The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: August 2018

Me? Job?

I dismissed any comparison  with Job.
His sufferings dwarf mine.
But over time my condition’s worsened.
Now I dare compare.
Not with the whole of his sufferings
or his encounter with the sovereign God.
Just the scene Job didn’t see.

Satan proposes a cosmic contest to God.
“Does Job  fear you for nothing?
Stretch out your hand,
strike his bone and flesh
and he’ll curse you to your face.”
“You’re on, ” God replies.

I wonder:
Did Satan offer that deal to God over me?
“Does Allan fear you for nothing?
Stretch out your hand,
take away his health
and he’ll curse you to your face.”
Am I presumptuous to think
Satan singles me out as a target?
And that God risks his honor over me?

I dare think it possible,
because over 150,000 people in the world
die each day–
a great mass of humanity
swept away in death.
Psalm 90 echoes its depression .

“You [Lord] sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass of the morning–
though in the morning it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger and
terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan” (Psalm 90:5-9).

Such death is “normal”.
A man ages, gets ill,
and becomes a faceless statistic,
part of the moaners.
I know Jesus has turned the psalm on its head.
But that’s not my point here.
My point is this:
I don’t want to see
my PLS and melanoma
as just a normal part of growing old,
making me  part of the mob that dies daily.

I don’t want to merely be that mob’s member.
But I fear I’m becoming one.
Ten years–surgeries, tests, another illness,
new symptoms added to the old.
I fear I’m finishing like all the rest–
with a moan.

I want to play a role
in that cosmic contest.
Satan has gone to God:
“Does Allan fear you for nothing?
Stretch out your hand,
take away his health
and he’ll curse you to your face.”
God says, “You’re on.”

If so, how I deal with disease and dying
matters in the heavenly realms.
Trusting God, praising God
upholds God’s honor.
Loving God for who he is,
not only for what he gives,
proves God’s worth–
and leaves my heel marks on Satan’s neck.

Dare I believe
that I’m part of this?
Ephesians 3:10,Paul wrote,
“[God’s] intent was now through the church,
the manifold wisdom of God should be made known
to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms . . . “

I’m part of Christ’s church,
one through whom God makes known
his wisdom to the rulers in the heavenly realms.
A cosmic contest rages, a war–
I’m a warrior in it.
My faith, my praise, my love for God
turns the tide,
makes Satan a loser
and God exalted.

What I really want?
To wake up tomorrow,
put my feet on the floor,
and walk.
To look in the mirror
and see my head clear,
baby skin instead of an ugly patch
of melanoma.
If that can’t be, let me fight the fight of faith.

One thing hardest to bear in old age
is insignificance,
life passing by
while you sit and watch.
Is that pride?
Is Jesus teaching me humility?
That only he is truly significant?

Maybe.
But my bearing old-age insignificance
isn’t a longing for the praise of people.
It’s assurance that my life counts
for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.

It counts if I trust him even without understanding.
It counts if I worship him even in suffering.
It counts if I pray even without answers.
It counts if I stand on his Word’s promises,
even if sight makes his promises foolish.
It counts if I love, even when I’m hurting.

And if it counts, Satan loses.
And if Satan loses,
God wins.
And if God wins . . .

with my little frail life,
in the heavenly realms,
I’ve exalted the name of the Lord.

Ken Gire (The North Face of God) writes,
“We can sheath our swords in retreat.
We can lay down our swords in surrender.
We can fall on our swords in despair.
Or we can, with the brave who’ve gone before us,
draw our swords and ride with full fury into the enemies’ ranks.
A day may come when our courage will fail.
But it will not be
this day.
This day we fight.”

Satan and God are watching.

 

 

 

 

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If You Continue in Your Faith

Some years ago, Eugene Peterson wrote a book with this title:  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:  Discipleship in an Instant Society.  I never read it, but the title intrigues me.  Learning to obey takes a lifetime .  And the path winds through some rugged terrain.  That’s where the “if” confronts us.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Paul climaxed his previous paragraph revealing God’s purpose for the Son.  As the head of the body, the church, and as the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, in the new creation God will exalt Christ to the highest rank. According to Paul, he will have the supremacy.

