DANCING WITHOUT MUSIC

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’.” (Luke 15:1-2)

The famous Swiss psychologist, Paul Tournier, confounded those who came from all over the world to learn from him the secret of his phenomenal practice. He insisted he had no special secret and he also insisted that no school of thought had a corner on success. He claimed that it made little or no difference whether the practitioner was a Freudian or followed Maslow, Fromm or the Rogerian non-directional school. He swore that caring for people is what made the difference. The psychological theory was useful up to a point but in the end, Tournier persisted, if the hurting one thought they were being heard and that the person involved with them felt them worthwhile the world was on its way to being changed. It all sounded so commonsensical that the seekers waited for something more specialized and esoteric from him but it never came. To be loved, to be thought worthwhile, and truly enjoyed is better than all the drugs and the clinical assessments. To believe that someone truly likes to have you around is medicine for every part of us.

So many of us have experienced that. There were things about us that we so detested that we would have spiraled down into emotional oblivion if it hadn’t been for certain individuals who loved us. They saw us for what we were and loved us as we were and came to rescue us from painful isolation and self-hatred. They gave us the strength to go on.

But it was no easy job for them. However cranky or rude or even abusive we’ve been or are we still insist that we have our rights. We might not use the word but we certainly act on it. Everyone owes us and we expect them to come up to it or we’ll give them a piece of our mind, even if it’s only inside our own head.

If we saw it all happen in a movie on the screen we would think we would recognize immediately that our behavior was abominable. We would wonder at the patience of those who have stood by us bearing the pain of the abuse and ingratitude day after day after day.

And if we’re mistreated, or even think we are, how well we remember the details. We’re able to recall the very tone in which the words were spoken (so we think), where we were sitting when it happened and what was said just after that. Instant and complete recall! We who can’t remember where we left our keys five minutes ago can recall a six-months-ago complex scene in all its details.

Luke 14:1 tells us this remarkable thing. “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee…” In light of how the religious leaders treated him you might think Jesus would have said, “Thank you but no thanks” when the invitation for dinner came. But no, he graciously accepted even though he knew (as the text goes on to tell us, that he would be “carefully watched”). But we mustn’t assume this was “easy” for him to do. That is, Jesus was no machine, programmed by God to run without feelings. Like the rest of us, the temptation to dismiss people was real but he decisively set it aside and did what he thought would please his Father and what was good to/for others. It’s appears that he never treated anyone in such a way that they got the impression that if they were obliterated from off the face of the earth it wouldn’t cost him a moment’s thought.

And maybe it’s this that devastates us most: When someone treats us as though our presence or absence doesn’t matter, as though our life or death makes no difference at all to them. And God help us, even if we know we’ve behaved in such a way as to “deserve” isolation we’re thunderstruck if that’s what we get. We keep mistreating people, though we know if someone treated us this way we’d surely walk off, and yet when we’re sidelined we’re devastated. Even when we know we deserve no better we wish for better treatment.

Israel complained in Isaiah 64 that God had hidden himself from them. He hadn’t done remarkable things for them, and that he was nowhere in sight when they looked for him. In chapter 65 God finds that astonishing and says, “All day long I’ve held out my hands to a disobedient and argumentative people. I’m even found by people who weren’t looking for me.” The fault didn’t lie in God and maybe, most of the time, I’d suppose, the fault doesn’t lie in others.

But in fairness, we sort of expect prolonged patience in God. He’s up to it. It may not be right but it’s the case that we expect him to continue to work with us even though we’re consistently a mess. In some ways that makes good sense because if God were the kind of God who would gladly leave us sinking in the muck we would think we’ve got the wrong God. What makes no sense is for us to keep mistreating other struggling people and expecting them to be God!

But if the story is ever fully told maybe we’ll be amazed at how patient and loving even ordinary people have been. These are stories of such grace.

The two lead characters in the movie Awakenings are Leonard Lowe (played by DeNiro) and Doctor Sayers (played by Robin Williams). Lowe as a boy becomes a victim of post-encephalitic syndrome and is cut off from life for about forty years (though he’s always aware he’s cut off). The doctor discovers a drug that brings Leonard out of the dead-zone and they find life again. The now adult Lowe is astonished at the potential of life and he loves it even more now, having found it again, than he would have if he had never lost it. While exulting in life, within the walls of the hospital Lowe meets a beautiful girl whose father is ill, and the couple are drawn to each other.

Sinister side effects of the drug begin to show. At first twitches and then jerking movements and as it progresses facial distortion and bodily behavior reminiscent of Huntingdon’s chorea. He realizes he’s sinking and his panic and desperation are only matched by his disgust when he looks at himself. What makes matters worse is her gentleness, poise and beauty; it only underscores his own worsening condition and though he’s now head over heels in love with her he can no longer bear to be in her presence so he plans to sever the tie. Their final meeting in the cafeteria is awkward and during it he insists that he’s grotesque though she fervently denies it. Her grace only makes it more difficult for him and he says a poignant goodbye (made even more poignant because he shakes her hand in a formal way) as he tells her he doesn’t want to see her any more. The truth is, he doesn’t want her to see him anymore. Love for her and his self-disgust mingle in that mysterious way they often do in life and it’s precisely that mix that drives him against his will to walk away.

