The Word is the Word

John 1:1-3 (ESV)

john1_1-newgalleryOn November 13, 1963, an American surf rock band known as the Trashmen  released a crazy song called “Surfin’ Bird.”  This insanely catchy song asked, “Don’t you know about the bird?”  The answer: “Everybody knows that the bird is the word!”  Though a completely mindless song, it became very popular, so popular that it was featured on an episode of Family Guy years later (ironically, the episode’s title was “I Dream of Jesus”!) -source Wikipedia, “Surfin’ Bird, accessed 12/14/18.

No disrespect to the Trashmen (or Peter Griffin), but the bird is not the word.  Only the Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the word.  All puns aside, the Word is the most important “word” ever to be made known to Man.  But what does John mean by “the Word?”

To the Jews of John’s day, “the Word” was used “as a way of referring to God” (NIV Study Bible, Copyright 1985 by The Zondervan Corporation).  It was a descriptive yet simple way of describing the mind, thoughts, and personality of God.  Simply put, it was Who He is.  The writer of Hebrews expresses this idea when he says that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).  The apostle Paul describes Jesus and His Divinity in similar terms: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15).

When John speaks of Jesus as “the Word,” he was also using a term familiar to Gentiles of his day.  To the Greek mind of the First Century, the term “meant the rational principle that governs all things” (Ibid.).  It was basically the mind (hence, the Person) that created and oversaw everything.  So John took this description of “the Word” and applied it (rightly so) to Jesus.

He said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.”  In this often-confused statement, John describes Jesus as being pre-existent, equal with God, and Divine Himself.  He also defines Him as being a male human, since he calls this Word a “him.”  “All things were made though him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (emphasis mine).  Throughout Scripture, the members of the Trinity are always described as male, though the Father and the Spirit do not have physical bodies (John 4:24; 14:16-17; 16:8; 2 Cor. 3:17; etc.).  The Bible’s human authors were not chauvinists; they were simply writing what and how the Spirit of God directed them to (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

So why is “the Word” the word?  Because He must be jesus-the-wordspoken about to others.  He must be the constant thought of our minds.  He must be the topic of our conversations always.  His virgin birth, sinless life, ministry, terrible suffering and death, burial, and resurrection are absolutes when declaring the Gospel to our lost world.  His imminent return is important for us to share as well, so that people will know there is a day of judgment coming and they must be prepared.

This is the word we must speak: “the Word” of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Anything less is not worth our short time on this earth.  The Word is the word because He is the only One Who can prepare us for eternity (John 14:6).  An eternity that is “Word-less” is hopeless.

hugging word

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When God Rises and Rests

2 Chronicles 6:41-42 (CSB)

As King Solomon concluded his prayer for God’s blessing on the finished Temple, he focused on the coming of the Lord’s presence and power.  Solomon knew that this House was just an empty shell if the Lord was not there.  Using words akin to Moses’ prayer in Numbers 10:35-36, Solomon asked for just a few things, none of which were directly for himself.

rise up

First, Solomon asked for the Lord to “arise.”  Why ask for that?  Because the ark of the covenant was being moved and placed in the Temple.  The ark symbolized the presence of God.  It was called “the mercy seat” because it was there that sinners could meet with God and find mercy at His throne.  As the ark was lifted by poles to the shoulders of the Levites, the rising of God was portrayed to all.may god arise

Next, God was asked to come to His resting place.  Why call this House God’s “resting place?”  Does He ever grow tired?  Of course not!  “Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep” (Psa. 121:4).  The Hebrew word for “rest” here denotes a place of “quiet” (i.e. a place of peace).  So the Lord is asked to come to make His House a place of peace and rest.  It echoes Jesus’ invitation to us to “come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Continuing his prayer of blessing, Solomon asks that the Lord’s “priests” would “be clothed with salvation.”  Not only would the priests know the way of salvation, but they would be clothed with it.  They were to be a living illustration of the Lord’s salvation.  This speaks of the garments they wore when ministering to the Lord.  Each item represented a particular aspect of man’s relationship to God brought about by His salvation.  The priestly robes remind us that we are all ministers of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).  The headgear represents the crown of righteousness we have received to rule and reign with Jesus (see 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:10, 26-27; 20:4).  The precious gems worn by the priests over their chest were representative of the twelve tribes of Israel, who were considered God’s precious possession (see Ex. 2815-21; Tit. 2:14).  Indeed, everything they wore had a salvific meaning and purpose.

