“WHEN THE SUN SHINES IT WILL SHINE THE CLEARER”

One of the finest characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was Sam. Samwise Gamgee, the loyal friend and protector of Frodo Baggins, the bearer of the ring. He clearly had his flaws but he’s markedly selfless, gallant and pure of heart and if it were not for him, Frodo would never have completed his destiny with honor. He not only had a profound depth of character he had a profound vision of the big picture. This is obvious from a piece that occurs near the end of The Two Towers.
At one point Frodo is overcome by the evil ring he bears and must destroy and he is near to giving himself up to its evil power and Sam saves him in the nick of time. Still blinded by the ring’s power, Frodo pulls his sword on Sam and has it at his throat and Sam gasps to his deranged friend:
“It’s me, it’s your Sam, don’t you know your own Sam?”
Frodo recovers and confesses the job’s too much for him.
Frodo: “I can’t do this Sam.”
Sam: “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here, but we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were. Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when there’s so much bad that had happened?
But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.
A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stay with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. How folk in those stories had lots of chances for turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo: “What are we holding on to Sam?”
Sam: “That there’s some good left in this world Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”
There’s so much that is gospel-like here. In light of the Story, the one that ultimately matters, there are things and people and a glorious Lord worth fighting for, worth living for and worth dying for.
Is this not Hebrews 11:32-40? Does that truth not help us to want to continue the war until the return of the King?
A new day WILL come! Because HE is coming.
In the meantime He is making His presence felt in and through all the friends who travel with us! Flawed friends, it’s true, but friends who travel with us on the same quest, helping us to fulfill our unique place in the service of the King. We each in the divine drama that is life have to bear the ring of evil to its total destruction and others can’t do it for another but as Sam in the final episode says before picking up the exhausted Frodo: “If I can’t carry the ring for you I can carry you.”

(Holy Father, help us to recognize that we are not alone in bearing burdens, that others bear burdens too. And we fervently ask you to supply sufficient strength that we don’t become fixated on our own and that we will help one another to bear what we can’t bear for them. And perhaps we will find that in helping them we too are helped. Would you do that? In light of Jesus we know you must be happy with such a request.)

