The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: May 2017 (page 2 of 2)

The Hurt and the Healer

Can you bear reading about me again?  I write about me because writing helps crystallize my thinking about what I’m suffering.  So it’s for me.  I do it, too, because I pray it encourages you in your painful place, whether now or some tomorrow.  So it’s for you.

For months I’ve struggled drawing near to God.  Not that I’ve disbelieved; I just kind of kept my distance.  Like a master-hurt puppy who shies away.  After all, God is sovereign.  So he sent or at least allowed this primary lateral sclerosis.  Shying-away may be sin, or at least foolishness.  But, that’s how I felt.

I’ve asked, “Why this, Lord?”  Of course, he answered long before I asked . . .   So I would learn better to rely, not on myself, but on him who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9).  So I could comfort others with the comfort I receive (2 Corinthians 1:8).  So I would grow in endurance and character and hope in God (Romans 5:3-5).  So I might know Christ in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).

I didn’t like his answers.  I wanted (and still want) healing.  I want to walk.  I want all my broken parts to work right.  And I pray that way.  My brother-in-law, through his weekly phone calls (and at many other times), prays that way for me.  (Excuse him.  He’s a Pentecostal and believes God still heals.  So do I.)

I know what I’m asking.  PLS has no cure; it just progressively worsens.  But nothing is impossible with God, right (Luke 1:37)?  So in my shy-puppy position, I’ve prayed.  And I’ve stubbornly thought, “If this is supposed to teach me better reliance on the Lord, if it’s aimed at improving my endurance and character and hope, if this is geared at drawing me into closer fellowship with Christ, it ain’t working.  (Well, so far as I can tell.)

Recently, through my study of John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory (which I’m summarizing on my blog posts),  I’ve been reminded of what I’ve believed for a lifetime–the Scriptures are the very words of God.  They’re truth.  Reality.  The only sure objective ground on which I stand.  Everything that doesn’t measure up to them totters and falls.  So lately I’ve grasped Reality more tightly again.

And I’ve started again to encounter the Healer.  With open arms.  With a welcoming heart.  I’m learning to accept that, until he heals me (in the land of the living or in the resurrection), this is his chosen path for me.  (Though not my choice.)  With my mind I’m standing on his word.  With my heart I’m hungry for his presence.

I’m not saying (to follow the shy-puppy theme) I’m racing excitedly for the door when I hear Jesus come home.  But I am kinda nudging at his hand.

Shocking that a pastor for 44 years has such struggles?  Well, I’ve learned (as I’ve written before) there’s a Grand-Canyon-wide difference between trusting God when one is young and healthy and busy in significant ministry and trusting him when one is old and weak and largely “on the shelf”.  How easily (and naively) I preached from Philippians 3:8-11 . . .

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

“I want to know Christ . . . and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”  My sufferings are world’s apart from his.  Yet in mine, I’ve been at times a spiritual wimp.  So much more maturing needed!

But, as I wrote above, I’m a puppy nudging at his hand.  A skeptic might argue, “If you believe the Lord sent or allowed your suffering, you’re an idiot for cozying up to him for comfort!  Typical Christian craziness.”

No, my skeptic friend.  God means it for good.  I admit I can’t see the good.  And I know it sounds foolish. He can see better than I can!  Besides,  to whom else can I go?  Curse God and die means only death (the eternal kind).  No!  The day will come (call me crazy) when this suffering will seem “light and momentary”–because I’ll be dancing (something I never could do!)

So while I pray and wait for healing, I’m learning to be happy with the Healer . . .

 

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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 12)

From John Piper’s book, we are answering these questions: “Is the Bible true?  And can all other truth-claims rightly be judged against it?”  Piper contends we can answer those questions without rigorously studying historical research.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory

Why does God’s glory play a central role in confirming the truth of God’s word?  That’s this chapter’s aim.

“By comparing the sight of glory in nature with the sight of glory in Scripture, we will see how central the glory of God is in the process of knowing God; we will see that the supernatural is known through the natural; and we will see that we are responsible to have this knowledge . . . “ (Piper, p. 196).

WELL-GROUNDED KNOWLEDGE OF TRUTH FOR EVERYONE

Though there are compelling, scholarly arguments for the Bible’s authenticity, most people have little or no access to them.  Piper wants us all to come to “a well-grounded confidence in the truth of the gospel . . . “ that extends to the whole Bible (Piper, p. 196).

WE WILL BE JUDGED FOR WHAT WE HAVE ACCESS TO KNOWING

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21).

Paul assumes people, who see God’s glory, are responsible to believe and liable to judgment if they don’t.

