Saturday, October 21, 2017

the one clear voice

The Word for today:
Romans 3:21-31
mark this:
Through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20)
Paul asks this question in Romans 3:1:
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? (Romans 3:1)
Paul's answer:
Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:2)
We might ask the same question:
What advantage is there in reading the Bible and going to church?
And the answer is still the same:
Much in every way!
The only thing that will redeem any man in the eyes of God is faith in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God said,
"When I see the blood I will pass over." (Exodus 12:13)
That blood in Exodus is a prefigurement of the blood of the cross. If God sees that we have placed our trust in Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, he will forgive us.
His forgiveness is granted on the sole basis of Jesus' blood. He will not ask us if we belonged to a church, or got baptized, or read the Bible, or went to Sunday school. So if those things don't save us, is there any value in them?
Let me say it again: Much in every way!
When we read the Bible, or go to a church where the Word of God is preached and taught, it can make all the difference.
None of these things in themselves can make us right before God. But the Bible will point out our need for God, and then point the way to the blood of His cross.
So the advantage of our interaction with God's Word is summed up in Romans 3:20:
Through the law we become conscious of sin.
***
The advantage of having God's Word is also summed up in a well-known story called "The Emperor's New Clothes," by Hans Christian Anderson:
A certain emperor was fond of appearances. So when some clever swindlers (posing as philosophers) offered to weave him a rare and costly garment, he was receptive to their offer. He was especially intrigued by their promise that the garment would be invisible to all but the wise and pure of heart. So the emperor commissioned the new clothes at great expense, and the con men sat before empty looms, pretending to be weaving.
Soon the emperor's curiosity was such that he sent his chief counselor to see how things were progressing. Seeing no cloth on the busy looms, and not wanting to be thought unwise or impure of heart, the official returned with a report of the fabulous beauty of the cloth. When the weavers asked for even more money, the emperor sent his second most important counselor, who returned with another glowing report. Next the emperor himself went. Seeing nothing, but not wanting to appear unwise, he too proclaimed the clothing magnificent and gave the weavers medals!
When the day of the grand parade arrived, the con men dressed the emperor in his nakedness and then skipped town. As the emperor paraded before his people in the altogether, the entire populace joined in praise of his beautiful clothes--lest they be thought of as stupid and impure. Thus the absurd parade continued, until in a moment of quietness a child was heard to say, "The emperor has no clothes!"
At once everyone knew the truth, including the emperor. An honest remark by a child who did not know enough to keep his mouth shut stripped away the pretense of an entire nation.
***
Without God's Word, we hear only the word of the world, which conspires to tell us that our "garment" will suffice. The word of the world is a lie, an echo of Eden, which seeks to pull God down to our level, or push us up to his. If that word is all we hear, we remain naked without knowing it:
You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)
But God's Word tells us that our righteousness is as filthy rags (1), and that only those clothed in the righteousness purchased at the cross of Christ can live forever with God:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18)
If there is no open Bible in your life--in your hand, in your home and, yes, in your church--then you live, as it were, in a city without the one clear voice which told the emperor he had no clothes.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Isaiah 64:6

Friday, October 20, 2017

sometimes talk isn't cheap

The Word for today:
Romans 3:1-20
mark this:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (from Romans 3:23-26)
Yesterday, we wrote that only the cross can make sense of seemingly irreconcilable ideas in the Bible. We pointed to Romans 1:17 and 1:18, back-to-back verses which would logically nullify one another, were it not for the cross.
Then we pointed to Numbers 14:18, which twists our intellects into pretzels, were it not made coherent by the cross.
Today we see one more example of a scripture which renders our logic useless:
God is both just and justifier... (Romans 3:26)
"God is just" means that he enforces the distinction between right and wrong by rewarding the former and punishing the latter.
"God is justifier" means that despite my sin, he sees me just-as-if-I were Jesus!
So how can God be both just and justifier? Because the cross dissolved the contradiction.
***
God can't forgive like we do. When we say, "I forgive you," what we mean is that we will overlook a transgression.
But that's something God can't do! If he were to overlook the distinction between right and wrong, then he would nullify his moral authority and effectively cease to be God.
God can't just wink at sin, because the wages of sin must be paid (Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:20). With this in mind, we can no longer get so familiar with some "familiar" verses. Consider Jesus' remark to the Pharisees when they questioned his ability to forgive sin:
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." (Mark 2:8-11)
Jesus, we're generally taught, was illustrating the principle that talk is cheap--but that the proof of the pudding is in the visible miracle, when the paralytic rises and walks home.
But I don't teach it quite that way, because throughout scripture we see instances where diabolical forces can exhibit miraculous powers (1).  Meanwhile, only God can authoritatively say "Your sins are forgiven"-- and only because he paid the price.
Sometimes, talk isn't cheap.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) For examples, see Exodus 7:11; 7:22; 8:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:14; 16:14.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I never understood the caption until I saw the picture

