Saturday, February 28, 2015

mercy seat: the connection between the inside and the outside

The Word for today:
Hebrews 9:16-28
mark this: (from Hebrews 9:3-5)
Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place…having the Ark of the Covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.
mark this: Romans 3:23-25/NET
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.
Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Do you have a twin?
These are questions that come to mind when we meet someone who looks so familiar that we could swear we must have met him before.
There are certain scenes in the Bible that should evoke the same questions. Yesterday, we showed pictures--from Genesis, Exodus, and the gospel of John--which looked strikingly alike. In each one of them, angels were stationed at the place where man and God might meet:
From Genesis 3:24:
From Exodus 25:18-22:
From John 20:11-13:
One scene took place at the Garden of Eden. Man and God were together in the garden, but man's sin soon separated them. As Adam and Eve left the garden, cherubim with a flaming sword guarded the way to the tree of life. On the ground next to the entrance was the blood of an animal whose skin provided a temporary covering for their nakedness.
The next scene was from the tabernacle. In the inner compartment--the Holy of Holies--the Ark of the Covenant was covered with a golden lid, called the “mercy seat.” There, only once per year, when the blood of an animal was sprinkled on that lid, God met with one man for just a moment. Cherubim, fashioned from pure gold, were at either end of the mercy seat keeping watch.
Finally, we saw two angels stationed at the tomb where Jesus’ body had lain. But this time something very different happened. Instead of standing between the people and God (as they did at the Garden of Eden); instead of admitting only one person per year (as at the Tabernacle) the angels at Jesus’ empty tomb invited a common person--Mary of Magdala--to come right in and see for herself where Jesus’ body had been.
These three pictures, though much the same, are slightly, progressively, different. They are examples of a poetic technique called “incremental repetition” (which sounds oxymoronic -- How can something change while staying the same?)  The many resemblances between the scenes actually enhance the few slight differences between them.
In the first scene, man was shut out of the Garden altogether, though the sword which kept them out also lighted the way for their future return. Almost unnoticed, a blood atonement (the animal skins) is foreshadowed.
In the second scene, though the blood atonement is ceremonially observed, its effectiveness is limited to just one person and just one moment every year. Nonetheless, the steps of Adam and Eve are retraced in reverse as the high priest enters the Presence of God.
In the third scene, the angels beckon a woman (a picture in reverse of Eve’s banishment) to enter the tomb--which itself is a picture of the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, which itself was a picture of the Garden of Eden where man once enjoyed unhindered access to God.
To emphasize how Jesus, who is the mercy seat (1), had forever obliterated the sin barrier between God and man, the thick curtain that shut the people out of the Holiest Place had been torn, at the moment he died, from top to bottom as if by invisible hands.
The cherubim, who long to look into such things (2), finally got to see what they’d been waiting for. The Garden, the Holy of Holies, Paradise itself (all pictures of God’s Presence) would be closed no more.
Man and God meet at the mercy seat. Like other tabernacle furniture — the lampstand, the laver, the altar, the ark itself, etc. -- the mercy seat pointed to a person. As both Son of Man and Son of God, he is the connection between God and man whom Job had longed for—someone who might lay his hand upon us both (Job 9:33).
On that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene thought she’d seen the gardener, she was right. This last Adam will never let thorns and briers choke the Garden again.
And if Mary should encounter the subtle speech of a serpent, she’ll tell him to go speak to her Husband, this time.
(1) See Romans 3:23-25/NET (above); (2) 1 Peter 1:12