He moves from the table jerking violently, face contorted and with chaos in his soul. She follows him, turns him round, takes his hand and slowly but gently and deliberately puts it on her waist and holds the other in her own and begins to dance with him. There’s no music, and they’re oblivious to the people sitting around, there’s just the two of them, he reluctantly and pathetically shuffling and she molding her steps to his. And that’s when the magic wove its spell. Her nearness and grace gradually brought order into his chaotic inner world and what drugs couldn’t do she did; the jerking and contortion took their leave and he found peace there in the arms of someone who loved him. Watching the movie was for me an education as well as a profound experience.

I can’t say I’ve personally seen or experienced a transformation as immediate and dramatic as that but I believe in such things. I believe that to be loved or to love someone changes the world, it actually becomes a different place. If Hollywood can imagine scenes like this why can’t we? And if we can imagine it God said he can do it. Wouldn’t it be a life-transforming experience to move up to a poor, jerking, contorted soul and begin the dance? Who knows what might happen? I wonder if I’m up to that? I wonder if I want to be up to it? It would probably be very costly.

Hmmm.

And if you, poor hurting, desperate soul, can be brave and trusting and allow Him to lead you maybe even without the lovely music of life that others gratefully experience you’ll find self-disgust and despair slip slowly away. Of this I’m sure, if the transformation isn’t sudden or soon it is sure, it will happen for all who in Jesus Christ long for it.

[Write me if you wish, please.]

CHAOS & THE 4 WINDS OF HEAVEN

Daniel 7 has the violent and clashing waves of the Great Sea [the Mediterranean] in sight. This isn’t an uncommon metaphor for the clashing of nations as they rush against one another. See Isaiah 5:26-30 and 17:12-13.

Out of that stormy sea there arise four kingdoms that are described as beasts–predators, savage, non-human, unpredictable and driven by their distinctive inner wiring and social/political circumstances.

But 7:17, 23 describes them as kings/kingdoms arising out of the earth. These are two sides of the one coin. They are not humane, they’re bestial and destructive and they are not “heavenly”, they’re of earth.

The chapter speaks of another power, another dominion, that is not bestial–it is revealed in terms of a “son of man” and that figure gets his authority from heaven [7:13-14]. The difference between this fifth dominion and the other four can hardly be starker. [Do see Daniel chapter 2:34-35, 44-45 and the stone that isn’t of earthly creation since it is cut out “without hands.”]

In Daniel 7 what we’re offered is visible chaos, unpredictability, one wave destroying another, foam and spume flying everywhere but we’re also told that at work on the chaotic sea are the winds of heaven. It’s common knowledge that biblically the wind is used as the action of the invisible God [Ezekiel 37:9-14; Exodus 14:21; John 3:8 and elsewhere]. God’s “breath” [Genesis 2:7] and Spirit shapes the existence of all that is [Psalm 104, entire and vv. 3, 4, 30], the present and future of nations without destroying the reality of human and national choices and programs. That is, nations aren’t turned into robotic entities, they’re not mindless chess pieces or puppets without wills. It doesn’t matter that as national [!] entities they career around in the grip of evil forces that carry them in directions they might not have chosen if they had been completely free; they nevertheless make choices at government levels that are dictated by the corrupt circumstances they help to create [compare Jeremiah 18:1-12]. They all exist in a “world” that’s corrupt and corrupting and that shapes their decision-making while the powerless, the marginalized, the poor, the voiceless are forced to live in that “world” and it is those people that bear the burden of the consequent suffering and loss. The vulnerable who are kept vulnerable get it in the neck and those who are responsible for it will answer to God for their exercise of power! See Ezekiel 16:49-50 & Daniel 4:27. Then God will turn to the plundered poor of all the ages and comfort them. This is the assurance of texts like Acts 17:31.

Government structures, authorities, are the creation of God and He freely and sovereignly chose to create these because He freely and sovereignly chose to create humans as interdependent beings who need structures precisely because they are humans. Humans corrupted these structures God created [Colossians 1:15-16; Romans 13:1-7] and because they became corrupted they had to be defeated [Colossians 2:15] and in Jesus Christ the one true human they are “reconciled” to God and his purposes [Colossians 1:15-16, 19-20].

Now, a human, Jesus Christ, has world dominion and though chaos is still visible everywhere we look, Christ reigns [Psalm 110:2, with context].

God has always ruled the chaotic world; that we know from the OT texts like Daniel 4:17-18; 1 Chronicles 29:10-11 and elsewhere but what the NT reveals is that God has given universal authority into the hands of a human—the “last Adam” [1 Corinthians 15:21-28; Matthew 28:18; Ephesian 1:17-23 and elsewhere]. This is the resumption and restoration of universal dominion to humanity and the glorification of humanity—realities of which we read in Genesis 1:26-28. Humanity rejected that glory and became enslaved in corruption and in Jesus, the man Jesus, who is God incarnate, God glorifies humanity.

