The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Author: Allan Babcock (page 1 of 75)

Hidden Treasures in Christ

In 1945 a discovery was made in Upper Egypt–52 copies of ancient writings called the Gnostic Gospels.

“A few Gnostic scholars have gone so far as to assert that these recently discovered writings are the authentic history of Jesus instead of the New Testament . . .

“Their name comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” These people thought they had secret, special knowledge hidden from ordinary people . . .

“As Christianity spread, the Gnostics mixed some doctrines and elements of Christian­ity into their beliefs, morphing Gnosticism into a counterfeit Christianity” (Y-Jesus, Website).

According to [the 2006 movie],The Da Vinci Code, Jesus was really just a human being, married to Mary Magdalene, and he has a royal bloodline that continues to this day. The Church, in order to hide the true nature of Jesus, destroyed the earlier, Gnostic Gospels that had the evidence of Jesus’ humanity, and declared them heretical in a play for political power.

In Colossians, Paul confronts an early form of Gnosticism threatening the church.  He does so, however, only by inference.  Instead of tearing into Gnosticism point by point, Paul magnifies Jesus Christ.  “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (1:28,29).

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:1-3).

 Paul is “struggling”.  Greek agown, used of an athletic contest—a foot race or wrestling match.  Paul is“struggling with all [Christ’s] energy, which so powerfully works in [him].  He struggles to proclaim Christ, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone complete in Christ” (1:28,29).

 Proclaiming Christ is a “struggle”, because wherever he goes, opposition rises—“troubles, hardships . . . distresses . . . beatings, imprisonments and riots” (2 Corinthians 6:4,5).  He’s writing this letter from Roman imprisonment.

He wants the churches to know how much he is struggling for them.  Not for their pity.  He wants to be an example of a man fighting for the faith, so they may “be encouraged in heart and united in love”.  He wants to be their model.  In other words, stand together with courage and love against “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8) that will draw them from Christ.

He wants them assured o f the truth.  He wants them “complete in Christ”.  As he writes, he wants them to “have the full riches of complete understanding”.  Interesting. Complete understanding requires not only that they continue in the faith, but that they continue together. This learning comes through the community of the church, through members practicing what they’re learning among each other.

All this has a yet-higher purpose: “in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.  Paul jabs at the Gnostics.  Do they hold a deep knowledge of spiritual things? In “Christ . . . are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. 

 Hampton Keathley III (former pastor and Greek teacher at Moody Bible Institute) writes, “Paul meets the heretics on their own ground.  He has a secret, too.  It also is unknowable, except to the initiated. To understand the secrets of the pagan religions, one must enter the temples.  Likewise, the only way to understand the treasures of God’s wisdom and understanding is to enter Christ by faith. They are stored away in Him.  He is God’s great secret; leave the mysteries of men and come to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life is the apostle’s conviction.” 

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (2:4,5).

Paul tells them all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ “so that they may not deceive you by fine-sounding arguments”.  The church has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ.  Why let smooth-talkers with seemingly plausible arguments  lead them elsewhere?

In fact, the churches aren’t being led astray.  Precisely what Paul means by “present with you in spirit”  is unclear.  What is clear is his “delight” at “how orderly . . . and firm your faith in Christ is”.  “ . . . orderly” and “firm” are military terms.  The New American Standard   translation hints at that:  “ . . . rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ”.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:6-8).

We’ve reached Paul’s conclusion.  His previous paragraphs have led to what he wants them to do now:  continue to live in Christ Jesus, just as you received him as Lord.  “Lord” (Greek kurios) is a loaded word.  Some Roman emperors adopted it–supreme ruler, no one as high.  To the Jews it was  the title of the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush–supreme ruler who made outlandish, personal promises to his covenant people.

Paul’s central teaching of the letter, then, is that the Colossians should continue to live their lives in Christ (2:6). Just as they began by “receiving” Christ Jesus, the Lord, so they should continue to live their lives “in him.”

