The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Supremacy

I was surprised at the poll.  In 2015 George Barna found that  56% of all American adults said Jesus is God.  And 62% of all Americans said they’ve made a personal commitment to him that is still important at the time of the poll. If so, Paul’s words in Colossians 1:15-18 may not sound so extreme.  Yet they do to me; besides, I’m skeptical about polls.)

Christology is the study of Christ.  But we can’t study Christ as we’d dissect a frog or explore the history of the hemisphere.  Christ is a living person.  And Paul’s words about him here move us to reverence and awe.  We’re on holy ground.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (1:15).

“He” refers back  to the Son the Father loves (1:13).  “He” is ”the image of the invisible God”.  “ . . . image” is the translation of the Greek eikown.  The Son is the embodiment, living manifestation, form, appearance of “the invisible God”.  God is invisible, a spirit not able to be seen.  But Jesus is God in bodily form.  The unseen God seen.

Philip asks Jesus to show the disciples the Father. Jesus replies, “Don’t you know me Philip? . . . anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8,9).

This, as we used to say, blows my mind.  Jesus, who walked this earth, who got hungry and thirsty and tired, who surrendered to crucifixion and whose tomb was empty on the third day, was God, the Creator of the universe.

He is “the firstborn over all creation”.  Does Paul mean Jesus was birthed first?  The Greek prototokos can refer to the first child in the family.  Or it can refer  to a preeminent one.  The context determines the meaning.  The words that follow—” the firstborn over all creation (not “in” or “of” ) . . . that in everything he might have the supremacy” (1:15,17)—govern the meaning.  Jesus is the firstborn—the preeminent one over all.

Paul is countering the beginnings of a religious philosophy that would blossom in the 2nd century, but was already influencing the Colossians.  Gnostics believed that God is spirit, and spirit is good.  But matter is evil.  The world of matter was mistakenly created by a lesser divinity.  Salvation–the escape from the world of matter to the spirit-realm–came by secret knowledge. Jesus is only a heavenly messenger.  Gnosticism gained notoriety in the 2016 Tom Hanks movie, “The DaVinci Code”.

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (1:16).

Paul gives the basis underlying the Son’s firstborn status.  He is the means by which all things have been created.  This includes  “ . . . things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible”.   In short, nothing anywhere was not created through the Son.

By him galaxies billions of light years from us in space and dust mites in the air around us were created.  So was a summer breeze and the sun’s heat.  A giant oak tree and bothersome weeds.  A bright full moon and a dark night sky.

“whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities . . . “.  Even the invisible realm of angels, good and bad, at work in the world.  The scope of the Son’s “firstborn” creative power encompasses all.

” all things were created . . . for him.”  All that is–mountains, trees, sky, human, rulers and authorities–was created for the Son of God’s glory and exaltation.  As Dr. Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) writes, “He’s . . . the consummation and culmination of every molecule that moves”.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:17).

“He is pro all things . . . ”  Before you and I were born.  Before Lincoln was President.  Before ocean waves licked the shores.  Before all things, the Son was.

And “in him all things soonistayme>” 

“Only recently have astrophysicists been able to offer a substantial hypothesis as to what it is that holds the universe together and keeps it from flying apart. Yet you do not have to be a physicist to know the simple answer!

“Astrophysicists look into the heavens and capture images and data with various scientific instruments. They know that the total mass of all matter is not enough to provide the gravity needed to keep everything in the universe from flying apart. They are left to ponder the question, ‘What is it that is holding the universe together?’

“International teams of astronomers scan stars and galaxies that are unimaginable distances away. Using modern instruments and means of detection, they have detected a mysterious cosmic force and have hypothesized that it may be the answer to the question. They call it ‘dark matter’” (tomorrowsworld.org).

Ah, yes, but what is this “cosmic force”?  What lies behind this “dark matter”?  The coherent power of the Son on God.

“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (1:18).

” . . . head” means the Son is the sovereign, ruling authority of the church universal and each local church in particular.

That he is “the beginning and the firsrborn from among the dead” means he is the founder of a new humanity.  He rose from the dead, never to die again, and is the “firstfruits” of a resurrection promised to all who belong to him.

God’s purpose in all this, writes Paul, is “so that in everything he might have proteuwo”–first place, preeminence,  the highest rank, the greatest glory and exaltation.

With the Colossian heresy in mind, the apostle lays stress on the hierarchy of angelic powers.  Even the cosmic powers and principalities, which apparently received some prominence in that heresy, were created in Christ. Good or bad, all are subject to him as Creator.

