The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Prayer (page 1 of 2)

So the Pope Said to the Interviewer . . .

Sounds like the start of a joke.  I wish.

According to “The New York Times”,  Pope Francis, in a TV interview, said the common translation “lead us not into temptation” was “not a good translation from ancient texts”.  He suggested, “Do not let us fall into temptation might be better, because Satan, not God, leads people into temptation.”

“Do not lead us” comes from the Greek word, icephero.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Arndt and Gingrich cites its literal usage in the New Testament.  Of the men who broke through the roof, since they could find no way to “bring in” their paralyzed friend (Luke 5:18,19).  Of the fact that we have “brought” nothing into the world (1 Timothy 6:7).  Of the blood that is “brought into” the sanctuary (Hebrews 13:11).  And to forcefully drag in (Luke 12:11–“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say . . . “

Figuratively, icephero is used of bringing something to someone’s ears (Acts 17:20–“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”  The only other place where it’s used in the New Testament is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:13; Luke 11:4).

So the Greek is not ambiguous.  To change the meaning to suit one’s theology is bad translating.

Why is this important?  Words are the objective revelation of God.  Think about this for a moment.  God has supremely revealed himself to us in his Son.  But we know of the Son, and what he did and taught, through words.  God has also revealed himself in creation.  But we need God’s Word to interpret creation’s revelation and to know the gospel by which we’re saved.  So words are crucial.  And getting the correct translation of the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) is also crucial.   If we pass over the clear meaning of words, we corrupt the objective revelation of God.

So, what does, Do not lead us into temptation” mean?  Denny Burk (professor of Biblical Studies, Boyce College) makes these three points:

One, “A negative request does not necessarily imply that the positive is otherwise to be expected.”  If a man says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me”, it doesn’t mean she’s planning to go.

Two, God may lead us into temptation to test and fortify our faith.  Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am”” (Genesis 22;1).   “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  Testing almost always involves temptation to disbelieve or disobey.  Hence, the Lord’s Prayer is a request that God not put us in such a situation.

Three, we’re right to pray for deliverance from temptation and testings.  Jesus did–“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want'” (Matthew 26:39).

Paul did–“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:7,8).

It’s uncomfortable to think God may lead us into trials, even temptation.  Some reject the idea entirely making Satan the agent.  But, if Job’s narrative is true, Satan is the culprit only by God’s permission.

“Lead us not into temptation” is a good prayer.  It humbles us before God.  It expresses our dependency on him in the face of trials.  It reminds us of the possibility of God leading us into painful circumstances we don’t want.  It brings us face-to-face with a humbling, but gracious, truth . . .

God’s loving, providential care reaches to every part of our lives–even trials which often contain temptations to our fallen desires.

 

 

 

 

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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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What People Really Want

I just finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  Four different theologians contribute four different perspectives on that question.  I may  comment on it in later blogs.

What I want to write now is the author’s compelling answer at book’s end to this question:   “What is the deepest concern of Christians in this area (of miraculous gifts)?”  Wayne Grudem’s answer spoke to my heart . . .

I don’t think that the differences we usually talk about among our churches are their deepest concern.  I do not think most Christians care deeply whether the pastor wears a coat and tie or a sweater or a robe, or whether the church has an Anglican liturgy or a Baptist order of service or charismatic spontaneity with tongues and prophecies.  I don’t think they care deeply whether the church leads music with an organ or with a guitar, or teaches that you should be baptized in the Holy Spirit or filled with the Holy Spirit. These matters are of some importance, but they are not matters of deepest concern.

“I think what people really want is to be in the presence of God.  They want to have a deeper experience of God as they participate in church life week by week.  They want times of prayer that are not just forty-five minutes of prayer requests and five minutes of prayer, and not just quickly praying through a long list of requests, but times when they can pray long enough—in an unhurried way—so that they not only talk to God but also hear his still, small voice bearing witness to their hearts.  And they want times of worship where, when they are singing, they are allowed to focus their attention on God for an extended time—where no one is interrupting them to tell them to greet their neighbor, or to sing loudly on the next verse, or to listen to the announcements, or to listen to the choir, or to fill out the registration card in the pew.  These things, of course, have a place, but they all shift our focus from God alone to the people around us, and they interrupt our times of deepest reverence in the worship of God alone.