God did not abandon his creation and Hebrews 2:5-9 takes Psalm 8 to speak of the glory that is to be fully restored to humankind. It freely acknowledges the existing evil and chaos but the writer insists on a focused seeing of Jesus who is the human representative of glorified humanity—a humanity that currently experiences suffering and loss—Jesus who has shared in and experienced humanity’s burden for every human [2:9]. He insists on seeing humanity’s coming full glorification as promised in the person of Jesus who is the image of humans as they will be in that coming day (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Philippians 3:20-21).

The wind of God continues to work on the chaotic sea of the nations and it is now centered in the Lord Jesus Christ whose resurrection and glorification and presence now in and as the Holy Spirit by which he indwells the Church!

It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look like that! [See Isaiah 10:7 and its setting.] It doesn’t matter that corrupted governments and financial institutions, that corrupt courts, senates, parliaments appear to be in control—God has given the universal dominion back to humanity in the representative human, Jesus Christ. Unbridled fear about who will publicly be voted into power or who will seize power is perhaps understandable but it’s the gospel message of Daniel or Revelation. The heart of the the gospel remains this:

JESUS IS LORD.

(Holy Father, you must see that we have no “gospel” message from our pulpits and lecterns that we speak TO the crushed and cheated millions. You must know that we ourselves need gospeled. You must hear the lies that are preached and taught that you have no love for the vast bulk of humanity or that you love A LOT we who are the blessed and you love A LITTLE those that aren’t. Will you not deliver us from that? We know you will but we’re sorely tempted to ask you to “move more quickly” to do it. Forgive, we pray.
Deliver us too from ceaseless religious lecturing that has become so boring that many are now turning to novelty, to change, to “issues” of greater interest to them and your gospel that culminates in that glorious Son of yours is sidelined in a world in dire need of it. Because of the banal, the sermonic structures that are little more than biblical verses treated like Lego pieces, many are tempted to believe that this wondrous Bible of yours has nothing in it but “more of the same” insipid, platitudinous pabulum they have heard for years and they have seen fit to make themselves judges over it and become their own “bible”. In all your wondrous work of reconciliation through the Lord Jesus Christ reconcile the pulpits and lecterns to your glorious purpose of proclamation.)  This prayer in Jesus’ name.

 

THE GOSPEL & THE UNLUCKY

I cannot believe in Universalism! In light of the biblical witness I think there will be some who will suffer eternal destruction from the presence of the glorious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

I cannot believe in John Calvin’s predestination doctrine—the kind of thing John Piper exults in (though even Piper jettisons a robust Calvinism when it come to the death of infants—he should count them damned since his doctrine is that they were born sinners, alienated from God and corrupt to the core of their being). You want this doctrine—you’re welcome to it! I think God would prefer atheism to that degenerate Augustinian—Calvinism.

I say the above so you can focus on what follows and the questions with which it concludes.

The good news is about God keeping his commitment to the entire human family despite humanity’s rebellion and sinfulness. He demonstrates and proclaims his faithfulness finally and completely in the person and work of Jesus Christ. So say the scriptures. E.g. Roman 11:32; 1 John 2:2; John 3:16-17.

But what if you’re born and raised in a part of the world where that gospel is not known? In an age when it isn’t preached?

Hmmm, that’s tough luck!

So, that’s it? God is faithful and shows it in Christ who goes to the cross, triumphs over death and lives to bless us all but if you aren’t lucky enough to hear it you’re damned? For tens of millions down the years the cross has been neutralized by bad luck? Since saving faith comes by the gospel and some people aren’t lucky enough to hear it they lose out? They get one chance to sin and be damned but no chance to be saved?

Some Calvinist types tell us that such people were foreordained to damnation and that’s why they don’t get to hear. In some ways that’s worse than “bad luck” it’s “bad fate”. It’s bad luck as well, in the sense that those people weren’t part of the group God decided he’d save. Those people tell us that God is Father to every human but that he made millions of his children for no other reason than to show his glory by damning them eternally.

Some Arminian types blame the loss of multiplied millions on lazy Christians who won’t spread the message. These “lazy” Christians with no missionary heart ceaselessly tell their fellow-saved ones that they are indeed saved and that they should be ecstatic about it; but they can’t be bothered to tell the unsaved how to be saved. Some shrewd Arminian types cover their backs, however, by telling us that God must know they wouldn’t obey anyway, even if they heard the gospel so He doesn’t get it to them. Their story is that if He foresaw that they would obey, He would see to it that they heard. I suppose that’ll satisfy some people. Just the same, it leaves us with an uneasy feeling that that proposal is a bit too convenient. The bottom line is that all those who die untold deserve to die untold. Nice easy way to sidestep Matthew 28:18-20. Then again, maybe it’s neither nice nor easy. Maybe Matthew 28:18-20 is not the kind of word we can sidestep. Whatever we make of all that, the untold are still left untold and, we’re assured, they’re as lost as Judas.

It looks like the untold have it tough all the way round. On the one view if you die untold you’ve been ordained to damnation and on the other if you die untold you wouldn’t have believed anyway so you weren’t told. On the one view you weren’t told because God didn’t want you told or because there was no point in telling you and on the other you weren’t told because the saved were too busy telling each other that at least they were saved. The one thing that’s certain is that the untold are damned.

