The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Personal (page 1 of 5)

My Muddled Prayers

Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness.  Nothing happened outside his will.  He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13).  Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.

Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . . 

“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .

Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

I draw two conclusions.  One, my illness is God’s will.  Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life.  Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.

Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure?  Or can I pray for healing?  If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified.  How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory.  So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.

I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing.  So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up).  And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

And I pray: “Jesus see me.  Look on me with compassion.  And please heal me.”

I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will.  So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith.   Often I’m just confused.

Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it.  Everything in me wants to fight back.  To stubbornly refuse to give ground.  To stomp it out.  (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)

Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.”  I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have.  I can focus my thoughts on the Lord.  (Sounds so spiritual.  Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)

Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter).  The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life.  He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing.  (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!)  And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer.  I can seek contentment in him.  I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious:  I am utterly dependent on him.  Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him.  I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).  I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

          that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,       

          that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

( I will inevitably sneak in:  “And if you want to heal me today, please do!”  That’s okay, right?  Ah, my muddled prayers!)

 

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I Will Not Die But Live

The words.  Suddenly, there they were.  In my mind.

“I will not die but live.”

It was last Thursday afternoon.  I don’t remember now what I was doing.

I had been thinking lately about death.  Primary Lateral Sclerosis is chronic, not terminal.  But complications arise and, who knows?  Besides, I sometimes feel like I’m dying.  (That’s probably more emotional than physical.)

So death-on-my-mind was the larger context.  But I wasn’t thinking about it when the words came . . .

“I will not die but live.”

Scripture?  Sounded like it.  But I couldn’t place it.  So I cranked up by Bible software and found it.  Psalm 118:17.  Here’s the whole verse . . .

  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

And here’s the critical question that immediately came with it:  Where did the words come from?  I’d certainly read that verse–that psalm–before.  So:  inexplicable recall?  Too much rich dessert the night before?  The Holy Spirit?

I read through the whole psalm–a psalm of thanksgiving to the LORD for his steadfast love . . .

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say: ‘His love endures forever’” (118:1-4).

The psalmist testifies how the LORD rescued him from death . . .

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.  All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me.  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”  I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (118:5-18).

He goes on, then, to describe a festive occasion when all the people celebrate the LORD’s steadfast love that endures forever . . .

 “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (118:19-29).

It’s a triumphant, celebratory psalm that Israel sang and was used of Jesus during his Jerusalem entry (Matthew 21:9).  But here’s my question:  dare I used verse 17 of me?  In other words, given the fact that it just popped from nowhere into my mind, was that the doing of the Holy Spirit for me?

I did a quick exegesis.  I understood that the psalmist spoke, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done” after the LORD had rescued him from possible death.  So our situations (his and mine) weren’t the same.  I was still fighting my battle.  Even  though I wasn’t surrounded by “all the nations”, could the Holy Spirit have “spoken” the words to me and for me?

 

Scoffers will say I’d read it before.  It was there in my memory.  Just happened to come to conscious level because I had been thinking of death.  Theologians might say, “Those words were the psalmist’s for his celebration.  Not yours.”

But that’s what I’m doing.  I’m daring to say those words didn’t come from nowhere, or from unconscious memory, or too much chocolate.  Label them however–prophecy, word of knowledge, impression.  I choose to believe they came from the Holy Spirit.  They are his words to and for me.

Sure, I’ll die.  Just not soon.  Maybe not for a few years.  Meanwhile, I won’t give in to this dreadful illness.  By God’s grace, I’ll do all I can.

After all, I have a mission:  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”  Blog the Bible.  Blog lessons learned and questions raised.  Preach the Lord’s wonderful deeds.

Yesterday and today I’ve not felt well.   Two down days.  But, yes, the Holy Spirit still speaks.  And, yes, he’s spoken to me.  He spoke his inscripturated word for me.  So, even on down days I’ll wield his words like a weapon.  Against Satan.  Against my unbelief.  They’re my triumphant proclamation until the day (not soon) when he does hand me over to death.  Until then (not soon), listen . . .

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

 

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Put Here For . . .

Yesterday during our prayer time, Lois read from Paul  . . .

“ . . . I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16  ). 