GETTING SOUP TWICE A DAY

I only have to read scripture to know that people are walking contradictions and that some of us are breathing civil wars. Beyond that I simply have to look within to know that while what the Bible says seems very plain, what I see and feel within is absolutely beyond debate. And my experience with people confirms these two sources.
I don’t say that we’re all equally conflicted. I believe I know people that across the board are much more mature than I am. Yes, I suspect that on the whole they are more finely balanced and permeated to a greater degree with virtue than I am or ever have been. I would suppose if I were judged by my moral failures and weakness in some specific areas of my life that I would come very close to the bottom of the moral ladder. I do believe that! This is a great sadness to me for there is a part of me that longs for moral grandeur, there’s a deep desire in me to be like the God in whose image I have been and am being created. [I mustn’t give you the impression that people should be assessed on the basis of so many virtues over against so many vices—that would be wrong-headed, but I think you know what I mean by the above.]
I wish to make the point that however difficult it is for us to believe it, people are not just one thing. That should be—should it not?—a matter beyond dispute. Only the Christ was “just one thing.”
I’ve known many people up close and personal who were faced with a choice between right and wrong and chose the wrong. But it has occurred to me that in many of those cases I was blessed in not being faced with the situation they were faced with; blessed with not having to make the choice between good and evil for I’m not at all certain that I would have stood where they fell. (Their fall in some cases may well have worked out to be a blessing in numerous ways. God works that kind of thing. See Romans 11:15, 30-35.)
Some poor souls are daily faced with the pressure to do evil while others of us (God be praised and thanked!) live in our morally cozy little routines. Surrounded by godly friends, provided with more than adequate material and social resources and having been shaped by strong and warm people and structures we are sheltered from many of the storms that beat ceaselessly around the heads of millions. Yes, surely there is profound reason to be grateful for our conditions but do they not underscore the moral disadvantage of the masses?
Is it surprising that so many are morally weak and fragmented? Given the social and cultural structures that promote the worst aspects of hedonism and greed and self-centeredness, should we be surprised that masses fear neither God nor man? And if this is what they fight against from the moment they draw breath do we do well to feel nothing but revulsion and a desire to isolate or exterminate?
In a powerful television drama one of the characters is morally and mentally ill. He has killed repeatedly but due to the limits in the human judicial system he was not convicted. He attached himself to a lawyer, who, understandably, was afraid of him and wanted nothing to do with him. But the man felt the influence of this lawyer changing him for the better. He gets a job and purposes to live in goodness, free from the evils he had engaged in but the lawyer—again perfectly understandably—feels compelled to undermine his agenda. He’s devastated by what he feels is betrayal and comes to say to her, “As you know, I have never denied being evil. One of the reasons I came to you initially—I saw you as my guardian out of evil and you in fact became that. I was beginning to turn my life around. I rediscovered hope and goodness and I credit much of that to your influence. But you walked away from me like I was some crazy, which I am at many levels. But my feelings for you…my friendship for you was sane and real and legitimate and good. It represents the part of me that wasn’t ill or evil—it was good.”
This expresses well what I want to say. I don’t say that there can’t be exceptions. I don’t say that there are not people, who like Mephistopheles says in that other classic drama, “Evil be thou my good/ good be thou my evil.” There are such people. But I do say that such exceptions aside that there is not one of us that is “one thing”. I do say that down somewhere in the mysterious depths of a human heart, along with its evil there can be the vestiges of good longed for, the residue of good purposes that died for lack of inner strength and outside help.
In the old movie Angels with Dirty Faces we have the hard-bitten and brutal gangster (played by Jimmy Cagney) going to the electric chair for multiple murders. He’s arrogant, unrepentant and unafraid. For the sake of some boys who worship him as their hero the priest begs him to pretend he’s afraid to die. Cagney goes to the chair kicking and screaming and begging for mercy—for the sake of the kids and because his friend asked him to do it.
Should we dismiss this as bleeding-heart drivel, nauseatingly sentimental and untrue to life? I think not.
Hanging on a tree the young Lord of creation saw His enemies with their glittering eyes and heard their hoarse mocking and said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” Maybe it takes a purer and stronger heart than most of us have to speak this way under such circumstances. There’s little doubt in my mind that the bulk of us when faced with someone we judge to be a threat have no wish to dwell on his or her virtues. The only thing that counts is their vice.
But when we gather in an assembly we’re not slow to sing Rescue the Perishing. One of the stanzas has this neglected truth.
“Down in the human heart/
Crushed by the Tempter/
Feelings like buried that grace can restore/
Touched by a loving hand/
Wakened by kindness/
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.”
This sounds well in four-part harmony and feels good during times of peace and tranquility. But let me assume that for the most of us (certainly in the West) that actually doing something costly about such a truth is a real stretch, especially as the expression of our living out that truth on a daily basis. Maybe executing such conviction is currently beyond us—though it’s possible for some that we know or have heard of. But I would suppose that before we can bear unbearable sorrow and fight unbeatable foes we need to truly think the unthinkable.
Ah well, then, so no one should be held accountable for wrongs done? I don’t believe that. Jesus Christ held accountable those He loved and pitied (Revelation 3:19). But maybe we can quit pretending that we believe that all sin should be punished. We don’t think all ours should be punished. (Sin is more than deeds and words; it’s soul-contamination as well; the condition out of which sinful deeds, words and thoughts arise.)
Maybe we can chastise with less relish and more sensitivity. Maybe we can pity as well as “punish”. Maybe we can temper our speech when condemning the sins of others and perhaps we can renounce (if only to ourselves) the sense of moral superiority we feel. Should we ever judge? Of course we should–with care! But surely not from a position of power, as though butter wouldn’t melt in our own mouths, as though we were the only virgins in a world of “hookers”. And should we ignore great evil because there is in the transgressor something of real worth? Oh, I’m certain we should not. I’m also certain of this, we should not ignore the something of real worth in him or her because there is great evil. And I’m certain we should take full measure (is that possible?) of our own evil that lurks down among our virtues.
Wasn’t it Schweitzer who told us that two boys were wrestling in a school playground? It was a long and hard tussle but finally the bigger boy (Schweitzer himself) triumphed. The skinnier kid, panting, said something like. “You wouldn’t have beaten me if I had been getting soup twice a day like you.”
Hmmm, I wonder…

PAUL IS WRONG & SO IS MOSES & PETER &…AND I AM RIGHT!

It wasn’t long ago when if fellow-Christians disagreed on an issue we argued about whether we were rightly understanding Paul or Peter or whoever. Now you don’t have to do that. Even if you know you know what Paul meant you simply say, “He was wrong!”