priest

Now Solomon asks for the Lord’s “faithful people (to) rejoice in goodness.”  When the people of God are faithful in their love, worship, and service to Him, they cannot fail to “rejoice in goodness.”  The blessing of the Lord is upon them, and He only gives good gifts (James 1:17).

Finally, Solomon asks the Lord to “not reject your anointed one; remember the promises to your servant David.”  This is the only petition Solomon made for himself and his descendants.  He knew he was God’s “anointed one” whose purpose was to build this Temple and direct God’s people to walk with Him.  But he also knew his own sinful heart.  He knew he could not take God’s blessings for granted by living unfaithfully.  Instead of basing his requests on his own righteousness, he based them on the promises God had made to his father David.

These promises were profound and prophetic.  The Lord promised to raise up a son for David and establish his kingdom.  This son would build a house for His name and would have an everlasting kingdom.  God’s faithful love would never leave him even if/when he erred and needed discipline.  David’s own house and kingdom would endure forever (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16).  These promises were only partially fulfilled in Solomon, but are fully realized through the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

When God rises and rests, amazing things happen!  Salvation is made known, nations are blessed, and promises fulfilled.  Our final rest is with God, through Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:1, 6, 9-11).  I look forward to it!  I hope you do too!arise

 

Leave Me Alone!

Luke 17:3-4 (ESV)

Throughout my time in the ministry (over 21 years currently), I have run into some people who were just plain difficult to deal with.  You know the type I mean: those who raise your blood pressure just being around them; those who seem to think it’s their mission in life to disagree with you on everything; those who just seem to rub you the wrong way even just thinking about them.  I have tried a few different approaches of dealing with these disagreeable people that I would like to share with you.

My first method of dealing with difficult people is to pray for them.  It could be they’re just going through a tough time and need some help bearing their burdens.  They may not ever ask for help; that doesn’t matter.  Pray for God to give them strength in their weakness.  Ask the Lord to bless them and provide forgiveness, courage, mercy, and grace where it’s needed.  Plead with God to change them, not so that they just agree with you, but so that there will be unity in the body of Christ.

If change does not seem to come in the disagreeable person’s life, the next method may be in order.  Pray that the Lord would move them out of your life.  Be careful here, though!  It may be that God put them in your life for the purpose of testing your faith or making you more steadfast in your commitment to Christ.  It may even be God’s answer to your prayer for patience!  (Never pray for patience unless you really, really want it!)  Do not jump to this second method quickly!

The third method involves less of the difficult person and more of yourself.  It took me longer to learn this one, mainly because I don’t like to see my own faults.  In this method, we pray for God to change us.  It is very possible that we are the real disagreeable persons and have hidden the truth behind a heavy veil of self-righteousness.  I have been guilty of this too many times.  I would pray and pray for the Lord to “move ’em or change ’em,” not realizing that I was the one who needed to be changed.

Notice in our present passage of Scripture that Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves!” (emphasis mine).  It all begins with a correct evaluation of your own life and walk with Christ.  “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  Once again, the focus is not on the sinning brother or sister, but on you.  He is your brother who sins.  You are to forgive him, even if he sins against you “seven times in the day.”  This number should not be held to legalistically or literally.  It simply means that you are to forgive the sinning brother no matter how many times they sin against you (compare Matt. 18:21, 22).

Jesus’ words are very forceful and direct: “you must forgive him.” (emphasis mine).  In the process of offering forgiveness, our hearts are changed towards the disagreeable one.  We no longer have hatred, anger, enmity, or ill-will lodged there.  Now we are filled with love, acceptance, and a genuine desire for good to our brother.

