The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: May 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Worship Leftovers

On the sanctuary chairs–a purse here, a Bible there, an almost-empty plastic bag of Cheez-its, a couple of bulletins, a toy car.  Worship leftovers.  After 44 years of pastoring I’ve seen lots. But the worship leftovers I’m thinking of today are the leftover thoughts about worship I didn’t squeeze into my two last posts.

Worship is more than singing.  Mention worship and most Christians think music.  But prayer is worship.  ” . . . call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).   Hearing God’s Word is worship.  “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise . . . ” (Psalm 56:10).  If worship is ascribing worth to God, then when we sing to him, pray to him and listen to him, we are ascribing worth to him.

Worship is more than a worship service“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1,2).  Worship is offering our bodies to God to use for his good purposes. Worship is offering our minds to God to use in ways that counter the fallenness of this world.  Worship is using the hours of our ordinary days to do the will of God.

Yet worship is singing too.  When we gather as a church, we sing.  It’s kind of unusual though, no?  Except at a ball game or birthday party or the bar I mentioned last time, almost nowhere in our culture do people assemble and sing out loud together.  Why do we ? John Piper’s is the best explanation I’ve found . . .

          “The reality of God and Christ and creation and salvation and heaven and hell are simply
too great for mere speaking; they must also be sung.  This means that the reality of God and
his work is so great that we are not merely to think truly about it, but also feel duly about it.
Think truly and feel duly–that is, feel with the kind and depth and intensity of emotion that
is appropriate to the reality that is truly known.”

Worship is singing biblically with the mind. We could sing four times over, “Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you, I do”.  But how about Scripture itself set to contemporary music?  Or how about the theologically-rich hymns that have stood the test of time?  Music like that both thoughtfully exalts God and teaches us his Gospel as we sing it.  After all, we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our mind (Matthew 22:37).

Worship is singing with the heart.  So we sing.  With emotion.  With feeling, as Piper wrote above.  As Paul taught:  ” . . . singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).  As David declared:  “My heart is steadfast, O God!  I will sing and make melody with all my being!  Awake, O harp and lyre!  I will awake the dawn” (Psalm 108:1,2).  With willful affections, David worshiped the Lord.  Sometimes we hold them in.  As if showing emotion equals weakness.  Or resembles “those charismatics.”  Certain behavior goes beyond “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  But in view of the great God to whom we sing, how can emotions  not erupt?

Worship is sometimes lingering in the Lord’s presence.  On some Sundays, after we’ve sung the last of several songs in sequence,  the last note fades and a holy silence descends.  It’s not planned or programmed.  It just covers us.  We sit almost breathless.   As if before him words can’t express what we’re feeling.  As if he’s transformed our ordinary sanctuary into holy ground.  For those few moments,  “The things of this world . . . grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”  So in sacred silence we just wait in his presence.

Critics might call it group psychology–a few people sit in silence and the silence subconsciously spreads from one mind to another like a mental germ.  Or they might claim it’s just part of the “liturgy”.  If the worship leader gets quiet and says nothing, no one else will.  But we know it’s the Lord who promised,
” . . . where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).

If this is a worship leftover, I’ll take it any day!

 

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How Spiritual “Drunks” Behave in Worship

The drunk staggered around the half-filled bar room, a slurred version of “Love Me Tender” pouring from his slobbering mouth.  He lurched toward a table where two women sat.  They didn’t know whether to ignore him or run for their lives.  But the show suddenly ended as he mumbled, “Thank you very much” and wobbled out the door announcing, “Elvis has left the building!”

It’s shocking that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to connect getting drunk with being filled with the Spirit.  It’s a contrast, of course (“do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit”).  But it’s  a comparison too, because in both getting drunk and being Spirit-filled an entity outside ourselves enters and alters our behavior. Unlike alcohol which can control us, God the Holy Spirit empowers us–to worship.  Here’s how.