* * * *

Barna’s poll claims half the country believes Jesus is God and have made a commitment to him.  But before such an awesome One belief and commitment aren’t enough.  A desire that he might have the supremacy in all things, in our little lives too, is what we must do.

Sedate Worship or Holy Roar?

“I grew up in a rural town in South Australia, where I attended a small country church.  The Christian tradition of my youth was not a particularly animated tribe.  We were reserved, more conservative in the way we expressed ourselves in praise and worship.  On any given Sunday as we were led in traditional hymns (with a smattering of worship choruses), we’d sing along with sincere but subdued hearts.  This is not to say, of course, that celebration wasn’t happening in the pews, but the assumption was that any sort of celebration was personal, internal.  As a general rule, implied though it was, expressions of outward, enthusiastic praise were not practiced” (Darren Whitehead, co-author, Holy Roar).

So begins Holy Roar (co-authored by Chris Tomlin).  My younger daughter gifted me with the book.  It intrigued me.  I’ve never thought much about Israel’s worship.  But this book made me wonder what I’d find  if I could sneak back.  More important is what it suggests for our worship today.

Holy Roar is built around seven Hebrew words.  All are translated “praise” in our English Bibles.  But all have radically different shades of meaning.

YADAH

Yadah means “to revere or worship with extended hands.  To hold out the hands.  To throw a stone or arrow.”

“May all the peoples praise (yadah), O God; may all the people praise (yadah) you” (Psalm 67:3).

“May all the people worship you with extended hands, O God; may all the people hold out their hands in praise to you” (Psalm 67:3).

HALAL

Halal means “to boast, to rave, to shine, to celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.”

“Let them praise (halal) his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149:3).

“Let them be clamorously foolish over his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149:3).

ZAMAR

Zamar means “to make music, to celebrate in song and music, to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument.”

“I will sing a new song to you, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will sing praises (zamar) to you” (Psalm 149:9).

I will sing a new song to you, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will celebrate with music to you” (Psalm 149:9).

TOWDAH

Towdah means “to extend the hand, to give thanks, to confess, to sacrifice praise, to give thanks for things not yet received.”

“In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  Vows made to you are binding upon me, O God.  I will render praises (towdah) to you” (Psalm 56:11,12).

“In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  Vows made to you are binding upon me, O God.  I will give thanks to you for what I have not yet received” (Psalm 56:11,12).

BARAK

Barak means “to kneel, to bless God (as an act of adoration), to praise, to salute, to thank.”

“All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (Psalm 72:11) . . . Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and praise (barak) him all day long” (Psalm 72:15).

“All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (Psalm 72:11) . . . Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and kneel in blessing to him all day long” (Psalm 72:15).

TEHILLAH

Tehillah means “a song to praise, a new song, a spontaneous song.

“But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises (tehillah) of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).

But You are holy, Enthroned in the spontaneous praise songs of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).

SHABAK

Shabak means “to address in a loud tone, to shout, to commend, glory and triumph.”

“One generation will commend (shabak) your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).

“One generation will commend your works with shouts to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).

Free to lift our hands in praise.  Lay aside our inhibitions.   Powerful (or simple) music to draw us into God’s presence.   A sacrifice of praise to God in expectation of what he will yet do.  On our knees in humble adoration.  Spontaneously singing a new song to the Lord.  Freedom to shout in triumphant praise.  That’s the worship to which these words call us.

Please note that these are not the ravings of an extreme charismatic.  They are, according to the Hebrew words, how Israel worshiped.  And I’ve written them here as an encouragement to deepen our practice of praise.

I think every worship team should read this short book together.  (There’s a “Reflection and Discussion” section for each chapter.)

But maybe you’re satisfied with worship at your church.  Just think:  our God is infinite; therefore, our worship should always be deepening.

Holy Roar is available from Amazon–https://www.amazon.com/Holy-Roar-Words-Change-Worship/dp/0692941495/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1533328617&sr=8-1&keywords=holy+roar+book+by+chris+tomlin. 

Praise is available from us.

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer to Please God

We often say to a brother or sister in need, “I’m praying for you.” Seldom do we tell what we’re praying.  To the Colossian church, Paul does.  And he unveils a theologically packed prayer!

PRAYERS

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you  . . . ” (Colossians 1:9a).

Paul tells the Colossians he and his team pray continually for them.  Their praying began when he heard of their “love in the spirit” (1:8).  Here’s another indication that Paul hadn’t planted nor visited the Colossian church.  And it’s another insight into how Paul regularly prayed for the churches.

