The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Personal (page 1 of 7)

Longing to Die to Be with Christ

Theologians call it “the intermediate state”.  It’s that temporary time between our dying and Jesus’ Second Coming.

That’s what I started writing about–about what that intermediate state is like.  Then I read one of the few texts telling about that time.  And it pulled me in a different direction.

Before looking at that text, let me explain my interest in the intermediate state:  simply, if we’re Jesus-believers  and we die before he comes again, that’s where we’re going.  So I want to know what it’s like.  Now if I were God, I’d provide photos in the back of our Bibles.  Instead, all we have are slim texts from which to infer a picture.  I started with the one below–and it pulled me away.  Maybe blew me away is more accurate.

” I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . . ”  (Philippians 1:20-23).

The writer is Paul.  He’s in a Rome house, chained 24/7 to a Roman guard, awaiting trial before Caesar.  Here’s what Paul reveals about the intermediate state.

1.  Wen we enter the intermediate state through death’s door, we gain.  It’s “better by far”.  Unnormal thinking!  I sit here musing on what I’ll lose– my wife, my children, my grandchildren, other significant relationships, and a thousand  things I’ve enjoyed here.  But Paul, on the other hand, looks ahead, forward to the gain that awaits.

2.   When we pass through death’s door, we believers are immediately with Christ.  Anthony A. Hoekema (20th century professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary) explained: “Analysai (to depart) is an aorist infinitive, depicting the momentary experience of death.  Linked to analysai by a single article is the present infinite einai (to be).  The single article ties the two infinitives together, so that the actions depicted by these two infinitives are to be considered two aspects of the same thing, like two sides of the same coin” (The Bible and the Future, p. 104).  Depart and be with Christ.

3.  “[W]ith Christ” is what makes dying gain.  “Christ”  makes the intermediate state “better by far”.  Christ is such gain that Paul admits, “I desire to depart and be with Christ . . .”  Paul longs to die to be with Christ.

This is where I’m pulled away.   Think.  What fuels Paul’s longing?  What makes him count dying gain? “For to me, to live is Christ.”  Dr. Gordon Fee writes, ” . .. since Damascus [Road), Christ became the singular pursuit of his life.  Christ–crucified, exalted Lord, present by the Spirit, coming King; Christ, the name that sums up for Paul the whole range of his new relationship to God: personal devotion, commitment, service, the gospel, ministry, communion, inspiration, everything.”

Paul himself expounds on this  . . .

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians3:7-14).

Again, Fee comments: “Thus if Paul is released as he expects, he will continue (now as always) in full pursuit of knowing Christ and making him known. Likewise, if he is executed, the goal of living has thus been reached: he will finally have gained Christ.”

Can you see why I was pulled?  I started to search for a picture of what the immediate state is like.  I ended up with a picture of what my life should be now.

I admit I’ve been pursuing healing more than Christ.  Somehow, by God’s grace, by the empowering of his Spirit, I have to change my aim.  I can still pray for healing.  (At this point, I can’t not.)  But pursuit?  That must be singular.  That must be Christ.

And for that I need no photos of the intermediate state.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cup

 

“Father, everything is possible for you.
Take this cup from me.”
The words poured from Jesus’ lips,
a plea from the soul-mourning Son.
The dark of Gethsemane’s olive trees
hid him from foes—for a time.
The same black branches
reached to accost him in secret.
The night was dark; evil marched.

He had come, from Passover Supper, to pray,
bringing the Twelve, then three only, to watch.
Soon they slept while he went alone
deeper among the trees, deeper into the night.

His soul grieved unto death.
(Who can grasp his sorrow?  His desolation?)
His mourning became a bodily weight,
crumpling him to the ground in prayer.

He knew the cup that lay ahead.
He could see it, taste it–
the cup of suffering beyond bearing,
crucifixion—
the weight of the Father’s wrath
against the world’s sin.
From trembling lips, he prayed.
He didn’t want to bear it.

My cup can’t compare,
as different as day from night.
Yet my suffering persists, years now,
wheelchair- and weakness-bound,
cancer, too, that will surely spread,
unless stayed by the Voice that stopped the sea.
So I pray, “Take this cup from me.”

