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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

subway walls and tenement halls -- part 1

The Word for today:
Micah 3:1-4:7
Are the prophets speaking to America today?
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, now or then.
The last phrase--"now or then"--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.
Though God can -- and does -- delay the application of these spiritual constants, he does not cancel them outright. Their implementation merely awaits another day. Micah, for example, prophesied to both the northern kingdom ("Israel") and to the southern kingdom ("Judah").
When the northern kingdom fell first--to Assyria, during Micah's lifetime--it didn't mean that the southern kingdom was exempted from judgment. Their day was not yet, but it was coming: 150 years later, Judah's "day" was upon them, and they fell to Babylon
God's mercy delays judgment:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
But his mercy does not thwart judgment. In the very next verse of 2 Peter, spiritual "gravity" reasserts itself, and fire engulfs the planet as water did in the days of Noah:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)
From Babylon to Washington, the handwriting is on the wall. We will conclude "subway walls and tenement halls" tomorrow.
(1) Acts 10:34; (2) Paul Simon, "Sounds of Silence," 1964; (3) Matthew 23:23

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Who is like God?

The Word for today:
Micah 1 and 2
Mark this: Micah 7:18-19
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
Did you ever notice that God is a real nick-namer? He often gave names to people--names that captured their essence.
He renamed a guy named "Jacob" (which means "heel grabber" or "deceiver"--probably both) to "Israel" (which means "God's fighter" or "he struggles with God"--probably both).
He renamed the notoriously unstable "Simon," calling him "Peter" instead--a nickname that would translate today to "Rocky." At the time it was like nicknaming a fat guy "Slim," or a bald guy "Curly."  But Peter would live up to it, becoming a pillar of strength for the early church!
The gospel writer John, the "love disciple," didn't start out that way. When some people rejected Jesus, John and his brother James asked Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy them! Jesus, with a wink (I think) nick-named them "Sons of Thunder" on the spot. (1)
The essence of my teaching is that Jesus is "bigger." (How big? "Bigger!")
It's an infinite word for an infinite God. He's bigger than me, bigger than sin, bigger than death, bigger than our problems, and -- literally -- bigger than the cosmos he created. So I hope that God's nickname for me would reflect my ministry of magnification.
That's why I envy Micah -- because his name does reflect the core of his teaching, which is captured in these verses:
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
The key to this book can be found in the meaning of the prophet's name. In Hebrew, Micah means "Who is like God?" or "Who is like Jehovah?"
So "Micah" was most likely a nickname given to this prophet because his message was characterized by the ringing question, "Micah? Micah?"
In the New Testament, Jesus had a cousin whose first name was John. But his last name wasn't "Baptist" or "Baptizer!" That was a name given to him by (I suspect) his cousin. He was nicknamed the Baptizer because, well, that's who he was!
I hope you take a second to step outside yourself long enough to wonder what nickname your life is forming. Nicknames tend to stick, so let's make it a good one.
(1) see Mark 3:17 and Luke 9:54; cf. Mark 9:38

Monday, January 8, 2018

you're Cain until you're Abel

The Word for today:
2 Corinthians 13
mark this: 2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?
All the following traits and activities may characterize a real Christian, but they don't make a person a Christian.
Being born into a Christian family.
You can't inherit Christianity like a genetic trait. Every individual has to make a personal choice to believe in and obey Jesus Christ.
Going to church.
It's a good place to start, but you can go to church every week for your entire life without really knowing God.
Believing in God.
Followers of any number of world religions believe in God. But that doesn't make them Christians.
Praying to God.
Adherents to countless religions all over the world pray. Christians don't have a monopoly on prayer.
Doing good things.
Or at least, not doing bad things. Many atheists live decent lives and even do laudable things for humanity. They would be the first to say they're not Christians. So just being a good person is not enough.
Reading the Bible.
You can read the Bible without applying it to your life. Jesus said, "Blessed are hose who hear the word of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28).
Christians often look like the list above. The problem is that a lot of people who aren't Christians look like that, too. So that list is not at all a reliable indicator.
Probably the best test consists of just one question:
Am I a Cain or an Abel?
God doesn’t want us in suspense about where we stand. So in the first few pages in the Bible (Genesis 4), in the very first family, we find two brothers. Together, they stand as two great systems, two classes of people:
The lost and the saved;
The self-righteous and the broken-spirited;
The formal professor and the genuine believer;
Those who come God’s way and those who go their own way.
Abel came God’s way--
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4)
Cain came his own way, with his own offering. God wanted a lamb brought, which points to the sacrifice of Christ.
The difference between the boys wasn’t a character difference. The difference was the offering they brought.
When you come to God as a sinner, with nothing to offer except the blood of Jesus Christ, then you are a Christian. You are saved and no one can take away your birthright because He won’t let anyone take it away. Mark the day down, and hold yourself a birthright party.
You’re not a Christian by being born in this so-called Christian nation. You’re not a Christian because you were born in a Christian home. You’re not a Christian because you are a member of a Christian church.
You’re a Christian because you individually came to Christ and said, “God save me, a sinner.”
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” 
(Luke 18:9-14)
If you have never come to God on those terms (his terms) I would not let the sun set on another day before that conversation in prayer was held. You might have been teaching Sunday school for 20 years. You might be the pastor. It doesn't matter. By default, we are all Cains until we are Abels:
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
So take stock of your faith--
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
This verse is asking us to examine whether we trust God for our salvation, or whether we trust ourselves for salvation. If it’s Jesus you look to for salvation from sin, then you are in the faith; you passed the examination!
If you are depending on Jesus Christ for eternal life, then welcome home. But if, like Cain, your faith is really in yourself -- in your sparkling personality, your obvious virtue (everybody says you’re a great guy), or in the good deeds you've done -- then you’ve got a prayer to pray:
God save me, a sinner, by the blood of your Only Son, Jesus.
Now, you’re a Christian.