Remarkable.  He’s writing, not from a podium before an interested crowd, but from imprisonment in Rome.  He had been in Jerusalem in the temple courtyard, when Jews from Asia “stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him” (Acts 21:27).  “They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple . . . [and] as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion” (Acts 21:31).  Soldiers and centurions rushed to the riot.  And “when [the crowd] saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.  Then the tribune came up and arrested Paul and ordered him to be bound with two chains” (Acts 21:32,33).

Then came a trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin.  Back to jail where a plot to kill Paul was discovered.  He was spirited north to Caesarea for a trial before the Roman governor.  Finally, as a Roman citizen, Paul made an appeal for a trial before Caesar.  Waiting for that to be honored, King Agrippa tried him.  Finally, Paul was herded aboard a ship for Rome.  A ferocious storm wrecked the ship and survivors were stranded on the island of Malta.  Three months later another ship takes Paul to Rome where he is imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.  Now, note this:  since his arrest in Jerusalem three years have passed.  Three years.

Despite it all, Paul writes, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel.”  He’s saying, “God led me through all the suffering of the last three years to put me here, and I’m here to defend the gospel.”  This man doesn’t believe in chance; he believes God is sovereign in all things.  This man wrote these majestic words  as he stood in awe of his Lord . . .

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’  ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:32-36).

And he believed the sovereign Lord who was the hidden director behind every thing in his life, orchestrated the days of his life for a purpose:    Even this.  ” . . . for the defense of the gospel.” 

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14).

Is Paul the only Christian who can make a “put here for” claim?  I would argue that the Philippians also can.  They were put in Philippi to suffer for Christ’s sake . . .

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him (Philippians 2:9).

Suffering for Christ there is part of God’s call to them in Christ.  Like Paul, they had been put there for the defense of the gospel.

Which brings me to the question: Can I say I’ve been put here?  Is my primary lateral sclerosis that binds me to a wheelchair and makes me virtually useless waist-down . . . is this God-put?

I have believed it’s God-allowed–Satan on a leash, like with Job.  I’ve also thought maybe it was God-sent to teach me to rely more on him and refine my faith.  But God-put sheds a different light on it.  Especially when coupled with “for the defense of the gospel”. 

This means not only God’s intentionality, but my ministry.  Not just suffering for the sake of my sanctification, but serving others for Jesus’ sake.  With Lois, I intercede for others from a hurting body.  I study God’s Word weekly with my grandson when I’m not functioning well.  And I create this blog and write from my wheelchair to hopefully encourage readers in the faith.

I’m put here –in this particular place–for the defense of the gospel.

I wouldn’t chose this “put-here” place.  Sometimes I rail against it or fall depressed over it.  But, “put here for” gives this chapter of my life eternal purpose and keeps me going.

Where are you?  Whatever and wherever your place, know this:  you’re put there for the defense of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

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Stormy

That’s what my daughter named her.  Missy called her Stormy.  Or maybe it was our granddaughter, Moriah, who did the naming.  We had given her the 20-year-old grayish-white quarter horse-Arabian-cross as a gift.  She and her mom then rode together, each on her own horse.

That was 16 years ago.  Stormy’s back eventually couldn’t bear riders.  She ended up in our “back pasture” where she spent her last two years.  She grazed and nosed around, but mostly waited for her next meal:  feed for breakfast, apple at lunch, feed for supper and “horse peppermint” mashed up and mixed with water as “bedtime snack”.  After pushing her mouth in the peppermint bucket, Stormy had pinkish lipstick.  She loved it.

Stormy was a gentle, contented old girl—except when her stomach-clock told her supper was a little late.  Then she’d start whinnying.  Not the excited whinnying when she knew somebody was coming with food.  Impatient whinnying like, “Hey!  Don’t forget me!”  Then if no one came, she’d run, just to be sure we knew she was still there.  Around and around the pasture.  Back and forth along the front fence.  A 36-year-old horse running so fast we were afraid she’d fall and break a leg.  She never did.

Then, last Sunday night, she was in distress.  The vet could do nothing.  Tearfully, with grieving hearts, we put her down, surrounded by people who loved her.

Now our back pasture stands empty.  Lois and I look out still expecting to see her.  We were greatly blessed to have her and to help give her those good two years.  But we miss her.  Our hearts are sad.  Especially since death is so final.

So comes the question:  will there be animals in heaven?

To some, it’s a sentimental question on the lips of children.  But Scripture suggests there’s more to it.