“Christians instinctively long to be in an assembly of God’s people where they can focus their attention on God long enough that their eyes and minds and hearts are aware of nothing but his presence, where their voices are singing his praise (or perhaps silent in his presence), and where they are free to feel the intensity of their love for him and to sense in their spirits that God is there, delighting in the praises of his children.  That is what Christians today really long for.  They long to come to a church and be allowed to worship and pray until they sense in their spirits that they are in the manifest presence of God.

“When churches have allowed people to have such extended times of prayer and worship, this longing of Christians has been fulfilled, and these churches have grown remarkably.  No denomination or viewpoint on spiritual gifts should have a monopoly on such times of worship and prayer.  Cessationist churches and “open, but cautious” churches, as well as Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches, can provide such times of prayer and worship, each with its own style and within guidelines that protect their doctrinal convictions regarding spiritual gifts.

“Of course, I am not saying we need to diminish the importance we give to sound Bible teaching, in which we have God’s voice speaking to us.  In many of our churches this is done well, in other churches it is not, and people go away spiritually hungry week and week because they have not been fed on the Word of God.  Yet I am saying that I think many churches need, in addition to such teaching, much more emphasis on extended, uninterrupted times of prayer and worship.  I think people are longing to come to church and to know in their experience that they have spent extended time in the manifest presence of God.”

To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”  By God’s grace, we had that when I pastored.  Now, retired and disabled, I can’t find it.  If I could, I’d wheelchair there, however difficult.  We need what this writer describes.  And my soul longs for it.

 

This book is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Miraculous-Gifts-Today-Wayne-Grudem/dp/0310201551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502383463&sr=8-1&keywords=are+miraculous+gifts+for+today+four+views

 

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Scripture (Prayers) from a Friend

Prayer, according to the Westminster Catechism, “is an offering of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”  Great definition!

Paul urges us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Great admonition!

But what to do when we’re too discouraged to put our desires into words?  Or when we’ve fallen into a rut repeating the same words the same way?  (Does God get bored with our prayers when we do?)  Here’s where Scripture reshaped into prayers can meet our need.

A dear friend (though she’s a wonderful “character” in a one-of-a-kind good way) sent me the verses below, telling me she uses them to pray for me and others.  I reshaped them as a prayer for my own use—and maybe for yours?

“O God, You are not a man that You should lie.  Nor are you a son of man that You should change Your mind.  Do You speak and then not act?  Do You promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).

Thank You for not showing favoritism!  Otherwise, I’d be easily overlooked (Romans 2:11).

Thank You for being with me, so I need not fear.  Thank You for being my God, so I need not be dismayed.  You strengthen me and help me.  You uphold me with Your righteous right hand.  Therefore, now I am strong.  Today I stand (Isaiah 41:10).

The word that goes out from Your mouth will not return to You empty.  It will accomplish what You desire and achieve the purpose for which You sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

Your Son, O God, walked among the sick and healed them.  This was to fulfill what You spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).

Your Son, my Savior and Lord, bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

O God, You have given us fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:10).

Your Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, is living in us by faith.  So You will give life to our mortal bodies through Your Spirit who lives in us (Romans 8:11).

God, You didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

In this world even a righteous man may have many troubles, but You deliver us out of them all (Psalm 34:19).

O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me (Psalm 30:20).

You forgive all my sins and You heal all my diseases (Psalm 103:3).

You sent forth Your Word and healed us; You rescued us from the grave (Psalm 107:20)!