THIS WELL-GROUNDED FAITH IS POSSIBLE THROUGH THE GOSPEL

The gospel contains self-authenticating glory that makes well-grounded faith possible.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

WHAT CAN BE KNOWN ABOUT GOD IS PLAIN TO THEM

In Romans 1:18-21 (above) Paul declares God is making himself (his glory and goodness which call us to glorify and thank him) known.  Piper identifies three steps in this process . . .

  1. “God made the universe.”
  2. “Our minds grasp something of God by the things made.”
  3. “By that mental grasp, we see clearly the unseen” (Piper, p. 199).
ADMIT IT OR NOT, THE GLORY OF GOD IS PLAIN

“The Hubble Space Telescope sends back infrared images of faint galaxies perhaps twelve billion light-years away (twelve billion times six trillion miles).  Even within our Milky Way, there are stars so great as to defy description, like Eta Carinae, which is five million times brighter than our sun.  If you stumble over this vastness, thinking it seems disproportionately large compared to the infinitesimally small man and his habitation, remember that the meaning of this magnitude is not mainly about us.  It’s about God” (Piper, p. 200).

Besides revealing God’s greatness, the world reveals God’s goodness.  Therefore, God expects us both to glorify him and thank him.

WHAT DO I KNOW FROM THE NATURAL WORLD?

“When I come to Romans 1, I am confronted with the stunning truths that what can be known about God is plain to John Piper; and that God has manifested himself to John Piper; and that John Piper has clearly perceived, by the workings of his mind and by the things that are made, the power and deity of God; and that therefore, at the root of his being, John Piper knows God but has failed to glorify God and thank him in anything like the measure God deserves” (Piper, p. 201).

STUNNING, SELF-EVIDENT THINGS THAT I CANNOT KNOW

We can’t escape this realization:  God made the world to communicate his glory.  He made us to experience his glory–and thus to glorify and thank him.

“It is also intuitively obvious to me that if God’s self-revelation obliges me to thank him, then the revelation of God’s glory is . . . for my enjoyment . . . I know intuitively that the revelation of his glory is for my ultimate joy, and that by finding this joy in him, he will be glorified” (Piper, p. 204).

“BY THE SCOPE OF THE WHOLE”

We come, then, to this important question:  What’s the connection between knowing through nature as we’ve just discussed and the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures?

The Westminster Catechism (1647) answers:  “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by . . . the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God” (Piper, p. 205).  That is, just as the whole of God’s world is to declare God’s glory, the whole of the Bible is to communicate God’s glory.

Johnathan Edwards (17th century theologian-pastor) said it like this . . .

“All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God . . . The refulgence (radiance, brilliance) shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary.  The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and refunded back again to their original.  So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair” (Piper, p. 206).

WE ARE MADE TO KNOW GOD’S GLORY THROUGH THE WORLD AND THE WORD

According to Paul, all humans know the glory of God (” . . . what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them”–Romans 1:19).

Piper explains:  “I take him to mean that because we are all created in God’s image, with the original destiny of imaging forth God’s glory, there are traces of this design in our souls” (Piper, p. 206).

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KNOWING GOD BY THE WORLD AND BY THE WORD

In the Word, God’s glory is revealed by the meaning of the words, not the original parchment, ink and letters.  The sun (as representative of the created world) is “solar writing” at which God expects us to say, “What a glorious and good God writes with such fire!” (p. 208).

GOD’S WORLD AND WORD REVEAL HIS GLORY

As God’s glory shines through his created world, so it shines through the Scriptures he inspired.  “In this way, God confirms that these writing are his” (Piper, p. 209).

* * *

We shouldn’t take away from Piper’s argument for the “self-authenticating” glory of God’s word that an unregenerate person can read the Bible and “see” God’s glory there.  Romans 1 is clear:  by what he’s created God has made his “eternal power and divine nature” known.  And he holds us accountable to respond by glorifying and giving thanks to him.  But any inference that we (humans) can know God’s glory in Scripture apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is just that–an inference, and one without foundation.  After all, unless God in his mercy makes us alive in Christ, we are dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:4,5).

John Owen (17th century Puritan theologian)  wrote, “Those who are under the power of their natural darkness and blindness . . . cannot see or discern that divine excellency in the Scripture without an apprehension whereof no man can believe it aright to be the word of God.”

Piper agrees: ” . . . the only hope for seeing the glory of God in Scripture is that God might cut away the diamond-hard, idolatrous substitutes for the glory of God that are packed into the template of our heart” (Reading the Bible Supernaturally).

