Too Long?

Did you know that Psalm 119 has 10 synonyms for the word of God? Having lived three score and 10+ years I can honestly say that the Bible is God’s medicine chest for me. It contains every medicine I will ever need to cure any spiritual disease I might have. Check out these synonyms:

Way: a particular course or direction set for us to follow.

Law: a rule of conduct or procedure to govern me along the right way.

Testimonies: evidence from real people in real situations telling me how to live in story form.

Precepts: a principle that takes precedent over cultural norms of society that helped mold me.

Commands: directions given with irreversible authority directly telling me how to live.

Statutes: guidance from the collection of rules established by God’s authority.

Judgments: a testing my faith to strengthen it.

Word: speaking to my heart by the Holy Spirit comfort and contentment.

Righteousness: setting a standard for me, that if I apply, will set me living without guilt or sin.

Truth: the supreme reality; the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

There are 162 verses in Psalms 119 and many have said that is just way too long. Robert D. Foster tells this story about Psalm 119:

“The Bishop of Edinburgh, unwilling to yield to the king of England, found himself on the hangman’s scaffold availing himself to the custom of the times, he was permitted the choice of a song to be sung before his death. He selected Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the song had been sung, a pardon arrived and his life was spared.” [The Challenge, January 1, 2007] Sometimes longer is life-saving!

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 MSG)

Road Map

It is not hard to see that we live in a world with decreasing standards. I love that I can count on the Bible to give me rock solid foundation for living. In my journey through life toward the city of God, the question I have often asked myself is simply “how can I remain uncontaminated. I can’t speak for anyone else but in my experience, but my road can get really muddy or really dusty. It is hard to keep from getting muddy or dusty at times. And there is only one way that I know of to keep from getting dirty and that is walking according to the principles that God has so clearly laid out for us as a road map, no matter what the conditions of the journey. “Blessed are those who live without blame. They live in keeping with the law of the LORD.” [Psalm 119:1 NIrV]

Ed Nobel talked a lot about habits this past few weeks. One of the important habits is consistently obeying God’s rules for conduct. There are just two basic rules for living. First, have the right attitude toward God. Second, have the right attitude toward man. And where do I learn what that attitude should be? By reading and applying what I read. Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. I have learned that I experience the most happiness and contentment when I learned to become habituated to consistent listening and responding to God in obedience.

Make no mistake. I am not talking about religious habits that make us think that we are something special to God and therefore have a certain holiness by obeying certain rules. What I am talking about is having conversation and action that is without hypocrisy. What I desire is that my will should be brought into alignment with God’s purpose. I want to experience unbroken fellowship with Jesus. Psalm 119 is the possibility psalm. It is really a clear statement of what I can experience when I believe what God says and then walk by faith according to his promises. God promises that my life will be blameless in His eyes if I follow His lead.

All people have the possibility of genuine contentment but few take the right way that God has laid out for us to follow. God has established a hedgerow for us to live within and when we get obstinate and break out of the hedgerow by doing what we shouldn’t we end up with consequences not to our liking. And then we blame God or others.

Not About Religion

Generally today, when someone talks uses the word ‘religion’ they mean a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teaching of some denomination or some cult like leader. The Apostle Paul considered himself on top of the pile when it came to strict religion. In his words: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” [Gal 1:13 ESV]

The real issue of religion is that we have forgotten the source of Christian religion. We have forgotten the Bible. It is not just a collection of musty writings from long-ago out of touch old men. God wants to reveal His story and His vision for us.  Religion according to God is learning to find the pathway to Him so that we can live satisfying lives. James, the step brother of Jesus, was not always a Christ follower. Later in life he had this to say about religion: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” [Jam 1:27 ESV]

At least two or three times a year, we can pick up the newspaper and find some article on how a christian group or leader has fallen. All too often, the source of the fall is embedded in the avoidance of God and not taking seriously personal interaction with Him. This is not about tradition, public practices, parental upbringings or backgrounds. This is about personal relationship with the Sovereign Living God.

So, when you read your Bible, are you focusing on the events you are reading about? Are you possible focusing on how questionable they sound? Or are you focusing on how God is defining life for you? Do you see life-shaping issues in your life that God might want you to trust Him with? You know the stuff I am talking about … those thoughts and actions that simply will not go away no matter what you do.