Then he tells them how he prays for them.  Why?  Here are three possible reasons.  One, this is a teaching moment.  Paul wants them to know what’s important in their church life.  Two, he hopes they will pray this for themselves.  And, three, he wants them to increasingly practice what he prays.

PURPOSE

” . . . and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,” (Colossians 1:9b,10a).

In his prayers Paul “asks that you may be filled with the knowledge of (God’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . “.  Shortly, he’ll explain what he understands God’s will to be for them.  What’s interesting here is the phrase “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”.  The Greek, pneumatikos, is an adjective meaning “belonging to the Spirit” or “in the realm of the Spirit”.  Its contrast is natural human wisdom–wisdom of this fallen world.  Paul prays that the Colossians may know God’s will by the wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives.

A lesson for us:  reading God’s Word to know his will is good, but if we are to gain wisdom and understanding, we need the Spirit to give them.  This is why prayer before reading Scripture is necessary.

To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will is a penultimate purpose.  Paul’s ultimate purpose is “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him in all respects . . . “. This means in Paul’s mind knowledge of God’s will is not enough.  Most important is their conduct as believers—the kind of conduct that can be accounted for only by the Spirit of Christ.  The Greek, areskeia, means “a desire to please”.  Thus, “to please God in all respects” is not letter-of-God’s-law living.  It’s to have a heart to please him.  And only the Spirit can give us that.

PROCESS

Paul prays the Colossians will live a God-pleasing life in four ways.

By bearing fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10a).

In the original Greek, “bearing fruit” is a continual present participle.  The implication is obvious:  fruit-bearing is to be ongoing.

Of course, a vine doesn’t bear fruit by gritting its teeth and pushing.  The life in the vine produces fruit.  So when Paul calls us to please the Lord by bearing fruit, he’s implicitly promising the Spirit’s life to be continually at work.

That doesn’t mean “automatic”.  We have to reach out and do the good work, especially the good work of lovingly serving others according to their need.

Such good news!  Our ordinary lives can bear fruit in good works that honor God and continue the ministry of Christ!

By increasing in the knowledge of God  (Colossians 1:10c)..

Paul doesn’t mean “by gathering more theological information”.  Of course, we have to study the Scriptures and learn theology.  But Paul wants us to increasingly know the person—God as revealed in Jesus.  What does it take to know this infinite God?  Eternity.  But it’s a relationship to cultivate now.

By being strengthened with all power by the might of his glory (Colossians 1:11a)..

This Greek here is particularly interesting.  “ . . . strengthened” translates the Greek dunamo-o—“empowered”.  Empowered with all power by the might (Greek, kratos—denotes strength that gives supremacy) of his glory.  That’s powerful stuff!

Though Paul doesn’t say “through the Spirit”, he does in the companion passage (Ephesians 3:16—”I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being . . . “.).  So the Spirit may well have been in the back of his mind—because it’s through the Spirit we are “empowered with power”.

Disappointingly to me, Paul doesn’t promise power for miracles, but power “for the attaining of all steadfast and patience”.  That implies opposition, trials, hardships. Here is power to endure in the faith.

But how can we be “empowered with all power”?  Pray.  Feed on the Word.  Worship.  Cultivate an attitude of dependency.

By joyously giving thanks to the Father (Colossians 1:11b).

Suppose I don’t feel joyful or thankful? Look how Paul describes the Father—who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12).  Grace.  He has qualified us.  We didn’t run a qualifying lap and ace the time. He qualified us–to “share in the inheritance”.  The idea here is the “saints” each get a portion of the inheritance. “ . . . in light”—in contrast to the “darkness” of the domain of the evil one.

Am I greedy in wishing Paul described the inheritance a bit?  Maybe, but alas, he didn’t.  That it’s glorious is hinted in the reason Paul gives for joyous thanksgiving to the Father:  “For he rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in which we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).

  • “ . . . he rescued us from the domain of darkness”.   “Domain” translates the Greek exousia and means “ruling power” or “sphere of power”. . . “darkness” symbolizes “delusion, sin and Satan”; but God in his Son has “rescued” believers from the tyranny of Satan in the world . . .
  • “ . . . and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”.  When one empire was victorious over another in the ancient word, it was customary to transfer the population of the defeated country to the conqueror’s land, as Assyria did to Israel. So Paul proclaims God has transferred believers to the sphere of power of his beloved Son. . .
  • ” . . . in which we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.  Redemption results from the payment of a great price (the sin-bearing, wrath-enduring crucifixion of God’s beloved Son).  The result of redemption is the forgiveness of our sins.