However you look at it, that’s unlucky—gospel or no gospel.

I care little for the conversations I sometimes find running through my mind; conversations about what could happen when an untold one arrives at judgement.

A Calvinistic God dialogues with an untold sinner.

“It’s everlasting punishment for you.”

“Well, I’m a sinner and I deserve it I guess. And who are those people over there that look so fine and are alive with life?”

“They are the heirs of glory, my children whom I’ve freely forgiven.”

“I see, they’re your sinful children just like me?”

“Yes.”

“How come I didn’t end up as part of that group? Was I worse than them?”

“Oh no, it has nothing WHATEVER to do with who’s good or bad or better or worse. I decided who I’d save and who I’d damn eternally before I ever created any of my children. So it has nothing to do with moral behavior or your choice or theirs.

“Ah, I see, so it’s eternal life or eternal destruction based simply and solely on a decision you made about each one of us before ever we came along?

“Now, you’ve got it.”

“I know I can’t deny my sin any more than those saved ones can deny theirs, but how come you didn’t chose me to be part of that saved group?

“It’s simple: I didn’t want you and I wanted them.”

“Oh!…Okay then.”

“You understand?”

“I understand your words. I don’t understand that you would create me as one of your children but that you wouldn’t want me.”

“Ah, yes, but that’s not for you to question my child. That’s one of the mysteries that’s beyond little puny humans.”

“Obviously! So where do I go to be eternally destroyed?”

“Follow that line of multiplied millions. There are a lot of you I didn’t want.”

___________________________________________________________

An Arminian God dialogues with an untold sinner.

 

“It’s eternal destruction for you, I’m afraid.”

“I hate that. I wish there had been a way out of this mess I made.”

“There was a way! I sent my Son to save you by redeeming you but you didn’t accept him.”

Oh, you have a Son?

“Yes, and you didn’t accept Him. You rejected him.”

I rejected Him? I never even heard about Him!

“Well, that’s not my fault. I did my part in sending Christ and giving the gospel to my elect.”

And where are they?

“They’re busy right now. They’re telling one another how gracious I am. And they’re telling each other that they can be certain they’re saved so they ought to enjoy themselves.”

I see, that’s their job; to keep telling each other that you have saved them?

“Well, yes, but they’re supposed to tell people like you that you can be saved as well.”

But they didn’t tell me.

“Yes, that’s true, and they should have done it. Still, they’re weak and sinful and I forgive them for that.”

Hmmm. So they’re weak and sinful like me. But they’re in and I’m out because they heard and I didn’t?

“Actually, you’re not lost because you didn’t hear. You’re lost because you sinned.”

But they sinned just like me and they’re not lost.

“Yes, but they turned to me in Jesus Christ when they heard the gospel.”

How come they got to hear the gospel? Were they just lucky?

“No, I provide the gospel to those who hear so they can be saved.”

Did you want me saved?

“Yes.”

Then why didn’t you provide it for me?

“I bring it to the lost through the elect.”

But you didn’t bring it to me through the elect.

“Yes, but they are the ones who fell down on the job.”

So, you truly wanted me to hear it, they didn’t tell me, they’re forgiven and I’m about to experience eternal punishment?

“That’s about it.”

I get one chance to sin and be damned and not one chance to be saved while those people over there who are all glorious and happy with life got countless chances to be saved? Doesn’t seem fair.

“Look here my man, don’t be impertinent, I don’t owe you anything.”

I suppose that’s true, but then you don’t owe anybody anything. I didn’t think this gospel was about owing. I thought it was about your vast generosity and grace.

“Well…it is and I really wanted you to be saved.”

So how come I’m about to suffer eternal destruction from your presence?

“Hmmm…you’re just unlucky I guess.”

Four questions:

  1. Are those the only options? Bad luck or (in Calvin’s words) that “horrible decree”?
  2. Has God made a commitment in Jesus Christ to the entire human family?
  3. If so, how does that commitment show itself to the multiplied millions in
    every generation that has been and is being pillaged and plundered
    and tormented and butchered?
  1. When we go to such people, what’s the first thing we should say to them?

 

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

I confess I have little patience with those who teach/preach the Bible but deny that it is the source of normative teaching. They go through it like we go through a cafeteria approving of what we approve and rejecting what isn’t to our taste (our moral taste). The Bible in no sense is their “judge”—they are the judge of what they allow the Bible to be judge of.  I’m somewhat acquainted with the difficulties that arise in regard to how one is to hear Scripture but after a while I’m weary of the lawyer-like speech of these wise people. I become impatient and then I think I shouldn’t be impatient and then I think, “Yes, but Jesus became impatient with ‘scholars’ so it can’t always be bad. ‘Woe to you scholars you have taken away the key of knowledge…’ he said.” But then I think, “You’re not Jesus!” But then I think, “That’s true—thank the Holy Father—but should that mean I never say anything about anything, feel anything about anything?” For certain it doesn’t silence “the wise ones” and they’re no more Jesus than I am.

Sigh!