Yes? Then the very next time that you sit down and start reading your Bible, pause just for 15 seconds and simply ask God to “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” [Psa 119:18 ESV] “Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle-wonders.” [MSG]

Try it. Seek God were He can be found. He will find you.

Supernaturally Speaking

Many people will tell you that the universe is void and empty. Since there is no one out there then there is silence. But if we listen, we will find that the universe was created by God and therefore is fundamentally personal. There is a story out there. If we are related to the Lord Jesus than we are part of the bigger story being written called His story. If we are willing to listen then we will hear God speaking in a multitude of different ways. It is supernatural. We strive today to be informed as to the latest happenings and events. We hate being uninformed so we attach to many streams of social media. We look for trending. But without a connection to the Creator of the universe, we are being led astray. We are influenced by mute idols. Because we refuse or are confused by all of the chatter in the world does not mean that God has stopped talking.

Under the old code, diversity was not tolerated. There were no options to obeying the code. It was unity under the code or penalty of separation or worse, death. 2000 years ago God updated the code. He undertook a new humanity project and this was all about unity through diversity. Under the old code there was a rupture causing alienation in our relationship with the Creator. God, wanting to repair the rupture, came to the earth as Jesus, who headed up this new humanity project. Jesus bridged the rupture and created a new man. It was like Gandalf suddenly showed up on our door step and our relationship to the Shire was never the same again. Here is the problem. Nothing makes sense in the Bible unless we are rightly related to the Author who is speaking supernaturally to us.

A View from a Flyleaf …

The following article contains an imaginative reconstruction of the life of a Bible through the Bible’s eyes – pieced together from information found on the flyleaf of an actual Bible in China.

I came off my press in 1992 so by China’s standards, I was a fairly new Bible.  However, since I did not come off an official press I had disadvantages.  My paper was not very thin, so I was a thick book…nearly four inches thick.  That immediately gave me away as an illegal Bible.  Also my cover was cheap and made of paper, so whenever I traveled, it had to be clandestinely.  My first trip was at the bottom of an old suitcase down among the socks and underwear.  The owner did not dare to take me out and read me on the train journey.  We arrived in the north of China and I was taken to a small house where there was a class of sixteen house church leaders.  They were overjoyed to see me.  It seemed I was the only Bible they had there.  Perhaps because of that I was actually roped to the table, so that no one could steal me.  Then the students would arrange to read me in two-hour blocs, even through the night.  I was in constant use.  They would read me with a grubby finger, often sounding the words aloud.  I heard all their emotions as they read – puzzlement, anger, joy and peace.

A year of constant use began to take its toll and I had to be refurbished twice; once re-glued, and the other time re-covered.  Every two months a few women from the house churches would come and spend hours with me copying my pages.  The students used to get irritated at that time because they could not read me.  The women copied me around the clock for a week each time.  They were directed to certain books.  One of them copied the prophet Isaiah in a week but mostly they copied the Gospels, Acts, Romans and Revelation.

Suddenly the school was raided.  I was jerked out of my rope and carried off by a policeman.  Two students ended in jail for possessing me.

I found myself in a dark cupboard in the policeman’s house.  But I was not alone.  He had a fifteen-year old daughter that used to creep downstairs at night and read me by candlelight right there in the cupboard.  It was very cold for her.  She was only in her night-shirt and her skin often turned blue.  But she read me quietly, hardly daring to breathe as she turned the pages.

After a few months she actually smuggled me away from there in her school satchel.  Perhaps she thought her father would never notice.  Anyway I was passed into the hands of a young itinerant evangelist who treasured me as if I was a baby.  He would wrap me in his luggage and cycle from village to village.  He rarely had time to read me himself but when he would preach, he would turn to a few of his favorite passages, read me and then preach.  He loved preaching from Romans Three and on the parables of Jesus.  He would weep as he preached, his tears falling on my open pages in great drops, smudging the print.

But after a few months someone robbed him, stole me and I found myself in a house full of incense.  It seems my new owner was a Taoist priest and for a while I lay on his altar to his ancestors, flanked by two oranges and a bag of nuts.  But a visitor saw me and shrieked in horror warning the man what trouble he would be in if others saw me.  This intrigued the priest so he began to leaf through me.  But he could not read very well so he invited a local Christian to come and explain some passages.