 * * *

Here’s one fascinating  take away from all this:  The treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. 

These days, “wisdom” and “knowledge” aren’t much sought after.  Our treasures are bursts of information on our phones that entertain or, better, save us money. But look at this treasure’s worth from this ligonier.org comment . . .

“Knowledge is equivalent to the intellectual content of the faith, and wisdom is the ability to see reality as God does, enabling people to apply knowledge in a life that pleases the Creator and creates godly abundance (Prov. 2; Eccl. 2:26). We are being told in Colossians 2:3 that everything we need to know about the Father and how to properly interpret reality and live to His glory is accessible to all believers in His Son. Matthew Henry comments, ‘The treasures of wisdom are hidden not from us, but for us, in Christ.’”

” . . . wisdom is the ability to see reality as God does”.  Reality is “the e state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional (theoretical) idea of them.”  The ability to see reality as God does (wisdom) is hidden in Christ.  What we see apart from Christ is partial reality–even distorted–like the Gnostics with their secret knowledge.

If true treasures are hidden in Christ, treasures that enable us to see reality and to know God, let’s step into our work boots, put on our gloves and start digging.

 

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The Silence of God

The silence of God.
Deafening.
Devastating.
All my life I’ve prayed.
Answers never came dramatically.
But I always had the sense that  God was there and in control,
through circumstances providing,
answering.

But now, silence.

Not me alone, I learn.

Joseph.
Sold by his brothers to traders,
who caravaned him to Egypt.
Camel clopping hoofs,
traders laughing.
Though the narrative says nothing,
surely in those frightening hours,
torn from home,
Joseph surely prayed.
But God’s response was .  .  . silence.

David.
The Psalms give glimpses
of 
his struggles with God’s silence,
as 1 & 2 Samuel tell the history–
a fugitive in the wilderness from Saul’s fury,
a dethroned king running for his life from his son.
” O my God, I cry out by day,
but you do not answer” (Psalm 22:2a).

“To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit”
(Psalm 28:1).

“O LORD, you have seen this;
be not silent.
Do not be far from me, O Lord”
(Psalm 35:22).

“O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent . . . ” (Psalm 109:1).

So David prayed repeatedly to a silent God.
And all Israel chanted his prayers in worship.
Israel, God’s chosen, often heard God’s silence.

Asaph, of whom we know little:
“O God, do not keep silent;
be not quiet, O God,
be not still” (Psalm 83:1).

Of course, Job–
his suffering most heart-wrenching.
Family crushed
wealth robbed,
health gone,
helplessly dying in the dirt,
surrounded by three friends,
who searched for sin that caused such suffering.
From them an endless chain of words.
From God, silence.
” , , ,there was a time when God answered my prayers” (Job 12:4).
Not now.

And me.
The silence of God surrounds me.
I cup my ear to hear a word.
Squint my eyes to see his hand.
With David I pray,
“O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent.”

What am I to do?
Not be silent.
Pray.
Trust.
Both are hard,
when God stays silent,
when he remains hidden,
when I feel he’s a father,
giving a stone, not bread.

But, listen,
I hear Joseph whisper,
“It was God who sent me to Egypt,
to save many lives.”
But Joseph knew only much later
that God’s silence was not for suffering,
but salvation.

And David:
“Blessed be the Lord,
for he has head the sound of my pleading . . .
So I am helped,
and my heart rejoices.”

I hold Asapah’s words,
and hear him as he writes in faith,
“Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him
and around him a tempest rages” (Psalm 50:3).

And Job, whom the Lord reproved
out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this
that darkens counsel without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

When I don’t humbly pray,
when I don’t persevere in trust through silence,
when I don’t credit God with being at work,
I’m a presumptuous fool.
The end will show the good of God.
His triumphant voice will shatter the silence.
‘Til then, I must seek to hear his voice
In creation, in the Gospel, in his Son.

