The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: August 2016

Sexual Revolution

Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years.  England’s King George III ruled the American colonies when he dozed off.  When he woke, George Washington was the U.S. President.  Rip had slept through the revolution.

Question:  Are we Rip-Van-Winkle-ing through the sexual revolution?

For months I’ve considered writing about it, but couldn’t organize my thoughts well.  Now today along comes a essay (“Ask Not for Whom the Volcano Erupts; It Erupts for Thee”)from Dr. Albert Mohler   http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/08/30/response-david-gushee/).  You can read its entirety at the foregoing link.  Below in bold-face are some of Mohler’s quotes interspersed with my thoughts . . .

Christians in America now face a moment of judgment at the hands of a secular culture that grows more intensely adversarial with each passing day. Churches, institutions, and individuals committed to the Christian church’s historic sexual ethic, held consistently over two millennia, now find themselves faced with a stark choice — join the sexual revolution or face the consequences.

Those consequences include social marginalization, overt discrimination,the censure from the cultural elites, and worse. Christian colleges and schools are now openly threatened with the loss of tax-exempt status and participation in federal and state student aid. Christian employees in businesses large and small are told to get with the program or get lost. Getting with the program does not mean simply working amiably with all, regardless of sexual orientation. It means openly and enthusiastically celebrating every demand and aim of the LGBT community. Entire professions will soon be closed to many Christians who, for example, cannot, without violating their Christian conscience, perform sex-reassignment surgeries.

For many, Mohler sounds alarmist.  Is America’s secular culture really growing more adversarial every day?  Are we Christians truly faced with a stark choice to “join the sexual revolution or face the consequences?  If we follow the news (we should), we know Mohler’s assessment doesn’t miss the mark by much.  My research agrees:  “Getting with the program (of the sexual revolution) . . . means openly and enthusiastically celebrating every demand and aim of the L (Lesbian) G (Gay) B (Bi-Sexual) T (Transgender) community.”  We are not permitted to tolerate or even agree with, we must celebrate!

This is the reality we now face, and the onslaught is coming fast. Major LGBT organizations are now pressing their demands and gaining traction. A host of politicians are ready to support any legislation that will make them appear, by their calculation, on “the right side of history,” not to mention on the winning side of the ballot box. An entire universe of regulative bodies ranging from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the American Bar Association to accrediting agencies and local school boards is poised to drop the hammer on any individual or institution that stands in the path of the sexual revolution.

Once the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage to be the law of the land (June 2015), flood gates opened.  The 14th amendment was applied to LGBT practices (“no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction ‘the equal protection of the laws'”).  Thus they became civil rights.  And, thus, they became a voting bloc politicians craved.  This, then, made Christians, who want to uphold biblical morality, potential law-breakers—and left to live as a distinct minority.

Now, along comes a voice to warn us that the deluge is coming and to argue that we had better prepare ourselves for disaster or save ourselves at last by joining the revolution.

How will we respond?  Standing for biblical morality will bring down the wrath of the culture.  Joining the sexual revolution will bring down the wrath of God.  Neutrality is impossible.  One can’t dismiss a revolution with a wave of the hand.

That voice is Professor David Gushee of Mercer University. In a recent column at Religion News Service, Gushee announced: “Middle ground is disappearing on the question of whether LGBT persons should be treated as full equals, without any discrimination in society — and on the related question of whether religious institutions should be allowed to continue discriminating due to their doctrinal beliefs. It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.”

“Discrimination” is a hot-button word.  It has two distinct meanings.   One, “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”  Two, recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.”  In popular parlance, definition one is most common, and is morally wrong.  Number two is morally neutral.  It simply is the recognition that my head is bald and yours has hair.  I don’t know how Gushee uses it here (I suspect “one”.)

We should read his words again with both meanings in mind:  ” . . . the related question of whether religious institutions should be allowed to continue discriminating due to their doctrinal beliefs.”  See where this is headed?  Holding to the Christian doctrinal belief that marriage is set apart for one man/one woman, for example, is discriminatory and violates the equal protection law of the 14th Amendment.

Mohler (as do I) agrees with Gushee that there is no middle ground on these sexual revolution issues. “It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed.  This is true both for individuals and for institutions.”

My argument . . . is that the normalization of LGBT behaviors and relationships and revisions of human identity is incompatible with a commitment to biblical authority and the historic faith of the Christian church defined by Holy Scripture.

Christians can be confused over this issue.  Shouldn’t LGBT people be given the same rights as others?  If they want to practice same-sex, marry same-sex, change their sex, why should we care?  Space is too limited to discuss all the reasons.  But the first is:  God opposes it.  We must not thoughtlessly, in the name of 21st century cultural “fairness”, condone what God condemns.  At the same time, Jesus commands us to love everybody—one another, neighbor, enemy.  And it’s not loving to approve a practice that separates the practitioner from him!  This is no time for Christian conservatives (as Gushee calls for) ““to reconsider their position voluntarily.”

David Gushee . . .  really means to warn Christians who believe as I do that we are about to be the victims of a volcanic eruption. Hot lava is headed our way . . .I think he would also prefer that we join the revolution rather than be consumed in the lava flow.

Some professed Christians have joined the revolution.  These, I presume, are Christians who preach salvation without repentance, Christians for whom the Bible requires revision for the 21st century, Christians who’ve abandoned the church’s 2000-year-old stand on sexual morality.