See what you think about this.
“God wants me to have patience.”
“God wants me to be quick to forgive.”
“God wants me to be wisely attentive to my children.”
“God wants me to be able to take instruction.”
“God wants me to humble, to be done with arrogance.”
“God wants me to avoid being hyper-critical.”
“God wants me to…”

We can hardly doubt:

That God wants us to mature, to become more like Him as He has shown Himself in Jesus Christ and therefore walk in love. Ephesians 5:1-2.

Therefore we can hardly doubt that He wants us to grow in specific ways—patience, kindness, non-conformity to the world. We can hardly fault someone for saying that.

As long as people believe God wants them to be better people they will continue to approach texts, almost all texts, with a question such as, “In you, what is God calling me to be and do?”

As long as people believe that what matters most [by far] is that we are to pursue moral excellence because that is what God is centrally concerned about—-as long as that is what believers believe  they will search out the texts that are about that. As long as that is what they believe  then it’s what preachers/teachers will teach and preach and that will shape the believers to continue in the choice of texts and sections that will promote that stress.

With that in mind, the more focused one is on growth in this virtue or that one or various virtues–the more focused one is on the pursuit of moral excellence the more certain it is that every text will be construed as an occasion for self-examination and self-improvement [not self-improvement but certainly self-improvement].

There are so many texts that can be and are used to support and justify such a stress I need hardly mention any but… Every scripture inspired by God is profitable for…2 Timothy 3.16 tells us. Hebrew 13 tells us we are to pursue holiness without which no one will see God.    Blessed are the…Jesus tells us in Matthew 5. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says what matters is keeping God’s commandments. Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed…Paul tells us in Romans 12.

None of this is to be disputed! No believer known to me wishes to dispute it. I certainly don’t wish to dispute it. God calls upward His children of faith in Jesus Christ.

Does that truth, which could hardly be plainer, need to be preached/taught week after month after year after decade to the same gathered people? And then, in addition, does that truth need to be the subject matter of special classes?

There’s plenty of such teaching in the NT and to apostates in the OT. NT churches were barely out of pagan worlds and needed regularly to be taught the kind of life that is called for in the “new creation”.  Are these the people we’re preaching to week after month after year after decade after generation?

Moving on:

Why are some more serious about their faith than others?

Does it have ANYTHING to do with their inner wiring and social shaping?

And the people who are well content with their current place in the pursuit of moral uprightness—-has that ANYTHING to do with their inner wiring and social shaping?

Have you ever come across a person who seemed to you to be overly anxious about being “a better person”? Have we not all met someone whom we thought was overly anxious about some besetting sin, a sin they’ve wrestled with all their life and it remains as strong now despite a desire to be rid of it and ceaseless remorse that it remains?

Why is it that preachers will continue week after month after year after decade telling us how to outgrow this sin or that when even as they preach they confess their advice hasn’t worked well for them? If it hasn’t worked at all well for them after decades of taking their own advice why do they keep offering it as the way to marked growth?

Is it true that those who are very serious about their faith  are better Christians than others who don’t seemed as concerned [I’m not saying “unconcerned”] about “growth”?

Has the fact that numerous people who have been “in Christ” for an entire lifetime will continue to gather together and lament deep [but not phobic] dissatisfaction with their “progress” in Christlikeness—-does that have anything to teach us? If so, what precisely does it teach us?

Were we to ask those who are very serious about their faith if they have become very “saintly” [sanctified] would they not deny they had? No doubt they would think they had made some “progress” in some areas but manifestly on the whole would they not be disappointed in their “lack of growth”?

If we can pursue holiness an entire lifetime and confess [as many do] that we’re now at least as sinful and now see ourselves as even more sinful—-should that tell us something of profound importance? If so, what does it tell us?

It can hardly be Christlike if we care nothing about becoming more Christlike, but is it wise or helpful to see Christ and his Holy Father as [pretty much] bags of virtues out of which we choose the virtues we’re sure we lack?

That Jesus Christ was virtuous is hardly debatable but is this a full description of the Person we know as the Lord Jesus Christ? He was virtuous no doubt in being kind and gallant was he also virtuous in pursuing his Holy Father’s agenda and purpose?

Is there anything else in Scripture that should be constantly on the minds of Christians and those who lead/teach them beyond “let’s all seek to be morally better people”?

Is someone also virtuous if he/she is a sinner but promotes God’s overarching purpose by (in various ways) promoting His Story?

May a firm and trusting believer be Christlike even if a non-Christian seems in many ways to be a better person than the believer?

How are we to explain that?

They don’t “have” (interesting word, in this setting—“have”, I mean) what the NT calls the “indwelling” of the empowering Holy Spirit so how does that work? They “never darken a church door” or open a Bible [not out of vindictiveness or insolence—-they’re widows with five children or…] but their devotion to the children, their honesty and integrity is well known.

How is that to be explained? Has it anything to teach us believers? List the things it “should” teach us or at least list the questions it generates that are worth discussing that could make a profound difference to our view of God or people or how God works or how we should read Scripture.

Is this possibly true?

“God wants me to be like my atheist/agnostic friend who is an exhibition of moral excellence.”

