The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Faith

What Good Is Private Faith?

Last Tuesday Democrat Vice-President nominee Senator Tim  Kaine debated Republican Vice-President nominee Governor Mike Pence.  It turned out more combative than the pundits led us to believe.  Pence won hands-down and should be the presidential nominee.

Senator Kaine showed up as Hillary Clinton’s attack dog.  It wasn’t his irritating 70 interruptions of Governor Pence that got to me though.  What bothered me most was his abortion position.  He claims to hold to the traditional Roman Catholic position of the sanctity of life.  Privately he’s “pro-life”, claiming to be “personally opposed” to abortion.

Yet when it comes to politics and public policy he is ardently “pro-choice”.  “I strongly support the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions and, for that reason, will oppose efforts to weaken or subvert the basic holding of Roe v. Wade.”  Kaine has “a 100% pro-choice voting record for his time in the Senate from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood.”  He argues he doesn’t want to “mandate” his personal faith on anyone.

Agreed that the Senator must uphold the laws of the land.  But, if his faith is central to everything he does (as he claims), why not vote against pro-choice positions?  Why stand so ardently for pro-choice?  If he truly believes in “life” for the unborn, why not work within the system for “life”?  The only answer is:  politics takes precedence over the sanctity of life.  The argument that women have the right to make their own reproductive decisions is like saying humans have the right to murder.  Both result in the death of an “innocent”.

I’m reminded of the apostle James’ jolting question:  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him (James 2:14)?

James expects the answers “no good” and “no”.  Faith that doesn’t evidence itself in works is worthless.  It cannot save.  Private faith—faith that does not inform one’s living and show itself in one’s actions—is not true faith at all.

Senator Kaine is not alone.  Who doesn’t struggle to translate his faith into action?  Such a battle is part-and-parcel of the Christian life.  But when one argues that he can hold to faith while insisting outward action isn’t necessary—indeed contrary action is permissible—that man is deceiving himself.

Lord, give us leaders who believe the truth as you have revealed it in your Word and who devote themselves to obeying that truth even when politically unpopular!

 

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Forgotten Forever

If you want to peer into a man’s soul, read Psalms.  They are unique in Scripture, because, instead of God talking to a man, they record man talking to God.

A smorgasbord of thoughts and emotions, there are lament and thanksgiving and praise and salvation history and affirming celebration and wisdom and trust psalms.  Interestingly, the largest group is lament.  Again and again the psalmists honestly and fervently express discouragement, disappointment, discontent and distress to the Lord.

Perhaps the most familiar are these heartrending questions from David, which eventually Jesus echoed from the cross . . .

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?”
(Psalm 22:1, ESV).

Here’s an especially poignant cry, again from David . . .

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you
hide your face from me?
(Psalm 13:1, ESV)

Today’s English Version’s  translation packs a bit more passion . . .

“How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?
How much longer will you hide your face from me?”
(Psalm 13:1, TEV).

Such psalms destroy the foolish notion to be careful not to “confess anything negative with our mouth”.  And, even, I would add the idea that we may tread on thin ice if we complain or get angry with the Lord.  In fact, if we can’t be honest with our Father in heaven about how we really feel, with whom can we be brutally honest? He’s not a prideful monarch whose ego will be crushed and demand satisfaction if we complain to him!

Look at more of Psalm 13.  Ever felt this way?

How much longer will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?
How much longer will you hide yourself from me?

How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
(Psalm 13:1,2, TEV)

For some, “enemies” are violent persecutors.  For others, they are prolonged illness, disability, the physical wasting-away for aging and dying, an abusive husband, an unjust employer, an addiction, a particular sin, Satan.  The list is long; “enemies” come in many forms.  And turning to follow Jesus in faith doesn’t magically remove them.

When “enemies triumph” and “sorrow fill[s] my heart” and “I endure trouble” with no respite, I hit bottom where I feel forgotten.  “How much longer will you forget me Lord?  Forever?”   Can’t be much worse than feeling that my Lord has forgotten me.