My aim in writing here is not to suggest steps we can take to counter the revolution and stand true to God’s Word.  Indeed, “steps” may be different according to our circumstances. My aim is simply to awaken us to the revolution’s reality—with the prayer that God will give us wisdom and courage to speak and hold to the truth in the humble love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

In other words, I’m writing to shout to us all:

WAKE UP TO THE REVOLUTION, RIP!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Holy, God-Pleasing Life

” . . .for all the enthusiasm for ‘Gospel-this’ and ‘Gospel-that’ within the reformed evangelical world, there is a general lack of enthusiasm for holiness” (Blair Smith, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals—
Surprising, no?  I mean, who doesn’t know the Gospel has ethical content?  If Smith’s assessment is right, why no enthusiasm for holiness?  Maybe it’s the word that turns people off.  Too rigid and restricting.  Or because, regrettably, in some circles “holiness” has become little more than legalism about skirt lengths.
As Paul nears the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians, he switches subjects.  Here in 4:1-3 he introduces his new topic, reminding  them of ethical charges he’d given while he had been with them.
“Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more.  For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.  God wants you to be holy . . . ” (4:1-3a, TEV).
” . . . how you should live in order to please God” reminds us that, for the Christian, all of life is to be Godward worship.  (Thus living-to-please-God is not meritorious for salvation, but the way the saved are to live.)
“God wants you to be holy.”  “Holy” in the TEV is the original Greek hagiasmos, variously translated “sanctification, holiness, dedicated to God.”  In other words, being holy means living out what the Holy Spirit is working in.  More precisely, we are in the process of being holy, a process in which we play a responsive part to the greater working of the Holy Spirit and Word.

 Charge:  Stay Away from All Sexual Sin (4:3-8, TEV).

God wants you to be holy and completely free from sexual immorality.  Each of you should know how to live with your wife in a holy and honorable way, not with a lustful desire, like the heathen who do not know God.  In this matter, then, none of you should do wrong to other Christians or take advantage of them. We have told you this before, and we strongly warned you that the Lord will punish those who do that.  God did not call us to live in immorality, but in holiness.  So then, whoever rejects this teaching is not rejecting a human being, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
” . . . sexual immorality” translates the Greek pornaya and refers to any kind of sexual activity outside of one-man, one-woman marriage.  A Christian is not to be governed by “a lustful desire” but “live with [his] wife in a holy and honorable way.”  Warning accompanies this charge:  “the Lord will punish those” who ignore it—because they would be “rejecting . . . God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”  This last clause recalls why God gives us his Holy Spirit; namely, to progressively make us holy and thus pleasing to himself.
For Christian men, “stay away from all sexual sin” may be the most challenging charge to obey.  Where can we turn not to be confronted with “the lust of the flesh” and “the lust of the eyes”?  Yet 1st century A.D. Roman empire was similarly sexually-charged . . .
 Demonsthenes, a Greek statesmen and orator of ancient Athens said: “We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.”  Even religion was sexual.  “Temple prostitutes” wasn’t a metaphor; some gods were worshiped through sexual intercourse with them.  All in all, a George Barna pollster would have been hard-pressed to find a family in that culture where the husband did not have sexual relationships outside his marriage.
Our sex-charged culture (where “hook-ups” have become as common as what used to be the first kiss) isn’t so much different from that of the one Paul lived and wrote in.  Which eliminates the excuse:  “If Paul knew what it’s like now . . . !

Charge:  Love Each Other (4:9,10, TEV).

There is  no need to write you about love for each other. You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another.  And you have, in fact, behaved like this toward all the believers in all of Macedonia. So we beg you, our friends, to do even more (4:9,10, TEV).
 The Thessalonians, according to Paul, didn’t need this reminder, because they were keeping the charges, and further, “You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another.”  How had God taught them?  Perhaps Paul was referring to Jesus having taught much about love, or perhaps the Holy Spirit teaching them by producing the fruit of love in them (Galatians 5:22,23).  In any case, Paul both commends their love and urges them on to more.
Sadly the church has received mixed marks on this matter.  On the simplest level (perhaps), I’ve visited churches where the only “hello” came from assigned greeters.  Other visitors have told stories of even less “love.”  On the other hand, many churches are quick to sacrificially help fellow members and outsiders in need.  “So we beg you, our friends, to do even more.”  A fitting charge.  (Love is worth more than a good drummer!)

Charge:  Earn Your Own Living (4:11,12,TEV).

  Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before.  In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need (4:11,12, TEV).
This brings to mind Charles (Michael Landon) on the old TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” There he is, laboring in his fields quietly minding his own business, providing for himself and family.
On the other hand, ” . . . about the beginning of the third century . . . [a certain bishop] announced that the Parousia (second coming of Christ) would come by the end of a particular year:  many of his flock sold their property and so became destitute” (1 & 2 Thessalonians,  F. F. Bruce).  Not Charles nor what Paul had in mind!
Similarly, in the 19th century Baptist preacher William Miller announced the Second Coming of Christ would occur.  But October 22, 1844  came and went without the Coming.  How many “believers” sacrificed their livelihood to get ready?
Possibly this was the Thessalonians’ error Paul addressed (see 4:13 and following)—so enthused about the Second Coming that they dropped their work and simply looked endlessly to the skies.  A poor reputation with outsiders.  A burden for other believers who felt compelled to help provide for them.
Work for Christians is a vocation, a calling from God to earn one’s own living.  In that sense, work is also worship.  When we drag ourselves out of bed on Sunday morning to go to Worship, so we do to work-worship Monday through Friday.
* * * * *
 Are we enthusiastic for holiness?  Does desire to please God drive our day-to-day living?  Do we realize that holy living means not only staying away from all sexual sin, but also loving each other and earning our own living?
For us who believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit is working holiness in.  We must choose to work it out.
 

stock photo of conscience - Man listening to the angel and devil self to make a choice - JPG

Note:  I apologize if you’ve received a jumbled-up post.  Not me; it’s WordPress—and I can’t figure it out.