“God wants me to be like my non-Christian friend who is self-giving, quick to forgive, cheerful under trials, etc.”

FINALLY THIS

I hear plenty about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who empowers and sanctifies us (makes us holy) but the fulfillment always seems to be less than the promise. When I ask why that is I’m told we can resist the Holy Spirit. (I don’t deny that!!!) It leads me to wonder just what is meant by His “indwelling” AND how He does what He does. Why doesn’t he give us the power to NOT resist Him? And once more, how is it that millions who don’t have (?) his empowerment do better than a host of us who have Him?

I could never believe that we are morally upright without God enabling, shaping and sustaining us in such uprightness! I’m satisfied that much of the teaching I hear of how God works with humans (in and out of Christ) is shallow at best and sometimes nonsense.

That’s what I think.

 

 

ADVENTURE, GOD & POKER

But how does “adventure” in the Lord Jesus show itself? Is it all missionary work in the wild parts of the planet? Is it laying one’s life on the line in some forbidding area of the world or living in poverty with the homeless in some chaotic urban location? Sometimes this is the description of adventure in the kingdom of God.

There are men and women, girls and boys who ford raging rivers, climb mountains, trek their way through forests and live for months or years in strange circumstances with people whose language and customs they don’t understand and have to learn. There are young people out there, far from home, digging wells and building shelters for the homeless and helpless and those in need of clean water that’s free of merciless parasites—and they do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. There are those who die after decades of teaching, far from home and with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a couple of Bibles [their own and one in a foreign language] and a beat-up writing pad, attended by a mere handful of converts.

But it cannot be that everyone in the Lord Jesus is called to such a life of adventure and devotion. Millions come to God in Christ with the paths of their lives pretty well fixed, married with children perhaps or with precarious health or gifted as students and teachers, or people gifted in business or economic ways, men and women who can make money, employ people, support lovely ventures or people gifted as administrators, builders, architects, construction workers, scientists, government officials, teachers, medical experts and such. All of them gifted by God and expected to express their devotion to him in any of these ways. None of these may carry Bibles or the storied truth to hard-to-get-to parts of the earth but every one of them lay what they can do at the feet of the Lord Jesus. That too is engaging in the adventure

Whatever their gifts, they’re all used out of the same spirit and with the same heart—it’s all kingdom work! Parents parenting, children respecting and loving, friends truly befriending, lovers—young and old—loving in honor. What they have in the various and often changing stages of their lives they give to God. They all share the same vision and all give what they have to give to and for God and his creative and redemptive purpose.

There’s a notion abroad among Christians—it’s as popular as it is false—that God’s various non-miraculous gifts are given to Christians only when they become Christians. We seem to forget that God gives these gifts to non-Christians also. The capacity for love, for love of music, love of numbers [as in mathematics], love of literature and words, the creative arts like painting, photography and sculpture. Keep the list going; you know exactly what I mean.

The idea that Christians are bereft of God’s good gifts of administration, rational thinking, practical thinking and such before they become Christians is silly. God doesn’t gift people with these by magic! You want magic? Go to the movies. Non-Christians are as gifted in these areas as Christians; such gifts are given by God to the human family and He hands them out in the “natural” way—DNA, neurons, hormones and everything else that comes together to make up a healthy human.

Such gifts can be suppressed or they can be refined and augmented; they can be used to honor God and bless his human family or they can be used for sheer self-service and self-glorification. Whether we use them for self-service or not God can achieve much of his own purpose through their use and whether or not we use them in a selfish way it doesn’t alter the truth that God has gifted us with them that all may benefit and be benefited in his name.

The Christian would probably say—should say, I think—that God is center, life is a challenge, the challenge sounds out in the middle of a world of human weakness and alienation [the biblical Fall should enter here] and the challenge differs in form and intensity for each person, each family or people depending on their circumstances and environment.

[Take a long look at Genesis 8:21 as a general description of humans and yet note in 9:1-11 what God expects of humans and how grandly he thinks of them! Weak or not, sinful or not, when it comes to humans God is “all in”.]

With the card game Poker as a very limited metaphor, Christians just have to play the hand they’ve got, don’t you think? Sometimes the game seems stacked against you and you’re sure you can’t “win”. The good news is that “winning” means no more than playing out the hand you have. It doesn’t mean you have to beat “the other guy”. If they have a better hand, then they have to play it well. “Winning” is to be faithful to the hand you’ve got. When you rise from the table the “owner” greets you with a smile and blesses you for a job well done. It’s an “all in” move that gets his pleasure.

Right now so many are shoving their chips across the table in an act of trust and saying, All in. No turning back, no sulking away from the table, no refusing to have anything to do with the game unless they get a great hand, like four aces or a royal flush.

When I was a kid I’d hang around “the toss” where the men would gamble on Friday night [“pay night”]. One guy I’ll never forget was called “Blackout” [a nickname—never knew his real name]. He’d turn up, watch for a while and then start betting for or against heads or tails. It didn’t matter which.  He’d cover everyone’s bet until his own money was “all in”. Up would go the coins, down they’d come and he’d know where he stood. I saw him clean up more than once. He’d gather up all his winnings [now doubled], button his jacket and leave. I also saw him cleaned out. One toss and his entire pay packet was wiped out. He’d stand for a moment looking thoughtful, then button his coat and walk off without a word. No looking pitiful, no pleading for a handout—nothing like that. Just buttoned his coat and walked away—broke.

