The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Theology to Doxology

The word “doxology” means a word of glory to God.  That’s what theology aims to lead us to–doxology.  Not only deeper thinking about gospel doctrines, but also higher praise to the God of the gospel through Jesus Christ.  Paul will take us there.  But he’s got a warning about divisions and a list of hellos from friends first .  . .


“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (16:17-20).

Judaizers are Jewish (professed) Christians who insist Gentiles be circumcised to be justified.  They often trouble Paul’s churches.  Are they whom he warns Romans to watch out for?  Whether they or others, Paul sees their division-causing and obstacle-putting as the work of Satan.  Soon, Paul promises, the “God of peace will . . . crush Satan under your feet”.  Soon when?  Either Paul expects this particular Satanic attack will end soon or he is promising God’s eschatological Judgment Day to dawn shortly.  Having disarmed Satan at the cross (“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”–Colossians 2:16), at the end, the Lord will throw him into hell (“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Paul could be describing some TV evangelists, who pervert the plain truths of the gospel.  On the other hand, denominations, as well as “independent” churches, have been birthed over doctrinal differences.  And, sadly, churches have split over secondary issues or because slanderous tongues sliced up fellow believers.  After 2000 years, we are still struggling to be one in Christ.


Having greeted friends in Rome (16:3-16), Paul now sends greeting from friends with him . . .

“Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen” (16:21-24).

“Timothy” was probably Paul’s closest associate in ministry.  We know him best from the two New Testament letters that bear his name.  “Lucius” may be a variant on Luke or he may be the Antioch prophets and teachers mentioned in Acts 13:1. “Jason” is probably the Jason who hosted Paul in Thessalonica and got beat up for it (Acts 17:5-9).  And “Sosipater” is likely the Sosipater who accompanied Paul from Berea (Acts 20:5).  Why does Paul call the last three men “my relatives”?  Probably because they were fellow Jews, perhaps from Gentile churches, traveling with Paul to deliver the offering for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.

“Tertius” is a scribe.  As was customary then, Paul dictated, Tertius wrote (and said hello).  “Gaius” is probably the Gaius Paul baptized in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14) and who is now hosting him.  “Erastus” is likely the man Paul sent with Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22).  He is also Corinth’s “director of public works”.  “Quartus” is a mystery man mentioned nowhere else in Scripture.

After the family grace prayer-wish and the final “So be it (“Amen”), comes the concluding . . .


“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (16:25-27).

Thus Paul expresses glory to God—“Now to him . . . be glory forever through Jesus Christ!”  Between beginning and end come a catalogue of reasons for giving glory to God  . . .

He “is able”; that is, he has the power . . .

“to establish you”; that is, to fix you so you cannot be moved . . .

“by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ; that is, the good news proclaimed throughout this letter is the means God will powerfully use to fix you immovable . . .

“according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past through the prophetic writings”; that is, this gospel lines up with the “mysterious” words of the prophets and it comes . . .

“by the command of the eternal God”; that is, the gospel has been long hidden by the decree of the God who has no beginning or ending . . .

“so all nations might believe and obey him”; that is, God’s purpose in the gospel proclaimed is that, not only Jews, but from among all Gentile nations, might come a people who will believe and obey him . . .

“to the only wise God”; that is, the only God whose judgments are unsearchable, whose ways can’t be traced out, who needs no counselor. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” (11:36).

To this God be glory forever through Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

* * *

I’ve often thought that our Sunday service order is backwards.  Theology (preaching of God’s Word as Paul did in Romans) should lead to doxology (glorifying God for his Word).  I tried the reverse once or twice.  It didn’t seem to “work”.  So back to backwards.   I think we needed more time, repeated reversals, to “flow” with theology to doxology, preaching to worship.

Doxology is where Romans should bring us.  Well and good to dig deeper into the doctrines.  But when we finally reach the end of such theologically rich writing, we should be driven to our knees with hands lifted to heaven and our lips singing glory to God . . .


More Than Names: Stories

Each of us has a story.  We’re not just a name.  Not just a face in the church congregation.  Each of us has a story.  So it is with the people Paul names and greets at his letter’s closing. . .

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother — a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:1-16).

Phoebe serves as deacon at the Cencheae church, about 5 miles southeast of Corinth, from where Paul is writing.  That he commends Phoebe to the Roman church suggests she carried Paul’s letter to them.  Why a woman?  Would she be less suspect by Roman authorities than a man?  And why her?  In what ways has she “been a benefactor of many” and of Paul?