But, with one exception (Psalm 88), the psalmist doesn’t stay there.  Though “forgotten”, he prays yet again—the prayer of a desperate, drowning man . . .

Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.”
Don’t let them gloat over my downfall.
(Psalm 13:3,4, TEV)
“Look at me”—the opposite of the Lord “hiding [him]self”.  Do I hear anger in “Look at me”?  Or just desperation?  David’s need is critical.  Begging for strength, because he’s weak.  Afraid the Lord may let him die.  His enemies are readying a celebration over his downfall.
But, again, David doesn’t stay there.  He moves on, on to envision coming rescue.  I marvel.  I’m prone to camp in verses 1 and 2.  Or maybe barely (angrily?) crawl in verses 3 and 4.  How do I reach the height of David’s faith in these last two verses?
I rely on your constant love; I will be glad,
because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord,
because you have been good to me.
(Psalm 13:5.6, TEV)
“Constant love” comes from the Hebrew chesed, the word used of the steadfast, covenant love of the Lord.  He has made a covenant with us who trust him.  And he cannot not be faithful to his covenant.  Jesus himself is the guarantee of this better (than Old) covenant (Hebrews 7:22).  It’s this that Paul echoes in this assuring promise . . .
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son,
but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son –
will he not also freely give us all things?
Who will accuse God’s chosen people?
God himself declares them not guilty!
Who, then, will condemn them?
Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life
and is at the right side of God, pleading with him for us!
Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger
or poverty or danger or death?
As the scripture says, “For your sake we are in danger of death at all times;
we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we have complete victory
through him who loved us!
For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love:
neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers,
neither the present nor the future,
neither the world above
nor the world below –
there is nothing in all creation
that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God
which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:31b-39, TEV)
On this love we can rely.  Because of this love we will be rescued.  He has been good to lavish his love on us in Christ Jesus.

Feeling forgotten?  We will be glad!  Feeling forsaken?  We will sing!

 

* * * * *

NOTE:  Break from blogging the rest of this week.  Back early next week.  Appreciate all you readers—all 700 subscribers!  May the Lord grant us our heart’s desires, as we delight ourselves in him!

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Does God Really Exist?

P.AllanI mean God as revealed in the Bible.  The Triune God.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit.  Occasionally (thankfully not often!), especially when I’m hurting and he seems silent, I wonder if all this God-talk is just that—talk.  A creation of humans ages ago passed on from generation to generation until we have a “sacred book” all about him.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders if God is really there!)

On those occasions I return to three realities—two objective, one subjective.

First, the universe.

Random?  Chance?  When I see photos of the galaxies and read the intricacies of the human body, I shake my head and marvel at the naturalist.  I realize then that naturalism is an ideology, not science.  So much complexity, so much power, so much beauty.  The universe screams, “INTELLIGENT DESIGN!”.   And when I look at humans, when I listen to us communicate and love and, yes, even hate, I scream “PERSONAL INTELLIGENT DESIGNER!”  The jump from there to God is a mere step.  If God doesn’t exist, how then does the universe?  Because the universe exists, God does.  What I see, taste, touch, hear and smell isn’t just universe, it’s creation at the word of the Creator God the Father through the Son by means of the Spirit.  Yes, God really exists!

Second, Jesus’ resurrection.

He never really died?  Disciples stole the body?  Come on.  All such  theories on their face are laughable.  Twelve disciples suffered martyrdom (and God alone knows how many other believers) refusing to recant their testimony that crucified Jesus the Christ ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  As prophesied.  According to hundreds.  They laid down their lives rather than deny what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.  Chuck Colson, now with Jesus, pointed out how hard it is to keep a conspiracy quiet.  Had the disciples stolen the body, somebody eventually would have snitched.  Besides, what happened to the body?  If Jesus did rise from the dead, he’s all he claimed to be.  The resurrection joyfully shouts, “God really exists”.