For example, the disagreement over whether women may function as bishops/elders in Christian assemblies continues. Until very recently we argued over the meaning/setting/implications of, say, 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 11 & 14. Now we don’t have to do that. We just say, “Yes, I understand what he said but he was wrong!”
I heard one speaker recently, say with emphasis that Paul “was wrong on slavery! He was wrong!” Since he didn’t explain himself I still don’t know what it was that Paul was “wrong” on in relation to slavery. The speaker did go on to tell us that Paul was wrong on slavery, because “he couldn’t conceive of a world without slavery.” Make sense of that if you can.
That means Peter was wrong also though I can’t be sure what Peter was wrong on. I wonder if Peter was wrong in the same thing and for the same reason Paul was wrong on whatever it was that Paul was wrong about “on slavery”.
The speaker assured us in that understanding way that since he knew Paul was wrong!! on slavery (whatever that means) that we might understandingly think Paul was wrong about “sexual orientation” and “on women” and such. But if Paul was wrong on slavery, our speaker set us free to think, we might well think he was wrong!! about various forms of homosexuality in Romans 1:18-29; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 not to mention adultery and such.
The speaker didn’t say that he thought Paul was wrong on the homosexual issue but he obviously (his tone was very understanding) understood that others might well feel Paul was wrong on that, the way he said Paul was wrong!! on slavery.
Still, if I say Paul was wrong on slavery I won’t make a lot of enemies—bless me slavery not a big issue in this national neighborhood. Had the speaker come right out and expressed as his own view that, “Paul was wrong on homosexuality!” that would have been another matter altogether. To say “You might think Paul was wrong on the sexual orientation issue” gives the speaker “freedom” to move. But I strongly tend to think (I’m open to correction) that those who listened to the speaker knew exactly what he was doing and that, on the whole, they would have more respect for him had he just come right out and said, “I say Paul was wrong on the issue of sexual orientation. What he had to say about ‘sexual immorality’ was wrong!”
But no, the permission that he, in that understanding tone, gave to his hearers (young students, Sunday school teachers, struggling Christians pressed by the cultural/societal drifts); “You might well draw the conclusion that Paul was not only wrong on slavery he was wrong on many other things.” (The speaker didn’t use those words; they’re what I understood him to be saying.)
But we need to remember (a couple of our speaker’s sentences suggested this) that Paul and the most of the pagans/non-Jews were shaped by the synagogue so it should not be surprising that Paul would cling to synagogue teaching and teach that to his converts; but it’s old stuff that should be left behind (some are telling us today). But if our speaker is right it isn’t only “old” and synagogue stuff; it’s wrong!! So it isn’t just Paul. It isn’t just Paul and Peter, it’s the OT synagogue stuff as well. Oh dear. You start with Paul and before you know it everybody is under suspicion.
Actually, it’s worse than that. Where our speaker starts is with the Bible he read a couple of verses from. It’s a Bible he sits in judgment on. It makes no difference to our speaker what Paul might say or might not be saying. This man knows what Paul says and tells us Paul is wrong!!  (Of course it’s always nice to know that a big name like Brueggemann and some of your colleagues agree with you.) And every text comes “under suspicion”—judged by our speaker. It isn’t just Paul.
I thought this interesting also. Our speaker was assigned Romans 1:16 (a gospel text, we were assured) and somehow we ended up hearing that Paul was wrong!! on slavery and that it would be understandable if we thought he was wrong on many other things. How did that happen? Our speaker said he knew Paul was right on “the gospel” (fancy that!). Wonder how he knows that? He read Romans 1:16-17 thought it certainly gospel but one verse later, in 1:18, Paul must have lost his way.
In saying Gentiles suppressed the truth they knew Paul gives us 1:19-31(2).
But that gets tricky. Paul was right in saying idolatry and polygamy were wrong, then he is wrong in slating homosexuality and then he’s right in condemning malice, envy, murder, heartlessness and such. Makes you wonder.
In 1:22 Paul speaks of people “professing themselves to be wise they became fools.” When I was younger I used to hear a lot about the “noetic effects” of sin; I don’t hear the phrase used much these days but I’m pretty sure Romans 1:22 is not wrong!!
I’m not completely ignorant about the benefits of the fairly recent literary and semantic approach to Bible study but I can’t claim to be well-read in the literature or the practice of its benefits. But I’m currently convinced that theology has its fashions as well as its fads. I would suspect it must give a person a real buzz to see him or herself among the well-heeled in the latest fashion, having read the most recent publications, don’t you know.
I’m not persuaded that that’s a bad thing but I think for some people it’s more dangerous than for others. Sin comes at us in keeping with our inner-wiring and vulnerabilities (that statement needs developed) and being out there as a leader in a small pack would be a real test (especially if you’re always addressing the young and/or inexperienced), I would think.
To have people look at me and whisper to one another, just loud enough for me that strains his ear to hear, “They broke the mold when they made that one, eh?” or “Now there’s a person that marches to his own drummer.” Would that not be a thrill? I’d have to control my swagger, of course, and smilingly speak at my own expense; if you can fake humility you have it made, George Burns used to say..
Some still claim it as true but I don’t know if they’re right or wrong. They say that pride is the “original sin” from which all others rise. Romans 1:22ff has been used to support the view. Sometimes I think I can see it in a very thinly disguised swagger. I think God does a magnificent job if He keeps a scholar (or a wanna-be scholar) humble.