The Word for today:
Romans 2:17-29
Rightly or wrongly, I've been accused of having deep scriptural insight. I sort of play along with my accusers because their accusations momentarily bolster my puny ego.
But here's a revelation that God has confirmed and reconfirmed: if it weren't for His Cross, I wouldn't be able to understand anything about His Word. And neither would you.
The Bible--all of it--can be thought of as the caption to the picture of the cross. I know it's a long caption, but without the picture we wouldn't understand a word.
For an example of how intellectually (let alone spiritually!) lost we'd be without the cross, I refer you to these back-to-back verses from Romans chapter 1:
For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, "The righteous by faith will live." (verse 17)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. (verse 18)
The righteousness of God is revealed / the wrath of God is revealed--back-to-back, simultaneously. How's a man to understand?
God's Word in general and the book of Romans in particular is just too much for us to comprehend, unless we run every idea past the cross.
For it was at the cross that the righteousness of God was given to every believer at the very same time the wrath of God was being poured out on God Himself. The cross is the only way to make any sense out of seemingly irreconcilable verses like this one:
The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Numbers 14:18)
***
Without the cross, we'd be thoroughly lost!  The cross is not only the one way to salvation, but it is also the one window that is open to spiritual enlightenment.
So don't scratch your head over the complexities of the book of Romans.  Just take every idea to the cross, and it will all come into focus.
And pretty soon, people will be accusing you of deep scriptural insight! Enjoy their accusations for a while, but then you must confide to them your secret--The Secret of the Cross.
You must admit to one and all that you never understood the caption, until you saw the picure.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

a faith called unbelief -- part 2

The Word for today:
Romans 2:1-16
mark this:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
There are times when we can more thoroughly understand what something is by observing what it is not. In order, then, to clarify what faith is we are observing the characteristics of unbelief. Yesterday, in part 1, we examined some of the misleading misconceptions we have concerning faith.
Today we will observe faith from a technical point of view, plainly illustrating the statistical impossibility of a faith called unbelief.
***
We've heard the phrase "blind faith." There is a smidgen of truth in the phrase, since we believe in a God who, except in the incarnation of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, we do not see. However, everything that we do see testifies to his reality. The beauty and order of creation cry out that there is a Creator.
The flawlessly orchestrated cosmos--so dependable that we can point our spaceships at what will be there some decades from now--is reflected in the intricately woven DNA in every molecule of our physical being. The argument from order for the existence of the Creator is overwhelming. The infinite molecular calculation in every blade of grass cries out that premeditated genius, not random accident, is on display.
So let's consider a series of just ten variables to get a glimpse of just how intelligent the Intelligent Designer has to be:
If I were to number ten pennies from 1 to 10 and mix them in my pocket, my chances of pulling out the number 1 penny would be one in ten. If I place the number 1 penny back in my pocket and mix all the pennies again, the chances of pulling out penny number 2 would be one in a hundred. The chances of repeating the same procedure and coming up with penny number 3 would be one in a thousand. To do so with all of them (1 through 10 in order) would be one in nearly 4 million.
Thus Johannes Kepler--founder of modern astronomy, who discovered the Three Planetary Laws of Motion--said, "The undevout astronomer is mad."
King David, in the Old Testament, said it this way:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalms 19:1-2)
***
That's what the stars--and the pennies--are saying. Only a faith called unbelief can distort their unmistakable message:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
There is no evidence for unbelief. Thus it is the blindest of faiths.
In its own way, then, unbelief is a miracle--for, having no basis in fact, it must be created out of nothing.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