It could very well be that the order of these three methods is incorrect.  Maybe we should start by asking God to change us.  If that does not seem to bring the desired effects, we can then ask Him to change the other person.  Our last resort should be asking the Lord to move them out of our lives.  He has brought them into our lives for a reason.  Let Him fulfill His purpose!

Dealing with difficult people doesn’t have to become a difficult problem if we go to the Lord constantly in prayer.  I’ve seen God answer these requests for me so many times.  Sometimes He changes the other person; sometimes He moves them; most times He changes me.  That’s what makes difficulties so useful.  They are used by God to make us who He wants us to be.

alone child children close up

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Singing in the Rain

Psalm 137:1-6 (ESV)

I have always loved to sing.  I’ve only had one professional vocal lesson in my whole life, but I’m thankful for it, and I still remember what I learned.  For many years I sang in church choirs, quartets, trios, duets, and as a solo.  I even sang for a time with a Southern Gospel quartet.  The joy that filled my heart in those days was beyond measure.  But there are times when singing is difficult.  I’m not talking about when you have a sore throat, though that definitely makes singing hard.  What I mean is the times when the heart is heavy and singing does not come naturally.  It’s like trying to sing in the rain.

The psalmist here is describing the worst period in Israel’s history.  They had seen their capital city, Jerusalem, destroyed and leveled.  Their beautiful Temple, the House of God, was gone.  Thousands of their loved ones and neighbors had been brutally murdered in the streets.  And now they were in captivity in a strange land, Babylon.  Things could not get any worse.

In the midst of their pain and suffering, their captors asked them to “sing us one of the songs of Zion” (v. 3).  The music of Jerusalem was known in that day as being the best in the world.  It was made for the purpose of worshiping the One True God Jehovah.  It was nothing unusual for these pagan soldiers to ask to hear a sample, but it had a biting effect on the captives as they “sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”

When the heart is filled with sadness, singing does not come to us naturally.  We would rather hang up our lyres on the willows (v. 2) than to sing the praises of anyone or anything.  The heart knows its own sadness, and the last thing we want is to pretend we’re joyful to satisfy others.  In those times we just want to sit down and weep, remembering the good we once knew (v. 1).

And then there is the thought of singing “the Lord’s song in a foreign land” (v. 4).  How can we do that?  Just the thought brings us to revulsion!  It’s as if we are trying to make ourselves happy in the enemy’s house by remembering from whence we came.  How foolish this sounds!  Memories of our past joys and freedoms do nothing but cause anger and frustration for us now.

But remember we must.  To cast aside all thoughts of past blessings will just make us bitter and unhappy people.  That’s why the psalmist said, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!  Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (vv. 5-6).  Though memories may not bring us peace and gladness in difficult times, they will sustain us by reminding us of God’s faithfulness.

The rain will come.  The storms will rage.  The worst things we could ever imagine may eventually happen.  But when they do, we can still be found singing in the rain if we know the Lord Jesus Christ and have experienced His faithfulness.  He has promised to sustain you through all seasons of life, even the rainy ones.  Trust Him to do so, and then start singing in the rain.

The Odd Places

Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

For many years after I became a Christian and an avid student of the Bible, I thought I had a problem.  Every time I read God’s Word I would see something of Jesus.  It didn’t matter if it was the Old or New Testament, the Law, the Prophets, or the Epistles.  Everywhere I read, I saw Jesus.

This “problem” began to really bug me.  I wanted to be able to read the Scriptures and gain an understanding of the time and circumstances in which the human author wrote.  As much as I loved Jesus, I just wanted Him to hide out in the Gospels where (I thought) He belonged.  But the reality hit me one day that what I thought was a problem was actually a great blessing.  Jesus is supposed to be revealed on every line of every page of the Sacred Text!

Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Knowing this truth, I began once again in earnest reading Scripture, searching for the Lord’s appearance everywhere.  What I’ve found is that Jesus shows up in some odd places!  I’d like to share just a few examples with you.