Nor should we presume that every time we believers read the Bible we’re captivated by God’s glory in its meaning.  A headache, marriage problems, text message distractions and a dozen other things can “dull” the glory of God in his word to us.

So can a rushed reading of our devotions or listening to Sunday’s sermon while worrying about Monday’s work.

I’ve no space left for detailed suggestions about how to read or listen to God’s word.  Suffice it to say time, undistracted attention, careful thinking and a seeking to “see” God’s glory in what you’re reading or hearing are all important..

And one more most important instruction:  pray for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart to “see” the glory of God that’s truly there.

 

 

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Heart-Light

Are you aware that a miracle’s been worked in us who believe?  Paul will picture it, but in the context of commending his ministry to the doubting Corinthians . . .

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (4:1).

What’s “therefore” there for?  It explains Paul’s attitude based on what he’s just written—“And we all (all who have “turned to the Lord”—3:16) with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

For that reason, writes Paul, and “since through God’s mercy we have this ministry” (of this Spirit-transforming, glory-of-the-Lord-beholding) we do not lose heart.”

Did Paul have reason to lose heart?  Listen to 4:16a—“ . . . outwardly we are wasting away”.  Persecution from unbelievers, travel-dangers, even aging all took its toll on Paul’s body.  Outwardly he was “wasting away”.  But perhaps the most formidable cause of  losing heart is unbelievers who hear his gospel, then reject it.  That, however, doesn’t change his teaching or tactics . . .

“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (4:2,3).

An apostle discouraged by poor ministry results might resort to shady techniques.  Not Paul.

“ . . . secret and shameful ways . . . deception . . . distort God’s word”—those are the ways of the “false apostles” troubling the church and belittling Paul.  (“Deception” here–Greek, panourgia–means “ready to do anything” or “will stop at nothing.”  “Distort”–Greek, dolo-o–means to change something to cause it to be false, “adulterate, falsify”).   Paul refuses to go there. Instead, he is “setting forth the truth plainly”.  Thereby, “we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”  And he will free every person to judge “the truth” according to his own conscience.

Paul appeals to a person’s capacity to judge between right and wrong.  ” . . . in the sight of God” tells us Paul knows God is always watching and weighing how he delivers the gospel.

But not all believe.  Paul admits that.  Still, he’ll not use any deceptive method that distorts God’s word, even to gain “believers.”  The gospel-veiled ones are “ . . .those who are perishing” have minds “veiled” to the gospel.  Therefore, on their way to the darkness of hell’s death, they don’t perceive the light of truth as truth.

Does unbelievers’  gospel-rejection invalidate its truth claim?  Does it dull some of the gospel “shine”?  John Calvin answered:  “The blindness of unbelievers in no way detracts from the clearness of the gospel, for the sun is no less resplendent because the blind do not perceive its light.”   Unbelievers are victims of evil spiritual powers . . .

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ(4:4-6).

“The god of this age”–Satan.  Jesus calls him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31).  The apostle John calls him “the evil one” under whose power the whole world lies (1 John 5:19).  Because he has blinded unbelievers’ minds “they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” 4:4). 

The Corinthian “super-apostles” might but Paul declares, ” . . . we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord . . . ”   

To the Jewish believer, “Lord” recalls “Yahweh” of the Old Testament.  Jesus is Yahweh—“I Am That I Am”, the covenant-keeping Sovereign.  To the Gentile believer, “Lord” is Caesar’s self-proclaimed title–“Lord” of the Roman Empire,  man to be honored above all, the one who embodies deity, the absolute ruler to be humbly obeyed and served. To claim “Jesus is Lord”  is political treason, and invites retribution.

Since Paul preaches “Jesus Christ as Lord”, he preaches “ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  The great apostle sees himself as a servant of the Corinthians, many of whom disdain him.  And his servanthood has a holy purpose:  “for Jesus’ sake”.  He serves them on behalf of Jesus.  He lives among them as Jesus would.  So Jesus might be trusted and praised.

What  transformed that proud Pharisee Paul, the once-rising-star rabbi, into a servant of coarse Gentiles?  Paul takes us back to the beginning.  There, in pre-creation darkness, God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.”

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Genesis 1:2,3).

Related image

The photo doesn’t do justice to God’s creative act.  How can we even imagine God-spoken light suddenly penetrating absolute darkness?  How breathtaking, then, Paul’s statement!  That Creator-God who said, “‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  To our mind and heart blinded by the god of this age, God said, “Let there be light.”  In that instant “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” burst forth.  And, captured by God’s glory in Christ, we believed. 

This is why Paul doesn’t use deception, but sets forth the truth plainly.  This is why he proclaims, “Jesus is Lord”.  This is why he doesn’t lose heart despite suffering.  He’s seen the glory.