This is Your holy Word.  I pray it in the name of Jesus Your Son, our Savior.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hurt and the Healer

Can you bear reading about me again?  I write about me because writing helps crystallize my thinking about what I’m suffering.  So it’s for me.  I do it, too, because I pray it encourages you in your painful place, whether now or some tomorrow.  So it’s for you.

For months I’ve struggled drawing near to God.  Not that I’ve disbelieved; I just kind of kept my distance.  Like a master-hurt puppy who shies away.  After all, God is sovereign.  So he sent or at least allowed this primary lateral sclerosis.  Shying-away may be sin, or at least foolishness.  But, that’s how I felt.

I’ve asked, “Why this, Lord?”  Of course, he answered long before I asked . . .   So I would learn better to rely, not on myself, but on him who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9).  So I could comfort others with the comfort I receive (2 Corinthians 1:8).  So I would grow in endurance and character and hope in God (Romans 5:3-5).  So I might know Christ in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).

I didn’t like his answers.  I wanted (and still want) healing.  I want to walk.  I want all my broken parts to work right.  And I pray that way.  My brother-in-law, through his weekly phone calls (and at many other times), prays that way for me.  (Excuse him.  He’s a Pentecostal and believes God still heals.  So do I.)

I know what I’m asking.  PLS has no cure; it just progressively worsens.  But nothing is impossible with God, right (Luke 1:37)?  So in my shy-puppy position, I’ve prayed.  And I’ve stubbornly thought, “If this is supposed to teach me better reliance on the Lord, if it’s aimed at improving my endurance and character and hope, if this is geared at drawing me into closer fellowship with Christ, it ain’t working.  (Well, so far as I can tell.)

Recently, through my study of John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory (which I’m summarizing on my blog posts),  I’ve been reminded of what I’ve believed for a lifetime–the Scriptures are the very words of God.  They’re truth.  Reality.  The only sure objective ground on which I stand.  Everything that doesn’t measure up to them totters and falls.  So lately I’ve grasped Reality more tightly again.

And I’ve started again to encounter the Healer.  With open arms.  With a welcoming heart.  I’m learning to accept that, until he heals me (in the land of the living or in the resurrection), this is his chosen path for me.  (Though not my choice.)  With my mind I’m standing on his word.  With my heart I’m hungry for his presence.

I’m not saying (to follow the shy-puppy theme) I’m racing excitedly for the door when I hear Jesus come home.  But I am kinda nudging at his hand.

Shocking that a pastor for 44 years has such struggles?  Well, I’ve learned (as I’ve written before) there’s a Grand-Canyon-wide difference between trusting God when one is young and healthy and busy in significant ministry and trusting him when one is old and weak and largely “on the shelf”.  How easily (and naively) I preached from Philippians 3:8-11 . . .

“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.”

“I want to know Christ . . . and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”  My sufferings are world’s apart from his.  Yet in mine, I’ve been at times a spiritual wimp.  So much more maturing needed!

But, as I wrote above, I’m a puppy nudging at his hand.  A skeptic might argue, “If you believe the Lord sent or allowed your suffering, you’re an idiot for cozying up to him for comfort!  Typical Christian craziness.”

No, my skeptic friend.  God means it for good.  I admit I can’t see the good.  And I know it sounds foolish. He can see better than I can!  Besides,  to whom else can I go?  Curse God and die means only death (the eternal kind).  No!  The day will come (call me crazy) when this suffering will seem “light and momentary”–because I’ll be dancing (something I never could do!)

So while I pray and wait for healing, I’m learning to be happy with the Healer . . .

 

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Do Benedictions Work?

the pastor stands in the pulpit, extends both arms toward the congregation and proclaims, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).  With this benediction, the meeting ends and congregants head for the doors, friends, or children.

A benediction, according to one Internet dictionary, is “the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.”  It’s not a prayer which, according to the Westminster Catechism, is : “an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ,  with confession of our sins,  and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”  (A profound, delightful prayer-definition!)