Friday, February 27, 2015

you'll meet him at the mercy seat

The Word for today:
Hebrews 9:1-15
Mark this: Hebrews 9:5
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. (Hebrews 9:1-5)
Pictures can “rhyme” just as well as words can, and maybe even better. Here are three pictures that rhyme:
From Genesis 3:24:
From Exodus 25:18-22:
From John 20:11-13:
These pictures don’t resemble each other by accident. God is visually rhyming theses scenes in order that we see the connection between them. He wants to stir within us the sense that we’ve seen these scenes before and that they are meant to be seen as reflections of each other.
Let’s view them one at a time, with brief captions:
East of Eden, cherubim stand guard at the entrance to the garden. As Adam and Eve looked back, the blood of an animal, slain to provide a covering for their nakedness, darkened the ground just inside the entrance. See Genesis 3:24.
The Ark of the Covenant (in the Tabernacle’s innermost compartment, known as the Most Holy Place) had a golden lid that was known as the “mercy seat.” Cherubim, fashioned of gold with overspreading wings, were stationed on either side of this lid, gazing down upon the place where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. It was here, between the cherubim, where God met with man. See Exodus 25:18-22.
Angels are stationed at the tomb where Jesus’ body had been. See John 20:11-13.
These pictures perform the same function as the chorus (or refrain) does in a song. When we think of the Bible (as we should) as one long song with many verses, these visually repetitive scenes hold the verses together and give the whole “song” a coherent meaning.
Let them do just that for the rest of the day until we reconvene tomorrow, when I will provide some further commentary and connective material (which by that time you won’t even need!)
But before we go, I want to leave you with a pivotal passage that will help you make the connections God wants you to make:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. (Romans 3:23-25/NET)
Let these pictures make their way into your heart and head. Let them settle (as pictures will) deep beneath your consciousness. And may you meet God there, in the innermost compartment between the cherubim.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I don’t want to

The Word for today:
Hebrews 8
mark this: Hebrews 8:10
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Jesus, Hebrews tells us, is the mediator of a better covenant (8:6).
This better covenant is the new covenant that was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews 8:8-12)
A covenant is like a contract. It states the terms and conditions of the relationship between God and man.
If you trust in Jesus for salvation, he takes your place. Where we failed to meet the terms of the covenant with God, Jesus succeeded. At the cross, our failures (sins) became his, while his “success” (righteousness) becomes ours. Jesus paid it all, and we receive the benefits.
Because he fulfilled the conditions of the covenant to the last letter, we are completely forgiven: I will remember their sins no more (8:12).
But that’s not all. There’s far, far more than just subtraction. In addition, we are baptized (saturated through and through) with Jesus’ very own Spirit.
Which means we have a new nature—his nature. Which means this:
But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds so they will understand them, and I will write them on their hearts so they will obey them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Hebrews 8:10/NLT)
The new covenant means that you are new. It means that you don’t want to sin like you used to. It means that because Jesus fulfilled the covenant by paying the price, you’ve got a new Spirit and a new nature that delights to please God.
You are no longer who you were. You are different, new, and transformed. At the very core of who you are--even though your flesh wages war against you and you will from time to time sin--you’ve got a brand-new heart that wants to trust and obey God.
You should re-introduce yourself to yourself, because by the terms of the new covenant there’s a new person where you once stood.
You don’t want to sin and you’ve got the power (of the Holy Spirit) not to.
Go, then, and find out who you are. But remember, the only way to accomplish that is to find out who He is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