Apostle James, (against reason?), urges,
“Count it all joy, when you meet trials of any kind,
because you know this tests your faith;
your endurance makes you mature and complete.”
James, I welcome your word;
it reveals God’s good in suffering.
But, I detest the cup;
I grieve at it and long that it be gone.

And, later, James invites the ill:
“Is any one of you sick?
He should call the church elders
to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the faith-prayer will make the sick well;
the Lord will raise him up.”

James would have me welcome trials with joy
and have church elders pray that the Lord remove them.
(Latter done, still working on the former.)

Apostle John adds a condition:
“ . . . if we ask anything according to his will,
he hears us . . . and we know that we have
what we asked of him.”
The Father, then, will give us only what he wants;
his (good) will be done.
But it’s against all in me
to stop pleading,
“Take this cup.”

Surely Jesus fell silent after asking.
Surely he waited for the Father
to hear his cry and carry off the cup.
But heaven stayed still.

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The words came in surrender.
Resolute surrender.
Granite-faced surrender.  Unfaltering.
(I presume to know what lay ahead for him,
what he endured starting that dawn.
I read Gospel reports, try to imagine.
But I can’t comprehend.
Crucifixion.  Sin- and wrath-bearing.
Beyond my grasp.)

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
To drink the cup; it was his Father’s will.
Is it, too, for me?  For my cup?

Shall this be my prayer?
Shall I, too, surrender?
Father, take this cup from me.
In the Resurrection a new body?
Yes, I believe.
In this life healing?
Yes, my heart still pleads.

But this I must pray:
“Yet, not as I will; but your will be done.”

A story is told of two women
Both ill for years, both praying healing prayers.
The first, a missionary.
After eight years she gave up,
surrendered to God’s will.
Shortly after, he made her well.

The second, Catherine Marshall.
Tuberculosis—she prayed long.
Finally: “I handed over to God
every last vestige of self-will,
even my intense desire for whole health.
‘Lord,’ I said, ‘I understand none of this,
but if you want me an invalid—
well, it’s up to you.
I place myself in your hands,
for better or for worse.
I ask only to serve you.’”
That same night,
Jesus appeared and healed her.

This Prayer of Relinquishment
(coined by Catherine)
mustn’t be manipulation,
but full-blown, white-flag surrender,
a laying down of “please, heal me” prayers,
a true, “Thy will be done”.
To resist is mad—he will do as he wills
without my will opposing.
So what’s to be lost by losing control?
No thing.

And what’s to be gained by giving in?
Relief.  Peace.  Intimacy.
If I plead only, “Take this cup”,
do I make him merely means?

I must also pray: “Your will be done”
. . .and fall into his arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Storm

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Peter fought to keep his feet
in the wind and wave-whipped boat.
With John and James,
he’d managed to pull down the sail.
But the sudden squall was furious,
venting its temper from all sides,
threatening to swamp the boat,
and swallow them in its water.

Over the sides waves broke,
creating a flood of sea water,
already more than ankle-deep.
Disciples frantically bailed.
James fought the oars.
The wind roared.
The waves attacked.
The men  grasped the mast,
the sides—
anything to stay safe
from the hungry waves.

Storms flared often on this small sea.
Cool, dry air from surrounding mountains
mixed with warm, moist air below,
firing frequent storms.
Fishermen were familiar with them.
But this one, this one was hell-bent
on swamping their boat
and sucking them under.

How could Jesus sleep?
He lay cushioned in the stern.
Drifted off early on,
soon after leaving Capernaum
on calm sea with whispering breeze.
But now day was black,
sea and wind furious.
The fishermen fought for their lives.

“Master, Master!” they screamed him awake.
“Save us!  We’re going to drown!
“Don’t you care?”
Words tumbled from their mouths,
grown men unashamed to beg,
like little children fearing a monster.

“You of little faith,” said Jesus wearily,
shouting above the storm.
“Why are you so afraid?”
Then he  pushed himself up the tossing boat,
struggling against wind and wave.
“Quiet!  Be still!”
A stern rebuke,
as if to noisy, unruly children.