Two significant differences emerge between benediction and prayer.  A prayer is spoken to God; a benediction is spoken to people.  A prayer asks God to bless (or thanks him for blessing); a benedictor imparts a blessing to others.

The question is, “Do benedictions work?”  For instance, using the above benediction from 2 Corinthians, does Jesus somehow mediate grace, God mediate love, and the Holy Spirit mediate his presence to people as they leave the meeting?  If benedictions don’t work, they’re just spiritual-sounding words that put a neat “The End” on a worship service.

Here’s a list of some benedictions found in the Bible . . .

Rom. 15:5-6 – May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rom. 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

2 Cor. 13:11 – Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Cor. 13:13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Gal. 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Eph. 3:17-19 – (May) Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Eph. 3:20-21 – Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Eph. 6:23-24 – Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Col. 3:16-17 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

15. 1 Thess. 3:12,13–May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Th. 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

2 Th. 2:16-17 – Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Philem. 25 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Jude 24-25 – Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Rev. 1:5b-6 – To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rev. 5:12, 13 – Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Rev. 7:12 – Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

Rev. 22:20-21 – He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Thankfully we’re not saved by knowing the differences between benedictions and prayers!  In reality, they both in some way appeal to God.  But for the remainder of this blog, let’s focus on benedictions.

Do they work?  In my view, yes.  Though I confess, I’ve never seen any visible consequences.  Still, they convey the blessings spoken, because they are God’s words.  “[The] word that goes out from my mouth . . . will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).  Though contextually this refers to prophetic words, most assuredly it applies to all the words God has “spoken.”  So, yes, grace, love and the Spirit’s presence are mediated through the 2 Corinthians 13:13 benediction.

But how?  How can a human’s word actually convey blessings from God to others?  (The question has a practical application we’ll reach momentarily.)  By the pastor speaking them in faith, believing they are God’s words.  And by the hearers receiving them by faith as God’s words.  In other words, the benediction, which we sometimes “hear” with as much interest as reading a movie’s scroll of contributors can be a holy moment for us.

As I see it, the same would be true for a benediction created by the pastor to fit the theme of his sermon or the service, as long as his creation coincides with Scripture.

A pastor giving a benediction in faith and congregants receiving it in faith is a practical application.  Here’s one more.  How about making a practice of blessing our children with benedictions?  We could do it over them as they sleep, or, better, creating a holy moment while they’re awake.  I regret I never did that with our children.  But what good might be accomplished in them if they heard us again and again speaking the very blessings over them we long for them to enjoy?

In conclusion (as pastors are wont to say), here’s a benediction I pray God will bless us all with . . .

“Now may the God of peace—
who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
may he equip you with all you need for doing his will.
May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
All glory to him forever and ever! Amen”
(Hebrews 13:20,21, NLT).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holding Up Weak and Weary Arms

I don’t normally do this, but to all my praying friends please, please, please pray for my dad.  He has had tremendously rough 24 plus hours with his health condition and needs our prayers.  Thank you a million times!”

My younger daughter posted that yesterday on her Facebook page.  Beneath ran a scroll of 50 (50!) replies promising prayers (plus 77 “likes”).  Staggered.  Overwhelmed.  Grateful.  I showed Lois and remarked with tears streaming down my cheeks, “Look how many there are!”

Regular readers have heard ad nauseum  about my primary lateral sclerosis—a neurological disease that weakens legs, then progresses upwards, carrying with it other loathsome symptoms,  It’s not fatal, but feels as if it is.  My last 24 hours i’ve developed unrelenting headaches and dizziness.  I hit bottom.  That’s why my daughter’s posting and all those pray-ers unleashed grateful tears.

I thought of Moses . . .

The Amelakites came and attacked the Israelites as Rephidim.  Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amelakites.  Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands,”  So Joshua fought the Amerlakites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.  As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were wining.  When Moses’ hands grew tired, they ook a stone put it under him and he sait on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—-so that his hands remained steady till sunset.  So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword (Exodus 17:8-13).