* * *

This is the miracle that’s been worked in us.

We were born blind to “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Whatever our pre-Christ life, however long it was, we could hear a sermon or read a Bible verse, and we didn’t see it.  But, then, the same God who, in the beginning, caused light to shine out of darkness shined his light in our heart.  He opened our “eyes” to catch glimpses of his glory in Christ.

As Paul writes later, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (5:17).  Something to be grateful for when we’re about to lose heart.

 

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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 11)

In John Pollock’s biography of Billy Graham, Graham asks . . .

“Must an intellectually honest man know everything about the Bible’s origins before he could use it?  Were theological professors the only ones qualified to speak of religion, or might a simple American, or an ignorant jungle villager, or even a child, lead another to Christ?” (Piper, p. 181).

SHARING BILLY GRAHAM’S BURDEN

Piper has argued that “God is not honored, and the soul is not saved, by so-called faith that has no good evidence or solid ground” (p. 182).

How can the average Christian, without scholarly training, have that good evidence and solid ground?  “We can know the Bible is the word of God by ‘the internal testimony of the Spirit’” (p. 182).

CALVIN’S CONVERSION

Two key things brought John Calvin to faith.  “I at length perceived, as if light had broken in upon me, in what a sty of error I had wallowed.”  The other key was humility.  “God, by a sudden conversion, subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame” (Piper, p. 184).  So his conversion introduced him to the Spirit’s work, which, of course, transcends the work of humans.

THE INTERNAL TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT, NOT THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH

The Roman Catholic Church claimed Christians were dependent on the church.  Calvin called that a “most pernicious error” and explained, “Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color or sweet and bitter things do of their taste” (Piper, p, 184).

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Scripture itself gave Calvin a saving knowledge of God.  And the Spirit awakens the sinner, as if from the dead, to see God’s reality in Scripture, which confirms Scripture as God’s word.

Digging deeper, Calvin writes . . .

“Therefore illumined by [the Spirit’s] power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men” (Piper, p. 186).

THE WITNESS IS NOT ADDED TO SCRIPTURE

The testimony of the Spirit doesn’t provide additional information, but opens the human heart to see God’s majesty in the Scriptures.

The Westminster Confession puts it this way . . .

“The . . . incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection [of the Scriptures], are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (Piper, p.188).

THE TESTIMONY IS THAT GOD GAVE US LIFE

“This is the one who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.  We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son . . . And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:6-11).

Piper explains the apostle’s last sentence: “I take this to mean that God testifies to us of his reality and the reality of his Son and his word by giving us life from the dead so that we come alive to his majesty and see him for who he is in his word.  In that instant of coming to life, we do not reason from premises to conclusions; we see light because we are awake—alive from the dead—and there is no prior human judgment that persuades us we are alive and awake and seeing.  God’s testimony to his word is life from the dead that immediately sees” (p. 189).

Lazarus, called from the tomb by Christ’s word, didn’t need reasoning to convince him.  He knew he was alive!

BY THE TESTIMONY WE SEE WHAT IS REALLY THERE

We’re all blinded to Christ’s glory in the gospel.  To see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), we need 2 Corinthians 4:6—“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE

Piper writes, “ . . . the testimony of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit to give us new life and, with this life, eyes to see what is really there in the self-attesting divine glories of Scripture . . . “ (p. 191).

* * *

This means every time we see God’s glory in Christ in the Scripture, we participate in a supernatural event!  Our coming to faith and “seeing” God in the Bible is but the first time.

But what of those days when Scripture is dull and dry to us?  When it feels as if we’re just “putting in time” to check off today’s reading?  Sometimes the text’s difficulty makes it “dry”.  Sometimes (like reading Leviticus) no application leaps to mind.

Maybe, though, there’s a lesson here.  Maybe, instead of assuming the Holy Spirit will show us God’s glory in his Word, we should pause first to pray that he will.

O Father, thank you for awakening me to your glories in the gospel.  Remind me that’s what your Book contains–your glories.  Keep me from presuming to be able to see them on my own.  Remind me that I still don’t see as clearly as I one day will.  So when I open your Word, move me to humbly pray for the Spirit to open the eyes of my heart, that I might see there your glories and be transformed.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory

 

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Stormy

That’s what my daughter named her.  Missy called her Stormy.  Or maybe it was our granddaughter, Moriah, who did the naming.  We had given her the 20-year-old grayish-white quarter horse-Arabian-cross as a gift.  She and her mom then rode together, each on her own horse.