* * *

” . . . strengthened with all power according to the might of his glory for the attaining of patient endurance”.  I want to hear “power for healing miracles”.  Instead, I get a prayer for power to endure.  Miracles?  Yes, still in the 21st century.  But until the healing comes, patient endurance.

I found this testimony by Pastor J. Hampton Keathley III, who is now with the Lord . . .

“In January 29, 2001, the Lord called my beautiful and faithful wife home to glory. This was after eighteen months of battling a horrible cancer called multiple myeloma. These were the most difficult and heartbreaking months of our nearly forty-two years of life together. Knowing that God is sovereign and able to do whatever He pleases, we prayed for her healing by whatever means He might see fit to use. He could have healed her miraculously or used any of the solutions we sought through alternative and conventional medicine. But, in His infinite wisdom and love, He had other purposes in mind, purposes that would manifest His glory and Christ-likeness both in Kathie and in me as we sought to be steadfast and longsuffering through those painful months and learned to give thanks with joy for what He was doing, even in the midst of our tears. Now that she is with the Savior, I must find God’s strength to endure so that I might go on in His service. But I must do it in such a way that it will glorify God and lead to my own spiritual growth as I learn to live without her lovely presence and support.

Would a miraculous recovery have glorified the Lord? Absolutely, and that certainly would have been my choice and that of our family. But during those difficult months, the testimony of her life—her peace and inner joy, her continued humor and sweetness of character, her lack of complaint and much more—were in many ways a greater miracle, and one that was seen not only by those who knew her, but by the angelic hosts who observe the church. Her life and faith showed that her love for God and the Lord Jesus was not dependent on good or comfortable circumstances. Rather, it was dependent on the grace of God that redeems us from sin and makes us His children, those who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.”

Kathie sets the bar high.  But I, too, must seek to be steadfast and patient and learn to give thanks with joy for what the Lord is doing. Then I will live God-pleasing.   What about you?

 

 

Hospital

I spent three days in the hospital last week.

It all started when coughing woke me 4:45 a.m. I fought to breathe.  Lois phoned 911.  Paramedics, despite my misgivings, loaded me onto a gurney and slid me in an ambulance.  What followed was the roughest ride I’ve ever had.  Don’t they put shocks on these things?

At Bayonet Point Hospital, I was rolled to the ER where they put a huge oxygen mask on me.  I sounded like Darth Vader.  My great primary doctor appeared with assuring words.  They probably did tests; but I don’t remember.  I do remember being wheeled to a room.  Admitted.

So started a series of tests and treatments that continued all hours day and night—blood tests, breathing treatments, temperature, blood pressure, oxygen tests.  The first night (Tuesday) I didn’t get to sleep until 3:30 a.m.  I was given a “better” bed (it was) at about 2:30 a.m.—which meant four nurses dumping me from the less-good to the “better” bed.  I woke weary about 6 a.m.  Pill time.

The second night was slightly better.  I slept five hours, interrupted by more tests.  I again woke weary at 6.  By now, I was crazy to go home.

But the staff was wonderful.  Genuinely caring.  Personable. Professional.  Friendly.  Warm.  I give them an A+.  My primary doctor too.  He visited every day, and took charge of my care.  In my book, he’s one in a million.  Knowledgeable.  Professional.  Putting the patient’s needs above traditional protocol. His diagnosis:  pneumonia.  Even though an x-ray showed little improvement after three days of IV antibiotics, he recognized hospitalization was counter-productive, surrendered to my nagging, and released me.

A muscular CNA shifted me to a wheelchair and bear-hugged me into our daughter Missy’s car.  Free at last!  I dropped from her car into my wheelchair for the ride into the house.  How happy I was to see our dog Scooby Girl!  I think she was happy to have me home too.

I’m still weak.  Need oxygen.  And Lois uses a Hoyer Lift to transfer me from bed to wheelchair.  A big sack of potatoes being hauled around!

What does the future hold?  Hopefully I’ll regain some strength.  My legs are like wet noodles.  Hopefully, too, antibiotic pills will break up congestion in my lungs.

That’s my health report.  Not good.  Now, my God report.  I thank him I’m back home. I thank him for my constant-companion wife and supportive family. I thank him for my caring and pro-active primary doctor. I thank him for every one who prays for me.  And I thank him for the wonderful hospital staff.

But I wonder what God is doing.  I’ve prayed repeatedly for healing.  But the Lord’s been silent.  Should I keep asking, because those who keep asking receive? Or is the Lord saying no–“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness”? Instead of taking my weakness away, does he want to give me power to endure with faith and joy and praise for his honor? I haven’t “heard” a no yet, but there it is in 2 Corinthians.  Maybe I just can’t accept that these closing months/years of my life here must be lived this way. Am I believing or just stubborn?

