The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: July 2018

Prayer to Please God

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

PRAYERS

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

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

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

PURPOSE

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

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

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

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

PROCESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Hospital

I spent three days in the hospital last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost daily I recall Jesus’ promise . . .

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

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

Then I remember God is sovereign . . .

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

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

And he works all things for our good . . .

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

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

Thank you for praying.

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Sparrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Faith and Love: Hope’s Fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grace and Peace to You

We begin Colossians.  Pondering Paul’s greeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related image

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

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

* * *

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

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

This I say to us as we begin Colossians:

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

 

 

 

 

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Love Wins?

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

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

Here are the Scriptures to which Brumfield refers . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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War Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

 

 

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The In-Between Place

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

Our ultimate hope is the new creation . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whispers.

I prefer photos.

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

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Christian Soldiers

“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968).  “The Exorcist” (1973).  “The Shining” (1980).  Dated, but still- popular horror movies.  Evil powers, however, aren’t limited to the silver screen.  They exist in the real world.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places . . . “ (Ephesians 6:12).

But, according to the Scriptures, God exalted Christ to reign over them.  “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church . . . ” (Ephesians 1:19b-22).  His triumph is “already”, so we believers need not live in fear of them.  But it’s “not yet” finalized; so we must be equipped by Christ and the Spirit to hold our ground against them.

To do that Paul urges us to, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).  In 6:14-17 Paul names the parts of the“full armor”.

“the belt of truth”

The Roman soldier’s “belt” was really a leather apron that protected his lower body.

The Christian’s “belt of truth” is the truth that Jesus revealed in himself and in his word.  Paul wants us to stand against Satan’s lies about God and our identity in Christ with “the truth that is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

“the breastplate of righteousness”

The soldier’s “breastplate” reached from the base of his neck to his upper thighs, covering his body’s trunk.

Paul wants us to stand against the evil one’s temptation by doing what is right in God’s sight.

“feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”

The soldier’s military sandal was studded with hobnails underneath for stability.

Evil powers seek to undermine our peace with God and sow division between believers.  Paul wants us ready to speak the gospel that promises reconciliation with God and with one another.

 “the shield of faith”

Roman soldiers carried a wooden shield about 4 feet by 2 feet.  It was covered with linen, then hide, and bound on top with iron.  They used it to defend against arrows dipped in pitch, then set on fire and shot.

Paul urges us to block the evil one’s most incendiary attacks by trusting in the truth of God’s word and in the trustworthiness of God himself.

“the helmet of salvation”

The soldier’s helmet was iron or bronze lined inside with a sponge.

Evil powers attack our minds, especially to cause us to doubt our salvation.  Paul urges us to stand our ground with the assurance of God’s saving work in Christ.  Romans 8:31-38 will help in the fight.

“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”

Roman military carried a 12-14 inches straight sword for close combat.

Paul exhorts us to the offensive (all the other armor parts being defensive).  In the power of the Spirit we are to pierce this fallen world’s darkness by proclaiming the light of the gospel.  Paul usually uses the Greek word logos (the content of the word); but here he uses rayma (speaking the word).  “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

* * *

Okay, I know, we shouldn’t give evil powers undue prominence.  But we have to recognize they’re real, though restrained by Christ.  Even so, we’re urged to “put on the whole armor of God.”  That armor, however, is not some extremist costume.  It’s speaking the truth Jesus revealed.  Doing right before God in a fallen world.  Talking the gospel that brings peace.  Believing God’s promises and trustworthiness.  Filling our minds with the assurance of God’s salvation in Christ.  Openly speaking the word of God in this evil-dark world.

Sounds easy.

But it seems to me we don’t take “the spiritual forces of evil” as seriously as we ought.  We don’t really live as if we’re caught up in a spiritual war.

I see a TV commercial with a couple walking the beach on ocean’s edge.  How I’d love it to be Lois and me!  I have a long list of those “how I’d love it to be’s”.   They nag at me.  My wheelchair depresses me. Unanswered prayers plague me.  I’m tempted to believe God has  sovereignly chosen a hated path for me.  What good is praying?

Paul reminds me that somewhere in my despondency evil powers lurk.  My choice to believe or disbelieve is not just my battle.  It’s  part of spiritual war in the heavenlies fought on earth.  It’s not just about me. Choose unbelief and Satan wins the battle.  Choose faith and God is glorified.

This hymn may sound archaic; but that just reminds us that the battle’s been raging for thousands of years.  Time to get dressed, get in the fight and sing it again . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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