In Numbers 24, we read of Balaam, a prophet-for-hire who was going to receive a bribe to curse the people of Israel.  After a voiceless donkey spoke to him (22:28-30), Balaam’s plans were changed.  Now instead of cursing Israel, he pronounced a series of blessings on them.  Part of at least one of these blessings was a prophecy of the coming of Christ.  “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall come out of Israel” (24:17).  Balaam, the one who spoke these words, was not even a true believer, and would one day soon pay for his folly with his life (31:8b).  This shows us that God can use anyone to declare the praises of Jesus!

Another example of Jesus in odd places is found in the book of Job.  In the midst of Job’s sufferings, having lost everything and everyone that was important to him, he speaks of a living Redeemer who will come one day to rescue him.  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).  In the midst of terrible pain and loss, Jesus is there!

One more odd place must be given before I close.  This one is found in the book of the prophet Daniel, where a vision is seen of “one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7:13-14).  Who else but Jesus can be the one described here?  Hundreds of years before His birth, Jesus was seen by Daniel in glory and power!  This same Jesus will rule over a kingdom “that shall not be destroyed!”

Countless other examples could be given of this phenomenon of Jesus appearing in the odd places.  Many others have written of these things; many holier and godlier than I.  But I hope and pray that through these few examples you would be challenged to see Jesus on every line of Scripture.  This is one of the greatest blessings the Holy Spirit gives to us.  It is the fulfillment of Christ’s own words to us in John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Sweet Holy Spirit, give us a clearer vision of the Savior as we read and study Your precious Word!  Turn Your light upon the odd places so that Jesus, our glorious Lord, may be manifested clearly to us!  May we see the appearance of the “Son of Man” who is the “Son of God” in all of our odd places as we serve and worship You.  For the glory of Jesus’s Name.  Amen.

Forever Faithful God

Psalm 146:6 (HCSB)

For some reason today, this verse just jumped off the page and smacked me silly!  The more I think of it, the more I am amazed, perplexed, and awed by the faithfulness of God.  Take a look with me and check out God’s faithfulness that lasts forever!

Speaking of the Lord, the psalmist says He is “the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them.”  For those who don’t believe in Creation, this means pretty much nothing.  But for those of us who reject Evolution and the Big Bang, this is astounding.  The Lord our God, “the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them,” is a personal God.  He didn’t just make all this, spin it off, and then sit down to watch what would happen.  He’s actively involved with His Creation.  And since we are the height of His Creation, He’s very actively involved with us!

I have no idea how those who don’t believe in God can make it in this life.  Bad things happen, and they have no one to turn to.  Maybe friends and family can help soothe their pains a little, but God who is the ultimate God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3) is absent from their lives.  The Maker is nowhere to be seen in their thoughts or actions.  To them, God is just a non-entity, a figment of our imagination, a good idea, a fairy tale to help us sleep at night.  These things are far from the truth!  And it is truth that God declares and is!

Now for the most astounding part of this verse: “He remains faithful forever.”  What?!  Read that again: “He remains faithful forever.”  Yeah, I know, you’ve heard this all before.  Well stop for a moment and dwell on it.  Let it really sink in.  Meditate on this reality for a little while until it hits you like it hit me.  This God who made all things, who has all power and authority, who never sleeps, who cares more deeply for us than we care even about ourselves, remains faithful forever.

Do you understand the implications of this?  Think of the most faithful, reliable person you know.  Even that individual does not come close to the faithfulness of God!  You want to see some signs of His faithfulness?  Here they are: 1) He executes “justice for the exploited”, 2) He gives “food to the hungry”, 3) “the Lord frees prisoners”, 4) He “opens the eyes of the blind”, 5) He “raises up those who are oppressed”,  6) “the Lord loves the righteous”, 7) He “protects the foreigners”, 8) He “helps the fatherless and the widow”, 9) “He frustrates the ways of the wicked”, and 10) “the Lord reigns forever” (vv. 7-10).  There’s a list of ten absolutes about God that show His forever faithfulness.  No wonder the psalmist ends with “Hallelujah!”