Almost daily I recall Jesus’ promise . . .

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11)!

Honestly?  It feels like the Father is giving me a stone, not bread.

Then I remember God is sovereign . . .

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11,12).

He “works all things according to the counsel of his will . . . that we should be to the praise of his glory”.

And he works all things for our good . . .

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I guess that all means the “good gifts” he promises to give may not look or feel good, but ultimately are.  So I’m left hanging by finger nails onto his promises, trusting this is all good and, that if I fall, underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Thank you for praying.

Sparrows

The Father attentively sees
even small sparrows.
Jesus said so.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from your Father.”

If the Father doesn’t want
a sparrow to fall,
he’ll hold it up.
If he wants it to fall,
he’ll let it fall–
but he’ll be there.

Jesus is speaking of sparrows to disciples,
who have reason to fear.
Enemies to Jesus have become enemies to them.
They could be killed.
But fear must not be misplaced.

“So do not be afraid;
you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Did Jesus say that with a smile?
Was he stating the obvious?
He wanted them to know
that if the Father values tiny sparrows,
the Father values them far more.

Stating the obvious.
But when we fear for our lives,
we need to hear it.
And not lose sight of the amazing fact
that our Creator-Sovereign-Father
sees sparrows,
and he is present for their flying or falling.

Yes, sparrows fall.
Father, reach out your hand
to catch every falling bird.
Father, reach out your hand
and catch me.
Enemies persecute me
Illness invades,
death comes.
He doesn’t catch me–
not every time.

Every time
that’s a children’s story.
Every falling bird caught.
every illness healed,
every death denied.
A for-now children’s story.

For now in the “real” world
birds fall and die,
pain wracks bodies without pity,
illnesses end in death.

No promise
to save every sparrow.
Or every disciple.
The first disciples
died martyrs.

But, Jesus warned . . .
“Do not fear those who can kill the body,
but cannot kill the soul.”
Kill the body.
The worst enemies can do
–be they persecutors or plague.
Kill the soul.  Only God can do that.
Fear him.
Trust him.
Honor him.

Sparrows fall and die.
But not without the Father.
He is there ruling, caring.
We fall and die.
But not without the Father.
He is there—ruling, caring
And welcoming home.

(Watch the video!
Well, I like it.)

 

Faith and Love: Hope’s Fruit

Diminished hope equals diminished faith and love.  Fervent hope fuels faith and love.  Paul tells of it in Colossians 1:3-8.

Below is the NAU’s translation.  As you can see, it’s one long sentence.  The NAU held true to the original Greek.

“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of you faith in Christ and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of God on our behalf, and he also informed us of you love in the Spirit”.

Having greeted the Colossian church (1:1,2), Paul tells them he thanks God when he prays always for them.  Here, by the way, is insight into Paul’s relationship with the churches:  when he wasn’t with them, he prayed for them.

Paul never visited Colosse; but he heard of their faith and love.  For those two virtues, Paul thanked God.  We have to ask ourselves, “Why thank God for the Colossians faith and love?”  Obviously, because God was the source of their faith and love.

Paul identifies God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Thus Paul establishes the relationship between their Lord (Jesus Messiah) and God.  He will make more extreme claims about that relationship a little later.  With this identity, God is no whomever we believe him to be, but “the Father” of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Colossians’ faith is “in Christ.”  They believe in him.  Trust him.  Stake their lives on him.

Paul had heard, not only of the Colossians’ faith, but their “love . . . for all the saints.”  This implies that Paul heard, not only of their confessions of faith, but their acts of faith—that is, their “love . . . for all the saints”.  Implicitly, their faith “worked” in love.  And that love was not selective.  It was for “all” God’s holy people.  We can assume some were less “lovable” than others; but none were unloved!

Why such faith and love?  As we said above, God was the source.  But God didn’t just drop faith and love in their heart.  They had faith and practiced love, “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you.”  This hope isn’t a wish; it’s an expectation promised in that the gospel.

  The Colossians “heard the word . . . ”  It was spoken and they heard it.  So today the gospel must be verbally proclaimed.  And it’s not any word; its “the word of truth”.

We, of course, have “evolved” to the point of my truth and your truth.  No objective, absolute truth, except when it serves our purposes.  But when Paul uses it, he means “reality”–the way it really is.  If he’s speaking of our hope through Christ’s resurrection, he means historical reality.  My truth versus your truth would be completely foreign to him.

To [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (1:26,27).  This gospel hope:  glory.