First, remember heaven isn’t our final destination.  When believers die we go to be with the Lord in heaven.  But after Jesus comes, he will bring into being the new heavens and new earth.

“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).  “His promise” comes from Isaiah 65:17–“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Forget about floating forever on white clouds.  The new earth will be as solid (but not sinful) as this one.  Seeing our destiny that way, it’s reasonable to expect animals to be there, since God created animals on this earth . . .

“God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).

Not only did he create them, he preserved them through the flood.  “Bring two of every kind of animal into the ark.”  They would replenish the after-flood renewed earth.  Why should we not expect animals to fill the new earth?

That raises the “soul” question.  That is, does an animal have one?  Certainly not a human soul.  But at least the higher animals (dogs not tadpoles) have a sense of self-consciousness.  Furthermore, when God created Adam he breathed the breath of life into him.

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The same Hebrew word for “breathed” (nephesh) is used for both animals and people.  Animals and people have “the breath of life” in them (Genesis 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; etc.).

J.P. Moreland (philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist) observes, “It wasn’t until the advent of seventeenth-century Enlightenment, that the existence of animal souls was even questioned in Western civilization. Throughout the history of the church, the classic understanding of living things has included the doctrine that animals, as well as humans, have souls.”

Animals and humans are different.  But, since God created animals and breathed into them the breath of life, is it too much to think that his new earth will include life-breathed-into animals?

See what Paul wrote . . .

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:20-23).

Does “creation” mean just vegetation?  Or, as animals were included in Eden where “creation was subjected to frustration”, might animals be included in “the creation [that] will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”?  I think we have good ground for saying YES.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Very few animals indeed, in their wild state, attain to a “self” or ego.   But if any do, and if it is agreeable to the goodness of God that they should live again, their immortality would also be related to man . . . “

In a poem about the world to come, John Piper wrote . . .

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life.  I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog old Blackie, fast
As she could come.  She leaped the stream–
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye.  I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy.  And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.

And John Wesley commented on the animal kingdom’s restoration:  “And with their beauty, their happiness will return . . . In the new earth, as well as in the new heavens, there will be nothing to give pain, but everything that the wisdom and goodness of God can give to give happiness.  As a recompense for what [animals] once suffered . . . they shall enjoy happiness suited to their state, without alloy, without interruption, and without end.”

Oh, by the way, in his prophecy of the new creation, Isaiah saw a wolf, a lamb and a lion.  It’s in the Bible.

“The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox .  . . They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25).

Maybe they’ll even talk!  Strawberry had pulled a London carriage on Earth.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, he watches as Aslan declares the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to be his kings and queens in Narnia.  Strawberry had labored under his master’s whip.  Now in the new Narnia, Strawberry says, “My old master’s been changed nearly as much as I have!  Why he’s a real master now.”

All the people celebrate.
All the animals rejoice.
Aslan, Lord of all, is pleased.

So, Stormy, we’ll see you again one day.  You’ll be young.  But not only young;  you’ll be new!  If you’d like, we’ll ride you again.  Maybe we’ll talk along the trail.  And, don’t worry:  we’ll bring the peppermint.

*All quotes from Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.

 

 

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I Need You, Lord

So I’m sitting in my wheelchair talking to my air conditioning guy.  Well, he’s more than an A/C guy.  He’s a friend and my brother in Christ.  Anyway, he’s telling me about his two-year affliction.  He never felt closer to the Lord.  All he could do was read God’s Word.

So I’m feeling convicted.  By my A/C guy!  He didn’t know it, and I didn’t admit it.  But he was the Lord’s preacher for me.

See, it was another day I wasn’t feeling well, not feeling God close but wondering where God was.  So I got convicted.

Earlier that day I had read a few chapters in Job.  One “comforter”—Eliphaz—pointed his indictment at Job:  “Because he has stretched out his hand against God and defies the Almighty, running stubbornly against him . . . “ (Job 15:25,26a).  Suddenly, I felt the indictment and wondered, “Am I being stubborn against the Almighty God?”

What I mean is, I want to walk.  I hate this Primary Lateral Sclerosis.  I’m done with this wheelchair.  I’m weary of remembering all the things I can’t do any more.  I want to walk along the ocean with my beautiful wife.  Play baseball with my grandson.  Feed the horse in our pasture.  Paint the bathroom (really).  I loathe being so dependent on Lois.