But pride isn’t the only danger; society has always tested the Church. Precisely because we shouldn’t be anti-culture it’s a real test to live in a culture and withstand what we know (or think we know) is corrupt in that culture. Like a slow tidal drift we can be carried out into what is way above our heads. (Does that remind you of Hebrews 2:1?)
I’m certain that God speaks to us in life as well as in Scripture but I think the Bible has been uniquely superintended by the Spirit of God and as soon as we become its judge, talking our way through it, dismissing this, denying that, pitting our own experience against the experience of called and commissioned eye-witnesses of God’s glory and of those who had discourse with them then the final authority becomes culture/society and if we believe Fish, there’s no text at all other than the one we create while we read. Then a fearful thing happens, we’re left without a moral compass. But more than that, worse than that, we may find ourselves outside the divine narrative, flamboyant, and rendering judgment on the God-appointed eye-witnesses to the narrative they work within.
I’ve wandered a bit, have I not? Not too far I hope. The speaker I was telling you about said, “Paul showed shockingly little interest in the historical events of Jesus’ life.“ No explanation—just the claim (an old claim, by the way). What do you suppose that means?
Yes, I know Paul didn’t write like Matthew—John. But what does the phrase suggest? What’s the first thing that came into your mind on reading the phrase? Paul didn’t quote Jesus all over the place. In his epistles he didn’t tell his readers about incidents that would be rehearsed audibly by Christians in their meetings before they were committed to writing in the Gospels. We get that! But why the phrase he was “shockingly” uninterested? (Did Paul saying nothing about Christ’s earthly ministry when he taught people or preached daily? Was he ignorant of these things? More ignorant than Cornelius? Acts 10:36-38? John in his nice hyperbole, 21:24-25, makes it clear that the stories about Jesus’ earthly ministry filled the air and couldn’t be fruitfully rehearsed. Still, “Paul was shockingly uninterested” in all that.
The speaker wanted to go on to say (and did repeatedly) that Paul said only three things: “Christ died, God raised Him and He’s returning.” That’s it; that’s all; that’s Paul’s gospel. That’s all Paul was interested in. Really?
So I take it that Peter was “shockingly” uninterested in Christ’s historical life. (Again, Acts 10:37-38.) I take it that James was also “shockingly” uninterested in the earthly events of the Lord Jesus. Nether of those two said much of anything about Jesus’ earthly ministering.
“What I meant was…” the speaker would no doubt say, “that Paul so nearly doesn’t mention them at all because he was dealing with church problems and such in his epistles.” Why the speaker didn’t say that is a mystery. Instead he said: “Paul showed shockingly little interest in the historical events of Jesus’ life“? He said that Paul’s epistles were only applying the gospels to problems the congregations were facing. I have no wish to argue that point but I would like to point out then that Paul didn’t develop his gospel in his epistles and so our speaker would have to work to uncover Paul’s gospel. Thankfully our speaker knew hat Paul got that right. That’s comforting.
What the speaker wanted to do was reduce Paul’s “gospel” (he said) to three statements! Christ died, God raised Him and He’s returning.” That’s it, that’s all, he said.
Not a word about the Incarnation of God, not a word about His historical life that enabled Him to offer Himself as a spotless sacrifice. Not a word about Pneumatology (about the Lord Jesus making Himself present in His Body by the Holy Spirit until He returns! That’s not part of Paul’s gospel?  Paul’s gospel didn’t include “life in the Spirit”? Didn’t include the truth of the indwelling Christ who by His Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-26)!
And we’re supposed to take this man’s word that Paul is wrong in anything?
The Spirit of Christ which was in Paul led him to write Galatians 5:19-26 about the fruit of the Spirit and he slated sexual immorality (among other things) as evil but our speaker casts doubt on Paul’s teaching on sexual orientation! Sigh.
I’m just about finished. But I have to say when I sit for a moment and reflect on the matter it startles me. Even on a surface consideration. Here’s this speaker and here is Paul. Paul, whom the speaker concedes got the gospel right (can you imagine that?), Paul one of the most (maybe the most) influential missionaries and theologians in human history and this speaker dismisses him on the one hand as wrong!! and patronizes him on the other with, “Well, you got the gospel right.” Is that not startling?
And then, he grants permission to young students, Sunday School teachers, people wrestling with how they are to respond to the Holy Spirit in respect to the fruit of the Spirit over against the works of the flesh—the speaker grants them permission to tell Paul he is wrong!
It’s never only one writer/speaker!
Once you attack Paul you’re compelled to attack others and then more and then the entire Book. Then we who talk so much about “Post Modernism” or “Post Liberalism” or post something else find that we’ve never really left the worst face of the Enlightenment. The Gospels come under fire and we’re left again with a gentlemanly Jesus who just wants us all to be happy and live as we wish as long as we don’t hurt anybody. I wonder how long it would take for us to look at Paul again and say he was wrong!! about the gospel as well?
We have these red letter Bibles. It’d be interesting to see what the Bible would be like if our speaker were now to color it!  What if our wise speaker now produced a version of the Bible? Xing out the statements he knows are false! I wonder how Romans 1 and Galatians 5 would fare? Or have him set aside the Bible we have and write one for us in light of his wisdom. Can you imagine?