I couldn’t pray yesterday.  Beaten down, I had no strength (or faith?) to ask God for anything.  I was, in fact, depressingly angry with God.  But I couldn’t lash out at him.  Could plead with him.  I needed someone to come and “hold up my weak and weary arms.”  And came they did

Thankfulness for my daughter overflows my heart—and thankfulness for her friends and their prayers.  I’m marginally better today, but healed in my heart by their awesome love.

A lesson:  when someone asks for prayer, I’ve got to pray a prayer from my heart—then write a quick reply so the one in need knows I’m “holding up” his/her arms.  Then I become a channel of God’s grace for someone I might not even know.

I’ve been prayed for often, especially in the last several years.  But no prayers touched my heart like those yesterday.  How our Father will respond to them, I can’t be sure.  But I know this:  he answered in a way probably no one intended when a lovely daughter and many unknown believers held up my weak and weary arms.

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Faith-Prayer

O PreacherMystified.  That’s me.  Over this . . .

Is any one of you sick?
He should call the elders of the church to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
(James 5:14,15)

Before I explain my puzzlement, let’s consider this final block of James’ letter.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise (5:13).

The Greek kakopatheo can be translated “suffer affliction, endure hardship, be in trouble.”  These are the trials of various kinds” (1:2) those dispersed-among-the-nations Jewish Christians are facing  Any one thus afflicted “should pray.”  While that counsel seems obvious, too often prayer is our last resort instead of our default setting.

Likewise, if anyone is “happy” (Greek, euthumeo—encouraged and so cheerful) he should ‘sing songs of praise.”  With both imperatives, James is calling these believers, whatever their situation, to turn their minds Godwarrd.  Trouble should move them to God in prayer.  Happiness should move them to God in praise.

Before we dig into my confusion, we’ll define some terms.  “Sick” (Greek, asthanay) can also be translated “weak”.  Besides physical sickness, it’s also used of spiritual weakness and the weakness suffered from being beat up (as in persecution) and bed-bound.

Commentators suggest a myriad of meanings for“anoint him with oil.”  Since oil is a healing agent, perhaps James meant, “Rub it on like medicine.”  Or, he may encourage its use as an aid to faith, especially when seen as symbolizing the Holy Spirit.  Or, since oil is a sign of consecration, James may want it used to signify that the sick person is being set apart to the Lord (“anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord”) for the Lord’s authority to rule in this illness and his care be given.  Since James without explanation instructs the elders (Greek, presbuteros—“shepherd” leaders of the church) to perform this act, we’re left to speculate on anointing’s exact significance.

What is “the prayer offered in faith”?  Earlier, writing about prayer for wisdom, James hinted at the answer . . .

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting,
for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea
that is driven and tossed by the wind.
For that person must not suppose
that he will receive anything from the Lord;
he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
(1:6-8)

The “prayer of faith”, then, probably refers to a prayer prayed with absolute confidence that the person praying will receive from the Lord.

The promise offers great encouragement to the sick.

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
(5:15)

The sick will be “restored.”  ” . . . the Lord will raise him up” (from his sick bed).  And, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”  The source of every illness is not the direct result of sin (though sickness and death are in the world because sin is (” . . . sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin—Romans 5:11), sometimes it is (“That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep”—1 Corinthians 11:30).  If that’s the case here, James promises, the sick sinner will be both healed and forgiven.

Therefore confess your sins to each other
and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a man just like us.
He prayed earnestly that it would not rain,
and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain,
and the earth produced its crops.
(5:16-18).

Such sins should be confessed “to each other.”  Then praying for each other will result in healing (Greek, iaomy—used of both physical and spiritual healing).

James offers the explanation and promise—“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”—to encourage his readers.  The ESV translates:  “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  We might ask, then, who is a righteous person?  Answer:  one who has trusted his life to Christ (to be credited with his righteous) and is learning to practice righteous living.