The remainder of the people named are Rome church members.  We know how Paul knew Priscilla and Aquila (see below).  But how did he know all the others well enough to send personal greetings? (Remember, he had not visited Rome.)

Paul met Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila in Corinth.  The couple had come there when Caesar Claudius banned Jews from Rome in 49 A.D.  Paul calls them his fellow-workers.  Like him, they were leather workers.  But more importantly, they spread the gospel.  How had they “risked their necks” for Paul’s life?  Was it during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19) or elsewhere?  What exactly happened?  They hosted a house church.  Did they lead it?  How had it started?  How many people came?

Epaenetus was “beloved” by Paul.  Why?  How was Epaenetus converted to Christ?  Through Paul?  If not, through whom?  What circumstances drew him to hear the gospel?

The Greek (kopiao) means Mary labored hard among the church against many obstacles.  What kind of hard labor did Mary do?  What were the obstacles?

How were Andronicus and Junia (or Junias) related to Paul?  Why and when were the three arrested and imprisoned?  “Junias” (the Greek is unclear) may be feminine, thus suggesting these were husband and wife.  Why were they prominent “among the apostles”?  Was Junias a female apostle?  In any case, they both had been “sent out”.  By whom?  Where did they preach the gospel?

Why was Ampliatus “beloved” in the Lord by Paul? Ampliatus, Urbanas and Stachys were slave names.  Does Paul greet them because they are slaves?  What does this indicate about the Rome congregation?

Paul calls Apelles “ . . . approved (dokimos) in Christ”.  The word implies he faithfully withstood testing of his faith.  How was he tested?  How did he prevail?

Why did Paul greet the family of Aristobulus?  Had he died and his family fall into Nero’s possession, as some historians claim? If so, there were Christians in the emperor’s household? how?  Who made up that surviving family?  Was Aristobulus the grandson of Herod the Great, as some believe?

How were Paul and Herodian related?

Where was Narcissus?  Why greet his family and not him?  Had he died, and did his family fall into Nero’s possession as some historians claim?  Does that mean Emperor Nero had Christians in his household?

Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis, like Mary, labored hard in the Lord’s work. What exactly did they do?

According to Mark 15:21, Rufus, was the son of Simon of Syrene, who was grabbed by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross when he fell under its weight.  Did Simon become a believer?  Did he tell his story to his sons Rufus and Alexander?  Is that how they became believers?  Why did Paul call him “chosen/elected in the Lord”?  Who was Rufus’ mother?  Why did Paul call her his mother too?

Who were Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas?  Who were “the brothers and sisters who are with them”?  Why did Paul say nothing about them?

 Same with Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Did they, and the five previous, lead house churches, hence the references to those who are with them?   Who were these people?  How did they come to faith in Christ?  What were their lives like before?

Paul ends his greetings urging the Roman church to greet one another, including greetings to them from all the churches of Christ.

* * *

Why write a blog of questions?  Because they hopefully help us realize so much more was happening with the spread of the gospel than the Bible records.  And because, in this case of Paul’s greetings, these questions hopefully help us wonder about their stories.

As I said at the start, each of us has a story.  Each story is unique.  What’s yours?  Pretty ordinary, you say?  Not worth remembering and telling, you think?

Listen!  Every story is outstanding.  Yours.  Mine.

Because each of us who believe are part of His story.  And the story of Christ Jesus is the story that eclipses all others.






Satan Has Asked to Sift You As Wheat

“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’  But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.'” (Luke 22:31-34).

Arrest night, crucifixion eve.
Disciples shape oil lamp shadows on the walls
of the secret upper room.
The betrayer’s been uncovered.
Messiah has foretold his death.
The air hangs dark, ominous, foreboding.

Peter the Rock’s mind races
and rage in his gut roils.
Fist-clenched ready to defend his Lord he stands.
Jesus knows.  Knows Peter’s heart.
And knows this “rock” will soon meet
an enemy darker than Judas,
a foe more evil-bent than Pharisees.

Jesus’ words warn, but kindly:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

To a man, they would be Satan-sifted that night.
They would run, hide, afraid, confused.
Peter would deny Him, despite Jesus’ prayer;
but he would, after tears of shame, turn back.

Faith is vaporous, is it not?
Not solid,
to hold like rock,
to store like gold.
Keeping faith, thus, is tenuous.
It can slip like sand through fingers,
be blown like chaff from wheat.

It is faith Satan seeks to destroy.
When Peter stands fearful,
Satan doesn’t want him arrested and killed.
Satan wants his faith to fail.
Satan craves Peter’s Christ-denial.
Let faith, then, fly like wheat’s chaff!