Despite my deafness,
Francis Schaeffer’s words
are always wise and true:

“He is There,
and He Is Not Silent”.

 

 

 

 

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A Sit-Down with the Apostle

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit down with the apostle Paul as he reminisces about his life?  We’ll have to wait for the New Earth for that.  Best we can do now is to find those here-and- there spots in his letters where he writes almost “sit-down”.  Today’s text (Colossians 1:24-29) is one of those.

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1:24).

Paul never visited Colosse,  but he did suffer in nearby Ephesus (Paul refers to it in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  Among the listeners in Ephesus was a convert named Epaphras , who eventually carried the gospel to Colosse.

What’s surprising is Paul didn’t complain about suffering.  He says he rejoices.  Why?  Two reasons.  One, it was for the sake of Christ’s body, the church.  Paul honored Christ and loved his church.  Two, his suffering  “[filled] up in [his] flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”.

John Piper has an interesting interpretation . . .

“What’s [lacking in Christ’s afflictions] is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others” (desiringgod.org).

“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory(1:25-27).

Paul sees  himself as a servant of the church. Once he was the church’s chief persecutor.  But Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road,  blinded him for days.  In the road’s dirt, Paul began to become the church’s servant.

He received, he believed, a commission from God.  The Greek word is oikonomia–a term referring to household administration.  It became  more broadly translated as ” responsibility, trust”.  Paul traveled from city to city, carrying the conviction that God  had entrusted  him with the responsibility to fully present  his word.

He was, he realized, actually revealing a mystery “kept hidden for ages and generations, but . . . now disclosed to the saints”.  The mystery was staggering.  It was Christ, not just alive from the dead, not just with his people, but in them.  And Christ in believers brought “the hope of glory”.  Of that hope Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) quotes Paul . . .

“I am confident that ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’ (2 Corinthians 4:17).  I have hope.  I am confident that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18). I have hope. I am confident that when Christ who is my life appears, I ‘also will appear with him in glory'” (Colossians 3:4).

Amazingly, this hope includes Gentiles.  Not as tag-alongs, but as part of one new humanity in Christ (Ephesians 2:15).  The “hope of glory” made suffering now worth it.  And one new humanity in Christ offered hate-filled mankind oneness in new life and love..

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (1:28,29).

 Two heresies threatened the Colossian church’s faith.   One, an early strain of Gnosticism–which promised spiritual knowledge can be apprehended intuitively by the initiated.   Two, extreme Judaism which promised good conduct merits God’s blessing, bad his curse.  If life seems cursed, you’re full of sin.  If it’s filled with blessing, you must be pleasing God. Paul’s answer to both is a Person–Christ.

His intent wasn’t just to refute error or even make converts. He wanted to “present everyone mature (or complete) in Christ.”  He was anticipating standing before the Lord surrounded by the fruit of his ministry.

That meant “labor”.  The Greek is energeo.   Energy.  ” . . . struggling” translates the Greek agnoizimy–to engage in an intense struggle against strong opposition.  Agonizing.

How could he keep going–and with joy?  He believed he had divine resource–Christ’s power (dunamis) which “powerfully (dunamis) works (energeo) within me.” 

Paul is convinced that his ministry, while it requires his own labor and resembles a struggling athlete,  is empowered by the Holy Spirit at work in him.

* * *

I want more “sit-down”.   This one’s over too quickly.  I’ve got questions.  How, Paul, could you continue to rejoice in sufferings?  How did the conviction that you were filling up Christ’s afflictions spur you on?  A ministry of the “mystery” to Gentiles added to your sufferings.  Where did your faith to endure come from?  As I ask that question, I know your answer.

Christ’s energy, powerfully working in your work.

I want that.  Writing’s becoming a chore as my eyesight worsens.  Doubts about my blog’s effectiveness and who it reaches nag me.  Weakness in my body wearies my mind.

“Jesus, in my struggles, in my labor which is far less important than Paul’s, would you powerfully work your energy in my work?”

 

 

 

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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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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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