 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
–Ephesians 5:18-21

The Spirit empowers us to address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  Precisely what Paul meant by hymns and spiritual songs is unclear.  What’s interesting, though, is that we are to address one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  I take this to mean, at least in part, that when we gather to worship God we are to be aware that we are singing in the hearing of others.  When we sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, we should realize that we are encouraging those who hear us that God is our mighty fortress.  When we sing “Be Thou My Vision”, we should realize that we are praying in music side-by-side for the Lord to be our vision together.  By singing like this we serve hope and faith and love and God-centeredness to one another.

The Spirit empowers us to sing and make melody to the Lord with our heart.  Here Paul directs us to sing to the Lord.  Does the Lord actually listen?  If he listens to our prayers, he certainly listens to our praise!  Sometimes I imagine Jesus sitting there in front of us.  Other times I imagine we are joined with heaven’s angels’ singing to the Lamb on the throne in heaven.  We are to sing to him with out heart. What a difference between mouthing “How great is our God” and singing with passion and zeal and whole-heartedness!  This is how the Spirit leads us to worship the Lord in song.  It doesn’t honor him if we praise him with our lips while our hearts are far from him.  Off-key singers who sing to the Lord with their heart bring greater delight to the Lord than professionals who sing skillfully only from their lips.

The Spirit empowers us to give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes worship singing springs from a broken heart.  Even then Paul urges us to “give thanks always and for everything to God”.  Give thanks that God is sovereign over that thing that grieves us. That God is working for ultimate good in it.  That God’s grace is sufficient for it.  Weeping times can be the most blessed worship times for us, as giving thanks to our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ focuses our eyes to see our hurt through the One whose grace is available to us in it.  To give thanks “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” is to remember that God is our Father through his mercies to us in Christ, and to remember that he has already come to us and is with us in Christ.

The Spirit empowers us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Paul sends worship into daily living here.  Wives, submit to husbands (5:22).  Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church–a submitting to their needs as Christ did for us (5:25).  Children, submit in obedience to parents (6:1).  Fathers, submit to your children by bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (6:4).  Servants, submit to your masters (6:5) and masters, submit to the well being of your servants (6:9).  Nowhere are we to do anything from selfish ambition; everywhere we are to humbly count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  And we are to do this  out of reverence for Christ who submitted himself for our sake.  Then, when we gather for worship, we gather in the humble unity of selfless love.

Sunday’s coming.  We won’t stagger around the sanctuary.  Won’t slur our songs.  Won’t lurch threateningly toward one another or wobble out the door when we’re done.  But hopefully like spiritual “drunks” we’ll come filled with the Spirit and with one voice we’ll glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s how spiritual “drunks” behave in worship.

 

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“Get Drunk” on the Spirit and Sing to the Lord

 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
–Ephesians 5:18-21

“Get drunk” on the Spirit.  I think that’s what Paul means.  When he draws the contrast between ” . . . do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit”, I think he’s also drawing a comparison.  Don’t get drunk with wine because that leads to immoral self-indulgence.  “Get drunk with” the Spirit because that leads to worshipful singing.

Singing flows from the Spirit’s filling.  ” . . . do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18).  Kind of a shocking contrast/comparison!  But don’t picture Christians staggering around the sanctuary slurring “Holy, Holy, Holy”.  These pagans-turned-Christians may have used wine to “juice” their former idolatrous worship.  So Paul may be using their past to direct their present:  “No more wine to stimulate “worship”; drink the Spirit to get singing!”

The implication is significant:  Worshipful singing to the Lord that pleases the Lord requires the Spirit of the Lord. Jesus said, ” . . . those who worship [God] must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  Most translations have “spirit”–small “s”.  But, based on Romans 8:15 (” . . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!'”), I take Jesus to mean “Spirit”–capital “S”–or at least to mean our spirit filled with the Spirit.  Singing in worship isn’t a community sing-along.  It actually is an act of God.  It flows from the Spirit’s filling.