Why?  Not only because of the foregoing (1:15-18), but also because of the following:

RECONCILED

“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” (1:19,20).

God was pleased to have all his deity dwell in the Son.  And God was pleased  to reconcile all things to himself through the Son.  He made peace through the Son’s blood, shed on the cross.  Thus at the heart of the gospel stands, not a tidy doctrine, but a bloody Savior nailed to a bloody cross.  The Son is supreme in the church because he sacrificed himself to reconcile all things to the Father.

All things?  Here we first confront the big “if”.  Christ will present you holy If you continue in the faith (1:21-23).  If “all things” refers to people, reconciliation is limited to believing people.  But “all things” doesn’t sound like people.  How about the vast creation?

In Romans 8 Paul tells us that God subjected creation to frustration.  It’s now in bondage to decay, groaning as in the pains of childbirth.  But “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”—our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”.  It seems to me creation is part of the “all things” that will be reconciled to God.  And that will mean a new creation arising from the old.

That Christ should receive the supremacy shows us the cost of the cross.  The Son’s physical suffering was horrific.  Crucifixion is an unspeakably cruel way to die.  But far worse was the spiritual suffering.  The Son endured the Father’s  wrath against all our sin.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” was more than the Son feeling forsaken; the Son suffered hell—the absence of God.  This was the cost of reconciling rebels back to God—and the cost of reconciling all things back to himself.  It’s a cost beyond human comprehension.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (1:21-23).

The Colossians–and we–were alienated from God.  The Greek is apokatallawsso—a stranger to God, separated from him.    We were “enemies in [our] minds.”  Greek ekthroshostile toward God, opposed to him in the realm of understanding.  This enmity was expressed through “evil behavior”.

Has Paul gone too far?  Many who don’t believe in the Son’s work on the cross don’t act like enemies toward God.  Many, in fact, do what the Scripture calls “good works”–sacrifice to help the poor, for instance.  But, you see, everyone who tries to “make peace” with God apart from Christ’s costly grace on the cross opposes God’s way to reconciliation.  Even the good-doer’s deeds are evil if he disbelieves Christ’s reconciling work through his blood shed on the cross—or thinks he doesn’t need it.

The Colossians, writes Paul, were once alienated from God and enemies to him, “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”.

“But now” emphasizes the sharp transformation in the Colossians.  God has reconciled them “by Christ’s physical body through death . . . “  Why the emphasis on “Christ’s physical body”?  William Barclay (20th century author and Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow) comments . . .

“The Gnostics (whose influence with the Colossians Paul is confronting) completely denied the real manhood of Jesus. In their own writings they, for instance, set it down that when Jesus walked, he left no footprints on the ground. That is why Paul uses such startling phraseology in Colossians. He speaks of Jesus reconciling man to God in his body of flesh (Colossians 1:22); he says that the fullness of the godhead dwelt in him bodily. In opposition to the Gnostics, Paul insists on the flesh and blood manhood of Jesus.

With reconciling death of the God-Man Jesus,  God has a purpose:   that at Christ’s coming  we might be presented “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation . . .” 

“Holy” translates the Greek hagios.  Its basic idea is set apartness.  The holy person is set apart from the world to God.  He will present us “without blemish”.  Blemish is that big pimple on my chin.  In this case, “without blemish” means having no (moral) defect.  Not even pimple size.  And he will present us “free from accusation”. No one will accuse us of wrongdoing.  In fact, no one will be able to accuse us, because Christ’s reconciling death makes us free from accusation.

IF

Christ will present us holy and blameless and free from accusation “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” .  The Greek, epimeno, means “to persevere or persist”.  If we epimeno, we will be presented holy.  Here the terrain gets rough.  Physical suffering.  Hostile persecution.  Unanswered prayers.  Opposing worldviews.  If we persevere in faith, holding on to hope, we’ll be presented holy.