This is Satan’s game:
To sift us as wheat
That our faith be chaff
blown by the wind.

So Satan sifts me.
His weapons are illnesses,
with accusations:
“How can you trust a silent Savior?
Loving?  No!  He cannot be!
Sovereign?  No!  Else his power would prevail!
Left to your fate, then! To suffer, to die!”

But an enemy darker than disease,
a foe deadlier than cancer,
is Satan in his lies.
He aims not to end my life,
but to end my faith.

I have a Savior, though,
a Mediator who intercedes :
“But I have prayed for you
that your faith fail not.”
It is Christ Jesus, who died,
Yes, who was raised,
who is at he right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.

“And when you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus knows the sifting will come.
Even now in the room’s foreboding darkness,
he can hear Peter’s cursing, denying words,
see Peter’s shame-filled eyes,
feel Peter’s grieving, broken heart.
But Peter’s faith, though sifted thin,
will not fail.
He will turn back
and then must strengthen his brothers,
who, too, have run and doubted and feared.

So I am called,
to think not of myself alone,
but of others Satan-sifted, too.
Christ has prayed for me.
So I have words of faith to write,
prayers of faith to pray,
deeds of faith to do.
I have purpose, mission, calling
despite–no, because of–my weakness.

Pray, Jesus, that my faith fail not.
You are my hope, my plea, my saving grace.
You, arisen, ascended, appear before the Father
on my behalf.
You defanged the devil at the cross
and now stand and pray for my faith,
that it may withstand evil assaults
and triumph in the fight,
until the day of healing when You make me well
or until the day of eternal peace when all battles cease,
when the evil one is hell-bound,
and we are  triumphantly home with You.







Knowing Paul

Fascinating, wouldn’t it be, to sit down with the apostle Paul and get to know him?  I think that’s why we’re drawn to those parts of his letters that reveal the man.  We have many.  The conclusion of Romans is one.  I’ll divide it into two blogs . . .

“I myself feel confident about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.  Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:14-16).

Here’s Paul–secure in grace and worshipful in service.  He believes wholeheartedly that God has given him grace to be Christ’s servant to the Gentiles.  So he’s bold to preach the gospel, even to those who know it and can teach it.  Furthermore,  he sees “his” saved and Spirit-sanctified Gentiles as his offering of worship to God.  In other words, Paul says, “God’s grace is the source of my ministry to Gentiles and God’s praise is the end result of my ministry to Gentiles.”

A teachable moment for today’s church leaders.  Do we see God’s grace as the source of our ministry?  Or our ministerial training as that source?  And do we see the people under our care as a Spirit-sanctified offering we present to God?  Or as a sign of our ministerial success?

“In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God.  For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ.  Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand’” (15:17-21).

Paul clearly claims his achievements.  He’s spread the gospel from southern Palestine, north through Syria, across today’s Turkey, southwest through Greece, and then up to today’s Albania.   His driving desire has been, and still is, where Christ hasn’t been heard.  But if we stop there, we think, “Prideful preacher”.  But Paul’s boasting of Christ.  Christ, he contends, has worked through him by the power of God’s Spirit, both in word proclaimed and deeds of signs and wonders done.

We need leaders who build strong churches and missionaries who plant the gospel solidly.  But too often we brand them “successful”.  Or they write “how-to” books about their methods.  We need leaders who can speak openly about their accomplishments–but make it crystal-clear that the worker is Christ by his Spirit.

“This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.  At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints;  for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things” (15:22-27).

That desire to preach where Christ is unknown  has kept him from Rome.  But, remarkably, there is “no further place for me in these regions” , he wants to fulfill a long-held desire to visit the Roman church on his way to Spain.  (Did he ever make it?  Clement of Rome, writing in the early years of the 2nd century A.D., said, “Paul, having taught righteousness to the whole world, having gone to the limits of the west, and having given testimony before the rulers, thus was removed from the world and taken up into the Holy Place, having become the outstanding model of endurance”.)

In any case, he’s first going to take a 2000-mile detour to Jerusalem (assuming, as most scholars do, that he’s writing from Corinth).  He wants very much to deliver a Gentile collection for the poor Jewish Christian church there.

Paul the delivery man.  Anybody could have done it.  Granted, the apostle to the Gentiles delivering an offering for poor Jews had impact.  But Paul still could have sent someone else.  But “delivery man” wasn’t beneath him.  He was Christ’s servant.  No work was beneath him.

Pastors can’t be custodians too.  But they should be able to bend down to clean up a spill or kneel down to talk to a child.