Elijah, that great Jewish prophets, provides the classic model.  He had “a nature just like ours” (ESV).  He was “a man just like us” (NIV).  Yet see the powerful effect of his earnest prayer!  No rain for three and a half years.  Then Elijah prayed again.  Drought and famine ended as rain fell and crops grew.  James means for us to be fortified in faith as we turn Godward on behalf of the sick.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth
and someone should bring him back,  remember this:
Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way
will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
(5:19,20)

These dispersed Jewish Christians, enduring trials and facing persecution, are vulnerable to “wander from the truth.”  Why not, for instance, recant faith in Jesus and return to the safety of Judaism?  So the church must watch out for each other.  To turn “a sinner from the error of his way” is to “save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” that would otherwise separate him from God  This, too, (perhaps especially) is living a Godward life.

My Mystification.

Is any one of you sick?
He should call the elders of the church to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
(5:14,15).

I’m mystified, because James clearly means these words to encourage.  Sick?  Turn Godward! He’ll heal you.

Yet, after 44 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve almost never seen this “work”.  As an elders team member I’ve prayed for more sick people than I can remember.  I myself was prayed for many times.  But I can’t remember one immediate (or soon thereafter) miraculous healing.  Not that no one’s health returned; it just happened over time in due course.

James lays out few conditions.  Church elders should be called.  (Though James seems to envision the elders being called to the ill person’s sick bed, I don’t think prayer in a church building violates this.)  We often used oil and prayed “in the name of the Lord.” 

Faith?  We could have prepared better in order to fortify our faith.  But in the end, God gives faith. “

The apostle Paul taught . . .

” . . .to another faith by the same Spirit,
to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit.”
(1 Corinthians 12:9) 

If ever we needed the spiritual gift of faith, it was then.  Also, the writer to the Hebrews taught,

“God also testified to [his salvation]
by signs, wonders and various miracles,
and gifts of the Holy Spirit
distributed according to his will.”
(Hebrew 2:4)

Couple that with 1 John 5:14,15 and we can comfortably conclude that God gives his gifts and answers our prayers according to his will . . .

“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.”

James himself recognizes the Lord’s sovereign will when he reproves those who make their tomorrow-plans as if they are in control . . .

“Instead you ought to say,
‘If the Lord wills,
we will live and do this or that.'”
(James 5:15)

I’d rather let James explains James, rather than jumping around the Bible like a grasshopper.  But from generations of the Lord’s self-revelation recorded in the Jewish Bible (our Old Testament) and from God’s revelation in Jesus, these Jewish Christians understood that God is sovereign, as our Lord taught us to pray . . .

“Your kingdom come;
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:10)

Therefore, my mystification fog has (mostly) dissipated.  James 5:14,15 is a wonderfully encouraging promise to the sick.  The Lord keeps that promise.  And we must trust when it seems  he doesn’t—it’s better.

And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.
For those God foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called,
he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
(Romans 8:28-30).

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Americans Not Seeking Church’s Answers

O PreacherAn odd situation.  After 44 years of church pastoring, I find myself church-less.  Mostly it’s disability that keeps me home.  Gives me an  outsider’s perspective.  I understand, for example, a person who thinks the church offers nothing special for him will likely not take the trouble of getting up and going.

Don’t misunderstand. I still believe everything the Bible teaches about the church.  I still care about the church’s mission in the world.  At the same time, I think I recognize  better the unchurched person’s view.

That gave the following article (from “Religion News Service”) greater impact.  While I’m generally suspicious of polls, there’s no explaining away the bleakness of this report . . .

God? Meaning of life?
Many Americans don’t seek them in church

By Cathy Lynn Grossman

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, on June 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-UNCHURCHED-SURVEY, originally transmitted on June 28, 2016.