That was 16 years ago.  Stormy’s back eventually couldn’t bear riders.  She ended up in our “back pasture” where she spent her last two years.  She grazed and nosed around, but mostly waited for her next meal:  feed for breakfast, apple at lunch, feed for supper and “horse peppermint” mashed up and mixed with water as “bedtime snack”.  After pushing her mouth in the peppermint bucket, Stormy had pinkish lipstick.  She loved it.

Stormy was a gentle, contented old girl—except when her stomach-clock told her supper was a little late.  Then she’d start whinnying.  Not the excited whinnying when she knew somebody was coming with food.  Impatient whinnying like, “Hey!  Don’t forget me!”  Then if no one came, she’d run, just to be sure we knew she was still there.  Around and around the pasture.  Back and forth along the front fence.  A 36-year-old horse running so fast we were afraid she’d fall and break a leg.  She never did.

Then, last Sunday night, she was in distress.  The vet could do nothing.  Tearfully, with grieving hearts, we put her down, surrounded by people who loved her.

Now our back pasture stands empty.  Lois and I look out still expecting to see her.  We were greatly blessed to have her and to help give her those good two years.  But we miss her.  Our hearts are sad.  Especially since death is so final.

So comes the question:  will there be animals in heaven?

To some, it’s a sentimental question on the lips of children.  But Scripture suggests there’s more to it.

First, remember heaven isn’t our final destination.  When believers die we go to be with the Lord in heaven.  But after Jesus comes, he will bring into being the new heavens and new earth.

“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).  “His promise” comes from Isaiah 65:17–“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Forget about floating forever on white clouds.  The new earth will be as solid (but not sinful) as this one.  Seeing our destiny that way, it’s reasonable to expect animals to be there, since God created animals on this earth . . .

“God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).

Not only did he create them, he preserved them through the flood.  “Bring two of every kind of animal into the ark.”  They would replenish the after-flood renewed earth.  Why should we not expect animals to fill the new earth?

That raises the “soul” question.  That is, does an animal have one?  Certainly not a human soul.  But at least the higher animals (dogs not tadpoles) have a sense of self-consciousness.  Furthermore, when God created Adam he breathed the breath of life into him.

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The same Hebrew word for “breathed” (nephesh) is used for both animals and people.  Animals and people have “the breath of life” in them (Genesis 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; etc.).

J.P. Moreland (philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist) observes, “It wasn’t until the advent of seventeenth-century Enlightenment, that the existence of animal souls was even questioned in Western civilization. Throughout the history of the church, the classic understanding of living things has included the doctrine that animals, as well as humans, have souls.”

Animals and humans are different.  But, since God created animals and breathed into them the breath of life, is it too much to think that his new earth will include life-breathed-into animals?

See what Paul wrote . . .

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:20-23).

Does “creation” mean just vegetation?  Or, as animals were included in Eden where “creation was subjected to frustration”, might animals be included in “the creation [that] will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”?  I think we have good ground for saying YES.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Very few animals indeed, in their wild state, attain to a “self” or ego.   But if any do, and if it is agreeable to the goodness of God that they should live again, their immortality would also be related to man . . . “

In a poem about the world to come, John Piper wrote . . .

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life.  I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog old Blackie, fast
As she could come.  She leaped the stream–
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye.  I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy.  And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.

And John Wesley commented on the animal kingdom’s restoration:  “And with their beauty, their happiness will return . . . In the new earth, as well as in the new heavens, there will be nothing to give pain, but everything that the wisdom and goodness of God can give to give happiness.  As a recompense for what [animals] once suffered . . . they shall enjoy happiness suited to their state, without alloy, without interruption, and without end.”

Oh, by the way, in his prophecy of the new creation, Isaiah saw a wolf, a lamb and a lion.  It’s in the Bible.

“The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox .  . . They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25).

Maybe they’ll even talk!  Strawberry had pulled a London carriage on Earth.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, he watches as Aslan declares the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to be his kings and queens in Narnia.  Strawberry had labored under his master’s whip.  Now in the new Narnia, Strawberry says, “My old master’s been changed nearly as much as I have!  Why he’s a real master now.”

All the people celebrate.
All the animals rejoice.
Aslan, Lord of all, is pleased.

So, Stormy, we’ll see you again one day.  You’ll be young.  But not only young;  you’ll be new!  If you’d like, we’ll ride you again.  Maybe we’ll talk along the trail.  And, don’t worry:  we’ll bring the peppermint.

*All quotes from Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.

 

 

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Transformer

A grandson shows me a cool-looking plastic car.  “But watch!”, he says, eyes wide with excitement.  Like a magician, he unfolds car parts here and there.  Suddenly the car transforms into a robot superhero.