the power to do what his heart desires

The Word for today:
Hebrews 7:15-28
Yesterday, we went to the far side. We had some fun with the mystical side of Melchizedek, because I wanted you to get a sense of what we don’t know before I tell you what we do know. We wanted to let you hear deep calling to deep before we brought the subject of Melchizedek back down to earth.
Here, then, is what we know we know, what we need to know, about Melchizedek:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20)
That is the only historical record of Melchizedek in the Bible. What we have just read is all we know of him! That was around 2000 B.C., and for a millennium there is no mention at all of Melchizedek. But in 1000 B.C. the Holy Spirit inspired King David to write—
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psalms 110:4)
There, God declared that he was going to do something so old that it was new. He would bring into history a priest, like Melchizedek, who would also be king. And his priesthood would last forever.
The next mention of him in scripture occurs here in Hebrews:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:1-3)
The dual role of priest-king is shown to be both before the law and above the law (otherwise, it would be against the law!). Priests were to be descended from Aaron (of the tribe of Levi) while kings must be of the tribe of Judah.
But Jesus, from the tribe of Judah and the order of Melchizedek, fulfilled what was promised through Zechariah regarding the Messiah:
He will build the LORD's Temple, and he will receive royal honor and will rule as king from his throne. He will also serve as priest from his throne, and there will be perfect harmony between the two. (Zechariah 6:13)
“Melchizedek” means “King of righteousness.” He is also the King of Salem (‘Shalom’), the King of Peace. This fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 85:10, where righteousness and peace meet (literally, they “kiss each other”) in the person of the Messiah.
No genealogy.
Melchizedek was “without father or mother, without genealogy.” His priesthood, like Jesus’ priesthood to come, was based solely on the call of God, not on heredity.
No beginning / end.
All Levitical priests served limited terms of office—no more than thirty years. Melchizedek, like Jesus to come, would be a priest forever.
Tithing and superiority.
In the ancient world, paying tithes to another was recognition of the other’s superiority. Thus Abraham recognized Melchizedek as a person of transcending preeminence.
Blessing and superiority.
In a formal biblical blessing the superior always blesses the inferior. Abraham, the supreme blesser, through whom all the peoples on the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3), nonetheless sees himself as inferior to Melchizedek and receives his blessing.
Bread and wine.
Melchizedek gave Abraham bread and wine, symbolic of the flesh and blood of Christ, which have secured our righteousness and peace.
Summary: the Priest out-of-order
Year after year, century after century, the priests served God under the Mosaic "economy" (God's specific procedure at any given time). Then suddenly David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, cries out concerning the Messiah, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
Amazingly, a priest is coming who is not after the order of Aaron. His priesthood nullifies the Old Testament sacrifices; consequently, to hang on to the Levitical economy in the time of Jesus Christ is to hang onto something that God has put away. This seemingly out-of-nowhere cry signals a new day and a new way. It marks a radical departure from the past (and should be marked in your Bible!)
The Aaronic priest was only a priest, whereas Jesus is a King Priest.
He not only has compassion, but he has the power to do what his heart desires for his own.
Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek…
Jesus died to bring us into fellowship with God and He lives to maintain that relationship. Since life in scripture is a relationship with God, Jesus not only saved your life yesterday, but he's saving it today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mystery Man, revealed!

The Word for today:
Hebrews 7:1-14
Some names belong on a marquee. ‘Melchizedek’ is certainly one of them.
Melchizedek is a whisper, a promise, a prophecy, and (probably!) a person. He is a King and the Priest of God Most High. He seems to have dropped by on his way from eternity past to eternity future. He offers Abraham, Father of Israel, bread and wine.
His name means "King of Righteousness." He is also King of Salem (‘Shalom’), which means he is the King of Peace.
We learn all of this from a few scant (but loaded) lines in Genesis:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)
And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!"
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Gen 14:18-20)
He comes from out of the blue, stays long enough for three verses, then disappears back into the wild blue yonder from whence he came.
He is not heard of again for a thousand years, until the Holy Spirit loads King David’s pen with this:
The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."
The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:1-4)
His name then disappears from scripture for another thousand years, until all the dots are connected in Hebrews chapter 7 (which we will attempt to summarize tomorrow).
So by the time scripture closes, Melchizedek the marquee mystery man is mentioned once in Genesis, once in Psalms, and 8 times in Hebrews. Which, of course, makes it perfectly clear (to me) that another great Bible mystery man has been identified.
You may want to sit down and perhaps attach your heart monitor, because today, in your hearing, it is being revealed, for the very first time, that the heretofore-unidentified author of Hebrews is none other than…….Melchizedek!
How do I know? I don’t, but you tell me who would have the inside track to all this insight about the High Priest of God Most High other than the High Priest of God Most High, Himself? Who better to reveal the mysteries of Melchizedek than the Mystery Man, Himself?
The book of Hebrews has ‘Melchizedek’ written all over it. Remember that you heard it here first.

