THE TORTURE TREE & SINGING CRICKETS

The late vehement atheist Christopher Hitchens didn’t at all mind saying that the liked the poetry of GK Chesterton. I like that though I’m certain that Hitchens wouldn’t have cared whether I did or didn’t. Hitchens (who was shaped by more experiences than even he knew) marched to the drumbeat he heard. I don’t know how many streams feed our human convictions—life is all too complex to pretend we know a LOT about it—but there was something about the bitter Hitchens that I found appealing. I had the same experience with Carl Sagan, atheist and astronomer. I don’t find Dennett or Harris or Dawkins appealing—I wonder how many streams feed my distaste for them?

I know this, and I like it: Hitchens and I like Chesterton’s poetry and though I have no grounds whatever to support what I think, I like to think that Hitchens knew this poem and liked the gallantry he saw in it. Yes, even the unselfish gallantry in it! Hitchens had little patience for people like me because his convictions differed so radically from my own and because he looked for the wrong kind of “proof” for my faith. The kind of “proof” he sought from believers like me wouldn’t support his own faith. But that’s another discussion and besides, atheist or not, I think that the gospel about God blessed Christopher Hitchens with qualities I’d like to have in me or more marked in me than they are. Without going into a long discussion about how God does that I just wish to claim that Hitchens’ liking of GK’s poetry is one of the “proofs” that He did.

It appears beyond doubt that Lord Byron lived a truly libertine life though some like Richard Edgcumbe disputed it. Still, there were things about him that must be admired—well things I can’t help but admire. Will Durant the noted historian (and agnostic) quotes Leslie Marchand who has Byron’s chief physician say, right close to the end, that the poet said he did not know what to believe in this world. Then, “I heard him say, ‘Shall I sue for mercy?’ “and after a long pause, ‘Come, come; no weakness! Let’s be a man to the end.’ ” I wish to believe that Byron at that point was telling himself that he should take what was coming to him. Being an accomplished literary man Hitchens would know of that and it would appeal to him as the kind of thing one should do—live and died by one’s convictions. Hitchens’ bitter anger and anguish-bring disease would add bitterness to his long-held atheistic convictions. He was only 62! So young. (Bless me, I can hardly believe that Hitchens died late in 2011, where did those nearly seven years go to?)

Chesterton had only just left 62 behind when he died in 1936 (the year before I was born). The poem that follows is the gallantry of a firm believer in God and a very fine man but I find it easy to believe that the confrontational Hitchens would have admired the unselfish nature of the gallantry Chesterton expresses in the poem. There is so much in the poem but I want to focus on the non-whimpering message in it—not as a rebuke, but as an inspiration. I want to be like this myself and I can’t but believe that others wish it also. Staying with the same thought but making it clear that Chesterton and Hitchens were light years apart there’s this in GK’s poem, The Deluge. Noah is in the middle of planetary chaos (by which God made Himself present against moral evil that was worldwide) standing upright in unremitting storm and tsunamis with a cup of wine in his hand and looking skyward and saying:

Though giant rains put out the sun,
Here stand I for a sign.
Though earth be filled with waters dark,
My cup is filled with wine.
Tell to the trembling priests that here
Under the deluge rod,
One nameless, tattered, broken man
Stood up, and drank to God.

I took my cue from the poem and wrote a little book that Random House picked up. I called it Celebrating the Wrath of God. You might think it worth reading. Okay, that’s the commercial over. I didn’t intend to mention the book when I began writing this piece. It just happened.

I admire gallantry where I think I see it (don’t we all?) whether it’s in a heretic or an atheist—whoever! But I particularly admire it when I see those who’ve trusted their lives to God and won’t back away from it even in the middle of personal chaos when they’re sharing pain along with the human family—they didn’t negotiate for exemption from hurt and they don’t get it. To truly commit to Him in faith against all the powers of unbelief, cruelty and utter selfishness and do it cheerfully and without apology is heroic! I was going to offer some help to you who are reading this with the poem but I’ve changed my mind. Read this superb thing that follows. Work at it if you need to—it’s worth it. And if you wish to, write me at holywoodjk@aol.com giving me your response and/or interpretation. Line 8 is wondrous and the last 2 lines can leave you happily dazed for a good while.

This much, O heaven—if I should brood or rave,
Pity me not; but let the world be fed,
Yea, in my madness if I strike me dead,
Heed you the grass that grows upon my grave.
If I dare snarl between this sun and sod,
Whimper and clamor, give me grace to own,
In sun and rain and fruit in season shown,
The shining silence of the scorn of God.
Thank God the stars are set beyond my power,
If I must travail in a night of wrath,
Thank God my tears will never vex a moth,
Nor any curse of mine cut down a flower.
Men say the sun was darkened: yet I had
Thought it beat brightly, even on—Calvary:
And He that hung upon the Torturing Tree
Heard all the crickets singing, and was glad.

(Holy Father bring us and keep us close to your heart and expect much of us for you have given us much to give—each in our own way and all of us as one. This prayer in the One who hanging on a Torture Tree could still hear the crickets sing.)

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS,  CHESTERTON,  GALLANTRY

 

 

BOOK OF REVELATION STORYLINE

This is a brief overview of how the book of Revelation hangs together. There are some additional remarks in other pieces I mean to put up (God enabling) that offer some support for some of the assumptions that are made in what follows. SIBI in Lubbock TX puts out a commentary on Revelation that I wrote a long time ago. I think it’s worth reading. Whatever its flaws it’s as good as others I’ve read. Here we go with this (too) hurried survey.

Revelation speaks eternal truths in a temporal setting. It is a letter written to seven churches that existed during the Roman Empire. These seven specific congregations represent what was and is true about all the churches that go to make up the Body of Christ. They live in a world of corruption and oppression and they themselves are infected to more or less degree by the world in which they live.