Third, the Holy Spirit in my spirit.

This is the subjective reality, a sense, a feeling, an inward witness.  John Piper talks about the Bible being self-authenticating.  That is, when I seriously read it, it authenticates itself.   Something tells my mind and heart that it’s truth.  I would call that “self-authenticating” power GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT.  He makes the written word “come alive” so I know it reveals reality.  The same is true when I quiet down to pray and deeply think.  There’s an inner sense that God is there.  He really exists.  I just know that I know.  The Bible and the Spirit tell me so.

I could mention more, but these are my three bottom-line realities when painful circumstances whisper to my rational mind, “Maybe God isn’t there after all.”  When I hit those bottom-line realities, I bounce back up.  All things, then, become possible.  Nothing is random or chance.  I’m not alone.  And no matter the circumstance, he wins in the end—and I do too, because I am his through faith in Jesus his Son, indwelt by his Spirit.

Francis Schaeffer memorably titled one of his books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.  Yes, he is!

 

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My Own True Faith?

P.Allan“Enjoying one good year is better than suffering two bad ones.”

So said my wife while driving me to a doctor’s appointment.  We were talking about getting a prescription with possible long-term, unpleasant side effects.

I was somewhat taken aback by her remark.  “I was hoping to live longer than a year.”

“I know,” she said.  “I was just using that as an example.”

“Oh.”  (Not feeling too encouraged.)

I have primary lateral sclerosis, which as you know if you’re a regular reader (and more than tired of hearing about my health issues), isn’t fatal, just chronic without a cure.

I’ve admitted before that this whole thing has been a major test of my faith.  I was raised in a church that believes the gifts of the Spirit are still given today.  I still believe that.  So I’ve prayed much for healing, as have others for me.  It hasn’t come.  So I limp around, struggling with the worsening limitations the disease lays on me.

I understand that healing isn’t the norm, though the Lord still does heal.  Disease and death are in the world because sin is in the world.  Victory over death comes in the last-day resurrection.   Nevertheless, norm or not, we pray for healing—and trust the Lord’s grace to be sufficient if he doesn’t give it.

Still, it tests my faith.  Sometimes makes me question my faith.  And never am I able to obey James 1:2-4 . . .

Count it all joy, my brothers,
when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

COUNT IT ALL JOY?  Most of the time I’m working on a little smile!  I’m not even in the ballpark for counting it joy!  If this is a faith test, I think I’ll be good to get a D.

In his book, Everlasting Is the Past, Walter Wangerin tells of his college years when he feared his faith had left him.  Worse, that he believed the faith, but he’d never made it his own.  He writes . . .

Was this my own true faith?  My own fear and loving and trusting in the Almighty Father?  Not really.  It was the faith, that which I could deliver word for word.  A static thing.  I had learned about the commandments and the creed of the Church.  I believed they were true—as I believed the stars are true.  But I did not cling to this creed.  Rather, I wore it like a badge . . . If, however, you asked me then if I had faith, I would brightly answer, “I do.” (p. 17).

Wangerin’s confession confronted me.  I had served as a pastor 44 years.  Prayed, studied God’s Word, preached it, taught it, counseled with it, loved it, believed it (so I thought).  Wangerin’s words, though, made me ask, “Has my faith been a static thing? Did I wear Bible doctrines like a badge without clinging to them?”  I always supposed that in every congregation (including those I pastored) sat some who said the right words but in their hearts really didn’t know Jesus.  Had I been one of them?

Finally, I decided no.  No I wasn’t one of them.  My faith had not been a static thing.  I didn’t wear the faith like a badge; I really did cling to the truth.  Why, then, from time to time now did I struggle so much?  I came up with two reasons.

One, I no longer pastor.  That means I don’t spend my waking hours in the Word, in prayer, in meeting people to encourage them in the faith.  When I lay in bed at night, I don’t think about the coming Sunday’s sermon, how I might better make a point or illustration.  For 44 years I was like boiling water in a cup with a teabag steeping away, turning the water into tea.  Now, for the most part, I am just water in a cup.