“So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you.  Amen” (15:28-33).

Paul appeals for prayer “that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea . . . so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy”.  Here’s a tenacious pioneer humble enough to ask the church to pray for him.  But even more his request recognizes that his ministry is subject to God’s will.  ” . . . so that by God’s will I may come to you”.

Maybe his submission to God’s sovereignty is why, when Paul’s prayer wasn’t answered, we never get a hint that Paul felt hopeless.  Even though he was imprisoned, spent months languishing in jail awaiting trial after trial, was shipwrecked and taken to Rome to stand before Caesar, Paul believed the Lord in sovereign control and working for good.

A world-traveling apostle spreading the gospel where it hadn’t gone, yet content with not “running the show”!  Surrendering his will to God’s.  Accepting when his plans fall through and years of suffering drag on instead.  Confident God is sovereign and good.

* * *

We’re not all pastors or missionaries.  But most of us lead in some way–small group leader, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, parent.  The list goes on.  Paul was a leader who not only taught the gospel–he “in-fleshed” it.  Knowing Paul helps us to also.

And doesn’t incarnation lie at the gospel’s heart?





Your Prayers


Through the endless desert,
from oasis to oasis,
Moses led the Israelites.
Freed slaves seeking their Promised Land.
They dragged into Rephidim parched for water.
But Rephidim was desert-dry.
They raged at Moses;
He bore the brunt of their blame.

Amidst the furor fury came from outside.
Warring Amalekites attacked to destroy weaker Israelites.
Moses called Joshua to lead the fight
While he, Aaron and Hur retreated to a nearby hill.
With him, Moses carried the staff of the Lord,
The same staff with which he’d commanded the Sea to part.
He raised it now, over the battle below;
It was the Lord’s war
So long as the staff was held high.

But Moses grew weak
Arms, shoulders, wrists strained
Until the Lord’s staff was barely above ground
And then the Amalekites prevailed.

On either side of Moses, Aaron and Hur stood
Unsure what to do, afraid of the old man’s reaction.
Israel’s fate, though, now laid in their arms.
Quietly, simultaneously,  they grasped the old man’s weakened arms
And hoisted them high, the staff ruling over the fight.
Below the battle changed, almost imperceptibly at first
But now, now it was clear
The outmatched former slaves were putting warrior Amalek to flight.


I’ve thought often of that battle in Exodus 17.  It reminds me that the Lord rules, even over those battles we seem to be losing. Like Moses, I grow weary. My faith weakens as my symptoms grow worse.  I can’t fight alone.

You are Aaron and Hur to me.  Your prayers hold up my faith.  I’ve read your comments on my blog and on Facebook and email:  “We’re praying for you.”   Thank you.  Thank you for standing alongside.  Thank you for sharing your strength in my weakness.  Thank you for believing with me that the Lord is sovereign.  And he wins even the battles we seem to be losing.


Fingers dug into clay, searching for edges to grasp.
Slowly the stubborn roof yielded, the hole widened.
A rooftop for cool summer sleeping
Was becoming a doorway to healing.

The four friends had carted the paralytic on his mat
Across town to Jesus.
The house bulged with listeners, friend and foe alike.
They stood five deep outside
But the four would not be denied.
Their friend had been prisoner to his mat.
Day after day, night after night
He gazed at the clouds–and wondered why the Lord was silent.
His friends, too, lost hope
Until they heard Jesus was near,
Jesus who cleansed a leper
Could surely make a cripple walk!

Sweating and grunting they had dragged their friend up,
Determined, believing they dug the roof open
Until debris fell inside and arms-shielded eyes looked up.
Then  hands reached up to lower a mat and its prisoner.
And the paralytic lay before the Healer.
But Jesus saw more than a cripple, more than a broken roof.
He saw four friends’ faith:
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Pharisees present fumed, only God can forgive sins.
“So you know that I can”, he said to the paralytic,
“Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Silence fell, for a full moment,
Spectators waiting, wondering,
The paralytic unsure he could,
Then he rose, his legs restored.
He grabbed the mat he no longer needed
And with a glance of gratitude up at his friends
He went home.


Thank you for being my friends.  Thank you for carrying me to Jesus with prayers.








Welcome the Different One

Even a small local church contains all kinds of people.  Different people.  That makes unity—real, Christ-like welcoming love—difficult.  In Romans 14:1 through 15:13, Paul addresses the differences in the church over Christian liberty versus personal abstinence.  Paul points out in 14:1-23 that . . .