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Could Bear It No Longer

A shepherd’s heart may be more important for a pastor than an eloquent tongue.  Sounds crazy given today’s emphasis on the “production quality” of the church’s gathered worship.  Get a worship team that sounds like the hottest Christian concert band!  Get a pastor who wows with his words!  But hear the apostle Paul who admitted . . .

“Even if I am unskilled in speaking . . . ” (2 Corinthians 11:6).  So maybe Paul didn’t measure up to the Greek rhetoricians.  But no one could discount his pastor’s heart.

The word “pastor(s)” is found only once in the New Testament (“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”–Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV).

The original Greek (poimayn)literally means “shepherd” or “goat-herd”.  The English word “pastor” comes from the Latin noun which means “shepherd”.  The Latin verb means “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, causes to eat.”

The image we’re to have of a pastor, then, is of a shepherd.  Emphasis lies on “feeding” people God’s Word, but as part of the pastor/shepherd’s care for the people/sheep. I say that because in today’s text Paul reveals a heart that beats with the heart of a shepherd.    Read the text  below with me and see how many words and phrases unveil that heart . . .

But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,  because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.  For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  For you are our glory and joy.

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.  For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,  as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,  and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,  so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:13, ESV).

The most pregnant phrase in those paragraphs:  ” . . . when I could bear it no longer . . . ”  Paul couldn’t endure another day not knowing ” . . . about [their] faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted [them] and [his] labor would be in vain.”  The man who endured virtually more suffering than we can imagine, couldn’t stand any longer not knowing how the Thessalonians were responding to affliction from the tempter through the hostile Jews.

How easy to pick out a few other pastors and criticize their hearts!  But over four decades of pastoring, I wonder about mine.  Granted, Paul didn’t know when or if he’d see the Thessalonians again.  I’d see “my sheep” on Sunday.  But what about my heart?

  • Was I longing with great desire to soon see “my” people face-to-face?
  • Did I see them as my hope and joy and crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus at his coming?
  • Were they my glory and joy?
  • Did I fear that the tempter may tempt them through affliction to turn from the faith so that my work would be for nothing?
  • Did I rejoice and thank God when I saw their faith and love?
  • Did I pray fervently to be able to supply what was lacking in their faith?
  • Did I thank God for his work in them?
  • Did I pray that God would establish their hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints?

Too often I’d have to answer, “No.”  Too often I was more  concerned with empty chairs or how well I played my guitar or if people liked my sermon than I was about their spiritual condition and their growth in holiness.

Pastors aren’t perfect.  (Amen!)  But (we) pastors bear much responsibility (not all, by any means, but much) for the hearts of “our” people.

May the Lord give our pastors a heart like Paul’s,
so that “our” people may have a heart like His!

 

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Satan Hindered Us

In the late 1970’s we planted a church in Northern New Jersey.  As it happened, the charismatic movement was sweeping through the area.  Itinerant preaches captivated congregations with casting-out-demons sermons.  Behind every ill, it seemed, Satan lurked.

Nowadays, at least in my church circles, Satan’s treated less seriously, if at all.  However,  in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, Paul explained he had wanted to re-visit the Thessalonians “but Satan hindered us.”

But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,  because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.  For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  For you are our glory and joy.  (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, ESV).

What do we know about Satan?  Here’s a brief back-story . . .

A God-Created Fallen Angel.

“All things were made [by God] through [the Word who was God] (John 1:3).  “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Therefore, God created Satan and created him good.  But in Genesis 3, Satan, in a serpent’s form, is tempting Eve to disobey God.  Between chapters 1 and 3 some angels sinned.  “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell . . . ” (2 Peter 2:4).

How did they sin?  In Isaiah 14:12-15 Isaiah prophecies against the king of Babylon with language that seems too strong to refer to merely a human king.  Wayne Grudem comments, “It would not be uncommon for Hebrew prophetic speech to pass from description of human events . . . to  heavenly events that are parallel to them . . . ” (Systematic Theology).

“How are you fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of the Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven above the stars of God.
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the depths of the Pit.”

Not God’s Equal.

Rebellious angels are now confirmed in their evil by God.  Therefore, Satan as a fallen angel is “leashed” by God.

But now suppose you take away everything he has – he will curse you to your face!”

“All right,” the Lord said to Satan, “everything he has is in your power, but you must not hurt Job himself.” (Job 1:11,12, TEV).

Satan is no more God’s equal than a puppy whose leash we hold.  We’re not chess pieces caught up in a cosmic match between two equal masters, pawns in the hands of competing powers.  Yet, as an angel, Satan wields greater power than we humans.