There’s a second implication:  We shouldn’t not sing because we think we can’t sing.  Over the years I’ve noticed some people who don’t sing and asked them why.  “Because I can’t sing!”  No matter.  Who do you think gave you that “bad” voice?  The Creator (who also gives you the Spirit)delights to hear you sing to him!  Think about the greatness of the God to whom we’re singing.  Who do you think sings well enough for him?  God the Holy Spirit fills us so we can sing in ways that delight him (even if people around us don’t stand in awe of the heavenly sounds coming from our mouth or we think we’re so bad we couldn’t even make the kids’ choir at 30 years old!).

How can we be filled with the Spirit?  No how-to’s needed for drinking wine.  But how can we “drink” the Spirit?  (who, after all, is a person–God the Holy Spirit) Paul commands us, “Be filled with the Spirit”, but doesn’t tell us how here.  However, in 1:17 he prays that God might give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.  So one way to be filled with the Spirit is to ask God to in prayer (not a one-time event).  And in 6:18 he urges the church to “take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  So another way to be filled with the Spirit is  hear and read God’s Word (not a once-a-week event with the pastor).  So from prayer and the Word comes the Spirit’s filling.  And from the Spirit’s filling comes singing to the Lord.

Singing fuels the Spirit’s filling.  Grammatically, Paul may mean both that singing flows from the Spirit’s filling and singing further fuels the Spirit’s fillingHaven’t you sensed that at times?  As you sing to the Lord with his people haven’t you discerned a deeper working of the Spirit in you?  Haven’t you felt your heart burn inside?  Haven’t you become aware of a powerful longing for him? 

A Word to the Cautious.  All this talk about the Spirit sounds, well, kind of “charismatic”.  Next we’ll be barking like dogs and falling  backwards on the floor.  Listen, I’m not arguing for worship-like-a-circus.  Some behaviors clearly cross the line of  “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  But when Paul contrasts/compares Spirit-filled worship-singing with getting drunk on wine, he clearly expects worship to engage our emotions.  Shouldn’t it?  After all, we’re worshiping God “who blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”–choosing us, predestining us for adoption, redeeming us through Christ’s blood, forgiving our trespasses, lavishing the riches of his grace on us, making known to us the mystery of his will, naming us heirs of his glory (1:3–14)?  Let’s not be so cautious of “crossing the line” that we fail to sing and make melody to the Lord “with our heart” (5:19)!

Thirsty?

 

 

 

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American’s Wife Faces Death Sentence in Sudan for Being Christian

I’m writing this post because of the urgency of this atrocity.  The story below is from “Christianity Today” magazine.

Update (May 15): Given until today to recant her faith by a Sudanese court, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim instead declared she remained a Christian at today’s hearing. The judge at the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum then confirmed her sentence of 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for apostasy.

“I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim,” Ibrahim told the judge after a Muslim scholar spent 40 minutes persuading her to recant, reports Morning Star News, which first broke the news of Ibrahim’s case. In response, the judge told her, “The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead.”

However, the sentence is to be carried out two years after her second child’s birth later this month, not shortly after the birth as previously reported.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide confirmed the death sentence in the case drawing international attention, calling the ruling a “violation of the Sudanese Constitution and of international conventions to which Sudan is party.”

Middle East Concern reports that Ibrahim’s lawyer is appealing the ruling. Ibrahim’s husband was also not permitted to witness the hearing, and has been denied visitation rights to see his wife and son while they are detained in prison.

Ahead of today’s hearing, Amnesty International condemned Ibrahim’s death sentence and called for her immediate release. According to Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher:

The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is abhorrent and should never be even considered. ‘Adultery’ and ‘apostasy’ are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of “most serious crimes” in relation to the death penalty. It is flagrant breach of international human rights law.

World Watch Monitor reports more background on Ibrahim’s case, including how her brother first notified authorities about her alleged adultery.