a faith called unbelief -- part 1

The Word for today:
Romans 1:18-32
mark this:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20)
We talk a lot about believing.
But for the next couple of days, in order to understand belief from another angle, we're going to observe its opposite, unbelief…
The first thing that needs to be understood is that, everything being equal, it is far easier to believe in God than not to believe.
Mark this down somewhere; paint it on the side of your car or the front of your house:
It takes one hell of an act of faith to disbelieve in the Bible and Jesus Christ.
Faith knows no vacuum, so there is no one who has no faith. Some might say they have no faith, but everybody believes--in one thing or another--because faith is the motivating principle of every person's life; for better or for worse, every person's life is a by-product of his faith.
Faith is a word that we, wrongly, almost always identify with religion. That is the biggest mistake we make when trying to understand faith. Many people do place their faith in what we think of as religion. But billions of others have a faith which is as far from any notion of religion as it can get. Martin Luther said, "Whatever your heart clings to and relies on is your god." I point specifically to the word whatever in Luther's statement. Faith can be whatever--it can be good, bad, true, false, religious, or irreligious. Whatever moves you to be who and what you are is your faith.
Another great mistake we make about faith is that we are always able to identify it! Many who claim to believe in one thing actually base their lives on something else. A person who claims his faith is in God might actually be living a life motivated by the almighty dollar. He will vehemently deny that the dollar is actually what he trusts, but his denials don't change the fact that the buck is his god. (An irony of faith is that if a person hands me his checkbook and his day planner, I will tell him what he believes in--whether he acknowledges it or not.)
A person who says his faith is in the Christ of the Bible might actually believe not in Jesus but in belief itself: "If I just believe in something hard enough and sincerely enough, it will materialize." There is no need for the personal hand of God in that equation because faith itself is what moves his world.
For some, their faith consists of the belief that everything will ultimately turn out good. They might even mix a little Jesus in there, and even a little cross and resurrection! But the resurrection for them is the proof--not the reason--that "Every gray sky will ultimately turn to blue!" Thus their positive faith has no foundation.
***
We've heard the phrase "blind faith." There is a smidgen of truth in the phrase, since we believe in a God who, except in the incarnation of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, we do not see. However, everything that we do see testifies to his reality. The beauty and order of creation cry out that there is a Creator. King David, in the Old Testament, said it this way:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalms 19:1-2)
That's what the stars are saying. Only a faith called unbelief can distort their unmistakable message.
***
Tomorrow, we'll hear what a pocketful of pennies is proclaiming. See you then.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, October 16, 2017

the only way you'll find yourself is to look for Him

The Word for today:
Romans 1:1-17
mark this:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)
You probably never met me, but neither have I.
And I probably never met you, but neither have you…
Who and what you truly are is inextricably bound together with God, so that what was said of David and Jonathan is meant as a picture of Jesus and you:
The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:1)
What is said of David and God in 1 Samuel 25:29 is also meant to depict our inseparable identification with Jesus:
Your life shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God. (1 Samuel 25:29)
In the Bible, we meet Jesus Christ. But the subtext of scripture is that as we meet him we meet ourselves. With that in mind, listen very carefully to these verses, as if you've never heard them before:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)
***
When Jesus died, you became the righteousness of God in him (1). So as we are reading the Bible--the Revelation of Jesus Christ--there should be a sensation that we are also meeting our true selves for the first time.
As we get to know him, we will increasingly--from faith to faith--come to know ourselves, culminating with this astonishing scripture:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
***
When I was in my formative years, in the 1960's, people were ceaselessly in search of themselves. But they were looking in all the wrong places,
because God has decreed that the only way you'll find yourself is to look for Him.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1)  2 Corinthians 5:21