The wind blew less still less,
returning to a gentle breeze.
The sea calmed to tiny ripples.
Then all was still.
The sea glass, the air at peace.
As if a sanctified place.

Amazed, the disciples stood still,
staring into silence.
Then, terrified, they mumbled,
“Who is this man?
Even winds and waves obey him!”

Our family once had a boat.
We clamored aboard.
sped to a nearby sandbar
where we played and sunned.
Not once did a storm strike.
So I can’t imagine this one.

But other storm-forms do.
I bear a 3-inch melanoma square
on my head.
Too weak, I opted out of surgery.
If spreading is to stop,
Jesus must get up
and still my storm.

“Master, don’t you care?”
“Oh, you of little faith.”
Yes, yes, my faith is small,
no more than a mustard seed.
“But little is enough, Master,
so you said.”

I wait for him to speak,
and for my storm to stop.

 

 

 

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If You Are Willing, You Can

News about him spread all over Syria,
And people brought to him

all who were ill with various diseases,
those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed,
those having seizures, and the paralyzed,
and he healed them (Matthew 4:24).

 Then Jesus said to the centurion,
“Go! It will be done just as you believed it would”.
And his servant was healed
at that very hour (Matthew 8:13).

 When evening came,
many who were demon-possessed were brought to him,
and he drove out the spirits with a word
and healed all the sick (Matthew 8:16).

 Jesus turned and saw her.
“Take heart, daughter,” he said,
“your faith has healed you”.
And the woman was healed
from that moment (Matthew 9:22).

 Aware of [the Pharisees’ plot],
Jesus withdrew from that place.
Many followed him,
and he healed all their sick (Matthew 12:15).

Then they brought him
a demon-possessed man
who was blind and mute,
and Jesus healed him,
so that he could both talk and see
(Matthew 12:22).

 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd,
he had compassion on them
and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

 . . . the people . . . brought all who were sick to him,
And all who touched [the fringe of his cloak]
were healed (Matthew 14:35,36).

 Then Jesus answered,
“Woman, you have great faith!
Your request is granted”.
And her daughter was healed
from that very hour (Matthew 15:28).

 Great crowds came to him,
bringing the lame, the blind,
the crippled, the mute and many others,
and laid them at his feet;
and he healed them (Matthew 15:30).

 Jesus rebuked the demon,
and it came out of the boy,
and he was healed from that moment
(Matthew 17:18).

 Large crowds followed him,
and he healed them there
(Matthew 19:2).

 The blind and the lame
came to him at the temple,
and he healed them
(Matthew 21:14).

 I see Jesus,
walking through Galilee.
In his wake the hopelessly sick
are joyously well.
And, Jesus is the same
yesterday, today and forever.

I know Jesus healed the sick
to reveal his kingdom,
where all the sick will be always well.
But he healed out of compassion, too.
So I plead his compassion now.

A verse from 1 John intrudes:
“And this is the boldness
we have in him,
that if we ask anything
according to his will,
he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us
in whatever we ask,
we know that we have obtained
the request made of him.”

I say “intrudes”,
because his will trumps all.
So, a leper kneeling begged Jesus,
“’If you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Filled with compassion,
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’”

 What, I wonder, made Jesus willing?
Compassion?  Faith?
Either answer, he didn’t heal everyone.
Nor does he today.
Healing is a miracle.
And miracles, by definition, are rare.

Listing those healing verses above,
I want to shout: “Let faith arise!”
–as if he will always give me good health,
as if illness can always be conquered by faith.
All things are possible;
at his command disease must flee.

I must have faith, but I can’t claim what I want,
as if healing were a prize,
and I held the winning ticket.
Healing is a mystery,
wrapped in the hiddenness of Jesus’ will.

So, I must kneel, humbly, like the leper and pray,
“If you are willing,
You can make me well.”

 

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Your Prayers

 

Through the endless desert,
from oasis to oasis,
Moses led the Israelites.
Freed slaves seeking their Promised Land.
They dragged into Rephidim parched for water.
But Rephidim was desert-dry.
They raged at Moses;
He bore the brunt of their blame.