Imagine the Jim McGuiggan Bible rather than the one we have.
God deliver us!

 

 

GIVING IT UP!

This is a particularly difficult thing to speak about at this time. I don’t need to develop the reason right now other than to say that the body and mind of a very dear friend and a great man of God is under attack. I mention the difficulty of speaking about it only so that you won’t think I’m being glib!

Life is and should be precious to us. We see and feel that truth in a host of ways don’t we. And why wouldn’t it be this way for most of us? This means that even Christians who believe in life with Christ after death and then resurrection are loath to leave this place with all its warm relationships, lovely predictability and harmless pleasures.

Yes, we cheerfully sing, “This World is Not My Home” but it’s the only home we’ve known all our lives and it is God’s gift to us so how could we not, at some level, regret leaving it? Bless me, even at airports when our beloved is leaving for a longish period there are tears and hugs, almost a refusal to let them go. Should it be surprising that we express the fear of “loss” of them in the feverish way we try to prolong their life when it seems clear they are dying?

Still, in our bones we know we can’t put off the day forever. It’s appointed! Wouldn’t it be fine if we (not just the dying one—but the family and friends) were so shaped and assured that we could “give them up” in an assured and glorious way?

Not in a life-denying way, mark you, but doing it after we have (as Robert Browning put it) “earned” our death by living life to the full in joyful integrity. There are things worth dying for and there is a time when it’s okay to “lay yourself down with a will,” as Robert Louis Stevenson expressed it.

In the movie, El Cid, the hero lies mortally wounded with an arrow deep in his chest. He’s sure to die but his adoring wife wants to prolong it by mere hours by having the arrow removed even though it will weaken him. He resists her pleas because he must address and go out with the army that has lost heart because they think he’s dead and think they will have to face the enemy without him. He keeps the arrow and speeds his death so that he can do something worthy of his having lived—a life he has lived so well and honorably. He tenderly tells her, “You can’t save my life. You must help me to give it up.”

We all need that kind of help. When Death comes calling, and this time won’t go away without us, we need friends and family to help us “give it up” in a way that’s appropriate for who we are. There aren’t many scenes more impressive than those where vibrant faith in Jesus Christ is facing death with assured sorrow.

But long before we’re on our deathbeds we need that kind of help. We need people to help us not to hoard the life we’ve been given. We desperately need help to keep us from spending it selfishly on our own ease and we need people around us who will help us to be generous with it. Beyond the very obvious I don’t know well what this sort of talk means for myself so I’m not trying to diagnose and assess the life of anyone else. I just know that we are all sinners and in need of some help toward a richer Christlikeness.

During a dangerous viral outbreak a husband didn’t want his doctor wife to put their life together at risk by getting involved in helping the afflicted. Who can’t understand that? But who can’t be thrilled and pleased by her response? She told him, “I love you with all of my heart, my dear, but you mustn’t make it hard for me to do what’s right.” She was telling him, “Help me give it up.”

And then there was the One who faced the most momentous moment in His life when He would be overwhelmed with such sorrow (Matthew 26:38; sorrow! not fear) that He verges on an emotional breakdown and He called on three of His dear friends to come with Him to a garden and help Him to do what had to be done to bless a world.
His view of this occasion of mind-bending sorrow included this: “Therefore does my Father love Me because I lay down my life.” (John 10:11, 17) The Holy Father watches His Holy Son all through His life and watches Him consummate it when He puts the cup to His lips and He whispers, “How I love Him!” As this consummating act is happening the Father is loving His Son and not punishing Him. (A pox on that “punishing” notion!)

The great news is this: hearts like His “lay it down” that they might “take it again.” (John 10:17) They don’t scorn life and throw it away as trash.

Then there is this: in Matthew 20:22-23 the Lord Jesus tells His followers that they will drink of His cup. Sharing His cup is living a life of covenant faithfulness and love in the presence of “a world” that hates His followers precisely because they are His followers (John 15:18-21); followers who have taken up their crosses and are crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20; 6:14). However flawed they live a life “given up” throughout years in all those lovely Christlike ways and consummate it by a death faithfully offered up to God that it might be taken up again, purer, stronger more beautiful and more glorious.