Aims.

Here are a few of Satan’s goals in his nefarious rebellion . . .

  • Replace God’s reign (see Isaiah 14:12-15 above).
  • Slander God’s character (see Job 1:11,12 above).
  • Destroy God’s purposes for mankind (Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death—Hebrews 2:14,15).

Strategy.

Here are three parts of Satan’s plan . . .

  • Deny God’s Word (Did God actually say . . . ?  You will not surely die—Genesis 3:1,4).
  • Seek to make humans think they are the measure and goal of everything ( . . . you will be like God—Genesis 35)
  • Distort God’s truth (Paul condemning Bar-Jesus:  “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”—Acts 13:10)/

(Note:  above “Aims” and “Strategy” gleaned from bible.org/seriespage/commendation-and-thanksgiving-1-thess-213-20.)

Tactic.

Interestingly, when we read the Acts account of Paul in Thessalonica (17:1-9), author Luke mentions hindrance from men’s attacks, but nothing about Satan.   I suspect that’s because God is telling us that often Satan carries out his strategies through humans, whether as individuals or in organizations.  In other words, the hostile Thessalonians opposing Paul and the gospel were Satan-inspired

That’s what I take Paul to imply in Ephesians 6:12—For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. Human “rulers and authorities” that oppose Christ and his gospel are empowered by “the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world.”  So they are whom we’re fighting against as we follow Jesus and spread his message.

The Long-Red-Underwear-One 21st Century.
Don’t laugh.  But don’t ignore either.  Satan’s as real now as when Jesus was among us.  His aims and strategies and tactics are the same.  We have an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Following Jesus in an evil-one-controlled world (1 John 5:19) amounts to spiritual warfare.  For how to fight see 1 Peter 5:9 and Ephesians 6:10-20.

Paul’s Odd Tactic.

As far as I can tell from Scripture didn’t return to Thessalonica and command, “Get behind me, Satan!”  He simply went on to Corinth.  Which suggests to me, Paul saw Satan’s hindrance as God’s guidance.  Just as the Lord used Satan’s attacks on Job for a greater good in Job’s life, so he used Satan’s attacks through the Thessalonians for a greater good in spreading the gospel.  With the way back to Thessalonica blocked, Paul wrote letters to them and preached the gospel in Corinth.

Showing us that sometimes when Satan seems on the loose doing his devilish work,
our Lord still has him leashed for his good purposes.

 

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Mighty Ministry Model

What models for ministry do  pastors and other Christian leaders (worship, youth, Sunday school, small group leaders) have today?  To whom and what must they consciously, or even subconsciously, look to pattern their own leadership after?

Clearly this is imperative.  The right model will pass on the right leadership, the wrong will pass on the wrong.  And it will, for good or for bad, affect everyone who follows that leader.

John Piper, in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals!”  (http://document.desiringgod.org/brothers-we-are-not-professionals-en.pdf?1439242057)  argues that pastors are under “quiet” pressure to . . .

“Be as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians. This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the stuffy upper floors but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA but in being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.”

I chuckle at Piper’s remark “the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans”, because over several weeks I happened upon a half-dozen young preachers on TV all wearing blue jeans.  The new clerical garb!

In today’s text (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16) Paul provides “a mighty ministry model”.  (Nothing to do with jeans!)

Paul is in Corinth (Acts 18:1), concerned about the persecuted new believers back in Thessalonica. Timothy has returned from a personal fact-finding visit with an encouraging report, but also with news of Jewish persecution condemning Paul to turn believers from his gospel.  In this section Paul defends himself.  From his self- defense we glimpse segments of his “mighty ministry model.”

1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us (2:1-8, ESV).

Transparency.

That’s a word which politicians have made a mockery.  But not Paul.  And not (hopefully) Christian leaders who follow his model. Three times in this paragraph (verses 1, 2 and 5) Paul refers to what the Thessalonians came to know about him:  “that our coming to you was not in vain”, “that they had boldness in our God to declare . . . the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” and having “already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi”, and that “we never came with words of flattery . . . nor with a pretext for greed”.  Paul’s life was an open book.

A Christian leader must be transparent.  Thereby he encourages others to follow, not just with his words and triumphs, but with his wounds and weaknesses.

Boldness in God.

The Greek word translated “boldness” (verse 2) implies open speaking.  Paul and his partners spoke the gospel openly “in the midst of much conflict”.  No whispering in the shadows. They were confident of God’s presence with them and provision for them.

Christian leaders in America still remain relatively persecution-free (but the circle is tightening!).  Even so, often God’s Word counters what people want to hear.  Ever try telling a yet-unmarried Christian couple they must stop sleeping together?  We need boldness in our God.

Awareness of Being Entrusted by God with the Gospel.

This concerns motive and method (verses 3-5).  Paul’s motive was never deception.  He believed he had been entrusted with the gospel—a trust to be guarded and passed on truthfully.  His motive was always to please God not people, knowing God tests and tries our heart.

None of us is perfect in how we interpret and preach the gospel.  But I cringe when I hear a  preacher butcher the biblical text.  He does so either because he’s been careless in preparation or is trying to further his personal agenda.  Honestly, most preachers I’ve heard carry a way-too-casual demeanor about the text.  This is God’s Word!  Too often preachers fail to understand they have been entrusted with it and, therefore, approach it without any sense of reverence.  If leaders approach the written gospel as just another text book, how will followers treat it?