A month later I saw them both on their knees, confessing their sins to God and trusting Jesus.  The next thing I knew the altar had gone.  Soon there were groups meeting in the house – mainly because I was there.  I was read aloud and then they would sit and discuss the words until it was very late.  Once they took me out to the fields and when they stopped planting rice they gathered everyone around and read me.  But the leader of the work unit grew angry, grabbed me and began to stand on me, pressing me into the mud.  To my surprise, the others rose up and threw him in the mud.  But I was sodden and half-ruined.  They took me back and tried to dry me out but it was too late.

After a conference they decided to burn the spoiled parts, then to split up the remaining books and sew each one with thread.  So I became thirty-one books instead of just one.  But that is when I lost my flyleaf and so my tale must end.

Unending book!

“…the word of the Lord stands forever…” 1 Peter 1:25

As a new Christian I some older Christians challenged me to develop the habit of reading my Bible daily. I took up the challenge eagerly. About half way through reading the Bible cover to cover, I suddenly wondered “What am I going to do after I finish … there will be nothing left to read!”  I asked my Christian mentors and they said something like “You could read the Bible for a lifetime and not ‘scratch the surface.” At the time I did not believe them. But over the years I have found that there just is no other book like the Bible. In my 70 years of living I have found no  human being that would have written a philosophy for living to such a high standard. The Bible speaks from outside the human condition. I think that it was Martin Luther who said: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” I have found that the Bible creates a sense of God’s presence that forces a reaction in public places. I can lay a newspaper on my table in a Starbucks and no one gives me a second look. However, when I lay my Bible on the table I get looks. Some see the Bible and then stare as they walk by as if I am going to jump up and preach! So for the last 50 years I have worked on maintaining a daily reading schedule. The Bible is and will be the last word. ‘The Word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us to what we really are’ (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).

“See, I have told you beforehand.” Jesus

Judgment Day on May 21, 2011?

For months now there have been billboards on freeways and flyers circulating about the coming judgment of God on the world.  People are asking questions as to how can anyone teach that Christ’s return will happen on a particular day?  Some Christians have seen this phenomenon predicted more than once in their lives and so chalk it up to a nut-case.  Some Christians see the billboards and wonder because they do not know their Bible.  Some Christians read what appears to be a Godly pamphlet and wonder if they have missed something.  And Satan smiles with delight.

Last week I was out doing my daily walk, noticed an eight-page pamphlet on the sidewalk claiming “THE END OF THE WORLD IS ALMOST HERE!”  Picking it up I skimmed through it as I walked and found nothing obviously or blatantly wrong … as a matter of fact it sounded really evangelical.  I folded it up and stuck it in my pocket for further analysis.  What I discovered is a lie couched in some bible verses.  Here are some excerpts:

“…about 35 years ago God began to open the true believers’ understanding of the timeline of history. Thus it was discovered that the Bible teaches that when the events of the past are coordinated with our modern calendar, we can learn dates of history … However, it was not until a very few years ago that the accurate knowledge of the entire timeline of history was revealed to true believers by God from the Bible.”  It continues on by saying: “During these past several years God has been revealing a great many truths, which have been completely hidden in the Bible until this time when we are so near the end of the world.”

“Several years ago we had learned that the silence in Heaven for about half an hour referred to the 2,300 days that were the first part of the 23-year (exactly 8,400 days) Great Tribulation period. This period began on May 21, 1988. It was during this 2,300-day period that, both in the churches and throughout the world, very few, if any, were saved.”

“We had learned that May 21, 1988 was the last day of the church age and was also the first day of the 23-year period of Great Tribulation, during which Satan has been employed by God to officially rule all of the churches as well as the whole world. During the first 2,300 days of this 8,400-day period the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from all of the churches as well as the entire world. This produced silence in Heaven. However, beginning 2,300 days after May 21, 1988 (the end of the church age), the Holy Spirit was again poured out, producing what the Bible calls the “latter rain” (Zechariah 10:1; James 5:7) throughout the world (but not in any church), and God began a final great harvest of salvation, bringing great joy in Heaven. This salvation is not occurring in any church, but will continue outside of the churches to the end of the Great Tribulation, on May 21, 2011.[1]

Jesus, in His own words told the disciples: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” [Act 1:7] Jesus, the Master Teacher did not make mistakes or have after thoughts about what He spoke about.  The tone of what He plainly said “It is not for you to know…” seems to imply that we can ask but we will not get an answer.  Jesus spoke these words as He was departing from the disciples.  They were asking questions that were running through their collective minds.  These were troubling times for them.  I agree with one commentator who said that this was a rebuke to them and a cautionary statement for the church down through the ages.  Beware of getting focused on the wrong things; intruding into things that I have expressly stated as forbidden knowledge.  The implication for the church is there are limits to our curiosity.  In other words: “…concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” [This is quoting Jesus from Mat 24:36]  Finding scriptural evidence to the contrary of what Jesus spoke plainly about is walking into Satan’s trap.