Monday, February 23, 2015

by the time he gets to Phoenix

The Word for today:
Hebrews 6:9-20
mark this: Hebrews 6:17-19
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
(Note:  This article was originally published on this date three years ago.)
I've spent the last few days on the road, traveling from college to college, touring the campuses, meeting with professors and coaches and financial aid representatives.
It's nearing crunch time for our son Frankie, who will soon decide where to go to college this September. I, of course, have advised him to go to the University of Phoenix, which has a branch in our house! I'll bet there's a branch in your house, too, because wherever there is a computer with an internet connection, there is the University of Phoenix!
You've heard the phrase "student-athlete.” Well, Frankie is all of the above. His college decision will be driven by a mix of faith, academics, and athletics.
One of Frankie's priorities--athletics--puts the University of Phoenix at a competitive disadvantage, seeing that they have no teams in any sport. But I've tried to convince Frankie that I am the track coach for the University of Phoenix Mice (their mascot, get it?)
Except for the fact that I'm lying, there could be some credibility in my claim. I was a high school track and cross-country coach for a long while, and achieved more than modest success in those positions.
So, embellishing the lie, I tell Frankie that I am the coach of the undefeated U.P. Mice. And not only are my teams undefeated, but every one of my runners is undefeated as well!
As you can see, and as I've often said before, I don't want my sons to go to a college any further away than the little room we call our "library." I'm even thinking of having some "U. P. Mice Track & Field" t-shirts made up; maybe even a hoody (kids love 'em) with "There's a U.P. Mouse in the House" emblazoned across the front and back. That oughtta keep him here.
But, though I’m loath to admit it, even if I were to do all of that, I know one handsome lad, now 18, who won't be at U.P. next year.
And so I've got to ready some advice for the day in late August when Frankie will start the next chapter without his Mom and me there to help him turn the pages.
What I think I might write in his graduation card is Hebrews 6:17-19:
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
These verses have some great nautical imagery, which Frankie will find meaningful. (Frankie and I have done a lot of fishing in an aluminum utility boat that we gussied up to look and perform like a real bass boat. We even home-made our anchors with cement and #10 cans.)
The two unchangeable things that form the flukes of the anchor are God's promises (His Word) backed by God's character (Himself). The guarantor of God’s promises is no less than God. To confirm his promises he swore an oath by himself because there is nothing or no one higher to swear by. To swear by anything lesser would have the effect of making his oath less permanent.
Everyone knows what an anchor is, but a fisherman knows what an anchor means. So, along with a card with these verses written inside, I think I'll give him a homemade anchor and a real man-sized reference Bible in a box. That will make the perfect graduation gift, don't you agree?
Meanwhile, our other son, Eddy, will be entering his senior year in September, so I'm going to make sure he meets the undefeated U.P. track coach. Maybe I won't have to make another anchor next year.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

controlling context

The Word for today:
Hebrews 5:11-6:8
mark this: Hebrews 6:1-9 (see above)
Hebrews 6:1-9 is one of the most variously interpreted passages in scripture. By various interpretations, I mean a real variety show. Commentators weave all over the road (and off the road) on this one.
Some well-known commentators emphasize the ifs in the passage--as if this were all just a hypothetical situation. Amateur that I am, may I say 'balderdash!'
Some well-established commentators have said this is speaking only about professors (not believers) who just mouth the words of belief but don't believe in their hearts. Amateur commentator that I am, may I say 'poppycock!'
Some renowned commentators have said that this refers only to the times in which it was written, when some believers reverted to the Temple worship and sacrifices that were still enacted there. Amateur that I am, may I say, 'hogwash.'
And, worst of all, some commentators say this passage refers to saved believers who have lost their salvation. For these I reserve my best epithet of all: 'bullwhipple!'
Hebrews 6:1-9 is for many Bible readers the most horrifying passage in scripture. And our commentators have done nothing to help them get through it without shattering their spiritual confidence.
Stand in the Rain will not shy away from this passage. (Many of our noble commentators opt to make no comment on these verses.) Stand in the Rain does not approach this passage with the academic and spiritual angst that others have told us this passage deserves. This is due to either one of two premises:
a. Either Stand in the Rain is too obtuse to properly appreciate how inscrutable these verses really are; or
b. Stand in the Rain is too smart to be intimidated by a passage whose context guides us to a clear and authoritative interpretation.
Fearlessly (as always) assuming Premise "b" to be true, we are going to de-mystify this passage by posting a picture of the verses with the important contextual clues circled. Then we are going to guide you through a proper, contextually derived interpretation.
As you can see, there are three phrases circled. We hope you circle them in your Bible as well:
1. Circle this: "A foundation of repentance from dead works"
This first circled phrase is the controlling context for the rest of the passage! It tells us that the "repentance" being spoken of is repentance from a works-based relationship with God instead of a trusting, faith-based relationship. We are not saved by good works, but by trusting in what Jesus achieved for us. So don't slide back to faith in "works." And if you do, repent!
2. Circle this: "It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened…"
Enlightened about what? About the uselessness of the dead works which were spoken of in circle #1, above. Those who keep drifting back into that fallacy will find it harder and harder -- and eventually impossible -- to fully trust in God's grace-based plan of salvation.
3. Circle this: "We feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation."
This phrase makes it clear that what has been discussed above is not salvation itself, but the rewards that those already saved will earn through the faithful use of the spiritual gifts they have been given. Such rewards belong to salvation (or, as the KJV says it, accompany salvation.)  So accompanying rewards are in question here--not salvation itself.
Make no mistake, the warning of Hebrews 6:1-10 is sobering and should cause us to reflect on whether we are slipping back into a relationship with God that we've based on whether we have our halos shined and our goody-goody shoes polished (wrong!) or whether our relationship with God is based (as it should be) on the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