I ask one question:  Why don’t we hear our government speaking out against this cruelty?  Perhaps conversations are going on behind the scenes.  Perhaps.  Frankly, I don’t trust this administration to be doing much of anything.  (Hopefully I’m wrong.)  I realize the U.S. can’t intervene in every act of injustice and inhumanity in the world.  (That’s what we say about the kidnapping of 200-plus Christian girls in Nigeria.)  I realize Sudan is a sovereign nation.  Further I realize that this kind of brutality isn’t atypical among some Muslim governments.  Nevertheless:  why don’t we hear our government speaking out against this cruelty?  President Obama, why are you not openly condemning the Sudanese government for this inhuman behavior?

The reality is that we Christians often can’t depend on our government to do what’s right.  This may be a case in point.   But we have a King who sits on a higher throne.  Let’s appeal to him.

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“Adam–Really?” Revisited

Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, recently added a sentence to its statement of faith that has sent the Christian school into an uproar.   No problem when the statement declared, “The origin of man was by fiat of God.”  But when they added Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms” — BOOM!

School and many board members argue the addition will help stop the erosion of Christian values and beliefs they see in the country.  Critics claim it assaults personal religious views.  It’s another battle in the ongoing war between creationism and evolution, between Scripture and science, between “neanderthals” who interpret the Bible literally and contemporary, “open-minded intellectuals” who insist Science (a capital to note deification) has the final word.

Sorry for the cynicism.  I know the issue demands respectable, honest debate.  In a recent post I argued (I hope respectfully) for the historicity of Adam and Eve (see “Adam–Really?”)  I also recommend reading the little book, Seven Days That Divide the World–the Beginning According to Genesis and Science, by John C. Lennox (available from Amazon).  In it Lennox writes, “We think that, since God is the author both of his Word the Bible and of the universe, there must ultimately be harmony between correct interpretation of the biblical data and correct interpretation of the scientific data.”  Amen! (“correct” is the operative word here)

Why, then, are some professed Christians so quick to throw the Bible under the bus for the sake of “science”?  Take one person who commented on the debate this way (grammatical mistakes his, not mine)
. . .

The Hebrew Bible or as the Christian community calls it the Old Testament was never meant to be a historical or science based books. It was written by people of faith trying to communicate through stories how God interacted with humanity. The stories were not based upon historical people. The stories were meant to teach larger truths. Be it the story about Job and his suffering, the story of Joseph and the rescue of his family and the nation of Egypt from famine, were not to be taken in the literal sense as history. The stories taught like in the story of Joseph the youngest child can be the hero of the clan. Like Job we are all tested by adversity. The thing is often our adversity is caused by outside forces not by us.

To look at Adam and Eve and the creation story as a real historical event is not the point of the story. Evil exists. Evil has been around since creation. The issue in the story is as we grow up which Adam and Eve were doing we need to know that evil exists. How we deal with evil or not deal with evil shapes our future for good or for ill.

Pardon me.  ” . . . the Old Testament was never meant to be a historical . . . [book]”? “It was written by people of faith trying to communicate through stories how God interacted with humanity”?  “The issue in the story is as we grow up which Adam and Eve were doing we need to know that evil exists”?  “How we deal with evil or not deal with evil shapes our future for good or for ill”?  This writer is claiming that the entire Old Testament isn’t historical.  Not only Adam and Eve, but Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David were just characters created for stories to teach us moral lessons!  The Old Testament is just a Hebrew Aesop’s Fables!

I’m making light of this respondent’s opinion, I know.  But it’s no light matter.  Clearly the Scripture contains metaphors, similes, hyperboles, proverbs, etc.  Correct interpretation demands we recognize them.  But when we start interpreting what the Bible presents as history as being nothing more than a fable, where do we stop?  Was Jesus really God in human flesh?  Was his death really propitiation for believers’ sins against the holy God?  Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  Is Jesus really returning for us?  Can we really look forward to a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells?

As I noted in “Adam-Really?” the New Testament refers to Adam and Eve as real historical persons.  Here is one place, which, as you can see, stands at the very heart of the Gospel.

Therefore, as one trespass (Adam’s) led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness (Christ’s) leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience (Adam’s) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (Christ’s) the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:16-19).

