I never understood the caption until I saw the picture

The Word for today:
Romans 2:17-29

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been accused of having deep scriptural insight. I sort of play along with my accusers because their accusations momentarily bolster my puny ego.

But here’s a revelation that God has confirmed and reconfirmed: if it weren’t for His Cross, I wouldn’t be able to understand anything about His Word. And neither would you.

The Bible–all of it–can be thought of as the caption to the picture of the cross. I know it’s a long caption, but without the picture we wouldn’t understand a word.

For an example of how intellectually (let alone spiritually!) lost we’d be without the cross, I refer you to these back-to-back verses from Romans chapter 1:

For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” (verse 17)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. (verse 18)

The righteousness of God is revealed / the wrath of God is revealed–back-to-back, simultaneously. How’s a man to understand?

God’s Word in general and the book of Romans in particular is just too much for us to comprehend, unless we run every idea past the cross.

For it was at the cross that the righteousness of God was given to every believer at the very same time the wrath of God was being poured out on God Himself. The cross is the only way to make any sense out of seemingly irreconcilable verses like this one:
The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Numbers 14:18)

***

Without the cross, we’d be thoroughly lost!  The cross is not only the one way to salvation, but it is also the one window that is open to spiritual enlightenment.

So don’t scratch your head over the complexities of the book of Romans.  Just take every idea to the cross, and it will all come into focus.

And pretty soon, people will be accusing you of deep scriptural insight! Enjoy their accusations for a while, but then you must confide to them your secret–The Secret of the Cross.

You must admit to one and all that you never understood the caption, until you saw the picure.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Posted in Stand in the Rain Blog | Comments Off

a faith called unbelief — part 2

The Word for today:
Romans 2:1-16

mark this:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

There are times when we can more thoroughly understand what something is by observing what it is not. In order, then, to clarify what faith is we are observing the characteristics of unbelief. Yesterday, in part 1, we examined some of the misleading misconceptions we have concerning faith.

Today we will observe faith from a technical point of view, plainly illustrating the statistical impossibility of a faith called unbelief.

***

We’ve heard the phrase “blind faith.” There is a smidgen of truth in the phrase, since we believe in a God who, except in the incarnation of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, we do not see. However, everything that we do see testifies to his reality. The beauty and order of creation cry out that there is a Creator.

The flawlessly orchestrated cosmos–so dependable that we can point our spaceships at what will be there some decades from now–is reflected in the intricately woven DNA in every molecule of our physical being. The argument from order for the existence of the Creator is overwhelming. The infinite molecular calculation in every blade of grass cries out that premeditated genius, not random accident, is on display.

So let’s consider a series of just ten variables to get a glimpse of just how intelligent the Intelligent Designer has to be:
If I were to number ten pennies from 1 to 10 and mix them in my pocket, my chances of pulling out the number 1 penny would be one in ten. If I place the number 1 penny back in my pocket and mix all the pennies again, the chances of pulling out penny number 2 would be one in a hundred. The chances of repeating the same procedure and coming up with penny number 3 would be one in a thousand. To do so with all of them (1 through 10 in order) would be one in nearly 4 million.

Thus Johannes Kepler–founder of modern astronomy, who discovered the Three Planetary Laws of Motion–said, “The undevout astronomer is mad.”

King David, in the Old Testament, said it this way:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalms 19:1-2)

***

That’s what the stars–and the pennies–are saying. Only a faith called unbelief can distort their unmistakable message:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

There is no evidence for unbelief. Thus it is the blindest of faiths.

In its own way, then, unbelief is a miracle–for, having no basis in fact, it must be created out of nothing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Posted in Stand in the Rain Blog | Comments Off

a faith called unbelief — part 1

The Word for today:
Romans 1:18-32

mark this:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20)

We talk a lot about believing.

But for the next couple of days, in order to understand belief from another angle, we’re going to observe its opposite, unbelief…

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, everything being equal, it is far easier to believe in God than not to believe.

Mark this down somewhere; paint it on the side of your car or the front of your house:
It takes one hell of an act of faith to disbelieve in the Bible and Jesus Christ.

Faith knows no vacuum, so there is no one who has no faith. Some might say they have no faith, but everybody believes–in one thing or another–because faith is the motivating principle of every person’s life; for better or for worse, every person’s life is a by-product of his faith.

Faith is a word that we, wrongly, almost always identify with religion. That is the biggest mistake we make when trying to understand faith. Many people do place their faith in what we think of as religion. But billions of others have a faith which is as far from any notion of religion as it can get. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies on is your god.” I point specifically to the word whatever in Luther’s statement. Faith can be whatever–it can be good, bad, true, false, religious, or irreligious. Whatever moves you to be who and what you are is your faith.

Another great mistake we make about faith is that we are always able to identify it! Many who claim to believe in one thing actually base their lives on something else. A person who claims his faith is in God might actually be living a life motivated by the almighty dollar. He will vehemently deny that the dollar is actually what he trusts, but his denials don’t change the fact that the buck is his god. (An irony of faith is that if a person hands me his checkbook and his day planner, I will tell him what he believes in–whether he acknowledges it or not.)

