Wednesday, April 25, 2018

every word -- part 1

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 6
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
“Why do we study the Bible?” “What’s in it for me?” “Where does it take me?”
When I’m asked those questions, I point to Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 for the answers. Since that is where we are, we’ll field those questions, one at a time, over the next few days.
***
“Why should we study the Bible?”
The best answer is found right here:
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
I could rest my case on that testimony alone, but I won’t -- because I want to take you to an astonishing New Testament passage where the incarnate Word of God echoes the written Word of God concerning every word of God:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."
But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:1-4)
That is why we should study the Bible. Any way we slice it or dice it, Moses (quoting God) and Jesus (quoting Moses, quoting God) say that our spiritual life is unsustainable without daily ingestion of God's Word.
Now let’s see what else Deuteronomy has to say on this subject:
"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
We should teach it, talk it, walk it, sleep on it, awaken to it, tie it to our hands, paste it to our heads, spray-paint it on the front door and on the toll booth!
Tomorrow, we will.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I fought the law -- and we both won

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 4:41-5:33
I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7)
Since we’ve already read the Ten Commandments (in Exodus chapter 20) I don’t think it’s necessary for us to go through them again, one by one.
This time, instead of repeating them individually, let’s talk about the Law collectively, as a whole.
The Law gives us a glimpse into the genius of God. (These are some radical precepts, so hang on…)
1. The Law, though it cannot save us, is not a failure:
The law itself is holy and right and good. (Romans 7:12)
The law itself is good. The problem is with us:
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. (Romans 8:3)
The law is weak through the “flesh” – our sinful nature. If you’ve ever roasted a large chicken in the oven, then tried to lift the whole roasted bird out of the pan with tongs, you might have found out that the tongs were strong enough to lift the chicken, but the chicken disintegrated and fell to the floor!
Think of the law as those tongs — able, on its own, to lift us. Then think of us as the roasted bird!
2. The Law was given to increase sin:
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. (Romans 5:20a)
Why in the world would God want to increase sin? A famous Bible story shows us why:
In Luke 18 a tax collector (think “Mafia”) was praying. As he did, he was so ashamed that he would not even lift his eyes toward heaven. His prayer asked only for mercy:
“God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”
Nearby, a Pharisee (think “Pastor”) was inviting God to pat him on the back for being such a wonderful guy:
"God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector."
Here’s Jesus’ assessment of the scene:
“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God."
The Law is a truth teller. Although the truth the Law tells us about ourselves may temporarily hurt, it is actually meant to eternally heal. With that in mind, let’s look again at Romans 5:20a:
The law was added so that the trespass might increase...
Now let’s add the rest of the verse:
...but where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (Romans 5:20b)
The Law, the truth-teller, had gotten through to the tax collector, leaving him in perfect position to receive God’s unearned, unmerited, and undeserved grace.
If it weren’t for the Law, we wouldn’t have a prayer.
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Monday, April 23, 2018

Doth the Lady protest too much?

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 4:1-40
And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power. (Deuteronomy 4:37)
***
Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don't waste my time, Show me!
Don't talk of June, Don't talk of fall!
Don't talk at all! Show me! 

("Show Me," from the musical "My Fair Lady")
We spent the last couple days talking about musical declarations of love for Jesus. I wondered whether some of those songs are appropriate for a public setting. It wasn’t until the very end of a two-part article that we got around to what the Bible says love for God should look like:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
 (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
OK, we should love God, but how is that accomplished? The Bible makes it clear that obedience is man’s response to God’s love:
If you love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
***
In the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) God models a very important axiom of true love: Show, then Tell.
We are not aware that he is modeling this axiom until we get all the way to Deuteronomy 4:37:
And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power.
Deuteronomy 4:37 is the first time in the Bible that God tells anybody he loved them. But he has demonstrated it from the first verse in Genesis.  We would do well to emulate God by letting our obedience demonstrate our love for him. Whether or not we ever get around to saying ‘love’ is very nearly immaterial.
In the great book of Psalms, which is the Bible’s collection of worship songs, I was able to locate just two verses where the Psalmist tells God that he loves Him. Here they are:
I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. (Psalm 116:1)
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder, as we proclaim our lavish love for God every Sunday, whether our protestations of love are, as they should be, the exclamation point following a week of obedience.
If the Bride of Christ has not first demonstrated love by her obedience, then her 'love' is just a word that was never made flesh.
Sometimes I get the feeling, as we sing our ardent love songs to Jesus, that the Lady doth protest too much.
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Sunday, April 22, 2018

heard it in a love song (can't be wrong) -- part 2

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 3
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
If you love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
Yesterday, in part 1, we sampled a few lyrics from the current rash of "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs which have made their way into our churches. (If you aren't aware of this particular genre, we hope you'll click here to see what you haven't been missing.)
Part 1 concluded with these thoughts:

"Though (I guess) these songs are meant to be understood figuratively, I still fail to see how they advance an individual’s relationship to God. And when the song is over, it’s still not over; its effects linger in the air. I’m not offended as much as I am disturbed and saddened.
What saddens me is how many young guys, like my own sons, find these songs either faintly or overtly creepy and thus determine, mid-song, that they can’t wait to get out, and stay out, of anything resembling “church.”
To a large segment of the people we are trying to reach, such songs can be terminal to any possible relationship that they might develop with Jesus. They, and I, would feel more comfortable in the company of snake handlers.
With so many songs to choose from, why these? And even if someone might personally benefit from them, what are they doing in church?"
***
What disturbs me most about these songs is not the fact that they could be written about anybody’s boyfriend. What really bothers me is that they could be written about anybody’s false god. There is very little that is specific to Jesus Christ in these lyrics.
To keep things in perspective, I must say that the church has far bigger problems than this one. I don’t want to overstate the issue, so if you’ll allow me just a few scriptural precepts, I’ll be making my way towards the door:
1. There is nothing in Scripture which resembles these lyrics in tone or content. That does not make them wrong, per se, or unscriptural. But if we must sing them, could they at least be labeled “Other than Scriptural” or “Religiously Generic” (sort of like “X-mas” songs).
2. I say this very gently and respectfully, because most people (I hope) do sing these songs figuratively. So let me review a biblical figure of speech --the bride of Christ (1)-- which seems to be operative in these songs:
No one ever marries Jesus, even metaphorically. It’s the church (at large) and not the individual who is the scriptural “Bride of Christ.” Furthermore, “bride” is used figuratively to represent the spiritual faithfulness of the church -- as contrasted to the prostitute or adulterous wife, who figuratively represents spiritual unfaithfulness.
The predominant biblical description of our relationship to God is that we are children of God the Father by virtue of our relationship to his Son Jesus Christ (2). Believers have the same Father because we have the same Brother.
3. Love is a many-splendored thing, and that is precisely why the New Testament, in its original Greek, was careful to designate carnal love as “eros” and the love relationship we have with God as “agape.” It seems to me that to describe agape in terms of eros is unseemly at best.
4. Finally, back to our reading schedule. The theme of Deuteronomy, which we are just beginning, is to love and obey God:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
OK, we should love God, but how is that accomplished? The Bible makes it clear that obedience is man’s response to God’s love:
If you love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
And while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt if the love lyrics we sing to him could never be mistaken for words we might direct towards the junior accountant three cubicles over.
Just sayin'.
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(1) The phrase "Bride of Christ" does not specifically appear in your Bible, but it can be inferred from 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27, 32; Revelation 19:6-8; 21:2, 9.
(2) See Romans 8:29 and Hebrews 2:11-13

Saturday, April 21, 2018

heard it in a love song (can't be wrong) -- part 1

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 2
May I be frank?
Well, I already am. That’s my name.
I thought I’d start out with some disarming drivel because what I’m about to say will step on some toes:
I can’t stomach the prevalent “Jesus is my boyfriend” theme that seems to have permeated Christian music.
And you might, rightly, say to me, “Then turn to another station.” But I don’t listen to Christian music on the radio, which is optional. I’m getting more than my fill of it at church (which is less optional), and I'm left with very few places to “turn.”
In seemingly every church, some overwrought singer is gushing every Sunday about his or her desire to feel Jesus’ heartbeat. If it weren’t for the name Jesus (which is sometimes in the chorus) and the fact that I’m in a church, there is absolutely no difference between these lyrics and the pining of a moonstruck 7th grader who has developed a rampant crush for her paperboy:
“Draw Me Close”
Draw me close to You, never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear You say that I'm Your friend
You are my desire no one else will do
'Cause nothing else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace
Help me find the way, bring me back to You
If I may be both frank and curt, Yuck!
Here (if you can stand it) is another example. This one is called (wouldn’t you know it) “Hold Me.” Though not by the same composer, it sounds as if the moonstruck lass in “Draw Me Close” graduated from high school, got a job, and is now pining for the junior accountant in the third cubicle to the right:
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You hold me)
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You hold me)
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You hold me)
(I love, I love, I love, I love the way You, the way Ya, the way Ya)
I've had a long day I just wanna relax
Don't have time for my friends, no time to chit-chat
Problems at my job, wonderin' what to do
I know I should be working, but I'm thinking of You and
Just when I feel this crazy world is gonna bring me down
That's when Your smile comes around
Oo, I love the way You hold me, by my side You'll always be
You take each and everyday, make it special in some way
I love the way You hold me, in Your arms I'll always be
You take each and everyday, make it special in some way
I love You more than the words in my brain can express
Oh my!
"Your Love is Extravagant"
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant
Oh dear!
And, finally, the song that gave me the heebie jeebies just 5 days ago in church :
I wanna sit at your feet.
Drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breathe, hear your heart beat
This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming.
The lyrics on paper are unsettling enough, but you should have seen the accompanying look on this dame's face as she sang them. OMG!
There is very nearly nothing in this recent rash of songs which separates them from the carnal realm. Which makes it impossible to stand next to my sons during these songs without longing to disappear beneath the floorboards.
Though (I guess) these songs are meant to be understood figuratively, I still fail to see how they advance an individual’s relationship to God. And when the song is over, it’s still not over; its effects linger in the air. I’m not offended as much as I am disturbed and saddened.
What saddens me is how many young guys, like my own sons, find these songs either faintly or overtly creepy and thus determine, mid-song, that they can’t wait to get out, and stay out, of anything resembling “church.”
To a large segment of the people we are trying to reach, such songs can be terminal to any possible relationship that they might have developed with Jesus. They, and I, would feel more comfortable in the company of snake handlers.
With so many songs to choose from, why these? And even if someone might personally benefit from such songs, what are such songs doing in church?
***
Alright, I've had my say. Tomorrow we will see if the Bible has anything to say about some of the issues I've raised.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, April 20, 2018