Fable to teach morality?  Or historical events that lead to eternal death or eternal life?  If an apparent conflict exists between Scripture and science, hold science lightly but Scripture tightly.  It is, after all, God’s Word.  While it requires careful interpretation, it also requires  humble reverence.  Science may make us stand in awe, but God drives us to our knees in joyful worship, because it is his works that science is exploring.  And thankfully his Word goes far beyond moral fables; his Word is life-saving Gospel.

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Genesis Worldview 1,2,3

What’s a worldview?  Think of it like prescription eyeglasses.  A worldview is the set of beliefs and assumptions we hold through which we view the world.  That view shapes how we process information and how we act on it.  Our worldview, then, is crucial, because it determines how we think about the world and what we do in the world.  And whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have one.

What are some common worldviews? Atheism.  Actually, atheism isn’t all that common, but its adherents seem to be growing more aggressive.  Atheists see a world without God.  We humans are alone in the universe, unless life exists somewhere on another planet.  But there is no  God.  Therefore atheists don’t pray (there’s no one there).   Atheists may marvel at the wonders of nature, but see no God in it.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  According to sociologist Christian Smith (in his book Soul Searching) this is the dominant worldview of today’s teenagers.  They believe God exists, that he watches over everyone, that he wants us to do good and be nice to one another, but he isn’t involved in our lives. except when we really need his help.  Our main goal in life is to be happy and feel good about ourselves.  Therefore, moralistic therapeutic  deists believe it’s God’s “job” to help us in emergencies but to  leave us pretty much alone to find what makes us happy and to define for ourselves what “good” and “nice” mean.

What worldview does Genesis 1-3 offer?  Radically different from others!  On recent posts I’ve commented on these three chapters.  Let’s put together what we’ve found in them and see what worldview they provide.  In one word, theism. Here are its parts . . .

  1. God exists.  “In the beginning, God . . . ” (1:1).  In the words of the wonderful title of a book by the late Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.  God isn’t a creation of our mind; he self-exists outside us and before us and beyond us.  Yet he has revealed himself to us.
  2. God created the universe.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). The world wasn’t always.  But a random evolution of cells with the fittest surviving didn’t produce the world.  God spoke it into existence.
  3. God made man in his own image.  “So God created man in his own image.  In the image of God he created him; male and female he created him” (1:27).  We are not the zenith of a tiny cell that bubbled up out of some prehistoric slime and evolved over billions of years into humans.  Our dignity and worth don’t rest on our being the most highly-evolved creature nor on our education or power or wealth, but on our being created like God.  Therefore, every human life is sacred.
  4. God is sovereign over man.  Since God created us, his sovereignty over us makes sense logically.  And since God commanded us and has authority to enforce what he commands, his sovereignty over us is true biblically and practically.  However, God’s sovereignty is not despotic.  He created everything very good for us (1:31) and then put man in Eden paradise (2:8).  At the same time, being sovereign, God commanded man to trust and obey him (2:16,17).  Therefore, when man distrusted and disobeyed, God punished man with curses and expulsion from paradise (3:16-19,23,24). All this means that God, not man, is the center of everything and we are not on our own to discover what makes us happy nor to define what “good” means.
  5. Evil is present in God’s creation.  “But the serpent (Satan–Revelation 12:9) said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die . . . ” (3:5).  Here is the power of evil outside the woman acting in open rebellion against God and leading her to distrust and disobey God.  Whether we define evil as the absence of good or an entity in and of itself, it exists.  And, while not equal to God (God curses Satan–3:14,15), it is stronger than we are.  Its power, combined with our sin against our Creator, shuts us out of paradise and leaves us in a world of frustration, pain, conflict and ultimately death (3:16-19,23,24)
  6. God offered hope of ultimate victory over evil.  “The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring:  he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel'” (3:14,15).  A rather mysterious hope, no?  We could solve the mystery by studying other Scriptures.  But limiting ourselves to Genesis 1-3, we’re left with trusting ourselves to God who’s given us a hope we don’t understand.  Evil, with its resultant distrust of God and disobedience to God that bars the way to paradise for us all, will be overcome by a woman’s son, who himself will suffer in the battle.