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, on June 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

(RNS) The “seekers” have left the church — if they ever came.
LifeWay Research has taken a close look at what might draw them in, zeroing in on people who say they have not attended a religious service in the past six months except for special events or holidays.
Worship? Not particularly interested, 2 in 3 people told the evangelical research firm in a survey released Tuesday (June 28).
Talk about God? Not so much, said 3 in 4 of the 2,000 “unchurched” people in the survey –including 57 percent who identified as Christians.
“Are a lot of Americans on a conscious journey to learn who Jesus Christ is? I don’t think so,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay, which is based in Nashville, Tenn.
The survey was conducted May 23-June 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
The findings suggest most folks could be lured to church through events where faith is not explicit: community causes, entertainment and sports.
Even that old “seeker” standby — the search for meaning — doesn’t cut it for many who a decade ago might have read Rick Warren’s mega-selling handbook, “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Although 57 percent of those surveyed said finding “their deeper purpose” is “a major priority,” 31 percent disagreed at least somewhat and 12 percent were unsure.
That finding can be read two ways. Either folks are feeling secure in their salvation, even without church, or “most unchurched people don’t particularly care,” said McConnell in an interview.
Fully 70 percent of people who do not attend religious services agreed that “there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life.”
But whose plan is the unanswered question.
LifeWay deliberately didn’t mention God in asking about “plan” and “purpose,” McConnell explained, because it wanted to assess whether people had “a framework of wanting to make better, or the best, choices for life.”
If they already view life in terms of plans and goals, it’s easier to talk about the Christian faith. Evangelizing is like marketing a product — you need a value that matters to the customer, McConnell said.
The survey suggested that while evangelical churchgoers say heaven is the main benefit of their Christian faith, “that value proposition is not a product the unchurched are looking to buy,” McConnell said.
The survey found that 43 percent said they never wonder if they’ll go to heaven when they die and 20 percent can’t recall the last time they thought about it.
According to a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans, LifeWay Research found few wonder, at least on a regular basis, if they’ll go to heaven when they die. Photo courtesy of LifeWay Research
The results were not entirely bleak, however: Nearly 62 percent would come for a meeting at church on neighborhood safety.
Offering a venue to “express compassion” can be a top draw for churches, Rick Richardson, professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, said in a press release. He is a research fellow for the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, which sponsored the survey.
Other ways people could be inspired to visit were for events such as concerts (51 percent), sports or exercise programs (46 percent) or a neighborhood get-together (45 percent.)
Most (51 percent) said a personal invitation from a friend or family member could draw them to church. And many are willing to at least listen to the benefits of being a Christian. Only 11 percent said they’d change the subject if religion came up in conversation.
But only about 1 in 5 would accept if that invitation came from a church member knocking at their door, a TV commercial, postcard or Facebook ad.
McConnell said bringing people into church is “a different kind of conversation. It’s like cajoling them to take a blind date with someone you want to spend your life and your eternity with. We need to say take it one day at a time: ‘Let’s introduce you to Jesus and see what you think.’”

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues.

* * *

Two thoughts from this dreary report come to mind.

One, this is a spiritual battle, not a creative-techniques one.  Of course, we need tactics.  And we probably have to think “outside the box.”  But giving out free Cokes at red lights won’t bring anyone to repentance and faith in Christ.  Nor will a coffee bar in the church lobby.

Two, we have to pray.  When the apostle Paul reached the end of his spiritual warfare instructions, he urged the church,Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.  And pray also for me, that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel’s secret.  For the sake of this gospel I am an ambassador, though now I am in prison. Pray that I may be bold in speaking about the gospel as I should” (Ephesians 6:18-20, TEV).

 What might God the Holy Spirit do in Jesus’ name,
if we faithfully, persistently set aside time in Sunday Worship
for the church to pray for the community’s unchurched?
Will we find out?

 

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Radical Islamist Ideology

P.AllanPerhaps today we should just “weep with those who weep” in Orlando.  Or maybe we should be urged to weep, because by tomorrow or Wednesday for most of us the slaughter’s horror will have dissipated.  Mass shootings have become almost commonplace.  And the investigative accounts of the killer’s identity, family life, motivation, etc. seem the same old story.