“Transformers,” boasts its web-site (yes, they have an official site, plus hundreds of different robots, plus a half-dozen or so movies), “are living, human-like robots with the unique ability to turn into vehicles or beasts. The stories of their lives, their hopes, their struggles, and their triumphs are chronicled in epic sagas that span an immersive and exciting universe where everything is More Than Meets the Eye. ”

Wow!  Well, enough.  Let’s see what Paul wrote about the “Transformer” . . .

2 Corinthians 3:7-18 is Paul’s elaboration on 3:6b–“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  For starters Paul contrasts the New Covenant (“the Spirit gives life”) with the Old (“the letter kills”).  The Old is the Old Testament Law, the core of which is the Ten Commandments.  The New is the New Testament, the core of which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

CONTRASTING COVENANTS

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with  the surpassing glory.And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!(3:7-11).

The contrasts are stark.  But, even though the New is superior, both “came with glory” (from God).  Let’s clarify the term–“glory”.  Sam Storms (author and pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City) defines it well:  “The term ‘glory’ refers to the visible splendor or moral beauty of God’s manifold perfections. The ‘glory’ of God is the exhibition of his inherent excellence; it is the external manifestation of his internal majesty.”  Again, both covenants express God’s glory, but . . . .

The Old Covenant brought death to sinful Israel;  the New provides the Spirit who gives life.  The Old condemned sinners in their sin; the New offers right standing with God by their faith.  The glory of the Old faded from Moses’ face; the glory of the New lasts forever.  In other words, God’s splendor is more spectacular in the New, his moral beauty seen as more beautiful, his inherent excellence exhibited more profoundly and his internal majesty externally manifested more magnificently.

 To summarize:  under the New Covenant the Spirit gives life to the believer, who is declared by grace through faith in Christ to be in right relationship with God and begins to experience the unending glory of God.  (That’s us! if we’ve put faith in Christ!)

Having contrasted the covenants and declared the New to have superior glory, Paul turns to the . . .

Consequence of the New Covenant

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away (3:12,13).

What’s Paul bold about?  His weaknesses. Crazy confession, right?   We try to hide weaknesses.  At least I do.  I don’t want you seeing me in my disability.  But Paul began this letter explicitly revealing to the Corinthians “the hardships we suffered , the great pressure . . .far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life . . . in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (1:8,9a).  Why reveal frailty?  ” . . . this happened that we might . . . rely . . . on God, who raises the dead” (1:9b).  In other words, Paul was bold about his weaknesses to give honor to God by relying on him.  And he could be bold, because his standing didn’t depend on his strength, but on God’s.  That’s how the New Covenant works–“the Spirit gives life.”

Gentiles comprised the majority of the Corinthian church, though some Jews belonged.  And it’s likely some of the itinerant “false apostles” stirring up trouble there for Paul were Jews.  It’s to those Jews Paul refers next . . .

“But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (3:14-16).

Generations earlier, they rejected God, despite his love.  So he dulled their minds.  Now when they take their seats in their synagogues to hear the words of Moses read, they don’t understand.  It’s as if  a veil hangs over their minds and hearts.  Only Christ can take it away, so they might enjoy the consequences of the New Covenant.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all behold the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (3:17,18).

The first consequence of the New Covenant isn’t boldness (though Paul’s already mentioned it) but freedom–freedom from the veil of ignorance, freedom to “behold the Lord’s glory”.  To “behold” is more than just “see”; it’s to “look at with contemplation”.  We see a hole in the ground; we behold the Grand Canyon.

But how can we behold the Lord’s glory?  In the Scripture as the Spirit gives aid.  This must be more than a cursory glance.  When we behold something glorious, we want to stay, and we return often.  So it is with the Lord’s glory in Scripture.  It’s to be lingered over and beheld time and time again.

Now here’s a really stunning consequence of the New Covenant:  we can be transformed.  Not like a plastic car’s parts unfolding into a robot.  But like sinners-saved-by-grace “being transformed into [the Lord’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory.”  That, Paul proclaims, is what happens as we behold the Lord’s glory:  the Spirit progressively transform us into the Lord’s likeness.

I remember my grandson’s excitement about his transformer.  And the Transformer (the Holy Spirit) presents us with exciting possibilities.  Now before we go gettin’ all triumphant, remember the guy who wrote this was beset by weakness.  The transforming process often occurs in suffering settings.  That’s when it’s especially challenging to “behold the Lord’s glory” in the Word.  But we must.