But they have this: they belong to God and have been called to live to the glory of God and rehearse the truth about the God who has revealed himself to the world in and as Jesus Christ, the Lord of a new creation and Lord of all.
In this book, the Christ who abides in the church (chapter 1) is seen in conflict with the Dragon who abides in the Roman Empire (chapter 13 and elsewhere). The specific historical events in which that conflict is focused are to come to pass shortly because the time for them is near (1:1,3 and 22:6,10, compared with Daniel 8:26). John chooses out (or rather, is given) a specific slice of history and that slice is invested with meaning and significance. What is that meaning and significance? John is told something like: “See in it and tell to the church, ‘Your enemy is ruthless and powerful and satanic but I am all-powerful and your enemy rises only to go to his doom’.”
Other events were going on in other distant parts of the world; events just as tumultuous in their social and political consequences as those going on in the Roman Empire. But it is the slice of history that John and his contemporaries are acquainted with that God chooses to declare eternal and assuring truth. God reigns!

The eternal and assuring truth is not told in prose (as it is, say, in Mark or 1 Samuel or Kings) but in images, pictures. Many of the images are borrowed from the OT and, among other things, they serve to give visible and earthly events a spiritual and cosmic dimension. There’s more in what you see than what you see.
In chapter 1 the living Christ reveals himself to John as the faithful witness and ruler of the kings of the earth and as the redeemer and the one that lives in the church. He commissions John to record everything he has seen—even the initial vision and the commission to write.
Chapters 2–3. He then turns to the seven churches and addresses their needs (commendation and encouragement, rebuke and consolation, warning and assurance). He prepares them for the coming conflict. Throughout the book there is constant comfort and assurance offered precisely because the enemy is so powerful and cruel and frightening.
Chapters 4 and 5 lay down the truth that sets the tone for the whole book. This truth is meant to shape the response of the church in the totality of its life. It will remind the church who alone is worthy of worship and who governs all the powers that exist in the world. Chapter 4 shows that the throne that rules the world is not in Rome, Italy but in heaven and chapter 5 shows that at the center of that throne is a Lamb that has been slain (by Rome, no less). It is not lying down but standing alive again.
There is a little book in chapter 5 (the immediate destiny of the saints) that is completely sealed (with seven seals) and which can be opened only by Jesus Christ for He alone is worthy. Seals conceal and protect from tampering.
In chapter 6 six of the seals are torn off, revealing the conquering Christ, God’s four sore judgments (war, famine, pestilence and wild animals—a common list in the OT—Ezekiel 14:21, and chapter, then the appeal of the slaughtered righteous and the judgment coming against the oppressive world.
Chapter 7 gives the assurance that in this judgment the people of God (pictured as 144,000 Jews) are exempted from the judgment. (Not exempted from suffering but from God’s wrath against the dragon and Rome his instrument on this occasion). The Lamb’s followers are sealed against the judgment (see Ezekiel 9:1-6). But does the sealing work? The last half of the chapter says it does and we see the 144,000 under a different image coming through the tribulation. They are now described in terms of the celebration at a Jewish Tabernacle Feast. The Feast of Tabernacles was the most joyous of all Jewish feasts. It was a celebration of God protecting and sustaining Israel through their awful wilderness journeys and it was a promise of future providence.
Chapters 8 & 9. With the tearing off of the seventh seal we’re introduced to the seven trumpets. In the OT, trumpets called the nation to attention and were sounded as warnings. This was common throughout the ancient world. The trumpets are warning judgments and not the full outpouring of God’s wrath on the impenitent and oppressive world. As imaged the warning judgments are modeled on the OT plagues on Egypt. Certain portions of the earth, waters and heavens are affected but we’re told that the worshipers of evil are unrepentant and like Pharaoh and his cronies they refuse to give God glory.
Chapters 10-12 are more comfort since we’re told that the enemy still fiercely resists God’s judgments. John’s commission is renewed and the church is pictured in chapter 11 under the image of two witnesses. The OT has numerous illustrations of two witnesses (Moses & Aaron, Elijah & Elisha, Zerubbabel & Joshua) and the church in 11 do the wonders that they can do while holding forth the word of God as they did. The picture of these witnesses reminds us that even during troubled times they are unstoppable and that even when it appears they are defeated they really are not. In chapter 12 the people of God are seen under two images: a glorious Woman (the corporate whole) and her children (the individual members). She is driven into the wilderness and there protected (as Israel and Elijah were).
Chapter 13. The chapters of assurance and call to faithful commitment are needed because the enemy is indeed power-filled, savage and satanic. Chapter 13 introduces us to two bestial images of the Roman Empire. The first is Rome as a military power (the sea beast) and instead of honoring God they choose to submit to and extend the authority of the Dragon, the Serpent and the Devil. The second (earth) beast is Rome as a perverted religious power that serves to bind all the nations to Rome in a way that goes beyond what mere force can accomplish. The religious structures of Rome are another way of expressing her power and that power is satanic. A third image of Rome is presented in chapters 17 and 18 where Rome is both a woman and a city. There it is Rome as the world’s leading commercial power that is supported by the military might of the sea beast.
Chapters 4—12 and 14—19 have huge chunks of praise to God and these sections sandwich chapter 13 where the world worships the Roman beast. This is a central truth hammered home again and again: worship God and God alone. See 19:10 and 22:8!
Chapters 14—15. In light of the frightening images that reflect the beasts and the world that worships the beast, chapters 14—15 speak comfort and courage again. And in a series of announcements (like newspaper headlines) they proclaim assurance to the people of God that Rome and all its allies are to be destroyed. These chapters preview what will happen in later chapters (like the battle of Armageddon, the destruction of the great city and the like).
As the seventh seal contained the seven trumpets so the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls of wrath. Taken in their entirety the seven bowls complete the outpouring of God’s wrath on the satanic kingdom and all that support it. The description of the battle of Armageddon (remember 1:1,3 and 22:6,10) is between those that come from the sunrise and cross water on dry ground and the two beast and the armies that support them. This is another way to describe the people of God against Rome. No one in scripture crosses water on dry ground but the people of God (see other pieces on this). The outpouring of the seven bowls are briefly described and remind us of the plagues against Egypt when they were the power that oppressed God’s people and opposed God’s purposes in the world. Aspects of what the seven bowls cover are developed in chapters 18—20. (See the notes on the identity of the woman and the heads and kings in chapter 17.)
Chapter 17—18 speak of Rome as a great Prostitute that all the kings and merchants of the world commit fornication with. She is the city on seven hills that rules the world in John’s day and she is supported by her military might. Her commercial nature is demonstrated in the almost tedious description of her as the world’s warehouse. Like so many other nations she destroys herself by inner division and she goes does in flames (chapter 18). This is Rome’s destruction as viewed by one set of images.
Just prior to the description of the battle of Armageddon the Lamb and his people have a celebration under the image of marriage feast. In a marriage feast both parties fully identify with one another and rejoice in one another. All this is in chapter 19 where the battle is then fought between the satanic empowered beasts and their allies and the Christ and His white-horsed followers. In chapter 16 where the battle was previewed it was between the beasts and their armies and those from the sunrise that crossed water on dry ground. Here is it between the beasts and their armies and Christ and his people.
The battle ends with the utter destruction of the two beasts, the death of their allies and the imprisonment of the dragon.
Chapter 20 describes the defeat of the Dragon. It is described as a 1,000-year imprisonment. This 1,000-year relates only to his use of Rome and it describes his defeat in that venture as utter and complete.
John now sees a great battlefield with a host of dead people scattered over it. In the war against the beasts many had been faithful to Christ until death. John sees many of the dead on the battlefield come to life and take their places with others and reign with Christ. Not all on the battlefield come to life—only those who have died for Christ. The rest of the dead had been allies of Rome and they remain dead. John sees what he calls a “first” resurrection and that’s a resurrection to life. He speaks of another resurrection that is not unto life but unto a second death.
The entire 1,000-year series of images refer to Rome and its allies and the Dragon that inspired the anti-God venture. The Dragon is bound a thousand years, the allies of the beasts lie dead for a thousand years and the righteous reign in triumph for a thousand years. Those all relate to the conflict with Rome and describe it from different angles. (Do those who die for Christ in the conflict lose? No! How are we told that? In an image, they resurrect and reign in triumph with Christ.)
Now assured that Rome loses, the question arises: “Can we always be assured of triumph?” That is answered (as it is in Ezekiel 38—39) with another image. Satan is given another chance, raises an army from the four corners of the earth, comes against God’s people and is utterly destroyed. The immediate future is secure (Rome is going down) and the entire future is secure (any enemy, however huge, will go down).
Chapters 21-22 Now that we know that Rome and the world she shaped has been overcome, in chapters 21—22 we have a picture of a new world, a new heaven and earth. The people of God are described as a glorious and indestructible city (not a wreck) and a bride glorious dressed (not in tattered clothing). The Roman world of oppression and evil has been destroyed and a new world where God’s righteousness has been vindicated fills out the entire drama.