I am reminded of Gen 3:1 where we have the account of Eve’s walking into Satan’s trap. “Now the serpent was craftier than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  We seem to feel that we know more than God and that we should understand more than we are capable of understanding.  Eve looked at the tree and saw it was good looking fruit.  Instead of remembering exactly what God had told them about this particular tree, she missed the subtle shift that Satan included in his misquoting God.  God said: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Gen 2:16-17]  Satan, always the liar, quoted God as saying: ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’

Like Eve, we miss what is right because we fail to remember to go to the Source of all knowledge.  Instead we create perplexing questions that take our eyes off of Jesus.  By doing that we miss the very next thing that Jesus told His inquiring disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Act 1:8] You are asking about end times but that question is irrelevant to the business that I want you as my church to be about.  Being my witnesses is you work now and in the future until I change it.

Jesus warned clearly that the church would encounter people creating parties and factions.  Jesus warned that Satan appears as an angel of light so that he can deceive people with the greatest evil with a convincing show of what appears good.  Jesus warns that Satan will incite men who pretend that they have some special insight or divine inspiration that runs outside of the Word of God but it is a lie.  Jesus warns that Satan will take advantage when there is trouble that threatens our security; people will seek out anything that looks like salvation.

Mat 24:5 “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” Verse 24: “… false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Jesus warns us to be watchful by paying attention to all of His words!  “See, I have told you beforehand.” [Mat 24:25]

What do we do when tempted?

Here is the narrative about what Jesus did when He was tempted:

Matthew 4:1-11  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Mat 4:5  Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Mat 4:8  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.   And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was marked by His baptism by John the Baptist.  But before He could be allowed to start, there was one more test from God His Father.  The Holy Spirit led [some translations will read “drove”] Jesus into the wilderness.  This was not a friendly place to be.  He was alone and there were wild animals that lived in the area.  Once the Holy Spirit had taken Jesus to the location picked by God, Jesus started a fast that lasted 40-days.  But the fasting was not the primary trial.  After 40-days, a malevolent angel approaches Him.

We are not given much data from the Scriptures as to the physical appearance of the devil after his fall.  But the words used in the Bible give some clues.  Devil means slanderer in the Greek.  In the language of Hebrew, it means “adversary.”  He is an arch-enemy of God and is determined to undermine man’s spiritual interest.  Matthew’s narrative is focused on what Jesus experienced and not on the evil one providing the temptations.  It is clear from the narrative that the devil wants Jesus to act on His own outside the will of His Father.  Jesus makes it clear by His responses that anyone can keep themselves from temptation if they focus on God and the Word that He has given us.  Every quote used by Jesus was well known by the Jewish people.  There is a clear lesson here for us today…but on with the narrative.

The devil thinks that Jesus will surely fail during one of three temptations.  First the accuser tries to get Jesus to take matters into His own hands by creating bread…40-days without food would make for a famished man [v.3].  Jesus responds with a God-principle and does not take the bait.

Next the accuser tries to tempt Jesus into manipulating God to respond to Jesus doing an act of suicide.  Again Jesus quotes another God-principle…reminding the devil that he was on dangerous ground.

Having failed twice, the devil now tries the temptation of power because he knows that power corrupts men because of their pride.  One can almost sense from the narrative that the devil feels sure that this is the temptation that means success for him.  But Jesus gives a command for Satan to immediately leave followed by a reminder of the 1st commandment…a command from God Himself.  Satan leaves on Jesus’ command but his pride causes him to wait for another opportunity.

There would be other opportunities.  Jesus walked and talked a life before God that was based on choice.  He did not let hunger which put Him into a weakened state to and dominate His thinking.  He kept His eyes on His Father.  We face choices all the time.  Do we think about where they might be coming from?  Satan wants to accuse us.  He wants to divide us.  He wants us to take our eyes off of Jesus and look elsewhere for help.  Everything about our life is a matter of choice.  Follow Jesus and keep your eyes on Him.