Two weeks ago, my brother-in-law (with whom I speak weekly by phone) asked me if he should pray differently for me. Forever daily, and every week with me on the phone, he’s prayed for my healing and was ready to keep on.  But should he pray differently?   I asked him to continue.  I hardly had the faith to pray for healing; I needed him to do it for me.  He promised he would.

But now I wonder if I’m just being stubborn.  Should I (and he) pray for grace, for Christ’s power to rest on me, so that in my weakness I can be strong (2 Corinthians 12:9,10)?  Is that what God wants?  Not to reveal his power to heal of my weakness, but to reveal his power to be strong in weakness?  I don’t know.  Or am I just being stubborn?

Here’s what I know for certain.  It’s what this song says.  I need you, Lord!  I need him to raise me above my feelings of loss that rule my mind.  I need him to heal me.  Not even the impossible is impossible for him, right?  But, if he chooses not to heal me, I need him to rest in Christ’s power on me in weakness.  Not mostly so I can feel better.  But mostly so Christ can be seen in me, for his sake.

I’m confused.  But I know this . . .

I need you, Lord.  And I suspect others do too,  So:  we need you, Lord . . .

 

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Though You Slay Me

So I was feeling pretty discouraged today.  I know.  How can that be when I’m for the second time reading through Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, and getting great grace from the Lord through it.

And, not only that, I’m blogging an overview of it.  So I’m forced to think deeply about the book’s message.  And, not only that, I’m often writing my response, which means I’m personalizing the message.

Recently, one of my daughters said, “Dad always was a half-glass-empty kind of person.”  Ouch!  And true.  Many years ago I took a personality test that confirmed it.  Besides, like Paul I sometimes feel like the chief of sinners whose sin-nature easily gains the upper hand.  (I’m earnestly hoping you’re saying, “I relate.  I, too, often fall under the dominion of discouragement.”  I hope you’re saying it because I don’t want to feel like some kind of freak.

Here’s how bad I am:  just about every day I allow thoughts of what I can’t do anymore due to my disability.  Today for instance, lurking there in my subconscious playing over and over was the thought (complete with subconscious image) that I’ll never even walk again.  Do you know how many things you can’t do because you can’t walk?  I could easily list a dozen; but that would only deepen my discouragement.

So  a cloud hangs over me.  It’s so dark my wife, Lois, asked why I was mad at her.

Then I found an email from my daughter–an email with a song her husband and she had found and thought of me.  (My two daughters do that all the time–hear a Youtube song and email it to me, hoping the Lord will use it to bear me up.)

Invariably when I listen, tears stream down my face, because the song, given in love by my daughters, becomes a gift of God’s grace to me.  The song below is one of those.

First, it convicted me.  I know its message.  So I should have filled my mind with it.  Instead, I let Satan control my subconscious.  But, then, I let the song speak to me.  My discouragement lifted.  The cloud drifted away.  God’s gift of grace filled me again.

Maybe the song will do the same for you.  Or, maybe it will ready you for the next time the dark discouragement cloud drifts near.  Listen to God’s grace . . .

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Perfect

God is perfect.

Repeatedly Scripture declares that God, or some attribute of his character, is perfect.  A few samples . . .

  • He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him (2 Samuel 22:31).
  • O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things . . . (Isaiah 25:1).
  • Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
  • Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
  • For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:28).

The Old Testament Hebrew word for “perfect” can also be translated “without blemish” and “whole”.  The New Testament Greek word can also be translated “complete” and “fully developed”.  The English “perfect” means “as good as it can possibly be, faultless, flawless, the best.”

God is perfect.  My blog is not–nor is my now former web hosting company–which is why you’ve received all sorts of posts lately, or none at all.

Theoldpreacher.com has over 7000 subscribers (though some are “junk”).  That means it took 30 hours to send one post to all of them.  Since the web hosters never notified me, I kept on sending out new blogs.  Naturally, the whole system backed up.  It was a Chris Christie-caused George Washington Bridge traffic jam online!  I apologize for the problem.  (And don’t expect to run for public office soon.)

A huge THANK YOU to my son, who spent hours over many days resolving the issue!  I don’t know what I would have done without him.

So, we’re back up and running.  I can’t promise no occasional little “bugs”.  After all, only God is perfect.  He is “a faithful God who does no wrong.”  Whose word is “flawless.”  Who has done “marvelous things.”  Whose will is “perfect.”  Whose Son is “perfect.”

