The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: January 2018 (page 2 of 2)

No Surgery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I appreciate your prayers.




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I Am He

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

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

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

“Will you give me a drink?”

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

“How can you ask me for a drink?”

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

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

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

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

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I who speak to you am he.”

* * *

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

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

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

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

“I who speak to you am he.”

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

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

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

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

“I who speak to you am he.”

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

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






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Liberty or Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

It did with Jesus . . .

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







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Never See Death?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Judgement Seat

Jonathan enjoys a beer once in a while.   Has for years.  Pre-Christian and since.  Mark believes  drinking is a dangerous  habit that dishonors the Lord.  They each argue with the other over who’s right.

When I first read today’s text (about Christian liberty and personal convictions) I thought it a non-issue today.  Then I read John Calvin:

“He who proposes to summarize gospel teaching ought by no means to omit an explanation of [Christian liberty].  For it is a thing of prime necessity, and apart from a knowledge of it, consciences dare undertake almost nothing without doubting; they hesitate and recoil from many things; they constantly waver and are afraid.  But freedom is especially an appendage of justification and is no little avail of understanding its power.”

Okay, Brother John.  I’ll take your word for it.  But I just haven’t seen many 21st century Christians “hesitate and recoil” from drinking wine or dancing or working on the Sabbath (Sunday).  But, maybe there’s more here than meets the eye.

Paul does seem to say “Jonathan” and “Mark” go all the way back to the church in Rome.

“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them” (14:1-3).

The Greek proslambabesthe means “receive hospitably, welcome”.  But it’s not Paul’s emphasis in this sentence.  “ . . . those who are weak in faith” is.  He uses the word (in a different form) of Abraham, who “who did not weaken in faith” as he considered his circumstances (4:19).  Here the “weak eat only vegetablesin contrast to other Christians who “believe in eating anything”.   Meat-eaters “must not despise (look down on, condemn)” veggies-only eaters.  And veggies-onlys “must not pass judgment (sit in personal judgment on, criticize, condemn)” meat-eaters.

Why must meat-eaters welcome veggies-onlys?  Because God has welcomed them.”  He receives them as true believers in Christ.

Who are “those who are weak in faith”?  The veggies-only believers (like Mark, who believes drinking is wrong) are “weak in faith”.  They’re “weak in faith” in that they brand certain secondary issues, issues on which the Bible is silent, as immoral.

Douglas Moo (New Testament professor Wheaton graduate school) explains:  “Paul is not . . . simply criticizing these people for having a ‘weak’ or inadequate trust in Christ as their Savior and Lord. Rather, he is criticizing them for lack of insight into some of the implications of their faith in Christ. These are Christians who are not able to accept for themselves the truth that their faith in Christ implies liberation from certain OT/Jewish ritual requirements. The ‘faith’ with respect to which these people are ‘weak’, therefore, is related to their basic faith in Christ but one step removed from it. It involves their individual outworking of Christian faith, their convictions about what that faith allows and prohibits”.

The “strong”, then, understand that their faith in Christ implies freedom from certain ritual requirements.  Jonathan believes his beer-drinking neither commends him to or condemns him by God who has justified him by faith in Christ.

It’s likely that this belief regarding certain foods are a carry-over by Christians Jews from the Old Covenant.  In this case, the thinking is, “Meat will bring God’s disapproval, so I’ll eat veggies only”.  This, obviously, is creating disunity, opposite to the “one Body” and “genuine love” Paul is calling for.  So he confronts the judgment-passers . . .

 “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.  We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (14:4-9).

Did Paul fling his question at the meat-eaters, who were passing judgment on the scrupulous veggies-only crowd?  More likely, he’s aiming at both.  The ones they are judging are not their servants, but the Lord’s.  Before him they will either stand (in their devotion to Christ) or fall (in their devotion to Christ).

We’re now shown another secondary issue over which the Roman Christians have difference—the observance of certain days.  Paul makes this (obviously implying the same for food practices) a matter of conscience.  Observe or not.  Eat or not.  Both “the weak” and “the strong” are doing it to thank God and honor him.

In other words, both are (or should be) practicing their liberty or abstinence to the Lord.  They are living out their submission to his lordship.  And disagreeing brothers just respect that.  Jonathan is not Mark’s lord, nor Mark Jonathan’s.

So, Paul explained to the Corinthians, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). 

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each of us will be accountable to God” (14:10-12).

Why do we dare to judge our brother, when we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (Greek baymati—“judicial bench”, used of Pilate’s “judgment seat” when he judged Jesus—Matthew 27:19)?  “ . . . each of us will be accountable to God.”

This is why judging our brother is wrong:  God alone is judge.  We must all give a personal account  in his court.

* * *

Having walked this far through Romans 14, I see abstinence as a misunderstanding of justification by faith, as Calvin warned.  But Paul doesn’t correct that misunderstanding.  Instead, in the remainder of the chapter he’ll call the “strong” to relinquish his freedom for the good of the weak.  And in today’s text he reminds us we’re all the Lord’s servants and accountable to him.  So, Brother John, I get your point; but I don’t think it’s Paul’s.

Which brings me (with trepidation) to the judgment seat of Christ (bayma).  Paul has referred to it earlier–

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9,10).

” . . . what is due him” refers to recompense or rewards.  Judgment at Christ’s seat, therefore, doesn’t concern justification (which is by grace through faith), but how we’ve lived our lives as Christians.  In Romans, the issue is personal moral choices as the Lord’s servant.  In 2 Corinthians, the issue is more general–making it our aim to please him in all things.

Honestly?  Accountability at the bayma hides in the back of my head.  Not often do I think, “I’m accountable for what I do today.  How I live will affect my eternal reward”.  Eternal reward, however, doesn’t motivate me so much.

The thought of standing before Christ does.  It’s like final exam day.  It doesn’t determine heaven or hell.  But standing before Jesus as he judges my life frightens me. And makes me fear judging my brother.





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