What’s your worldview?  That’s the important question now.  Which one fits best with the real world as you know it?  Which one best answers your toughest questions and offers hope for your deepest hurts?  Which one best offers you hope for the future?  Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Sire, editor of InterVarsity Press. His book, The Universe Next Door, defines a worldview in this way: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.” – See more at: http://www.worldviewweekend.com/worldview-times/article.php?articleid=1147#sthash.Y7u8krWY.dpuf
James Sire, editor of InterVarsity Press. His book, The Universe Next Door, defines a worldview in this way: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.” – See more at: http://www.worldviewweekend.com/worldview-times/article.php?articleid=1147#sthash.Y7u8krWY.dpuf
James Sire, editor of InterVarsity Press. His book, The Universe Next Door, defines a worldview in this way: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.” – See more at: http://www.worldviewweekend.com/worldview-times/article.php?articleid=1147#sthash.Y7u8krWY.dpuf

 

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What Went Wrong?

Something has gone wrong.  Terribly.  All God created he called good (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25) and very good (Genesis 1:31).  He put the man he made, and soon the woman he made, in a garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8)–so lush that  even today “Eden” produces mental pictures of paradise.

But except for a week at a Caribbean resort, life’s no longer a paradise.  Eden’s been lost.  What went wrong?  Genesis 3 tells the story.  You probably know it.  But will you open your Bible and read it?  . . .

If you did you read a story about a talking serpent who shrewdly seduced the woman into distrusting and disobeying God.  The Lord had earlier given the man the fruit of every tree, but put one off limits under penalty of death (Genesis 2:17).  The serpent denied that to the woman.  “You won’t die.  In fact, when you eat it, you’ll be like God.  And God knows it (Genesis 3:4,5).  Standing in paradise, gazing at the tree, the woman thought how good the fruit would taste, how beautiful it looked and how wise she would become.  She ate.  She gave some to her husband standing with her.  He ate.

It was like drinking a magic potion–but the effect was unexpected.  Suddenly they were ashamed and afraid of the Lord.  When he showed up and  gave them chance to confess, they brazenly blamed each other.  Adam:  “The woman you gave me gave me the fruit.”  Eve:  “The serpent tricked me” (Genesis 3:12,13).  Nobody left in line for the serpent to blame.  Don’t feel sorry for him, though–the serpent was Satan (Revelation 12:9). God judged them all guilty and sentenced them all (Genesis 3:14-19).

That’s what went wrong.  ” . . . sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  We’ve all repeated the story.

Would-be intellectuals mock this fable-like narrative.  But their answer to “what went wrong?” is a non-answer:  Suffering is part of life.  The fittest survive only for a time.  Then we die and disappear.  No God.  No sin.  No hope.  Deists, who believe God did create the world, claim he left us to fend for ourselves.  Think we’ll cure cancer?  Stop wars?  Find an organic drug in Asia to beat mortality?  No much hope there either.  Can anything fix things?  How about better education or more technology or effective, efficient  government?  Yeah, right!

How different the Genesis worldview from ours!  What went wrong is sin against the Creator.  Therefore, our only hope for a fix comes from our Creator.  In his curse on the serpent (Satan), he gave it to us, mysterious though it sounds.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  At some untold future time beyond the beginning, “the woman” would give birth to a son who would “bruise” the head of the serpent (Satan).  Then the Lord  kicked the man and woman out of Eden.

That’s where we live–outside paradise, cut off from our Creator by our Creator.  Our only hope rests on his mysterious promise.  Good news!  The day of hope has dawned!  ” . . . when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman . . . to redeem [us] . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4).  The woman’s offspring has come–and is coming again.  He’s the One through whom the Creator will fix everything.  He’s the One who can set us free and reconcile us to the God who banished us.

Jesus is the way back to paradise.

 

 

 

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Adam — Really?