                                 Triumph & Loss in Revelation

The future victory of the redeemed is described in numerous images. Marriage suppers, a City 1,4000 miles high, wide and broad, made of jewels and precious things. There is an Edenic garden with lines of Trees of Life with leaves that heal the diseases of the nations, enthronement for 1,000 years and access to a River of Life (and numerous other images in the book).
The fate of the defeated armies of the Dragon and his Beasts is to be trampled in a winepress until the blood is a river six feet deep and one hundred and eighty miles long (14:17-20). Their fate is death, resurrection to a second death, ceaseless burning in a lake of fire (which in 14:9-11 is located in the presence of the Lamb) and various other things. Speech borrowed from Isaiah 34 & 66.

To take either of these two composite pictures as the actual description of what is yet ahead and build a doctrine on it that people must receive or be called heretics makes no sense to me. I don’t think the Revelation passages that speak of a lake of fire should be used to support the doctrine of eternal conscious torture of the unforgiven. I think that the battle in Revelation is Christ and the Church against the Dragon and Rome. The extended picture of Rome’s defeat, which includes warning plagues, followed by a full outpouring of wrath, wasn’t meant to be understood in any literal fashion. I don’t think we’re supposed to take the judgment scenes literally either. These are all images of how an anti-God, anti-holiness, anti-life tyrannical kingdom was to go down before a God of holiness, life and power. It spoke to the church in the first century and speaks to every generation that follows.

To build a picture of heavenly bliss or hellish torture in the future on the details given in these images is to miss the mark completely.

Book of Revelation     Battle of Armageddon

THIS WE CAN BE SURE OF

It wasn’t limitless power that moved Him to create; it was love!
Limitless wisdom wasn’t what moved Him to create. It was love!
It wasn’t indisputable sovereignty that moved Him to empty Himself. It was love!
His personal need didn’t move Him to seek friendship. Our need did!
If in Jesus’ life here we truly saw God, it wasn’t punishing that was on His mind.
If on the cross we saw God’s heart we saw what it always was and always will be!
God didn’t punish us with alienation. Sin is alienation—we chose alienation!
In love He came to end it! He never wanted it and He doesn’t want it now!
Almighty God seeks our friendship!