Amidst the furor fury came from outside.
Warring Amalekites attacked to destroy weaker Israelites.
Moses called Joshua to lead the fight
While he, Aaron and Hur retreated to a nearby hill.
With him, Moses carried the staff of the Lord,
The same staff with which he’d commanded the Sea to part.
He raised it now, over the battle below;
It was the Lord’s war
So long as the staff was held high.

But Moses grew weak
Arms, shoulders, wrists strained
Until the Lord’s staff was barely above ground
And then the Amalekites prevailed.

On either side of Moses, Aaron and Hur stood
Unsure what to do, afraid of the old man’s reaction.
Israel’s fate, though, now laid in their arms.
Quietly, simultaneously,  they grasped the old man’s weakened arms
And hoisted them high, the staff ruling over the fight.
Below the battle changed, almost imperceptibly at first
But now, now it was clear
The outmatched former slaves were putting warrior Amalek to flight.

 

I’ve thought often of that battle in Exodus 17.  It reminds me that the Lord rules, even over those battles we seem to be losing. Like Moses, I grow weary. My faith weakens as my symptoms grow worse.  I can’t fight alone.

You are Aaron and Hur to me.  Your prayers hold up my faith.  I’ve read your comments on my blog and on Facebook and email:  “We’re praying for you.”   Thank you.  Thank you for standing alongside.  Thank you for sharing your strength in my weakness.  Thank you for believing with me that the Lord is sovereign.  And he wins even the battles we seem to be losing.

 

Fingers dug into clay, searching for edges to grasp.
Slowly the stubborn roof yielded, the hole widened.
A rooftop for cool summer sleeping
Was becoming a doorway to healing.

The four friends had carted the paralytic on his mat
Across town to Jesus.
The house bulged with listeners, friend and foe alike.
They stood five deep outside
But the four would not be denied.
Their friend had been prisoner to his mat.
Day after day, night after night
He gazed at the clouds–and wondered why the Lord was silent.
His friends, too, lost hope
Until they heard Jesus was near,
Jesus who cleansed a leper
Could surely make a cripple walk!

Sweating and grunting they had dragged their friend up,
Determined, believing they dug the roof open
Until debris fell inside and arms-shielded eyes looked up.
Then  hands reached up to lower a mat and its prisoner.
And the paralytic lay before the Healer.
But Jesus saw more than a cripple, more than a broken roof.
He saw four friends’ faith:
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Pharisees present fumed, only God can forgive sins.
“So you know that I can”, he said to the paralytic,
“Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Silence fell, for a full moment,
Spectators waiting, wondering,
The paralytic unsure he could,
Then he rose, his legs restored.
He grabbed the mat he no longer needed
And with a glance of gratitude up at his friends
He went home.

 

Thank you for being my friends.  Thank you for carrying me to Jesus with prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Surgery

No cancer surgery.  No excision of the 3-inch square of melanoma on my bald head.  That’s what I’ve decided.

Surgery would be same-day.  Wound recover (head excision and chest skin graft) would heal in two weeks.  Return to “normal” in a month.  Without surgery the doctor predicts the cancer will spread within a year.

So why no surgery?  Here are my reasons in random order . . .

  • Doctors, however skilled and sincere, don’t know what will happen.
  • My primary lateral sclerosis is weakening me more week-by-week. Recovery would be a prolonged nightmare.  Throw the surgeon’s recovery projections out the window.  I don’t know how I’d even have the strength to get in the truck after surgery. I’m barely strong enough to transfer from wheelchair to bed and back.
  • What follow-up treatment would be necessary? Would I have to go for regular chemo or immunology treatments in my weakened condition?
  • Will the cancer reappear on my head or elsewhere? Is it the start of ongoing battles with cancer until it wins anyway?
  • Can I trust “God’s Word”? In August this suddenly appeared in my mind:  “I will not die but live, and proclaim the works of the Lord.”  Where’d it come from?  It sounded like Scripture, but where?  My Bible software found it—Psalm 118:17. The psalmist is celebrating a military victory over his enemies, who surely would triumph.  But, no, the LORD had saved the psalmist’s life.  Hence, “I will not die but live, and proclaim the works of the Lord.”  My situation in no way matched his.  Yet I felt the Lord impressing it on me for me.  “I will not die but live, and proclaim the works of the Lord.”  The Lord would spare my life for a time, so that, in my little blog, I could tell of all his works to whomever would read.  Pretty subjective, huh.  I know.  But I do believe the Holy Spirit still does that sort of thing.  I’ve chosen to cling to that word.
  • And to acknowledge another one. In Psalm 31, David seeks refuge in the LORD.  The LORD is his rock and fortress.  He acknowledges his distress—“my strength fails because of my misery” (31:10b).  His adversaries scorn him.  “But I trust in you, O LORD.  I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in your hands” (31:9-15).  The New Jerusalem Bible translates—“every moment of my life is in your hands”.  The New Living Translation—“My future is in your hands”.  I take that to mean that my life is under that Lord’s sovereign control.  PLS or melanoma don’t determine its length; the Lord does.  Surgery may extend my life or not.  But ultimately “my times are in [his] hands.”
  • I read the following from Ken Gire (Intense Moments with the Savior) . . .