Mother-Like Care.

Gentle with converts, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.”  ” . . . affectionately desirous of you.”   ” . . . ready to share with you . . . our own selves.”  ” . . . you had become very dear to us” (verses 6-8).  No demands.  This is incredible.  I’d expect Paul, suffering persecution wounds himself, enduring painful hardships to fulfill his ministry, to lose patience with slow learners, maybe take out his frustration on them.  But he reminds them of the mother-like care he gave them and they recalled weeks later.

A female Sunday school teacher may want to show mother-like care; but I haven’t known many pastors over four decades of my ministry who wanted to be known for this virtue.  We pastors want to be known as strong (forgetting that gentle, mother-like care is strength  beyond the corporate leadership model we often follow).  Think of Jesus with the poor, the hungry, the sick.  Mother-like care.  It’s harder to show that than to preach a powerful sermon!

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.  You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.  For you know how, like a father with his children,  we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (2:9-12, ESV).

 

Father-Like Exhortation.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians of how he worked hard at his tent-making trade, so not to burden them for financial support.  He calls them witnesses to his holy, righteous and blameless conduct.  He points to their knowledge of how he exhorted, encouraged and charged the converts “to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”  That exhortation “had teeth” only because this is how Paul himself as a “father” lived.

To speak words of exhortation, encouragement and command to live in a manner worthy of our God isn’t so great a challenge (though to do it like a loving father without harshness is!).  But it’s much more challenging to conduct ourselves in holy, righteous and blameless ways—and then call on those we lead as witnesses to that conduct!

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,  who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind  by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last (2:13-16, ESV)

 

Gratitude When People Receive God’s Word As God’s Word.

How did Paul know his “followers” had received God’s Word as God’s Word.  One, he saw the “fruit” of God’s Word at work in them.  Two, they become imitators of other followers of Jesus.  And, three, they followed despite suffering.  For that Paul constantly thanks God.

Many Christian leaders (pastors especially) are occupied with the next step, the next level, more converts, bigger growth.  Vision is important—but not to the exclusion of what God is doing now.  Ingratitude for God’s work is a mark of unrighteousness and incurs God’s wrath (see Romans 1:21).  It’s not the mark of a “mighty ministry model”.

 

Why a Mighty Ministry Model?

I included mighty in this title not just for alliteration’s sake.  I use it to identify the ministry model’s source.  It wasn’t Paul’s personal power that created this model.  It was God’s through the Holy Spirit at work in Paul.  Therefore, model Christian ministers (pastor, Sunday school teacher, etc.) must seek the empowering of the Spirit in prayer and in the Word.

But Paul couldn’t be passive, waiting for that anointing to fall.  In mind and heart he—and we who would follow his model—must deliberately aim at that model.  That requires rejecting the “quiet” pressure to follow the world’s media and entertainment model.  It requires “hanging on our refrigerator” a poster of the apostle instead of a poster of the current celebrity (Christian or otherwise).

Whether we wear torn blue jeanor not, may God empower us by his Word and Spirit to become mighty ministry models for those who come after us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Control

When I was in high school (no, not a one-room schoolhouse!) six of us “serious students” (probably cutting class together)packed into a friend’s small car.  (Don’t remember its make or anybody’s name; memory densely foggy).  Down a steep hill.  Too fast.  A sudden left turn onto a suburban side street.  Too sharp.  Like an amusement park ride, car tipped and rolled.  (We weren’t amused.)  Thankfully no one was hurt.  Car landed on a soft lawn, and we, packed tighter than sardines, therefore couldn’t bounce around inside like a pinball machine.  But I remember this:  a frightening feeling of being out of control.

A rare feeling, especially at that age.  Ah, youth!  Teenagers can control just anything.  Not that nothing never intimidated me.  Indeed, teachers and tests and test grades did.  Presenting a three-minute speech in front of thirty classmates did.  Yet, with few exceptions, I was king of my kingdom.  I was in control.

A delusion:  I was not.  Years later, when my father was dying at home, I, the “king”,  had no control.  I could pray and comfort, but not heal.  More years later, when my mother was dying in the hospital, comatose, I couldn’t even awaken her to say, “I love you, Mom.”

The youthful control-delusion bleeds over into young adulthood.  We find our place in the work-world and begin to climb the ladder.  Little question that we can.  Work hard; you can be on top!  It all depends on us.  We can reach our goal, however high, because this is America.  Anyone can grow up to be president.  We hold the reins of our vocational destiny.

Ultimately, finally, we awake to realize the delusion.  The insight doesn’t come like a light suddenly flipped on in a dark room.  Rather it comes in a multitude of individual, isolated experiences of no control.  Until the accumulation of those individual experiences, like a foot-deep snowstorm, blankets us with the knowledge:  so little power we wield.

At almost 73, I’ve learned—not completely yet, but much—I control little.  In Mourning into Dancing, Walter Wangerin writes, “In physical sickness we feel the dust we are and suffer the knowledge that we do not control even the corpus in which we ‘live’.”  I was pretty healthy my whole life.  Until nine years ago.  Two major back surgeries and a dozen tests led to this diagnosis:  primary lateral sclerosis.  Unlike colds and flu, there’s no getting better.  No resting up a few days until health returns.  It won’t kill me, but it won’t go away and will worsen.