One of my friends at church used to call me a professional Christian.  A joke, I think.  I got paid to be a good believer.  The money didn’t make me want to be a leader others could follow.  It was Jesus who did it, plus my desire to be used for the good of others.  But no longer a “professional”, my “normal” Christian life was suddenly without much structure.  Besides, it’s always easier to have faith for somebody else.  Which brings me to the second reason for my struggle . . .

Two, this was my trial and it was serious.  Not that I hadn’t endured some tough times before, both in ministry and family life.  But this was (is) different.  It’s my body that’s (to use Paul’s graphic phrase) “wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16).  Not a pretty picture.  Reminds me of “the walking dead.”  This body, that I’ve tried to take care of by eating relatively well, by all sorts of exercise and working out, is eroding—like a wave-pounded beach.

And, in this life, it will never be better (short of a miracle).  What encouraged me through several surgeries was the expectation that once this is over I’ll be better.  Not this time.  That’s a punch to the stomach of my faith.  Oh, I know, a new body in the resurrection.  And that does help.  But the thought of never running again with my grand-kids on this earth leaves me very sad.

I cling to Jesus.  Wangerin confessed, “I did not cling to this creed.”  Well, I am clinging.  I could cite numerous Scriptures I’m clinging to, like . . .

. . . fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
(Isaiah 41:10).

But, bottom line, I’m clinging to Jesus.  I don’t understand (though I want to).  And, yes, there are days every so often when my clinging fingers slip and he holds me.  But, my faith, though a bit battered, is my own true faith. And I’m clinging to the one who loves me and gave himself for me.

And, as long as I do that, it is well with my soul.

 

 

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He Will Hold Me Fast

P.AllanWhen faith is weak, when strength has ebbed, when temptation has won, when all hope seems gone, when death is near, here is a song to proclaim.  It will deepen our assurance and build up our faith and give us confidence that no one can snatch us out of our Good Shepherd’s hand (John 20:28).

The singers and musicians are the Norton Hall Band.  I found this video on Justin Taylor’s blog. Taylor  is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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You Fools!

O PreacherWant “conversational” preaching?  No raised voice, no intensity, no felt-passion?  Rip this page of Galatians from your Bible.  If Paul was dictating to a scribe, he probably shouted.  If he was writing himself, he probably wrote in bold-face type.  He was angry.  Itinerant Jewish teachers were making Christ’s crucifixion good for nothing among the Galatian churches.  And they were robbing these new Gentile believers of power for living the Christian life.

Irrelevant to us?  Here’s a question.  You believe Jesus died to forgive your past sins, but what does your future right-standing with God depend on?  Not sure?  Read on . . .

Starting with the Spirit (Galatians 3:1-5).

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?  Have you suffered so much for nothing– if it really was for nothing?  Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Paul’s angry.  The Galatian believers are “turning to a different gospel” (1:6).  Irrational!  Ridiculous!  “Bewitched” (Greek baskino) in this context means something like, “Who put you in this mental coma?”  So, as I said twice already, Paul’s angry.  But I suspect  it was a sad kind of anger, a lamenting that these believers had been duped into thinking that faith alone in Jesus Christ is insufficient to get right with God.  Faith needed Jewish circumcision and law-keeping for justification!  How could these Galatians act like blind fools after Paul had painted a graphic word-picture of Christ crucified for them?

Actually the heresy is more insidious than it appears.  The false teachers might have preached something like this:  “Now that you’ve started this life of faith in Christ, how will you make it all the way to the end?  For that, you need circumcision and law-keeping like God’s people have always needed.”  That’s why Paul asks the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? “

Paul designed his questions to wise-up the Galatians.  How did they start the Christian life?  By observing Jewish law or believing the gospel they heard?  Well, by believing.  But how could they be confident they’d be right with God to the end?  Because when they started they received the Spirit.  Becoming a Christian isn’t just a legal transaction where the Judge declares us not guilty for our sin because we trust Christ “did the time” for our crime.  Nor is it just a love transaction where God gave his Son for us out of affection for us.  It is also a dynamic transaction in which we receive the Spirit . . .


“Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?”

“After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you
because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”

 

Here’s Paul’s argument.  At the start, you believed the gospel you heard, and thereby you received the Spirit.  You will continue on and reach your goal by the power of the Spirit.  And the miracles God gives you now by his Spirit, come because you believe what you heard.  How can you possibly think working at keeping Jewish law will keep you going in this new life and get you to the heavenly goal?

Receiving the Blessing of Abraham (3:6-14).

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.  All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:6-14).

A strange example Abraham, until you realize he was the father of all who believe (not just Jews).  And “the gospel in advance to Abraham” was, All nations shall be blessed through you.”  Abraham is “the man of faith.”  The people God is saving, you see, is a people from among all nations who are, like Abraham, a people of faith.

Let’s say I rely on keeping the Ten Commandments to maintain my life with God and reach the heavenly goal.  What have I done?  Put myself under a curse, because I have to “do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  Everything.  But, ” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . “ 

And for what purpose did Christ redeem us from the law’s curse?  “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus . . . ”  What is “the blessing given to Abraham”?  Righteousness/justification/right-standing with God by believing.   When God made that promise to Abraham, he did it so that the promised blessing might come to Gentiles too—people from among all nations.

But that blessing isn’t the final purpose.  Christ redeemed us so the blessing to Abraham might come to Gentiles so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit,”  Thus, God’s purpose from the start, wasn’t just to put believers in right-standing with himself by faith,  but to transform them progressively into people who ARE RIGHTEOUS IN CHARACTER AND BEHAVIOR by faith.

Being No Fool.

Our sinful nature still whispers, “You can do it.  Just try harder to be better.”  The world idolizes the man or the woman who made something of him/herself.  The devil mocks, “Your faith?  It doesn’t amount to even half a grain of mustard seed.  You better get busy doing good stuff if you wanna make it with God!”

Let’s not be fools.  Christ provides right-standing with God through our faith (our faith) in Christ.  And with justification comes the Spirit who works miracles in us.  Only fools opt for “human effort”. 

DON’T BE A FOOL!
BE FAITH-FULL!

 

 

 

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Sometimes Almost Atheist

P.AllanSince I’ve been diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis, the devil has been craving my faith (1 Peter 5:8,9).  Days have dawned when I’ve doubted God.  Doubted his goodness.  Doubted his love.  Doubted even his existence.  (Thankfully, that’s rare.)

I’m confessing this hoping that it helps someone who shares my struggles.

Where Is God When It Hurts? Philip Yancey asked in his book by that title.  Indeed.  Suppose I could see and hear the totality of earth’s suffering.  Africa’s starving children.  Young girl sex slaves.  Soldiers shipped home in caskets to weeping parents.  Middle East and now Europe terrorist victims, as well, of course, here at home.  Children born without arms or legs.  What would I think?  How would I feel?  Next to most, my disability is an annoying squeak.  Yet, real.  So I admit:  every so often a day dawns when I’m almost an atheist.

I’ve diagnosed the process.  It starts with discouragement:  another day to suffer pain and sickness and limitations.  Then comes the “why?”.  (Although I know God’s answers are in his Word, I don’t like them.)  I get tired of pushing myself.  Romans 8:28 seems empty because I can see no good from any of this.  Why doesn’t he at least partly answer all the prayers prayed for my healing?  Then I wonder if my view of God as loving, good, powerful, merciful and kind is correct.  Which ultimately leads to the haunting question:  Is God there at all?