The strong Christian believes all things are clean (on matters where Scripture is silent).  So, our friend Jonathan is free to drink an occasional beer.  The “weak in faith” Christian believes certain things are unclean.  (Our Mark feels that way about beer-drinking.)  The strong Christian must not cause the weak to stumble in his walk with the Lord. If necessary, he must limit his freedom.  Paul continues that thought in 15:1,2 . . .

“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor” (15:1,2).

John Piper ( comments: “[Paul means . . .] that we should let this joy [of edifying others] free us from bondage to private pleasures that make us indifferent to the good of others.  Love does not seek its own private, limited joy but instead seeks its own joy in the good—the salvation and edification—of others.”

“ . . . building up the neighbor” means not only limiting one’s freedom to keep a brother from stumbling, but gently, patiently helping him understand his abstinence doesn’t commend him to God.  He’s justified by faith in Christ, not faith plus no beer-drinking.  Nevertheless, writes Paul, we “must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building [him] up.”

“For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (14:3,4).

The reason we strong should not please ourselves indifferent to the good of others is Christ.  He is our example.  Paul’s quotes Psalm 69:9 to tell the church that all the insults and abuse and hatred that men hurled at God fell on Christ. 

Christ is our primary example.  But we also have all the Scriptures that instruct us to love our brother and sister.  But Paul is thinking bigger.  He’s thinking of the sanctification process that ends in glorification.  And how we treat our weaker brother is part of that process.  So, writes Paul, let the Scriptures make you steadfast in doing what Christ would do.  Then you may hold onto the hope of one day being conformed to his likeness.

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:5,6).

Paul prays, then, not that the Roman Christians agree on everything, but that they “live in harmony with one another”.  Then “with one voice” they will “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Harmony—like the song of a many-voice choir, some singing soprano, others alto and tenor and bass, all blend together to glorify God in song—is what the church should aim at.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope’” (15:7-12).

Paul shifts from the weak versus the strong to Jew versus Gentile, probably because it was the Christian Jews who had the scruples about not eating certain foods and the Christian Gentiles who understood their freedom in Christ.

Since Christ has welcomed us, Paul reasons, we should welcome one another, differences included.

Paul cites these Old Testament passages to prove that God is saving Gentiles (with all their non-scruples) as well as Jews . . .

“Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”  Paul cites four Old Testament texts that support his contention that Christ included Gentiles in his saving work . . .

  • “Therefore, I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name” (from 2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49).
  • “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” (from Deuteronomy 32:43).
  • Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him” (from Isaiah 11:10).
  • “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope” (from Isaiah 11:10,1).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).

Picking up on “hope” in his last citation Paul calls God “the God of hope” and prays that the Romans “may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.  His prayer focuses on four realities—that the God of hope . . .

  1. Might fill them with joy and peace
  2. As they continue to trust in Christ, so that, as they do, the God of hope
  3. Might cause them to overflow with hope
  4. As they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

They already live in Spirit-empowered joy and peace.  But they can have absolute confidence (hope) that the fullness of the “not yet” is coming, as they “welcome one another”.

* * *

Several years ago “church  (numerical) growth” proponents held that a church will grow larger if leaders aim to attract the same kind of people.  A certain discomfort arises when the church contains the kind of people one doesn’t like.  And, the fewer differences the fewer divisions.

But, of course, unity based on sameness isn’t Christian unity.  A church composed of Jonathans and Marks might explode.  So might a church of African-Americans and white Anglo-Saxens.  Or a church of non-charismatics and charismatics.

But a church with differences like that also has the potential of Christ-like unity–unity that goes deeper than sameness and reaches to the heart.

This is why Paul ends 36 verses of instruction with a prayer.  Only the Holy Spirit can fill us with such joy and peace that we abound in hope.  Hope, not only of being one-day glorified, but of becoming a church where Christ’s welcoming love spreads so deeply in us that it embraces all our differences over secondary issues.














No Surgery

No cancer surgery.  No excision of the 3-inch square of melanoma on my bald head.  That’s what I’ve decided.

Surgery would be same-day.  Wound recover (head excision and chest skin graft) would heal in two weeks.  Return to “normal” in a month.  Without surgery the doctor predicts the cancer will spread within a year.

So why no surgery?  Here are my reasons in random order . . .