I listened to President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as a few “lesser” politicians comment.  Sadly familiar.  If ever a sign that we live in a fallen, evil world, this is it—not just the shootings, but the responses.  Know the identity of the politician before he or she speaks, you know what he or she will say.  We call it “politics”; but it really is ideology.  (“A system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”–Oxford Dictionaries).

The ideologues who theorize guns are the problem push for tougher (“common sense”) gun laws.  Those who theorize our defense is insufficient push for banning Muslims from the country or stronger police presence.  I’m not qualified to speak  specifically on any of these “pushes.”  I do agree with the mostly unheard voices who argue that Radical Islam is at war with America—except I would add, “and at war with the non-Sharia Muslim world.

When Jesus predicted, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6), I understand him to mean that generation leading up to 70 A.D. when Rome finally crushed Jerusalem.  But I also take him to mean “double fulfillment”; that is, wars as part of “birth pains” (Matthew 24:8) will mark these last days leading up to the Last Day.  And, though far different from the tactics of our two world wars, Jesus certainly included this Radical Islamist war.

In World War 2, Hitler held an ideology—broadly, the superiority of the Aryan race.  We beat it with bombs, as today’s war necessitates.  But understanding the enemy and his ideology is necessary too.  How can we not realize our attackers are not “lone wolves” or “isolated crazies”?  Radical Islam intends, in the name of Allah, to take over the world.  Tightening airport security will not defeat demonic worldview.

“The Clarion Project” (http://www.clarionproject.org/understanding-islamism/islamic-extremismprovides an informative introduction to Radical Islam Ideology . . .

Islamic extremism is driven by an interpretation of Islam that believes that Islamic law, or sharia, is an all-encompassing religious-political system. Since it is believed to be proscribed by Allah (Arabic for “God”) sharia must be enforced in the public sphere by a global Islamic state. As such, Islamic extremists consider it to be the only truly legitimate form of governance and reject democracy and human rights values.

Thus, the ultimate objective of Islamic extremists is the merger of “mosque and state” under sharia law. Those who favor such an approach are called Islamists. Their ideology is called Islamism, or political Islam.

(Photo: © Reuters)(Photo: © Reuters)

Islamic extremists believe they are obligated to install this form of governance in Muslim-majority territories, countries and, eventually, the entire world. In the minds of Islamic extremists, they are promoting justice and freedom by instituting sharia.

In some cases, Islamic extremists even describe sharia as a superior form of “democracy.”

Islamic extremists have intermediate political goals which they believe will pave the way for the global implementation of sharia. One of these goals is the removal of non-Muslim military forces from Muslim lands and the overthrow of “enemy” regimes.

Acts of Islamic extremism includes terrorism, human rights abuses, the advancement of sharia-based governance, bigotry towards non-Muslims and rival Muslims and overall hostility to the West and, in particular, Western democracy.

Today we “weep with those who weep”, despite our conviction that the Bible calls homosexual behavior sin.  These are men and women created in God’s image, and our response to them should be brokenhearted prayer, not condemnation.  Our plea for them should be for God’s grace in Christ, as we ourselves continue to need.

It’s also apparently true that most Muslims are not radical extremists, just as not all Christians are abortion-doctor killers or homophobic.

That brings us to how as Jesus-followers we should respond.  We can’t defeat terrorists bent on destroying us.  We can’t out-debate their ideology.  (Though we—here meaning our political leaders—must realize this is a war against an ideology whose adherents mean, in Allah’s name, to take over the world.)

What we can do, what we must do, is pray.  Though written in a different context, the apostle Paul’s words apply . . .

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension
that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,
and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground,
and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,
with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith,
with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
(Ephesians 6:13-18a)

Does it seem  absurd to believe that our little prayers can affect how God works in the world?  Remember . . .

The prayer of a righteous person
has great power as it is working.
(James 5:16b)

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