Mercifully, something in me (of course, it’s the comforting Holy Spirit), pulls me back from the chasm before I fully fall.  He teaches me (yet again) that this suffering is a faith-test.  Perhaps it’s devil-designed.  But our Lord holds the evil one short-leashed; he can wreak only so much havoc, prowl only so close, feast on my faith only so long.  It’s then the Spirit awakens a closed-down corner of my mind, and I remember:  this is our Lord’s faith-test intended to tone up my faith muscle more.   His discipline is painful.  Surely it will soon bear the fruit of holiness.  (Though, in the thick of the fight, it’s not holiness I long for; it’s deliverance.)

Today, I’m chastened.  ” . . . without faith it is impossible to please [God] * (Hebrews 11:6a).   At first, I find that odd.  I’m suffering and my concern is to please God?   He’s my Father!  Certainly when I’m in pain he should please me by soothing my hurt!  But if the catechism is correct (“Man’s chief end is to glorify God . . . “),  glorifying him should be my chief end even in suffering.  I should fear turning his smile into a frown.  Which reminds me of verse four of William Cowper’s “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” . . .

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Then I read the reason for faith’s necessity in the rest of Hebrews 11:6 . . .

And without faith it is impossible to please God,
because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists
and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Believe that he “exists”!  Literally the original Greek reads:  “anyone who comes to him must believe that he is”.  He simply is.  And he is all that he is, supremely revealed in Christ.  But that’s my battle today, isn’t it, believing that he is.  Two realities persuade me.

One, the universe.

If naturalism is correct, this universe is all there is.  Nothing (and no one) exists outside it.  Therefore, a world that screams “design” everywhere has no Designer.  And I’m left to drown in the murky soup of evolution.  I quickly find it impossible.  The design of the macrocosm and microcosm world must have a Designer.  I remember walking the beach, coming across a sandcastle.  Never once did I think, “Isn’t it amazing what sand and water and wind can create?”  Always I intuitively knew somebody made the sandcastle.  Simple, but convincing for me.

But what of the cruel weight of all the world’s wrong?  Should that disprove that God is?  And here I’m indebted to C.S. Lewis . . .

My argument against God
was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.
But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?
A man does not call a line crooked
unless he has some idea of a straight line.
What was I comparing this universe with when I
called it unjust?
(Mere Christianity)

The only answer:  the straight-line justice of God.

Two, Jesus’ resurrection.

It confirmed everything Jesus said and did.  If no resurrection?  Jesus is a lunatic or liar.  That’s why Paul wrote . . .

If there is no resurrection of the dead,
then not even Christ has been raised.
(1 Corinthians 15:13)

In one of his books and often in other writings, Chuck Colson noted how hard it had been for a few Watergate break-in leaders to keep their secret.  In fact, they couldn’t.  And here were 12 apostles, all of whom presumably could have been spared martyrdom had they recanted.  But they refused.  They couldn’t change their story, even under penalty of death.  They knew what they had seen.  And they had seen the crucified Christ now risen.

How could I possibly turn away from so powerful a witness?  What those men wrote about the Son of God the Father must be true.  My “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17) cannot possibly dismiss their weighty and continuing witness.

God not only is ” . . .he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”    Instead of angrily running from him (by denying his very existence), I  must receive a merciful  promise (a reward of his choosing).  By it, he gently pulls me toward himself.

But I do find “earnestly seeking” God who has sent (or at least allowed) suffering at first disagreeable.  I’m like a puppy called back to the guy who kicked him.  This, of course, is part of the faith fight.  Do I trust his promise?  And am I able to earnestly seek him and not healing?  That’s a thorny question.  But his promise, empowered by the Spirit, pulls me.

What’s my reward, I wonder.  At the very least (how can I possibly say that), the reward is more of himself.  Both in this age and in the eternal age to come.  There’s more though, more blessings than I can count, for he will be indebted to no one.  But it’s him I must earnestly seek.  In prayer.  In his Word.  In worshipful music.  In the fellowship of his people.  Him.  The kingdom of this King is worth joyfully selling everything to gain (Matthew 13:44).  He is worth losing even my health to have.