 

AND I SAW A NEW HEAVEN…

The book of Revelation is: GOD against the Dragon
It is: The Lord Jesus and His Church (City) against Rome (city of 17 & 18)
Revelation is about worlds in collision!
The saints are “those that dwell in heaven” and the Dragon’s people are those “that dwell on earth.” Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:14, twice; 14:6; 17:2;—12:8, 12; 13:6; 19:1, 14.
The Dragon gives power to Rome (13:4) and it shapes the world (by armies, false religion and commerce (13:7, 11-16; 17:1-7; 18:9-19). The sea beast is Rome from a military perspective that supports the whore of 17 which is Rome as the world’s trading center and the earth beast which is Rome from a religious perspective (it’s called the false prophet (19:20). Since it dominates and shapes the world the world becomes “a world of the ungodly.” Compare 2 Peter 2:5
Rome claimed to be unstoppable and took the name of the eternal city and like boasting  Assyria, and Babylon, Persia and Greece in Daniel they “proved” the world was theirs by domination and the nations bowing to them. (See Isaiah 10:5-11 & chapter 36.)
TOLD IN PICTURES: Rev in chapters 16 & 19, the battle of Armageddon—(Megiddo, where so many ancient battles were fought) has Christ and His followers on white horses defeating Rome and its allies and therefore defeating Satan. The vision has Rome destroyed. So in his use of Rome Satan is thoroughly, utterly defeated (he doesn’t suffer a set-back). Chapter 20:1-3 has him locked away in the abyss rather going into the fire. His thousand year imprisonment images his total defeat in Rome’s defeat.
STILL IN IMAGES: The next scene is the battlefield. John sees mass of corpses, then he sees many of them rise from the dead to sit on thrones with others and with Jesus Christ.  They reign a thousand years while Satan is imprisoned 1,000 years. It has nothing to do with length of time. It is a way of stressing his utter defeat and their utter triumph.
This is “the first” resurrection John sees and it is only for those who have died in the service of the Lamb (20:4-6). To die in Christ is to triumph, the image says. The picture of a resurrection is not new. See Ezekiel 37:1-14 and the glory and unity that follows in the rest of the chapter under “David”.
STILL IN IMAGES: Then John sees the rest of the dead who lay dead for 1,000 years coming to life only to be judged and die again (20:5, 12). That is the 2nd resurrection implied by the words “the first resurrection”. Those in the 2nd are those who made themselves allies of the Dragon and they die again and join the beasts in a lake of fire–a 2nd death. (See Isaiah 34:8-10 for the image of a lake of fire; God’s judgment on Edom and enemies of Israel. See also Isaiah 66:22-24 and note carefully the imaged context AND what they see! See also Daniel 7:1-11.THESE ARE ALL PICTURES and John uses them in Revelation to tell of Rome’s fate in coming against the Church. (Note how he made use of the Egyptian plagues throughout the book and note how he makes them even worse but they cannot be actual historical occurrences. They speak of Rome in bizarre dress the way they spoke to God’s enemy Egypt in historical occurrence. And carefully notice 22:18-19 along with 22:6-10.
Satan is utterly defeated in using Rome! The picture of his being locked down for a 1,000 says that. Those who died in Christ IN THE PICTURE reign 1,000 years, those who died in the Dragon IN THE PICTURE lie dead 1,000, then rise and perish forever. Three uses of 1,000 years to tell three distinct but immediately related truths. Satan is not utterly destroyed after Rome’s defeat so he can be used to give a final word from God.
But might there be other enemies after Rome?  IN ANOTHER PICTURE: Satan is released to get an unbeatable army that is annihilated without even a battle(20:7-10). That says he can never win, no matter how big the army. See Ezekiel 38-39 where John gets his PICTURE from. He uses it for the same purpose.
Israel had plenty of fierce enemies but God brought them safely through (Ezekiel 37). Yes, but what of the future? The future us secure! Gog & Magog is numberless but see chapters 38–39. So it is in Revelation. God defeats Rome and assures the Church that the future is secure. Gog & Magog are destroyed & Satan enters the lake of obliteration.
Rome’s world is shredded (see Isaiah 13, 34, Jeremiah 4, Zephaniah 1 and elsewhere and see evil worlds uncreated) and a new world appears IN PICTURES. In chapter Rev. 21:1. The Roman “world” has been destroyed and Rome (city) is burned in chapter 18. Now IN A PICTURE John sees the persecuted city (the Church) comes down from heaven (not up from the earth) looking like a bride (21:2). The angel says he wants to show John THE BRIDE, THE WIFE OF THE LAMB (21:9) and he does that by taking him to see THE GLORIOUS CITY. (21:10-21). THAT’S A PICTURE of the triumphant Church that John gets from Isaiah The city four-square is not heaven! It’s an image of a glorious city with walls 1400 miles high; it’s NOT heaven. It’s the triumphant Church (under Christ) living in a “new creation”. See Isaiah 11 & 66 and the closing of Ezekiel 40–end. These are images of a secure and glorious future painted in terms that speak to people in ways people would think of as glorious.
These images tell of worlds in collision. again and again and again they’re given to us in Holy Scripture only we don’t “get it”. It’s only when we get a new and enriched vision of God and who we humans are meant to be that we begin to see our tragic state. The 1st WW ended, joy, joy. We provoked a 2nd WW, it ended with Hitler’s defeat, joy, joy….Korea,  Viet Nam, Berlin Wall comes down, joy, joy…….. Evil worlds are brought down (by God, in all the complex ways He does this) and a new world appears (Revelation 21, “there was no more sea”—which is where the sea beast rose from and see Daniel 7). And then because we don’t see it as the work of God we humans glorify our tanks, bombs, planes, wisdom, economy, sanctions, forms of government and such and we create another “world”.
Jesus said to one of Rome’s powerful representatives: “My kingdom is not of this world. It’s not like yours. I don’t wade through blood or ‘make a desert and call it peace’. “
But there’s a new world coming! We may not know what is coming but we know WHO is coming so we don’t need to know what is coming!
BOOK OF REVELATION     FIRST RESURRECTION

I WONDER WHAT HAPPENS TO IT!

There’s more than one way to construe “rules” or “laws” or “commandments”. Reflect for a moment on the “consequences” of these few verses: Matthew 23:23; Mark 2:27; Matthew 12:7. A “law” will always retain that “legal” complexion until it becomes the heart’s desire of someone you love and who loves you and then something happens to it. I wonder what is it that happens to it!

