Monday, January 22, 2018

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-moreso, 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 Hermeneutics"
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 21, 2018

"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 20, 2018

"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 in 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 19, 2018

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 18, 2018

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 17, 2018

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 16, 2018

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 15, 2018

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 14, 2018

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

doctrines of demons: "Did God really say...?"

The Word for today:
1 Timothy 3.14-4.5
mark this: 1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.
Wouldn’t it be remarkable to see a replay of the Garden of Eden—especially the scene where the snake is standing on his feet, enticing Eve with the fruit of the tree…
Well, if you go to the window and look outside, there it is!
Eden is replayed every day. It’s been played out in your life and mine.  We succumbed / flunked / fell.
It was played out in Jesus’ life. He passed, slicing the devil’s seductive suggestions to pieces with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (1).
All those replays were personal, one-on-one encounters. But there is coming a day (I know it’s coming, because it’s already here) when the world, collectively, will face an onslaught of what the Bible calls the doctrines of demons:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Timothy 4:1)
Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1Jn 4:3)
The battle line runs between your fingers (if you are holding a Bible). The assault, as in Eden, will be on the veracity and trustworthiness of the Word of God. It will sound exactly like this:
Did God really say…?  (Genesis 3:1)
The devil has a religion, and its text is the Bible. Starting with the very text you hold in your hands, he then twists, contorts, distorts, adds, and subtracts from it for his purposes.
He has his ministers just as surely as your church has a pastor. Their powerful “pulpits” are bombarding us with mis-information and dis-regard for the Word of God.
The only defense against the devil’s doctrines and his minions is the Word of God, aptly spoken (2). But even if we’ve memorized every verse, we are no match for an angel of light (3) quoting scripture! Our advantage as believers is that it’s the Spirit’s Sword, so He knows how best to deploy it—as seen when Jesus (in the power of the Spirit) cut the devil down to size.
It’s Eden-all-over-again out there. Every day the (S)Word of God is demeaned and discredited; or – worse yet – left to gather rust and dust on a shelf.
But in the hands of a believer whose Sword shines with constant use, and who depends on the Spirit to wield it, no weapon forged against it will prosper:
“No weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
and this is their vindication from me,"
declares the LORD.  (Isaiah 54:17)
(1) see Genesis 3:1-6; Matthew 4:5-1 and Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 4:12 and Ephesians 6:17; (2) see Proverbs 25:11; (3) 2 Corinthians 11:14

Friday, January 12, 2018


The Word for today:
1 Timothy 3:1-13
mark this: 1 Timothy 3:2
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…
As Mom told us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
But if I have a few nice things to say, does that clear me to say the rest? Well, I hope so, ‘cause here goes…
To be honest with you, I think the greatest problem in the local church is the professional pastorate.
When a man ain’t got nothing, he’s got nothing to lose. But when the mortgage, car payment, health insurance, and tuition depend upon maintaining a job, then what a man does is maintain. He certainly doesn’t go for broke, because “broke” is where he might find himself.
Our pulpits are manned by a cautious lot whose positions and paychecks factor into their decisions and their sermons. They tell the truth, for the most part, but not always the whole truth. They faithfully reflect a few prosaic aspects of Jesus’ character, but the power of his persona and the poetry of his word rarely find their way into the average local pulpit--because those things might rock the boat, and rocking the boat might make waves. And we can’t have that.
I worked, for a while, in a professional (paid) position in a church. I had to go to a lot of meetings with local pastors and what I saw was not impressive. They were the nicest guys in town, but that’s about all I have on my list of nice things to say.
They weren’t particularly gifted in scripture. They weren’t particularly gifted in leadership. They were diligent, but creativity evaded them. They were brave, in a defensive posture. But they weren’t about to storm the fort, because going on the offensive might, you know, offend someone.
They were certified by seminaries and ordained by denominations, but whether or not they were commissioned by God was never clear to me.
They met for three years (while I was there, and probably a dozen years before that) to discuss what should be done to bring the gospel to everyone in our town. What they decided to do was hold a seminar (replete with an “expert” from California, at considerable cost) to further study this “initiative;” and to attend a retreat (at considerable cost for lodging and a facilitator) to pray over this initiative.
“Retreat,” in fact, remains my lasting impression of them, and a damning metaphor for their efforts. While I’m sorry to have to say that, my sorrow is not for their sakes.
The ones I’m sorry for are the people who sit in their pews, who never really learn scripture (except in some rote sense) because their pastor never really did; who never encounter the wild and wonderful, radical and revolutionary Jesus because their pastor either never has or (if he has) isn’t gifted to express Him.
Nice guys, all. They worked from sunrise to moonrise. I’m not sure what they’re taught in seminary, but they all, seemingly, majored in Diligence and Steadfastness and Earnestness and Consistency and Constancy and Prudence and Discretion.
Fine words, all. But they reflect just a portion of the persona of Jesus, just a sliver of the spectrum of the Light of the world.
In biblical terms, they had the fruit of the Spirit; most of them had the whole cornucopia, in bountiful abundance. But church leadership is organized according to the gifts, not the fruit, of the Spirit.
They had, to be sure, certain gifts of the Spirit, but not the gifts which church leadership is based upon.
It was dismaying and disturbing. But most of all it was just sad, because by and large we have organized the church around diplomas and denominations -- the dictates of man.
Three or four years in a seminary and they hand you a diploma. They are accredited to do so. But they're not authorized to hand out gifts.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