Which brings me to my final thought.  Since the Spirit is transforming us by ever-increasing glory, you’d think older Christians would be most like Jesus.  I’ve known some who are; but many are just older (and some, grumpier).  I understand that.  But it tells me that time for transformation isn’t the distinguishing factor.  Beholding the Lord’s glory is.  Day after day.  Year after year.  Beholding his glory in his Word helped by his Spirit.

We’ve been graced with a grand sight:  the glory of the Lord in his Word.  Let’s not let passing-away, trivial sights tempt our eyes away from the glory.  In it, the Transformer changes us.

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Heart Writing

Say your pastor is moving on to a new church. Should the pastoral search committee of that church review his educational achievements?  His years of experience?  Should they hear him preach?  Certainly.  But how about a look at the congregations he’s pastored?  In other words, should they examine the results of his ministry?

This is what Paul tells the Corinthians . . .

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody                    (2 Corinthians 3:1,2).

Paul just wrote some pretty heady stuff about himself and his team.  Like, “through us [God] spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him” and “we are the aroma of Christ”.

But Paul denies he’s commending himself.  He doesn’t need letters of recommendation. The Paul-belittling, heresy-preaching itinerant “apostles”, who’ve appeared in Corinth, have them.  And the Corinthians are impressed.  Why doesn’t Paul need them?  Because the Corinthian believers themselves are his letter.

This is the church that gets enmeshed in sin, reverts to pagan ways, turns against Paul.  Yet Paul claims this church commends him as Christ’s apostle. Remarkable.  How can they be Paul’s recommendation letter?

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).

The adversarial “apostles” carry letters probably from Jerusalem.  The Corinthians are a letter from Christ.  The “apostles” carry letters written with ink.  The Corinthians are a letter written with the Spirit of the living God. 

The tablets contrast brings to mind the New Covenant.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord had promised a coming time “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Jacob . . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:31,33b).  The Old Covenant, given through Moses, was written on tablets of stone; the new, established through Christ, is written on “tablets of human hearts.”  The Holy Spirit gathers up Old Covenant moral commands and inscribes them on believers’ minds and hearts.

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant– not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life  (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

Paul’s assurance isn’t self-centered arrogance:  in humility he confesses it comes “through Christ” and only this gift makes him confident “before God.”  Therefore, he can freely admit he has no competence for ministry in himself; God alone is his competence-source.

Specifically, God makes Paul competent as a minister of a new covenant–not a covenant of “the letter”, but a covenant of “the Spirit”.  For “the letter kills . . . ” This suggests that some of Paul’s adversaries may be buying into Old Covenant law-keeping.  Whether true or not, is Paul criticizing the Old Covenant as a killer?  No, as an external covenant which demanded obedience but provided no internal power to obey.

Take, for example, “Do not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  It prohibits the act, but offers no power to combat lusts and corrupt thinking.

But the covenant which Paul ministers is “of the Spirit [who] . . . gives life.”  According to the New Covenant he “gives life” means he empowers the believer to practice what God’s law commands.

It’s this covenant of which God has made Paul a competent minister.  And it’s the life-giving Spirit of this covenant that has made the Corinthian church (with all its big-time “warts”) his recommendation  letter.

* * *

One take-away is for pastoral search committees:  investigate not just a prospective pastor’s education for ministry and experience in ministry.  Investigate the results of his ministry.  Since this pertains to few of us and requires much more writing, I’ll not elaborate, but move on to a take-away that hopefully does.

You and I–we’re living miracles.  I’m not talking about an external miracle, like physical healing.  I’m talking about an internal miraculous act of God the Holy Spirit.   The Spirit of the living God has written on our hearts.  That makes us a communication from Christ.

What are we communicating?  Do we display the holiness, righteousness and goodness of God’s law (Rom 7:12)?  Even through our stumbling and bumbling and slowness to live out what the Spirit has written in, is the grace of God in Christ visible?

O God, in my prayers for a physical miracle, I’ve treated  my heart miracle as a little thing.  Please forgive me. Continue to impress on me the desires of the Spirit.  Make me sensitive to his longings.  May I be a letter that glorifies you.  And, please, fulfill to the uttermost the purpose of your “heart writing” in me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 10)

“My concern (in the last few chapters) . . . has been to find a way to have a well-grounded confidence in the truth of the Bible based on evidence that a person can see, even if he has no historical training and little time to devote to rigorous study” (Piper, p. 167).

 

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory

HOW CAN I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN MY WIFE?

Compare this approach, writes Piper, “to the confidence I have that my wife is faithful to me” (p. 167).  He says he has confidence because he has come to know the kind of person she is.  He has seen holiness and the fear of God in her.