O friend, our God remains faithful forever!  “With Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning” (James 1:17b).  He does all things well from His immensely generous and loving heart.  And His love for you and me can never change because He remains faithful forever!  No matter how badly we blow it (and I know I do almost daily), He remains faithful forever!

O gracious God, You alone are forever faithful!  Our minds cannot comprehend Your faithfulness toward us.  When we consider our own shortcomings, we think faithfulness is an impossible dream.  But Lord, You are so much more than we can imagine!  And so we pray with the psalmist and celebrate Who You are: “Lord, Your faithful love reaches to the heaven, Your faithfulness to the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the highest mountains; Your judgments, like the deepest sea” (Psa. 36:5-6).  We praise You, our God, because You are forever faithful.  Help us to be faithful too.  We desire faithfulness in every area of our lives, and we plea in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Temple or Toy Box?

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

What is a temple?  It is a place or building that has been set apart for a specific purpose, a holy purpose.  It is where believers meet together to worship and serve, and where unbelievers can come and hear the message that will cause them to believe.  With these things in mind, consider how our bodies are temples used by God.

The Apostle Paul asks, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”  Are you not aware of the fact that God has given you a body for a place that the Holy Spirit may reside?  And it’s more than just a residence.  Your body is a temple, a place set apart for a specific, holy purpose.

Why is it then that so many of us treat our bodies as toy boxes instead of temples?  We eat whatever we want, drink whatever we desire, and do things with/to our bodies that are harmful.  I’m not trying to guilt you into a diet, make you a teetotaler, or encourage you to avoid bungee jumping.  What I am advocating is the need for us to be much more considerate of the Holy Spirit within us “whom you have from God.”

The Spirit of God has strong emotions.  He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30).  As the Third Person of the Trinity, He hates sin as much as the Father and Son.  The fire of the Holy Spirit is easily quenched (1 Thess. 5:19) when we live in sin and reject His authority.

But let’s delve a little deeper into the text.  In the context in which Paul is writing, the focus is on sexual sin, specifically sexual immorality (vv. 12-18).  He understood how personal this type of sin really is.  What so many today say is a private choice has huge public effects.  The unwed mother has become an accepted norm in our day, but this was not God’s design.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  God loves unwed mothers and their children, but His design for the family has always been a father and mother together raising their children.  Pornography, adultery, pedophilia, and homosexuality have been approved by many even in the faith community, standing in direct opposition to the Word of God.  These things should not be!

Paul unashamedly declares to us that these things are sin.  They have lasting effects on all involved.  That’s why he forcefully commands us to “flee from sexual immorality” (v. 18a).  Why is it so terribly wrong?  After all, hasn’t God given us these desires for His purpose?  Yes, but they must be fulfilled according to His Word.  “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (v. 18b).  When we choose to follow our sinful desires in this way, we sin against ourselves and God!

Some might say, “Well, it’s my body.  I’ll do what I want with it.”  But Paul tells us, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.”  The option to choose whatever we want to do no longer exists when we realize that we are not our own.  We have been purchased with the price of the blood of Jesus.  To continue to live and act any other way puts us in danger of apostasy!  Our continued disobedience in this area proves that we may never have known Jesus at all (1 John 1:6; 2:3-4; etc.)!

What alternatives do we then have?  We’re left with only one real alternative: “So glorify God in your body.”  But how do we do this?  For each person it is different, yet ultimately the same.  We follow His Word and submit to His will.  We allow the Holy Spirit within us to dictate how we live.  While we follow the Spirit’s guidance, we have peace and purity.  He always leads according to the Word and will of God.  To refuse His direction is to walk outside of the will of God.

So, are we temples or toy boxes?  The choice is ours to make, but it is a very important one.  It will determine the depth of our relationship with Christ forever.  It will cause us to be blessed and accepted by God though rejected by Man, or cause us to slip further into the world’s system.  What is your choice?