And if we don’t?  That raises debate.  Some believe a believer can fall away from faith, not continue (Arminian belief).  Others believe God insures that believers will persevere to the end, continue (Calvinistic belief).

There’s a place for that debate.  But not here.  Paul’s “if” is meant to move us on.  To aim at continuing in our faith and gospel hope.

I used to jog.  No marathons, just 5 or 6 miles on neighborhood streets.  My goal wasn’t  speed or record time.  No way I could sprint 5 or 6 miles.  My goal was to continue on course and get back to my house without stopping, without turning aside.  If I could continue stride by stride, block by block, even if my legs ached or breath was short, I’d “win the prize”.

I can’t walk anymore; but I’m still running toward the prize!

 

 

 

 

 

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How Shall We Live With No Answer?

At some time or another
each of us will stand at the same crevasse
where the Psalm 119 psalmist stood.
Shriveled like a wine skin,  exhausted,
and waiting for an answer from God.
He may answer dramatically, out of a whirlwind,
as he did Job.
Or he may answer demurely, in a still small voice,
as he did Elijah.
Or he might not answer at all,
as David apparently experienced
in Psalm 119.

In that case we must wait
for the day the answer comes.
But even if the answer doesn’t come,
we must still live today.
The question is how?
“How shall we live today?”
Will we live by faith,
trusting God’s Word that he’ll not forsake us?
Or will we live by sight,
trusting the appearance that God has forsaken us?

I took the above from The North Face of God,
by Ken Gire.

The questions confront me.
Not because I feel God has forsaken me.
But because they paint the conflict
in stark black and white.
With no answer for healing yet,
the question is, “How will I live today?”

I look like God has forsaken me.
It feels that way.
But how will I live under heaven’s silence?
By sight?  By what appears to be?
Or by faith in God’s promises?

I question God . . .
Why have you allowed these illnesses?
Why no answer when so many pray for my healing?
Then I remember Jesus’ parable in Luke 18.
A poor widow repeatedly begs a judge for justice.
Finally, worn down the judge rules in her favor.
The lesson Jesus draws is not persist in prayer.
The lesson is a question:
When the Son returns,
how many will he find who have faith?

I’m so busy asking him my questions,
I don’t hear what he’s asking me.
And his question
paints my predicament
in stark black and white.
Under heaven’s silence,
will I live today by what appears to be?
Or will I live today
by faith, trusting his Word?

I don’t understand what God is doing.
I don’t like what God is doing.
But my battle is part of a bigger war,
a war against unbelief,
a war in which warriors are called to live by faith,
and thereby glorify Christ.
Who knows what God is doing?
Who knows how my part plays in the whole?
But my little part is important.
I either add to Christ’s honor in the heavenly realms,
or diminish it.

Under heaven’s silence,
how will I live today.
Not by what appears to be,
though appearance is weighty,
and I’m tempted to “wisely” live by it.
Of course, God has forsaken little me.
Of course, the answer will never come.
Of course, I should curse God and die.
NO!

By God’s grace, I will live today by faith
trusting his promises,
even though I can’t see them kept.
I will win the battle,
and I will pray that when the Son comes,
he will find my faith on earth.

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Supremacy

I was surprised at the poll.  In 2015 George Barna found that  56% of all American adults said Jesus is God.  And 62% of all Americans said they’ve made a personal commitment to him that is still important at the time of the poll. If so, Paul’s words in Colossians 1:15-18 may not sound so extreme.  Yet they do to me; besides, I’m skeptical about polls.)

Christology is the study of Christ.  But we can’t study Christ as we’d dissect a frog or explore the history of the hemisphere.  Christ is a living person.  And Paul’s words about him here move us to reverence and awe.  We’re on holy ground.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (1:15).