Franky and Jennifer grew up together. They went to the same school, shared some of the same classes, outside interests and became good friends. They not only admired and respected each other, they began to miss each other when the other wasn’t around, and to worry when the other was sick. Nobody was surprised when the two close friends announced they were going to get married.

They had talked a lot about what they wanted out of life and high on the grand list was, “a warm, loving family”. How would they achieve that? Well, they’d both been part of families that gave them clues—positive and negative—how to go about it; they were reasonably well-read and though they were young, they weren’t dumb. They’d seen and heard much that would act as groundwork on which to build. So they set up home.
A few years later the babies began to arrive. For all the best reasons the two of them found a lot of pleasure and deep joy in the children and, of course, they were committed to holding, feeding, clothing, bathing, loving and providing them with what they needed.
The babies earned nothing, they didn’t need to—the parental love was unconditional and unashamed.
As the time slipped by they laughed and rejoiced at every sign of progress in the children. Progress they nurtured and encouraged. There was David’s first time to hold the spoon for himself (even got some food to his mouth), Rachel’s first tottering steps, Andrew’s successful (and unaided) first read. There was the tying of shoes, the brushing of teeth, the making of beds, the putting on of socks, a bath all by one’s self (with nervous parents calling in every thirty seconds, “Are you all right?”) and other social challenges which grew more difficult and more complex as the years slipped by.
There were house-rules, of course! No one was allowed to play around with electric sockets or sharp knives, scream at someone, use bad language they heard at school or maybe on TV. There was bed by 8.30 and lights out by nine, there was homework to be done (usually) before a favored TV program was watched and there were chores to be done—before or after play didn’t matter—but they had to be done.
The rules weren’t created to enslave, narrow or deprive the children. The opposite was true!
The children learned the behavior that pleased or displeased their parents but it never entered their minds that Franky and Jennifer loved them because they kept the rules. And it never entered their minds that when the rules were sometimes broken that the parents stopped loving them. If someone had suggested that their parents only loved them when and because they kept the house-rules, the children would have scoffed! They knew they sometimes disappointed or displeased their parents; they even knew what it was to be disciplined but it was utter rubbish to suggest that Franky and Jennifer loved them only when they did what they were told. That may have been the case in other homes but not in this home!
The two older children noticed that the “lights out by nine” rule didn’t apply in Rachel’s room when she developed a real fear of the dark. That made sense. The “lights out by nine” rule was for their benefit, to allow them to get enough sleep but since Rachel had become terrified of the dark, she wasn’t getting any sleep at all. In Andrew and Robert’s room the rule still applied because it was achieving for them what the parents were aiming at.
One response to Rachel’s fear might have been, “Rules are made to be kept no matter what the circumstances, so, nightmares, cold sweats and endless tears notwithstanding, the lights go out at nine.” But that would have been a poor response.
Franky and Jennifer would insist that “the law was made for the child and not the child for the law.” They would leave the light on while they tried to help eliminate the anxiety.
Since the law was introduced for the child’s benefit it’s assumed by the parents that the child is more important than the law. To insist that the rule be kept when it’s clearly contrary to the child’s welfare is to regard the rule as more important than the child and it would violate the parental purpose for the child.
It wouldn’t help the other children either to see their brother or sister mauled by a law which was supposed to be a blessing. Parental credibility would be under siege and the relationship under threat. This helped the kids to see that the rules weren’t the fundamental realities; that behind the rules was the will of the parents for each child’s good. They were learning not only the importance of rules because by a wise application of them the parents were teaching them the place of rules.
As they grew older the parents changed the “to bed” and “lights out” times. That made sense to the children as well. At five years old, in bed by 8.30 seems sensible but at fifteen it isn’t geared for their age and maturity. (A maturity which had been helped along earlier by rules such as an 8.30 bed time and the childrens’ glad submission to them.) They couldn’t always understand why some of the rules were made, even when they asked and the parents explained but the children trusted Franky and Jennifer and supposed that they would understand better later.
And there were times when the rules didn’t suit, even when they did understand the whys and wherefores of them. Sometimes they broke them and paid the price of discipline. For example, any eating was to be done in the kitchen at meal or snack times and there was to be no eating done in bed. (Too many children had nearly choked while they ate lying down.) No one was tarred and feathered if they didn’t resist the temptation to a snack in bed but there was some sort of discipline ranging from a stern rebuke to loss of privileges.
There were other house rules that hardly needed mentioned because they would have been such a radical departure from family values and aims. Physical abuse of one another, marked verbal or emotional abuse would all have been taken as serious crimes against the family. This was clear from the way persistent squabbling was handled, squabbling that led to some pushing and unbridled speech. It was made plain too by the frequent discussions about some TV programs, news and fiction, as well as experiences at school.
The very idea that someone in a fit of temper would set light to someone’s room or hit them with a sharp instrument made coming in fifteen minutes late or smuggling some biscuits to bed appear to be mild transgressions indeed.
This showed that while all house rules were to be kept, some were more important than others. It would have been nonsense to view every house rule as of equal importance. The parents made it clear to the children that there were more important and less important matters in “the law of the house”.
I could easily leave you the impression that what the Wilson family did was spend their lives thinking about rules and laws. This is far from the truth!
The proper response to the rules of the home is a wise loving commitment to the family and that’s what was nurtured in the Wilson house. They didn’t go about thinking of “rules”. They didn’t always consciously think of their being a family—because of their shaping they simply understood that they were and much of the time they lived out their place in this loving family without analyzing the situation.
The rules were seen as servants to the family unit. They were seen as protecting, promoting, defining and revealing what it meant to be a loving family and not just a collection of free-standing individuals.
I mentioned earlier that a generally wise rule was set aside when Rachel’s need was not only not being met by it, she was being injured by it. And the change of bed-time and lights out was made when the rule no longer reflected the conditions/age and new needs of the children.
Let me make the point again: only the rules changed—the aim was maintained. If the rules were contrary to the family’s well being, they wouldn’t have been made in the first place. If due to changes in circumstances the wise rules no longer gained what the parents aimed for, they were either altered or removed. But as long as the rules served the grand purpose for which they existed, they stood and were gladly obeyed by all the family.
The rules didn’t determine the over-arching aim, the rules expressed and were there to support and help achieve the over-arching aim: fullness of life for all within a loving family relationship.
Because “life” within a family unit had change and difference written into it, many rules were understood to relate only to specific sets of circumstances and specific times.
David, the older son, noticed that his parents held him more strictly accountable than his brother and sister. He would hear Franky say to him on occasions when all three of them had been disobedient, “You should know better.” At first he didn’t understand or like this but as he got older he understood, and though he smarted under it at times, he felt good about it. It meant they saw him as more mature and so expected more of him. (He was also pleased because his maturity brought privileges with it. He was free from some of the restrictions the younger ones were still subject to.)
Andrew noticed that while they all had so many things in common, each of them had their own roles in the family. For example, David wasn’t the dad and wasn’t expected to carry that responsibility. Rachel wasn’t the mother and he wasn’t David. And dad wasn’t Andrew so he didn’t have school-work to do. Of course there were jobs that the whole family pitched in to do, jobs that weren’t exclusively assigned to anyone (dishwashing and clearing up would illustrate the point) and it was OK for David to give Rachel advice, as Jennifer would do. Just the same, while there was plenty of dialogue and everyone got a fair hearing, it was clear that some responsibilities couldn’t be passed off to someone else.
There was no competition in the home to see who kept the most laws or who kept them best. Nobody assessed himself or anyone else on the basis of the number of laws kept or broken. That would have been too simple and it would have missed the whole spirit of the family. Franky and Jennifer would have been appalled if the children ever felt that that was what the parents wanted.
“No,” they would have said, “If we gave you that impression we’ve misled you. The keeping or the breaking of the rules is not the bottom line here. The final issue is: are we committed to each other in love, seeking one another’s joy and best interests?”