  • Doctors, however skilled and sincere, don’t know what will happen.
  • My primary lateral sclerosis is weakening me more week-by-week. Recovery would be a prolonged nightmare.  Throw the surgeon’s recovery projections out the window.  I don’t know how I’d even have the strength to get in the truck after surgery. I’m barely strong enough to transfer from wheelchair to bed and back.
  • What follow-up treatment would be necessary? Would I have to go for regular chemo or immunology treatments in my weakened condition?
  • Will the cancer reappear on my head or elsewhere? Is it the start of ongoing battles with cancer until it wins anyway?
  • Can I trust “God’s Word”? In August this suddenly appeared in my mind:  “I will not die but live, and proclaim the works of the Lord.”  Where’d it come from?  It sounded like Scripture, but where?  My Bible software found it—Psalm 118:17. The psalmist is celebrating a military victory over his enemies, who surely would triumph.  But, no, the LORD had saved the psalmist’s life.  Hence, “I will not die but live, and proclaim the works of the Lord.”  My situation in no way matched his.  Yet I felt the Lord impressing it on me for me.  “I will not die but live, and proclaim the works of the Lord.”  The Lord would spare my life for a time, so that, in my little blog, I could tell of all his works to whomever would read.  Pretty subjective, huh.  I know.  But I do believe the Holy Spirit still does that sort of thing.  I’ve chosen to cling to that word.
  • And to acknowledge another one. In Psalm 31, David seeks refuge in the LORD.  The LORD is his rock and fortress.  He acknowledges his distress—“my strength fails because of my misery” (31:10b).  His adversaries scorn him.  “But I trust in you, O LORD.  I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in your hands” (31:9-15).  The New Jerusalem Bible translates—“every moment of my life is in your hands”.  The New Living Translation—“My future is in your hands”.  I take that to mean that my life is under that Lord’s sovereign control.  PLS or melanoma don’t determine its length; the Lord does.  Surgery may extend my life or not.  But ultimately “my times are in [his] hands.”
  • I read the following from Ken Gire (Intense Moments with the Savior) . . .

“I know I will wrestle with circumstances beyond my control . . .
some sort of suffering will pin me to  the cold, hard ground.
When that happens, Lord Jesus, help me to realize . . .
that my strength is not found in how courageously I struggle
but in how completely I surrender.”

  • I told my daughter, “If I don’t do surgery, I feel like I’m not fighting back, as if I’m just giving in to the       cancer”.  But I’ve had a change of heart. I’m at the point in my life (74 years old, 2 major back surgeries, 1 minimally invasive surgery, countless tests and probes, growing weakness plus multiple other PLS symptoms) where I can’t “fight back” using doctors.  Instead, I have to surrender to whatever the Lord wants.  My strength is found there.
  • Suppose someone sought my counsel. “Pastor, given all the circumstances, what should I do?”  I’d lead him through reasons and risks of not doing surgery.  I’d ask him what he thought the Lord was leading him to do.  We’d pray. Finally, I’d ask him what he thought he should do.  I’d support him either way.  But surely I wouldn’t quench any leading he sensed from the Lord.

This cancer is in the Lord’s hands.  He can let it spread until it eventually takes my life.  He can slow the spread, so I’m “safe” for years.  Or he can stop the spread altogether.  And, of course, he can heal me. (I’ve made it clear to him this is what I prefer.)  He knows my end from my beginning.  My times are in his hands.

Do I sound foolish?  Or a coward for shunning surgery?  Or a spiritual giant for just trusting the Lord (literally) with my life?  I don’t think I’m a fool or a coward.  And I know I’m no spiritual giant.  I’m just an old man beaten down by disease trying to surrender in faith to whatever the Lord wants.

I appreciate your prayers.




I Am He

The woman lugged her empty water jar to the well, as the relentless noonday Samaritan sun beat down on her.  Her heart was as empty as her jar.  A line of five former husbands crowded her mind.  No matter who was at fault.  Each marriage ended.  And the man she now had promised no happier ending.

Noon was the hottest part of the day to fetch water.  But it protected her from the wagging tongues of the town’s women.  So she came when they wouldn’t.

She, a Samaritan, was surprised to find a weary Jew at the well.

“Will you give me a drink?”

Even more surprising that a Jew would ask a favor of a Samaritan. For Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.

“How can you ask me for a drink?”

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

She wondered aloud how he could draw water from the deep well.  From where he would get this “living water”, if he thought himself greater than father Jacob who gave them this well.

“Every one who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up into eternal life.”

She wanted this water.  Forever-thirst-quenching-water meant no more struggling, stealthy trips to the well.

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

His command perplexed her.  She hesitated.  Then claimed to have no husband.

Shockingly, the weary Jew peered down the sad years of her life and agreed.  She’d had five husbands and her current man wasn’t her husband.

“Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim we must worship in Jerusalem.”

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . a time is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

“I know that Messiah is coming.  When he does, he will explain everything to us.”

“I who speak to you am he.”

* * *

I read that encounter in my devotions this morning.  “I who speak to you am he” stopped me in my tracks.

I’d read it dozens of times.  From verse 1 I knew what the Samaritan women didn’t—that the weary Jew who met her was the Messiah.  It no longer startled me that he was weary and dusty.  No longer startled me that he had arranged to travel through Samaria at noon and sent his disciples away for food.  No longer startled me that he chose to give his most profound teaching on worship to a sad, sinful, Samaritan woman under a hot noon sun.

This is what startled me: “I who speak to you am he.”

For this is whose words I was reading.  This was who I was praying to.  This was whose presence I was seeking.  This was the One whom the prophets had promised.  This was God’s “Yes” and “Amen”—the One who will fulfill everything God had promised.

“I who speak to you am he.”

It struck me how easily and often I forget.  I sit before him as if he were . . . well, I don’t know what.  Someone less.  Imaginary almost.

The One whose words I “hear” on the sacred page, the One whose presence I seek to enjoy, the One to whom I make my familiar petitions—is Messiah.

Do I even realize the miracle?  The majesty?  The marvel?  The wonderful mystery?

As I’ve said before, my prayers inevitably are, “Heal me.”  The plea is a frustrated, weary, faith mixed with tiny expectation.  “Heal me; but I’ll be surprised (wonderfully) if you do.”  (I’m not crass enough to say that; but the words hide in my heart.)

“I who speak to you am he.”

The Samaritan woman never asked the Messiah-claiming Jew for anything.  So excited over him, she ran to tell the town’s women (from whom she had hidden) whom she had found.

“Jesus, Messiah.  Catch me up today in the wonder of who you are who speaks to me.  Who seeks me out in my emptiness.  Who comes to me.  Who offers me living water—a well springing up to eternal life.  Reignite my excitement in you.  Renew my wonder over you.  Open my ears to hear you say to me:  “I who speak to you am he.”






Liberty or Love?

Perhaps it’s too bad the church no longer has this problem.  (Or maybe it does and I’m just not aware.)  The problem is caused by those “weak in faith”.  In other words, they believe that certain conduct—about which Scripture is silent—condemns them before God.  I say it’s too bad we don’t have this problem, because we’re not so concerned about holiness as believers once were.  Granted, the “weak in faith” are immature in their convictions.  But they have a genuine desire for holiness we seem to have lost.

In any case, the difference between Christian freedom (our Jonathan is free to have a beer occasionally) and abstinence (our Mark considers it a sin) is creating disunity in the Roman church—and potentially harming the abstaining brother.

“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (14:13).

This statement ties the previous paragraph to today’s text.  Neither the veggies-onlys nor the meat-eaters should judge the other.  Judgment is “a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another”.  It’s like putting a barrier in a runner’s way to keep him from reaching the finish line.  It may block one’s brother from following Christ as he believes he should.

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died” (14:14,15).

Paul is emphatic: “nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean”.  Hear that Mark?  Jonathan’s beer-drinking isn’t unclean.  He’s free to drink (moderately).  Hear that Jonathan?  “if your brother is being injured by what you eat (or drink), you are no longer walking in love.”  Your freedom may entice Mark to violate his conscience and drink.  It may cause Mark to doubt what he believes.  It may drive Mark from the church, presuming that all Christians aren’t really devoted to Christ.  Jonathan, Christ died for Mark.  Don’t let your freedom destroy him!  Mark is “weak in faith”.  Jonathan, you’re “strong”.  You’re responsible:   limit your freedom if it injures your brother.

“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval” (14:16-18).

By “your good” I take Paul to mean your liberty.  If others are speaking of it as “evil”, there’s contention among the church.  They’re arguing.  But over secondary issues.   God’s reign in Christ is about primary things, like “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.  What’s beer by comparison, Jonathan?

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (14:19-21).

Paul’s conclusion can’t be more plain.  “Strong” men, like Jonathan, who know their standing with God isn’t affected by what they drink or eat, must not pursue their liberty, but run after “what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding”.  Everything’s “clean”; but it’s better not to make your brother stumble.

“The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (14:22,23).

The first two sentences are Paul’s way of saying, “Mind your own business”.  Or, “Don’t parade your liberty before others.  Maybe you should have your occasional beer in the privacy of your own home, Jonathan.”