Corpus isn’t only our control-less experience.  No control over a spouse who wants out . . . over being fired unfairly from a job . . . over the tax rate you must pay . . . over (of course) the weather.  Like a few years ago when we vacationed at the Florida Panhandle.  Rained every day.  No spigot to turn it off.  “Come on, God!” got nothing but more rain.  The list of “no control” winds on and on until it reaches the last “no control”—death.

Here’s a scary thought:  no one in a position of world power really controls what happens.  Sure they exercise power.  Obama’s executive actions affect our lives.  Hillary or The Donald will impact America.  But, even with their best policies, too many variables will produce a myriad of “unintended consequences.” 

So:  are we trapped in a speeding car turning sharply and rolling over and over?  Is that life?  Are we all without control grabbing for a temporary handle?  Here’s old good news to consider . . .

The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
(Psalm 103:19)

This is  the psalmist’s way of telling us Someone is in control of “all”:    The LORD.  God, the Father of Jesus.  God of the Bible.  His reign rules over all.

Makes you wonder why we don’t all run to him.  He’s not a tyrant.  He is love.  He is good.  He is wise.  He is merciful and gracious.  What fools we are—we who can control virtually nothing—not to run to him who will send us from himself for all eternity if we don’t run to him now . . .

Here’s more old good news.  It centers in the most dynamic, transformational event in human history . . .

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name, 
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:5b-11)

Before that day when every knee must bow, this is the day to willingly surrender to him.  To the One who indeed is Lord, in control of all things.  Even our next breath.  Even our eternity.  And he’s coming.  And when he does he’ll even take control of our corpus . . .

. . . we eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, 
who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control,
will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
(Philippians 20,21)

 

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Celebrating a “Hip City” Success

 They call Thessalonika (present day spelling) “Greece’s Hippest City”.  Want to visit?  Book a room at the Plaza hotel online at http://www.booking.com/hotel/gr/plaza-art.html?aid=314342, 

Thessaloniki waterfront

Paul, at Corinth in 50 A.D., worried about how the new Thessalonian believers were holding up in the face of persecution.  Having no computer for email, he sent Timothy to find out (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5).  When Timothy returned with a glowing report, Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Thessalonians.  Here’s chapter 1 . . .

 

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia– your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it,  for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, ESV).

At first reading it might seem the Thessalonians’ persevering faith in persecution’s face was due to their determination, their strength of character.  That’s partly true.  They made choices to hang on to faith.  After all, it was their work faith produced, their labor love prompted, their endurance hope in Jesus inspired.  They imitated the missionaries and the Lord, welcoming the message in spite of severe suffering.  They turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for God’s Son from heaven.

As I understand it, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty (“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all”—Psalm 103:19. NIV) doesn’t preclude human choice.  For example, when Joshua challenged the Israelites, ” . . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15), they were confronted with a real choice—the gods of the Amorites or the LORD.  And they would be blessed or cursed accordingly.

I love this quote by Charles Spurgeon (19th century British Baptist preacher), but we might infer more than we should about God’s sovereignty and human’s choice . . .

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

Humans aren’t dust or spray or chaff or aphid or leaves.  While God surely must first awaken us out of sin’s deadness, we are still able to choose much.  Especially as reborn-by-the-Spirit believers we can choose to welcome the gospel though we’ll incur persecution, we can choose to labor in love for a friend, we can choose to drive our idols to the dump.

When we more carefully read 1 Thessalonians 1 it becomes clear Paul is celebrating what God has ultimately done.  He thanks God for the Thessalonians.  That “thanks” sets the chapter’s tone:  even for all the Thessalonians have done Paul thanks God.

Yet, before any action by the Thessalonians, they were “loved by God” and chosen by him.  That choice was evident by how the gospel came to them—namely, “with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  (I take Paul to mean that the power of the Holy Spirit produced deep conviction in the Thessalonians.)  Despite knowing they would face severe suffering, “they welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus’ physical resurrection dynamically demonstrated he is “the living and true God.”  The promise of his coming again from heaven offered hope of rescue “from the coming wrath.”  Therefore, both God’s act in historical resurrection and in future coming moved them to turn from dead idols.

Question:  did the Thessalonians’ conversion experience result from God’s acts or theirs?  Answer:  yes.  God the Holy Spirit was the prior and prime Actor.  The Thessalonians were thereby enabled and responsible to answer; but they weren’t compelled to believe and rejoice and persevere as if God’s sovereignty made them  puppets.

So today.  It’s possible for us to be into the doctrine of God’s sovereignty so much that he is the ultimate cause of everything and we are responsible for nothing.  (In the same way, it’s possible for us to presume God’s not active in his creature and everything’s pretty much up to us.)  At what point exactly does God’s sovereign act end and man’s responding act begin?  I don’t know.  Here, it seems to me, is knowledge too high for us.  It’s enough for us to know God is the prior and primary Actor, and we are responsible to respond accordingly.

We are not Deists or Moral Therapeutic Deists who believe God “wound up” the world and left it to run on its own, except to help us when we can’t go it alone.  God is directly, deliberately involved in his creation and with his creatures.  For that, with Paul, we can be most thankful.