“I know I will wrestle with circumstances beyond my control . . .
some sort of suffering will pin me to  the cold, hard ground.
When that happens, Lord Jesus, help me to realize . . .
that my strength is not found in how courageously I struggle
but in how completely I surrender.”

  • I told my daughter, “If I don’t do surgery, I feel like I’m not fighting back, as if I’m just giving in to the       cancer”.  But I’ve had a change of heart. I’m at the point in my life (74 years old, 2 major back surgeries, 1 minimally invasive surgery, countless tests and probes, growing weakness plus multiple other PLS symptoms) where I can’t “fight back” using doctors.  Instead, I have to surrender to whatever the Lord wants.  My strength is found there.
  • Suppose someone sought my counsel. “Pastor, given all the circumstances, what should I do?”  I’d lead him through reasons and risks of not doing surgery.  I’d ask him what he thought the Lord was leading him to do.  We’d pray. Finally, I’d ask him what he thought he should do.  I’d support him either way.  But surely I wouldn’t quench any leading he sensed from the Lord.

This cancer is in the Lord’s hands.  He can let it spread until it eventually takes my life.  He can slow the spread, so I’m “safe” for years.  Or he can stop the spread altogether.  And, of course, he can heal me. (I’ve made it clear to him this is what I prefer.)  He knows my end from my beginning.  My times are in his hands.

Do I sound foolish?  Or a coward for shunning surgery?  Or a spiritual giant for just trusting the Lord (literally) with my life?  I don’t think I’m a fool or a coward.  And I know I’m no spiritual giant.  I’m just an old man beaten down by disease trying to surrender in faith to whatever the Lord wants.

I appreciate your prayers.

 

 

 

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I Am He

The woman lugged her empty water jar to the well, as the relentless noonday Samaritan sun beat down on her.  Her heart was as empty as her jar.  A line of five former husbands crowded her mind.  No matter who was at fault.  Each marriage ended.  And the man she now had promised no happier ending.

Noon was the hottest part of the day to fetch water.  But it protected her from the wagging tongues of the town’s women.  So she came when they wouldn’t.

She, a Samaritan, was surprised to find a weary Jew at the well.

“Will you give me a drink?”

Even more surprising that a Jew would ask a favor of a Samaritan. For Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.

“How can you ask me for a drink?”

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

She wondered aloud how he could draw water from the deep well.  From where he would get this “living water”, if he thought himself greater than father Jacob who gave them this well.

“Every one who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up into eternal life.”

She wanted this water.  Forever-thirst-quenching-water meant no more struggling, stealthy trips to the well.

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

His command perplexed her.  She hesitated.  Then claimed to have no husband.

Shockingly, the weary Jew peered down the sad years of her life and agreed.  She’d had five husbands and her current man wasn’t her husband.

“Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim we must worship in Jerusalem.”

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . a time is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

“I know that Messiah is coming.  When he does, he will explain everything to us.”

“I who speak to you am he.”

* * *

I read that encounter in my devotions this morning.  “I who speak to you am he” stopped me in my tracks.

I’d read it dozens of times.  From verse 1 I knew what the Samaritan women didn’t—that the weary Jew who met her was the Messiah.  It no longer startled me that he was weary and dusty.  No longer startled me that he had arranged to travel through Samaria at noon and sent his disciples away for food.  No longer startled me that he chose to give his most profound teaching on worship to a sad, sinful, Samaritan woman under a hot noon sun.