If Rachel came to Franky and Jennifer every day with a “laundry list” of rules kept and broken, seeking approval from her parents and seeking to be seen as the ”child most committed to the family”—if she did that, they would set her down and made some things clear.
Because there could never be enough rules to cover every conceivable life-situation, where guidelines were needed, the parents made new rules. For example, when they went on vacation, they faced new conditions (crowds, fair-grounds, river rides, and the like) so new rules were created that weren’t necessary at home. In a large fairground Franky said, “If we get separated for more than thirty minutes, we go to the entrance of that big marquee marked CENTRAL, okay?”
This was a new rule but it served the same purpose that all the other rules served: the protection, enrichment and care of the family. And because this was true, the whole family willingly subjected itself to the new rule. Nobody wanted any member of the family to get lost or hurt or be subjected to needless anxiety.
Safely back home that rule was forgotten while family commitment remained as fresh and vital as ever.
The fact that new rules had to be created because they were on vacation confirmed to Franky and Jennifer what they had always realized: it isn’t possible to have enough rules to cover all situations—even if they had thought that was desirable—which they certainly didn’t. Besides, in having enough rules would mean there would have to be rules on how to apply rules.
Let’s suppose, one of the rules is: you will be back in the house no later than 10 p.m. On winter evenings. If unintentionally one of the children came in at 10.05 that would be one case but what if one deliberately chose not to make it home by 10? He arrives back in at 11.15 to worried parents who are about to verbally reprimand him and he tells them of a friend who was hit by a passing motor-cyclist and needed to go to the emergency room. He could have made it home by ten but deliberately chose to ignore the “curfew”.
Franky and Jennifer would be pleased. That sort of decision could be fitted into the spirit of the family. It shows the maturity and compassion that the parents are aiming to create in the children. In this case, the breaking of the rule honored, and was intended to honor, the parents and the family (“my parents would want me to do this”).
To deliberately choose to break the rule to spite the parents, to exercise pride, to “do what I want to do” would have been a different kind of decision altogether.
It was in areas like these that Franky and Jennifer realized with special clarity that they were shaping hearts and lives and not just handing down laws. There were occasions when the children were older that the parents were away and decisions had to be made without their input.
How could the children know, know for sure, what the parents would have wanted under some serious circumstances? Well, they couldn’t know for certain just what they would have said, but they had been shaped by their spirits, wisdom and values so that the decisions they came to by themselves weren’t completely without parental input. There were some options which just weren’t possible for the children in the light of their raising. Of course they could have physically carried them out, but they couldn’t have done it and thought they would be pleasing to their parents.
And while people who didn’t know the Wilson family perhaps could have suggested other sane options if they had been given the facts, they wouldn’t have been as well qualified to know what would please Franky and Jennifer and fit in with the spirit of the family.
The Wilsons learned as they grew together as a family that life wasn’t a static “thing”—it was dynamic, it was a relationship, not something you could take in your hand or set on a cabinet and admire; not something “finished”. Being a family involved the biological connection (they were all related by “blood”) of course, but it meant being committed to one another, seeking one another’s highest good. It meant giving and receiving, adjusting or standing firm.
It was loving one another!
“Love” wasn’t simply an emotion, it was a “bias” toward each other, a loyal commitment to one another which showed itself in different emotions depending on the circumstances. Sometimes they cried because the others were crying, sometimes they laughed for the same reason. All the emotions that are part of being human and which are constructive were exerted toward each other.

