HEY MISTER…

Hey, mister, what’s your name?
“It used to be ‘Cheater’.”
Oh! What’s it now then?
“It’s ‘Israel’ now.
Hmmm, I see you have a bad limp.
“No, it’s a good limp.”
A “good” limp? How’d you get it?
“It’s complicated.”
I’ve got the time.
“I had a wrestle with someone and came out a winner.”
That doesn’t explain much.
“I told you; it’s complicated.”
How does the limp figure in it?
“It reminds me of the wrestle and who I was wrestling with.”
But that doesn’t explain the wrestle.
“It wasn’t your wrestle.” 
I don’t understand.
“I told you. It’s complicated.”

GOD ON THE ROAD TO JERICHO

One day God took a walk through His universe looking for something that was lost. It wasn’t “lost” in the sense that He didn’t know where it was—it was lost because it had run from Him and lost itself among the numberless heavenly bodies. And it was so tiny that someone less than God couldn’t have found it with a search warrant and a torch as big as a constellation.
And He came across it, a little planet lying, bleeding, in a galactic ditch, dying of deep self-inflicted wounds that had been urged on, as Genesis tells us, by a liar and a thief and a murderer. And He said to that little world (not as a silly teaching claims—only to a tiny segment of it), “I’ve come to save you, to bring you home to My heart for out of love I have made you in My own image.”
God’s seeking and finding the wayward human family wasn’t done in a moment. It was a structured search that was (and is) worked out in accordance with God’s eternal loving holiness and wisdom and it was developed over the ages in this way and that, through this person or that people. It came (and has come) to its completion in the person and work of Jesus Christ and is borne witness to by the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) that indwells the body of Christ, the Church.
God allowed the nations to follow their own ways even though this meant they dismissed Him. But He didn’t wash his hands of the human family and continued to bless them with fruitful seasons and joy of heart (Acts 14:16). He insisted in staying near the human family down the ages, blessing them so that they might look for Him and find Him (Acts 17:25-28). Beyond all that, God entered the world in and as Jesus Christ. The ages prior to that event—in comparison to the brightness of the new self-revelation—were times of ignorance (Acts 17:30—the NIV is misleading here). Past judgments and prophetic messages to the nations called the nations to repentance but this new self-revelation of God was and is a more searching and incisive condemnation of the sins of the human family. Sodom and Gomorrah was a judgment on our evil but Jesus Christ and His cross was the fullest possible exposure of our sin.

But the coming of God in and as Jesus Christ was not simply to expose our sinfulness, it was to rescue and redeem. In Jesus Christ—who is the image of God—we see the love of God and neighbor as God views it. In Jesus Christ God was getting what he fully merited—He was loved without reservation. But in Jesus Christ the love of neighbor was also revealed as being in God’s image. As Jesus Christ has loved (and loves) humans we see the love of God for humans. God’s gift to all of sunshine and rain “hinted” (so the speak) what in the person and work of Jesus Christ is demonstrated (compare 1 John 3:16 and 4:14-16). In Jesus Christ we can see and say, “See how God loves all the fallen.”
And is the love of God as it has expressed itself in and through the incarnate Jesus Christ the same love of God that the Godhead enjoyed in its fellowship prior to creation and the incarnation? If it is, then Edmond Jacob was right when he said that in creating us in his own image God was loving us as he loved Himself. And if God has eternally purposed us to look like Jesus Christ who is His express image (charakter and eikon) how can Jacob be wrong? God cannot do otherwise than to love the highest He knows, and He is the highest He knows. He loves Himself (not in that silly and vain way that we’re so capable of) and in making us and renewing in us His own image as it is seen in Jesus Christ He is loving us and He loves Himself.
And if we love God as He has loved us and love our neighbors as He has loved them then the love of God for us shapes the whole loving, cosmic enterprise.
Marvelous mystery—one might be tempted to think that it was God Himself on the road to Jericho, traveling from afar to rescue a little planet dying in a galactic ditch.

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.