But that doesn’t give us license to do nothing until we “feel moved”.  Scripture is chock full of commands and directives.  Obedience isn’t meritorious, but it is required.  So, knowing God is acting, let’s do the good we know to do.

Then, let’s celebrate—our accomplishments with a small-scale celebration and God’s accomplishments as if we’re practicing for an eternity of effusive praise in the hippest city ever.  (We are.)

 

 

 

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Sin City

A reconstruction of ancient Corinth in the video above

That’s what they call Las Vegas:  “Sin City”.  Earned from its prolific prostitution, strip clubs, gambling casinos, drug use and organized crime.  Ancient Corinth had notoriety too.  Greeks created a word for it.  Korinthiazesthai—“to live like a Corinthian” (the verb form of the noun Korinthos).  It meant “to live with drunken and immoral debauchery”.  Or as Liddell and Scott bluntly define it in their Greek Lexicon, “to practice whoredom”.  It was to the Sin City  of ancient Greece, 50 miles west of Athens, Paul now headed.

The City of Corinth

Destroyed in 146 B.C. , Corinth was rebuilt a century later by Julius Caesar, making it a Roman  colony and the administrative capital of the Roman province of Achaea.

The city boasted two seaports with a main land travel route from Rome to Asia.  It thus became a major commercial trade center accompanied by  great wealth.

“A famous temple to Aphrodite had [once]stood on the summit of Acrocorinth in the Classical Age (5th & 4th centuries B.C.) . . . It had fallen into ruins by Paul’s time, but successors to its 1,000 cult prostitutes continued to ply their profession in the city below. [This was worship by sexual intercourse to the goddess.] Many of them were no doubt housed in the lofts above the 33 wine shops uncovered in the modern excavations. Corinth was a city catering to sailors and traveling salesmen. Even by the Classical Age it had earned an unsavory reputation for its libertine atmosphere; to call someone ‘a Corinthian lass’ was to impugn her morals. It may well be that one of Corinth’s attractions for Paul was precisely this reputation of immorality.” (The Biblical World In Pictures).

” , , , there flourished far more [obscure] vices, which had come in with the traders and the sailors from the ends of the earth, until Corinth became not only a synonym for wealth and luxury, drunkenness and debauchery, but also for filth.” (William Barclay, The Letters To The Corinthians, p. 2-3).

The city was a sanctuary for the cults of the gods of Egypt, Rome and Greece.  Aphrodite the goddess of love,  Poseidon ruler of the sea and earthquakes, Apollo the god of music, Hermes the messenger of the gods,  Isis the personification of the rainbow, Demeter the goddess of agriculture, Zeus the king of the gods, and more were worshiped there.

Corinth was arguably the most worldly city to which Paul took the Gospel.

Paul in Corinth

In Corinth we find events unfolding much as in other cities.  Paul goes first to the Jewish synagogue.  They oppose his Jesus-is-the-risen-Messiah message,, so he turns to the Gentiles.  A number of Gentiles believe which leads the Jews to drag Paul before the Roman authorities.  They conclude the Jews must settle the matter themselves, freeing Paul to  continue his ministry.  Here’s author Luke’s account in Acts 18:1-18a, TEV) . . .

After this, Paul left Athens and went on to Corinth.  There he met a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, for Emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them,  and stayed and worked with them, because he earned his living by making tents, just as they did.  He held discussions in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks. 
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul gave his whole time to preaching the message, testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.  When they opposed him and said evil things about him, he protested by shaking the dust from his clothes and saying to them, “If you are lost, you yourselves must take the blame for it! I am not responsible. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
So he left them and went to live in the house of a Gentile named Titius Justus, who worshiped God; his house was next to the synagogue.  Crispus, who was the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his family; and many other people in Corinth heard the message, believed, and were baptized.  
One night Paul had a vision in which the Lord said to him, “Do not be afraid, but keep on speaking and do not give up, for I am with you. No one will be able to harm you, for many in this city are my people.”  So Paul stayed there for a year and a half, teaching the people the word of God.  
When Gallio was made the Roman governor of Achaia, Jews there got together, seized Paul, and took him into court.  “This man,” they said, “is trying to persuade people to worship God in a way that is against the law!” Paul was about to speak when Gallio said to the Jews, “If this were a matter of some evil crime or wrong that has been committed, it would be reasonable for me to be patient with you Jews. But since it is an argument about words and names and your own law, you yourselves must settle it. I will not be the judge of such things!”  And he drove them out of the court. They all grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the court. But that did not bother Gallio a bit. 
Paul stayed on with the believers in Corinth for many days, then left them and sailed off with Priscilla and Aquila for Syria. (Acts 18:1-18a, TEV).
In case you missed them here are several out-of-the-ordinary events . . .
  • Paul met Aquilia and Priscilla, tent-making Jews who had been among Jews expelled from Rome by the emperor.  have been caught up in the emperor’s expulsion of Jews from Rome.  Until Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul plied his tent-making trade with the couple to support himself.
  • Apparently Paul was fearful of opposition in the city—hence the encouraging vision from the Lord.  Paul (in 1 Corinthians 2:3) admits that “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling”.
  • Does “many in this city are my people” mean the Lord had chosen many for salvation or many already believed?  We’re not told.
  • Paul remained in Corinth between 18 and 24 months, making converts and establishing the church.