 

Recently I wrote about God’s creation work recorded in Genesis 1 and 2.  I referred to Adam as a man.   I acknowledged that the creation account sounds like a children’s story, but I spoke of it as history and spoke of Adam as a real historical person.

Not everyone agrees.

For example, in 2011 Denis O. Lamoureux of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta in Canada wrote, ” . . . Adam’s existence is based ultimately on ancient science . . . [and his creation] made perfect sense from an ancient phenomenoloigcal perspective.”  He went on to explain that “the Holy Spirit [descended] to the level of the ancient Hebrews . . . ”  That is, he accomodated himself (incorrect) to ancient science. In his book Evolution Creation:  A Christian Approach to Evolution, Lamoureux asserts, “Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”  According to Lamoureux, God created life, but Genesis 1 does not reveal how God actually did it.  (“Anti-real-Adams” like Lamoureux apparently see no parallel between Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb with a word and God calling creation into existence with a word!)

Does it matter?  While the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 reads like a fairy tale, nothing about the account purports to be anything but reality.  Furthermore, if Adam never really existed, what else about the creation account isn’t real?  Eve?  Animals?  Stars?  For that matter, what else about the Bible’s truth-claims isn’t real?  Sin?  Salvation?  Heaven?  A lot seems to be riding on the reality of Adam!

Paul apparently believed Adam was a real person.  Therefore, as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given . . . Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses . . . (Romans 5:12-14).  Paul goes on to contrast the trespass of Adam with the free gift of Christ (Romans 5:15-23).  1 Corinthi- ans 15:22 is a summary:  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 

Lamoureux agrees!  “Paul was a first-century A.D. Jew and like every Jewish person around him he accepted the historicity of Adam.”  (see the following link for his complete article —http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/p_adam_1.pdf)  He seems to claim that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write what was not true, because Paul incorrectly accepted the historicity of Adam!  In other words, the truth of inspired Scripture was dependent on popular science!

Here’s the broader problem.  If Adam was not a real person (as Paul believed he was in Romans 5), was Christ about whom he wrote in the same breath?  And what about the gospel of Christ?  Is that true?  Illogically (in my mind), yes says Lamoureux, because the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-9) is the gospel of Christ, not of Adam!  But on what basis?  If Adam is presented in Scripture as a real person (but he really was not) and the gospel of Christ ‘s saving work is presented as a real saving work, on what basis can we dismiss the former but believe the latter?

I am not arguing that the Genesis account is “scientific”.  In fact, I’m suggesting it isn’t “scientific” at all.  But not  scientifict does not mean anti-scientific.  I am simply suggesting that the creation account is written like a children’s story that allows the imagination to soar.  (And soar it must, because what God did in creation truly reaches beyond our comprehension, even if we are learned scientists!)

So:  Adam–really?  Yes–really!  And therefore, we can joyfully bank on Paul’s “therefore” . . .

Therefore, as one trespass (Adam’s) led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness (Christ’s) leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience (Adam’s) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience (Christ’s) the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:16-19).

Really.

 

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To a Godly, Loving Mother — My Wife

O PreacherAs fatherhood changes with time, so, of course, does motherhood.

During those young years, anyone watching silently from the sidelines  would have assumed you’d  trained for years.  A Masters in Motherhood?  Know-how picked up from your mother?  I always felt I was learning fatherhood in the doing–or maybe after the doing.  You, on the other hand, seemed to intuitively know what a mother should do and say in every situation.  It was as if God put a “mother gene” in you from the start.

But you were never–what should I say–an old-fashioned mother baking pies and sewing diapers and saying things like, “Land sakes alive!”  You did bake great pies and cook delicious meals, but, Land Sakes Alive what stress in the doing and what mess in the clean-up!  What you produced was always wonderful, but Kitchen was never your God-gifted room.

You were always beautiful, attractive, classy.  Never the kind of mother to be mistaken for Aunt Henrietta from Kansas or Elizabeth Taylor with a face-lift.