Sunday, October 15, 2017

developing the negative

The Word for today:
Proverbs 31
In the old days, before digital everything, photographs were stored on film.
We still use the verb film, but to our younger readers the noun film may be unfamiliar. Film was a plastic strip which (chemically) held an image captured by a camera. We had to go to the store to buy film and then we would take the film back to the store to be developed.
On the film was a negative image; what was actually bright would be seen as dark; what was actually dark would be seen as bright. The developing process turned the negative (what the camera saw) back into a positive (what the eye sees.)
Q. And the point is?
A. The negative can reveal as much information as the positive.
***
We do well to know what's in the Bible. But what about the things that aren't in there? Would it be instructive to enter into a study of what's not?
I think so. Some facets of God's character are best discerned in absentia.
My favorite in this regard is the word "Thanks." I was once attempting to convince a class that we presume things about Jesus that may not be there. For instance, I said, Jesus never said "Thank you" to any person, as far as we know. (If you think about it, why would he? He made every atom of our being and every molecule of air that we breathe, then died to give us eternal life--so exactly what is it that he would thank us for?)
Since many people see Jesus more as a Mister Manners than as the Resurrected Redeemer, this omission can be unsettling. I mean, if he didn't do that, what else might he not have done?
The students were thankful (!) for that disorienting lesson and asked me to "develop the negative" in class more often. So I (contrarian by nature) was only too willing to oblige…
***
The trick is to type a word into your electronic concordance (1) to see what the Bible doesn't say. (That's how I first discovered Jesus' scarce use of "Thanks.")
One fine Mother's Day, bored out of my mind as the wife in Proverbs 31 was extolled for the 8th Mother's Day sermon out of the last 13, I decided to develop the negative in Proverbs 31. As the sermon droned on, I read and re-read Proverbs 31 for what wasn't there.
Well, I'm happy to report that while developing the negative, I came upon one of the most positive remarks ever encountered in the Bible. The remark is so positive because it's so rare. Here it is:
"He praises her."  (Proverbs 31:28)
What's so rare about that? Well, it is one of a just a few times in scripture where the word praise is applied to a person. All other praise is reserved for God.
***
"He praises her." Notice the 's' on the end of the word praise. That 's' puts praise in the constant present. His praise for her is not in the past or in the future, but in the everlasting now.
So I want you guys to go and praise her (whoever she might be) in the everlasting now. That doesn't mean wait for Mother's Day or Sweetheart's Day or your anniversary or the next full moon; it means now.
Which means stop reading, turn off the computer, and go fulfill the Word of God: He praises her.
There. You've proved God's Word to be prophetic. But don't wait around expecting Jesus to thank you.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) An excellent free Bible/concordance program can be downloaded here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

churning lessons


(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Proverbs 30
mark this: Proverbs 30:33
"For as churning the milk produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife."
Tomorrow I am off to the farm with my family. There will be barns and crops, cows and hay. But my favorite part of the whole operation is the chance we get to make our own butter. (No , not with the old fashioned butter churn depicted above.) You see, I have a thing for butter. There is no meal, no dish, no side, no dessert where the addition of butter would be unwelcome, at least for me. Even things that may not normally need additional butter (i.e. muffins, croissants, pastries, donuts, Twinkies etc.), are that much better when complimented with buttery goodness.
And so I cannot wait until tomorrow, when we are given whipping cream in little Tupperware jars. We'll then shake to our heart's content, slowly transforming the liquid into a solid. Then, we get to spread that brand new butter over saltine crackers and enjoy. (That's the only way I ever eat saltines!)
In today's reading, our good friend Agur uses two examples, one pleasant, one not so much, to compare with the inevitable consequences of anger. It is the nature of cream, when shaken or churned, to turn into butter. It is the nature of a nose, when twisted and jostled enough, to produce blood. And it is also the nature of mankind, when stirred up by anger, to produce strife.
Strife is defined as a "vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, or antagonism; a quarrel, struggle, or clash." Not exactly fun stuff, yet it is the exact issue we experience everyday. In our streets, in our courts, in our businesses and political spheres, and even in our homes, strife rears her ugly head. (And yes it is a she, named from the Greek goddess Eris.) Strife is misery. So why in the world would we allow it?
The answer is, we don't particularly like strife, but better her than controlling our anger. But our country, and many of us are officially addicted to anger. We know nothing else. And all that anger, wrongly expressed and dealt with, accounts for a huge percentage of our world's woes.
I needn't bring up any examples, because each of us have hundreds of our own.
Certainly, not all anger is bad, after all God Himself gets angry at certain things (1). But I will be the first to admit that my bad/good anger ration is 90%/10%, at best. The bottom line is that either you control your anger or your anger controls you. There is no getting around that fact. That is why the Bible in general and Proverbs in particular warn us about the dangers of ungodly anger. We see negative example after negative example, from Cain, to Moses, to Saul, to Haman, to Herod, to the Pharisees, to Satan (2).
But what good is it to tell myself and others not to get too angry? Any such words, apart from God's power, can become what Job described as "proverbs of ashes (3)."
Ultimately, this book of Proverbs, just like the Old Covenant Law, is a mirror. It can reveal the truth of our sorry condition to us, it can tell us where we are dirty; but it does not give us any power, it cannot make us clean. We need something more than a reminder not to sin, we need the actually ability to do so. And here is exactly where the message of Jesus Christ fits in:
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (4)."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) See Psalm 78 for an OT summary, or Mark 3:5
(2) Genesis 4:5, Numbers 20:11, 1 Samuel 18:8, Esther 3:5, Matthew 2:16, John 7:23 & Revelation 12:17
(3) Job 13:12
(4) Titus 2:11-14

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ouch! (I resemble those remarks.)