Therefore, we who are so imperfect, are wise to trust the only perfect One!

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What I’ve Learned Lately

I’m 73 and still learning.  Got Primary Lateral Sclerosis and still learning.  By “lately” I mean at my age with this disease in the last month or so.

In the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus asks his followers why they worry about food and clothing.  Instead, they should “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to them” (Matthew 6:33).

Then he urges, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).  Tomorrow’s worries, that’s what Jesus is addressing.

From this we get the familiar:  “Just live for today!” and “One day at a time” and other such slogans.  When I was younger and healthier “do not worry about tomorrow” usually evoked one of two responses.  “Sure, no problem.”  Back then I lived under the illusion that I had things pretty much under control.  I could “control” tomorrow just like today.  No problem.

Or, “But I have to plan.”  I justified worrying about tomorrow by being responsible for the future.  But I was conveniently discounting Proverbs 16:9–“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”  And worse, I was assuming that my plans would “work out”.  (That’s because, at that point in life, they mostly did.)

Now “do not worry about tomorrow” has taken on a whole new dimension.  At 73, I’ve never known more clearly that “we’re not guaranteed tomorrow”.  And with this disease, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  I’ll spare you the details, except to say I’m wheelchair-confined (so physical activity is severely limited), retaining water in my feet and legs (which ache from the pressure) and finding myself generally weak (a weakness I can feel).  Other symptoms plague me, but this isn’t a pity-me party.

I’d like to say that my faith has grown or I’ve become wiser. But I have to confess:  mostly I’m too troubled with today to worry about tomorrow, too weak to take on tomorrow’s weight.

It’s liberating not to worry about tomorrow, I guess.  “I guess” because even in weakness, my stubborn, sinful nature rises up:  How bad will I suffer before I die?  Will I become bedridden?  Will my mind my affected so I can’t read and write?  How will I bear Lois’ grief if I die first?  See, I’m stronger (in a wrong way) than I think.  And even in weakness, I find faith and obedience as hard as walking on these legs.  How I need God’s mercy and grace!

And the bigger issue:  Can I today seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness?  You’d think that should be a snap.  But usually I find myself seeking first God’s healing.  Which raises an ominous question:  Is healing an idol?  Do I love good health more than our Lord?  Can I be content in him if my condition gets worse?

Now, contentment in him.  That’s a high mountain to climb.  Especially when I find myself blaming him.  My reasoning runs something like this:  God is sovereign; therefore, he has sent or allowed my illness.  Conclusion:  my illness is his fault.  More:  If part of God’s purpose in this condition is my spiritual growth, what’s the point?  I’m too old to still be growing.  Besides, when I see Jesus I’ll be instantly made like him.  Even without suffering, the end result would be the same.  So contentment in him is a high mountain for me to climb when he’s “wasting me away” in my body.

I’m ashamed.  So many others waste away so far worse.  This is a pity-me party after all!  But, you see, that’s how I sometimes think.  How I need God’s mercy for my sin and grace for contentment!  This too I have learned lately.

And this:  despite my foolish thinking, my heart remains soft to our Lord.  I can’t listen to the accompanying song without tears and without my body fairly trembling in worship to him.  So I wheelchair up to the manger.  Slide down to the ground and wobble onto my knees.  Without tottering over,I try to raise my hands.  I can’t.  But that’s okay, because my heart is worshiping.  Inside I’m worshiping as much as my eyes are raining tears.  He knows I love him.  In spite of all my doubts and questions and anger and depression, he knows I love him.  And I know he loves me.  This too I’ve learned lately in ways I’ve never known before.

 

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Feeling Forsaken

I admit it.  Not infrequently these days I feel as if our Father has forsaken me.  I believe in my head, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  But that’s not what I feel.

No need to detail the symptoms of my Primary Lateral Sclerosis.  Suffice to say it’s a progressive, incurable neurological disease.  Symptoms are inability to walk, swollen and aching feet, terrible body weakness, and a foggy headache that makes clear thinking nearly impossible.  There are more, but that’s enough.  I’m mostly confined to a wheelchair and can’t do virtually anything physical.  Prayers have been answered, “No” or, at least, “Not yet until the resurrection.”

Writing my blog has become a battle, every sentence, it seems, squeezed out of a groggy, hurting head.  And this my only ministry since PLS forced me to retire from pastoring after 44 years.