The “weak in faith” Christian must abstain if he has doubts about eating or drinking.  If he can’t eat or drink believing he is free to do so, he must not.  In his belief system, it’s a sin.

* * *

Yes, Jonathan is free to grab a beer.  But not if it causes Mark to stumble in his faith.  The kingdom of God isn’t beer; it’s righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Those are primary issues.  Beer is secondary.  Love must win out over liberty.

It did with Jesus . . .

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will, but as you will.'”
(Matthew 26:39).







Never See Death?

“I . . . drove to another part of town where my aunt lived.  I came to see her, thinking it would probably be the last time I would see her before she died . . . She was in a wheelchair, wearing a faded housedress.  Her hair was gray and stringy; her muscles, atrophied; her skin, like a baby bird’s, thin and translucent to where you could see the embroidery of her veins.  She was frail and looked as if she would break if you hugged her.  I hugged her, and she didn’t.  But she didn’t recognize me either.  She babbled incoherently, repeating a series of syllables.  I tried talking to her, telling her that Judy and the kids said hello and give their best, but she just mumbled on, the same syllables going round and round like a warped record stuck in a groove . . .

When she dies, she will take the family’s entire history with her.  When she dies, there will be no one left to tell the families’ stories . . .  One by one, the others who remembered had died.  Heart attack.  Stroke.  Heart attack.  Now Alzheimer’s.

She couldn’t do anything for herself.  Couldn’t dress herself, feed herself, bathe herself.  She was like a baby, only a baby that weighed something like ninety pounds, which made dressing her and bathing her and putting her to bed an exhausting ordeal.  Her babbling was like a baby’s too, except at time the tone was insistent, even angry . . .

As I got into my car, tears pooled in my eyes.  So this is how it all ends.  This is how we slip out of this world, with all the limitations of a baby but with none of its loveliness.  Every day losing a little bit of our motor skills and a little bit more of our minds.  Every day losing more of our balance and losing more control of our bowels.  Every day losing a little something else until at last there’s little else to lose except life itself . . .

“‘It is better to go to a house of mourning that to go to a house of feasting,’ said Solomon, ‘for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take it to heart’ . . .

The truth is, that is the way of all flesh.  The truth is, that person in the wheelchair who babbles on and can’t remember will be me someday if I live long enough.  Or it will be someone I love.  My mother, maybe.  Or maybe my wife.

“It seems so sad that it all comes down to this.  Oh, I know.  I know there’s resurrection.  I know we get new bodies.  I know that death will be defeated, that all our tears will be wiped away.  I know all that, I believe all that.  But knowing and believing didn’t make that day any less sad for me, didn’t take away the sick feeling I got in the pit of my stomach, didn’t take away the depression that I felt at the futility of it all, or the anger I felt at seeing a whole life wearing down to a housedress of flesh and bones that can’t remember” (Ken Gires, Windows of the Soul, p. 139-141).

Via the Internet, I heard John Piper preach a sermon boldly entitled, “You Will Never See Death.”  No bolder than Jesus’ words from where it came “Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (John 8:51).  Wow!  Are we spared death’s pain?  Does Jesus come at the moment of our dying and snatch us into his presence?  Well, yes.  But, no, we may not be spared suffering.

Lois’ father died of a heart attack.  He fell immediately unconscious, was put on  a respirator, and, as far as I know, never suffered.  My brother also had a heart attack.  His son tried to resuscitate him.  Did he feel pain before he fell unconscious?  Both my parents died suffering.  Especially my father.  Lois’ mother, however, slipped peacefully away.  We sadly watched her “fall asleep”.

We’d prefer instant death or “falling asleep”.  But, we don’t get to choose.  Only God does.

Solomon was right.  Unless Jesus returns first, we will each go the way of all flesh.  And it may mean suffering.  Let the wise take it to heart.  We can’t presume that the path to our Lord’s presence will be painless.  Knowing that won’t remove the sadness, depression or anger.  But, by God’s grace, it may ease them.

But Jesus’ words dare us to hope, dare us to take Solomon’s words with a ray of light.  ” . . . whoever keeps my word will never see death”.  Our body may die painfully, but Jesus will snatch our soul/spirit into his presence.  We will never see death!  We will be away from this old body, but at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Ken Gire’s aunt?  No, we don’t want to think that may be us.  But it may be.  Christ doesn’t promise us freedom from suffering (though he may mercifully give it).  But he does promise ” . . . whoever keeps my word will never see death.”  When our body is finally wasting away, we’ll slip from it snatched from death into his presence.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,
about those who have died,
so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)




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