The Word for today:
Proverbs 28, 29
"Proverbs" hurts. It makes me wince when I realize that the face in that mirror is me.
Proverbs is the "James" of the Old Testament. The book of James casts a pitiless eye at our hypocrisies, foibles, and indiscretions. It forces us to look in the mirror, and it's not a pretty sight. James hurts.
The Sermon on the Mount (1) hurts the worst of all. That's where the gentle Jesus pins us to the wall, still wriggling.
The Bible hurts. That's the bad news. But the good news is that if it hurts, you're reading it right. If Proverbs, James, and Jesus make you wince, you get a C+ for reading comprehension. If they make you regret and even grieve your sin, then you get a B+.  And if they cause you to repent, to turn from self to God, then you get an A+.
***
I love bumper stickers. They make the wait at a red light seem shorter. We don't see nearly as many as we used to, but lately I've seen this one a lot:
The snooty assumption, of course, is that the people in that car are the solution, whereas they're not quite sure about those in my/your car.
What the Bible teaches is this:
That's the truth. But this truth trumps it:
***
If you're not part of the problem, then you will find Jesus to be poor indeed. He has nothing for you.
But if you see yourself (Ouch!) as part of the problem, then you are just the person God is looking for:
"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Matthew chapters 5-7

Thursday, October 12, 2017

the Son who listened

The Word for today:
Proverbs 26:13 - 27:27
mark this:
So listen, my son, to your Father's instruction... (Proverbs 1:8, etc., etc. -- see below)
What does it all add up to? When you take all of the Proverbs and knit them all together, what have you got?
You've got the Son who listened.
At the heart of the book of Proverbs is a Father-Son relationship. The Proverbs are addressed to "My son" in each of the following verses:
1:8;
1:10;
1:15;
2:1;
3:1;
3:11;
3:21;
4:10;
4:20;
5:1;
5:20;
6:1;
6:3;
6:20;
7:1;
19:27;
23:15;
23:19;
23:26;
24:13;
24:21;
27:11;
31:2.
I don't list all those verses as an exercise in overkill. I mean to point out that Proverbs isn't an aimless bunch of maxims. Instead, there's a shaping process that's going on before our very eyes. And here's the result of the process:
Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52)
***
We are so often forgetful that Jesus was like us in every way. His character did not come fully formed, it increased. Just as his body had to grow into its full stature, his wisdom also had to grow into itself.
The only thing we know of Jesus from the time of his infancy to the time he was thirty is the scene from Luke which shows him, at 12 years old, subjecting himself to the Word of God:
And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously." And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:42-52)
***
The Word of God shaped the formless and empty cosmos in Genesis 1. In Philippians 2:6-7, Jesus emptied himself of the prerogatives of deity in order to become one with us and serve as an example for us:
Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Emptied, he then let the Word of God shape him into what he was--the Messiah the Old Testament foretold.
He listened to His father's Word, and conformed to it. That is the same process by which we, too, will become like Him, for we are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29)
God, whose mind is not confined by time, sees us already clothed in Jesus' righteousness. As we subject ourselves to His Word, we will increasingly become what we already are.
So listen, my son, to your Father's instruction…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

hiding in plain sight

The Word for today:
Proverbs 25:1-26:12
The Bible, as has been noted in this space before, should be titled, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ," because that is its sole purpose. That's the quality of the book. But what about quantity? How much of Jesus Christ does it reveal?
The answer: Just enough, and no more.
For a book that purports to reveal, there sure is a lot we're not shown. Consider this:
It is the glory of God to conceal things… (Proverbs 25:2a)
And this:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)
God has shown us his hand, but he hasn't shown us his cards. We know only enough about God to know that we aren't even seated at the table unless we know his Son, Jesus Christ. We know only what he's chosen to show. The reality of our situation is that we see him through a glass darkly, but.
***
The future is in the little word 'but.' Consider:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Now let's complete the verse we started with:
It is the glory of God to conceal things…but the glory of kings is to search things out. (Proverbs 25:2)
Our mission is to seek him.  And if we will, we will find him, as he promised:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)
Today we search the scriptures, for they point the way to him through Jesus Christ:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. (John 5:39)
One day we will range throughout his cosmos, men and women after God's own heart.
***
But if the Bible isn't an adventure for you, or if you are a Christian who has lost the sense of discovery, of new vistas, then something is sadly amiss.
If you have the sense that you've pretty much got scripture and Jesus figured out, then I can barely begin to express how sorry your situation is. Saved as you may be, God's managed to let you think that the tip you're standing on is the whole iceberg.
Startling as it may seem, God veils himself to the self-satisfied heart. He said he would:
Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"
And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: 'You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.'" (Matthew 13:10-15)
For most of the self-satisfied, he's hiding in plain sight--right between the covers of the Bible they disdain to systematically search.
But the sorriest situation of all is when he hides right there in the pews of the typical church--whose pastors, elders, and teachers are themselves so ignorant of scripture that they can impart no sense of the limitless discoveries which still lie before us.
If those are the pews you're sitting in; if your pastors and teachers have not the ability to impart a sense of adventure, exploration, discovery, and awe, then gather your little ones and run for your lives.
As you run, look for Him everywhere. Just don't look back.
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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I just 'm.