talk the talk, part 2

The Word for today:
Hebrews 4:14-5:10
mark this: Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Yesterday, we discussed the poetic power of scripture in general. Today, we will look at one image--the Sword of the LORD--which shines, cuts, saves, defends, delivers, lances, and conquers all the way from cover to cover in your Bible.
We live in the most graphic of ages. The words "logo" and "icon" are readily understood by school children. My email program no longer uses words like "save" or "delete" or "forward." Instead it uses a disc, a trash can, and an arrow. We get the picture.
We get the picture. But do we give the picture?
The Bible is the most graphic and iconic and theatric of books. It opens in a darkened theater, as it were. Suddenly, somewhere, as if a switch were flipped, a brigade of light invades the darkness, then gives way to a riot of color, sound, and scent as Eden unfolds.
But it's not too long before the idyllic garden is shaken to its roots.
A single tree in the midst is seen, and a single command is heard: "Don't."
But a woman, her judgment twisted by the tactics of the prince of darkness, leader of a moral counterinsurgency, Does. Doubt and death had entered the garden.
She and her husband are banished from the garden. But as they leave, an astounding sight is seen--a flaming sword which guards the way into the garden:
So He drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
That is the first mention of what will become one of the great pictures in all of scripture. It is a picture of the Bible itself--the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
When we see what the sword means, we understand what the Bible's purpose really is.
Let's look closely at the picture. It's a sword, which keeps sin out. But it's also a light that shows the Way for faith to enter.
The Bible's purpose is to show both edges of this two-edged sword:
That the wages of sin is death, and that the free gift of God is life through Jesus Christ (1);
That the soul that sins shall die (2), and that by grace we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ (3).
Also notice that the image of the sword (just like the Bible it represents) is saturated with Christ:
As the light of the world, Jesus shows the way.
And as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Jesus is the way.
The Sword, then, reveals Jesus as the way and the means, the cause and the effect, the all in all.
Eve had fatally succumbed to the Word of the World, the "sword" wielded by Satan, in the garden. The word of the world misrepresents, twists, and distorts God's Word. The word of the world is summed up in Satan's opening line: "Did God really say?" (4)
When Jesus was tempted by Satan (5), Satan used the same tactics. But the word of the world is no match for the Word of God when wielded in faith. The Word of God tore the word of the world to shreds.
Psalm 44:3, my life verse if I have one, contrasts the powerlessness of our own word--
For not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them…
--with the power of the sword-wielding right hand of God:
but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.
Later on, Paul will remind us that, like Eve, we are no match for the legions of darkness without the Sword of the Lord, sharpened and always at the ready:
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)
Finally, in a fearsome sight, the Son of God will return to enforce his word on the whole world. What Satan had seen in single combat, the world will witness at large:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:11-15)
When we think of the Bible as a book, we are not wrong; we are merely prosaic and ineffective, falling short (as we have since Eden) of the glory of God.
But when we think God-thoughts, seeing the Bible as God sees it, then the book in our hands fills the world with light, making sure that the door to the garden is always open.
(1) Romans 6:23; (2) Ezekiel 18:20; (3) Ephesians 2:8; (4) Genesis 3:1; (5) Matthew 4:1-11