This is what startled me: “I who speak to you am he.”

For this is whose words I was reading.  This was who I was praying to.  This was whose presence I was seeking.  This was the One whom the prophets had promised.  This was God’s “Yes” and “Amen”—the One who will fulfill everything God had promised.

“I who speak to you am he.”

It struck me how easily and often I forget.  I sit before him as if he were . . . well, I don’t know what.  Someone less.  Imaginary almost.

The One whose words I “hear” on the sacred page, the One whose presence I seek to enjoy, the One to whom I make my familiar petitions—is Messiah.

Do I even realize the miracle?  The majesty?  The marvel?  The wonderful mystery?

As I’ve said before, my prayers inevitably are, “Heal me.”  The plea is a frustrated, weary, faith mixed with tiny expectation.  “Heal me; but I’ll be surprised (wonderfully) if you do.”  (I’m not crass enough to say that; but the words hide in my heart.)

“I who speak to you am he.”

The Samaritan woman never asked the Messiah-claiming Jew for anything.  So excited over him, she ran to tell the town’s women (from whom she had hidden) whom she had found.

“Jesus, Messiah.  Catch me up today in the wonder of who you are who speaks to me.  Who seeks me out in my emptiness.  Who comes to me.  Who offers me living water—a well springing up to eternal life.  Reignite my excitement in you.  Renew my wonder over you.  Open my ears to hear you say to me:  “I who speak to you am he.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Steadfast Heart

Praying is hard these days.  Because of my illness.  Like water streaming down to a mud puddle, so goes my mind.  Almost uncontrollably, I find myself praying for healing, asking for grace, and arguing my sad case with the Lord. All good things.  But this prayer focused on my illness so dominates my praying that it often leaves me feeling worse than when I started.

In this struggling prayer life, I’ve been reading the Psalms.   They are, of course, a magnificent collection of prayers in which a man (often David) opens his heart to the Lord.  So I read passionate praises, heart-felt thanksgivings, heart-breaking laments.  Many I identify with.  Like Psalm 57 I read the other day . . .

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.  I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.  I lie down among lions that greedily devour  human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords” (57:1-4).

According to the superscription, this psalm comes from David “when he fled from Saul, in the cave”.  If so, “those who trample on me” and “lions that greedily devour me” are Saul and his men pursuing David to kill him.  I make them my illness and its symptoms.  Then I sit in my wheelchair feeling safe in my Refuge, waiting–“until the destroying storms pass by”.  (I pray they will and the “calm” of good health will return.)

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth. They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves” (57:5,6).

I worship God.  I pray his glory will fill the earth.  And I pray that the symptoms of my illness (or Satan who may have sent it) will somehow destroy themselves instead of me.

So, you see, the psalm helps me not to wallow in my illness.  Instead, to bring it to God.  But it’s these closing lines that especially reach my heart . . .

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.  I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.  For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth”  (57:7-11).

I want to fight back against my illness.  Not give up.  Not even just ask God for healing and grace (which is good, but seems sort of passive).  I want to take positive steps in this battle.  To advance. 

This is one of those “forward march” kind of steps:  to steadfastly, day after day awaken my soul with thanksgiving and praises to the Lord.  I would say, “I will sing and make melody”, but PLS has weakened my voice, so I can’t speak normal volume, to say nothing of singing.  (One of my greatest regrets is being unable to sing in worship to the Lord.)

From a resolutely firm and unwavering heart, I will declare, ” . . . your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.” 

Is that just using the power of positive thinking to negate wallowing in my symptoms?  No!  It’s declaring truth!  I have PLS.  And now melanoma.  But God’s love remains steadfast, “as high as the heavens”.  And God is still cloud-high faithful.

My prayer, then, becomes for God’s exaltation “above the heavens.”  And for his glory to be a white-bright cloud “over all the earth.”

Being steadfast to awaken my soul to praise the Lord isn’t a pill that takes away symptoms.  It’s a weapon in this fight of faith.  But not one always easily taken up.  Many mornings, before I speak steadfastly, I have to pray for a steadfast heart.  Because many mornings, I don’t feel resolute.  And the weapon of praise too heavy to pick up.