yours for the taking

The Word for today:
Deuteronomy 1
“Deuteronomy.”
Literally, it means “the second law.” But that’s a little misleading. Actually, Deuteronomy tells the eternal “law” to the next generation. Same Word, new hearers.
Behind them, in the wilderness, was a national cemetery -- an entire generation who would not enter the land.
From that generation, only Caleb and Joshua -- the men of faith -- would cross over Jordan into the Promised Land:
I said to you, "You have now come to the mountain country of the Amorites, to the land the Lord our God will give us. Look, here it is! Go up and take it. Then all of you came to me and said, "Let's send men before us to spy out the land. They can come back and tell us about the way we should go and the cities we will find." I thought that was a good idea, so I chose twelve of your men, one for each tribe. They left and went up to the mountains, and when they came to the Valley of Eshcol they explored it. They took some of the fruit from that land and brought it down to us, saying, "It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us." But you refused to go. When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and made an oath, saying, "I promised a good land to your ancestors, but none of you evil people will see it. Only Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun and your little children that you said would be captured will go into the land. I will give the land to them, and they will take it for their own.” (excerpted from Deuteronomy 1:20-39)
Let’s stop right here to hammer a precept home. Though I know the precept and you know the precept, let’s hammer it deeper into our souls:
The Land, though promised to all, was only entered by those who believed. This principal prevails all the way to the cross. Let’s listen, again, to the Bible’s most well-known verse:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16/KJV)
The Promised Land, and the greater Promise of salvation through Jesus Christ, are given to all:
God so loved the entire world, and every last soul within it, that he gave…
But the promises are received only by those who believe:
…that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The fact that all are not saved can never be charged to God’s side of the covenant equation. God is a universal giver, but the people are not, universally, takers.
Jesus Christ urged his disciples to Take, and eat (1). We associate the phrase with the communion service, but we should not confine it to a ceremony.
It should also be applied to the milk and honey of the Promised Land, and to the fruit of the Spirit.
They are yours, for the taking.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Matthew 26:26

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Please pass the salt.

The Word for today:
Mark 9:30-50
Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves... (Mark 9:50)
The sins that get the most attention are known as sins of commission. They are sins that we do: we get drunk, we have adulterous affairs, we gossip, we surf porn sites, we steal, and we kill. These sins of commission are the kind that make the six o’clock news.
Not as newsworthy, but just as spiritually grievous, are sins of omission. They are the things we don’t do: we don’t forgive, we don’t help when we should, we don’t stand up against evil, we don’t give a damn when a damn should be given. It’s hard to show something that didn’t happen on the 11 o’clock news, so while sins of omission generate sermons and preachy editorials, they don’t generate as much buzz as sins of commission do.
But the sins of commission or omission are just surface sins compared with sins of being.
Don’t look up the term, because I just made it up. These sins are not about what we do or don’t do, but about who we are.
Jesus alludes to these under-the-surface sins in today’s reading when he says,
Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? (Mark 9:30)
I make soups and stews, and I know how bland they are without salt. So I think (1) that Jesus is urging us to let his influence permeate our being like salt permeates a stew and makes it palatable.
We have been so consumed with doing -- or not doing -- the surface stuff that we’ve forgotten to let his Person permeate to the core.
If we want the world to taste and see that the LORD is good (2), then we must, as Jesus said, have salt in ourselves. (Mark 9:50)
So, for myself and for the entire church, I pray, “Please pass the salt.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) If you peruse the commentaries, you will see various interpretations of this passage. Most of them mention salt’s preservative properties and derive their interpretation from there. But, silly me, I read the word flavor and I hear Jesus mentioning salt’s seasoning properties. So I’ll go with my unschooled eye and ear, and derive my interpretation from there.
(2) Psalm 34:8