You were always godly, Christ-devoted.  Our children surely knew where you stood with Jesus–behind him, following him.  You talked about that.  You taught them that.  And you lived that before them.  You have been a fine instrument in the hand of the Master shaping the lives of your children.  Did you blunder sometimes?  Of course.  But the Master even used those blunders for his good.  (By the way, in the process you’ve been a fine instrument in the Master’s hand shaping me, too.)

Now we’re both 70.  (It’s okay, nobody reads this.)  Our three children are adults with their own children, making you “Grammy” to eight ranging from 20 years old to five.  So motherhood has changed.  Yet your “mother gene” keeps working.  You know how to be a mother to adult children.  A tricky tightrope to walk!  Mother and friend and intercessor before the Father.  You know how to be a grandmother–loving, sacrificing, giving, wise, faithful and above all godly.  Blunders?  Sure, still some.  But God still turns them into good.  And you still are so beautiful to me–and, I think if they thought about it, to our children and grandchildren too.  Beautiful outside, even more on the inside.

I know.  I’m your husband.  I’ve stood silently (and sometimes not so silently) on the sidelines and seen.  So today I’m so thankful that my children and grandchildren have had you.  And that I have you.  A gift from our Father in whom his Son is gracefully reflected.  Happy Mother’s Day, honey.  I love you.

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Forget About the Past?

In Philippians 3:13, 14 the apostle Paul writes . . .

        . . . one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I     press on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

” . . . forgetting what lies behind . . . ”  Should we?  Is Paul’s testimony a model for us?  Does the Lord want us to disregard our personal history and only “strain toward what lies ahead”?

He certainly didn’t want the Hebrews to forget their rescue from Egyptian slavery.  Every year they were to remember by celebrating Passover (Leviticus 23:5; Deuteronomy 16:1).  The Lord didn’t want them to forget how he enabled them to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 4:1-5).  They were to erect memorial stones at the spot.  And Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to forget his death and its covenant significance (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).  We are to regularly eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.

What “behind” is Paul forgetting then?  Probably his past righteous “credentials”–circumcision as an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a zealous Pharisee who’d persecuted the church for its blasphemy, and  blamelessness in keeping God’s law–“credentials” he thought merited him right-standing with the holy God (Philippians 3:4-6).  But then Christ Jesus “took hold” of him and he “counted as loss” all those credentials “for the sake of knowing Christ” by faith (Philippians 3:7,8).  Perhaps, too, Paul is forgetting anything that might hold him back from “straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13,14).

So we should recall past precious blessings.  At this stage of my life I remember praying as a child to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior, being baptized in water before the congregation of Bethany Church in Paterson, N.J., falling in love with the beautiful girl who would become my bride, sensing the Lord calling me into pastoral ministry, driving off to Springfield, Mo. for Bible college, being a young father of three growing children, going off on family vacations and celebrating holidays, pastoring two churches in New Jersey and one in Florida, baptizing each of my three children in water and performing their weddings, welcoming with great joy each of my eight grandchildren, walking with my wife on the beach at Hilton Head Island–the memories are many and more than I can mention here.

But there is “behind” stuff to forget–foolish choices, temptations surrendered to, wasted hours, regrets that I didn’t do some things differently or better, sins that shamed my Lord and pained my life.  Yet there’s value in occasionally recalling even these things, because they remind me of how God graciously works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

But we should disregard any “behind” stuff that holds us back from pressing on toward the goal of Christ.  We could call that living in the past.  Sitting here I recall those good old days when I was young and healthy and our children were under our roof and the full-of-promise future stretched before us.  There’s a fine line between thankfully counting precious past blessings and being distracted by them from straining toward what lies ahead with Christ.  The lead runner in a race must remember who and where his opponents are behind him, while always pressing on with the goal in sight.

Thank you, Jesus, for a life of past blessings behind me, that I remember with tears of joy.  And thank you, Jesus, that you are my goal waiting just ahead.  To be with you will be better–by far.  Trusting your promise and relying on your grace, please keep me going hard after you.

 

 

 

 

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