They had heard the gospel first from Epaphras–” just as you learned it from Epaphras”.  Paul calls him, ” our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of God on our behalf, and he also informed us of you love in the Spirit.”

* * *

Holding onto faith is hard.  When prayers go unanswered.  When God’s presence feels absent.  Loving others is hard.  When it  calls for giving you can’t afford.  When your brother seems undeserving.  Paul says we keep believing and loving because of the hope of glory reserved for us in heaven.  In other words, that hope produces persevering faith and sacrificial love.  That hope makes faith-despite-disappointment worthwhile.  It makes loving sacrifice now worthwhile in the long run.

The hope of “glory”.  Glory is a word that expresses the inexpressible.  Therefore, its definition is not definable.  Dr. George Boudreau writes of the day we will become “beautiful with the beauty of God, rich with His wealth, holy with His holiness, and happy with his unutterable happiness.”  That’s the hope of glory.  And it moves us to live with persevering faith in Christ and sacrificial love to our brothers and sisters.

To put it another way,  the hope of this future shapes how we live in this present

To help hold onto hope, speak Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 to your soul . ..

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and  my God” (42:5,6a).

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Give your soul a good talking-to.  Sit down.  Open your Bible.  Tell you soul all of both psalms.  And hold onto hope:  it produces faith and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace and Peace to You

We begin Colossians.  Pondering Paul’s greeting.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:1,2).

Paul’s introduction (“an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”) is familiar, but audacious.  Sent by the authority of Messiah Jesus?  The Jesus crucified almost 30 years ago?  Sure, resurrection rumors recur.  But most think them just that.  Yet, here’s Paul claiming to authoritatively represent him–and this “by the will of God”!  So, we’re obliged to listen.

While Paul’s a prisoner in Rome, Timothy is with him.  The younger man occupies an increasingly important place in Paul’s life and ministry.  In a few years, Paul will write two letters to Timothy, the latter the last we have of Paul’s letters.  Here Timothy is his “brother”, both in the faith and in the mission.

Paul addresses ” . . . the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse”.  ” . . . holy” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek hagios.  Many Bible versions translate this “saints”.

” . . . in Christ” ;  that is, their union with Christ by faith and the Spirit, sets them apart to Christ.

They are “faithful brothers”.   Though commentators are divided whether pistos should be translated “faithful” or “believing”, “faithful” better suits the context, because a problem is growing in the Colosse church.  Gnosticism, though not an organized system of belief until a hundred years later, is already influencing thought.  The doctrine taught that the world was created by Christ, who was a lesser deity and an emissary of the far-off divine being.  “Insider” knowledge (gnosis) of him brought redemption to the human spirit from the evil material world.  To the church, the danger was not rejection of Christ, but a diminishing of him.

To counter that, Paul boldly writes of Christ . . .

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-20).

” . . . faithful”, then, is Paul’s way of encouraging the believers who hold fast to the gospel of Christ, not mixing in gnostic ideas.

Colosse sat about 100 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  It was part of an important trade route that included the cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea.  Once a large, populous city, Colosse had become a small town when Paul writes to the church there.  The town was largely Gentile.  But estimates of a Jewish population reach as high as 50,000.

Related image

“Grace and peace to you”, as always, isn’t just first-century-letter-form.  It’s Paul’s blessing for the church–that the church might enjoy a greater abundance of the Father’s unmerited favor in Christ and, from that, enjoy fullness of  well-being from him.

With that, Paul’s greeting to the Colossians ends.

* * *

Grace . . . to you”.   A welcome blessing pronounced.  A greater gift of grace.  The Father’s unmerited favor.  Love undeserved.  Sins forgiven.  A grace greater than our sins.  Estrangement reconciled.  Sufficient power perfected in weakness.  Embrace of us who are nothing by the One who has the supremacy in all things.  And, therefore, . . .

” . . . peace to you”.  Reconciled to the holy Father by the blood of the Son shed on the cross.  War ended.  Sinners surrendered and welcomed.  Distance bridged.  No sin held against graced sinners.  A pervasive sense of well-being in the soul.

This I say to us as we begin Colossians:

“May grace and peace
from God our Father
overflow to us longing sinners
as we ponder the inspired words of the apostle
in this majestic letter.”

 

 

 

 

Love Wins?

A friend emailed the following suggestion for the old preacher’s response:.