Perhaps my confession is shocking.  (Just remember, God’s grace has always held me.  He’s always brought me back to where I end this blog.)  If you understand—if you can even say, “Amen.  I’ve been there”—

then I hope you’ll join me in listening (even singing) the song above. 

I make the invitation praying that, through it,
we might enjoy a taste of his reward in our faith-fight .
Until the Day dawns when faith-fighting will be no more.

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Circumcision Confrontation

O PreacherMight the Jewish rite of circumcision create conflict for us who are right with God by faith?

The Writing of Galatians.

When Paul and Barnabas finished their first missions trip
they sailed to Antioch, Syria.  “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had  done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they remained no little time with the disciples” (Acts 14:27,28).

It may have been during the “no little time” that Paul learned of trouble in the churches he and Barnabas had just planted in Galatia province—the churches of Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.  Jewish teachers had visited those churches arguing that these Gentile converts to Christ must be circumcised to be saved  (This was the issue prompting the soon-to-be-held Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35–-http://theoldpreacher.com/critical-council/).

In response, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote the Letter to the Galatians.  The year was probably 48 A.D.  That letter God has sovereignly preserved for us in the New Testament.  (By the way, if maps aren’t your thing, just ignore them.  But they help me get a better picture of events.)

An “Occasional” Document.

I find it noteworthy that God chose to reveal himself to us through what scholars called “occasional” documents like Galatians.  “Occasional” here means this letter, which is God’s Word to us, was occasioned by a real-life situation in the mid-first century A.D.  In fact, much of the Bible is like that.  A majority of the Old Testament is a God-inspired record of how God revealed himself among Israel.  (This includes the prophets who spoke to Israel in real-time history.)  This contrasts with Islam, for instance.  Muslims claim Allah revealed himself to Mohamed, who then wrote down those revealed words.  Notice, too, that God the Son revealed himself to us in real space-time (see Luke 1:1-4).   Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension comprised God’s supreme self-revelation.  We have that recorded in the Gospels.

I find this remarkable.  Rather than dictating words to a “holy man” in a cave somewhere, God revealed himself in real-life human situations and inspired men to write what he said and did.  Our God came and worked among us to make himself known to us.

All that to briefly step away from the Acts chronology (we’ll get back to it soon) to read through Galatians at the historical point Paul wrote it (that is, probably at the time described in Acts 14:27,28).  This will help us better understand  this short but profound letter.

The “Trouble” of Circumcision.

As I explained above, the “trouble” for the Galatian churches was the false teaching that Gentiles had to add circumcision to faith in Christ to be saved.  Ancient issue, right?  Not exactly.  How many of us, for example, subconsciously assume that our right standing with God is shaky this week because we’ve lied, lost our temper, looked at pornography, ignored our neighbor’s need, etc.?  If behavior like that is our normal way of life, of course we should question our standing with God.  But if we’re talking about occasional sins, let’s remember that our justification (right standing with God) is by faith not works.  And let’s remember nothing can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.  At times I’m his very disobedient child, but still his child.  My behavior may call for discipline, but he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6).

The Opposite “Trouble”.

Oddly, the opposite can spell “trouble” for us, too.   We (rightly) believe we can’t add “works” to faith, but we may be so nonchalant about our faith that it’s dead and we don’t even know it.  A person with “nonchalant” faith like that (actually faith on life-support) usually has no righteous works.  Because “faith without works is dead”.  Works (obedience as the direction of life) spring from living faith.  The absence of works as a life-direction is actually a sign of dead faith.  We probably have as many professed Christians dealing with this trouble as those in the former category (those trying to add works to their faith so they see obedience as meritorious for salvation).

A Supernatural Faith.

Paul will make clear in this letter a Good News truth we must always keep on the front-burner of our mind.  It lies at the very heart of the Good News . . .

I have been crucified with Christ.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20).

Christianity, you see,  is a supernatural faith.  Christ loved us and gave himself for us and now lives in us who live by faith in him.  That’s a life-transforming miracle.