(Holy One, bless us as we reflect on You in light of Your Holy Son and bless us with relationships or at least awareness of those who faithfully follow in His steps that we might be enabled to drink His cup and hear you say that You love us in our doing it. This prayer in Christ Jesus.)

SAUL KANE & THE RUSHING RAIN

Imagine a man who has committed a terrible crime and is imprisoned for it. During his trial he is utterly unrepentant, snarling and swearing that if he had the chance he’d do it again and worse. That man does more than endure the penalty in prison; he remains the evildoer within. If he were to complete his sentence and be freed he would still be that evil-doer because he carries the love of his evil with him and even exults in it.
But if he comes to see his crime in all its ugliness and to hate it, to wish he had never committed it and would never want to do it again—he would be a different man even while he endures the chastisement.
In this new state of mind (repentance) he would be seeing the crime with other eyes and another heart—with the eyes and with the heart of the victim’s parents, with the eyes of the judge and jury. He doesn’t now rage against their decision; he isn’t now untouched by the pain of the people he hurt; now he would undo it all if he could. He can’t change the fact that he has committed the crime but he is no longer the man who committed the crime. The deeper and purer his repentance becomes the further he is removed from the man who did this awful thing. (We see that in Paul—do we not?) In a very real and profound way (not the only way) this man has been delivered from the power of evil. Once more, the man who did the evil and was put in prison is not the same man who now bears the judgment. If it should be that he is somehow pardoned his fully repentant heart would match the utter freeness of the forgiveness graciously bestowed on him.
When we bear in mind that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance, that it is God in His kindness who gives us the gift of repentance unto life through the Lord Jesus then we realize that we are delivered from the power of sin by the inner transformation He brings about. (Romans 2:4; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25) By his grace we come over on to God’s side and our hearts are in tune with his. That’s one face of reconciliation. I’m saying that God’s gift in the Lord Jesus of freedom from sin means that Sin no longer stands between God and us; it is no longer the destructive power that alienates us from the Holy Father—we’re forgiven and our sins are remembered against us no more. I mean it also includes our new mind (repentance) which is God-generated and Christ-shaped so that our life’s direction has changed and we no longer admire or wish to live as an enemy of God’s character or eternal purpose. John Masefield’s poem expresses this marvelously. Here’s a piece of it that describes the changed heart of the once bitter, foul-mouthed and drunken prizefighter, Saul Kane.  (The Everlasting Mercy)

I did not think, I did not strive,
The deep peace burnt my me alive;
The bolted door had broken in,
I knew that I had done with sin.
I knew that Christ had given me birth
To brother all the souls on earth,
O glory of the lighted mind,
How dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind,
The station brook to my new eyes,
Was babbling out of Paradise;
The waters rushing from the rain
Were singing Christ has risen again.
I thought all earthly creatures knelt
From rapture of the joy I felt.

This is one face of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus. In drawing us to Himself (John 12:32) He draws us to His Holy Father. He re-orients our hearts He reconciles us to God and we know with Saul Kane “that we are done with Sin.” (Romans 6:1-14)

(Holy Father thank you for doing more for us than forgiving us our sins. Thank your bringing our hearts and longings and purposes into at-one-ment with your heart. Whatever battles and wrestlings lie ahead of us in our future, we are “done with sin.This prayer and commitment in the Lord Jesus Christ.)

 

SAY, “MAKE ME.”

It’s often been pointed out that the difference between the prodigal on his way out into the world and the prodigal anxiously returning home is the difference been “give me” (Luke 15:12) and “make me” (15:19). I suppose if we press very hard we’d end up thinking that that’s too simple; but too simple or not, I’m convinced it goes in the right direction.
I tire easily when I read authors who offer us ten-step sure-cures for selfishness and sin. Do these people—any of them—really believe what they write? I’m certain of this: when we’re done reading these authors the fine print (that’s scattered though their writings) requires the sensitive and desperate reader to do the very things the sensitive and desperate reader finds he/she is unable to do; that’s why they come to these books in the first place for pity’s sake—for enablement. They don’t deny what they should do; they lack the power to do it. The weary psychologist had seen a number of clients so by the time he got “Harold” he was a bit out of sorts. Harold seemed to be overwrought about rather trivial issues and the counsellor finally and tersely told him: “Go home and pull yourself together.” Harold told him that that’s why he was in the office to begin with: “The thing I pull myself together with is busted.”
So, what then, is there no help to be found? I’m certain that God helps sinners in their struggle against sin and I’m just as certain that that hunger for holiness, that desire to be done with sin, is part of God’s redeeming work. Forgiveness for those who remain in Jesus by faith is a done deal but it isn’t the entire story of redemption and reconciliation. God’s redemption from the power of sin begins with our faith in Jesus and is brought to its completion through faith in that day when He returns.
You understand I’m speaking about people who care for holiness, however feeble their present struggle toward it; if its genuine it’s the work of God and it will be completed by God (Philippians 1:6, for example). But there is no divine coercion!
There’s some truth in the ancient saying that, “Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.” An anguished Jeremiah speaking the heart of an anguished Lord (Jeremiah 8:19-22) sees the wounded and ulcerated Judah suffer greatly. “Is there no balm in Gilead? No caring doctor there—if there is, why is it that my people remain diseased and wounded?” God with a shake of the head, as if baffled. Gilead, famed for its balm as far back as Jacob’s day (Genesis 37:25, Jeremiah 46:11), was there within reach but, stupidly and tragically, they didn’t want cured and by and by no medicine would work (Jeremiah 46:11).
I know no comfort for those who impenitently push God away. The spookiest thing I know about God is that we can defeat Him. It’s true that our capacity to resist Him successfully operates within His overarching purpose so that His overarching purpose is not thwarted; but there is ultimate personal loss for the impenitent.