Behavior and emotions were tested by their relation to the over-arching meaning of “a loving family”. They sometimes mistreated each other, forgave and/or confronted each other. The wrongs committed were wrongs that could (and were) gladly tolerated as “within the covenant”.
But there were wrongs that were immediate violations of the “family covenant”. These involved not only the nature of the acts but the attitude which went with the deeds.
Physical violence was always frowned on but this had to be worked out in light of the foundational values and commitment of the family. A slap in anger would have its consequences but prolonged sly beatings or some form of inflicting pain would be in a wholly different category. A disrespectful word against the parents was unacceptable but a day after day stream of obscenities would be something else.
David in his very late teens got caught up in wrong behavior and the wrong company. He became addicted first to booze and then to cocaine. It was the beginning of a nightmare. The whole family pleaded and worked with him over an extended period, tears were shed, practical help was given, money was spent, abuse was endured, advice was sought but all to no avail. It came to a head after about two years, with David seriously injuring Rachel and holding a knife to his mother’s throat, demanding money.
You understand, it wasn’t just what David did that turned harmony into chaos, it was his disposition and attitude toward the parents and the children. The wrongs were not only of a foundational nature, they were done in a spirit which demonstrated that at that point the family meant nothing to him.
With sorrow in the hearts of the two children, the parents removed David from the home as someone no longer capable of/willing to live as part of the family. (For two more years he would come back, abusive, smashing windows, ripping tyres and threatening the family.)
What had been lost was more than the willingness/ability to abide by the rules of the family—what had been lost was loving commitment to the family.
No one was pleased at the loss of David! Every member of the family felt the pain of the loss and wished things were different.
Now and then they’d sit and look at each other. Jennifer, in particular worried about their exclusion of David. Franky assured her that what they did was not loveless. They owed something to Andrew and Rachel as well as to one another. A “conflict of interests” had arisen. Love toward the other children meant offering protection to them and it was that expression of love that led to David’s exclusion. David wasn’t excluded because he was hated or that the family didn’t wish him well or had easily grown tired of him. And it certainly wasn’t that they had lost all feeling toward him. (Even as they discussed the situation they felt pity toward David and wished things could be as they once were, as they had sought them to be and they hoped that excluding him would bring him to his senses when he felt the loss.)
As Franky and Jennifer reflected on the way they pursued family joy and enrichment through the years, they knew they didn’t do everything right. They had made some rules they thought were useful but with hindsight they realized they hadn’t been. But their intentions had always been good; their motivation had always been for the blessing of the family as a family.
As deeply as they loved the children they could never have made rules that were purposed to narrow or hurt or cheat them.
Both parents and children knew that love was not without content. There were certain types of behavior that love wouldn’t approve–there were things love wouldn’t do! On the other hand, there were things love could not avoid doing. It was more than a feeling, it was a commitment and a purpose and it was shaped by a vision of what a deep, rich, full life was.
Later, when the children left home and had families of their own, they would follow the loving guidance of their parents. This wouldn’t mean they would do everything the same way, have the same number of rules, the same emphasis and the like. Their family would be a different family with different needs, dispositions and temperaments and while families would always have things in common and have the same over-arching purpose—changed circumstances would require a different approach to things.

In order for the wise loving parents to remain the same they would have to and want to change!

( We thank you wise, and loving Holy Father that you too are “the same yesterday, today and forever,” and that because that’s true you “change” in order to remain the same. This thanksgiving in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

LOVE      LAWS

 

ON BEING “IN THE KNOW”

A word means what a writer or speaker means it to mean.

It’s really interesting how context reveals the “meaning” of a word or a phrase. The more finely-tuned, the richer our understanding of context, the better we will understand what a writer or speaker is immediately “after”.

We experience the truth of this every day but we do it so easily that we’re rarely aware that we’re doing it. Those with a full awareness of the context are aware of the grammatical/lexical possibilities of the words spoken but they’re also aware of things—truths, realities, events—that others are unaware of. Those not fully “in the know” while they are well aware of the grammatical or lexical possibilities of the words being used don’t “get” what’s going on in the speaker’s mind nor do they “get” what has been generated in the minds of those “in the know” who are part of those being addressed. (This is true even if the person who doesn’t have a full grasp of the context is more accomplished linguistically than those “in the know.”)

For example a teacher whose vocabulary is greater than any of the students may not know how a familiar word is being used intentionally by Peter to goad Rachel.

Again, if I’m angry with someone and he knows it, I may say something with barbs in it that only he can feel and pick up on. To others there’s nothing critical in the remark and this is true even though they hear the same words spoken and with the same tone.

Here’s “John;” he’s certain that “Joe” has slandered him and he speaks to him about it. “Joe” denies any such thing but John isn’t convinced and in a Bible class where the discussion is “the works of the flesh” in Galatians 5 John works in some blunt words about the very great wickedness of slander. Everyone in the room agrees with John’s words but the only one that gets John’s real point (intention) is Joe. It isn’t only John’s words that give the “meaning” (here I’m talking about intention)—Joe gets his purpose, his intention, “what he is really doing with his words.

It’s because intention is at the center of what a person is doing with words that God says Job’s friends did not speak the truth about Him. Well, at least that’s part of the truth. The friends very often say things that are true but they use them to promote an agenda God did not endorse or approve whereas Job said false things in support of known massive underlying truths about God and this particular situation (see Job 42:7).

Context is everything and because (as we experience every day of our lives, perhaps) we can’t get the entire picture out of which speech arises, we must settle for something much less than an exhaustive understanding of the Bible’s message. (That claim, though I believe it’s true needs carefully developed.)

Back to John and Joe. As soon as John utters the word slander it fills with sounds and images and personal feelings that don’t exist on this occasion for anyone other than Joe. Joe knows he is being “got at.” The word in this setting fills with images that are not part of the word itself. Interpretation involves more than the customary lexical and grammatical possibility of the words used.

If “Harold” had brought the matter up it in the class it wouldn’t have generated those additional images in Joe’s mind though it might have made him feel uneasy. It would have been another general and well-known observation about one aspect of moral behavior.

But if Harold is a good friend and confidant of John then his remarks on slandering will probably generate other images and feelings that only Joe experiences. If Harold is clearly not John’s friend what Joe feels may be no more than some uneasiness.

Context is everything though it isn’t everything, if you know what I mean.