subway walls and tenement halls -- part 2

The Word for today:
Micah 4:8-5:15
Yesterday we asked,
Are the prophets speaking to America today?
Today we will draw our conclusions on the wall.
The biblical prophets spoke specifically to their own time and place--to Israel and surrounding nations. But here is the biblical principle that makes their words as valid and immediate to us, now, as they were to Israel then:
God is no respecter of persons. (1)
Which means that God treats all alike--whether rich or poor, old or young, black or white, then or now.
The last phrase--then or now--is the one that writes the words of the prophets on our "subway walls and tenement halls" (2). God is eternal and unchanging, and so are his judgments. His spiritual laws apply just as universally as his physical laws do. Justice, and mercy, and faith--which Jesus called the weightier matters of the law (3) --have spiritual mass and volume, exerting consequences that are as predictable as the gravity exerted by the mass and volume of the spheres…
The overriding prophetic constants are these:
1. The soul that sins, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). The New Testament says it this way: The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a)
2. When I see the blood, I will pass over you (Exodus 12:13). The New Testament says it this way: …but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:23b)
Any person who does not apply the blood of principal #2 faces the judgment of principal #1. These principles form the breath -- the inhalation and exhalation -- of prophecy. They account for the prophetic voice, which seems at irreconcilable odds with itself -- breathing out pitiless judgment, breathing in unconditional forgiveness -- as it expresses the kindness and the severity of God (Romans 11:22).
These truths have been in effect from the foundation of the world (4), but did not collide, in time and space, until the cross of Jesus Christ.
Just so, the words of the prophets will be seen, ultimately, as no respecters of nations, or of eras. Though prophecy is enforced for some now, for others later, it will ultimately be enforced for all.
We can, and should, read the prophets with urgency--with a sense of immediacy and proximity. Certainly their prophecies were written to Israel, but just as certainly they are written for us.
Prophecy has engraved the initials "USA" on a card, and placed it at a certain seat at the table. We -- not the prophets -- are the ones who are late for the party.
But when we get there, we will face the music. And the song remains the same:
You have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN
This is what these words mean:
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain.  (excerpted from Daniel 5:22-30)

Whatever a nation sows -- whether in Babylon, Israel, or America -- it shall surely reap. Sooner or later, now as then, it's only a matter of time.
(1) Acts 10:34; (2) Paul Simon, "Sounds of Silence," 1964; (3) Matthew 23:23; (4) see Matthew 13:35; Revelation 13:8