So, I ask the Lord to give me a heart from which I can speak steadfastly.  And, then, I speak in faith (whether I feel it or not):  “Awake, my soul!  I give you thanks, O Lord.  I speak praises to you . . . ”

Given the scope of the battle, all this doesn’t seem like much.  I’m still captive in my wheelchair.  Still marked with an almost 3 by 3 inch patch of melanoma on my head.

But I’m resolute.  A little old warrior standing (sitting) his ground proclaiming the glory of God’s steadfast love.  Not celebrating victory.  But steadfastly fighting the battle that transcends my illness and extends to my faith in my God . . .

 

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Being Renewed

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16b). 

I’ve pondered this verse, because my outer nature is wasting away.  The Greek, diathiero, is used of a moth slowly consuming clothing (Luke 12:33).  And here of my body becoming increasingly weak.  I loathe it, of course. It always rages in my mind.  I’m facing death, however far off it may be.  And the thought of leaving my beloved Lois and my family behind makes me sob with sorrow.

But I want to think about my “inner nature”.  Paul says it is “being renewed day by day.”  The Greek is anakaino-o, referring to causing something to be made new and better.

Paul uses it in Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Again in Colossians 3:9.10—”Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”  And in Ephesians 4:22,23—”You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds . . . “

In each case “renewed” is passive.  Being made new and better on the inside is something done to us.  One can argue that we are not passive, that we participate—and I won’t disagree.  But Paul implies that the force doing it is greater than both our participation and the wasting away of our outer nature.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17,18).

We’re familiar with Paul’s affliction, most of it the result of his preaching the gospel (both persecution and travel-dangers), some of it physical illness.  To call it “light” seems a gross understatement; but he’s comparing it with eternal glory (“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”—Romans 8:18).

What’s incredible about his statement here is this:  light, momentary affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”.  The Greek is katergaomy—“producing, achieving, accomplishing”.

God the Holy Spirit is actually using our affliction to produce for us an exceedingly great eternal weight of glory.

Does Paul mean the greater the affliction the greater the weight of glory?  That’s unclear.  But this much is certain:  not one hour of affliction is to be wasted;  God will use all of it in the renewing process toward glory.

And this production-process is occurring right now!  “ . . . our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”  

“ . . . . while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen . . . “The Greek says only, “looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”  Paul isn’t saying our looking makes the inner renewal happen, but that the inner renewal makes the looking happen.  Day by day the Holy Spirit is turning my eyes off my outer wasting away and onto my inner renewal working toward an eternal weight of glory.

Of course, I can (and do at times) resist.  He tenderly takes my chin and lifts my head toward the unseen—and I force my eyes back.  Down instead of up.  Outer instead of inner.  Seen instead of unseen.  Light, momentary affliction instead of eternal glory.

Nevertheless, the inner renewal process continues unabated . “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”  (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Of course, it’s to my benefit to look at “the things which are not seen”.  Fixing my eyes on my weakening body is depressing, even frightening.  But fixing my eyes on inner renewal is hopeful, even comforting and joyful.

So, it’s to that, by God’s grace, I will look.  Not so much to the “eternal weight of glory”.  For that is more than I can see, beyond what my mind can take in.  Even as my body wastes away a bit more, I will look today to my “inner nature being renewed”. I can’t really grasp that either.  But to know God is actually at work in me, creating something new and better–well, that’s exciting and full-of-wonder.

How great is God’s grace!  Even while I’m complaining about my body growing weaker, he’s making me new and better on the inside.  And someday that process will climax in an “explosion” of an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!

So, old man, smile!  You’re being made new right now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Angry at God?

Tuesday I lay on a narrow strip of  table inside a PET Scan machine.  In I slid.   I was in this tube because last week the dermatologist’s nurse phoned with my biopsy result:  “Malignant melanoma”.

Not what I wanted to hear. I’ve had a spot on my bald head for years.  A decade and a-half ago, another dermatologist told me it was an “age spot”.  In the last month, a small bump formed. The dermatologist removed it for biopsy.  Melanoma.