“Sin may conquer love!” said George Adam Smith in a terrifying passage on Hosea. “Yet it is in this triumph that Sin must feel the ultimate revenge. When a man has conquered this weak thing, and beaten her down beneath his feet, God speaks the sentence of abandonment. There is enough of the whipped dog in all of us to make us dread penalty when we come into conflict with the strong things of life. But it takes us all our days to learn that there is far more condemnation to them who offend the weak things of life, and particularly the weakest of all, its love….God’s ‘little ones’ are not only little children, but all things, which like little children, have only love for their strength. They are pure and loving men and women—men with no weapon but their love, women with no shield but their trust. They are the innocent affections of our own hearts—the memories of our childhood, the ideals of our youth, the prayers of our parents, the faith in us of our friends. These are the little ones of whom Christ spoke, that he who sins against them had better never to have been born. Often…a father’s counsels, a mother’s prayers, may seem foolish things against the challenges of a world calling us to ‘play the man’ and do as it does; often the vows and enthusiasms of boyhood may seem impertinent against the temptations which are so necessary to manhood; yet let us be true to the weak, for if we betray them we betray our own souls. We may sin against law and maim and mutilate ourselves, but to sin against Love is to be cast out of life altogether…If we sin against Love, we do destroy her: we take from her the power to redeem and sanctify us. Though in their youth men think Love a quick and careless thing—a servant always at their side…let them know that every time they send her on an evil errand she returns with heavier feet and broken wings. When they [cheapen her] they kill her outright. When she is no more they waken to the realization that love abused is love lost and love lost means Hell.”

This is true though fearful teaching, but those who long for righteousness or who long to long for righteousness, these have nothing to fear (longing to long is longing). To sin is inevitable but to faint in the pursuit of Christ-likeness is not at all the same as sneering at the quest or despising the longing. These two responses don’t belong together in the same universe! To fail is one thing and to sneer is something else.
“Give me, give me, give me” is an altogether different spirit than “make me”. They’re both a heart’s desire but they are worlds apart. But even “make me” is an appeal and not a demand; it is a gift asked for and not a right demanded, so that when the prodigal said to his loving father “make me” the tone was altogether of a different kind.

The spiritually sensitive and desperate will be glad to confess that they are not in control and that their heavenly Father is the only one who can grant their request; a request generated in their hearts by the heavenly Father. And in making the request the already wakened sinner will not be looking for magic but will allow God to work the transformation by whatever means he sees fit however long that takes and in the middle of sinful chaos generated by no single person but a human race. It is a complex matter; the cure doesn’t work with the human as if she or he was not a human. It is humans God loves and works to redeem; He doesn’t want puppets or mindless or heartless “obedience”. In Jesus and in view of Jesus Christ He will take what you have to offer Him from your confused and maybe frightened heart. Remember your baptism (Romans 6) and remember that when by faith you were baptized into Jesus Christ You shared in His death and in dying with Him the “old man” (your existence in the old Adam) died—Romans 6:2-7.
Don’t stay away from Him. Return to Him if you’ve lost your way. Come to Him if you haven’t done that before. Died with and in Him and know you have died to all the sin and death that is part of being one with the “old man” (see Romans 5:12-21).
Say to Him, “Make me!”
God bless you.