The Word for today:
Proverbs 24
Most of my life I've been pretty queer (if queer still means queer.) I'm pretty much a square, if you know what I mean. But you probably don't.
I was pretty groovy in my day, but that lasted for all of about 24 hours. I was never cool, and probably never will be. Which is probably good, because if I were ever to become cool, then cool wouldn't be cool anymore. If you know what I mean.
The Bible exudes a timelessness which out-cools cool. It is not subject to the winds of change, which makes it cooler still.
Because, as we all know, the one thing which disqualifies a person from being cool is trying to be cool. In fact, the ultimate law of cool is this:
If you're trying to be, you're not.
The Bible never tries to be--because, like its author, it just is.  You don't need to strive to be what you are.  That's why God's name--I AM--is the coolest name that ever was or will be (1).
***
When my daughter Gwenlyn was very small, she was so self-possessed, so absolutely comfortable in her own skin, that it was almost, well, divine.  She was too little to articulate it, but other people could just feel that she had no aspirations to become anything other than what she was; that to become anything other than what she was would be a step down.
People marveled over her, and regularly would ask her, "Gwenlyn, how'd you get to be so cool (or so smart, or so happy, or so gorgeous)?"  Her answer was always the same:
"I just 'm."
God just 'm and his Word just 'm, too. It doesn't aspire toward 'true,' because it already is. It doesn't seek to become 'relevant,' because it already is.
So to you who have put your faith in--and built your life around--the Word of God, I just want to tell you that you are where it's at, so don't move the marker!--
Don't move an old stone that marks a border, because those stones were set up by your ancestors.  (Proverbs 22:28)
Don't try to move the Rock! Though the world may try to marginalize you now, remember that if you stand with, by, and for the Rock, then you're at the everlasting epicenter!
Just stay right where you 'r', because cool is eventually going to have to come your way, or it won't be cool anymore.
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(1) see Exodus3:14; John 8:58

Monday, October 9, 2017

want some candy? -- part 2

The Word for today:
Proverbs 22:17-23:35
Two shadowy figures--the evil man and the strange woman--appear, disappear, and re-appear throughout the chapters of Proverbs. They are not incidental characters. In fact, if Proverbs could be said to have a plot, it would center around the efforts of the evil man and the strange woman to lure the young man (to whom the book is addressed) from the ways of wisdom to the paths of folly.
The evil man and the strange woman represent secular and spiritual enticement, respectively. The evil man seeks to lure the young man with common bait--wine, women, and 'song' (secular culture).  He makes his appeal to the young man's flesh. Many are ensnared by these carnal appetites.
But should the young man not succumb to these generic allurements, the strange woman (who is the far more menacing of the two) enters the scene…
The strange woman represents physical adultery and--on a spiritual level--the allure of cults.
She flaunts her easy morals and seeks to lead the young man down a wrong street:
In the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness,
the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait.
She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him,
"I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows." (Proverbs 7:9-14)
Notice that she is religious! She leads him to believe that she is right with God--“I have offered sacrifices … I paid my vows.”
Those who would never be taken in by the evil man (who represents the more blatant sins of the flesh) often find these more subtle spiritual charms irresistible.
Of the two, the evil woman is more deadly, because while one might return from the far country of carnal sin (the prodigal son did), there's often no returning from spiritual adultery, from the lure of cults and idols of any sort:
Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:27)
***
God calls it adultery when his people leave him to pursue idols. (An idol is anything you place above God.) The entire book of Hosea is built around the theme of spiritual adultery.
Today we have many cults and all types of false religions around us. Often they carry Bibles, which they skillfully distort. Their common theme is that faith alone in Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation--that we must join their group and do certain things. They add something to the gospel of grace, saying you must believe in Jesus, plus. The 'plus' is the heresy.
Like the prostitute, they are all dressed up—attractive, alluring, offering something to man that will draw him away from true love, Jesus Christ.
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