I’m going to take it he was married and so I know his family must have carried the burden when he walked in “skint”—I’m not approving of his risking his pay and making it tough on his family when he lost but I always admired him and thought about him and thought it must be great to be able to live like that.

No self-pity! Not him! When I thought about him—as I did at least once every Friday when I squeezed my way through the crowd of men to get to a place where I could look at Blackout—I didn’t think of the wrong of the situation; I thought only of what struck me as his heroic way—all in!—and how he gallantly took the rough with the smooth. I wanted to be like him! He reminded me of a couple of lines from Kipling’s poem: IF

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk them at one turn of pitch and toss and lose
And start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss…

Let me drop the metaphor but not the willingness to risk everything involved in the manner of Blackout and people like him [yes, yes, I do recognize other aspects of the situation] and say that I greatly admire those who say yes to God and “play the game” and rejoice in the sense of adventure.

Parents and children, young lovers and friends, accomplished artists, business people, men and women of wealth, power and integrity, ditch-diggers and salespersons, homemakers and nurses, single mothers and fathers, preachers and teachers—gallant people in various parts of the world living out the “ordinary” or the “usual” but living it out with that all in spirit, pleased when things go their way but buttoning their coats and heading on home if the wished-for doesn’t come their way.

   Here’s to all you who in God’s name embrace the adventure in the circumstances in which you find yourself! Carrying the pain and the worry and the disappointment and seeing them as elements in the adventure in a chaotic world. You, who carry your own limitations, well aware of them, frustrated by them, wishing they were gone but refusing to walk away from “the game”.

God bless you, God bless you, God bless you. 

 

SUDAN, SELMA, AUSCHWITZ & GOD

“And the Word became Flesh,” says John. He didn’t say the Word liked flesh or that the Word looked like flesh or that the Word visited flesh or even (in this text) that the Word made flesh—he said the Word became flesh!

In his poem The House of Christmas GK Chesterton adds homey warmth to John’s astonishing truth of God’s incarnation and the imagery he uses brings down to earth what could become a mere doctrinal statement. His poem allows us to imagine ourselves—all of us—all living in the same town and house where God lives—an “open” house where  everyone is welcome; a house we go “home” to.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

In stressing the glory of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews pays special attention to his humanity; to the incarnation. It was God’s purpose to bring humans to glory and because that was so the Savior didn’t come as an angel (2:16). The writer tells us this:

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers…Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (2:10-15)

To be faithful to the gospel we must make the cross of Jesus central and crucial but not even the cross is to be isolated as though it is the entirety of the gospel. The resurrection and the glorification of Jesus are indispensable parts of the gospel Story. But none of these are possible without the truth of the Incarnation; it was God incarnate who lived among us, who was crucified, who rose again from the dead and who ascended to glory and who came in and as the Spirit to indwell a chosen nation of gospelers.

It is the Word incarnate that tells the complete Story; it is in and as the man Jesus that God finally and fully says to the human family, “This is what I have purposed for you humans; life in and with me, life lived gloriously, evil known and recognized for what it is (see Isaiah 32:3-8), righteousness embraced as a joy, freedom from sin and fear, peace and adventure without end! All this I show you in and as the man Jesus Christ whose life is your model, whose death exposes and condemns visible evil and the invisible satanic forces that show themselves in the corruption and brutality and oppression of humanity by humanity and whose resurrection and exaltation says that all wrongs will be righted!”

Quoting Martin Luther King as he raged against satanic blindness and brutality, Charles Campbell has this: “Let them get their dogs and let them get the hose, and we will leave them standing before their God and the world spattered with the blood and reeking with the stench of their Negro brothers… (it is necessary) to bring these issues to the surface, to bring them out into the open where everybody can see them.” (1)

As the Body of Christ, as the extension of the Incarnation of God Christians suffer along with non-Christians to demonstrate that God is not indifferent to the world’s awful pain. “Look at us,” they say! “We seek no exemption and we seek no exemption because God himself sought no exemption and because God even now seeks no exemption as He suffers in his covenant People. We weep with others and we are ‘weeping witnesses’ that what is happening to you will NEVER go unnoticed. All wrongs will be righted! See us and if you can, believe that God is saying, ‘See them sharing the pain you experience and know that they are my witnesses via suffering that I have been where you are in and as Jesus Christ and that I am even now where you are in and as the corporate Suffering Servant. Whoever you are, think noble thoughts of me—believe and vibrantly hope one day you will see and experience the ecstasy of fulfillment! ‘ “

King and all who endured the humiliation and brutality of this era not only exposed the slavery of African-Americans, they also exposed the slavery in any corner of the world, and exposed the evil of all and any who approved, silently or overtly this blatant and cruel injustice. African-Americans in America rightfully raged against a visible and felt enslavement while the powerful White culture worked as slaves to invisible and malevolent forces and justified their slavery. (2)