Besides the extent of cancer (which we won’t know until Monday), the PET Scan tested my endurance.  Ninety minutes.  In a tube with my nose almost touching the top.  Lying still.  Every five minutes the table slid out–six inches.  I counted minutes.  Prayed.  Tried to sleep (nope).  Fantasized about food (only 2 eggs at six a.m. and it was noon).  Thankfully I was in feet-first, so my head escaped first.  Then came a brief (thankfully) CT Scan.

The PET Scan will show the cancer’s extent.  At this point, to me, all outcomes seem bad.  Only if the test shows nothing (because the Lord drove out the caner), will it be good.

But, why was I on that table  at all?  I’m a child of the King!

Honestly?  Some days I feel like I’m left to suffer like an orphan.

To make matters worse, “cancer” has suddenly shown up everywhere–in books, on TV shows, on the Internet and in conversations.  For example, among the books I’m reading is, Same Kind of Different as Me. It’s  an entertaining read until the husband’s wife dies of cancer at a young age.  After the funeral and burial, he writes . . .

“My fear gave way to anger, and I had plenty to go around.  But as I fired arrows of blame—at the doctors, the pharmaceutical industry, cancer researchers–clearly the bull’s eye was God.  It was he who ripped a gaping and irreparable hole in my heart. Without a gun or mask he robbed me of my wife and stole my children’s mother and my grandchildren’s grandmother.  I had trusted him, and he failed me.

“How do you forgive that?” (p. 203).

I identified.  I’ve found anger rising in me.   After all, isn’t Primary Lateral Sclerosis, with all its rotten symptoms, enough?  Now melanoma.  Like husband, Ron, “I had trusted [God], and he failed me.”  Angry?  I’m ashamed to admit it.

Some say it’s a sin, like John Piper . . .

“ . . . being angry at God is never right. It is wrong – always wrong – to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God does only what is right. “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7).

I add to that Paul’s rebuke quoted in my last blog . . .

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” {20 Isaiah 29:16; 45:9}

Okay.  Disapproving of “what God does and permits “, “talking back to God”,  is arrogant.  But what about my feelings?  Should I pretend I’m content when I’m shaking my fist?  And what about the psalmists?  I always assumed their “why” questions came from desperation.  But, couldn’t they be expressing anger?

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).

“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1,2).

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23,24).

“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?” (Psalm 74:1).

“Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14).

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe the psalmists are  just despondent.  Maybe the psalms’ contexts rule out anger.  It’s still hard for me to think that, when  boldly expressing emotions in suffering,  these psalmists don’t have a bit of anger mixed in.

In any case, there are days when my anger rises.  Piper tells me what to do with it . . .

“But if we do experience the sinful emotion of anger at God, what then? Shall we add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of anger? No. If we feel it, we should confess it to God. He knows it anyway. He sees our hearts. If anger at God is in our heart, we may as well tell him so, and then tell him we are sorry, and ask him to help us put it away by faith in his goodness and wisdom.”

So:  that’s what I’ve got to do.  Tell God I’m angry at him for allowing another affliction.  Then tell him I’m sorry and ask his help to get rid of anger by faith in his goodness and wisdom

By the way, Tuesday, for this old body, was a wearying one.  But I had my beautiful wife and daughter, Missy, with me.  They brought smiles and laughter and support.  They helped get me into and out of our truck, out of my wheelchair and onto the narrow PET Scan table, off that and back into my wheelchair,  out onto the CT Scan table and back  into my wheelchair, and finally out of the chair and into the house!  A herculean task when I have no strength in my legs!

And the Holy Spirit’s presence surrounded me though it all.

Plus, my stomach outweighed (no pun intended) my weariness:  after the test ordeal, we stopped at Cracker Barrel for a meal I long-wanted–“Momma’s French Toast Breakfast.”  We often stopped at a Cracker Barrel on vacation trips; so it brought back warm memories (and momentarily alleviated my anger).  But this prayer is still needed . . .

“Lord, cancer is too much on top of PLS.  How could you allow it?  I confess I’m angry..  And I’m sorry for it.  Please help me get rid of it by faith in your goodness and wisdom, which has always blessed my life.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

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