I’m dragging my way through Timothy Keller’s excellent book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.  I hope to eventually write a blog series about it.  But I came upon a valuable insight he noted as I thought about the now-limited effect of my life for the Lord.

Keller refers to Joni Ereckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident at 17 years of age.  She was later devastated when a friend died after a bout with multiple sclerosis which had left her paralyzed from the neck down.  How, Joni, wondered, could such a life meaningfully glorify God?

Another friend pointed her to Luke 15:10 where Jesus tells of angels in heaven rejoicing over a repentant sinner.  Then to Ephesians 3:10—“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” 

Joni realized her friend’s life wasn’t a waste:  someone—a great many someones—was watching.  Keller concludes:  “There is an unimaginable but real spiritual world out there.  Everything you do is done in front of billions of beings.”

I can’t pastor any longer.  Some days I can’t write my blog.  But what I do and what I say is being seen and heard.  Within my limitations, I can bring glory to God in the heavenly realms.

Still there are people who see and hear me:  my wife, my children and my grandchildren.  Do I glorify God in my suffering before them?  To be honest, I’m aware of what I do and say before my children and grandchildren.  I don’t want to wound their faith by my unfaithfulness.  So I’m “up” for them.  It’s not hypocrisy; it’s a genuine attempt to glorify God before them.  I want to fortify their faith for their suffering.  I want to be an example the Holy Spirit can use and they can emulate.  For good or ill, my life still influences my most-loved family.

I must remember that when it comes to Lois.  She gets me unvarnished.  Have I wounded her faith with my complaints?  I pray not.  She encourages me, prays for me, waits on me, loves me unconditionally.  But I want to glorify God before her.  I pray he will strengthen me to strengthen her.

 I don’t want to end this implying I’m doing fine.  Often I’m not.  Often I’m feeling forsaken.  I ask “why, God?” knowing he’s already answered in Scripture.  I just don’t like his chosen path for me.  And some days I do feel forgotten by him (though I know that’s not true).

So my “revelations” written here (that I can glorify God before billions of beings in the heavenly realms and I can glorify God before my family and for their highest good) are weapons for my fight of faith.  Not two pills that relieve my emotional pain.  Weapons to fight against the lies of the evil one and of my sinful nature and its corrupted feelings.

I share this with you because you suffer too, or will.  Maybe you’ve already learned what I’ve written here.  But if not, I want to be honest about my struggles, so that you know Christians have them too.  (No “triumphalism” here!)  But also that you might learn from them and be equipped to fight the fight of faith when you feel forsaken, when you feel that your life has little significance for God’s glory.  So, there’s my heart.

I finish with a promise to which my sometimes-feeling-forsaken soul clings . . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Weapon-Words

Someone, undergoing tests for possible cancer, recently asked me for Bible verses.  I hunted up the ones through which the Lord spoke to me when I was facing anxiety-producing surgery.  Here they are in the “no-particular-order” I first wrote them . . .

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7).

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you (Isaiah 26:3).

“Peace I [Jesus] leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

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

” . . . God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews13:5b,6).

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10).

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Now, what to do with them?  I found memorizing best.  Memorizing helped me think deeply about the words, not simply skim them.  (A special problem with familiar verses.)  Memorizing forced me to think word-for-word.  Work?  Yes.  But worth it!

Memorizing also let me take God’s words with me wherever they took me for surgery-prep (and where a Bible or even piece of paper was verboten).  Mostly, they were waiting-for-the-next-step times.  Especially before my first surgery.  In “the holding area.”  A dozen of us lay there.  Strangers.  Waiting to be knocked out and cut up.  A great time for anxious thoughts.  But with words like these–the very words of God–in my head, I could fight the good fight of the faith.

Lois and I have a niece who’s suffered through literally dozens of surgeries, all major.  I remember assuring her once, “The Lord will be with you.  Not only that, he’ll be waiting for you in the operating room.”  She told me later how much peace it gave her knowing Jesus was waiting for her there.

That’s true for all of us who are his, whether it’s an operating room or whatever suffering we face next.  The Lord is not only with us, but waiting for us as we step into the next “whatever”.  With Scriptures like these we can add one more promise of the Lord-with-us:  with his specific words in our minds and the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we bring him with us.

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5b).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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