GOD & HIS SHARED HISTORY

The central character in the Bible is God! But we only know that because the God of the Bible made that known to us humans and He made it known in ways that humans could receive it.
The God of the Bible is a God who cares profoundly for humans and (as Barth would put it) He didn’t will to be God without us and that’s why the human race came into being and continues to exist (Acts 17:25, 28). Furthermore, He did not want His history to be His and ours to be ours. He wanted it to be a shared history. In all this the love of God for humanity is made clear and that desire and sovereign will of God comes to it full revelation and its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus.
It has been and is the decision of the Triune God that the One we have heard spoken of as “The Word” is the member of the Godhead that would become incarnate and become known to us as Jesus of Nazareth. That one, said Paul, was raised out from among the dead “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29 and note John 16:13-14). And that must be true in the pulpit or behind the lectern—wherever— Jesus must be given the preeminence, certainly by teachers and the Covenant People at large.
But shouldn’t we speak about humans and their human life and troubles and their sorrow?
We should indeed but it should always be spoken of within the narrative of God’s self-revelation and overarching purpose. Without that there is no fuller sense of the glory of being a human—there is no fuller sense of our sinful perversion of our identity, there is no fuller sense of our loss, of how far we’ve fallen or how evil our evil as a human family is.
Nor can believers get the fuller sense of what they’re singing when they sing, “A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord.” We underestimate the strength of the entrenched satanic power that we turned loose and so we underestimate the complexity and glory of the rescue presuming we’re allowed to remain human rather than turned into puppets. And the glory and hope-filled mystery when redeemed humanity comes to be like Jesus Christ (1 John 3:1, 3; Philippians 3:20-21) cannot be richly visioned if Jesus is sidelined. Let me say it again: these matters and more cannot be faced with realism and assurance and living hope if Jesus is not permitted to be the center!
“Therefore as dear children, be imitators of God and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The wording in that text isn’t troublesome but because of the nature of things it does not say enough. There can be no development of “imitate God” or “walk in love as Christ has loved us.” For some of that we must go to other texts but even the other texts cannot tell the entire Story. Nothing can tell the entire Story for it is too complex, too rich and too much that is beyond us at present.
Nevertheless, in light of the Holy Scriptures and the embodiment of God in Jesus Christ, God speaks to us in living people who by God’s grace learn the thought, speech and behavior of love. And when believers choose the image of Jesus Christ they have the confirmation that they are indeed (though not flawlessly) imitating God.
That is a living response to God! But the living response to God will not flesh out the same for every human. In some areas of life there will come a clear cut “NO” from God that will accompany a comprehensive “Yes” from Him. This means there will be vast areas of life that are common to sincere believers in Jesus Christ and the divine “NO” will only be in support of the “YES”. But there will not be an exhaustive biblical “blueprint” for living. Teachers who wish to micromanage the lives of believers are injurious. But the divine “NO” in “You will not have a god before Me!” is a non-negotiable and it’s a non-negotiable not only because God merits that devotion, not only because the gods are a human and destructive creation but because without Him there is no fullness of life and He longs for humans to have just that!
Heinrich Heine after quoting the Homeric description of the feasting gods, says:
“Then suddenly approached, panting, a pale Jew with drops of blood on his brow, with a crown of thorns on his head, and a great cross laid on his shoulders: and he threw the cross on the high table of the gods so that the golden cups tottered and the gods become dumb and pale, and grew even paler till at last they melted away into vapor.”
The gods exist! But they exist the way hallucinations, illusions, delusions and other mental constructs exist. They have no existence apart from us; we create them and then depend on them for our existence. We did that kind of thing when we were children riding on our stick horses. We made and were holding up the horses and carried away by the game we were in we acted as though, and even half-believed that, the horses were supporting us.
How I live out my life in response to God will be like yours in crucial and inevitable ways but it can never be just like yours nor should we expect it to be. (Believers who marry close doors to many wonderful things and open doors to many other lovely things. The lives of the married and the unmarried will diverge remarkably and they will live out their response to God in varying ways.)
Once more, however you live out your life in the uniqueness of your person-hood  and life-situation means it will differ from mine but as believers in the Lord Jesus we pledge to love Him, imitate Him and walk in covenant love with one another.
The Heine quotation ends like this:
“Anyone who sees his god suffering finds it easier to endure his own pain. The merry gods of the past, who felt no pain, did not know either how poor tortured human beings feel, and a poor person in desperation could have no real confidence in them. They were holiday gods; people danced around them merrily, and could only thank them. For this reason they never received whole-hearted love. To receive whole-hearted love one must suffer. Compassion is the last sacrament of love; it may be love itself. Therefore of all the gods who ever lived, Christ is the god who has been loved the most.”
(Taken from: “Die Stadt Lucca” The City of Lucca “Reisebilder, Bd. 4” Travel pictures, Vol 4 1831.)

(Holy One, confront us with your wonderful self that we might be shaped by Your presence and come to know what is Your good and perfect and acceptable will for ourselves as part of your much -loved Covenant People. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)