“Author David Brumfield defends the postmortem view, that God continues to evangelize to people after they die (1 Chron.16:34; Isa. 9:2; Matt. 12:32; Rom. 8:35-39; Eph. 4:8,9; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6).  The main problem with the traditional view—and one that has never been satisfactorily addressed—is how can one “accept Christ” if they have never heard of Christ or were unable to understand the message (i.e., too young, mentally handicapped, etc.)”.

Here are the Scriptures to which Brumfield refers . . .

 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34).

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

“This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” (Ephesians 4:8,9).

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water . . . “ (1 Peter 3:18-20).

“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).

Brumfield is a Christian Universalist.  Universalism, is “a school of Christian theology based on the doctrine of universal reconciliation–the view that all human beings will ultimately be ‘saved’ and restored to a right relationship with God” (quote from Wikipedia).  Universalism was founded by John Murray and made contemporary in a recent book  by Rob Bell, Love Wins (https://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book/),

Christian Universalism shares major doctrines with historic Christianity, but with at least two exceptions.  One, if hell exists (there’s disagreement), it’s remedial and temporary.  Two, as stated above, all humans will be saved.

If I understand it, Brumfield is arguing that these cited Scriptures teach a love of God that saves beyond the grave.  The argument is reinforced by Christ preaching “to the spirits in prison”—which, of course, says nothing about them being saved.  Furthermore, the God’s-love Scriptures, in context, are addressed to believers, assuring them of God’s steadfast love.  To make them apply to unbelievers beyond the grave is a bridge too far.

Here’s one example. In Romans 8:1 Paul writes, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . . “ Read through the rest of the chapter (which I’ll not take space to quote here) and it’s obvious that the admonitions and promises are addressed to those “in Christ Jesus” by faith.  So Brumfield’s use of Romans 8:35-39 does not apply to his premise.

Universalist Founder John Murray  wrote, “In regard to Jesus, he taught that in him God became the Son for ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost are no more than different exhibitions of the self-same, existent, omnipresent Being.’  He taught that all men would be ultimately saved through the sacrifice of Christ, the basis for this being the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam, and therefore partaking of the benefits of his sacrifice.”

Murray seems to deny the doctrine of the Trinity (three Persons in One, not merely “different exhibitions of the self-same, existent, omnipresent Being”).  But more to our purposes, he claims that “He (?) taught that all men would be ultimately saved through the sacrifice of Christ . . . ” and that “the basis for this [is] the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam . . . “.   Romans 5 does teach all humans united with Adam.  But only believers in Christ are united in Christ.

If we take Scripture seriously, we have to reckon with Jesus’ statements that some people will go to hell . . .

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Passages like this contradict a remedial hell and the idea that all will ultimately be saved.  In Matthew 25:46 above, Jesus says punishment will be “eternal”.

Brumfield suggests that the “traditional” view has never been satisfactorily addressed.  I think he means “to his liking.”  Take the next two links for instance. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-happens-to-those-who-never-hear-gospel/

https://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2011/04/can-hope-be-wrong-on-new-universalism.html

I think the arguments above are sufficient to show that so-called Christian Universalism contradicts Scripture and is at odds with historic Christianity, no matter what it claims to the contrary.

Thank you, my friend, for raising this issue.  While it may seem irrelevant to many of us, anything that helps confirm biblical truth is always welcome.

 

War Prayer

P.AllanNow that we’re all “armored up” (Ephesians 6:10-17), pray !  Actually, sooner.

 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

Prayer isn’t an activity separate from putting on God’s armor.  “ . . . on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and request” suggests Paul wants us to put on “the belt of truth” while praying, to put “ , , , the breastplate of righteousness in place” as we pray, etc.

Paul urges us to “ . . . pray in the Spirit”.  In this armor-context he means engage the enemy in prayer.  Pray empowered by the Spirit.  “Be alert” in prayer, like a sentry on duty against the enemy, realizing that evil spirit powers are on the prowl against “all the saints”.  This isn’t “grocery list” praying; this is “warfare” prayer.

Dr. Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) offers six forms such prayer might take . .

“1, Praying for ourselves and others to be given insight and understanding into who we are in Christ and what is ours through faith (Eph. 1:15ff.).

2, Prayers of resistance and rebuke of the enemy. E.g.,

‘Satan, I rebuke you in the authority of Jesus Christ. I declare your works in my life destroyed. Jesus triumphed over you in the wilderness, on the cross, and in the grave. His resurrection has sealed your fate. I triumph over you now in the strength of his name. I resist and rebuke your efforts to oppress, afflict, or deceive me. I remove from you the right to rob me of the joy and fruit of my salvation. Through the power of the blood of Calvary, I command all powers of darkness assigned to me, sent to me, or surrounding me now, to leave. Go where Jesus Christ orders you to go, never to return’ (Tom White, 116).