THE BIBLE “ON A JOURNEY”

So a preacher says, “The Bible is a book on a journey.” I don’t think I have a major quarrel with the wording. But I’m old enough now to observe the shift of “authority”. It used to be, “the Bible.” That is, the Bible carefully listened to. It used to be the Bible listened to as the place where the authority of God (and there is no other authority!) is peculiarly though not exclusively expressed (note Psalm 19). I’m pretty sure it’s many of us who are on a journey rather than the Bible.
The Bible “carefully listened to” was and is not an easy task but it was the task that devoted and fervent believers felt they were called to and it became for them, “faith seeking understanding” from the Holy Scriptures. We became “wise” and the gifts God gave us as humans—gifts like intellect, reason and rationality, creative imagination and literary skill—now serve interesting ends.
But thought that even our rational capacity could be corrupted and we could logic our way to become fools even while we could make logical arguments to vindicate our logic. Before one knows it A requires B and B requires C and C necessitates D and that logic is unassailable then we find ourselves at T and sense that something is wrong. But we got to T via unassailable logic and there’s no going back so we travel on to WXY and find we’re saying things that make no sense. Some of us then pick out a place where we feel comfortable, maybe U and call anything more than that “extreme”.
That move works well in some ways. It allows one to stay “in the game”—the Bible game, I mean, the religious, moral game I mean. You can still appeal to the Bible (the way the “bold” Enlightenment could still appeal to “Jesus” and dismiss the rest) but at the point you feel rationally comfortable. You like letter D stop there and call the P’s and Q’s extreme.
(Some years back in his History of Philosophy Bertrand Russell told us that John Locke made empiricism creditable but inconsistent and David Hume made empiricism consistent but incredible. It seems that Locke got to a point where he saw that that philosophy couldn’t be followed all the way, just embraced all he could and walked away. Hume kept walking and destroyed causation on which all science is built but that’s where logic led him.  He did confess that he got tired of the entire never-ending enterprise every now and then and went off to play backgammon with his friends to get away from it. I hear some of that going on in theology.]
It dawns on some of us that we’re no longer appealing to be Bible but to ourselves. We find ourselves dismissing Paul with words like, “Paul is just another fella with religious and theological opinions—some of them good and some of them not at all good.” I’ve come across some of us who thought Paul tried to make his case for change, failed to do it and settled for a status quo that he knew was wrong and against the gospel he preached.
I don’t have all the answers for ANYTHING but I am persuaded that we underestimate how sly, and smooth, and plausible and persuasive evil is. It comes whispering to us that we’re entirely re-configuring the Bible on the basis of good sound logic and heartfelt honesty. But what if this thing that breeds in the dark, that feeds on the corruption of the mind and throws us morsels of truth and gobs of pleasant plausibility from a cultural anthropologist here, a linguistics specialist there or a gifted theologian somewhere else and we end up with a certain mindset made up of bits and pieces thrown together from a hundred different quarters and Jesus Christ Himself (whatever “He”or “it” He turns out to be)—becomes irrelevant?
(Nobel Prize winning theoretical scientist, Steven Weinberg, wonders why a number of his fellow scientists use language about nature that is nothing more than “religious coloration”. Why not just that entire charade and speak plain atheism (he’s atheist). I wonder the same thing about a number of theological/religious types. Why not simply say the Bible is a collection of religious opinions and put it on the same shelf as the Upanishads or the Doctrine & Covenants or any other collection of religious musings and opinions?)
GB Caird in his Language & Imagery opens his book confessing he is “an amateur” in the area in which he now writes but goes on to say that’s how it is with everyone because no one can fully grasp more than a couple of areas in a lifetime. He’s right, of course. Scholar A relies on scholar B in another field and B relies on C and we the rank and file rely on a wide scattering of opinions woven together by preaching-amateurs we pay good wages to—thinking they’re firm believers in what they preach. Not long ago I heard a university professor explain what Walter Brueggemann has done for Churches of Christ. Bless me, if you could make that case stick I suppose you can make anything stick.
I have no deep laid concerns about the future of the Church that is the Body of Christ. When the smoke cleared after Her war with the Roman Empire John shows her as beautiful, indestructible (with walls 1400 miles high) and with God dwelling in Her. Rome, the Empire Structure, I mean, had its authority and power from the Dragon (Revelation 13:4) was just another satanic expression of what is anti-God, anti-life and anti-human, as was Pharaoh and Assyria and Babylon. Ancient or modern, military, social, cultural, economic, literary, political or whatever—none of these is new to God nor to His People, those who in their pain or confusion, even when they gasp with Habakkuk at what they see and hear and fear, they will still wait at their post until they hear God say “Those that trust, those that are trustworthy will live that way and they will live, rejoicing in a happy ending.”
It shouldn’t surprise us if every now and then we hear of some teacher/preacher throwing his Bible on to the lower shelf, believing now it has nothing to offer that can’t be got somewhere else.