It’s the same with Scripture.  I can know the truth and faithfulness of God’s word, “as the divine glory of his character appears through the Scriptures he inspired” (Piper, p. 168).

PASCAL’S WAGER

Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician and philosopher. He proposed a wager over how one decides whether to believe in God or not.  Simply put, bet that God does not exist and the result is eternal loss.  But betting he does exist results in little loss.  “If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing” (Pascal, p. 169).

THE WAGER AS SIMPLE AND MISLEADING

Piper argues that Pascal’s wager is misleading “because it gives the impression that saving faith in God is a choice we make without seeing God as true and compellingly beautiful.  The wager says, ‘You do not know if God is really there.  God himself is not a reality to you’” (p. 169).

That, says Piper, is not saving faith.  Saving faith “is rooted in the sight and foretaste of happiness in supernatural reality—in God himself” p. 170).  Repentance (given by God) must precede saving faith, not a mere “choice”.

THE WAGER AS COMPLEX AND CHALLENGING

Pascal’s basic cure for unbelief is to act as if you do believe, and you will soon see the certainty of it all.  Saving faith, on the other hand, is coming to God through Christ, being “irresistibly drawn by the convincing and compelling foretaste of the enthralling beauty of God in the gospel” (Piper, p. 172).

Pascal’s wager is like choosing between two women to marry by a coin toss.  Faith in God’s word means seeing “the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  Only then are Christ and his word honored.

UNNAMABLE EXPERIENCES AND SERIOUS DOUBTS

Millions of people have come to true faith in Christ without adequate words to describe the experience and without being able to sufficiently explain why.  For example . . .

THE CONVERSION AND EXECUTION OF TOKICHI ISHII

This man was a brutal murderer who was hanged in Tokyo in 1918.  Just before he was sentenced to death, two missionary women read him the account of Jesus’ trial and execution.  He was riveted by Jesus’ prayer from the cross:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Ishii said, “I stopped:  I was stabbed to the heart, as if by a five-inch nail.  What did the verse reveal to me?  Shall I call it the love of the heart of Christ?  Shall I call it his compassion?  I do not know what to call it.  I only know that with an unspeakably grateful heart I believed” (p. 173).

This is the faith-awakening power of God’s word, even if the believer can’t describe what has happened.

THE DOUBTS OF BILLY GRAHAM

At a particular point in his life, even though he had seen God work powerfully through Scripture, Billy Graham had doubts.  He could not resolve the question of Scripture’s authority.  He writes . . .

“So I went back (inside after walking in the night) and I got my Bible, and I went out in the moonlight . . . and put [my] Bible on [a] stump.  And I knelt down, and I said, ‘Oh, God; I cannot prove certain things.  I cannot answer some of the questions [people] are raising, but I accept this Book by faith as the Word of God” (p. 176).

“What his experience . . . teaches us is that the sight of God’s self-authenticating glory in Scripture is often an embattled sight” (Piper, p. 176).

EMBATTLED SIGHT

That God doesn’t sustain the clearest views of his glory is seen in how Paul prays . . .

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:17,18).

Piper comments that there is a self-authenticating reality seen by the eyes of the heart when God’s strength of sight is given.

Similarly, Jesus prayed . . .

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world . . .Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name– the name you gave me– so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled . . . My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one . . . Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John17:6-17).

Seeing God’s glory in his word is an embattled experience, but not an uncertain one.  God doesn’t give “new eyes” only to let his people go blind for eternity.

AUTHENTIC FAITH IS NOT A WAGER

There is no authentic faith–no saving faith–based on a bet.  The only kind of trust that truly honors God is a well-grounded trust.

* * *

Jonathan Edwards (18th century Puritan preacher and theologian) wrote: “the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel [and the Scriptures] but by one step and that is its divine glory” (Piper, p. 151).

God must show us his glory in his word; otherwise we’ll see “parts” of God–his love, wrath, holiness, mercy, etc.,–but we’ll not see God as beautiful and glorious.  We’ll believe in him, worship and follow him, but not be enthralled by him.

And life in this fallen world has a way of dulling God’s glory to our eyes.

O God, when I open the pages of your Book, I want to see you in all your beauty and glory,  May the bright lights of the world’s entertainment and luxuries not dim my eyes to your glory.  May my suffering and what sometimes seems your silence not make you appear uncaring and ugly.  When I think of you, keep me from thinking of you in “parts”–God  is love, God is grace, God is faithful, etc.  Open my eyes to see all these “parts” make up you.  And to see that you are the most  enthralling being in the universe.  Then may I trust you with a trust grounded in the glory that you are.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

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