Power of the Cross

Because Luke’s narrative is similar to that from other cities, we’re apt to read it with a yawn.  We shouldn’t.  The planting of a church in notorious Corinth testifies to the transforming power of the cross.  Here is a wealthy city, thriving in its commercial trade, proud of its political stature, worshiping a plenitude of gods (to appease them for their blessings), and captivated by its illicit pleasures.  If  ever there was a city whose sin shut it off to the Gospel, Corinth was it.

But the Gospel unleashed a greater power.  Listen to how Paul wrote of it later . . .

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV)

That greater  power saved some of Corinth’s most morally corrupt  . . .

“Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters,
not adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves,
nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers
will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you.
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
(1 Corinthians 6:9b-11, ESV).

Lost Loved Ones.

Have family members hardened in unbelief?  Parents or sons or daughters so caught up in the world they have no interest in Jesus?  Close friends drifting deeper and deeper into immorality or addiction, who seem far beyond saving?  And years of praying and speaking haven’t made a dent in their disinterest or unbelief?

We can take courage from Corinth.  The Holy Spirit can penetrate the hardest heart.  Out of moral perversion and spiritual darkness the Lord Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of God, can wash the filthiest life, sanctify the most corrupt sinner and justify the guiltiest transgressor.

Into today’s sin cities the Savior still comes to claim his own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forgotten Forever

If you want to peer into a man’s soul, read Psalms.  They are unique in Scripture, because, instead of God talking to a man, they record man talking to God.

A smorgasbord of thoughts and emotions, there are lament and thanksgiving and praise and salvation history and affirming celebration and wisdom and trust psalms.  Interestingly, the largest group is lament.  Again and again the psalmists honestly and fervently express discouragement, disappointment, discontent and distress to the Lord.

Perhaps the most familiar are these heartrending questions from David, which eventually Jesus echoed from the cross . . .

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?”
(Psalm 22:1, ESV).

Here’s an especially poignant cry, again from David . . .

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you
hide your face from me?
(Psalm 13:1, ESV)

Today’s English Version’s  translation packs a bit more passion . . .

“How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?
How much longer will you hide your face from me?”
(Psalm 13:1, TEV).

Such psalms destroy the foolish notion to be careful not to “confess anything negative with our mouth”.  And, even, I would add the idea that we may tread on thin ice if we complain or get angry with the Lord.  In fact, if we can’t be honest with our Father in heaven about how we really feel, with whom can we be brutally honest? He’s not a prideful monarch whose ego will be crushed and demand satisfaction if we complain to him!

Look at more of Psalm 13.  Ever felt this way?

How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?
How much longer will you hide yourself from me?

How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
(Psalm 13:1,2, TEV)

For some, “enemies” are violent persecutors.  For others, they are prolonged illness, disability, the physical wasting-away for aging and dying, an abusive husband, an unjust employer, an addiction, a particular sin, Satan.  The list is long; “enemies” come in many forms.  And turning to follow Jesus in faith doesn’t magically remove them.

When “enemies triumph” and “sorrow fill[s] my heart” and “I endure trouble” with no respite, I hit bottom where I feel forgotten.  “How much longer will you forget me Lord?  Forever?”   Can’t be much worse than feeling that my Lord has forgotten me.

But, with one exception (Psalm 88), the psalmist doesn’t stay there.  Though “forgotten”, he prays yet again—the prayer of a desperate, drowning man . . .

Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.”
Don’t let them gloat over my downfall.
(Psalm 13:3,4, TEV)
“Look at me”—the opposite of the Lord “hiding [him]self”.  Do I hear anger in “Look at me”?  Or just desperation?  David’s need is critical.  Begging for strength, because he’s weak.  Afraid the Lord may let him die.  His enemies are readying a celebration over his downfall.
But, again, David doesn’t stay there.  He moves on, on to envision coming rescue.  I marvel.  I’m prone to camp in verses 1 and 2.  Or maybe barely (angrily?) crawl in verses 3 and 4.  How do I reach the height of David’s faith in these last two verses?
I rely on your constant love; I will be glad,
because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord,
because you have been good to me.
(Psalm 13:5.6, TEV)
“Constant love” comes from the Hebrew chesed, the word used of the steadfast, covenant love of the Lord.  He has made a covenant with us who trust him.  And he cannot not be faithful to his covenant.  Jesus himself is the guarantee of this better (than Old) covenant (Hebrews 7:22).  It’s this that Paul echoes in this assuring promise . . .
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son,
but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son –
will he not also freely give us all things?
Who will accuse God’s chosen people?
God himself declares them not guilty!
Who, then, will condemn them?
Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life
and is at the right side of God, pleading with him for us!
Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger
or poverty or danger or death?
As the scripture says, “For your sake we are in danger of death at all times;
we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we have complete victory
through him who loved us!
For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love:
neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers,
neither the present nor the future,
neither the world above
nor the world below –
there is nothing in all creation
that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God
which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:31b-39, TEV)
On this love we can rely.  Because of this love we will be rescued.  He has been good to lavish his love on us in Christ Jesus.

Feeling forgotten?  We will be glad!  Feeling forsaken?  We will sing!

 

* * * * *

NOTE:  Break from blogging the rest of this week.  Back early next week.  Appreciate all you readers—all 700 subscribers!  May the Lord grant us our heart’s desires, as we delight ourselves in him!

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