A person who says his faith is in the Christ of the Bible might actually believe not in Jesus but in belief itself: “If I just believe in something hard enough and sincerely enough, it will materialize.” There is no need for the personal hand of God in that equation because faith itself is what moves his world.

For some, their faith consists of the belief that everything will ultimately turn out good. They might even mix a little Jesus in there, and even a little cross and resurrection! But the resurrection for them is the proof–not the reason–that “Every gray sky will ultimately turn to blue!” Thus their positive faith has no foundation.

***

We’ve heard the phrase “blind faith.” There is a smidgen of truth in the phrase, since we believe in a God who, except in the incarnation of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, we do not see. However, everything that we do see testifies to his reality. The beauty and order of creation cry out that there is a Creator. King David, in the Old Testament, said it this way:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalms 19:1-2)

That’s what the stars are saying. Only a faith called unbelief can distort their unmistakable message.

***
Tomorrow, we’ll hear what a pocketful of pennies is proclaiming. See you then.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Posted in Stand in the Rain Blog | Comments Off

the only way you’ll find yourself is to look for Him

The Word for today:
Romans 1:1-17

mark this:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

You probably never met me, but neither have I.

And I probably never met you, but neither have you…

Who and what you truly are is inextricably bound together with God, so that what was said of David and Jonathan is meant as a picture of Jesus and you:
The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:1)

What is said of David and God in 1 Samuel 25:29 is also meant to depict our inseparable identification with Jesus:
Your life shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God. (1 Samuel 25:29)

In the Bible, we meet Jesus Christ. But the subtext of scripture is that as we meet him we meet ourselves. With that in mind, listen very carefully to these verses, as if you’ve never heard them before:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

***

When Jesus died, you became the righteousness of God in him (1). So as we are reading the Bible–the Revelation of Jesus Christ–there should be a sensation that we are also meeting our true selves for the first time.

As we get to know him, we will increasingly–from faith to faith–come to know ourselves, culminating with this astonishing scripture:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

***

When I was in my formative years, in the 1960′s, people were ceaselessly in search of themselves. But they were looking in all the wrong places,

because God has decreed that the only way you’ll find yourself is to look for Him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1)  2 Corinthians 5:21

Posted in Stand in the Rain Blog | Comments Off

developing the negative

The Word for today:
Proverbs 31

In the old days, before digital everything, photographs were stored on film.

We still use the verb film, but to our younger readers the noun film may be unfamiliar. Film was a plastic strip which (chemically) held an image captured by a camera. We had to go to the store to buy film and then we would take the film back to the store to be developed.

On the film was a negative image; what was actually bright would be seen as dark; what was actually dark would be seen as bright. The developing process turned the negative (what the camera saw) back into a positive (what the eye sees.)

Q. And the point is?
A. The negative can reveal as much information as the positive.

***

We do well to know what’s in the Bible. But what about the things that aren’t in there? Would it be instructive to enter into a study of what’s not?

I think so. Some facets of God’s character are best discerned in absentia.

My favorite in this regard is the word “Thanks.” I was once attempting to convince a class that we presume things about Jesus that may not be there. For instance, I said, Jesus never said “Thank you” to any person, as far as we know. (If you think about it, why would he? He made every atom of our being and every molecule of air that we breathe, then died to give us eternal life–so exactly what is it that he would thank us for?)

Since many people see Jesus more as a Mister Manners than as the Resurrected Redeemer, this omission can be unsettling. I mean, if he didn’t do that, what else might he not have done?

The students were thankful (!) for that disorienting lesson and asked me to “develop the negative” in class more often. So I (contrarian by nature) was only too willing to oblige…

***

The trick is to type a word into your electronic concordance (1) to see what the Bible doesn’t say. (That’s how I first discovered Jesus’ scarce use of “Thanks.”)

One fine Mother’s Day, bored out of my mind as the wife in Proverbs 31 was extolled for the 8th Mother’s Day sermon out of the last 13, I decided to develop the negative in Proverbs 31. As the sermon droned on, I read and re-read Proverbs 31 for what wasn’t there.

Well, I’m happy to report that while developing the negative, I came upon one of the most positive remarks ever encountered in the Bible. The remark is so positive because it’s so rare. Here it is:

“He praises her.” (Proverbs 31:28)

What’s so rare about that? Well, it is one of a just a few times in scripture where the word praise is applied to a person. All other praise is reserved for God.

***

“He praises her.” Notice the ‘s’ on the end of the word praise. That ‘s’ puts praise in the constant present. His praise for her is not in the past or in the future, but in the everlasting now.

So I want you guys to go and praise her (whoever she might be) in the everlasting now. That doesn’t mean wait for Mother’s Day or Sweetheart’s Day or your anniversary or the next full moon; it means now.

Which means stop reading, turn off the computer, and go fulfill the Word of God: He praises her.

There. You’ve proved God’s Word to be prophetic. But don’t wait around expecting Jesus to thank you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) An excellent free Bible/concordance program can be downloaded here.

Posted in Stand in the Rain Blog | Comments Off