(In light of the above we can identify some of a writer’s basic convictions—he fervently promotes X and fiercely opposes Y so unless he contradicts himself or changes his mind we can go to his other writings and use those convictions to help us understand him. What we won’t do is interpret him so as to contradict his stance on X and Y. )

This has massive ramifications for all communication; biblical and otherwise. Speech creates “worlds” in which various feelings, responses, convictions and directions are promoted and pursued and shaped. If John’s words don’t “create” Joe’s world they certainly shape it and shape it forever.  (That point needs careful development.)

BRIEF REMARKS ON REPENTANCE

For NT believers there’s no doubt whatever that without Jesus, His person and work, Sin isn’t dealt with. Believers don’t need to prove again and again what no believer in 2,000 years has doubted or would dream of doubting.
Precisely how Christ “deals with” Sin is still disputed though it’s clear that the evangelical stream currently prefers the penal substitution view which I think is bad doctrine that requires either universalism or limited atonement as in Augustinian Calvinism. (I’ve worked with that some in The Dragon Slayer.) Setting aside atonement theory what’s indisputable for people like us is this: Christ dealt with Sin or it wasn’t dealt with. The Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ is/are the objective realities the NT says are indispensable for reconciliation and so deal with Sin that it is not an indestructible enemy of sinners—Christ conquered it so that sinners can conquer it also [John 12:41;16.33; 1 John 5:4-5]. How He “conquered” it is complex and numerous theories are offered.
This focus on God in Christ is the “objective” side of reconciliation with God. Humanity didn’t provide that—God provided that independent of the human family. [That statement needs developed to be made clear since Jesus didn’t float down out of heaven but was born of a woman who was a child of Adam and Jesus is himself listed as a child of Adam in Luke 3.] All that is true, but it’s only on side of the “reconciliation” story. 2 Corinthians 5:18 insists that “all things” are of God (referencing the things just said) but 5.20 calls (using an aorist imperative) for humans to “be reconciled” to God. “Be you reconciled to God!” It’s clear that while human response isn’t what initiates or is the ground on which humans are reconciled to God, human response is required. The Godward side of the Story is that God does not reckon human sins against them (5.19), what should have kept humans and God alienated from one another is the human record of sinful conduct that rose out of sinful hearts. The man-ward side of the Story is what is rarely dealt with in evangelical teaching/preaching. There is still the fevered fear of “legalism” or “self-salvation”—a fear inherited from Augustine, systematized in Calvinism and Lutheranism.
All talk of earning a right relationship with God is nonsense. A saving relationship with God begins in grace, is sustained by grace and ends with grace! Paul knows that no one earns anything (Titus 3.5 is enough) but the same one who wrote Titus 3.5 wrote 2 Corinthians 5.20. The entire story of reconciliation (in any situation, human or divine) must include the attitude of both parties toward the other. There cannot be “reconciliation” while one chooses and lives out hostility toward the other. To do that is to remain alienated. There is no such thing as “being at one” when in fact one chooses not to be at one. This realignment of the heart with God is the subjective side of “reconciliation/atonement”.
God’s work of reconciliation/atonement is not done when Christ has done what He has done in His earthly ministry—He has yet to overcome the sinner’s chosen alienation. That’s where gospeling enters, that’s where the Father & Son, in and through the Spirit, brings the truth that woos and leads sinners to a transformed heart (2 Corinthian 5.19-20; John 6:63; 16:13-15; Romans 2:4; Phil 1.29; Acts 16:14; 18:27 and elsewhere).
With this work—God’s continued work of reconciling—the sinner now rejects his sin, his choice of alienation, he wants to be God’s friend and servant. He renounces his past sin and renounces the sinful bent that remains a part of him due to the years of alienation and he continues (by God’s help) to “put off” the various behaviors that were part of his “old man” status (the “old man” being his relationship to and inclusion in the first Adam—see Romans 5:12–6:6). In Jesus he is not now the same person he was before God brought him to a repentant faith. Now in faith he rejects all that the “old man” (first Adam) stands for and embraces all that the “last Adam” is and stands for (see 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 45-49 with Romans 5.14, last phrase and 7:4-6). At no point is the sinner coerced, he is not forced to believe, his free-will capacity has not been obliterated but the truth of God so works that he is persuaded and shaped that his eyes and heart are opened by the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 2.37; 16:13-15; Romans 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). God’s goodness leads the believer to renounce Sin in all its forms (attitude, thought and deed as well as the still existing weakness that leads to sins). This is the era, the dispensation of the Spirit in and by whom the glorified and exalted Lord Jesus makes Himself present to the world having completed in His earthly ministry, experience and glorification all that needed to be done then (John 14:16-18, 23; 16:12-15; Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 16:5-11).
This shouldn’t lead to an overstress on “doing” or “the pursuit of moral excellence” (though we were created for good works—Ephesians 2.10; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:24; Titus 3:4-8). We must take into account the truth that God cannot have fellowship with people who choose to be “darkness” (Colossians 1:13, 21; 2 Corinthians 6:14) and who remain therefore in the kingdom of darkness. At the heart of the human response to God—which is generated by God’s saving truth—is faith. Saving faith is both receiving as true what God has revealed concerning Himself in Jesus Christ and committing oneself in trusting obedience to that faith. This is what overcomes the world. Faith says of Jesus Christ, “He is right—we are wrong; He is righteous—we are unrighteous; He is the truth—we are lies……” That believing/trusting response (which is the gift of God as well as a free human response) takes us into and is the way of life in the “new world” (new creation). In and through Him we died to the “old world” and enter that new world; we die to “the old man” and are resurrected in the “new man” (Colossian 2:12; Ephesians 2:5-6).

“Reconciliation” includes the reorientation of a heart with God’s. It includes having the mind of Christ. God’s work of reconciliation is not completed until the sinner (whatever his limitations) takes God’s purpose as his own and that begins in and continues in a denial of the self and the embracing Jesus Christ as our life and identity [(Romans 6:1-6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-5).