?
No way! You are--and always will be--of infinite worth, because God set his love upon you.
We have just meditated ourselves all the way to the most delightful and liberating truth in the universe:
God loves you because God loves you.  And that's never going to change (1).
(1) see 1 John 4:16 and Hebrews 13:8