Friday, February 20, 2015

talk the talk, part 1

The Word for today:
Hebrew 3:7-4:13
mark this: Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Over the next couple days, we are going to look at the image of the sword as it slashes and flashes from cover to cover in your Bible, all the way from Genesis to Revelation.
But before we do, we must mention that the sword in scripture is hardly ever a sword at all. It is instead a powerful and beautiful poetic device, used to convey deeper truths about the meaning and function of scripture itself, the Word of God.
So, why doesn’t the Bible just come out and say “the Bible” when it means “the Bible.” Why does it say sword instead?
It says sword when it means scripture because poetic imagery has far more emotional, intellectual, and spiritual impact than prose expression can muster.
So today we will consider the power of poetics in general. Tomorrow, the sublime sword of the LORD (an extended metaphor) will flash, cut, lance, conquer, divide, save, deliver, and defend its way all the way from Eden to Gethsemane, from Eve to Jesus, from preincarnation to second Advent--and beyond.
A couple days ago, promoting the benefits of daily deeply diligent Bible study, I wrote this:
And you will keep up, too, if you set before you the great rewards to be had for the struggle: the new vistas of thought; the lilting lyrical language; the deeply profound poetics; the sheer hope and the inexhaustible inspiration that your sweat and tenacity will discover.
“Deeply profound poetics?” What, pray tell, is that all about?
I’ll tell you what that’s all about if you’ll allow me to put it this way: the greatest training for a person who wants to understand the Bible, love the Bible, live the Bible, teach the Bible, or spread the soul-saving Good News is not seminary training but literary training.
The scripture is first of all a story. It has a central character around whom its plot revolves and resolves, and it is never understood until it is understood as a story. Until it is understood and taught in that way, it remains a hodgepodge of loosely connected (if connected at all) statements about God-knows-what.
When I came to faith, later in life than most, and began to study scripture, I was shocked at three things:
1. How powerful the narrative (story) flow of the Bible,
2. How profound the poetics of the Bible,
3. How self-defeating it was that the book was taught with no attempt to incorporate its literary elements.
Is this going to be a screed about the Bible as literature? That phrase—“the Bible as literature” – has gained a bad rep because it’s been the traditional title of the Bible courses taught by unbelievers in secular universities.
But if the Bible were taught by believers--by churches, Sunday schools, and seminaries—as literature instead of as theology (as it is taught) we’d have doubled the saved souls in the kingdom by now. I mean it when I say that until we tell the Bible as it is written—as a story told in poetic, figurative language—then we will never reach this generation.
What do I mean by poetics'Poetics' basically means that we say abstract things in concrete ways. For example, “I love you” is nice, puppy-love sentiment. But it is pure abstraction, and after little Susie hears it 100 times from little Johnny, “I love you” loses whatever freshness and impact it might have once had. So when little Bobby Burns moves into the neighborhood, Johnny loses Susie to a boy whose “I love you” sounds like this:
My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only love,
And fare thee well a while!
And I will come again, my love,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile. (1)
When the great Groom came to seek his Bride, he did not sound like a theologian, or a philosopher. Instead his language was freighted with figurative speech:
I am the Bread of Life;
I am the Door;
I am the Vine.
You are the light of the world;
You are the salt of the earth.
And with story:
The Prodigal Son;
The Good Samaritan;
The Sower;
The Lost Sheep;
The Great banquet.
And with imagery:
A speck and a beam;
Blind men and a ditch;
Wheat and weeds;
Garments, wineskins, and patches.
In fact, he once proclaimed (2) that he would not teach certain audiences at all unless it was through parable (a form of figurative language.) His figurative expression was so constant that in one instance his exasperated disciples expressed relief (3) to hear him speak “plainly” (without using a figure of speech!)
He is our great Teacher, but we don’t teach like he taught, with story and poem. I wonder why? Meanwhile, as we’re saying “I love you” (which is what theology sounds like) little Bobby comes along with a red rose (which is what Jesus sounds like) and steals Susie (and her salvation) out from under our prosaic little noses, kicking sand in our faces to boot.
The church makes a big deal about walking like Jesus. If we want to save souls, we ought to try to talk and teach like Him, too.
So let’s not just walk the walk. Let’s talk the talk.
(1) "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns, Scotland, 1794; (2) Mark 4:34; (3) John 16:29