“He” refers back  to the Son the Father loves (1:13).  “He” is ”the image of the invisible God”.  “ . . . image” is the translation of the Greek eikown.  The Son is the embodiment, living manifestation, form, appearance of “the invisible God”.  God is invisible, a spirit not able to be seen.  But Jesus is God in bodily form.  The unseen God seen.

Philip asks Jesus to show the disciples the Father. Jesus replies, “Don’t you know me Philip? . . . anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8,9).

This, as we used to say, blows my mind.  Jesus, who walked this earth, who got hungry and thirsty and tired, who surrendered to crucifixion and whose tomb was empty on the third day, was God, the Creator of the universe.

He is “the firstborn over all creation”.  Does Paul mean Jesus was birthed first?  The Greek prototokos can refer to the first child in the family.  Or it can refer  to a preeminent one.  The context determines the meaning.  The words that follow—” the firstborn over all creation (not “in” or “of” ) . . . that in everything he might have the supremacy” (1:15,17)—govern the meaning.  Jesus is the firstborn—the preeminent one over all.

Paul is countering the beginnings of a religious philosophy that would blossom in the 2nd century, but was already influencing the Colossians.  Gnostics believed that God is spirit, and spirit is good.  But matter is evil.  The world of matter was mistakenly created by a lesser divinity.  Salvation–the escape from the world of matter to the spirit-realm–came by secret knowledge. Jesus is only a heavenly messenger.  Gnosticism gained notoriety in the 2016 Tom Hanks movie, “The DaVinci Code”.

“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” (1:16).

Paul gives the basis underlying the Son’s firstborn status.  He is the means by which all things have been created.  This includes  “ . . . things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible”.   In short, nothing anywhere was not created through the Son.

By him galaxies billions of light years from us in space and dust mites in the air around us were created.  So was a summer breeze and the sun’s heat.  A giant oak tree and bothersome weeds.  A bright full moon and a dark night sky.

“whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities . . . “.  Even the invisible realm of angels, good and bad, at work in the world.  The scope of the Son’s “firstborn” creative power encompasses all.

” all things were created . . . for him.”  All that is–mountains, trees, sky, human, rulers and authorities–was created for the Son of God’s glory and exaltation.  As Dr. Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) writes, “He’s . . . the consummation and culmination of every molecule that moves”.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:17).

“He is pro all things . . . ”  Before you and I were born.  Before Lincoln was President.  Before ocean waves licked the shores.  Before all things, the Son was.

And “in him all things soonistayme>” 

“Only recently have astrophysicists been able to offer a substantial hypothesis as to what it is that holds the universe together and keeps it from flying apart. Yet you do not have to be a physicist to know the simple answer!

“Astrophysicists look into the heavens and capture images and data with various scientific instruments. They know that the total mass of all matter is not enough to provide the gravity needed to keep everything in the universe from flying apart. They are left to ponder the question, ‘What is it that is holding the universe together?’

“International teams of astronomers scan stars and galaxies that are unimaginable distances away. Using modern instruments and means of detection, they have detected a mysterious cosmic force and have hypothesized that it may be the answer to the question. They call it ‘dark matter’” (tomorrowsworld.org).

Ah, yes, but what is this “cosmic force”?  What lies behind this “dark matter”?  The coherent power of the Son on God.

“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” (1:18).

” . . . head” means the Son is the sovereign, ruling authority of the church universal and each local church in particular.

That he is “the beginning and the firsrborn from among the dead” means he is the founder of a new humanity.  He rose from the dead, never to die again, and is the “firstfruits” of a resurrection promised to all who belong to him.

God’s purpose in all this, writes Paul, is “so that in everything he might have proteuwo”–first place, preeminence,  the highest rank, the greatest glory and exaltation.

With the Colossian heresy in mind, the apostle lays stress on the hierarchy of angelic powers.  Even the cosmic powers and principalities, which apparently received some prominence in that heresy, were created in Christ. Good or bad, all are subject to him as Creator.