3, Prayers of protection, to shield, guard, support,, etc.

“Lord, I commend and entrust _______ into your watchful care. May your glory surround and protect him/her. May you drive away the enemy and deliver him/her from all evil and temptation and every attack of the evil one.”

4, Prayers for the places where you go, stay, live (especially when traveling or in a strange location). E.g.,

‘Lord, I claim this place for your purposes. I stand on the truth of your Word: ‘The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous’ (Ps 125:3). I believe you have given me this place. I dedicate it to you, and ask you to fill it with your holy presence. I separate myself from any iniquity that has occurred here in past times. I apply the power of Jesus’ blood to remove any desecration of God’s name in this place. I ask you, in Jesus’ authority, to set watching angels around this property for your purposes, protecting your servant from the work of the evil one’  (White, 118-19).

5. Prayer for the demonized when you are ministering to them. E.g.,

(l) that the demons may be cut off from all communication and help from other demons and Satan,

(2) that the demons would be confused and weakened in their hold on the person.”

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19,20).

Paul accepts his imprisonment as God’s will.  He doesn’t ask his readers to pray for his rescue but to pray that fear won’t silence him.  Even in chains making the gospel known is paramount.  Paul turns his readers’ attention from his suffering and their conflict to the need for the gospel to be proclaimed in the world’s darkness, where the evil one works.

After 25 years of gospel-preaching and church-planting, Paul’s reliance on prayer is remarkable.  Pray that words may be given me.  Pray that I may declare the gospel without fear.

“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.  Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Ephesians 6:21-24).

Tychicus was one of Paul’s companions on the way from Corinth to Jerusalem.  He will deliver this letter to Ephesus, tell the church how Paul is, and encourage the believers.

When Paul wishes peace, love and grace to the church, he’s not just writing nice words.  He expects the Holy Spirit to actually convey those blessings “to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It’s an implication that, though caught up in spiritual war, the church will prevail through her Lord’s resources.

* * *

I find that focus on God’s sovereignty dims my view of the evil one’s work.  God’s in control, so why pray against Satan?  Paul’s call to prayer here, however, implies that this prayer is necessary if we’re to walk in victory.  William Cowper (18th century English poet and hymn writer) wrote . . .

“Satan trembles when he sees
the weakest saint upon his knees.”

May Satan tremble at our prayers!  May we walk in the light of victory over the prince of darkness because, like soldiers on alert, we are praying!

 

 

The In-Between Place

P.AllanChristians will spend eternity in heaven!  Right?  Wrong!  Heaven is an in-between place, what theologians call “the intermediate state.”

Our ultimate hope is the new creation . . .

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness”–2 Peter3:13).

There we will live in a resurrected body . . . “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1

What about the Hollywood version?  You know, colorless white, harps, angels, clouds, George Burns,      What about my mansion on the corner of Gold Street and Diamond Boulevard?  Well, first, when have you known Hollywood to produce anything true to the Scriptures?  And second, Jesus uses metaphorical language in John 14     and John does in Revelation . . . This runs counter to some popular thinking about “heaven”.  The Hollywood version is all white with clouds, harps, angels and (in some cases) George Burns or       .  Wrongly interrupting John 14:   , we presume to be ushered to our mansion set beside a gold road.  A (rather moving) song from a few years ago celebrated, “If they could see me now, I’m walking streets of gold . . . ”  It implied that when we die, that’s where we go.  But the new, restored or remade earth comes at the very end, not when we die.  So where do we go when we die?

“We must agree with Berkouwer (a 20th century leading theologian of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands) that what the New Testament tells us about the intermediate state is nothing more than a whisper” (quoted in The Bible and the Future, Anthony A Hoekema).  If I had written the Bible . . . Oh, well . . .

From the Old Testament, it’s clear that death doesn’t annihilate us.  For example, Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah (Psalm 49:14,15).  And And I– in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness (Psalm 17:15).  Our soul or spirit continues  on until Resurrection Day when we receive new immortal bodies like Christ’s.  The New Testament fulfills the Old, though, as Berkouwer wrote, only in “whispers”.

Whisper One—Luke 23:42,43.  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Ed Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Whisper Two—Philippians 1:21-23.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . .

Whisper Three—2 Corinthians 5:6-8Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Edenic paradise.  Gain which is better by far than here in his body.  Away from the body means at home with the Lord for his people.

Whispers.

I prefer photos.

But whispers must be enough.  Enough for our imagination.  Enough for or hope.  Enough for our faith, which will turn to sight.

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