Thursday, February 19, 2015

if ever I saw an angel

The Word for today:
Hebrews 3:1-6
mark this: Hebrews 1:4-6
This shows that God's Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is far greater than their names.
For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus: "You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”
And again God said, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son."
And then, when he presented his honored Son to the world, God said, "Let all the angels of God worship him."
I don’t get as excited about angels as a lot of other people seem to get.
I just searched through nearly one thousand Stand in the Rain articles and found that the word angel occurs 31 times.
About half of those 31 ‘angels’ are mentioned as part of a phrase, “the angel of the LORD,” which is a title for the pre-incarnate Christ.
So that leaves about 15 more ‘angels’ in three years of daily articles. And almost all of them are in articles that mention angels only because they happened to be on the scene when Jesus was born, or when he resurrected.
That is as it should be--as the angels would be the first ones to tell you! They seem to spend most of their time at the throne of God proclaiming “Holy, holy, holy” (1) — and might actually be embarrassed, even offended, by the attention they receive from some Christian circles.
My reluctance to delve into angel-ology (there’s a real word for that) might be the “Catholic” in my background. When I was a kid, my family went to a church where there were so many statues of saints, Virgin Marys, and angels that you’d be hard pressed to find the statue of Jesus.
(Don’t get your hackles up if you’re a Catholic. I know churches with problems that are a lot worse than an overabundance of statuary, and I know a Bible blogger who has more problems in his single soul than all the rest of the Catholics and Protestants combined.)
Anyway, when I came to the rabid faith I am now subject to (and sometimes enjoy), I determined, like Paul did, to know only Jesus Christ and him crucified (2). So while I tip my hat to many of you living saints, and while I practically have a thing for Mary myself, and while I have a biblical appreciation for angels, regular readers will notice that they are seldom on my mind.
I have even developed a personal theological position on angels that puts them, I think, in their proper biblical place. I won’t bore you with the entire thesis, but I will quote a footnote (from the November 15, 2011 edition of Stand in the Rain) that gives you the gist:
This writer is of the opinion that angels accompanied Israel, but have been supplanted by the resident presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers today. However, I am not dogmatic on this issue, and would not be surprised to find out I'm wrong! But right or wrong, the protection and guidance of the omnipotent and omniscient Spirit cannot be enhanced by the presence of a created being, so the question of angel involvement with the church today (while interesting) is merely academic.
I tell you all this for one reason—to establish my angel-cred! Because all my angel skepticism makes me the most credible source for a possible angel sighting, which happened once upon a time, on a hot midsummer afternoon, in a state far, far away…
I once spent a summer at Indiana University, mooching off my sister who was a graduate student there. Her academic advisor was a young medieval classics professor who was said to be brilliant. I don’t know about all of that, but she sure was good-looking for a professor in Indiana. (In fact she would have stood out as strikingly good-looking among all the starlets in Hollywood.) Anyway, this young professor was writing a book about, of all things, angels.
Unregistered, unmatriculated, not at all interested in angels, and only somewhat interested in medieval classics, I still found my way into the back row of this professor’s lectures. They were graduate summer classes, which can be notoriously laid back, so she often digressed about her book-in-the-making. (She could have talked about the Transylvanian commodities market and exactly half the class would have remained attentive.)
I can’t remember much, in particular, of anything she said except for her response to a question she was asked by the quiet guy who always sat in the back row right next to me. It was toward the end of the summer, maybe the last class before exams, when he stood up (unusual in itself) and asked, “Is there anything in your book about Jesus?”
“No, of course not,” she smiled dismissively, “my book is about angels.”
The young man sat down. You could feel that the entire room resented his intrusive and invasive question—loaded, as it was, with the unsettling J-word and transported behind secular lines.
For the next couple minutes, while the class was winding down, I studied his face for what I expected would be signs of embarrassment or fluster. What I saw instead was something quite like nobility and even majesty, yet without a hint of arrogance or condescension. He looked, as they say, like he owned the joint---and the ground it was built on.
When the class was over, he bent to pick his books off the floor. When he straightened up and rose to leave, he turned directly toward me and said, “Angels exist to exalt Jesus. They have no other mission.”
And then he was gone.
I can’t remember now what the beautiful professor even looked like, whether she was blonde or brunette. But I have never forgotten the deep and unwavering gaze of the quiet man in the back row who saw right through the situation and brought honor to the name of Jesus in the most unlikely of places.
If ever I saw an angel, it was he.
(1) Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8; (2) 1 Corinthians 2:2