* * * *

Barna’s poll claims half the country believes Jesus is God and have made a commitment to him.  But before such an awesome One belief and commitment aren’t enough.  A desire that he might have the supremacy in all things, in our little lives too, is what we must do.

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Sedate Worship or Holy Roar?

“I grew up in a rural town in South Australia, where I attended a small country church.  The Christian tradition of my youth was not a particularly animated tribe.  We were reserved, more conservative in the way we expressed ourselves in praise and worship.  On any given Sunday as we were led in traditional hymns (with a smattering of worship choruses), we’d sing along with sincere but subdued hearts.  This is not to say, of course, that celebration wasn’t happening in the pews, but the assumption was that any sort of celebration was personal, internal.  As a general rule, implied though it was, expressions of outward, enthusiastic praise were not practiced” (Darren Whitehead, co-author, Holy Roar).

So begins Holy Roar (co-authored by Chris Tomlin).  My younger daughter gifted me with the book.  It intrigued me.  I’ve never thought much about Israel’s worship.  But this book made me wonder what I’d find  if I could sneak back.  More important is what it suggests for our worship today.

Holy Roar is built around seven Hebrew words.  All are translated “praise” in our English Bibles.  But all have radically different shades of meaning.

YADAH

Yadah means “to revere or worship with extended hands.  To hold out the hands.  To throw a stone or arrow.”

“May all the peoples praise (yadah), O God; may all the people praise (yadah) you” (Psalm 67:3).

“May all the people worship you with extended hands, O God; may all the people hold out their hands in praise to you” (Psalm 67:3).

HALAL

Halal means “to boast, to rave, to shine, to celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.”

“Let them praise (halal) his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149:3).

“Let them be clamorously foolish over his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149:3).

ZAMAR

Zamar means “to make music, to celebrate in song and music, to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument.”

“I will sing a new song to you, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will sing praises (zamar) to you” (Psalm 149:9).

I will sing a new song to you, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will celebrate with music to you” (Psalm 149:9).

TOWDAH

Towdah means “to extend the hand, to give thanks, to confess, to sacrifice praise, to give thanks for things not yet received.”

“In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  Vows made to you are binding upon me, O God.  I will render praises (towdah) to you” (Psalm 56:11,12).

“In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  Vows made to you are binding upon me, O God.  I will give thanks to you for what I have not yet received” (Psalm 56:11,12).

BARAK

Barak means “to kneel, to bless God (as an act of adoration), to praise, to salute, to thank.”

“All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (Psalm 72:11) . . . Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and praise (barak) him all day long” (Psalm 72:15).

“All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him (Psalm 72:11) . . . Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and kneel in blessing to him all day long” (Psalm 72:15).

TEHILLAH

Tehillah means “a song to praise, a new song, a spontaneous song.

“But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises (tehillah) of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).

But You are holy, Enthroned in the spontaneous praise songs of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).

SHABAK

Shabak means “to address in a loud tone, to shout, to commend, glory and triumph.”

“One generation will commend (shabak) your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).

“One generation will commend your works with shouts to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).

Free to lift our hands in praise.  Lay aside our inhibitions.   Powerful (or simple) music to draw us into God’s presence.   A sacrifice of praise to God in expectation of what he will yet do.  On our knees in humble adoration.  Spontaneously singing a new song to the Lord.  Freedom to shout in triumphant praise.  That’s the worship to which these words call us.

Please note that these are not the ravings of an extreme charismatic.  They are, according to the Hebrew words, how Israel worshiped.  And I’ve written them here as an encouragement to deepen our practice of praise.

I think every worship team should read this short book together.  (There’s a “Reflection and Discussion” section for each chapter.)

But maybe you’re satisfied with worship at your church.  Just think:  our God is infinite; therefore, our worship should always be deepening.

Holy Roar is available from Amazon–https://www.amazon.com/Holy-Roar-Words-Change-Worship/dp/0692941495/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1533328617&sr=8-1&keywords=holy+roar+book+by+chris+tomlin. 

Praise is available from us.

 

 

 

 

 

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