We need not and must not add anything to that miracle.
And, if we understand and ponder that miracle,
we may be so captivated by it
our heart will be kindled with warm devotion
for the One who loved us and gave himself for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No One Escapes Suffering

P.AllanHear that?   No one escapes suffering.  In my early years I hardly thought about it.  I was suffering-free, except for some emotional pains of pastoring.  But in my late 6th decade, suffering came.  Back trouble hit— from genes and aging.  Then came irritating digestive issues.  Finally, after several surgeries and multiple tests, doctors decided their diagnosis:  primary lateral sclerosis, a chronic and incurable disease that weakens parts of the body, makes walking without assistance impossible and produces other troublesome symptoms

This morning while exercising I listened to a sermon from 1 Peter (a letter all about suffering), which included this text . . .

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7).

I preached this several times.   But, this morning it awakened me like a jump in a cold swimming pool.  I pulled out my Bible and preached it to myself.  (If you want to listen to my self-addressed little sermon, you may continue.)

In 1:3-5,  Peter praises God for mercifully giving us new birth into a hope that lives through Christ’s resurrection.  And he praises God for the imperishable, unspoiling, never-fading inheritance that is ours through faith.  This inheritance, Peter writes, is kept in heaven for us and will come through the  consummation of Christ’s salvation.

Then in 1:6 he reminds us that this hope/inheritance is a source of great joy.  That convicts me, because too often I allow my disability to dampen my joy and it blinds the eyes of my heart to the great good that’s coming.

In the second half of 1:6 Peter has a despite-the-present-reality moment.  You greatly rejoice in what is coming (future), “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  This is the present reality.  This is where I live, because no one escapes suffering—not even Christians.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial
when it comes upon you to test you,
as though something strange were happening to you.
(1 Peter 4:12)

Suffering is normal in this sinful, dying world.  Suffering is normal for the Christian, because Jesus suffered.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings
that you may also rejoice and be glad
when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:13)

But why do I suffer?  We all ask that question, right?  Why me?  Why now?  Why this?  Is it fate?  Bad karma?  I look again at 1:6 and 1:7 . . .

In this (your hope/inheritance) you rejoice,
though now for a little while, if necessary
(that means God has designed it),
you have been grieved by various trials
so that the tested genuineness of your faith
—more precious than gold that perishes though refined by fire—
may be found to result in praise and glory and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1:6,7)

Why do I suffer with this disability?  So that my faith may be tested and proved genuine and result in my being praised and glorified and honored at Jesus Christ’s appearing!  This is a faith-test.  My faith must be proven genuine.  And when it is, it will bring me praise, glory and honor when Jesus comes.

Allan (I’m preaching to myself, remember), don’t be discouraged and depressed.  Think of the living hope that is yours through Christ’s resurrection.  Think of the glorious inheritance he is keeping in heaven for you.  Think of how he is guarding you for it through your faith.  Rejoice in that!

Yes, you are enduring a trial now.  No one, not even you, escapes suffering.  But remember God is testing your faith—not because he doesn’t know its quality, but so through testing it may be strengthened and purified.  Whether you agree or not, whether you would choose this process or not, your God has sent this into your life.  It’s not senseless suffering.  It’s refining fire for your faith.  And it has extraordinary consequences.  As you limp through the fire, persevering in faith, the result will be this:   You will receive praise, glory and honor when Christ is revealed to this world in his glory.

So quit moaning and rejoice!   Quit grumbling and praise him!  Quit pulling the covers over your head and get up for the fight of faith!  Because he is keeping you.  And in the end, he will reward you with a crown of glory.

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Whose Son Died?

O PreacherJust saw this powerful illustration from Don Carson at the Bethlehem College and Seminary Pastor’s Conference.  Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition.

In this video Carson corrects misconceptions about “the intensity of faith” and redirects us to the object of our faith.  You can listen to the whole sermon here.  Special thanks to Bethlehem for making this available.

 

 

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