But then there’s that Jesus Christ.
Maybe everything will work out okay if we dump everything said about Him and everything He (is alleged to have) said.
Myself, I wouldn’t bet on it.
I know this, if Jesus is dead…………….

 

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.)

VIDEO LESSONS

I’ve been asked to remind you of some video lessons that my daughter Linda and I are putting out with the help of two great fellas in Memphis, Aaron and Tim (Christian Publishing). If you know some little assemblies out there on their own (NEVER!) that are without a teacher and you think the lessons are worthy maybe you would mention them.
I know it wouldn’t hurt them.
https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCH7xt-lJ12cWCqYeB9597eQ

God bless.

HOEING COTTON WHEN HE COMES

“Little children keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21
Why should Israel have no God but Yahweh?
Because He commanded it. It was a non-negotiable demand from the Sovereign of the Universe.
Because He had earned the right to that position. Who else was worthy?
But despite His awesome power and majesty and despite the fact that He had earned their trust, Yahweh still put it to them in such a way that they were given the choice to say yes to His covenant offer and they did (20:19 and Deuteronomy 5:27).
Israel should have had no other God than Yahweh because they said they would! They gave their word!
In response to the majesty and awesome power of God, in response to His faithfulness and His gracious past rescue and future promises, they gave their word! And because they gave their word they should stick with it. To do that was to do what was right. They owed Him and they said they would pay. They didn’t bribe Him or He them; He hadn’t freed them from Pharaonic slavery to make them whimpering crawlers to Him. He called them openly and was willing to receive their heartfelt commitment (cf. Deuteronomy 5:27-28) even when He knew their limitations. And they gave it!
“Duty” has become a dirty word in some circles. In the religious realm it has had such a connection with legalism than one hardly dare mention the word without expecting a raking over the coals of criticism. “Never mind duty, let’s talk of grace.”
Because of the heresy of legalism a fine word, and a noble conception has been made an outlaw. Anyone who would make “duty” the ultimate motivation for the life of a disciple of God misses the mark and misses it by a long way, but anyone who has so “matured” as to dismiss duty has missed by a long way too.  It’s all right to recognize that we owe and because we owe we feel the debt and wish to respond in kind. We wish to earn nothing, for grace and our own evil have put that out of the question; but we don’t want teachers to rob us of the “hero in our soul;” we don’t want them to rob us of the deep sense of obligation we feel when we give our word; we don’t want them to steal from us that motivation which at some level of our lives and in some areas of living never vanishes—“I gave my word and therefore it is my duty.” No one will say that “duty” is the only or finest motivation for our behavior but we get weary when we hear people becoming too precise and too sophisticated when describing real humans. “If we were God we would do thus and so for thus and so reasons;” but we’re not God, we’re we and sometimes we act out of motivations which, while they aren’t the highest, they certainly aren’t evil. We need to stand in our place and do what we said we would do whether we have the consent of our emotions or not. A well-balanced black poet many years ago hit the target dead-center when he wrote this, disregarding harsh circumstances that some might use as an excuse for their not keeping their word to God:
There’s a king and a captain high And He’s coming by and by
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
You can hear His legions charging in the regions of  the sky
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
There’s a man they thrust aside Who was tortured till He died,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected He was scorned and crucified
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting out Hosanna to the man that men denied
And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.

 No one will gain our respect who while he rightly proclaims God’s full and free grace without apology he undermines what we feel in our bones is right: Love doesn’t despise the letter of the law—it fulfills it. So said the apostle of grace (Paul) in Romans 13:8-10 & 1 Corinthians 7:19.

 (I borrowed this from a book I wrote that hangs around the book of Exodus. HEADING HOME WITH GOD. If you’re interested in it you could purchase it via   rkretz@sunset.cc)