It’s at this point that the message of the incarnate Word speaks with such clarity. God, as the man Jesus Christ identified himself with all the victims of brutal injustice before and since his own crucifixion. He exposes “the world” for what it is and brands as satanic and demonic the spirit that leads to all that is unlike the Holy Father. (3)

The brutal killing of Jesus was not as painful or as horrible as the deaths of multiplied millions! That’s never the point of the Gospels witness! You only have to read the NT to see that Jesus’ mistreatment, at the physical/social level, was little indeed when compared with the countless sufferers down the ages. Preaching and teaching that makes more of the physical pain of Jesus than the NT does is not helpful. Now and then we hear the gory details dwelt on in a way no one in the NT does though it can make some of us squirm because we have been blessed to escape prolonged humiliation and cruel physical mistreatment. But there have been multiplied millions who would gladly have swapped Jesus’ passion experience for what they went through. Simply Google the history of punishment and think of Auschwitz, the Gulag, the Death Marches, ancient and modern. Think of those who are even now enduring torment that defies description.

No! The central truth in the suffering and death of Jesus has its power in who it is that suffered and why he chose it.

The Christian will tell you that Jesus Christ is God being a man and that one of the things he does is to hang in solidarity with every man, woman, girl or boy in any age, in any part of the world who is being tormented, humiliated, imprisoned and used. In him, God as a man not only condemns the evil and exposes it for what it is—he does that by sharing it.

It’s wrong for preachers to say he suffered more than others—to say he did is not only nonsense; it’s needlessly offensive to those who know it is false. But it is profoundly and vitally important for teachers to make it clear that in coming into our world and choosing to share our pain (daily in anguished love at the sight of world agony and finally in death—see Matthew 8:16-17. God walked from Selma, he lay on operating tables in the Nazi camps, he sat for years in freezing cold and stink in cells in the Gulag and now huddles with women, little girls and boys in filthy cellars and cattle-cars—terrified by heartless and willing slaves of the satanic and demonic. And He’s doing it again in the People who constitute the corporate Body of Christ. In that People He isn’t saying that Christian suffering is worse than what the world endures—He didn’t even say that when He  suffered in and as Jesus Christ. Let me say it again, what He is saying is this: “I see and know what is happening and trust me, I WILL make it all right! I am with and for a world in pain and this truth I tell you as you my covenant People suffer with you. These are my witnesses.”

Whatever else the incarnation and the cross mean—they mean that much. And in exposing “the world” for what it is God meant not only to generate rage and outrage against injustice and cruelty he threw his weight into the struggle to open the eyes of the drones of malevolence and bring them into the light also. The way Selma did! The way the holocaust did! These events that to some degree opened some eyes that will not close again are shadows of what the resurrection of Christ says will be finally and fully accomplished in a day yet to come.

  1. Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers, WKJ, 2002, page 63
  2. This evil was/is practiced by Africans against Africans in Africa to this very day; it was practiced by Jews against Jews—OT record—Chinese practiced it against Chinese, Irish against Irish, English against English, Muslims against Muslims, Russians against Russians and on and on. This demonic behavior is as old as Cain and Abel and at our worst we need no excuse in particular. Gang warfare and Drug Cartels where family-members torture and butcher family members illustrate the point that needs no “So why was he/she killed?” gang members have often been asked and one of the frequent answers is: “Maybe it’s because it’s Tuesday!”
  3. John 12:31, where Jesus is speaking of his death. “The world” is used often in the NT as evil in its organized wholeness. 1 John 2:15-17 and James 4:4. That’s how I mean it here.

DID HE EVER GET TO BE PRESIDENT?

Lucy doesn’t think much of Beethoven so Schroeder tells her how magnificent Beethoven is ; he reminds her that he was one of the most accomplished composers in history and may be to this day the most famous and revered of all great composers. But that makes no never mind to Lucy. She leans over and shouts in his face: “Well, he never got to be king, did he? Huh?” Schroeder doesn’t know what to say and in any case Lucy won’t let him. Now closer to his face and louder, “HE DIDN’T GET TO BE KING, DID HE? HUH? DID HE?” Then closer still while Schroeder covers his ears. Finally as if she has won an argument she turns away, “How can anybody be called ‘great’ if he doesn’t get to be king?” 

How can people say Jesus is great—bless me, he didn’t even get a PhD, didn’t go to Harvard, knows nothing about neuroscience. Did he win any Olympic medals? Win any Medals of Honor, Purple Hearts? Did  he ever get to be President? Did he? Huh? Well, did he, huh? How can anybody be called “great” if he never got to be President?

“Your King lacks class. No one will follow him. A king has to have flare and style. He has to arouse feeling of pride and prestige. People have to identify with him…He has to have dignity and a certain aloofness. He has to know how to carry his crown and flash his sword in the sun. The least a king can do for his subjects is to ride a spirited steed. What will you answer when men ask for your king? “He’s over there on that donkey with his sandals dragging in the sand.” Ha! I’ll lay you ten to one no one will ever follow him!” [Wilbur Rees said that.]